Skip

Modern Thinking
October 25, 2012 2:45 PM   Subscribe

New Republic article on James Flynn's new book Are We Getting Smarter?: Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century "IN THE MID-’80s, the political philosopher James Flynn noticed a remarkable but puzzling trend: for the past century, average IQ scores in every industrialized nation have been steadily rising. And not just a little: nearly three points every decade. Every several years, IQ tests test have to be “re-normed” so that the average remains 100. This means that a person who scored 100 a century ago would score 70 today; a person who tested as average a century ago would today be declared mentally retarded."

"Why has this happened? The short answer, according to Flynn, is that a convergence of diverse social factors in post-industrial societies—from the emphasis of scientific reasoning in school to the complexity of modern video games—has increasingly demanded abstract thinking. We have begun to see the world, Flynn says, through “scientific spectacles.” To put it even more broadly, the pattern of rising IQ scores does not mean that we are comparing “a worse mind with a better one,” but rather that we are comparing minds that “were adapted to one cognitive environment with those whose minds are adapted to another cognitive environment.” Seen in this light, the Flynn effect does not reflect gains in general intelligence, it reflects a shift to more abstract thinking brought about by a changing social environment. We aren’t getting smarter; we are getting more modern."
posted by bookman117 (96 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have an alternate theory.
posted by sy at 3:00 PM on October 25, 2012 [41 favorites]


Thanks for an interesting read.
posted by bardophile at 3:01 PM on October 25, 2012


sy: I was just thinking something along the same lines, although I had no idea there was a name for it.
posted by bardophile at 3:02 PM on October 25, 2012


Obligatory SMBC
posted by sibboleth at 3:04 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


a person who scored 100 a century ago would score 70 today; a person who tested as average a century ago would today be declared mentally retarded."

Except they wouldn't, because mental retardation, under the DSM-IV, includes the following criteria:

"Concurrent deficits or impairments in adaptive functioning in at least 2 of the following areas: communication, self-care, home living, social/interpersonal skills, use of community resources, self-direction, functional academic skills, work, leisure, health, and safety"
posted by howfar at 3:05 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


But, of course, that's actually a major point of the argument. Intelligence and cognition both exist and develop in relation to an environment. Talking about them in the abstract is either absurd or horrific, as the death row example demonstrates.
posted by howfar at 3:08 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have an alternate theory. (Seriously thanks guys and gals)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 3:11 PM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


People a hundred years ago probably had more physical stamina than we do, today, not to mention they were slimmer. That doesn't say something inherently about our modern ability to become fit; it says something about our lack of utilizing the bodies we have because we have less necessity and other things we prioritize.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:15 PM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have an alternate theory.
The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.
As much as I agree with this law, I can't say I'm convinced it applies here. Is measured IQ used for social decision-making? If anything, isn't it a trope that everyone hates (or professes to) people who announce their IQ score?
posted by DU at 3:16 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have an alternate theory.

Except straight IQ tests aren't typically used in a way that would cause Campbell's law to operate. Low IQ scores are sometimes the "desirable" result, and IQ data is much more frequently used for the purpose of pure research than in social decision-making setting. Without further data, I really think your theory is about as hunchy as Quasimodo.
posted by howfar at 3:17 PM on October 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


And to think, all those '50s futurists predicted it'd be our heads getting huge.
posted by darksasami at 3:17 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think Flynn's explanation is better than most that I've heard. The effect size is too big to be real: DSM criteria notwithstanding, an IQ of 70 represents a severe mental impairment, and it's just not true that the majority of my great-grandparents' generation were mentally impaired. And (dimly recalling some undergrad lectures on this) the empirical evidence suggests the scores have been rising for a very long time; the effect isn't all that "new". Maybe some of it is real -- there are some studies that point to gains due to better nutrition, if I recall correctly -- but it can't all be real. And besides, the fact that the gains are not evenly spread across subtests does require an explanation (e.g., it's hard to imagine it's because people are "cheating", by learning the IQ tests, a la Campbell's would: that would imply that for some weird reason only some subtests can be learned).

But the idea that a lot of the gains come from culturally-induced shifts in thinking style seems very plausible. Flynn's example of the similarity subtest is really interesting. The "correct" answer to the dogs and rabbits question is an interesting example of dubious test design, to be honest (I don't say that lightly: I'm generally a defender of psychometric methods). To designate the taxonomic response (because they're both mammals) as correct, and a role-based response (dogs hunt rabbits) is a bit rubbish on logical grounds, but the more worrying point is that *similarity* is a very well-studied phenomenon in psychology, so we can say a lot about who is likely to pick one type of similarity over another. Specifically, the taxonomic-bias is prevalent among people from western societies, people with higher education, and adults. Children, less educated people, and people from other cultures, are much less likely to treat taxonomy as the "appropriate" way to assess similarity in a generic context. But, given that similarity is of course a highly context-dependent thing, neither answer is actually more correct. To the extent that people are now much more likely to give the taxonomic response, I think we're seeing a cultural shift. On average, more people in our society share the same intuitive biases (e.g., taxonomic bias for similarities) as the test designers, and are therefore more likely to give the "right" answer.

I don't think this is actually a bad thing: I think it reflects the fact that more people have a deeper knowledge of abstract scientific knowledge like biology, and a shallower knowledge of traditional concepts (e.g., hunting). It's a change, and probably one for the better. If it turns out to be a tradeoff between science and hunting, I'll pick science! But it does mean that the IQ gains need to be put in context. Neither, though, do I think it invalidates IQ testing. It limits the scope of the conclusions that you can draw from the tests, but they're still very useful for a lot of purposes. For instance, if you want to assess the extent to which lead poisoning from a nearby plant has led to mild cognitive impairments in a community, you still can't do much better than IQ tests as a measurement, and the results are usually meaningful. But if you want to try to compare my intelligence to my grandparents using these tools, you're probably out of luck.
posted by mixing at 3:24 PM on October 25, 2012 [15 favorites]


> I have an alternate theory. [Campbell's Law]

The bogus, it hurts. (And I don't like the implied anti-data bias of the quote either...)

New IQ tests are calibrated by giving samples of population both the new test and the old tests... so you can actually see today's people doing better at yesterday's tests.

