Saturday 15 February 2014

Could we be living in an era where average intelligence is declining at *two* IQ points per decade

I have been surprised at the combination of hostility and lack of interest in the intelligence community, regarding the discovery that reaction times have apparently slowed substantially over the past 150 years in England; and the implication that this represents a substantial decline in intelligence - amounting to roughly one standard deviation, or 15 IQ points, or the idea that the average intelligence of about 150 years ago would now in in the top 15 percent of modern intelligence. 

Having lived with this knowledge for two years:

I am still fascinated by it, and have find nothing to refute it - on the contrary Michael A Woodley and I have confirmed it (paper submitted) using a completely different method of analyzing reaction time data from a totally independent sample. 


But I think I understand better why this information will be resisted - and that is it destructiveness of a great deal of existing research in the field.

A suitable analogy is with Gregory Clarke's book A Farewell to Alms: a brief economic history of the world, which describes the effect of human psychological evolution in the economic history of England. He attributes the industrial revolution primarily to changes in the heritable psychology of the English (implicitly, some combination of increased-intelligence and a more-conscientious and less-aggressive personality).

This brilliant work was generally attacked, or faintly praised then ignored - because if acknowledged by the economics community, FtA would at a stroke destroy almost all previous work done on economic comparisons between nations and over long periods of time that have assumed that humans were essentially inter-changeable.

In a nutshell, Clark's work convincingly destroys much of economics as a discipline, by destroying one of its key assumptions - little surprise, therefore, that economists weren't keen on it, that they sensed a problem...


Similarly, if it is true that human intelligence in countries like England has been declining as rapidly as one IQ point per decade (approximately, on average - and surely varying in speed and magnitude between countries and sub-groups) then this has truly enormous implications in relation to understanding a wide range of phenomena. It throws into doubt all sorts of things. 

For example, the striking decline of creative genius (and therefore of scientific and technological innovation) in the West over the twentieth may be explicable substantially on this basis. There are declines in educational attainment. There is the inexorable slump in economic efficiency. All sorts of indirectly-related phenomena such as the rise of bureaucracy and the corruption of democracy may be implicated.


A substantial decline in intelligence is also a direct strike against our covert secular religion of progress - if it is known that each generation is significantly less smart than the preceding one, it becomes harder to believe that they are intrinsically superior and entitled to discarded the wisdom of the ages and remake the world on a new set of principles. 

Instead, it looks more like succeeding generation are just too dumb to understand what they have inherited, the culture and the capabilities; and because they fail to understand it - therefore they have no compunction about destroying it. 

Instead of the vast scale and complexity of modern society being a product of our greater capability; it becomes revealed as merely an out-of-control artefact of incompetence and corruption - and the inevitable prelude to collapse. 

Instead of living in a world where we assume that although we may not personally understand x,y and z - 'the experts' understand it. But these experts are getting dumber by the decade, so pretty soon nobody understands x,y, and z. 


The implications of declining intelligence fan-out like the expanding circles from a rock dropped into a pond - even if we are, as yet, unsure of its causes. 

One cause is almost surely differential reproductive success among people of differential intelligence - but this only seems to account for about half of the decline - the other cause/s are unknown, although I suspect that an accumulation of deleterious mutations in the gene pool (due to the relaxation of natural selection from child mortality) is likely to be a factor. 

But if these are indeed the causes, then looking globally at the unprecedented speed and direction of demographic transformation - and a world where natural selection is now for pure fertility - the decline in global intelligence is certain to be accelerating; and the unprecedented scale of international population migration ensured that this more-rapid intelligence decline will accelerate the already-rapid decline in most native Western populations. 


To summarize - we now know, from reaction time slowing, that intelligence has been declining rapidly in England for about 150 years - at very approximately one IQ point a decade; and we know that due to the vast differential in fertility internationally - with rapidly growing and ever younger world population complemented by rapidly ageing and declining Western populations - that the decline in global intelligence must be of a broadly similar (or greater) order of magnitude.

(In reality, these speculative rates of decline will vary both over time and between populations - but numbers are needed, however approximate, in order to handle the consequences over reiterations of the cycle.) 


So, a country like England, has been 

1. undergoing a decline in intelligence among the native population measured at about 1 IQ point a decade. 

There is also:

2. a significant decline in intelligence due to the ageing population

And on top of this there is:

3. ongoing population replacement, at an accelerating rate, due to mass migration. The effect on average intelligence is hard to quantify, but - given differentials in age and fertility of native and migrant populations - could easily be the same as the decline in the native population..


What would this mean?

Well, if the combination of factors led to a decline of 2 IQ points per decade, the consequences would be substantial over a generational time-scale (declining at five IQ points, or one third of a standard deviation per generation) - with an underlying tidal subsidence of capability, an ebbing of innovation, a steady erosion of all activities depending on intelligence (science, technology, arts, the economy, the military, education and so on) - yet invisible to day-by-day, year-by-year inspection. 

Over a lifetime of 75 years, there would be a slump of a whole standard deviation of intelligence - which would mean there would be very little overlap between average 'future-modern' intelligence and that of 150 years ago.

So, in about another three generations (75 years) almost all-Victorian English would have been more intelligent than almost all future-modern English-dwelling people will be (with us, now, about half-way between) - since Victorian English were 1SD more intelligent than us, and we now would be 1SD more intelligent than future modern English-dwellers...

Which implies only a tiny, few, percent, overlap in intelligence between the populations of England in Victorian and future-modern times. They would be regarded as essentially distinct populations in terms of intelligence. In 75 years time!


