The Genius Famine: Why we need geniuses, why they are dying out, why we must rescue them – by Bruce Charlton and Edward Dutton

7The Genius Famine answered many burning questions that have arisen for me over the course of several decades.

  • Where are the Japanese and Chinese geniuses if their average IQ is 106, second only to Ashkenazi Jews of 110? (There are very few Chinese Nobel Prize winners).
  • As a corollary of that, why do the Chinese just copy American technology through reverse engineering and industrial espionage instead of creating their own? Yes, it is easier, but also derivative and destines them for second rate status.
  • Why would someone who came top of his class in English, second to the top when transferred to an élite private school, find the vocabulary of Charles Dickens fairly challenging as an eighteen-year-old? (Names for Victorian ladies’ hats and kinds of wallpaper did not help.)
  • Why are there no genius physicists at all anymore; the kind that make real, meaningful contributions to basic theoretical physics? We are still waiting for a grand unifying theory to reconcile quantum physics and relativity and a solution is nowhere in sight. In the first half of the twentieth century, we still had hall of famers, like Rutherford, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, Max Planck, and Einstein.
  • Where are the genius musicians, poets, philosophers, painters, and novelists? The 1990s saw the mishmash recycling of styles of post-modernism, with seemingly nowhere to go, as though music and literature had exhausted themselves. We had the nihilistic geniuses of Joyce, Picasso, and Schoenberg, in the early twentieth century, all of whom, Dutton suggests, were artistic dead ends. Academics could not have boosted atonal music anymore if they had tried, and it is effectively dead. Though it is true that the past can seem disconcertingly intimidating because there has been a lot of time to accumulate a list of worthy geniuses. But, it has been seventy years from 1950 to 2021. Think of what the physicists did in a mere 40, from 1900 to 1940.
  • The late eighteenth and nineteenth century had Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Mahler, Liszt, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Berlioz, Puccini, and Verdi. The twentieth century produced Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, and Schoenberg, and that’s about it. And most people do not even like the last one.

The answer to the first two questions is that the kind of genius that alters a culture and expands and enriches society and culture for evermore has been largely a product of Europe. In fact, the results of their genius have created what we think of as the modern world, capable of supporting seven billion people, thanks to advances in roads, shipping, engines, planes, farming, medicine, fertilizers, and other technology. This generates a certain resentment from the beneficiaries, who it seems wish that it could have been they who produced these wonders. Geniuses need to have a high IQ, of course, but they must also be endogenous – inner directed, creative, and intuitive. And, they must have traits of psychopathy. They typically will ignore the usual quest for sex and social status – generally being celibate and almost never having children. They will instead dedicate themselves to a self-chosen obsession, approached using first principles, rather than reading other people extensively and applying the results of their research. They are antisocial, and do not care much about the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of others (low agreeableness).

8

They are not conscientious and do not follow social norms and the expectations of others. The highly intelligent often lack common sense – so that popular trope of the absent-minded professor is true. In fact, they resemble idiot savants to a surprising degree. Idiot savants have unusual abilities coupled with extreme deficiencies, though their talents are typically fairly useless and they do not make major culture-altering contributions, unlike geniuses as they are defined here, and they must be cared for by parental figures.  It turns out that geniuses typically also need to be protected from the world and are frequently looked after by their families. Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Paul Dirac (almost never spoke), Wittgenstein  (wouldn’t eat with colleagues, socialize, or do administration, taught what he wanted and only the students he liked), Blaise Pascal, Gregor Mendel (the discoverer of genes), Thomas Aquinas, Alan Turing, Kurt Gödel, Albert Einstein, Fyodor Dostoevsky (gambling addict and not very competent in life) in other words, half the authors of the books on an educated person’s book shelf, were rather helpless and incapable and were looked after by their families, wives, for the very few that had one, and by monasteries that sheltered them. Einstein got lost near his home once and walked into a store and said “Hi. I’m Einstein. Could you help me find my way home please?” Gödel depended on his wife and would only eat her cooking. He literally starved to death when she was hospitalized. Paul 9Erdos slept on the couches of mathematics professors and collaborated on articles with them. A book has been written about him called, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. Theirs is not the fake creativity of originality as novelty. As Charlton/Dutton point out, Constable and Gainsborough are less original, but are better painters than Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. (It is tempting to think that their famous last names helped their careers with the last two.)

High IQ develops in populations where farming is possible. Difficult climates, but not too difficult. Eskimos, for instance, have specialty smarts, but are not going to develop into geniuses. And those living in warm easy climates do not need any special intelligence to survive. East Asians are high IQ, but are too agreeable and conscientious to generate many geniuses. Possibly their climate was too harsh to tolerate psychopath types. They are extremely group focused. The amount of time and effort they put into “saving face” for others is quite exhausting to contemplate. In Japan, workers are assigned a pod of other workers. If one person messes up, the rest are held responsible. They will typically only take half their vacation out of a feeling of responsibility for letting the group down, since those remaining have to do their own work and part of their vacationing colleague’s work too. The genius is not concerned with the group, although his talents end up serving the group in all sorts of ways, including helping them compete with other groups.

