Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Are We Really Getting Smarter?

Thought-provoking article by James Flynn--yes, that one--in the 

"Modern people do so well on these tests because we are new and peculiar. We are the first of our species to live in a world dominated by categories, hypotheticals, nonverbal symbols and visual images that paint alternative realities. We have evolved to deal with a world that would have been alien to previous generations."
I have long wrestled with the idea of arrested development in cultural terms. To claim that a given culture is stuck in its past is at odds with American notions of free will, identity, and progress. Yet the evidence is there, as noted by a friend who spent years as a government spook in Pakistan. He maintains that once one leaves the relatively modern areas of Lahore and Islamabad, the level of advancement drops several hundred years, if not a full millennium. 

It's rude to talk about such things in America. To be a good liberal, one must pretend that we all hold paramount white, middle-class values. (Note that this is not the same as wanting to be white and middle class.) This point of view insists that people are good, nonviolent, and respectful. There's no evidence for this pretense, but people cling to it.

So what does this have to do with IQ?

Flynn is spot on about the increasing abstract capabilities of those who do well--even modestly well--on IQ tests. These groups are largely in the West. This capability is a huge advantage, if in no other areas than in strategy and tactics. People who are, in Flynn's own term, "prescientific" are not cognitively capable of overcoming those who have the abstraction advantage.

Cultures that are resolutely prescientific are clinging to a failed present and are determined to meet an already failed future.

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