Or you could simply look at the original IQ tests - are they really so much harder than today's? The original Binet test is there for you to try...

While definitely being The Great science fiction editor, John W. Campbell popularized things like "Dianetics" and "The Dean Drive" - take it with a mound of salt.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:31 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and people are definitely getting better at intelligence, at all data processing skills.

Mrs. yonderboy and I were discussing this vis a vis 30 Rock the other day - we are of the opinion that a 1950s audience would simply not be able to understand an episode, because it was simply too fast for them (forgetting about the topical references and offensive parts of course).

If you don't believe that, consider video games. I go back and play some of the old video games I played when I was young - they seem as slow as molasses and yet I remember them as being fast. The bandwidth being conveyed in a modern first-person shooter and the speed of accurate reflexes needed has dramatically increased to the point that someone from the 70s would simply not be able to process.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:36 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I want a time machine NOW! So, I can go back in time and be smart.
posted by Mojojojo at 3:41 PM on October 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


It's interesting that a rise in IQ doesn't correlate with an increase in linguistic proficiency, because we're not exactly in the middle of a grammar renaissance these days. And if you read any casual correspondence from one or two hundred years ago it's apparent that the people who could read and write back then were extremely literate.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:42 PM on October 25, 2012 [18 favorites]


While definitely being The Great science fiction editor, John W. Campbell popularized things like "Dianetics" and "The Dean Drive" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dean_drive - take it with a mound of salt.

"Donald Thomas Campbell (November 20, 1916 - May 5, 1996) was an American social scientist. He is noted for his work in methodology... he earned his doctorate in psychology in 1947 from UC Berkeley."
posted by junco at 3:45 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


it was simply too fast for them

I think that's probably true as far as it goes, but it's dangerous to conflate speed of processing for one or two classes of tasks (TV, video games) when one group is more practiced at those tasks: we play a lot more video games, and have a lot more background knowledge of the semantics of TV than we used to. Once you start opening that door, you introduce a whole host of new problems. Do we count modern people as stupider because our average attention spans have declined? Or do we (more sensibly) treat the diminished attention span as an adaptation to the structure of the fast-paced environment in which we operate? You can't call one of them intelligence and not the other.

If you really want to argue that people are faster at processing information, then you need to show gains on some standardised measure (e.g., inspection time; big literature on this in psychology) that is plausibly comparable across generations. TV and video games really don't form a good basis for comparison.
posted by mixing at 3:45 PM on October 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


And if you read any casual correspondence from one or two hundred years ago it's apparent that the people who could read and write back then were extremely literate.

Or that they threw away the first drafts full of misspellings and inaccurate grammar?
posted by elizardbits at 3:50 PM on October 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


And if you read any casual correspondence from one or two hundred years ago it's apparent that the people who could read and write back then were extremely literate.

Well, apart from the obvious point about the factors that selected for literacy, we actually only know whatever it is we know about the correspondence that has been kept. If you don't see why this matters, ask yourself whether you think that every song released in the 1960s was a "sixties classic".

Also, grammar has very little to do with linguistic proficiency.
posted by howfar at 3:51 PM on October 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'm getting a bit sick of people in this thread copying my points before I make them.
posted by howfar at 3:52 PM on October 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm now imagining people going through old letters. "I'm gonna get these framed..Grandpa was an idiot!"
posted by howfar at 3:53 PM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


Mrs. yonderboy and I were discussing this vis a vis 30 Rock the other day - we are of the opinion that a 1950s audience would simply not be able to understand an episode, because it was simply too fast for them (forgetting about the topical references and offensive parts of course).

Then how do you account for the popularity of zippy screwball comedies in the 1930's? Or the quick fire, multi-level wit of people like the Marx Brothers? I agree that a 1950's audience would probably be a bit baffled by something like 30 Rock, but I don't think it is because it would to fast. I think it would be a mismatch between cultural conditioning and expectation.
posted by Falconetti at 3:54 PM on October 25, 2012 [25 favorites]


Do we count modern people as stupider because our average attention spans have declined

What makes you think "attention spans" have "diminished" or that there is such a thing as an "attention span?" Genuinely curious. Naturally "kids today" aren't going to sit staring at the side of a barn for four hours when they could play a game or go online, but that's just "liking things that are interesting."
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:55 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Also, grammar has very little to do with linguistic proficiency."

I had more than a few English teachers who would strenuously disagree with that, but you and elizardbits make a good point. There was probably a lot of crumpled paper produced before those letters were sent.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:55 PM on October 25, 2012


It works the other way around as well.

I recently found a psychology book from the '70s, with an IQ test in the back. After I'd tested myself, I had to extrapolate the graph the book provided, because my score didn't fit on it.
posted by mahershalal at 3:58 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh are we arguing that "communicating a lot by writing makes people smarter?"

I thought that was only the case when the phone was the main modern method of communication. As soon as everyone started emailing and texting constantly, didn't it turn out communicating by writing actually makes you dumber? You know, because of the attention spans and the emoticons and the pool halls and that overrated, poorly-thought-through Mike Judge movie.

#Science
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:58 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had more than a few English teachers who would strenuously disagree with that

I suppose it depends on what you mean by grammar. "Correct grammar", knowing when to say "whom" and "you and I" not "you and me", all the social signalling that gets called grammar is wholly irrelevant to communication itself. The ability to construct and parse complex utterances, to use grammar, is absolutely vital, but if we're using that definition it becomes a tautology: "linguistic proficiency is dependent on the ability to construct and parse complex utterances" or "linguistic proficiency is dependent on linguistic proficiency".
posted by howfar at 4:02 PM on October 25, 2012


flynn effect! He was (still is, I guess, but emeritus) a professor at my university and I went to a few of his talks over the years. Interesting speaker too.
posted by gaspode at 4:03 PM on October 25, 2012


Re: letters, the form/medium might also have mattered. Paper used to be much more expensive, as was postage. You also had to go through the trouble of physically getting the letter to the post. So each letter was "worth" much more to the recipient and sender than a comment or an email today. The people we have letters from were also likely people who wrote quite a bit of them; if you wrote every week or more to several correspondents, with your only alternative being in-person visits, you could become a very skilled letter-writer quite quickly.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 4:10 PM on October 25, 2012


Not sure it's just a mental thing; I sure see a lot more 13.1, 26.2 and TRI stickers than I ever did before. I think the bar's being raised in several different areas, though it'd be an interesting argument what's driving it.

