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The Rise and Decline of the West


AtOur Wit’s End: Why We’re Becoming Less Intelligent and What It Means for OurFuture
Edward Dutton and Michael A. Woodley of Menie
Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2018

记《我们智慧的终结(At Our Wit’s End)》读后感。

We in the West have long becomeaccustomed to the idea that scientific and technological progress is the normalstate of things, although decline—technological deterioration and loss ofknowledge—is by no means uncommon across world history. The contemporary Westmay be declining in many ways, but what stage in our history could we point toas the summit of our scientific knowledge and technological capability if notthe present? And wouldn’t it be absurd to suppose this progress has reached itscompletion?
Authors Dutton and Woodley,however, would note that a civilization may pass its peak long before the sumof its achievements is complete. We may look for our greatest era not when ourknowledge and capabilities were most extensive, but when they were growing most rapidly.And that point, they believe, is already well behind us.


AuthorsDutton and Woodley, however, would note that a civilization may pass its peaklong before the sum of its achievements is complete. We may look for ourgreatest era not when our knowledge and capabilities were most extensive, butwhen they were growing most rapidly. And that point, they believe,is already well behind us.


Inthe authors’ view, the best explanation for such regression is extremelysimple: weare becoming less intelligent. Other explanations have somidity: the end of the cold war, e.g., partly accounts for the loweredambitions of NASA, although not the end of the Concorde. But on Ockhamistprinciples, as the authors write, “if we can plausibly explain two separateevents with one theory, that is superior to having a different theory for eachevent.”


Intelligence is the ability tosolve problems efficiently. It has survival value because it enables organismsto face novel challenges; instincts are reliable only for recurring challenges.Intelligence is about 80% heritable, and during most of the genus Homo’stime on earth, the trait has been favored by natural selection: the earliesthominids seem not to have been notably more intelligent than today’s greatapes.


Dutton and Woodley focus on thelast millennium or so of European civilization. During most of thisevolutionarily recent period as well, there has been positive selection forintelligence. That is because higher intelligence usually translates intosocioeconomic success (correlating at 0.7), which tends to result in largerfamilies. In A Farewell to Alms (2007), economichistorian Gregory Clark has carefully documented this pattern in England fromthe fifteenth century (as far back as the records allow). He calls it “thesurvival of the richest.” Dutton and Woodley summarize:

Dutton和Woodley关注的是欧洲文明的最后一千年左右。在最近进化的大部分时期,智力也有积极的选择。这是因为高智商通常转化为社会经济上的成功(相关系数为0.7),这往往会导致更大的家庭。在《向施舍说再见》(2007)一书中,经济历史学家格雷戈里•克拉克(Gregory Clark)仔细地记录了15世纪以来英国的这种模式(可以追溯到有记录以来的最远时期)。他称之为“最富有人群的生存”。

Even aslight upward shift in average intelligence means a substantial increase inpositive outliers, and this is far more consequential than the smallimprovement in the great mass of the population.
Dutton andWoodley devote some of their most interesting pages to the topic of genius,previously treated in Dutton’s and Bruce Charlton’s book The GeniusFamine (2016)as well. Outlier intelligence is obviously a necessary precondition of genius,but if we define the concept in terms of outstanding intellectualbreakthroughs, certain personality traits appear necessary as well.

Dutton和Woodley用了他们最有趣的几页来讨论天才的话题,之前在Dutton和Bruce Charlton的书《天才的饥荒(The GeniusFamine)》(2016)中也提到过。异常智力显然是天才的必要先决条件,但如果我们用杰出的智力突破来定义这个概念,某些人格特征也显得必不可少。

Personalitystudies lack the objective accuracy of intelligence studies, since they mustrely on either self-assessment or peer assessment rather than directmeasurement. Still, psychologists have been able to achieve considerableagreement on the existence of five basic dimensions of personality, viz.:


1. Extraversion—Introversion
2. Emotional Stability—Neuroticism
3. Conscientiousness—Impulsiveness
4. Agreeableness—Disagreeableness
5. Openness/Intellect—Closedness/Instrumentalism


The firstfour vary independently of intelligence, while Openness/Intellect correlatesweakly (0.3). Conscientiousness, Agreeableness and Emotional Stability mayconveniently be grouped together as a broader Stabilityfactor ofpersonality, while Extraversion and Openness/Intellect make up a Plasticityfactor. Thesetwo factors themselves correlate significantly, allowing us to infer (orconstruct?) a General Factor of Personality (GFP)analogous to the General Factor of Intelligence (g).

