The Genius Famine

Source: VDare, Jun 2017

… geniuses are a distinct psychological type.

They have extremely high intelligence, meaning they excel at quickly solving cognitive problems. This strongly predicts socioeconomic, educational and even social success. But geniuses combine this with relatively low conscientiousness and low empathy. They also tend to be uninterested in worldly things—money, sex, power—focused intensely on the intellectual pursuit of solving whatever seemingly unsolvable problem has come to obsess them. New ideas always break established rules and offend vested interests, but the genius couldn’t care less, claim Dutton and Charlton. This is why it is the genius who is able to make original, fantastic breakthroughs.

These kinds of people are fundamental to the growth and survival of civilization, the authors maintain. They are behind all major innovations. But, frighteningly, levels of genius have been in decline during the twentieth century. Measured from 1455 to 2004, macro-inventions—those that really changed the course of history—peaked in the nineteenth century and are now in on the slide. So, what has happened? Why is genius dying-out?

Based on representative samples, the authors show that reaction times are getting longer and have been getting longer since about 1900. Between 1900 and 2000, IQ—using this proxy—seems to have gone down by about 15 points. This means that the doctors of today are the high school science teachers of 1900. The result of this is that for purely genetic reasons there would be a far smaller percentage of Turing-types today.

Intelligence is correlated with a trait known as ‘Intellect’: being open to new ideas and fascinated by intellectual pursuit. Until the 1950s, this kind of attitude underpinned the British university and perhaps even the US one—the book focuses on the UK. Academics were under no pressure to regularly publish or obtain grants. They were expected to teach and were given vast amounts of time to think and research based on the hope that some would produce works of genius.

Religion was part of the reason that universities were created along these lines. Their purpose was to reach a greater understanding of God’s Creation. If this involved frittering away money—with most academics not publishing anything—this didn’t matter. Some things are more important than money, such as the glory of God.

Since the 1960s, the authors note, universities have become bureaucratic businesses. This reflects the anti-intellectual, anti-religious attitude that their purpose is to make money. Academics contribute to this by getting funding, publishing frequently, and attending conferences.

All of this is anathema to the genius, who wants to be left alone to solve his problem. He also won’t tick the bureaucratic boxes that get you an academic position—Francis Crick, discoverer of DNA, was rejected from Cambridge, failed to get a top mark in his bachelor’s degree, and dropped out of assorted PhDs. As such, universities are less likely to appoint genius types.

They will appoint what Dutton and Charlton call the ‘head girl’ (at UK schools)—quite intelligent, socially skilled, conscientious; absolutely not a genius.

This person will be excellent at playing the academic game and will make a great colleague. But they won’t innovate; won’t rock the boat. Once upon a time, they note, a ‘country vicar’ had lots of free time to research, but with the shrinking of the Church, the days of the Victorian ‘scholar-rector,’ are long gone as well. The genius has no institution to nurture him and his potential will not be fulfilled.

Dutton and Charlton’s book predicts that genius will continue to decline and civilization will collapse because it is ultimately underpinned by intelligence and genius. Technology will reach a peak, stagnate, and go backwards, as there are fewer and fewer people intelligent enough to maintain and eventually even use it.

Life will become harsher and simpler and, eventually, more religious. At the moment, it seems that there’s nothing we can do to stop this short of a horrendous reversion to pre-Industrial levels of child mortality. But if we could better nurture genius then somebody might come up with a solution before it is too late.

So, the authors ask, how can we help geniuses?

Firstly, we need to identify them.

The genius is likely to be highly intelligent but it will be a lop-sided kind of intelligence. Oxford University philosopher A. J. Ayer, for example, had such poor spatial intelligence that he never learnt to drive. The genius will combine this very narrow intelligence with very narrow interests. Thus, he might be rejected from a top university, like Francis Crick, and do brilliantly only on aspects of his degree. He’ll also be socially awkward and eccentric.

Secondly, we need to give them an environment in which they can flourish.

They tend to be useless at everyday things—Einstein had a tendency to get lost—so these need to be taken care of for them.

Thirdly, they are very fragile people and they are not usually interested in money.

They will work for the minimum they require as long as they are looked after and free to get on with problem solving. The mathematician Paul Erdos, note Dutton and Charlton, lived out of a suitcase and camped out with various math professors. They need long-term security so that they do not have to worry about ordinary things, which they not interested in and are no good at.

If we can make these changes, insist Dutton and Charlton, then in spite of declining intelligence, it is possible that a genius may be produced who can develop a solution to this problem.

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