European IQ reached its peak in about 1870 and went downhill from there. It is estimated to have diminished by 1.5 points every decade so that we are down by 15 IQ points since 1900. The average academic will now be as smart as a high school teacher was in 1900 – though partly because of the proliferation of higher education institutions. Charles Dickens’ books were serialized in popular magazines. Ordinary people read them without difficulty. Now, if an “announcement” or quiz for students uses a word like “disparage,” or “mercenary,” used figuratively, they will not know it. All of them will not only not look the word up, but not think to do so. The contrast with Dickens might make it seem that languages just get simpler over time. They do not. That is empirically false. Knowledge of difficult words is an indicator of high intelligence and our simpler vocabulary is indicative of our lower IQs. Differential color perception and reaction times are also correlated with high IQ and both have gone down. Fast reaction times indicate health. Being a quick thinker means your brain is physiologically functioning well. There is no natural selection for stupidity. Stupidity is the result of mutational load – bad mutations accumulating leading to poorer brain function. In fact, all your organs are likely to be affected, so people will be of poorer health generally – prone to obesity (low impulse control also) and diabetes. High intelligence is associated with living longer because generally, smart people are healthier. Plus, the highly intelligent are future-oriented and can use their intelligence to control their instinctive impulses better. We are now only as smart as we were in 1600 and thus could never have generated the Industrial Revolution. Since the smarter control their impulses more, they are also more sexually repressed, leading to Shakespeare being bowdlerized in Victorian times. Our “sexual freedom” is also a sign of our stupidity. This aligns perfectly with Plato’s Phaedrus. There he describes the human soul as composed of a white and black horse and a 10charioteer. One horse pulls heavenward, towards Beauty, Truth, and Goodness – the heaven beyond heaven, and true reality. The other, back down to earth, and the satisfaction of bodily desires. Only he who manages to control the dark horse is fully human and gets to return as a human in the next life.

High intelligence and education are inversely correlated with having children, especially with women. So, the modern tendency to spend years in higher education well into the twenties, contributes to infertility among the smart. Then, the easy conditions created by English geniuses in the fields of agriculture and industry, leading to the Industrial Revolution, along with things like increased sanitation, meant that nearly all the children of the poor and unsuccessful, survived. Also, the poor could afford to have more children and to feed them. This can be contrasted with the Black Death that killed 80% of peasants, and the 2% of the population who were executed as punishment for not necessarily terribly serious crime every year in the Middle Ages. And criminality is associated with low intelligence, and poor character (high impulsivity, antisocial tendencies, etc.) During Medieval Europe, the poor died in childhood in huge numbers, the rich and successful survived, until IQ reached its peak. We then became a victim of our own success, stopping this rather brutal natural selection in favor of the smart, and the poor and less mentally and physically healthy had more babies than the obverse. This ramps up the mutational load with dysgenic effect. World War I further culled the smart people. Officers led from the front and were from the upper classes, the best and brightest, leaving a generation of women who refused to marry down, in the usual hypergamous manner, to live out their lives as spinsters.

As stupidity increases, Dutton opines elsewhere, we can expect more accidents and failures; planes falling out of the sky, apartment buildings in Florida collapsing, software updates actually making things worse instead of better.

The other factor is that modern culture actively selects against genius and is hostile to it. The antisocial Wittgenstein who refused to do administrative work, and would only teach what he wanted to, would simply be fired. In fact, he would never have been hired in the first place. As people get stupider, we have 11to chop complex jobs up into simpler pieces. Thus, a bureaucracy is formed and new faculty are chosen by committee. Collegiality is a major requirement. They must have the right credentials. Geniuses are often so lopsided in their intelligence that they do not perform well academically. Newton barely got his BA and had to be asked his examination questions all over again to get him through, which was considered a major disgrace. This from a man with no formal training in mathematics. He was self-taught and within one year was as good as any mathematician on the planet and then went on to make his singular contributions. Applicants must have a willingness to follow social norms and bureaucratic requirements, and thus to exhibit high conscientiousness. An actual genius would be eliminated at the first opportunity. Even for people of normal academic intelligence (115 for an education professor and for a social scientist, 130 for physics, 129 for mathematics and philosophy, depending on how elite the institution is of course) scientists in particular must get a “grant.” In the grant, they must state what they expect to discover. They must fit a particular timetable. They must outline the steps they intend to take to achieve this goal, and so on. In other words, they must be dull and conscientious, kowtowing to group think and bureaucratic nonsense. It is understandable that those providing funds want some assurance that their money will be well spent, but to have to effectively state what you will discover before you discover it, and particularly to do it following a timetable, and then one with incremental, algorithmic steps, has nothing to do with the creativity and intuitiveness of the genius. In fact, it is not how discovery works, period.

Current academia is mired in extreme conformism and has a giant parasitic, vampiric leech of a bureaucracy sucking at its teat. HR has gone from four staff members to well over twenty in the space of a dozen years at one place I can think of. There are provosts, and deans, and then innumerable “assistant” deans, all with their own mini bureaucracies and staffs, who have to figure out new onerous regimes for faculty to undertake to justify their existence.