Could just be bias on my part, mind you.
posted by Mooski at 4:22 PM on October 25, 2012


I have an alternate theory. cf. "Oh Dad, we're all Devo!"
posted by Zack_Replica at 4:22 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've definitely noticed huge differences in the capacity for abstract thinking among people I've met from different generations, backgrounds and socio-economic conditions. It's so important to have this skill and it has to be taught through experience and exposure. This is why equal access to quality education is more important than ever.

I want to say thank you to this thread for giving me the mental image of an original fan of His Girl Friday watching the first episode of 30 Rock. This amuses and delights me.
posted by bleep at 4:25 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It works the other way around as well.

Oh yes. There is a cult around the Stanford Binet L-M as the only acceptable test for distinguishing scores at the top end of the bell curve:
A young child scoring 160 on the 1960 norms of the Stanford-Binet (L-M) would score approximately 129 on the WISC-III! This is a loss of 31 IQ points in 31 years, almost 2 standard deviations of intelligence.
...Another scored 137 on the WISC-R, and a year later tested 229+ on the Stanford-Binet (Form L-M), at the age of nine missing only two items on the entire test!
The Flynn effect and the fact that modern IQ tests are scored in a completely different way, returning scores that cannot be directly compared to the old tests, are less important than Really Big Numbers.
posted by Flannery Culp at 4:28 PM on October 25, 2012


The discovery of the Flynn effect is one of those really great moments in science where commonly held assumptions are demolished by a very simple observation. It destroys confidence in the IQ measurement itself, as well as our conception of what intelligence is, and how malleable intelligence may be.

See also a review of Flynn's 2007 book, What is Intelligence?
posted by Llama-Lime at 4:36 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought I read someplace that it's because we eliminated lead from paints and gasoline.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:36 PM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


What makes you think "attention spans" have "diminished" or that there is such a thing as an "attention span?"

Depends on what you mean by "a thing". I think you can operationalise the concept of attention span in terms of people's ability to perform tasks that require sustained attention over long periods of time. It's a perfectly sensible thing to do, but I don't think that "attention span" is thought to be a fundamental aspect of cognitive architecture in the same way that working memory capacity (i.e., short term memory, more or less) is thought to be fundamental. Even so, it's probably not a totally vacuous concept.

Exactly how you would measure attention span isn't something I know much about: I know there are a bunch of "vigilance tasks" that psychologists use that I guess you could use as a proxy for attention span, for instance. However, I don't know that literature at all. I think (but don't know for sure) there is some evidence that people do adapt their attentional allocation policies to match the structure of the environment, so you might expect that people these days are not as good at long boring tasks like staring at barn walls, as you put it. The fact that people don't do those boring tasks as much as we used to would of course be the causal explanation for why we might expect to observe a difference across cohorts, but nevertheless the fact would remain that older cohorts would be expected to be better at sustained attention than younger ones.

That being said, although people have suggested to me that this actually happens, I don't have evidence and am not sure whether to believe it myself: I only offered attention span as an example of something where one's intuitive predictions about how people have changed across generations goes in the opposite direction to the Flynn effect, as a caution against (a) relying too much on one's intuitions, and (b) relying on tasks that people from different generations have different experiences with as meaningful proxies for intelligence.
posted by mixing at 4:41 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mrs. yonderboy and I were discussing this vis a vis 30 Rock the other day - we are of the opinion that a 1950s audience would simply not be able to understand an episode, because it was simply too fast for them (forgetting about the topical references and offensive parts of course).

Yeah, because Elizabethan plays, to take a random example, didn't move like lightning and operate on more levels than a sitcom could dream of, never mind that they were learned by the cast over an infinitely shorter time than we allow today from chopped individual parts.

It's not that we're smarter. It's that we've learned how to think to take these kinds of tests.
posted by winna at 4:49 PM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Screwball comedies are still a lot slower than current films. Look at how long the scenes are!

> It's not that we're smarter. It's that we've learned how to think to take these kinds of tests.

But if we as humanity have learned to take all sorts of tests better, aren't we overall smarter?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 5:03 PM on October 25, 2012


I don't know. Years ago I found an old schoolbook that belonged to one of my grandparents, and it's amazing what people used to expect little kids to learn. It's been long enough that I can't remember specific examples, but I seem to recall there was a big Latin section in there. At any rate, it was obviously much more sophisticated than the stuff I was taught in elementary school. And you look back at print advertisements circa 1890-1920 (the stuff Chris Ware parodies a lot) and they're a marvel of florid language, a gazillion fancy words crammed into every inch of space. When I look back at the pop culture of approx. 100 years ago, it doesn't seem like it was aimed at an audience of idiots... While much of the pop culture of 2012, sadly, is another matter.

Mrs. yonderboy and I were discussing this vis a vis 30 Rock the other day - we are of the opinion that a 1950s audience would simply not be able to understand an episode, because it was simply too fast for them (forgetting about the topical references and offensive parts of course).

I think the style, attitudes and references would be very alienating to a 1950s audience, but in the classic screwball comedies everybody yap yap yapped at quite a fast clip. That being said, modern TV does move a lot faster than older TV. In some ways that's a good thing, but it could also be argued that it's just shortening our already pathetic attention spans even more, and... Squirrel!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:04 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure I buy the "Campbell's Law" story but it deserves a better hearing than it's getting among skeptical Mefites.

Basically you are all saying you can't imagine the mechanism by which Campbell's Law is supposed to operate in the case of IQ testing. But I think it's pretty easy to imagine plausible mechanisms. It's true that literal IQ tests are not often used for consequential purposes in today's society. But we have many very important standardized tests that track IQ to varying extents, suggesting some common skill base. So for example SATs correlate with IQ, and the SAT is a test which we as a society spend a tremendous amount of effort gaming. It seems at least plausible that some of the techniques that people learn preparing for SATs might transfer to IQ tests. Generalizing, it seems at least plausible that someone who has taken many important standardized tests in his life (a modern) might have a slight advantage over someone who will take very few (an IQ test taker from 100 years ago).

