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The great topmost sheet of the mass, that where hardly a light had twinkled or moved, becomes now a sparkling field of rhythmic flashing points with trains of traveling sparks hurrying hither and thither. The brain is waking and with it the mind is returning. It is as if the Milky Way entered upon some cosmic dance. Swiftly the head mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns.

Few scientists write like that anymore. Science is the poorer for it. Sherrington was able to dash that off when the most complicated device to provide an analogy was a 1801 Jacquard loom capable of weaving complicated patterns on the basis of punched cards. So, Sherrington thought of a loom, Freud of a hydraulic system of pipes, Pavlov of a telephone exchange, and more recently everyone and their uncle think of the brain as a computer.

As we progress, the capacity to image the brain, and image it in motion, improves rapidly. Now we can look at fMRI outputs, and deduce the fine detail of connectivity in the brain. A problem arises which the authors of a recent paper identify as a source of bias: even at rest, these outputs differ according to race.

Here is an interesting study which looks at the patterns detectable in brain activity, and which identifies significant racial differences.

Evidence For Bias Of Genetic Ancestry In Resting State Functional MRI. April 2019
DOI: 10.1109/ISBI.2019.8759284
Conference: IEEE 16th International Symposium on Biomedical Imaging (ISBI 2019), 8-11 April 2019, Venice, Italy Volume: 16. Andre Altmann and Janaina Mourão-Miranda

Their abstract:

Resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI) is a popular imaging modality for mapping the functional connectivity of the brain. Rs-fMRI is, just like other neuro-imaging modalities, subject to a series of technical and subject level biases that change the inferred connectivity pat-tern. In this work we predicted genetic ancestry from rs-fMRI connectivity data at very high performance (area under the ROC curve of 0.93). Thereby, we demonstrated that genetic ancestry is encoded in the functional connectivity pattern of the brain at rest. Consequently, genetic ancestry constitutes a bias that should be accounted for in the analysis of rs-fMRI data.

Resting state is what the subject does when lying in a scanner without any task to attend to. Of course, resting state can be very busy: thinking of nothing is impossible, so subjects may be worrying about claustrophobia, enumerating their daily tasks and duties, mulling over a recent problem, or idly considering the sensual advantages of polymorphous perversity. I digress, and no digression is ever fully restful.

Although age and sex and health status can affect functional MRI readings “there is one additional subject level characteristic that is known to affect head and brain morphology but is rarely considered as a confound in rs-fMRI studies or brain imaging studies in general: genetic ancestry.”

They took 1003 subjects from the Human Connectome Project with the relevant fMRI data, and for 950 of those for they also had genomic data. They ended up with 764 European, 138 African, and 39 Asian subjects. To increase discriminative power they compared the Europeans against the rest (using various cut-off assumptions).

They use signal detection theory, which entered psychology in the 1960s, and made “Receiver Operating Characteristics” and “Areas Under the ROC curve” familiar to researchers.

It is a tiny matter, but the same analysis of functional MRI which classifies race at 93% accuracy classifies sex at 98% accuracy. Both these categories can be detected on brain waves in the form of minute blood flows.

So, the functional connectivity of the brain differs among racial groups defined by their genomes, and this difference can be picked up with a high level of accuracy (93%).

They caution:

The exact origin of these apparent connectivity differences between continental ancestries remains elusive at the moment. However, we hypothesize that the observed differences are not based on true neuronal differences but that they originate from differences in head and brain morphology as reported in [8, 9]. These morphological differences may be carried forward through the standard rs-fMRI processing pipeline and affect the inferred functional connectivity. In addition, rs-fMRI connectivity is based on correlations between blood-oxygen-level dependent (BOLD) signal time series at rest. Thus, it is conceivable that genetic differences contributing to blood circulation, perfusion and elasticity of the vascular system may modify BOLD dynamics. This is exemplified by reports identifying ethnicity as independent risk factors for cardio blood oxygenation level dependent vascular disease[14] and intracranial artery tortuosity[15]. In addition, brain hemodynamic responses are known to be heritable traits[16].

So, the authors think that it is racial difference in skull and brain shape which may account for these differences, which make it easy to detect the subject’s race from the connectivity of the brain, rather than any neuronal differences.

Perhaps they are keeping this for later work, but subjects in the Human Connectome Project have completed intelligence tests, and will also have a measure of MRI derived brain size.

Previous 2015 work on the Human Connectome Project shows that brain networks are associated with intelligence.

Previous 2017 work on the Human Connectome Project shows that brain networks are associated with intelligence.

Previous 2018 work on Human Connectome Project likewise.