So, there are almost no geniuses, due to active hostility to them, and due to declining IQs. Even very young people seem to realize that people are getting stupider. We have gone from farm laborers listening to five hour complicated debates between politicians in the mid-19th century America, to thirty second attack ads on TV in the recent past, to “students” with no interest in academic topics sitting in class fuming if they are not allowed to distract themselves online. Preliterate oral cultures were functional and focused on rote memorization and either learned what they needed to know, or died off. Literate cultures represented an enormous expansion of the human mind and liberated it from mere rote learning and permitted the possibility of critique. At certain points, it gave individuals access to the whole history of mostly Western thought to learn from. A post-literate “culture” may turn out to be an oxymoron. It has not gone through the trial by fire of oral cultures, and literate cultures. We blame functional illiteracy on “technology;” smartphone addiction and the like, but it might also be that dumb people are not as interested in abstract ideas.

It is tempting to look at painting and classical music and to say – “Well, they are simply played out. There 12is nothing more to say in those fields of artistic endeavor. What more could possibly be done?” But, it seems very likely that that is simply how things look to the non-genius. We are not tempted to say that there are no new discoveries to be made in mathematics, and everyone who has paid any attention at all knows that physics is hopelessly incomplete and has reached a temporary impasse. It is patently clear that some creative, intuitive genius operating on his own self-chosen first principles, with enough psychopathy to ignore received opinion and looking to others, who is directed inward on his quest to which he has dedicated himself, is needed to break through to an entirely new horizon of thought. Us mundane earthbound types simply cannot imagine what that will look like. It stands to reason, that we do not know what the next step in painting and classical music could look like. Interestingly, we are not similarly tempted to think that literature has reached its limit. To anyone tempted by the post-modern lack of creativity and recycling of the past to think we have reached the end of the line, think how people might have felt before Hesiod and Homer emerged, before Shakespeare turned up and transformed the English language as a simple byproduct of wanting to write entertaining plays. Before Cervantes invented nearly every “device” a po-mo novelist could use. No one could have predicted them, nor foreseen what majestic works of art they would create. It is unwise to imagine that any field of human scientific or artistic achievement has simply reached its limit. What makes physics so interesting is that the human race is holding its breath, awaiting the solution if we are not already too stupid to find it, which we probably are. Presumably, the actual answer would be so unexpected and transformative that, were we to find it, we would shake our heads to think how primitive we once were.

Dutton, in other writings and videos, rejects the idea of “low-hanging fruit.” This is the notion that some scientific discoveries are “easy,” just sitting there waiting for someone to notice them, and others take far more effort. Thus, because of low-hanging fruit, later inventions and discoveries are harder to make because they will be high hanging fruit, to coin a phrase. Does anyone think that classical mechanics with its calculus, or the theory of relativity, were “low-hanging fruit?” Some inventions, like wheels on suitcases, seem trite and obvious, but that is easy to say after the fact. How long did we have wheels and have suitcases before someone put them together? Apparently, it was not so low-hanging after all. The Manhattan Project was 13not low hanging fruit, and neither was cracking the Enigma Machine code by Alan Turing. It would be nice if we had simply lost heart and just needed to buck up and get back to work, but we are demoralized and suffering the ill effects of a mutational load. Zombie movies perhaps indicate an unconscious hankering for a new eugenics and a recognition of our mental decline.

End note: The genius is inner directed. He follows his own interests independently of what others around him seem to be interested in. He obsesses over a subject and thinks upon it constantly. He is creative and intuitive. He has a vocation and self-directed purpose. Michael Ventris, the self-taught linguist who deciphered Linear B, the Bronze Age Mycenaean Greek script, visited a museum, aged fourteen, where the guide mentioned that Linear B had never been deciphered. He devoted himself to the task of deciphering it, succeeded, and died shortly afterwards. Mission complete. Some of us non-geniuses can feel some kinship with this aspect of genius. Also, with their low agreeableness; not wanting to join community organizations and the like. The smartish non-genius reads widely and applies what he learns from other people to other things. Hmm, sounds familiar.

53 thoughts on “The Genius Famine: Why we need geniuses, why they are dying out, why we must rescue them – by Bruce Charlton and Edward Dutton

    • I am indeed the co-author of Genius Famine – the argument of which was drawn from many posts on my Intelligence, Personality and Genius blog –

      https://iqpersonalitygenius.blogspot.com/ .

      I asked Edward Dutton to help me construct and produce the book (which I was ‘contracted’ to write – although there was no contract!) after I got ‘stuck’ writing it; which he kindly did – but he ended-up doing a lot more than this, by contributing multiple examples and references, and improving readability. Thus we became co-authors.

      I have also helped Ed with some of his books – including his most recent one on Witches and Feminism – but never to the extent of meriting co-authorship status, as he did with Genius Famine.

      But the name Orthosphere was invented by Kristor (not me) – in the process of brainstorming a title on my ‘Notions’ blog: https://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2011/12/should-christian-reactionary-blogs-be.html .

      • @ Bruce: Oops. Sorry for the omission, Bruce. I’ve been on a bit of an Ed Dutton kick lately and wasn’t paying sufficient attention. I have seen references to you in a lot of Dutton stuff. My first thought was “OUR Bruce Charlton?” Do you ever get confused with Bruce Chatwin of Songlines fame?

      • Richard – “Do you ever get confused with Bruce Chatwin of Songlines fame?”

