Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Smoking Gun Of Human Intelligence

My comment on: Genetics, IQ, and ‘race’ – are genetic differences in intelligence between populations likely? by Kevin Mitchell


You're overlooking the smoking gun. Why, exactly, are humans exceptionally intelligent? It has to do with our bodies. Unlike wolves, our bodies aren't optimized for running. Unlike dolphins, our bodies aren't optimized for swimming. Unlike hawks, our bodies aren't optimized for flying. Our bodies are optimized for carrying. We're physically the best, by far, at simultaneously allocating a wide variety of resources over greater distances. This is the smoking gun.

When other animals decide to migrate they aren't confronted with a very complicated carrying problem. It was a very different story with our ancestors. Successful migration was a function of solving hard allocation problems. Figuring out the optimal combination of resources... getting the balance right... correctly calculating the (opportunity) costs and benefits... all this depended on processing a lot of information. Smarter allocators were more reproductively successful. Exceptionally intelligent individuals exerted exceptional influence on the gene pool.

The invention of bags greatly increased the difficulty of the allocation problem, which put even greater selection pressure on intelligence. Same thing with the discovery that animals could be used for transportation. The invention of carts put even more selection pressure on intelligence.

These innovations were very unequally distributed across continents. Therefore it's a given that the same is true of intelligence. However, to be clear, the type of intelligence that survival depends on, or used to depend on, really isn't measured by IQ tests. Well yeah, of course... IQ tests weren't created by economists.

Nowadays we can use trucks, trains, planes and ships to simultaneously allocate huge amounts of resources. But it's no longer the case that the goodness of allocation decisions will determine reproductive success. We've reached peak intelligence. This could potentially change once we start seriously colonizing the stars. I love that video.

Imagine you decide to join the first group of colonists to Mars. What would you take with you? What if you knew, for a fact, that the Earth was about to be destroyed by an asteroid? Would you take more seeds? If you took one coconut, you'd forgo the opportunity to take millions and millions of different orchid seeds. Just how useful are orchids anyways? It's not like you can eat them.

The point of trade is to correctly discern the social usefulness of things. There's a difference between how useful orchids are to you, and how useful they are to us. Gold isn't at all useful to me personally, I can't eat it and I have absolutely no interest in wearing it, but if I randomly happened to find a huge nugget while hiking, then I'd definitely decide to carry it because, thanks to the market, I know that it is very useful to us.

The social usefulness of academic papers is currently determined by voting. Each citation counts as a vote. But where's the paper that proves that voting is more useful than spending at determining the social usefulness of things? It doesn't exist. If it isn't the case that voting is more useful than spending, then it is the case that academics are currently far less useful to humanity than they could, and should, be.

To be clear, spending doesn't have to mean buying. Academic papers could be ranked by using donations. Alternatively, there could be a Netflix for academic papers where subscribers could earmark their subscription dollars to the most useful papers. Each subscriber would essentially use their money to say, "This paper is worth carrying, and I'll prove it by spending my money on it." Costly signals are credible signals.

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