So, it would be possible to see if the differences in connectivity related in any way to intelligence in the three groups studied: Europeans, Africans and Asians. If there were no differences this would tend to disprove assumptions about brain size and brain organization as a source of racial difference in intelligence.

This paper has a very large sample, employs standard measures and has appropriate statistics, cautiously interpreted. All these aspects are reassuring. It is a niggle, but the authors use the notion of “bias” in a particular way, because they have identified human differences which are nothing to do with bias. These differences were detected by very precise measures of brain activity, thus revealing something, not obscuring it. By analogy, their mapping of the sea floor has shown previously unrecognized under-water contours and ships can now navigate more safely.

Like any other study, this needs to be replicated, but this is a significant finding which stands until refuted by a study of similar sample size and uniformly applied measures.

• Category: Science • Tags: General Intelligence, Racial Intelligence 
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  1. dearieme says:

    I assume that the use of “bias” is a dishonest attempt to defend themselves in anticipation of a cancellation attack. Can’t say I blame them: after all it’s one of those lies that deceives no one serious.

    What I do object to is the four syllables of “modalities”. ‘Technique’ has two syllables, ‘tool’ has one, and neither reeks of affectation.

    Here’s a scarcely relevant anecdote. A while ago a pal of mine wanted to build a new NMR lab. His application for planning permission referred to imaging by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy. This provoked instant pants-wetting and vigorous opposition in the relevant suburb. So his re-application instead used the phrase Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Opposition ceased.

    Anyhoo, fascinating post, doc. Thank you. Could fMRI eventually lead to better diagnosis of mental illness: something objective might be a great advance over the subjective hoopla codified in that notorious book by American trick cyclists.

  2. On the other hand: Race does not exist but for racists. Sigh.

    PS – slightly related:

    a) Mercedes decided to paint their silver F-1 cars black – as a sign of solidarity with the George Floyd protests. – But so far only one of their drivers is black so – if the color of the other car is black too: Isn’t this then a case of Black appropriation?

    a’) Adolf Hitler’s Mercedeses were black too. – Nobody seems to know what to make of this crude fact. Hard to decide, isn’t it?

    • Replies: @Gordo
  3. TG says:

    Of course people are different, and on average there simply must be differences between different races, just as there are between men and women, and right- and left-handers, etc.etc.

    It is a fact of statistics, that with ENOUGH data, EVERY difference becomes statistically significant. The real issue, is if it is functionally (meaningfully) significant.

    Even if, on average, blacks are slightly less intelligent than whites or asians, well, what of it? At the individual level there is vast overlap. It’s only an issue if you assign people to jobs based on race and then of course you will have to lower standards to accommodate a sufficient number of on-average lower performing races – but when you consider the total lack of meritocracy and accountability at the higher levels of our society, so what? We have (nominally) high-IQ elite whites running large banks into the ground and requiring tens of trillions of dollars in subsidies and bailouts, they are throwing away trillions of dollars on endless pointless foreign wars and losing besides… could a slightly lower IQ black do worse? Maybe it’s not black IQ (still only about 13% of the population) that is really what’s wrong with this nation, just saying…

    Remember, every society has a span of ability. If, on average, blacks were relatively more suited to blue-collar jobs than whites and asians, well, if we hadn’t imported so many third-world refugees in order to drive wages down, and hadn’t shipped all of our manufacturing jobs to China, if blue collar jobs paid a good wage and allowed a high standard of living, perhaps it just wouldn’t make much difference if these jobs had a slightly higher percentage of blacks? Maybe the real problem is not so much that your average black is slightly less likely to be a PhD astronaut brain surgeon, as that we have destroyed the ability of blue collar workers to earn a decent living. Hey, there are more stupid whites in total number than stupid blacks in total in this country, and they’re having trouble also, right? And they didn’t used to.

    And here’s another random thought: IQ tests are normalized for age, because raw IQ goes down very quickly with age (That’s why mathematics has long been considered a young man’s game). Now on average, your average sub-saharan African has a significantly lower age-adjusted IQ than your average American white – but on average they are much younger! Your average sub-Saharan African has a higher raw IQ score than your average American white! How’s that for a kick in the head?

    • Disagree: Colin Wright
    • Replies: @orionyx
    , @Kratoklastes
  4. ‘Your average sub-Saharan African has a higher raw IQ score than your average American white! How’s that for a kick in the head?’

    Etc. You’re to be commended for your valiant efforts — but there’s a problem.

    Reality. If you ever deal with a genuinely representative sample of blacks, you’ll realize something. On average, they’re really stupid. Really, really stupid.

    That’s the way it is. Even if you don’t like the fact, even if you turn another dozen rhetorical handstands, that’ll still be the way it is.