        Well, not really – except once when I was an English Lit student in my twenties, and gave my name and the asker was momentarily confused because he thought I had said Chatwin. Google prompts put Charlton and Chatwin at first and second for “Bruce Ch” – today he beats me, sometimes I beat him! But there is a more eminent Bruce Charlton (and of the same age) who is chief golf course architect at Robert Trent Jones: which is apparently one of the major such corporations in the world.

  1. This is a good post. I’ve never met a genius and am not certain I would know one if I did. I have met many pseudo-geniuses who were LARPing Einstein or James Joyce. I’m sure you have known academics who weasel out of administrative work by pretending they are Wittgenstein. I’m not using the term pseudo-genius simply as a pejorative term of contempt, but rather as the name of a real and distinct social type–a social type with which the modern world is and has been abundantly supplied. This may be simply due to the fact that the demand for genius greatly exceeds the supply, and counterfeits appear wherever demand exceeds supply.

    I wonder of our society is a sucker for pseudo-geniuses because it always prefers to watch actors. An actor playing a genius is so much more agreeable (and predictable) than a genuine genius, and a pseudo-genius is at least as much of an actor as a practitioner of whatever art or science he professes. This first occurred to me while watching Carl Sagan play the role of seriously scientific atheist. Of course the social sensitivity that allows a pseudo-genius to “play the part” of a genius is the exact opposite of the social indifference that you correctly identify as essential to the true genius. This leads me to the axiom: if he looks like a genius, he is almost certainly a pseudo-genius and not the real thing. He may be very smart indeed, but if he wears his hair like Einstein, he is almost certainly a pseud.

    Being the very reverse of a genius myself, I have no decided opinion on the case for our genius shortage. It may a perceived shortage caused by our presentism and foreshortened picture of the past. Humanity has spent most of its history passing through genius deserts, and we are not exempt just because we think we are special. But this is probably exacerbated by the dysgenic trend that you note, and also by our extremely bureaucratic intellectual systems. This system selects for intellectuals who can publish 200 instantly-forgotten papers because they are very hard-working conformist. (Full disclosure: this may just be jealousy on the part of a lazy non-conformist.)

    • Fortunately, I have not met any pretend or real geniuses. A real one would want nothing to do with me, and why would he? Your heuristic that those who dress etc. like geniuses are not, seems good. You are hardworking in your own way as the most prolific Orthosphere poster. Publishing BS articles in journals that no one reads is surely a waste of time, no different from a baker whose goods go stale sitting on the shelf. If you actually do get popular then your street cred goes down instantly as a slimy populist. Just imagine if promotion committees withdrew their recommendations if your articles went unread! I knew someone who was obsessed with women’s breasts. His talk at a conference on the topic (they were 18th century breasts so more scholarly sounding) was filled to overflowing to a degree that completely surprised him.

  2. Genius may be disappearing because there is no Logos-centric civilisation left to parasitise, which had been the basis upon which most (at least scientific) innovations were made that the victorious logophobes have hitherto called genius since the late Middle Ages. Every little innovation is a slight deviation, and every little deviation over time becomes a detour and, finally, an about-face. Eventually, the universal wolf at last eats up himself.

    Of course, there remain logos-centric geniuses. We might have to start paying attention to them for once, this millenium. Better yet, we ought to stop looking around and, ourselves, pick up the abandoned instruments.

    • There’s an interesting book tracking this theory of yours, by an Australian academic whose name escapes me. It’s a fascinating book, in both popular short, and academic long versions. It’s called BioHistory, and is essentially an account of the influence of temperament on culture and intelligence (and of course, of the circumstances that account for temperament).

    • If the Logos is reality and truth, then anything that deviates from that is unreal and a lie. The genius has an insight into aspects of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful and provides that for the rest of us – in the realm of philosophy, art, music, architecture, poetry, theater, and science. The “innovation” is only with regard to our understanding of the God provided Logos.

      The only Logos averse genius is the evil genius and that is he who deviates from the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

      • Yes, I ought to have made that Marvel-lous distinction between the divine genius and the evil genius, the latter of whom I was, predominantly, speaking. Our culture fails to accurately discern the one from the other, hence the much vaunted “innovator” title, once upon a time pejorative, whereas, as you point to, the true genius sees reality as it truly is, as an “unveiler”. I never miss an opportunity to quote the great genius Schopenhauer, who said “talent aims at the target and hits it; genius aims at a target nobody else has yet seen.”

        Thank you as always for your enlightening essays, Richard.

  3. “It is tempting to look at painting and classical music and to say – “Well, they are simply played out.”

    Slightly OT (he may or may not have been a genius), that reminds me. Barrington Pheloung died in 2019 at the young age of 65. I don’t listen to music, but I knew and admired Pheloung because I am an Inspector Morse fan. He did the beautiful, haunting theme music for Morse, Lewis, and Endeavor. A change between seasons in Endeavor is what led me to search and learn of his death. The news report by Maddy Shaw Roberts in ClassicFM website says:
    “Within the Inspector Morse theme, Pheloung employed a Morse code motif for the letters that spell the name M.O.R.S.E. In occasional episodes, his music would even reveal the name of the killer in Morse code, or sometimes the name of another character (as a red herring). “

      • I’ve decided Endeavor is worthwhile because of Fred Thursday – and of Mr Bright as his character develops, as partly revealed in the episode Prey (3rd season). They both epitomize what a true man can be. Such men rarely have their character and lives explored any more, and it is refreshing to see it in a modern show with such reach.