(This is comparable to the largest recently measured intelligence difference between human populations, and very large differences in autonomous cultural capability - the difference-between being able to administer modern technical societies (although probably not to originate them, since our intelligence has already declined) and the remnant of hunter-gatherers/ simple agrarians. )


The man in the street would never notice or understand what was going-on - and would no doubt find 1001 other and more obvious things to blame for the collapse of complexly differentiated modern culture - but he would nonetheless be missing the underlying inexorable reason behind a huge range of linked societal changes. 



Samson J. said...

Instead, it looks more like succeeding generation are just too dumb to understand what they have inherited

Well, isn't it funny you should say this, as I have been developing a parallel theory of my own.

Remember my ideas surrounding high-IQ people, religion, and future-time orientation, where I said I would think that high-IQ, high future-time orientation people would be *more* attentive to religious matters such as the ultimate fate of their souls? That I find it so strange that people with a *higher* future-time orientation should pay *less* attention to their spiritual futures?

Well, over the past year or so as you have been documenting the social decline in IQ, I have been wondering and hypothesizing that the social decline in religion has partially been caused by the decline in IQ.

George said...

You've probably heard it before, but Idiocracy is a enjoyable and perceptive parody of this apparently inevitable future. The further cement it, your observations are not allowed in mainstream discourse.

I'm seeing mixed solutions in public. One is the broad public push to import the next generation of workers, while on the other the other seems to be a faith growing (if I'm getting my mainstream reading-between-the-lines right) that robotics will solve all these issues - simply give the low intelligent masses contraceptives and entertainment television "the scientists" will invent robots, drones, and self-driving electric cars that make everything function.

For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates implicit central function is to lower birth-rates in third world countries. They publish fancy graphs showing that once we raise their standard of living, give them enough contraceptives, education, and enough vaccines they will lower their birth rates - while on the other hand supporting scientific solutions like GMO's and robotics.

Bruce Charlton said...

Comment from asdf "Certainly, you've been around lots of high IQ people. Do they seem balanced? Spiritually secure? Are they on the road to salvation? Do you think a society full of them would be a harmonious one?

"My experience with really high IQ people is that more often then not they are basket cases deep down. There are advantages to high IQ. It can usually be converted into money & status which everyone wants. However, could you imagine a society full of those people without such crutches. I imagine it will be a lot like the island of Alpha++s in Brave New World, it would descend into anarchy almost immediately.

"Unless its offered up to God, I don't see how all the space exploration and physics theorems in the world is of any good whatsoever. "

Bruce Charlton said...

@George - The problem with Idiocracy was that it implied the declining IQ society was sustainable - which it is not. Dumber people can drive cars, shoot guns and control some robots, but not repair them - certainly they can't replace them.

George said...

I didn't think it was saying it was sustainable, but was in the middle of total collapse and imminent starvation but for the miraculous intervention of a higher-IQ and genuinel honest man from the past.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

"...a direct strike against our covert secular religion of progress..."


I was struck a few days ago by a sentence I read in Maritain to the effect that a sound philosophy of history recognizes the fact that good and evil develop alongside one another in the world. Religion and morals may at times tip on opposite sides with outward history, but any trend is reversed first in the invisible order of things.

It seems obvious then that the unknown main cause of intelligence decline is the previous decline in practical intelligence, that is, morals, good judgment, common sense. This, in turn, is due to the decadence through heresy, and the abandonment of Christian faith. The motivation is excessive love of oneself and lack of love and obedience to truth, which alone could bear repentance and conversion, and remedy at the same time the obscuring of intelligence with sin.

ajb said...

One thing that has been occurring over the time-span you are talking about is the centralization of academically inclined people in university towns or certain parts of larger cities.

So, any trends like you describe would be harder for those people to detect in their day-to-day life. On the contrary, things seem to be going in the other direction for them, as they move from provincial town to university town, say.

Knurd said...

I've never really accepted that mankind discovers or invents anything, but rather that God reveals it through man at appointed times (Prov. 25:2, Ecc. 1:9), which I think is an apt alternative to Nietzsche's √úbermensch. So essentially, man's role is to uncover a timeless purpose, meaning, and value, rather than create or conjure it up from out of no where. By timeless, we can imagine one's timeless identity (in Christ) as a vector with a non-zero projection onto some superspace of spacetime. We can consider that this vector intersects with the spacetime plane given how we seem to care a great deal about the notion of a timeless identity, purpose and meaning. As with any higher-dimensional things, naturalism, and whole of classical and quantum physics is simply not equipped to model it. A huge fan of the richly secular humanist Star Trek the Next Generation, ironically I take greater comfort in Ecc 1:9 and Prov 25:2 which implies that the "newness" we ascribe to our unique experiences is naive.

Knurd said...

I realize I got way ahead of myself here. Please allow me to connect the dots to my previous post. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie "Idiocracy" and I find I can laugh at myself through it as well. In particular the two skyscrapers bound-together with wire resonates with me. I've engineered some things hastily when I felt either pressured or stupid or both and duct-tape seems to always be within reach. I suppose the point I did not raise is that if God unveils things for us to discover (intellectually or otherwise), He could very-well choose to pull the reins back on that. We know from nature (and Perelandra by C.S. Lewis) that many things progress in a series of periodic waves and fluctuation. It's not unreasonable to suggest that we could be entering a hundred year intellectual slump only to return to previous levels or even greater.

Theramster said...

Professor Charlton,
I would love to hear your current views on Intelligence, population,genius, reaction time ..etc

You've written extensively in the past about the topic. I wonder if you have further additions to your prior findings concerning this interesting subject.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you

Bruce Charlton said...

I don't work in this area nowadays - the last things I wrote were:

Best, Yours, BGC