If people were crops, where would they be best planted?
Like many people, I have read some books which have led me astray. They were plausible, and although I could see errors in them, I continued reading so as to learn new things. I am willing to accept that authors can be wrong about some things, yet right about others. It is a matter of degree. Baloney detection is not that difficult, and some books have to be cast aside, lest they clutter one’s mind with nonsense.
As to “Guns, Germs and Steel” I could see that the author was wrong about intelligence, deliberately wrong, but I grimly understood that many public figures feel it politic to lie about such things, and I was willing to keep reading in order to learn about geography and flora and fauna, about which I know too little. Cavalli-Sforza also found it politic to dismiss intelligence in the early pages of “Genes, Peoples and Languages”, and then give his results anyway in the rest of his book. Perhaps he knew that most people read only the first 25 pages. The same is true of many psychology researchers who like to denigrate intelligence, particularly when it comes to group differences. Their secrets are safe with me. I have no wish to see them bothered, just because they muddy the waters and leave dots unconnected. Live and let live.
Geography has somewhat lapsed in popularity as a discipline. Perhaps this is due to a conceit that humans have mastered geography, so late their bounded home, and can now rise above it, into a totally secure, well insulated, air-conditioned world. Such over-confidence may account for people who live in flood zones being surprised when they are flooded.
But geography is a common thread in the great debate about what makes some nations richer, better organized and more agreeable than others. In his tome, Jared Diamond blamed geography for these differences, arguing that people were all alike, but had to deal with different circumstances. (In fact, without any supportive evidence, he announced that the residents of Papua New Guinea were the brightest, perhaps seeking virtue through perversity). The contrary position is a longer-term view, namely that over generations (at least 16 of them?) people become adapted to their circumstances, and change in their character and ability through natural selection.
On this point, researchers have usually looked at latitude as an indicator of geographic influences. Distance from the Equator is a good predictor of outcomes. Can one do better than this, and include other relevant measures to get a best-fit between human types and their regions of origin? In that last question lies a complication. Originally in ships, and now more swiftly and cheaply in wide-body jets, people move around. In fact, looking back over history, migrations are hardly new, though they took far longer to achieve prior to modern transport. It should be possible to trace back genetic groups to their geographies of origin. Cavalli-Sforza required his subjects to show settled residence traceable back to 1492, which is a mere 21 generations ago, if we estimate 4 generations per century. Of course, with genetic methods we should be able to do better. However, the work to be considered below does not take up that particular issue. Rather, it seeks to create a typology of biomes which may be related to intelligence. It is a work in progress, initially a conference presentation (see link below) with a set of explanatory notes which set out some of the arguments, and the matters which still need to be resolved. It explores some options, and may give us a better approach to the general discussion of which environments favour the development of intelligence.
Using biome mapping and weighting to more precisely predict biogeographic differences in intelligence
Steven C. Hertler, Mateo Peñaherrera-Aguirre
Latitude and mean annual temperature powerfully predict the biogeographic distribution of intelligence. As single metrics, latitude and mean annual temperature have only one another as competitors. Of course, they are highly inter-correlated, with obvious causal connections. Mean annual temperature may in fact be superior to latitude because of its more explicitly composite nature. This is especially true if mean annual temperature is measured in a sophisticated fashion, across multiple measurement points which are then amalgamated. If this is done, mean annual temperature can implicitly account for oceanic warming trends and high altitude steppes and mountain ranges. However, there are other physical ecological components for which mean annual temperature fails to account, or does so insufficiently. One example is moisture or hydrology. Countries in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, do not greatly vary in mean annual temperature, even while having contrasting amounts of available water. Another example is soil quality. Inceptisols (early soil formations) and other soil types can be found across great stretches of latitude, and so are present at a variety of mean annual temperatures. Climatic factors such as hydrology and soil type that remain outside the reach of the predictive powers of mean annual temperature, nonetheless, are of great import to human cognitive evolution.