On this view some of the Flynn Effect is actually a distortion, a side effect of the increasing importance we have ascribed to standardized tests over the years, which has resulted in more resources being targeted directly at standardized tests, screwing up the metric.

Now, this is testable and I haven't done the experiments. Perhaps someone has. For example, you could try to estimate practice effects across different kinds of tests, or you could show that the subtests which have improved don't really benefit from practice. But in the absence of that kind of evidence the Campbell's Law story seems at least respectable.

But if we as humanity have learned to take all sorts of tests better, aren't we overall smarter?


The disagreement is over whether we've really learned to take "all sorts of tests" better, all sorts of intellectual challenges, or just the kind where you answer narrow questions designed by psychometricians.
posted by grobstein at 5:09 PM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


There has been a reversal of the Flynn in effect spotted in several western countries such as Britain. From what I recall the bulk of the increase in the mean is from the left tail. It's an interesting thing to watch in the future.
posted by khappucino at 5:16 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Back in the 1970s, I volunteered for a while in a "community mental health center" -- part of which was a "day hospital" for people who'd been dumped, er, repurposed, er, well, dumped into cheap welfare housing when Nixon shut down the mental hospitals. Mostly quite elderly folks, mostly charming, though odd.

One time a vanload went on a field trip to a farm owned by one of the staff.

We pulled up next to a barbed wire fence and the cows and horses came over to hang over the top, likely hoping for treats.

And one of the old guys reached down, put a foot on one wire strand, lifted the other -- and all the old folks (and I) ducked through the fence into the corral.

Well, heck, I knew how to do that. So did the old folks.

The official staff were freaking out -- they were all city people, quite young.
They weren't willing to come in with me, and weren't willing to have me, a mere young volunteer, in there -- and they hadn't a clue what to do next.

The old folks knew exactly what to do with cows and horses.
They petted them, scratched them, cooed over them, talked about their childhoods growing up -- they were all farm kids, they'd been kids at the turn of the century.

We all had a really wonderful time. Well except for the official staff, who stayed freaked out for days.

Intelligence? I learned a good lesson about that. It's always there, somewhere.
posted by hank at 5:17 PM on October 25, 2012 [14 favorites]


Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson is sort of a magnum opus on this topic, and it spends a lot of time on what I'll call the "30 Rock question." Basically, he compares TV dramas from the past, such as Dallas, to TV dramas current to the time of the writing (24 IIRC) to demonstrate the extraordinary increase in the amount of information the audience is expected to digest and remember in order to follow the plot. He uses graphs, I'm pretty sure.

Sit-Coms are an interesting issue, though. The comedies we're talking about here - the ones where a lot of the comedic effect comes from the cascade of jokes coming on super-fast and layered, e.g. 30 Rock, Community, Arrested Development - are also not very popular outside of the most highly-educated demographic, a fact which is killing NBC right now.

On the other hand, compare these shows with Soap, a comedy which in its time was notable for garnering humor from how absurdly complicated it was, though today it feels painfully slow. In reality its plot points are no more complicated than, say, Glee, but that latter show works better for modern audiences (when it works at all, I guess you might say) in that the general pacing is quicker.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:20 PM on October 25, 2012


If this is indeed real, I'm guessing that improved nutrition and reduced toxicants in the environment could play a part by enabling children's brains to develop better, resulting in more intelligent adults.
posted by tommyD at 5:31 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting post and discussion, but this struck me: a blog post about an article about a book about research. If distance from primary source material is any indicator, we're getting dumber not smarter.

If we really are getting smarter, though, I think that mostly means massive social discontent and upheaval ahead. A thoughtful, reflective person likely will never be happy in a cubicle 40-50 hours/week, 50 weeks/year, for 30-40 years of life. (In fact, I'd wager that's a factor in the huge increases we see in anxiety disorder, depression, etc. Too many of us are too educated and thoughtful for the work that's available to keep us engaged.)
posted by LooseFilter at 5:42 PM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


More iodine and more protein make Homer something something.
posted by bq at 5:47 PM on October 25, 2012


No one disagrees that performance IQ tests correlate well with educational attainment. I am happy accepting that methods of teaching and education standards are higher than they were - no rote learning, smaller classes, more personalised attention.
posted by wilful at 6:02 PM on October 25, 2012


If this is indeed real, I'm guessing that improved nutrition and reduced toxicants in the environment could play a part by enabling children's brains to develop better, resulting in more intelligent adults.

It's definitely, 100% true that both our understanding of, and ability to provide for, the basic nutritive needs of children from zero to about eight has improved hugely in the last century, and our current best information is that mal- or under-nourishment during that period leaves a huge dent in your life prospects that you're unlikely to recover from.
posted by mhoye at 6:05 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]




Are We Getting Smarter?

Because focus groups suggested that Are We Getting Better At IQ Tests? would not sell even 1/1000 as many books.
posted by straight at 6:21 PM on October 25, 2012


Psychometrics is measured in the eyes of the administrators.

The generic national American IQ test will be conducted on November 6th.
posted by ovvl at 6:24 PM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


I knew I was smarter than my parents!
posted by nosila at 7:25 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's true that literal IQ tests are not often used for consequential purposes in today's society. But we have many very important standardized tests that track IQ to varying extents, suggesting some common skill base.

But the evidence base for the Flynn effect is drawn from countries with a variety of education and testing systems. The US is fairly unusual in its reliance on standardised tests. Not saying that this couldn't play a role, but I'm not sure there's actually evidence for it.
posted by howfar at 7:31 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Monday, stony Monday writes "letters, the form/medium might also have mattered. Paper used to be much more expensive, as was postage. You also had to go through the trouble of physically getting the letter to the post. So each letter was "worth" much more to the recipient and sender than a comment or an email today. The people we have letters from were also likely people who wrote quite a bit of them; if you wrote every week or more to several correspondents, with your only alternative being in-person visits, you could become a very skilled letter-writer quite quickly."