    • Agree: druid55, RadicalCenter
    • Replies: @dearieme
    , @martin_2
  5. dearieme says:
    @Colin Wright

    Forgive me if I’ve told this anecdote here before. A serious-minded friend teaches a craft skill. The quickest learners he ever had were Japanese.

    Enough anecdotes that point in the same direction become evidence, in the absence of anecdotes pointing the other way.

    They are not the best category of evidence, of course, but if they align with the best then they add to the plausibility of the conclusions people draw.

    • Replies: @Colin Wright
  6. Isn’t the more interesting result here that it classifies sex at 98% accuracy?

    After all, we are told that there is no difference between males and females.

    It would be interesting to see if there is still a difference on a large sample of post-menopausal women and men of a similar age.

  7. @dearieme

    ‘Enough anecdotes that point in the same direction become evidence, in the absence of anecdotes pointing the other way.’

    The thing is, when something is the truth, all the possible forms of evidence will tend to point the same way.

    If, say, I look at Jim Thorpe and decide American Indians are just naturally superior athletes, well I’ve got Jim Thorpe — but then my thesis keeps running into an absence of support. Presumably, American Indians don’t post better average sprint times, they haven’t won a whole lot of Olympic Gold medals, they don’t dominate professional sports, there’s no physiological reason they should be better, etc.

    One straw in the wind notwithstanding, my theory just isn’t holding up. One does start to suspect it may not be the truth; that on average, American Indians aren’t athletically superior.

    But take black stupidity. Well, we’ve got the lower IQ — then we’ve got poorer performance on every imaginable statistical indice, then we’ve got the abject failure of every majority black attempt at a modern state, then we’ve got proportionately smaller brain cases, then we’ve got repeated personal experience, then we’ve got…

    It’s the truth. We can tell. However we look at it, it keeps being the truth.

    About the only counter-argument is that people don’t want it to be the truth. Well, that’s a bit like insisting that we aren’t going to die because we don’t want to die. Disagreeable as the fact may be, it remains a fact.

    Ditto for lower average black intelligence.

    • Replies: @obwandiyag
    , @R.C.
  8. I remember around the turn of the century hearing a live radio interview with live audience on NPR. There was this guy, I can’t remember his name, but I think the first name was Webster and the last name something vaguely Biblical. He was saying that race doesn’t exist. And the audience was all against him. You could hear them grumbling like a house afire. And what kind of audience was it? Alt-right? Middle-America? Unz Readers?

    Nope. It was a convention of minority journalists. Everyone in the audience was some kind of minority and had some kind of media job. And every one of them who talked sounded pretty dumb. For instance, this one woman got up and said something I’ve heard a lot, “As an Indian, I am black (or something to that effect).”

    So Webster goes, “Well, first of all their is no history whatsoever of oppression of East Asian Indians in the United States. And second of all, what kind of Indian are you? Are you Gujarati or Maharashtran? Are you Bengali or Tamil? They all hate each other, you know. And what about caste? Are you Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, or Shudra, or are you perhaps Dalit? There is a long history of prejudice and oppression amongst these groups, none of which are racial groups. What does saying you are ‘Indian’ even mean?”

    Turns out she didn’t know the answer to any of these questions. She was just an American whose relatives came from somewhere in India and she never bothered to find out more about it. And she was a “journalist.”

    She was mad as hell, though. As was the rest of the audience, sputtering with their inability to refute things they didn’t know anything about.

    Wish I could remember Webster’s full name, though. He sounded interesting.

    The irony of the whole thing, though, is that these were hardcore, cultural Marxist, minority liberals. And they were just as outraged about this “there is no such thing as race” thing as you bozo, libertarian, alt-right, general troglodytes are.

    So, in the end, YOU are the leftist, cultural Marxist, minority liberals. Because you agree with them implicitly. Bet you didn’t know that. Now sputter away.

    • LOL: mikemikev
    • Replies: @Colin Wright
  9. @Colin Wright

    Well, I don’t know, but I certainly know blacks who are smarter than you. And that ain’t sayin’ much.

    Anecdote. Exception that disproves the rule.

    • Replies: @Colin Wright
  10. @obwandiyag

    ‘Well, I don’t know, but I certainly know blacks who are smarter than you. And that ain’t sayin’ much.

    Anecdote. Exception that disproves the rule.’

    That’s how we know the average Mexican is wealthier than the average American: Carlos Slim makes more money than Colin Wright.

    God, you’re an idiot. And the pathetic thing is, you appear to be about the right side of the curve when it comes to blacks. It’s as if Fran Taubman were the smartest Jew posting on this board.