To improve upon a meta-indicator of climate, in this case latitude, Figueredo and colleagues included a Temperate Broad Leaf Deciduous Forest Factor. This turned out to be a powerful composite predictor variable because Temperate Broadleaf Deciduous Forests only exist within certain parameters; specifically between 40 and 60 degrees north latitude, within a particular band of temperature values, bounded in the north by permafrost, and in the south by competing coniferous tress. Their presence also denotes moderate moisture and rich brown alfisols (typically under a hardwood forest cover) which may be particularly productive of early agricultural yields, while discouraging helminth endo-parasites (worms). The presence of temperate broadleaf deciduous forest biomes seems particularly valuable in accounting for some nations with high outlying intelligence. Notwithstanding these observations, temperate forests are not present in the majority of regions or nations. Accordingly, the present study uses a global biome map made available by the World Wildlife Federation to extend the Temperate Broadleaf Deciduous Forest Factor into a broadly applicable biome classification system that can compass the full range of selective regimes. We present ordinarily ranked biomes via a hypothesized relationship to cognitive evolution. To the extent that the present distribution of cross-national intelligence is analysed, it is analysed in light of migration, population heterogeneity and predicted migration routes. The heuristic value of such a method is compelling. Physical ecology is to some extent better predicted while community ecology is directly measured.
At this point you might chose to look at the conference slides, and then come back to the notes.
Soils can be ranked by differences in fertility, and these vary considerably in different parts of the world.
Hertler cites the following passages from Walter & Breckle (1999), which are illustrative of the readings contributing to his biome model.
Though tropical rainforest soils are very old and often deep, they are of the oxisol and utisol types in about two third of coverage. Oxisols and utisols have only moderate to low fertility. Moreover, seven percent of tropical area is then comprised of “quartz sand-rich alluvial terrace” which is weathered and leeched and so nutrient deficient. Consequently, “present day agricultural practices are only possible on about 20% of the tropical soils, namely the younger volcanic soils (alfisols) and the rich alluvial soils in large river valleys…”
“Soils are usually extremely poor in nutrients and are acid (pH=4.5-5.5), which would, at first sight, appear to be contradicted by the luxuriance of the vegetation. In fact, almost the entire nutrient reserves required by the forest are contained in the above ground phytomass. Each year, a part of this phytomass dies off and is rapidly mineralised, and the nutritional elements thereby released are immediately taken up again by the roots. Despite the high rainfall, there is almost no loss of nutrients due to leaching; the water in the streams has the electrical conductivity of distilled water and is, at most, coloured slightly brown by humus colids”
This explains the paradox. It is comparable to landed wealth…no liquid capital (ground nutrients available and stored in soil) but only sequestered capital (embodied in trees, and so not available for growth). Rapid cycling by termites and other organisms, and then rapid reuptake keep minerals sequestered; but the key is that clearing the forests will result in rapid decomposition followed by leeching, making the soils unfit for sustained agriculture. In contrast, Temperate Broadleaf Deciduous Forests with their slower rate of decomposition which comes from less and less speciose decomposers that can only work half the season, like a slow release drug…slowly cycling back nutrients into the soil.
With such a rapid cycling of nutrients, the rain forest can grow for thousands of years on the same site, but as soon as it is deforested and the wood burned, intensive leaching of the suddenly mineralized nutritional reserves occurs. Only a small portion is adsorbed by the soil colids and can be utilized for a few years by cultivated plants. If cultivation is discontinued, a secondary forest develops; these forests, however, never attain the luxuriant habit of the original forest. If this is once more cleared for temporary cultivation, a fresh loss of nutrients takes place due to leaching until, after a series of such exploitations, the soil is capable only of supporting bracken. After the burning of such areas, grasses, for example, alang-alang (Imperata) which have limited nutrient requirements, can gain a foothold. These grasses are of no value for grazing.
“The tropical rain forest growing in poor soils is inhospitable to human settlements and is usually avoided by people. It is often a refuge of aboriginal tribes. In Africa these are the Pygmies, and in Latin America, original Indian tribes. Even in South-East Asia some of the original tribes have survived. In contrast to these habitats, the remnants of former rain forests on nutrient-rich, young volcanic soils are densely populated cultivated lands (for example Java, Central America). Only in these areas is it possible to maintain long-term agriculture. Tree felling in all other areas leads to a catastrophic loss of nutrients, expressing very clearly the “ecological” disadvantage of the tropics (Weischet 1980). Deforested areas are worthless after a few years, as they are subject to erosion and soon covered by Gleichenia or Imparata thickets of no value.
One of the more interesting findings is how poor tropical soils are. I expected them to be rich, but their nutrients are sequestered within the biomass and then lost and leached rapidly upon slashing and burning. In contrast, temperate forests keep this rich and deep nutrient layer generated from the constant cycling of leaves; and this provides centuries worth of fecund cultivation even after the forests are cleared.
