One of the least predicted phenomena of recent decades was the emergence of a huge number of people with brilliant technical skills in South India. As far as I know, nobody saw it coming. It doesn’t fit either standard cultural theories (e.g., the “center” flourishes at the expense of the “periphery” – until recently, you couldn’t get much more peripheral than Bangalore) or evolutionary theories (e.g., cold winters may select for high IQ, but South India is awfully warm).
A young Bangladeshi-American population geneticist named Razib Khan has done one of the few studies in this area, confirming via survey that professors of mathematics in India are disproportionately Southerners. Razib wrote to me:
“South Indians (from my experience) seem to have somewhat of an inferiority complex visa vis the north, especially the Hindi cow-belt. This is partly because of the north’s cultural domination. But it’s also because southerners are small and darker. If fact, I would hazard to guess that many northern fathers would object to their daughters marrying a southerner purely on racial grounds-backed up of course by traditional caste prejudices.
“This being said-pretty much everyone also agrees the southerners are damn smart. Smarter than the average northerner. Doesn’t seem to matter though-the northerners are still higher on the pecking order anyhow. Kind of like High School. Jocks, not nerds, rule.
“By the way, I happen to think there probably isn’t much evolutionary advantage in the ability to figure out higher level topology in mathematics. I have to think genetic drift is important in this sort of thing.”
Genetic drift (i.e., randomness) might well be the answer, but it’s kind of the Theory of Last Resort for when we can’t come up with anything else. Of course, I sure haven’t come up with anything else other than “maybe it has something to do with caste,” which isn’t exactly a theory. Does anybody have any other suggestions? What role does caste play in this? (My impression is that caste is essentially Jim Crow-style segregation taken to surrealistic extremes. Does that make sense?) 3/03/02
Why are there so many extremely smart people from the South of India? I mean, there’s certainly nothing lacking about the big, fairer-skinned folks from the North of India, but the small, dark-skinned Dravidian-speakers from the South are something.