前四个变量与智力无关,而开放性/智力存在弱相关性 (0.3)。自觉型、随和型和情绪稳定型可以方便地归为一个更广泛的人格稳定性因素,而外向性和开放性/智力则构成一个可塑性因素。这两个因素本身具有显著的相关性,使我们能够推断(或构建)一个类似于智力(g)的一般人格因素(GFP)。

Suchobsessive personalities may entirely lack common human interests such asrelations with the opposite sex or financial success, and they be downrightincompetent in aspects of life outside their specialized fields. The authorsprovide a short biographical glimpse of Isaac Newton:


As a childand young man, Newton would spend nearly all of his time alone and when incompany he would be silent. He had essentially no friends, formed norelationships with women, and made very little effort to conform at all. As aboy, his relationships with other boys tended to be antagonistic. He reallywasn’t a very nice person.


Whateverhe did, he did because he wanted to do it, he became engrossed in it and he didit brilliantly. In a year or so, he went from knowing almost no mathematics tobeing among the best in the world; and then went on to make some of thegreatest ever mathematical discoveries. Then he all-but dropped mathematics andworked on one area of physics after another—making major discoveries, thenmoving on. Newton would think solidly for hour upon hour—sometimes standinglost in his own world half way down the stairs. For many years he hardly everleft his college.


Geniusestend not to be model students. Newton’s school grades were erratic. FrancisCrick “was rejected from Cambridge and went to university in London, where hefailed to get a top degree. He then proceeded to drop out of a variety of PhDcourses” before successfully discovering the structure of the DNA molecule withJames Watson. Einstein never learned to drive a car. He “once got lost close tohis home in Princeton, New Jersey. He walked into a shop and said, ‘Hi, I’mEinstein, can you take me home please?’” Bertrand Russell is said never to havemastered the art of boiling water for his tea.


Thepsychologist Charles Spearman, who first proposed the General Factor ofIntelligence (g), also discovered an explanation for thisphenomenon:

心理学家查尔斯·斯皮尔曼(Charles Spearman)首先提出了智力的一般因素(g),他也发现了对这一现象的一种解释:

Someoneborn in 1770 would have grown up in a world little different from 1470.Transport would be via horse and almost everything had to be done by hand.Production was already beginning to mechanise, because James Hargreaves hadinvented the Spinning Jenny in 1764. An early steam engine had already beenforged, but it hadn’t yet caught on. However, if that person had lived untiljust 1804, they would have seen the invention of the electric telegraph, thesteam ship, the submarine, the circular saw, the steam roller, a reliableclock, the bicycle, the battery, and the steam-powered locomotive. The world of1804 would have been dramatically different from that of 1770 or 1470.


If thisperson had lived until 1870, until the age of 100, they would have seen theelectric light (1809), the steam train and the first photograph (1827), theelectro-magnet, the typewriter (1829), the sewing machine, the electric dynamo,the calculator, the propeller, the revolver, the telegraph, rubber tyres, thewashing machine, and, in 1858, the internal combustion engine. Then there wasplastic and dynamite and we reach the year 1870. The extent and speed of changeover a lifetime like that, compared to those for hundreds of years before,would have been astonishing.


And thisnew technology assisted numerous scientific breakthroughs, especially in therealm of public health and medicine. In the pre-industrial world, there was avery limited understanding of the causes of illness and, therefore, illnessselected against the least healthy. But this began to change. In 1796, EdwardJenner developed the smallpox vaccine, for example. There were also many otherimprovements in public health, such as better sanitation. And the simplestexplanation for why all this was able to happen was that, for so long, we hadbeen selected for intelligence by the rigours of natural, sexual, and socialselection.


Eightyears later, the British polymath Sir Francis Galton made similar observations:

8年后,英国博学家弗朗西斯·高尔顿爵士(Sir FrancisGalton)发表了类似的看法:

There is asteady check in an old civilisation upon the fertility of the abler classes:the improvident and unambitious are those who chiefly keep up the breed. So therace gradually deteriorates, becoming in each successive generation less fitfor a high civilisation.


Darwinvoiced similar concerns in The Descent of Man (1871).


Today wecan confirm that hereditary intelligence has been declining. Dutton and Woodleysummarize the evidence, which includes deterioration in simple reaction times,color discrimination, the use of “difficult” words, working memory, special perception,child developmental schedules and—most critically—frequency ofmacro-innovations. In 2017, an Icelandic study found the first direct geneticevidence that a set of alleles predictive of g hasbeen declining in frequency in that country’s population. More such studies canbe expected in the years ahead.


Accordingto a 2015 meta-analysis of studies conducted since 1927, IQ in the USA and theUK appears to be declining at a rate of 0.39 points per decade. Declines arealso reported in Russia and a number of non-Western countries.


Theauthors emphasize five reasons (besides improved public health) why this ishappening: 1) naturally gifted people have a tendency to trade mating andparenting opportunities for the opportunity to develop their abilities, e. g.,through higher education; 2) being forward-thinking, such people are likelierto use contraception; 3) the modern welfare state taxes the more successful inorder to support single mothers, who can often increase their benefits byhaving more children; 4) the modern movement for sexual “equality” hasencouraged the brightest women to pursue careers and postpone marriage, oftenuntil it is too late; 5) finally, and most unforgivably, Western elites are nowdeliberately sponsoring the colonization of our nations by vast numbers oflow-IQ persons from Africa, Asia and Latin America.