    • Replies: @obwandiyag
  11. @obwandiyag

    ‘The irony of the whole thing, though, is that these were hardcore, cultural Marxist, minority liberals. And they were just as outraged about this “there is no such thing as race” thing as you bozo, libertarian, alt-right, general troglodytes are.’

    You seem to think you’ve made some kind of point. No doubt both we and they would agree the earth is a sphere as well.

  12. martin_2 says:
    @Colin Wright

    Yes I somewhat agree. People who live in an all white or nearly all white milieu might know that there are racial differences in intelligence, but they don’t realise how big they are, and how much it affects the ability to carry out certain types of task.

    It is surprising how ignorant of facts non-whites – especially blacks – generally are. The anecdote about the Indian who did not know her exact ethnic background but only that she was “Indian” is typical.

    • Agree: druid55
  13. botazefa says:

    Stupid question alert:

    Is the fMRI data potentially akin to a type of phenotype like eye color or height?

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  14. @Colin Wright

    God, you’re an idiot.

    No sense of humor. So obsessed with this stupid website you actually know people’s monikers.

    And wrong. You cite anecdotes and that makes you right. I cite anecdotes and that makes me wrong. And black, funnily enough. Because you have x-ray vision or something.

    Meanwhile, I know for a fact that you are a fat slob, you know, butt-crack hanging out, backwards baseball hat and shorts, lots of head fat forming rolls on your bald fat head.

    And that, my little friend, is logic beyond your comprehension.

    • Replies: @Colin Wright
  15. R.C. says:
    @Colin Wright

    Your points are valid and well presented.
    Meanwhile, Ojibway’s (or whatever) @obwandiyag’s are not.

    It is sad that, always, modern western society has filled folks like the latter with ill-deserved confidence, which is ultimately a belief that the PC mob will back them.

    • Thanks: Colin Wright
  16. @obwandiyag

    ‘… Meanwhile, I know for a fact that you are a fat slob, you know, butt-crack hanging out, backwards baseball hat and shorts, lots of head fat forming rolls on your bald fat head…’

    So…are you popular with dogs and small children?

    • Replies: @fnn
  17. Gordo says:
    @Dieter Kief

    a’) Adolf Hitler’s Mercedeses were black too. – Nobody seems to know what to make of this crude fact. Hard to decide, isn’t it?

    The first thing that will have sprung to many people’s minds, and very much lends itself to memes.

    What can those clever Germans have been thinking of?

    • Replies: @Dieter Kief
  18. orionyx says:

    Your arguments are so outre they’re not even wrong.
    But on just one point: the argument that nobody can do a worse job than is being done has been extensively and comprehensively refuted by actual experiment in Africa, where practically every ruler is doing a far worse job than his colonialist predecessors did.
    This applies even in the Congo after the execrable Leopold II. As a Belgian colony after Leopold handed it over to his government, the Congo was en route to peace and prosperity. Now it’s the kind of place that gives shitholes a bad name.
    Every time you say ‘nobody can do a worse job’ there’s an African who invites you to hold his beer.

  19. @botazefa

    Potentially, MRI data is an identifier of individuals, though a rather cumbersome one. There are reliability problems because different machines have some different characteristics, and there are also differences in analysis of results. However, if one unit does the scanning, works to a standard protocol, and carries out reliability checks, then all should be well.

    • Thanks: botazefa
  20. @Gordo

    That’s what echo-chambers do: They disorient people. They should rather have tried to bind themselves to the mast and sail on as Odysseus did.

    For some reason, these PR people seem to be quite uneducated when things outside of their echo-chamber get into play. Mercedes F-1 PR people are an international mix, of course.

    Almost black F-1 world champion Lewis Hamilton is -hehe – the driving force behind Mercedes’ blatant anti-racism*****-activities.

    Germany’s big business seems to be very active in (not least financially) supporting BLM.

    ***** -here is one for the Friends of Friedrich Nietzsche and – Sigmund Freud (and Charles Darwin) too: The fact that race and racism are not only semiotically, but also semantically interwoven. Racehorses were a breed and the very word race springs from breeding this kind of horse. So race cars are not only attached to racism via this history of the term. The connection is tightened up by the fact that race cars not least – depend on – – – – horsepower… – This all looks very bad for motor-racing, as it seems. (Now I think of NASCAR and the noose-scandal…).

  21. dearieme says:

    May I go off-topic? On another blog I found:

    Anders Ericsson has died. He was the cognitive psychologist who studied how those who are very good at something … got to be that way. His finding, that being very good at something wasn’t natural-born talent but the quantity and quality one devotes to practice.

    That reminds me of Orwell’s dictum that some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them. Has Ericsson’s work stood up to scrutiny e.g. to replication?

