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Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are. 2002 by Steven R. Quartz and Terrence J. Sejnowski

Reviewed by Matt Nuenke - July 2003 - www.neoeugenics.com

 

Quartz and Sejnowski have written a book that is filled with an eclectic set of observations and notions about how culture shapes who we are - that we are not fixed at birth by our genes. It starts out quite interesting, but later on, it tends to drift into wishful thinking about human nature, perhaps because they really do not have that much to say that is new. Nonetheless, there are some interesting, if disjointed points they try to make, making for an interesting critique of their assertions.

 

[Q&S] "Although the function of area 10 [in the brain] remains mysterious, as we examine in more detail in chapter 6, damage to area 10 impairs an awareness of one's self. Perhaps, then, the expansion and reorganization of area 10 during human evolution led to our capacity to generate a sense of self, a possibility we will pursue throughout this book."

 

"Developing a sense of self is a protracted process, requiring long exposure to the social world. Yet it is absolutely essential to human life, for we require a sense of self to navigate the complex social worlds we inhabit. Doing so endows us with the capacity for flexible behavior, as we update our behavior to accommodate rapid social changes. We were intrigued by the fact that the prefrontal cortex is the last part of our brain to mature during development, not reaching its full function until after puberty. Perhaps we literally build our sense of self as our human culture helps to build our prefrontal cortex. If this were so, then our mind would be supremely flexible not because it has somehow unfettered itself from our biology, but because of our biology. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the more we learn about the brain, the more we realize that its rich interaction with the world is the key to understanding our complex mental life and intelligence."

 

Throughout this book, the assertion is made in a sublime manner, that with the right cultural inputs, we can all develop into unique selves. Hidden beneath this is really a hope that culture can remake our human nature, and that once again we can be freed from our genes. At least that is the feeling I get from this book.

 

However, from a behavior genetics perspective we can supply quite a different interpretation. Yes, we do know that the brain is growing and changing continuously, and this process is ongoing. For example, myelination is the fatty tissue around axons that transmit signals between neurons, and we know that this fatty tissue is not fully developed until we reach adulthood. We also know that the amount of fatty tissue is under strict genetic control and is not altered by cultural input, and it is one of the primary indicators of innate intelligence - the more fatty tissue around our axons, the faster signals can travel between brain cells, and the smarter a person is.

 

This interpretation then fits in nicely with Jesenist's observations, that intelligence becomes more genetic as we grow older. Yes, culture gives us a sense of ourselves, but our biology dictates how well our brains will be able to deal with the complexity of modern life, or simply put, how smart we are. This new brain science then does not undermine our understanding of racial differences in intelligence, but helps explain it. Children are more malleable when it comes to learning, with a genetic component of intelligence of about 40%. By adulthood, the genetic component is about 80%. This explains why early intervention programs to help slow learning children catch up seemed so promising, only to fade as they got older. Viewing the brain as fixed, with regards to intelligence, pointed to a failure to teach. However, under this continuous growth scenario, we now know that the failure to learn would be expected. The gap between the average intelligence of different races is genetic when we become adults - when it really matters.

 

[Q&S] "Recent studies using structural brain imaging confirm that every region of the cortex continues to grow larger throughout childhood. Is it a coincidence that the prefrontal cortex, the part supporting many key human capacities, such as our ability to develop a sense of self, also appears to have such a protracted development? Late maturation makes no sense from evolutionary psychology's vantage. Imagine buying a computer preloaded with tons of software only to turn it on and discover it takes three years to boot up. Wouldn't evolution have selected for humans whose brains could get online as soon as possible? After all, there's nothing to be gained from waiting around twiddling your synapses when there's a world full of genetic competitors to vanquish. Evolutionary psychologists ignore this issue, suggesting that the brain's postnatal development is limited. But if the postnatal development of modules is limited, why would they take so long to get going?"

 

This is an odd assertion, or more correctly an attack on evolutionary psychology that seems unwarranted. Yes, evolutionary psychologists do study similarities between people, trying to determine the evolutionary advantages of commonality in human behavior. However, I am not aware of an evolutionary perspective that states that the mind is whole at birth, and does not change. Evolutionary psychologists spend an incredible amount of time teasing out of human behavior differences all along our personal development. For instance, they study how females alter their workloads from puberty to grandmother-hood, noting how older women will work longer, if not harder, to collect food. This is just the opposite of what one would expect. Yet, I have seen this behavior in my own relatives. As women mature, they become more concerned with resource acquisition for their grandchildren (obsessed with who is going to inherit uncle Ed's money). Contrary to what they assert, what they observe with regards to the development of the brain is in accord with evolutionary psychology.