  4. Good post. The Genius Famine is indeed an excellent book.

    If it is true that average IQ has declined, then not only were there proportinately more intelligent people in the past, but (due to the steepness of the normal curve), in some cases, there were *numerically* more (even with the increase in population).

    For instance, since one of the reasons for believing that intelligence has declined from Victorian times is data from Francis Galton, collected from 1884 to 1893 (https://iqpersonalitygenius.blogspot.com/2012/08/taking-on-board-that-victorians-were.html), then a good place to start is the 1880 population of Britain (https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/population-of-england-millennium): 24.16 million.

    The linked post says that the average IQ of Britain at that time was 115 (in comparision with a modern population). This means that the proportion of peple above IQ 135 is the proportion of people 1 and 1/3 standard deviations above the mean, which is about 9.18 percent (https://www.calculator.net/z-score-calculator.html?c2z=1.33&c2p=&c2pg=&c2p0=&c2pin=&c2pout=&calctype=converter&x=73&y=15#converter).

    Or, 2.22 million people.

    On the other hand, the proportion of such people in modern Britain is the proportion 2.33 standard deviations above the mean (if we assume a mean IQ of 100), or about 1 percent (https://www.calculator.net/z-score-calculator.html?c2z=2.33&c2p=&c2pg=&c2p0=&c2pin=&c2pout=&calctype=converter&x=52&y=17#converter).

    In 2012, when the above post was published, the population of Britain was 53.49 million, so the number above 135 IQ would be about 535,000 people.

    (I should mention that Bruce Charlton made a similar calculation in 2012, though in less detail (https://charltonteaching.blogspot.com/2012/06/how-many-geniuses-does-it-take-to-make.html).

      • Another consideration about genius is that the scientific and industrial revolutions were so successful because of a “multiplier effect” where the innovations of genius compound. In other times and places, geniuses were few and far between, especially geniuses of any particular field. So, their contributions may or may not be used later or if they are, they may be built on very slowly.

        Whereas, with multiple geniuses of the same or similar fields existing at any one time, they can quickly build on each other’s contributions and achieve results that are too large for any one genius alone.

        Several months back, I wrote some other thoughts extending some of the ideas in the book as well: https://nolongerreading.blogspot.com/2021/04/miscellaneous-thoughts-on-genius.html

  5. One consequence of our reduced infant mortality is that those who would in the past have died in innocence and gone straight to Heaven are now exposed to the temptations of the world. It is fortunate that the phenomenon is inevitably a self-correcting one.

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  7. Some inventions, like wheels on suitcases, seem trite and obvious, but that is easy to say after the fact. How long did we have wheels and have suitcases before someone put them together? Apparently, it was not so low-hanging after all.

    Suitcases spend most of their time sitting in storage compartments. Anything that adds weight, or takes additional interior or exterior space, detracts from them performing their function as transported containers in the most efficient manner. We used to put wheels under suitcases all the time *on a temporary basis*, first by guys called redcaps with carts and later with automated baggage handling systems. You can still find rentable carts at most airports. Real mass cargo systems have gone the opposite direction, moving from trucks with permanently attached wheels to containers that can be used across multiple modes of transport.

    Nobody needed to put permanent wheels on every suitcase until the airlines developed their hub-and-spoke flight plans with connections that you might make even if your luggage didn’t, which forced passengers to schlep their luggage through airports themselves if they wanted to make sure they had clean underwear when they got their destination. You can argue that there is a minor utility to having the wheels in some other situations but most of those are no more than minor inconveniences remedied by having carts available.

    There was no ‘a-ha’ moment of putting wheels under suitcases. It came about as a practical solution to a problem that was created by other forces.

    • I once had to walk to a train station because of a bus strike. Wheels would have been great. Paying porters I find annoying and cumbersome and the same with carts especially since you can’t take them through security or up escalators.

      But that was an interesting history lesson.

    • Hi, Richard:
      Thanks, but just passing on stuff I’ve read. Yes. Damn the evil geniuses. Part of the problem is their concern for the social good. Many can probably go either way.

  8. Q. You found that per capita levels of accomplishment tended to decline from 1850 to 1950. Would you care to speculate on post-1950 trends?

    A. I think that the number of novels, songs, and paintings done since 1950 that anyone will still care about 200 years from now is somewhere in the vicinity of zero. Not exactly zero, but close. I find a good way to make this point is to ask anyone who disagrees with me to name a work that will survive — and then ask, “Seriously?” Very few works indeed can defend themselves against the “Seriously?” question.

    – Charles Murray, in an interview about his book Human Accomplishment.

  9. While I have no doubt that we are past peak intelligence, the population of people of European descent is many times what it was in 1900, so it’s not clear in advance that the expected number of geniuses will be lower, especially taking into account the Flynn Effect.

    As for young, modern day geniuses, I’ve met a handful, in particular Peter Scholze. Of course, some wise guy will make the quip that a Fields Medal indicates two things about the recipient: that he was capable of accomplishing something important, and that he didn’t.