Some soils really are better than others for the cultivation of crops and people.
As regards the biome/intelligence link implied by the maps of Japan, Hertler explains:
I would be interested to see a more complete IQ map for Japan. I see in this incomplete one a patch of low IQ in red on the right map. This falls on a tropical section, which corresponds with the theory. Generally, I would think both the few tropical sections, as well as the north most island has lower IQ than the central portion. In part this is due to historical distribution of different peoples (I recall the northern island being occupied by genetically distinct persons). In part, however, it is due to intelligence and high K people competing for and occupying the most desirable climatic zone and those that comport with the evolutionary conditions in which their civilization and ancestors evolved. What data there is shows high IQ in the TBDF Temperate Broadleaf Deciduous Forest Zones.
As to the theoretical justifications for a Biome Classification in which biomes are ranked by capacity to encourage the growth of intelligence, Hertler admits this is ad hoc and theoretical, rather than systematic or empirical. (He has a more elaborate explanation of the weighting system).
As presented in Table 3, these biomes are ordinarily ranked from one to fourteen, via a hypothesized relationship to cognitive evolution. The overarching underpinnings of this ordering is an adaptation of cold winters theory. As per cold winters theories (Lynn, 1991; Rushton, 1995), the evolution of high cognitive ability derived from post migration exposure to extreme cold within Eurasian climates. Tool use, shelter construction, and new heights of cooperative big game hunting were among the cognitively demanding necessities that theoretically drove cognitive gains. Later use of cold winters theory laid even more stress on seasonality (Hertler, 2015; 2016). The predictably cycling between permissive warmth and exacting cold demanding greater conscientiousness as per this theory. And conscientiousness carries with it cognitive connotations, in that the conscientiousness are inherently more future oriented and exhibit more self-control. Being more likely to subordinate the present to the future, one might say that those in northerly environments have more executive control and the behavioral correlates of that executive control that we commonly call conscientiousness within the personality literature (Hertler, 2105).
Following from these observations, the relation between intelligence and cold is herein predicted to be curvilinear. In consequence, it is the temperate biomes that are placed most highly: Temperate Broadleaf & Mixed Forests (TBMF), Temperate Coniferous Forests (TCF), Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands & Scrubs (MFWS), and Temperate Grasslands, Savannas & Shrublands (TGSS). In accordance with this curvilinear prediction, these four biomes are purposefully placed above the Boreal Forests/Taiga (BFT) and Tundra (T) biomes. Nevertheless, for the purposes of the present analysis, this point is more or less moot as Boreal Forests/Tundra is absent from this data set and Tundra is only present as a minority portion of China’s territory. On the other hand, generally speaking, there are warm climates. These come to predominate along the equator. Cold becomes rarer, and seasonality, if it is present, often relates more to water availability than to temperature fluctuation. And it is, in fact, water availability to separates these subtropical and tropical climates most distinctly. The combination of hot and wet gives rise to the Tropical & Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests (TSMBF) for instance, which does not positively pull for intellectual development as per cold winters theory, but which also engenders a hive of biological activity, much of it detrimental to human life. Following this, Deserts & Xeric Shrublands (DXS) exert the action of heat, but do not compound heat with excessive water availability.
Singapore is an outlier among outliers. The demographics of Singapore make it a prime candidate for exclusion, not because it is a positive outlier that is nearly twice as extreme as the next positive outlier, but because in the 1800s there was a large influx of Chinese who now make up approximately seventy percent of the total population. So while Singapore lies on the equator, it is not populated by persons that evolved in that territory. Certainly, there are other instances where migration will significantly affect the predictive power of biome analysis, but these less extreme instances will be left for post hoc analysis using other methods.
Averaging biomes for large countries with multiple biomes like South Africa, and most especially China, will likely prove problematic. China’s population, for instance is located on the east coast amidst largely temperate biomes, even while a great proportion of its interior is desert.
In summary, the argument that geography affects the development of humans and their civilizations need not be a bone of contention between hereditarian and environmentalist perspectives, so long as environmentalists are willing to agree that long-term habitation in a particular biome could lead to evolutionary changes over generations. Singapore, rather than being an exception, may be the embodiment of the rule.