Didn't a lot of places have post multiple times a day before the advent of the telephone (obviously just cities); or is that just some made up Sherlock Holmes thing?
posted by Mitheral at 7:33 PM on October 25, 2012


is that just some made up Sherlock Holmes thing?

Not made up at all. You used to be able to post letters in London in the morning and have them arrive in the afternoon.

Also Doyle's readers would have noticed if he started telling lies about their postal service.
posted by howfar at 7:37 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Relevant part on Victorian post from Dickens' Dictionary of London.
posted by howfar at 7:41 PM on October 25, 2012


But the evidence base for the Flynn effect is drawn from countries with a variety of education and testing systems. The US is fairly unusual in its reliance on standardised tests. Not saying that this couldn't play a role, but I'm not sure there's actually evidence for it.

Here's one possible mechanism: according to the article, Flynn's dataset is national IQ timeseries data. Perhaps the people responsible for publishing these from year to year have some political pressure to show improved numbers. If your party's political agenda has implented some kind of national educational reform, you'd want IQ numbers to go up as supporting evidence. So if this years data shows a negative change, you definately double check it etc.
posted by pwnguin at 7:43 PM on October 25, 2012


Again, possible. But a plausible explanation for what seems to be an international trend occurring across decades? Not convinced. It may have some significance, but I think you'd need data before factoring it in. It also wouldn't be an example of Campbell's Law.
posted by howfar at 7:52 PM on October 25, 2012


winna: "Yeah, because Elizabethan plays, to take a random example, didn't move like lightning and operate on more levels than a sitcom could dream of, never mind that they were learned by the cast over an infinitely shorter time than we allow today from chopped individual parts."

Shakespeare is fairly snappy as it's performed nowadays, although I think some of that is that anything that takes a second to process, like Elizabethan language, seems like it's being spoken much faster than it actually is. In any case, anything that's important to the plot in Shakespeare gets repeated at least three times. Take the witches' prophecy to Macbeth and Banquo: first they give it, then Macbeth and Banquo talk about it among themselves for a while, then part of it comes true almost immediately so Macbeth and Banquo talk about it some more, then there's a whole scene where Lady Macbeth reads a letter from Macbeth summarizing the whole thing, and that's just in the first act. A lot of this stuff gets cut from modern performances because the assumption is that everyone's going to get the plot the first time with no repetition needed.
posted by Copronymus at 7:52 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have an alternate theory.

I fully expected that link to go to a clip of "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo."
posted by hypersloth at 8:13 PM on October 25, 2012


"nearly three points every decade" explains a lot about that cretin, Plato, but leaves me puzzled about a whole lot of others.
posted by fredludd at 9:05 PM on October 25, 2012


I thought it was xkcds that are obligatory in Internet discussions.
posted by saber_taylor at 9:37 PM on October 25, 2012


The Illusion of Culture-free Intelligence Testing:
"In this chapter, I will argue that the notion of culture-free intelligence is a contradiction in terms."
posted by tykky at 10:57 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know. Years ago I found an old schoolbook that belonged to one of my grandparents, and it's amazing what people used to expect little kids to learn. It's been long enough that I can't remember specific examples, but I seem to recall there was a big Latin section in there.

Apart from the vagueness of the anecdote (it had Latin and shit!) consider the audience for whom this schoolbook was meant. How many of your grandparents' generation were going to school, let alone a school at which Latin was taught?

Currently almost every child in Europe and America will go to primary and secondary school, with a huge chunk continuing their education at university; this was not the case even as recently as the fifties. We are better and longer educated than ever before and many of us will spend their working lives doing "intellectual" labour.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:08 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


This must be why all the old white guys in old movies always seem like such simpletons to me. ;-)
posted by Philofacts at 11:14 PM on October 25, 2012


@howfar:
Except they wouldn't, because mental retardation, under the DSM-IV, includes the following criteria:
"Concurrent deficits or impairments in adaptive functioning in at least 2 of the following areas: communication, self-care, home living, social/interpersonal skills, use of community resources, self-direction, functional academic skills, work, leisure, health, and safety"

I think that a person from 1912 would have significant trouble navigating today's society. In fact, except for social/interpersonal skills and maybe communication, people from 1912 would be extremely dysfunctional today without some serious re-training. Cars, computers, mobile phones, the technology to get used to is staggering. They would not be able to hold any job (I guess they could work some construction jobs, after some training). They would not be able to have a meaningful conversation with anyone really, having virtually no shared experiences.
posted by dlg at 11:44 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are all those jobs that illegal immigrants do that would be available to them. Landscaping, harvesting, janitor, fishing, cowboy, etc.

Really though most construction jobs besides the most basic of labour are going to require education. Even construction labouring is probably going to be a bit of a hurdle. Things like PPE and modern materials are going to get some getting use to; practically no buildings are constructed today like they were a 100 years ago. Maybe stone masonry. And tile work once you got used to modern admixtures. You certainly couldn't jump into framing, insulating, electrical!, plumbing, roofing, concrete, drywalling, painting, HVAC, flooring (except maybe hardwood floors), finish carpentry, cabinetry (except some high end custom), or glazing.
posted by Mitheral at 12:09 AM on October 26, 2012


Sure, but a modern person transported to 1912 would have all the same "deficits". I think you have to evaluate these things in a reasonable context.
posted by hattifattener at 1:19 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Surely this is just a result of general education being available for all for 50 years? Better educated parents educated their kids better?

But I don't buy it. I was in town and saw a chav with his dog and a t-shirt with Panzer Division on it. He must shurely have a massive IQ. Seriously, come to England and meet some of the chavs, you will see his thesis fail spectacularly.
posted by marienbad at 1:43 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Boy, we're getting so much smarter so fast we can do that Singularity thing right in our own brains and never mind the computers.
posted by Segundus at 3:04 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure, better nutrition and universal schooling made a real improvement at the left side of the graph. But every generation is quick to find evidence that the previous generation was dumb. Mark Twain said it best:

"When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

For nations and planets multiply the numbers by 10 or 100.
posted by EnterTheStory at 3:05 AM on October 26, 2012


Also, brain sizes have been declining for 50,000 years. I don't expect that our new reliance on external networks will help the trend.
posted by EnterTheStory at 3:07 AM on October 26, 2012


Also, the dunning-kruger effect.
posted by EnterTheStory at 3:08 AM on October 26, 2012


I think that a person from 1912 would have significant trouble navigating today's society.