 

[Q&S] "Culture has many levels, from social transmission of behaviors such as tool use observed in nonhuman primates to symbol and language, rituals, and institutions, which are highly developed in humans. The Canadian psychologist Merlin Donald refers to human culture as a 'cognitive web' and suggests that humans found a way to build complex cultures that free the mind from its individual isolation to partake in a widely distributed system of knowledge shared across many nervous systems. This makes human mental life irreducibly social. The comparative primatologist Michael Tomasello suggests that humans have a species-specific type of social learning that allows us to form a sense of self and understand others as agents with intentions that are similar to our owns. Human development critically depends on the ability to understand others as persons with minds, full of beliefs, desires, hopes, and other intentions."

 

One of the primary dilemmas of eugenics is determining what group the program will apply to, and who will be excluded. Within the group, of course, the selection is based on intelligence. China today, being a homogenous nation racially, prevents low-intelligent people from breeding. However, when different races are involved, we get into problems of group conflict. That is because humans, as noted above, have evolved a system of social learning that is extremely aware of other individuals AND other groups' "beliefs, desires, hopes and …intentions." Is it any wonder then that humans are a warring, hostile species? We don't just interact with other humans; we are obsessed with whether they have hostile intentions towards us - either as individuals or as groups. This is the 800-pound gorilla in the room that no one wants to talk about, yet it has everything to do with why human conflict is the norm. Group evolutionary strategies are real, dangerous, and cannot be ignored.

 

With regards to racial differences, it has been argued that humans must have evolved at the same rate everywhere, because there was no reason not to! - or some such nonsensical notions. Others however have noted that there are differences between races based on where they evolved, and extremes of weather may have been the primary force affecting these differences in intelligence and behavior. For example, Whites and East Asians came under extreme climatic conditions, and only the more intelligent were able to survive or were selected for.

 

[Q&S] "This new research reveals that the last million years was a time of jarring climatic changes, the greatest period of climatic fluctuation since Lucy walked the planet 3.18 million years ago, and perhaps the greatest such period ever registered on the planet. Often within the span of a decade, climates underwent dramatic alterations, from rain forest to arid savanna to steppe…. As we saw in the examples of chimpanzees and bonobos, the game of life changes when climatic changes shuffle resources. The history of life on earth is filled with such stories of climatic betrayal in which species specialized for one climate are decimated by sudden climatic change. During the last million years, climatic change has greatly reduced the diversity of animals in Africa. More versatile species replaced those animals that were too specialized for one way of life, one ecological reality. We saw that the first step in dismissing the flawed image of our brains as specialized contraptions for an unchanging world was to recognize that our brain's expansion occurred during a period of unprecedented climatic oscillation that was at its most furious during the last six hundred thousand years, exactly when our ancestors' brains underwent their greatest expansion…. Our ancestors would have needed ways to deal with sweeping ecological changes, sometimes occurring within a single lifetime, at other times spanning many generations."

 

What they fail to mention is that some races existed on the periphery of human populations, at the extremes of glaciation changes over short periods of time. These small, isolated groups, had to have the cognitive abilities to plan ahead for harsh winters, making selection for intelligence of critical importance.

 

[Q&S] "Although the brain-culture interaction is a great source of human flexibility, in later chapters we'll examine how it also creates an almost pathological need for meaning and coherence. This can be a powerful source of creative energy, driving both science and the arts to ponder our world and our place in it. But we also pay a high price for our ability to create ourselves. The prefrontal cortex that underlies many of our symbolic abilities is also involved in virtually all mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, depression, obsessive compulsive disorders, and manic states."

 

I am surprised that these authors are unaware of the difference between our need for meaning, and our drive to be creative or inventive. They are not connected, in fact they are in conflict. Human culture, because it passes on information from one generation to another, is one of conservatism, not exploration (see my article on hate, disgust and fear).  It is the highly intelligent, individualistic, iconoclastic individual who goes against the norm and is creative. Most people are far more passive, looking for simplistic answers in religion, their political leaders, and ten-step programs to happiness to help them fill in the voids of the unknowable. It is more likely that "creative energy" is more a matter of male dominance - he who stands out gets the gals. "If I can't be a star athlete, I'll impress them with my inventions" - pure testosterone.

