Given the recent James Watson “race and IQ” controversy, I took on to read Stephan Jay Gould’s classic book The Mismeasure of Man, in which he debunks IQ (and the underlying “g”) as measure of defined, innate, “intelligence”. Fascinating reading overall,Ã‚Â very technical in some areas.
The key take-away? In the last chapter, A Positive Conclusion, he writes that
- “Flexibility is the hallmark of human evolution…In other mammals, exploration, play and flexibility of behavior are qualities of juveniles, only rarely of adults. We retain not only the anatomical stamp stamp of childhood, but its mental flexibility as well…Humans are learning animals”
He then relatesÃ‚Â this story from T.H. White’s novel The Once and Future King
- God, he recounts, created all animals as embryos and called each before his throne, offering them whatever additions to their anatomy they desired. All opted for specialized adult features-the lion for claws and sharp teeth, the deer for antlers and hoofs. The human embryo stepped forth last and said: Please God, I think that you made me in the shape which I now have for reasons best known to Yourselves and that it would be rude to change. If I am to have my choice, I will stay as I am. I will not alter any of the parts which you gave me…I will stay a defenceless embryo all my life, doing my best to make myself a few feeble implements out of the wood, iron, and the other materials which You have seen fit to put before me..” “Well done”, exclaimed the Creator in delighted tone. “Here all you embryos, come here with your beaks and whatnots to look upon Our fist Man. He is the only one who has guessed Our riddle…As for you, Man…You will look like an embryo till they bury you, but all the others will be embryos before your might. Eternally undeveloped, you will always remain potential in Our image, able to see some of Our sorrows and to feel some of Our joys. We are partly sorry for you, Man, but partly hopeful. Run along then, and do your best”
For related posts, you may enjoy
Darwin’s adult neuroplasticity, with a number of fascinating quotes, including
- “Therefore my success as a man of science, whatever this may have amounted to, has been determined, as far as I can judge, by complex and diversified mental qualities and conditions. Of these, the most important have been–the love of science– unbounded patience in long reflecting over any subject–industry in observing and collecting facts–and a fair share of invention as well as of common sense. With such moderate abilities as I possess, it is truly surprising that I should have influenced to a considerable extent the belief of scientific men on some important points.”
- We have at least the mental equipment to foster our long-term selfish interests rather than merely our short-term ones…We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination. We can even discuss ways of deliberately cultivating and nurturing pure, disinterested altruism-something that has no place in nature, something that has never existed before in the whole history of the world. We are built as gene machine and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.”
You guessed right. We are not big fans of the idea of intelligence as a fix, innate characteristic we are born with. Genes predispose us, but it is the combination of our environments and our actions that we better focus on.
We also need to add better measuresÃ‚Â of, and training for,Ã‚Â Flexibility, Adaptability, and Learning how to Learn, and a number of other cognitive abilities,Ã‚Â to our view of “intelligence”, so we can “evolve” faster in our lifetimes.
Pic: credit to Dampfred, via Flickr