Are We Getting Smarter? If so, which Way Does Causation Run?

A recent BBC article covered the Flynn effect – the fact that IQs have been rising over time.

The most striking line:

If Americans today took the tests from a century ago, Flynn says, they would have an extraordinarily high average IQ of 130. And if the Americans of 100 years ago took today’s tests, they would have an average IQ of 70 – the recognised cut-off for people with intellectual disabilities.

Some other data:

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In short: as countries develop, their IQs go up, and the gains in IQ seem to be driven by abstract logic and pattern recognition (Raven’s measures this type of thinking).

I’m curious about causation and correlation.

Yesterday, I posted about how Ian Morris believes human values are adapted to the primary economic mode of energy harnassing (there have been three modes: foraging, farming, and industry). Each of these transitions can also be considered a technological singularity.

In his view, the method of harnessing energy caused societies to adopt certain values.

For gains in IQ, I wonder whether changes in the method of harnessing energy caused IQ gains (our brains adapted to the needs of the new economy), or whether gains in IQ led to the development of new ways of harnessing energy (we got smarter and invented new ways of doing things).

My guess is that, for the transition from farming to industry, it’s the former.

Or to put it another way: humans developed the IQ we needed.

It is likely that the next singularity will also deliver gains in IQ.

Of course, our IQs could go backwards as well.

The implications for education are interesting. Perhaps schooling is really about reducing inequality (ensuring that as many people as possible make the transition to the new economy) while technological change is what ends up driving large, widespread absolute gains (by increasing the demands on the human mind).

Much to consider.

3 thoughts on “Are We Getting Smarter? If so, which Way Does Causation Run?

  1. renujuneja1

    Most of it likely has to do with improved diet and heakthcare. Malnourished and sick children have lower IQs. So the first two technalogical shifts did contribute to better food production and distribution. I suppose you could say that about the third as well though in more indirectways. As we get smarter we should invent helpful technology that further reduces hunger and imoves education, another causation. Or we could just end up destroying our world.

    1. nkingsl

      Hey mom. Yes, agree that nutrition / health impacted IQ…. And I hope we don’t destroy our world! Though it is a distinct possibility.

  2. Pingback: The Flynn Effect Puzzle | askblog

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