Oh yes I agree. That's what my second comment was meant to address. There is of course a significant source of evidence about how people adapt to more 'modern' societies from migrant populations. It would be interesting to study whether there is a change in the IQ of (say) Afghani refugees living in the West. Also whether there was any correlation between any IQ increase and social integration. Seems to me that this theory is, at least to some extent, empirically testable.
posted by howfar at 6:15 AM on October 26, 2012


Also, the dunning-kruger effect.

This might sound harsh, but I'm not sure you're wise to bring up the Dunning-Kruger effect while apparently missing the point of the conversation around you. The Flynn effect isn't really in doubt, what it tells us about IQ and intelligence is the subject of discussion. If you're really suggesting that the reason IQ scores are going up is that the psychologists administering the tests are getting dumber, I'm gonna want better than Wikipedia as support.
posted by howfar at 6:26 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am maybe a little disappointed that Flynn didn't name the book Is Our Children Getting More Smarter?
posted by elizardbits at 7:23 AM on October 26, 2012


Or that they threw away the first drafts full of misspellings and inaccurate grammar

I dunno--I'm always struck reading books from the 19th century about how even people who seem relatively well-off conserve paper. They used to "cross" their letters, writing the page and then turning it 90 degrees and writing across it again. This was partly to save on postage charges but also to save paper. I also once saw an old instruction from the 19th century for how to fold your paper a certain way so that it could be its own envelope (again, partly to save on postage--a separate envelope adds weight) but that also allowed the writer to use a greater part of the paper for writing. I'm not sure how much the postage vs. saving paper elements played into it, but I don't think these folks were crumping a whole lot of paper and throwing it casually away.

Could be wrong.
posted by not that girl at 8:10 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


> It's true that literal IQ tests are not often used for consequential purposes in today's society. But we have many very important standardized tests that track IQ to varying extents, suggesting some common skill base .... On this view some of the Flynn Effect is actually a distortion, a side effect of the increasing importance we have ascribed to standardized tests over the years, which has resulted in more resources being targeted directly at standardized tests, screwing up the metric. On this view some of the Flynn Effect is actually a distortion, a side effect of the increasing importance we have ascribed to standardized tests over the years, which has resulted in more resources being targeted directly at standardized tests, screwing up the metric.

> But the evidence base for the Flynn effect is drawn from countries with a variety of education and testing systems. The US is fairly unusual in its reliance on standardised tests. Not saying that this couldn't play a role, but I'm not sure there's actually evidence for it.

IQ tests are to some extent a measure of test-taking skills. Many of the harder arithmetic problems are confusingly worded ones that a person can easily get wrong by misinterpreting the question. Getting an above average score on digit span requires using mnemonic tricks rather than just relying on short-term memory. Stanford also includes another set memory exercises where the testee is asked to repeat sentences verbatim some which are phrased oddly. A common error is to correct these to idiomatic word order rather than repeating them exactly as given, so lower scores are frequently due to not following directions. (I can't remember if these are included in Wechsler or not.)

Seeing test items like these as measures of innate intelligence is problematic, for fairly obvious reasons, but they do correlate with educational performance.

However, the Flynn effect has not been limited to test items that correlate well with education, and the same pattern shows up with Raven's, a rather odd visual test that doesn't have the same issues. So it seems unlikely that the Flynn effect can be attributed entirely to education and increased exposure to testing.

Flynn seems to be looking at differences on particular types of test items (presumably on Wechsler which allows this kind of break down), which might be pretty interesting, but the review doesn't go into any details beyond mentioning the dog and rabbit example.
posted by nangar at 8:12 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know what? People are getting smarter (though really, sometimes it's freaking hard to tell). That is good news, period. And how often do we hear good news? Let's toast to super-complicated television!
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:13 AM on October 26, 2012


After I'd tested myself
You're doing it wrong.



Also, the dunning-kruger effect.
"...mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average..."

IQ tests are not meant to be self-administered.
posted by morganannie at 8:40 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another alternate theory.
posted by dlg at 9:32 AM on October 26, 2012


I don't know how those dummies back in the day ever invented anything!
posted by Mister_A at 9:34 AM on October 26, 2012


RTFA
posted by howfar at 9:43 AM on October 26, 2012


Oh, and that cluster in that graph around a disease load of 3-3.5 and IQs around 6-70, that's the southern caribbean. For whatever reason that may be.
posted by dlg at 9:45 AM on October 26, 2012


Llama-Lime: See also a review of Flynn's 2007 book, What is Intelligence?

I get a bit hung up on one little point in that Gladwell piece. He writes, citing Flynn, that the effect is explained or may partially be explained by a cultural shift away from grouping things by functional relations and toward grouping things taxonomically, and gives two examples. This example clearly supports this point:
The psychologist Michael Cole and some colleagues once gave members of the Kpelle tribe, in Liberia, a version of the WISC similarities test: they took a basket of food, tools, containers, and clothing and asked the tribesmen to sort them into appropriate categories. To the frustration of the researchers, the Kpelle chose functional pairings. They put a potato and a knife together because a knife is used to cut a potato. “A wise man could only do such-and-such,” they explained. Finally, the researchers asked, “How would a fool do it?” The tribesmen immediately re-sorted the items into the “right” categories.
This other example, however, seems to misfire:
The big gains on the WISC are largely in the category known as “similarities,” where you get questions such as “In what way are ‘dogs’ and ‘rabbits’ alike?” Today, we tend to give what, for the purposes of I.Q. tests, is the right answer: dogs and rabbits are both mammals. A nineteenth-century American would have said that “you use dogs to hunt rabbits.”
I really don't see how that question can have the functional answer. Being involved in the same functional relation is not a way of being "alike". Hunter and hunted are not alike; they are related. When people say that my brother and I are alike, they mean we have similar appearance, behaviour, interests, attitudes — not that we are related, not that we have complementary roles in some family dynamic, not that you can use him to hunt me. The word just doesn't mean that. The Kpelle example, in contrast, says "sort [things] into appropriate categories", which does seem to allow grouping by functional relations, or indeed any grouping principle.