    • According to Dutton, the 20 point diminishment since 1900 is not compensated by sheer numbers. Populations of pygmies, for instance, have no geniuses, not fewer. The Flynn effect is an artifact of testing and some very specific skills taught in modern education even according to Flynn now and has mostly disappeared since the 90s.

      • If Dutton is correct, then you end up with fewer European geniuses, not no geniuses, unless you are suggesting the tail of the distribution decays even faster than that of a normal distribution. As for pygmies, I’m not sure what point you are making (there just aren’t enough pygmies to make any conclusions about the IQ tail distribution). As for the Flynn Effect, I thought it included the reduction of “environmental insults”, which have in fact decreased: our social norms have degenerated, but our urban water and air have improved in the last few decades. On the other hand, there might be other not yet fully appreciated pollutants, such as endocrine disruptors making all the frogs gay.

        However, I just can’t take seriously the argument that problems in fundamental science haven’t gotten much harder. Anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t work in science. Look for example at the length and intricacy of a paper in theoretical physics or pure mathematics today compared to those of even twenty years ago (when I was a student).

        In general, the HBD crowd makes many interesting observations, but they are far too confident in their just so stories.

      • Yes. Not no geniuses at all, but we have become increasingly hostile to them and select against them in academia, but also not just more of them due to higher numbers. Also, what counts as “genius” is going to get rather pitiful with dysgenics.

        Re: pygmies, in populations where the average IQ is 59 or 70 you just don’t get geniuses. That’s all. That claim is easy to refute if you can find a counter-example.

        I haven’t read any mention of environmental insults as of yet. Flynn does not seem to think they are significant. The dysgenic effects of smart people not having babies and dumb ones having lots of them is not a just so story. There’s not really much to debate on that front given intelligence is .8 inheritable. The nice thing about twin studies and adoption studies is one can bracket out the effects of shared environments – e.g., smart children being raised by smart parents. It turns out that smart children will be smart regardless and dumb ones dumb, no matter what you do.

        Math is math. It is true that there are more specialties now. I listen to mathematicians being interviewed a lot. None of them have suggested that their job has got harder. Breaking through to some new horizon has always been difficult – it only seems easier in retrospect. I would need a pretty good just so story to explain why math suddenly got harder especially in twenty years. We’ve been doing it for thousands.

        I don’t really have any right to have an opinion about physics. I can only say that I am attracted to thinkers like Lee Smolin and Peter Woit, but also to Heisenberg, Goedel, and all those dudes. I’m just the messenger on these topics.

      • Even if the degenerate population still produces geniuses, it is less likely to understand or appreciate those geniuses. Jesus was a religious genius, but the spread of his gospel required a very smart St. Paul. My reading on geniuses strongly suggests that a genius like Mozart must be surrounded by a large cadre of second-raters. An isolated genius is a mad man raving at the moon.

      • I began this comment thread by acknowledging that I have no doubt we are past peak intelligence, and I agree that is because of dysgenics. However, concerning a common environmental insult:

        https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/11/air-pollution-reduces-iq-a-lot.html

        Also, I shall continue to push back against the claim that fundamental science hasn’t gotten more difficult. But to be clearer, let me revise that to “more complex”, since we can imagine objective measures of complexity, while difficulty might be construed subjectively. My claim isn’t that mathematics has *suddenly* become more complex in the last twenty years, but that it has been becoming more complex for hundreds of years, and that this is noticeable even over the last twenty years. My own subjective impression is that my own work has gotten easier because of more complex logical technology. I can now easily prove theorems that I once thought impossible, but at the cost of ever longer preludes of prerequisites, making the proofs all but impossible to explain to the uninitiated.

        Take for example the proof of Fermat’s Theorem by Taylor and Wiles, which none of the geniuses of yore was able to achieve. Perhaps neither Taylor nor Wiles is a genius, but Gauss certainly was, and it would take even him a number of years to learn the machinery that goes into the proof, which is built on a tower of logical technology developed over the course of hundreds of years. Meanwhile, a modern day wunderkind can learn in a year all the number theory that Gauss ever knew.

        There has been a similar development in theoretical physics, as is evident from the semi-popular book The Road to Reality by Penrose, the contents of which would have taken Heisenberg some years to master.

        While the important theorems in mathematics and the important grand unified theories in physics could be really much simpler than we latter day midwits are able to grasp, and that wea are merely compensating for our deficiencies with increasingly complex logical scaffolding, it seems to me highly likely that there is some irreducible complexity to reality that no genius can simply dance around.

      • Hi, The Scary Black Hundreder. I looked at your link and it seemed to be mostly about third world countries and China that doesn’t produce many geniuses anyway. Air pollution is not particularly a problem in Western Europe, UK, and the US, so wouldn’t seem to be a big factor in IQ reduction there. Quite a few of the effects also seem to be temporary.

        Newton went from knowing no math to being the best in the world in a year, so the genius may not find getting up to date with later developments as hard as we might think – being midwits ourselves. But, we’re dealing with counterfactuals with no definitive answer.

        String theory proposes things that have too many solutions, according to Peter Woit, so some of the complexity of modern physics might be artificial and based on wrong and unproductive theories.

