Friday, December 7

As If Bred by Alien Overlords

Three-Toed Sloth provides a Q 'n' A, in the course of which :
A: ...Doing well on standardized, multiple-choice tests calls for certain sorts of cognitive skills, certain kinds of abstract problem solving. Maybe more exactly, you need both aptitude at understanding explicit rules for manipulating symbols, communicated to you through the medium of writing, with very little contextual information to help you make sense of the message, and you need to be willing to follow those rules, even when they are pointless. These are skills that come from making your way through an industrial, or more precisely bureaucratic and mass-literate, society. (Shades of Luria!) These are skills you are more apt to learn if you grow up in a household which is already highly literate, etc., than if your parents and neighbors are all displaced peasants or harrassed proles. It's certainly not surprising if someone who grows up in a household of intellectuals (that is, clerks) finds these habits easy to learn.

Q: So the analogy suggests that IQ scores are...?

A: A proxy for the skills and habits encouraged by a bureaucratic society; skills and habits which can be at once highly heritable (because of strong transmission through family and neighbors) and highly learned (within the scope of what it is biologically possible for humans to learn and internalize).
A: ...If IQ really correlates with the ability to flourish in an industrial society (and I'm quite prepared to believe that), then it is, as I said last time, a measurement of the ability to navigate paper-pushing bureaucracies — to learn to manipulate arbitrary abstract explicit rules, and to do so on command. Presuming that people who don't manage to pull off at least some minimum level of this make very unattractive mating partners, and so have below-average reproductive success, then those of us in developed countries have spent the last one or two centuries breeding for docility, in both senses of the word.
It's really better in the original, though.

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