    • Replies: @res
    , @James Thompson
  22. fnn says:
    @Colin Wright

    He probably hates dogs and has sex with small children.

    • Replies: @RadicalCenter
  23. res says:

    Ericsson sounds much more sensible than Malcolm Gladwell’s popularization of his work. Here is an excerpt from his 2016 book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

    The final problem with the ten-thousand-hour rule is that, although Gladwell himself didn’t say this, many people have interpreted it as a promise that almost anyone can become an expert in a given field by putting in ten thousand hours of practice. But nothing in my study implied this. To show a result like this, I would have needed to put a collection of randomly chosen people through ten thousand hours of deliberate practice on the violin and then see how they turned out. All that our study had shown was that among the students who had become good enough to be admitted to the Berlin music academy, the best students had put in, on average, significantly more hours of solitary practice than the better students, and the better and best students had put in more solitary practice than the music-education students.

    The question of whether anyone can become an expert performer in a given field by taking part in enough designed practice is still open, and I will offer some thoughts on this issue in the next chapter. But there was nothing in the original study to suggest that it was so.

    Gladwell did get one thing right, and it is worth repeating because it’s crucial: becoming accomplished in any field in which there is a well-established history of people working to become experts requires a tremendous amount of effort exerted over many years. It may not require exactly ten thousand hours, but it will take a lot.

    BTW, what does everyone think of that first sentence? I was pretty sure Gladwell said exactly that. If not in his book then in interviews, Twitter, or elsewhere. Am I wrong? Anyone know for sure?

    This interview podcast might be of interest:
    Anders Ericsson: Dismantling the 10,000 Hour Rule

    The summary there seems useful.

    In This Episode You’ll Learn:

    The difference between “traditional” practice, “purposeful” practice and “deliberate” practice.
    How Malcolm Gladwell may have misinterpreted Ericsson’s research on the 10,000-hour rule.
    How Ericsson sees the importance of the role of a teacher in accelerating the path to expertise.
    What actually motivates someone to do the often grueling work for the years it takes to become great.
    How he’s studied people who have learned and developed systems to memorize long strings of numbers.

    Does anyone here know more about Ericsson’s work?

  24. dearieme says:
    @James Thompson

    Many thanks. You are better than googling, doc.

  25. res says:
    @James Thompson

    Do you have any sense of how deliberate practice compares to other forms of practice? That along with what percentage of variance is accounted for by practice overall seem like the most important questions to me.

    The percentage of variance question can take multiple forms. The three which seem to me the most worth considering are:
    1. Within an entire population. So no restriction of range for either talent or time spent practicing.
    2. For elite athletes (etc.) who are likely to be severely range restricted for both talent and time spent practicing.
    3. For recreational athletes with some range restriction likely for both.

    As an individual trying to maximize my performance what I really want to know is how can I maximize the effectiveness of my practice time and how much difference can practice make to my performance.

    I think we can divide anyone’s ideas into multiple categories. For example.
    1. Overstated, but may be of value in a more limited form.
    2. Novel and worthwhile. The sweet spot.
    3. Worthwhile but not novel.
    4. Counterproductive.

    Any idea of how different ideas from Ericsson slot into those? (Beyond your links) My feeling is the Gladwell form of the 10,000 hour rule is counterproductive. The Ericsson form of the 10,000 hour rule is worthwhile but not novel (elite performers tend to practice a great deal, who would have guessed?). But I think deliberate practice is potentially in the 1-2 range.

    I’m not that familiar with his work so don’t have a good sense of his other ideas, but from the podcast summary in my comment I could see teacher, motivation, and case study aspects having some value (perhaps lacking in novelty though).

    Looking more closely at the reference in your first link (non-gated version here):

    It offers a more detailed look than the one third variance bottom line indicates. I think it is worth a closer look. Some things which struck me.

    – Extreme difference between the music variance explained estimates from different studies (Table 3).

    – Figure 2 gives an interesting look at practice time and chess skill level in one study. They saw one master (three levels intermediate/expert/master) with 2,500 hours of practice and two intermediates with 20,000 hours.