 

[Q&S] "This strategy is similar to a technique used in building artificial learning systems known as Temporal Difference (TD) learning, a type of reinforcement learning developed by computer scientists Richard Sutton and Andrew Barto. Although learning often connotes the presence of a teacher who tells us whether our work is correct, most learning involves a subtler teacher: the feedback from the consequences of our actions. TD learning uses just this kind of feedback by using the difference between predicted rewards and actual rewards to guide adaptive behavior."

 

A lot more could be said about teaching, but it is true I think that we place way too much importance on how we have raised our children, blaming every failure on our methodologies, rather than on the ability of the actor to learn how to behave within culture. This is again where the development of the executive brain is more advanced in some races, and it allows the individual to not make stupid mistakes, like holding up a liquor store or stealing a car. Intelligent people are better able to learn how to behave to stay out of trouble, while others just cannot think far enough ahead to understand the consequences of their behavior.

 

[Q&S] "According to Kagan, by four months of age, about 20 percent of infants have the behavioral and physiological signs of an inhibited temperament. In contrast, about 40 percent of infants have signs of a bold or fearless nature, with the rest somewhere in between. The differences can be striking. For example, a loud bang might spark the shy infant into a bout of tears, whereas the bold infant might interpret the same bang as an invitation to explore something interesting. This is the essence of temperamental differences: Individuals assign emotions to experiences very differently, and so interpret the world in their own characteristic way. Since babies haven't had much experience with the world, their styles of temperament likely reflect some basic differences in neural and biochemical machinery. There is a deep connection between your internal guidance system and your temperament: Since the internal guidance system shapes infant behavior, temperament most likely reflects the configuration of this early behavioral system."

 

The bottom line then is that genes make people different in temperament, the temperament will probably be context dependent later in life (introverted at work, extroverted at the ball game), and where there are differences in individuals, there will also be average differences between racial groups. That is, such things as introversion, conscientiousness, intelligence, neuroticism, etc. There are also differences in ethnocentrism, both individually and racially, but the funding to investigate these differences is not available. The preferred approach is to just indoctrinate people into accepting that feelings of racial kinship are wrong, and if we just try hard enough we can all get along as one big happy family, not even noticing differences. Yet, we see the results of ethnic conflict all around us, validating the deep attachment that humans feel for their own race.

 

The recent Supreme Court ruling banning states from enforcing sodomy laws, or laws against homosexuality, has been heralded by the egalitarian Left as a great victory. I agree with those on the Left who accept that sexual preferences are genetic or environmentally determined prenatally, making sexual preferences extremely difficult to alter. However, many people are still going to feel revulsion or disgust when they observe for example two men kissing in public. What the Left has failed to consider, is that tolerance for homosexuality in the legal sense is the same as tolerance for interracial marriage, for example. Tolerance for natural deviancy may be the current social agenda, the new moralizing god, but human nature does not change. Tolerance for homosexuality equates now with intolerance for those who find homosexuality disgusting. Likewise, tolerance for race mixing equates then with intolerance for those who find race mixing disgusting, immoral or culturally harmful. Tolerance then is often times two sided: the promotion of tolerance for race mixing is also intolerance for racial consciousness. Yet racial consciousness is a natural outcome of our evolutionary past. Homosexuality, or its preference, is not.

 

[Q&S] "Temperament colors you in broad brush strokes. Mediated by your internal guidance system, temperament shapes how you respond to the world and the people in it. Those responses in turn create new experiences, setting in motion a cascade of formative experiences. This isn't the whole story, though. We haven't yet touched on your user's guide to life, which is mediated by prefrontal brain structures. As you develop, behavioral control shifts from your internal guidance system to include your user's guide to life, a shift sometimes called the frontalization of behavior. The same shift occurs with temperament: Whereas temperament is the main component of your internal guidance system during infancy, your personality unfolds slowly over time as your user's guide to life comes online. As we will discover, it takes a long time to build your personality and the flexible behavior it allows."