      • The Scary Black Hundreder brings up a point that also interests me. Let us continue with mathematics as our example. On the one hand, math continues to advance, so one must assimilate more to get to the frontier (assuming math mostly builds on itself rather than spinning off unrelated subdisciplines). On the other hand, notations improve, and fields are clarified, so that it becomes easier to assimilate material. I’m thinking of a quote at the beginning of Zee’s “Group Theory in a Nutshell” in which Salam himself remembers his first encounter with representation theory and thought it impossible to learn. Now the pedagogy and organization of the subject make it accessible to mediocre minds. Or I remember reading that Newton’s derivations of the brachistochrone and of the gravity inside a spherically symmetric mass distribution were works of genius, it then being admitted that nowadays any idiot can derive them easily with the tools we teach college students. This process of condensation and clarification is crucial to the advance of mathematics and the subjects that rely on it. It constitutes a sort of progress in itself–the amount of math one can learn in four years increases with time.

        There is no guarantee that the expansion of math and its condensation progress at the same rate. It may well be that we have entered a phase when expansion outpaces condensation, in which case advance in math will stall until the balance is restored (“balance” meaning an ordinary mathematics major is able to start doing interesting cutting-edge work after a year or so in graduate school). To those living in such a time, it will appear that mathematical research has gotten harder, that all the low-hanging fruit has been picked.

      • Thanks, Bonald. You’re the scientist, of course. That’s very interesting, and congenial to my prejudices!

      • The phenomenon Bonald and Scary Black Hundreder notice is at work all over the place. Almost the moment that a true novel insight has dawned upon the social horizon, it starts to look obvious. “Why didn’t I think of that?” This happened to me just last week. I’ve been stringing the lights around the tree in a spiral since I was a little kid, because that’s how my Dad did it. My daughter in law showed us her idea of stringing them instead vertically. *So much easier!* And, *so obvious.* Thing is, stringing those lights is actually a topic of some importance to me. It’s a job I value. Given the care and attention I pay to it, how could I have missed that technique all these years?

        When something looks obvious, it no longer appears as a stroke of genius. It looks like the sort of thing that any moderately intelligent person should be able to see at once – which, once it has been pointed out to them, they do!

        It seems to me that the stroke of genius often involves the realization that an idea from one domain of life has applicability to another, revealing a deeper similarity, not just of domains to each other, but to some more profound logic. In the light of such realizations, each domain then enlightens the other. Newton’s assimilation of terrestrial and celestial motion under the same logic is perhaps the archetypal case.

      • Hi, Kristor: You seem to be describing creativity in general. It seems like with something like Goedel’s Theorem, for instance, that he makes a break through in human thought – both its limits and its necessity – that is more than this. It took David Hilbert publicizing it for anyone to understand what had happened. Goedel delivered his paper at a conference and nothing happened until Hilbert stepped in.

        I don’t understand why people who like to speculate that computers will become conscious act like Goedel and Turing (halting problem) never existed. What don’t they get about those things? I’m thinking of you, Lex Fridman.

  10. Pingback: Dumb and Getting Dumber – Daily Pundit

  11. The Scary Black Hundreder, the thing you are missing is that “genius” as a trait has a certain amount of relativity.

    In our system “genius” is 3 standard deviations or 45% of the assumed baseline. 145 IQ or so.

    For a pygmy assuming the same holds , with an average IQ of say 70 in his tribe, a genius IQ is 101 . The smartest guy in that tribe is an average White guy.

    • High IQ seems to be a necessary but not sufficient cause of genius. There are many very clever people who are not at all creative, and creativity is the essence of genius. Thats why we call it by a name that suggests that a supernatural spirit or genii is the fundamental cause. The materialist explanation for the preponderance of European genius is that Europeans are almost as smart as Orientals and almost as bold as Africans. The Africans are bold but not smart; the Orientals are smart but not bold. Pygmies are a special sort of African, but I do not think we should call the smartest pygmy a genius until he does something astonishingly original.

      • I quite agree.

        I think the only disagreement I might have with the Good Doctor and Good Professor and I am a habitue of both their blogs and now yours I suspect, is that simply a decline in genius is of no consequence and may well be a good thing in the long run.

        Western civilization did quite well with less of it and a lower average IQ and is a lot less likely to self destruct with the next gain of function experiment go awry, some kind of mandatory Neuro Link scheme or good old fashioned nuclear war if we can’t understand enough to do these things.

        Heck our “learned” society started to die in 1974 and now if polls are to be believed , up to 44% of young people never want children. And yes some of it is ecological control gaslighting but a lot of it is simply that people taken so far by science from their natural instincts are miserable.

        A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

        And that deep draught is of course wisdom which is lacking entirely as we rocket down the Faustian express.

      • A. B. Prosper: That’s a point. I won’t deny it. We did a lot more dying and starving prior to 1800. But, then, strife is linked with religiousness, as is modest IQ, and having children as you say, at least in wedlock. Dutton admits that a certain individual who lived in a cabin in the woods (not Thoreau) has some pretty reasonable points to make along your lines. The trouble is, the harsh conditions kill off the weak and dumb, and we’re back to high IQ and geniuses again. Unless, we all live in the Arctic Circle where the really harsh conditions exist. OK – now I’m picturing one of those dystopian novels they make teenagers read – where we kill the very smart and antisocial. Except, you’d have to do it in adolescence, since genius is not inheritable and you wouldn’t know what you were looking at until a child had a chance to develop.