    – One major outlier on the high side (65.6%) among the chess studies (Table 2). That study was British youth intermediates while the other studies were older subjects with a range of abilities. That study also had IQ data (see section 3.1). I think it might be worth a closer look (worth discussion here?).
    Does chess need intelligence? — A study with young chess players


    Although it is widely acknowledged that chess is the best example of an intellectual activity among games, evidence showing the association between any kind of intellectual ability and chess skill has been remarkably sparse. One of the reasons is that most of the studies investigated only one factor (e.g., intelligence), neglecting other factors relevant for the acquisition of chess skill (e.g., amount of practice, years of experience). The present study investigated the chess skill of 57 young chess players using measures of intelligence (WISC III), practice, and experience. Although practice had the most influence on chess skill, intelligence explained some variance even after the inclusion of practice. When an elite subsample of 23 children was tested, it turned out that intelligence was not a significant factor in chess skill, and that, if anything, it tended to correlate negatively with chess skill. This unexpected result is explained by a negative correlation between intelligence and practice in the elite subsample. The study demonstrates the dangers of focusing on a single factor in complex real-world situations where a number of closely interconnected factors operate.

  26. @res

    This unexpected result is explained by a negative correlation between intelligence and practice in the elite subsample. The study demonstrates the dangers of focusing on a single factor in complex real-world situations where a number of closely interconnected factors operate.

    That thought is a good general caveat against tests: Beware, testers, realty is a very old manyfold beast!


    What did they find: That chess was not necessarily attractive to brighter kids and so they did not practice it too much – because – – – they are bright and the world is full of wonders besides chess…: Now I try to think of the type of person who would be surprised by such insight or at least mildly interested in it – – – and I must say: This type of person is not too hard to imagine – and can quite easily be found in universities – not least in psychology departments… I conclude with Joni Mitchell and – – – – – Heinrich Seuse (Suso) and Nikolaus von Kues (Cusanus) – the world (=God) could well be understood as The Circle Game

    • Replies: @res
  27. res says:
    @Dieter Kief

    Agreed about the caveat and complexity. I might propose an additional possible explanation (many are in play) which I think we see in other contexts which are range restricted both above and below (e.g. mid-level college admissions or recreational sports).

    If you just look at intelligence vs. working hard (aka hours of practice here), even if both have a positive correlation with the outcome, in mid-range venues you might not see that (or the correlation might even turn negative as here). For a simple example, consider these cases.

    – Smart and works hard: participates at high level
    – Smart and does not work hard: participates at mid level
    – Less smart and works hard: participates at mid level
    – Less smart and does not work hard: participates at low level if at all

    This phenomenon is worth noting because I think it shows up often in people’s individual perspectives (aka anecdotal evidence). For example, “more intelligent people tend not to work as hard.”

    P.S. Keep in mind that the study I linked was a significant outlier on the high side of variance explained by practice. I think that was the result the researchers desired (practice > IQ), but have not looked closely at the results yet.

  28. dearieme says:

    Off topic again, but everyone here is interested in COVID-19 and in genetics, aren’t they?

    It turns out that a major genetic risk factor for severe COVID-19 is inherited from Neanderthals. …

    It is a huge deal in South Asians; … in Northeast Asians it’s almost totally expunged.

    • Replies: @Peripatetic Commenter
  29. Thanks very much for this. Very interesting finding, which partially maps UK intensive care data, so seems part of the picture, but by no means all of it.

  30. @dearieme

    So Corona Viruses have been doing sweeps of the human population for a long while and have been eliminating those who are more susceptible …


    • Replies: @dearieme
  31. dearieme says:
    @Peripatetic Commenter

    Since almost everything comes down to genes and germs it’s not too surprising that the interaction of genes and germs matters. The Neanderthal aspect is fascinating though.

    Of course it will be grist to the mill of those who think the virus escaped not from any old research lab but specifically a biowarfare research lab. “Chinese less vulnerable than Indians”, they will say, meaningfully, “what a coincidence!”

    (To be explicit I think the proposition that it escaped from a lab is not absurd though I don’t know what evidence there could be to support the hypothesis – or, indeed, disprove it. The idea that it had to be part of a biowarfare research programme seems rather hysterical to me but no doubt stranger things have happened.)

  32. @res

    Deliberate practice is similar to operant conditioning: small specific goals, immediate feedback/reward and pauses to get rid of reactive inhibition.

    I think practice makes most sense for motor tasks, because they become automatic. Driving a car, piloting a plane, playing sports.

    I don’t think that intellectual tasks are so much like that. Sure, one has to practice procedures in maths, and a bit of repetition in the early stages of a technique is good, but understanding can leap forwards if you are given a good conceptual model.

    Ericsson says: “a lot of people believe there are some inherent limits they were born with. But there is surprisingly little hard evidence that anyone could attain any kind of exceptional performance without spending a lot of time perfecting it.”

    I think that there are some inherent limits, worst luck. I don’t think Einstein practiced all that much (apart from when he went sailing). He just thought about particular problems for a long time, using his brain, deliberately.

