[extropy-chat] Flynn again

Hal Finney hal at finney.org
Tue May 3 18:03:41 UTC 2005

Wired magazine's new issue has an article on the Flynn Effect, which we
have discussed here occasionally.  This is probably my favorite Effect,
so completely extropian and contradictory to the conventional wisdom.
Curmudgeons throughout the ages have complained about the decay of society
and how the younger generation is inferior in morals and intelligence
to their elders.  Likewise modern communications technology is derided:
TV is a vast wasteland, video games and movies promote sex and violence.

Yet Flynn discovered the astonishing and still little-known fact
that intelligence scores have steadily increased for at least the
past 100 years.  And it's a substantial gain; people who would have
been considered geniuses 100 years ago would be merely average today.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, the gains cannot be directly attributed to
improved education, as the greatest improvements are found in the parts
of the test that directly measure abstract reasoning via visual puzzles,
not concrete knowledge based on language or mathematical skills.

The Wired article (which should be online in a few days) does not have
much that is new, but one fact which popped out is that the Effect has
not only continued in the last couple of generations, but is increasing.
Average IQ gains were 0.31 per year in the 1950s and 60s, but by the
1990s had grown to 0.36 per year.

Explanations for the Effect seem to be as numerous as people who have
studied it.  Flynn himself does not seem to believe that it is real,
in the sense that it actually points to increased intelligence.  I was
amused by economist David Friedman's suggestion that it is due to the
increased use of Caesarian deliveries allowing for larger head sizes!
The Wired article focuses on increased visual stimulation as the catalyst,
which seems plausible as part of the story.  The article then predicts
that the next generation, exposed since babyhood to video games with
demanding puzzle solving, mapping and coordination skills, will see an
even greater improvement in IQ scores.

Sometimes I wonder if the social changes we saw during the 20th century
may have been caused or at least promoted by greater human intelligence.
It's a difficult thesis to make because you first have to overcome the
conventional wisdom that says that the 1900s were a century of human
depravity and violence.  But if you look deeper and recognize the
tremendous growth of morality and ethical sensitivity in this period
(which is what makes us judge ourselves so harshly), you have to ask,
maybe it is because people woke up, began to think for themselves, and
weren't willing to let themselves be manipulated and influenced as in
the past?  If so, then this bodes well for the future.


More information about the extropy-chat mailing list