Is this the actual phrasing of the WISC test? Did the word "alike" mean something different at one time? Is my understanding of the word idiosyncratic? Is Gladwell just being sloppy?
posted by stebulus at 2:29 PM on October 26, 2012


If Smart Is the Norm, Stupidity Gets More Interesting
But is the genetic cup really empty, or are we just looking for the wrong stuff? Kevin Mitchell, a developmental neurogeneticist at Trinity College Dublin, thinks the latter. In an essay he published in July on his blog, Wiring the Brain, Dr. Mitchell proposed that instead of thinking about the genetics of intelligence, we should be trying to parse “the genetics of stupidity,” as his title put it. We should look not for genetic dynamics that build intelligence but for those that erode it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:25 PM on October 26, 2012


>I'm not sure you're wise to bring up the Dunning-Kruger effect while apparently missing the point of the conversation around you. The Flynn effect isn't really in doubt, what it tells us about IQ and intelligence is the subject of discussion. If you're really suggesting that the reason IQ scores are going up is that the psychologists administering the tests are getting dumber...

No. I am suggesting that there may be downsides to higher IQ test scores and faster TV consumption that we do not recognize. As I hoped to indicate with the Mark Twain quote, our views may change. In order to gain intelligence in one area we may be losing brain space in some other area, an area less susceptible to standardized tests. Speed is not everything. Abstract reasoning is not everything. IQ tests are not everything. Our stupid grandparents may yet have the last laugh.
posted by EnterTheStory at 4:39 PM on October 26, 2012


I really don't see how that question can have the functional answer. Being involved in the same functional relation is not a way of being "alike". Hunter and hunted are not alike; they are related.

This might be way too much detail, but... I think that people often use the idea of similarity a lot more flexibly (or sloppily, if you prefer) than your comment suggests. It's true that relatedness is a broader concept than similarity, and this is generally reflected in people's judgments of similarity versus relatedness, it's always possible to recast a functional relation as a shared feature, which allows you to use the relation as a basis for similarity. For instance, in the relational statement "dogs hunt rabbits" implies that "dogs and rabbits are both involved in hunting". So we can think of "involved in hunting" as a feature shared by both dogs and rabbits. In fact, when you look at the kinds of things that people list as object features in psychological experiments, the phrasing often does look rather like this. And features like this do contribute to people's similarity assessments.

That being said, I think it's right to believe that a feature like "is a mammal" should contribute more to similarity than "is involved in hunting" when comparing dogs and rabbits, because of the fact that a dog is a mammal in the same way that a rabbit is a mammal. The roles played by dogs and rabbits with respect to the hunting feature are different, and so requires you to ignore the fact that they have different roles. This is akin[1] to what the psychological literature on similarity sometimes calls matches in place (a MIP; the mammal feature is a match "in place") and matches out of place (a MOP; the hunting feature acts as a MOP here). MIPs almost always play a stronger role in determining similarity than MOPs. However, MOPs definitely do matter.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that, while it sounds a little odd to say "dogs hunt rabbits" as a way of explaining why dogs and rabbits are similar, there's something quite legitimate hidden underneath it, and it's actually pretty consistent with psychological theories of similarity. As odd as it sounds, "hunter and hunted" are often perceived to be a little similar to each other: much moreso than "hunter and rock" and probably moreso than "hunter and bystander".

[1] Yes, if you know the papers I'm referring to, I'm aware that I'm taking some liberties with respect to structural alignment models. Give me a break; it's the internet.
posted by mixing at 4:54 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am suggesting that there may be downsides to higher IQ test scores and faster TV consumption that we do not recognize.

Not sure what that's got to do with the Dunning-Kruger effect. I mean, I can see where you're trying to go here, but it's a bit of a dog of an argument. If we accept the idea that there is some sort of society Dunning-Kruger effect, in which societies that have become less adept at a particular intellectual skill are unable to perceive that loss, then that could be happening at any time without us knowing it. There's no way we could ever find out whether getting better at Skill A makes us worse or better at Skill B. Maybe increased IQ test success does relate to an unknowable loss elsewhere, but if the Dunning-Kruger effect operates in the manner you're suggesting it might (which I am dubious about, as analysis is as much a social method as a neurological gift), we'd never be able to show this.

It's no more intelligible to think that increased IQ proficiency is eroding the unknowable Skill B than to think that improved Olympic sprint records or knowledge of Korean pop-music are doing so.

Evidence that we are becoming worse at a measurable Skill B is, of course, a different matter. This doesn't really involve the D-K effect at all. However, establishing either a causal link from increased IQ proficiency or a shared causation with that increased proficiency would still be a data driven task. Of course it might be happening, but my cock might be going to grow three inches overnight, just like the email said.

The hunch that getting better at A necessarily means getting worse at B doesn't really seem to be borne out by the smart, empathetic, skilful and socially adept people we see around us.
posted by howfar at 5:12 PM on October 26, 2012


>> I'm not sure you're wise to bring up the Dunning-Kruger effect

> No. I am suggesting that there may be downsides to higher IQ test scores ... our stupid grandparents may yet have the last laugh.


But the Dunning-Kruger effect isn't really pertinent to that argument. From memory (it's been a while since I read the papers, sorry), the DK effect refers to the fact that inexpert people are often more confident in their judgments about a topic than the experts are. It's a cross-person version of what's known as the hard-easy effect (which applies across questions) within the overconfidence literature. I don't see how it's related to the Flynn effect.

The strongest argument I can think of based on the DK effect is that, if you think the IQ gains are an artifact of test taking expertise, then this expertise in test taking would make us less confident in our judgments than earlier generations. But that's kind of nonsensical, and doesn't really accord with where you seem to be going.

I kind of get the impression that you're treating the DK effect as synonymous with overconfidence (it's not), and thus arguing that rising IQ scores is really a representation of our society-wide overconfidence in our abilities. There's certainly (obviously!) evidence that we lack skills that our grandparents possessed; and cross-cultural comparisons show that there's a lot of knowledge out there that people in our society just plain don't have. But (a) no-one's really arguing against that, and (b) as far as I can see, the DK effect really doesn't say anything that pertains to that topic.