 

There are important lessons to be understood in the above when it comes to how we are going to raise our children to be eugenically and racially conscious. In fact, this program is used currently by Jews in trying to reestablish racial boundaries due to the high levels of race mixing and the fear of losing the Jewish race. They go to special schools to establish ties with their racialism, make trips to Israel, learn Hebrew, etc. These are all racial boundary programs to help separate the more secular Jews from the gentile. Likewise, our children need to be taught to be racially conscious, as well as being taught how to behave and act in different contexts that they will find themselves in. That is, children may learn from their parents a value system that is racially conscious, but if they move in a peer group or attend schools where race mixing is the norm, they will probably adopt two or more modes of behavior - one for home and one or more when they are outside the home. The only solution then for protecting children from adopting the egalitarian stance is to keep them out of public schools and away from a peer group that is racially promiscuous.

 

On the other hand, children who are taught to be racially conscious must learn when to adopt the egalitarian stance when outside of the group environment. That is, they must learn to alter their behavior depending on the context. As wise adults, we do this all the time. Depending on who I am around determines how I will present myself. Human behavior after all is all about deception, and that means understanding context dependent behavior.

 

[Q&S] "Is human personality an open program? We think so, and for good reasons. Open programs have the advantage of shaping personality for changing and unanticipated roles, or niches. They can even help create new niches. This powerful feature is the hallmark of the human mental flexibility at the core of cultural biology. Slowly, as you experience your world over many years, out of the partnership between your anchoring internal guidance system and your user's guide to life emerges an intellectual coup: the impressive flexibility that allows you both to reshape your world and to respond to its personality-shaping contexts. Indeed, although children essentially master cognitive skills such as language by age four or five, human development continues through adolescence because it is an enormous task to build a user's guide to navigate a complex world. The process of building this guide is called socialization, and it is a long road that you must travel. Much of what is called personality is formed along that road."

 

This is actually good news for eugenicists. In the world as it is unfolding, it does not look promising for any racial eugenics' program outside of a group-based diaspora. That is, a network of coreligionists existing among the multiculturalist Western nations. To accomplish our goals then, we must again nurture our children to "navigate" in a complex world and form resource rich niches. Our genetic perfection will be enhanced by our self-created environments, where as a group we can accentuate our commitment to our extended kin. Genetic enhancements then will coexist with cultural enhancements to form the bonds for a tight, exclusionary, breeding-group, that will not be perceived as a danger by the rest of society - we must stay invisible.

 

[Q&S] "Since [mental] the circuits of personality take two decades to be built, far beyond your 'formative' years, the driving force of personality development must be more than just your early interactions with your parents. What are the forces that shape you? Judith Rich Harris, a psychology textbook writer and self-styled maverick disguised as a mild-mannered grandmother, suggested an answer in her much-discussed, widely vilified book The Nurture Assumption, in which she dared to argue that parents have no long-term effects on their children's personality, intelligence, or mental health. Instead, she believes a different personal history matters: that of peer groups. To her, we are shaped by our efforts to find our place in the larger contexts of our social world, outside our family's influence. In fact, Harris believes that given the same community children would turn out just the same even if they were all swapped at birth. Harris ultimately sides with those who view personality development as an open program. That is, personality isn't inborn; it's a survival strategy that gradually unfolds to navigate the particular slings and arrows of your situation. This much Harris shares with Freud. Yet Harris's idea veers from a Freudian perspective, for she claims that personality unfolds gradually from infancy to adulthood - a claim that resonates deeply with recent findings in brain development. We, too, were drawn to the idea that personality unfolds gradually over time, but we questioned whether it meant we also had to abandon the notion that your early experiences play a formative role in personality development."

 

The common explanation by evolutionists on how a species divides into two or more species, is that they are separated geographically for such an extended period of time that eventually, through genetic changes, they can no longer interbreed and produce viable offspring. This is far too simplistic and restricted. For example: "Darwin speculated that these thirteen species likely started as one species, perhaps as a few finches blown to the islands from the mainland. Over the generations, they changed into the thirteen distinct species. The question was, Why? In a process called adaptive radiation, new finch species with their own distinct bill shape and size would be capable of foraging on foodstuffs that other finch species couldn't utilize, allowing a new finch species to survive in an unoccupied ecological niche." That is, speciation via niche building. And humans are favorably equipped to do the same thing, not by natural selection, but by forethought. We can decide how we are going to "fill a special niche" and breed ourselves to fill it. Gypsies and Jews are two classic examples of how this can occur - and we may be seeing it unfold with a welfare class of people who by their very nature will fill a niche of dependency on government handouts. Eugenicists, on the other hand, can breed to fill the high-intelligence niche - one that will have lasting value for the foreseeable future.