        Nice Alexander Pope quotation. I looked up the rest of the poem – genius!

        I would miss all those old guys on my bookshelves. God forbid I would have to read someone at my level for the rest of my life! Everything would be, “Well, looks like rain.” “You don’t say? I do believe you’re right.”

        I was going to say that we would be in danger of being taken over by some more enterprising culture/people if we didn’t press onward, and then I remembered that there aren’t any.

      • I would miss all those old guys on my bookshelves. God forbid I would have to read someone at my level for the rest of my life! Everything would be, “Well, looks like rain.” “You don’t say? I do believe you’re right.”

        You got a solid chuckle out of me with this one.

      • I suspect genius potential is highly heritable but its driven by the social conditions and ours since eh, at the very latest 1972 or so have degraded .

        Problem is that the high IQ types rarely mate with other high IQ types and that the natural lower bounds of even high IQ women tend to lower the next generations IQ any way so its always a biological recessive.

        Take the High IQ genius pairing of Marilyn Vos Savant and Dr. Robert Jarvik . There were two children which is unusual but neither appear to be genius level in any public fashion or to have done anything of note.

        No doubt the biology is there, maybe the potential slightly lower from in the case the male Jarvik DNA but there is no social climate. we do not need them

        Absent medical advances bounded by the need for profit now, and maybe cheaper energy bounded by established firms and a missile shield we have everything we could use in such abundance as to be meaningless.

        Genius also requires a time investment which diminishes mating and honestly with exceptions, smart people usually aren’t that horny . Many have autism and hate to be touched

        Last of course, social even in healthy societies, almost no one wants a weirdo or a brain and no one can relate to them. Its hard to get them fixed up with mates.

        Sure In theory if we wanted to use fetal selection combined with some kind of patriarchy we could raise IQ potential but a society willing to go all Gattacca meets A Handmaid’s Tale is probably obsessed with stability or purity if it mirroring eugenic regimes and would not create the needed milieu for genius.

        We are just going to have to live without.

      • The evidence seems to be that geniuses generally don’t have children or have much interest in sex. However, this is not such a shame because “genius” is not inheritable anyway. It is a very particular combination of high IQ, inner directed, lack of concern for status, money, or sex, and obsession with some particular problem and low agreeableness so you don’t give a damn if other people agree with you or not. And psychopathy/autism. Newton was not a nice guy at all. High IQ women and men were the only ones having large numbers of children, and now it is the reverse.

        Dutton is worried that in the next few decades, we will become too stupid even to maintain the level that we have now and to keep the machines running. There is an excellent story by E. M. Forster called “The Machine Stops” that captures this scenario well.

  12. Richard, I was just digging through my quote stash and found these two items. Take it as yet more evidence that the ancients were wiser than the moderns.

    “Genius is subject to the same laws which regulate the production of cotton and molasses. The supply adjusts itself to the demand.” Thomas Babington Macaulay, “On the Athenian Orators,” Knights Quarterly Magazine, 3.5 (August-November, 1824), pp. 117-128, quote p. 121.

    “Genius is the gift of heaven.” Pliny the Younger, “Letter to Arrianus” (c. 100 A.D.)

    • JMSmith: Quite. Those are nice quotations. One related thought that came to mind this afternoon: “There are no geniuses on a desert island.” Neither is there morality, in the modern sense. Both have to do with social relationships.

  13. “I don’t understand why people who like to speculate that computers will become conscious act like Goedel and Turing (halting problem) never existed. What don’t they get about those things?”

    Yes, such people are very restrictive in the sort of reasoning they allow. For instance, many of them consider it inherently suspect to consider the philosophical implication of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, yet Godel himself philosophised with his theorem (for instance, in his 1951 Gibbs lecture).

    Ironically, many of the AI enthusiasts’ arguments for computers being conscious are intuitive arguments by analogy and similarity, yet they exclude reasoning religious or non-materialist arguments which use analogy and intuitive thinking on the grounds of being non-rigorous.

    The other thing that is strange is, you would think that, given their other metaphysical commitments, panpsychism would be more popular among AI enthusiasts, since it gives a reason why consciousness could arise from sufficient complexity. But, doesn’t seem to be considered much.

    I think what is happening is that they *claim* to exclude intuitive and philosophical thinking on methodological grounds because it’s unreliable and not sufficiently rigorous. But in practice they allow a wide variety of thinking and arguments. However, these are predefined to be rigorous because they use the correct concepts. They choose ahead of time which concepts are allowed and then reason with those, so it’s not methodological at all, it’s metaphysical and they handicap their thinking by rejecting important concepts at the outset.

  14. Interesting article – thanks Richard (for posting) and Bruce (for co-authoring).
    Not only is the formal Academy getting more hostile to the personality of genius, I wonder if the internet has enabled geniuses to circumvent it. At the same time that a true genius would feel less welcome in a University, he feels more welcome on the internet. So instead of his work being recognized (like Hilbert recognizing Goedel), it is published on some random website where it will most likely never be seen. And in the off-chance it were seen, our credential-crazy society would never accept something from some rando on the internet.

    • Thanks, Donald. By Bruce’s definition, genius as a culture altering force can only exist where it is appreciated. No Einstein in the rain forest.

      Maybe, the internet is where genius goes to die.

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