(Ah.. on preview, I see howfar has just said much the same thing)
posted by mixing at 5:31 PM on October 26, 2012


Great minds think alike, but according to Dunning and Kruger, fools seldom know why they should differ.
posted by howfar at 5:47 PM on October 26, 2012


I guess I lost the argument, and this thread is pretty much dead. But some dead horses just ache to be flogged, so I'll respond.

@howfar
>If we accept the idea that there is some sort of society Dunning-Kruger effect, in which societies that have become less adept at a particular intellectual skill are unable to perceive that loss

Unable? I don't think that's what DK says. That is a hypothesis, but the actual experiments only demonstrate that we are just less likely to perceive our weakness. The alleged weakness is not hidden: plenty of people suggest things were better in the old days, and that modern life will lead to some bad end. As as a society we tend to disagree with them. Why? Maybe it's because we are smarter. Or maybe it's because we lack their experience. Experience is just expertise at life. Hence DK may be relevant. Again I refer back to the Twain quote.

@mixing
>the DK effect refers to the fact that inexpert people are often more confident in their judgments about a topic than the experts are. It's a cross-person version of what's known as the hard-easy effect (which applies across questions) within the overconfidence literature. I don't see how it's related to the Flynn effect.

I am suggesting that experience is a form of expertise. Age might conceivably bring wisdom. The older person sees the apparent unalloyed good of the Flynn effect, but might remember other miracles that appeared to have no down side, but then turned out to have a down side. So the expert (the old person) is less certain and the non expert (the young person) is more certain. I.e. DK at work.
posted by EnterTheStory at 5:03 PM on October 27, 2012


I don't really see what your argument is, beyond the point that societal change can have both negative and positive consequences. The idea that something good must be "balanced out" by something bad seems like an almost Manichaean world-view. It's already a truism that the world is getting worse, I'm not sure that pointing at the Flynn effect and saying it seems like a miracle and so can't be trusted is a particularly useful insight.

The key thing is that the Flynn effect probably isn't a "miracle". The interpretation that we're becoming more modern isn't a teleological one, it doesn't need a perfect future we're ascending toward. The idea that we're becoming more modern really only means that we're becoming a culture that employs more of the skills valued by those who devised IQ testing. We're also becoming worse at plenty of things, but I don't think there's any sense in the upside/downside approach. We're just changing.
posted by howfar at 5:24 PM on October 27, 2012


I am suggesting that experience is a form of expertise. Age might conceivably bring wisdom. The older person sees the apparent unalloyed good of the Flynn effect, but might remember other miracles that appeared to have no down side, but then turned out to have a down side. So the expert (the old person) is less certain and the non expert (the young person) is more certain. I.e. DK at work.

Okay, I think most of that is true, but it misses the point about how the Flynn effect is calculated. I know this thread is wrapping up, but this might be useful to add...

Firstly, of course you're right that age does bring expertise. It's even reflected (sort of) in the IQ data. When you break down IQ scores into their various components, one of the things that you see is that fluid intelligence (denoted Gf, corresponding to abstract reasoning etc) rises into the mid-20s or thereabouts, then flattens out and very very gradually declines thereafter. However, crystallised intelligence (Gc; general knowledge, etc) tends to slowly rise throughout the lifespan. In other words, age brings wisdom. This is an example of an age effect, and I think there's quite a few of them, though the Gf/Gc difference is the main one that I'm familiar with and the one that's most relevant to the DK effect.

Next, I think it's reasonable to hypothesise that a pattern of rising Gc over the lifespan might have implications for the DK effect. As you suggest, older people (higher Gc, higher expertise) might be less prone to overconfidence than younger people. Whether or not that actually happens is an empirical question, of course; there's so many other variables involved when comparing old people to young people that this effect might not be observable. But let's suppose that this "age-induced DK effect" does exist, for the sake of argument. It's still not relevant to the Flynn effect.

To see why, it's critical to understand that the Flynn effect is a cohort effect, not an age effect. That is, comparison it refers to is not between a 20 year old in 2012 and a 70 year old in the year 2012, for instance. Rather, the comparison is between a 20 year old in 2012 and another 20 year old in 1962. We're not talking about the relative intelligence of young people vs old people. We're talking about IQ scores as a function of birth year, holding age constant. So you need to compare data collected at different points in time. This is of course a tricky exercise, because this leaves a lot of other variables (covariates) uncontrolled: Flynn's original (1984, I think? 1987? I can't recall) paper makes this comparison using data from 14 different countries, and attempts to be pretty careful with respect to potential covariates. The sheer amount of effort he put into that comparison is one of the reasons it's a classic. In any case, the key thing here is that the hypothesised age-induced DK effect has no bearing on the Flynn effect, because it's a cohort effect and not an age effect: the 20 year old in 1962 is the same age as the 20 year old in 2012.
posted by mixing at 2:36 AM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


mixing: This might be way too much detail, but...

On the contrary, I think you give an entirely appropriate amount of detail, and it's very helpful.

it's always possible to recast a functional relation as a shared feature, which allows you to use the relation as a basis for similarity. For instance, in the relational statement "dogs hunt rabbits" implies that "dogs and rabbits are both involved in hunting". So we can think of "involved in hunting" as a feature shared by both dogs and rabbits.

Yeah, I thought of this, but then I don't understand Flynn's analysis as reported by Gladwell, according to which the WISC similarity questions are really testing for a culturally modern focus on abstract categories. The Gladwell piece again:
“If the everyday world is your cognitive home, it is not natural to detach abstractions and logic and the hypothetical from their concrete referents,” Flynn writes.
But "both are involved in hunting" is a significantly *more* abstract kind of similarity than things like "both have four legs", "both have fur", and so on. It's a step or two down the road to abstraction, the road to saying that "likeness" obtains in any predicate whatsoever which is true of the things said to be alike. Isn't it?

I still feel like I'm failing to get something basic here.

And I *was* put upon this world in order to "get it", so...
posted by stebulus at 10:30 AM on October 28, 2012


« Older "It has been your lot to achieve that the...   |   Google Street View leaves the street Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post