 

[Q&S] "We realized that Harris's and Sulloway's basic mistake was to view human personality formation as driven by the search for a single, unoccupied niche within either the family or the peer group. Your personality - your user's guide to life - makes you supremely flexible, able to navigate a variety of niches - from the home to work and social events - that you encounter throughout the day. In more than a metaphorical sense, you aren't the same person at home as you are in the office. This inconsistency isn't a defect. Your capacity to gauge context and adjust your personality accordingly is a remarkable achievement that is at the core of cultural biology. It is a key to human social life. It underlies our ability to inhabit many social worlds, which sometimes takes ominous form…. The most popular trait models of personality are 'big-five models' [Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism]. Both Sulloway and Harris view personality as a combination of five essential traits: perhaps a drop of extroversion, a dash of agreeableness, a dollop of conscientiousness, and a light dusting of neuroticism, topped with a sprinkle of openness to experience. Putting them all together, you get a characteristic style of responding to different situations. According to this model, Sulloway suggests that you dialed in different levels of these five traits that together adapt you to a niche within your family. For example, as a typical firstborn you may be extroverted, antagonistic, conscientious, jealous, and conservative. Harris, on the other hand, argues that your traits were selected by your efforts to find a niche within your peer group. Trait-model theorists have long tried to confirm their view by exploring how much 'cross-situational consistency' there is in human behavior. Their research, however, has had disappointing returns. Human behavior shows only very modest consistency across situations. It turns out that you adjust your behavior to fit specific contexts, making you more context-sensitive than consistent."

 

I have written about behavioral traits, and noted that they are all about 50% genetic. But intuitively, I have had problems for example categorizing myself as an extrovert or an introvert. I think the authors are correct in noting that behavioral traits can be different under different contexts. However, that does not change the reality of behavioral traits but rather how they interact with our emotional sub-systems. Accepting this fact, I still think it is useful to have behavioral trait profiles of people, and then using them with caution. For example, there are ads now for Internet services that will help people find a mate based on behavioral traits. Likewise, companies could have tests to determine people's behavioral traits for certain occupations. We just need to keep in mind that behavioral traits are context dependent, and not rigid. Looking back, this should almost have been obvious by observing people under different circumstances.

 

This is good news for eugenicists, and means that we do not need to focus on trying to change any behavioral traits. For example, to form a workable eugenic community, we need to focus on looking at behavioral traits that are coalition-building and effective, but not necessarily universal. That is, as niche-builders, we can put together, through personality tests, communities that work well together, but they will not all be similar. Like marital match making, eugenic groups can differ in behavioral trait constitution, and still be effective breeding communities. One community might be compatible on based on one set of behavioral traits, and another on a completely different set of behavioral traits - but high intelligence will always be selected for because it is not only the defining criteria that distinguishes humans from all other species, it is the defining trait the separates the elite from the dregs of humanity.

 

The authors do error however in mixing up behavioral traits and intelligence:  "This is consonant with the key claim of cultural biology that mental flexibility is the hallmark of intelligence. Our greatest evolutionary achievement meant escaping the niche limitations inherent in acting the same in different situations. In fact, there are few social embarrassments more painful than watching a friend who can't read social cues and acts inappropriately."

 

I see no linkage between raw intelligence and behavioral flexibility. A person may be able to modify their behavior to take advantage of certain situations or "niches" the more intelligent they are. However, I have also seen extremely intelligent people who do not do well in enjoying life, being reproductively successful, or able to accumulate economic resources. We know that intelligence is the most important determinant of success on a host of indicators, followed by conscientiousness. To equate intelligence with mental flexibility as it is related to human interaction is unfounded. In fact, the real question is, are humans even rational? "We've argued that humans are biologically primed to acquire behaviors through cultural learning. For this to be effective, evolution had to build strong biological tendencies to internalize cultural codes of conduct, fueled by the neurochemistry of attachment. This predisposition is called conformity, the propensity to be socialized." It seems to me that a more explicable explanation for human intelligence coexisting with human irrationality, conformance, and false belief systems, is that our social lives are in fact at odds with out purely rational/intelligence side. These authors link the two rather than see the conflict between the two.