    • Replies: @Peripatetic Commenter
  33. anonymous[340] • Disclaimer says:

    wwebd said —–

    I grew up in a milieu that had lots of wannabe poets in it, and lots of wannabe physics geniuses (not among my friends so much but among the parents of my friends). I lived about a 10 minute drive from the Brookhaven National Lab, and every once in a while I would listen in while the Geniuses from the lab would try and impress my parents (imagine a shared drive back from a ball game, or one of those dinner parties where people who are sort of sheltered used to attend three or four times a year, to keep their spouses happy) and I still remember the day when my older brother brought home a dog from the local shelter, run, as my older brother informed me proudly, by a guy who used to be a famous writer (this was the early 70s, the writer was just about the greatest writer who ever lived – but just as importantly, he really did more or less run the Bide-A-Wee Puppy Home for quite a few years).

    My best guess is that, in about 50 years, there will be AI programs that try and replicate, say, the discoveries of LaPlace, LeMaitre, Godel, Riemann, using as input a “corpus” of about ten million words that were probably in the textbooks and “works of genius” that were available in the youthful years of , say, LaPlace, LeMaitre, Godel, Riemann, and so on. And there will be a way that the AIs simultaneously running those programs will come to an agreement among themselves (God bless them) that almost everybody we think of as a mathematical or scientific genius was more or less a librarian (someone who synthesized all the relevant knowledge, after thousands of hours of passionate contemplation, and added a few good annotations, sometimes spectacularly new – for example, Godel with the first incompleteness theorem AND the
    second incompeteness theorem*, Einstein, having a good year, warming up with a sweet explanation of Brownian motion, moving on a month later to the photoelectric effect (knocking off the best spot in the “letters to the editor” ideal version of a physics monthly, had there been such a thing in 1905) , and then writing down, as if slamming his cards down on the table at Monte Carlo with poor Mach sitting across the round green velvet surface, his theory of special relativity, and hoarding in his gourmet heart the words he would soon use for general relativity.)

    I have known few really top scientists, as the world thinks of them – I was friends for years with the leading authority on North American juncoes, and I remember an all-night drinking bout with one of the leading linear algebraists of his generation, back when he was an adjunct at a small women’s college, but mostly the people I have known with a high intellectual opinion of themselves were people who thought they would some day write really really good novels or really really good poems.

    And here is the funny thing. The people with science as their goal were extremely humble, almost like puppy dogs, compared to the ferocious ambition of my friends who “aspired” to be poets, or novelists, or short story writers (by the way, a few were published eventually, with respectful but bored reviews in the New Yorker or the New York Times – I have never read cover to cover a book written by someone I know, so I can’t say if the reviews were right or wrong). They would discuss how they were much better positioned than Tolstoy to describe the female soul, or how Hemingway, sadly for him, really did not understand what it was like to walk in the woods, since he had left the woods for Paris and the Riviera while young. Yes that is really the way they used to talk ……

    Anyway, all that being said, I do not think that any of us, who think about things, are anything like just librarians. The AIs of the future run a very great risk of misunderstanding this point.

    Rather, as Penrose said when he discussed Godel’s view of mathematics, of course “human insight” has something more in it than can be described with even the best, most unsurprising (Wittgenstein’s word -“there are no surprises in logic”) logical description of the steps in the human insight.

    Well, I am not saying that people with STEM accomplishments (meaning basically anybody with a paying job teaching STEM, and to include every one else who is capable of original work) should be less humble than they are, what I am saying is that more of us, including STEM aficionados, are poets than most of us realize.

    Trust me on that, I remember the sounds of the trains at three in the morning as the happy people returned to their suburban homes from Broadway musicals and plays, and the associated nightclubs and restaurants…. I remember the sounds of the train returning from a place where there were musicals or plays or nightclubs or restaurants that were examples of their kind that will never ever ever be repeated again.

    And the dog liked me a lot, the dog my brother adopted but who spent so many thousands of hours with me had no idea I knew who Wodehouse was – trust me on that – but the dog liked me a lot. All he knew was what I knew, that God is good and that friendship is good. Cor ad cor loquitur. It is no small thing to be a friend to a creature who never had a friend in this world.

  34. @James Thompson

    I think practice makes most sense for motor tasks, because they become automatic. Driving a car, piloting a plane, playing sports.

    I don’t know why you lump driving a car and piloting a plane together like that.

    Driving a car has been made progressively easier such that most people can easily master driving a car, but I suspect there are some groups out there, perhaps the bushmen, who would never be able to drive a stick-shift (manual).

    Further, flying a plane would be beyond large numbers of people of all groups. You likely need an IQ of 110 or so to be able to fly a plane.

    I know a teacher who claims that everyone can manage to drive a car so why can’t they learn calculus?

    That seems to display a great deal of ignorance about the intellectual floor required to be able to handle calculus vs the intellectual floor required to drive a vehicle.

  35. Agree that flying a plane is more complicated than driving most cars. Wrong to put them in the same sentence. There are some motor tasks involved in flying light planes, and those will improve with practice. Calculus harder.

  36. @TG

    It is a fact of statistics, that with ENOUGH data, EVERY difference becomes statistically significant.

    That isn’t a fact.

    With enough data, the distributions of sample estimates converge to their asymptotic distributions – and the tests for statistical significance are certain to have their asymptotic properties[*].

    All it means is that the statistical significance of a difference between two quantities, can be known with greater precision[*]: there will still be differences that are not statistically significant (at a specified significance level).

    What does happen though, is that a bunch of things that can be p-hacked into significance in small samples, are revealed as statistically meaningless in (much) larger samples[*].

    That’s why psychosophasters (especially the ones who now want to be called ‘Neuroscientists’) strongly-prefer non-random, small samples. It makes it easier to get enough wiggle room to ‘validate’ their bullshit.

    [*] This assumes that the data satisfies the criteria on which the tests for significance are based – for example, in the standard linear model the Gauss-Markov conditions must hold for the OLS estimator to have the assumed asymptotic distributions (i.e., to be unbiased and have the “smallest” covariance matrix).

    If the residuals are spherical but not Gaussian, then OLS will not necessarily be asymptotically unbiased.

    If there is any significant multi-collinearity in the regressor matrix, most estimation methods fall apart and a larger sample size won’t help.

    This is why CompSci people do such woefully-amateurish statistics: a one-semester Intro Stats course is not enough, considering that to properly cover OLS takes two semesters in courses where entry criteria are higher than they are for CompSci.

  37. @Peripatetic Commenter

    Driving a car has been made progressively easier such that most people can easily master driving a car

    Define ‘master‘.

    Most people can easily operate a car – so long as nothing ever goes awry.

    Modern motor cars are incredibly ‘assistive’, and do a vast amount to pre-empt the ramifications of driver incompetence. That gives people of median intelligence a dramatically over-inflated view of their own competence.

    I’ll be glad when there is no need for a median-IQ individual to be involved in operating a 2000kg insecurity-wagon.

  38. @res

    Chess is a load of wank. Kids who try to be good at it, do so because it’s a low-effort way of falsely-signalling you’re smart: stay a chapter or two ahead of other people in your year and you’ll be the best chesser in grade 9.

    This is no mystery to reasonably-bright kiddies: by the age of 10 or 11, the top few percent of kiddies know that chess kiddies are almost all poseurs who are almost all outside the top few percent of kiddies.

    I stopped playing in first term of grade 8, having concluded that it was glorified Towers of Hanoi. That is, working out what to do was a complex, but pointless, algorithm that does nothing to augment raw cognitive grunt, and even less to aid in the application of raw cognitive grunt in other domains.

    Noughts-and-crosses would be a better metaphor: it was really clear to me that all games should end in a draw if players are willing to devote their full attention to something so formulaic and boring.

    So it’s no surprise that chess is very draw-ish, and is getting worse. For people with a FIDE rating above 2750 (roughly, the top 50 players of all time), draw rates hovered above 60% until 2013… and have risen towards 75% since then, as everyone could practice to their heart’s content against Stockfish (when cranked to ‘full throttle’, Stockfish has an ELO of 3500 – so Stockfish is to Carlsen or Kasparov, as those guys are to about the 50,000th player).

    Like I said in 1976: it’s glorified Towers of Hanoi. I wasted a whole year of lunchtimes that I could have spent doing something useful, like reading Asterix comics.

    That said: it was a useful inoculation against the sorts of bullshit that schlubs use to try to false-signal competence: it prepared me for, inter alia, wine-wankers (yes, wine is bullshit, too).

    • Replies: @James Thompson
  39. @Peripatetic Commenter

    I know a teacher who claims that everyone can manage to drive a car so why can’t they learn calculus?

    Invariably it’s because they don’t do the revision and practice problems.

    High school kiddies are only ever studying calculus by choice (if at all) – so maths teachers are fortunate: their task is teaching calculus to kiddies who want to study mathematics, not a representative late-high-school kiddie (the median student has no place in a high school, and historically would have left before the start of grade 10).

  40. @Kratoklastes

    Amusing post, which captures some of my feelings about chess.

  41. There is an 80/20 rule going on that combines ability and practice. As you push further and further into the 20% of top performance the additional 80% of ability and practice to do so becomes more and more practice, aka environment. Hence Eton rules the Empire. Actually it was the LSE. Hm?

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