 

[Q&S] "The point is that the tendency to be socially receptive to information says nothing about the content of what you absorb. There is always the possibility of being manipulated by others for their own ends. Despite the image of the rugged individualist, group socialization is a tremendously powerful force. Conformity permeates who we are, from worrying about the width of neckties and the length of hemlines, to whether 'our' team will win the championship. Indeed, there is perhaps no more ominous a sight than a stadium of football fans doing the 'wave.'"

 

Remember now, theses authors are claiming that: "the key claim of cultural biology [is] that mental flexibility is the hallmark of intelligence." So why do they think it is intelligence that makes belief systems so vulnerable?: "Indeed, the surest way to be condemned is to be critical of another's belief system, so powerful a hold do ideas have on who you think you are."

 

This book is filled with these contradictions in logic, as if the authors understand human evolution while at the same time promoting a more egalitarian human condition - but not really understanding the human mind to find an egalitarian solution. They understand that, "Males aged fifteen to twenty-nine aren't the most aggressive age group. As Richard Tremblay of the University of Montreal remarks, 'humans are more physically aggressive between the ages of twenty-four and thirty months than at any other time in their lives.' According to Tremblay, the chief researcher of a long-term study of childhood aggression, the typical two-year-old engages in eight to nine aggressive acts an hour. The consequences of a toddler's aggression typically aren't as dire as those of violence committed by someone of more years and means, but in terms of sheer numbers of aggressive acts, the toddler wins easily."

 

Later they exclaim, "Your great sociability and capacity to internalize beliefs can result in a dangerous hyperarousal of the very parts of the brain that distinguish you as human, paradoxically leading you to dehumanize others…. Nonetheless, an enormous amount of evidence confirms our readiness to form groups, to categorize people on the basis of their group membership, and to favor our own. Known as ingroup-outgroup bias, this is a strikingly pervasive human characteristic. It's no accident that home team and visiting fans at college games are typically seated on opposite sides of the field." The authors just can't seem to come to grips with our evolutionary past. Our brains do have a great deal of flexibility, but Mithen, in The Prehistory of the Mind (1996), is the only book I have read that brings the modularity of the mind and how it slowly integrated the parts into the domain-general organ that could rely on the executive brain to get the parts to work together. (Mithen is cited by many other authors - nevertheless, his book is still the best intuitive insight on how humans can progress even further in integrating the mind through self-directed evolution or eugenics.)

 

The most egregious pandering to the Left in this book has be the section on intelligence. Nowhere have I found, in an academic book, such a transparent admission that they have lost the debate on the heritability of intelligence, whether between individuals or between different races. The authors on page 218, start with a discussion of Alfred Binet's development of intelligence tests in 1904, then they discuss old eugenic programs, the mass production of education, and finally on page 232 they declare in two paragraphs that the Flynn effect proves that intelligence is not genetic.

 

"Ironically, the most compelling evidence that different environments can have large effects on intelligence comes from within the field of IQ itself, in a phenomenon called 'the Flynn effect.' A political scientist at the University of Otago in New Zealand, James Flynn has carefully documented the steady increase in scores ever since the IQ test was invented. Among the twenty countries Flynn has studied, IQ has been increasing anywhere from five to twenty-five points in each generation. Although the exact cause of the Flynn effect remains a mystery, it is clear that a genetic explanation isn't correct - environmental factors are at work."

 

However, does this argument hold? Not by any means. A book by numerous experts in the field of intelligence, published by the American Psychological Association in 1998 entitled The Rising Curve: Long Term Gains in IQ and Related Measures, discusses the Flynn effect and concludes that at best it may be due to increased childhood immunization, better nutrition, smaller family sizes (each additional child is exposed to increased immune reaction intolerance from the mother), or experience with test-taking. None of the authors felt that people were actually getting smarter.

 

Bjorklund and Pellegrini I think summarize the basic difference between intelligence and an evolutionary psychology perspective, "Despite our basic agreement with mainstream evolutionary psychology about the importance of domain-specific mechanisms, we also believe that people possess domain-general abilities, that these abilities have been selected over phylogeny, and that they interact with domain-specific mechanisms over the course of ontogeny. We do not believe, of course, that a single, domain-general mechanism can account for all learning and cognition; however, we propose that there may be several domain-general mechanisms (working-memory capacity, speed of processing) that influence performance on many tasks and that such mechanisms experienced selective pressure over evolutionary time. This proposal seems to describe the extant data and must be considered in any fully articulated evolutionary psychological theory." [The Origins of Human Nature: Evolutionary Developmental Psychology, America Psychological Association, 2002]

 

What they are describing of course is what is well known about general intelligence, a high IQ is not the product of some people having "smart modules" like a "music module" or a "social interaction" module. Humans all have the basic ancient modules that allowed us to function as a social group before our brains expanded to our present state. The final state of our large brains added executive functions, that is an overall all, domain-general, level of intelligence that impact all of the other modules. Smart people are smart in many different ways, and stupid people are stupid in every which way (aside from brain damaged or specific genetic disorders that alter the normal brain outside of normal functioning).

 

Height or stature is also highly heritable, but the authors state that, "The average European today is eight inches taller than the typical European 150 years ago, a change that is attributed to environmental factors." But that does not determine how tall a person becomes subject to environmental manipulation.  For example, small children, because of the stigma of being short, can now be given human growth hormone shots - but even this very costly and long term intervention can only increase their height by one or two inches. The large gap that poor nutrition played in keeping human stature reduced 150 years ago is now over. Likewise, intelligence has never been raised by environmental intervention where it has persisted into adulthood - it is always a temporary increase BECAUSE the brain keeps growing and changing, nearing its genetic potential in adulthood. The authors never see this anomaly, nor do they mention recent work on intelligence, reaction time, brain size correlations, etc. They submit to intellectual cowardice and capitulate to the egalitarian dogma. And then, in one just-so story after another, they try to prove that machines can make human intelligence irrelevant!

 

[Q&S] "The fact that IQ accounts for only a modest amount of our success in life indicates that intelligence is likewise a complex blend of these strands. IQ may be a piece of the puzzle, even an important one, but it's not the whole puzzle….Champions of IQ, however, ignored the possibility that intelligence might depend in part on your world, arguing that intelligence was supposedly something that could be measured in social isolation with a pencil and paper test. To see how grossly misleading this assumption is, consider the following: 'The number is: 310-555-3425,' the tinny, automated voice on the other end of the line announced. Steve fumbled for a pen, all the while repeating the number aloud, but before he could find one, the number was gone from his mind. Exasperated, he called directory assistance again, but not before making sure he had pen and paper ready."

 

"What Steve did looks like a typical, everyday act. But it signifies a transforming fact about the human mind. The task of briefly remembering a phone number calls on working memory, which has severe limitations. To escape these limitations, Steve used artifacts - pen and paper - to hold a thought. Artifacts, then, let you overcome the limitations of your internal memory systems by using external storage devices…."

 

"As intelligent artifacts become more ubiquitous - that is, as more and more objects in your environment become information-rich - the dividing line between the thought processes inside your head and the things in your world becomes harder to demarcate. The equivalent for a computer would be RAM upgrades and new peripherals. It is extremely limiting to consider thought to reside purely inside the head…."

 

"Your mental life depends on interacting with intelligent artifacts, making intelligence much more akin to the pole vault than the 100-meter sprint. There's no doubt that individual differences still matter, but even these can be swamped by differences in the tools you have at your disposal, which can substantially alter your performance capacity."

 

"That an increasingly complex environment changes the brain has been cited as one possible explanation for the Flynn effect, and this resonates with cultural biology."

 

Does anyone really believe that the need for intelligence will be replaced by machines? These authors seem to think so, but the reasoning is so contorted and muddled it is hard to sort out the wishful thinking from their obsession to nullify what makes humans unique - high intelligence. One trait is foremost when people evaluate each other - how smart they are. Academics, even the Marxists, are obsessed with discussions of each other's intelligence. Yet, Quartz and Sejnowski want you to believe that intelligence just is not that important. In fact, to even argue that in the future, complex machines will make us less likely to need our high intelligence, does not even require refutation - it is false at face value.

 

Then they go on to try and convince us that even though intelligence is not important, we can overcome problems like Alzheimer's disease by "exercising" our minds. It is true, as many recent researchers have discussed, that learning can continue, as we get older. Moreover, it is true that intellectually active people are more likely to be cognitively adept at the age of 80, are less likely to succumb to Alzheimer's disease, than people who are not as intellectual. The problem is, what came first? Intelligence or stimulation - aren't innately intelligent people the ones who like to think and explore more than the less intelligent on average?

 

[Q&S] "Nuns who are more educated and perform stimulating work, such as teaching, tend to age more successfully than those who have less education and perform mundane tasks. They also live an average of four years longer. Since the nuns don't differ much in economic status, reproductive history, or - dare we say it - bad habits, we found this striking. Uncontaminated by the usual confounding factors, the Nun Study points strongly to the importance of a brain rich in connections for both the quality and the quantity of life."

 

What the authors fail to mention, is that research shows that the nuns who wrote creative essays when they were young, were the ones that were less likely to get Alzheimer's disease. Quartz and Sejnowski falsely try to make the case that it was the environment that each nun just happened to find herself in, that determined their eventual "cognitive decline." However, there is no evidence for that assertion. This book is a mixed bag of facts and fiction. The facts are well understood now that the brain does continue to learn, change, even grow new neurons and that some people can maintain high levels of mental acuity. It has not been shown that we are capable of creating a stimulating environment where everyone can one day be equally intelligent. The prognosis is more likely that as the environment becomes more difficult to maneuver due to increased complexity, intelligent people will rise to the challenge and excel - those who will find it difficult will give up trying. Quartz and Sejnowski even admit that: "People who feel incapable of performing at high levels shrink from hard challenges, expend less effort, and show less perseverance at the challenges they do take on. In other words, they become at risk for the pattern of disuse that underlies cognitive decline."

 

Liars, Lovers, and Heroes is another attempt at overturning general intelligence, or "g," as the engine of the brain. Unlike other attempts to undermine g, it attempts an end run around it by making numerous claims, observations, and speculations that are not only unfounded, but they are inherently contradictory. At one point they claim that intelligence is not important because "artifacts" or machines will do all of the thinking for us, and then they try to convince us that we need to build an environment where we can stimulate intelligence: "From the earliest interventions that help establish the crucial bonds between caregiver and child to educational programs designed for people in their later years, creating rich, compensating environments significantly impacts the brain and mental performance throughout life. And similarly, immersion in complex, stimulating environments - cultures of intelligence - is an important component of successful aging."

 

Nothing in this book supports this conclusion, and they have not provided any evidence that overturns the genetic basis of intelligence. Whether the heritability of intelligence, just like how tall we grow, is 60% or 80%, it is substantial. Because of the innateness of intelligence then, there is no way to build a culture that can make everyone equally smart. It is beyond our understanding of the nature/nurture interaction. True, human behavior is very malleable, dependent on our own unique autobiographical histories. That does not mean however that culture, society, or the government is equipped with enough resources or understanding of human nature to make all people equal. We continue to be a species with wide variances in individual and racial differences. The observation that these authors made no sincere attempt to overturn a behavioral genetic approach to the genetic importance of intelligence indicates to me that there has been no progress made by opponents of g and its genetic basis for over a decade now. All of the scientific progress has been on the side of evolutionary psychology, behavior genetics, and soon we will include eugenics as we locate the genes that make us smart. One by one, the pillars of radical environmentalism are falling as the Human Genome Project marches on - and the egalitarians are not happy.

 

A final note, I just happened to be reading two books while writing this review (one book kept in the car so that after my quick workout at the health club, I have something to read as I wait for my far more energetic wife). The books are The Origins of Human Nature: Evolutionary Developmental Psychology by Bjorklund and Pellegrini, American Psychological Association, 2002; and Human Evolutionary Psychology by Barrett, Dunbar, and Lycett, Princeton University Press, 2002. These two books reflect very similarly, but in much greater detail than, what Quartz and Sejnowski observes about how the brain works. However, these books do not come to the same simplistic conclusions with regards to an egalitarian stance. True, the majority of books I read on evolution or the brain include short sidebars of liberal dreaming, or else they just avoid messy subjects like racial differences altogether. The pattern is however the same. There are always a few embedded statements, scattered here or there, that will help get the authors off the hook if the antiracists go on the attack. What is always notable to me however, is how inconsistent and insincere these overt apologias are - they never put forth a coherent effort to overturn Jensenism and the genetic basis of intelligence. They know enough to quit while they are ahead - it is better to step around the issue rather than attack it head on. The duplicity of Quartz and Sejnowski, on the other hand, is right out of the Marxist handbook of Rose, Kamin, Lewontin, and Gould, et al. When all else fails - simply lie about and/or omit the data that does not support your dogma. Ideology trumps science.