Declininggeneral intelligence has been masked during the Twentieth Century by theso-called Flynn effect, an improvement in specialized mental skills independentof g. This maybe one factor which made possible the continued technological progress of thetwentieth century. But there is good evidence that the Flynn effect has nowdone about all it can do, and lower genotypic intelligence will increasinglymake itself felt.

一般智力的下降在20世纪被所谓的弗林效应(Flynn effect)所掩盖。弗林效应是一种独立于g的特殊智力技能的提高。但有很好的证据表明,弗林效应现在已经发挥了它的全部作用,而低基因型智力将越来越明显地显现出来。

Thesequalities make for success, but the resulting power and prosperity lead toreligious skepticism, loss of reverence for the past, individual self-seeking,moral corruption and a tendency for the leading members of the society to stophaving children. Decline sets in precisely as a consequence of previoussuccess.
Laterthinkers such as Ibn-Khaldun, Vico, and Spengler developed similar theories.


Dutton andWoodley suggest that many of the phenomena upon which such men constructedtheir theories of history can be explained by phases of positive and negativeselection for general intelligence. Young societies have relatively lowaverage g and are under extreme conditions ofgroup selection, being unstable, dangerous, stressful places to live. Stress isassociated with fertility, as producing lots of children hedges against thefact that relatively few may survive. It is also associated with religiousness,which “is about 40% heritable, so it seems to be an evolved disposition, one ofthe purposes of which is to help us cope with stress.”

Dutton和Woodley 认为,这些人构建他们的历史理论所依据的许多现象,可以用一般智力的积极和消极选择阶段来解释。年轻社会的平均g值相对较低,处于群体选择的极端条件下,是一个不稳定、危险、充满压力的居住地。压力与生育能力有关,因为生很多孩子可以避免相对较少的孩子存活下来。它还与宗教信仰有关,“宗教信仰有40%是可遗传的,所以它似乎是一种进化的性格,其目的之一就是帮助我们应对压力。”

Religiousnessis also positively associated with ethnocentrism: positive perceptions of one’sown group and a willingness to sacrifice oneself for it, along with negativeperceptions of out-groups. Ethnocentrism has been shown by computer modelling,if not by history itself, to beat other possible strategies such as universalaltruism, individual selfishness, and (perhaps most obviously) universaltreason, in which individuals cooperate only with those outside their group. Byencouraging ethnocentrism, religion has evolutionary survival value: when twosimilar groups are in conflict, the more religious one will, ceterisparibus, triumph.


In theearly stages of civilization, society has a sense of divine purpose, isstrongly united, it is under intense selection pressure, and it is becomingever more intelligent, as only the richest pass on their genes. Assuming theselection intensity for g isstrong enough, the society will develop into a civilisation—of greatintellectual ability—and become highly urbanised.


Asthe standard of living increases, people shift their focus to private interestsand neglect religion. Skepticism becomes widespread, and the society loses itssense of purpose. The elite take to contraception and cease reproducing, whilethere is money available to subsidize the poor and idle—and their children. Asa result, natural selection goes into reverse.


As g declines,society will stop working as well, levels of crime will increase, levels oftrust will collapse, and democracy will be debased. The society will stopinnovating and will eventually start to go backwards, becoming less rationaland more religious as levels of stress begin to increase. This is likely tocontinue until it returns to pre-modern levels of selection for g.From this it will—in some form—rise from the ashes.


Deserving of special mention isthe authors’ perceptive description of changing attitudes toward intellectualpursuit under conditions of civilizational decline:


Once thisstage is reached, academic conformity to an ideological model is easilyimposed.
Theauthors devote a chapter to arguing that the histories of Roman, Islamic, andChinese civilization can be plausibly interpreted by means of their model ofrising and then declining general intelligence. Another chapter applies themodel to European civilization since the Dark Ages.


The bookcloses with some reflections on the choices open to us in the face ofcivilizational decline. One possible response, of course, is to refuse toaccept declining intelligence and advocate intervention to stop and reverse it.Sir Francis Galton, e.g., proposed financial incentives for the mostintelligent to have large families. But this obviosly cannot be contemplatedas long as the current elite remains in power.

书的结尾对我们在面对文明衰落时所面临的选择进行了一些反思。当然,一个可能的回应是,拒绝接受智力下降的事实,提倡干预,阻止并扭转这种趋势。例如,弗朗西斯•高尔顿爵士(Sir FrancisGalton)提出了经济激励措施,鼓励最聪明的人拥有大家庭。但只要当前的精英阶层继续掌权,这显然就不可能实现。

Directgenetic enhancement may become possible in the future. But whether it is avestige of Christianity or a natural instinct, many persons in the West feel avisceral distaste for “meddling with human nature.” Dutton and Woodley suggestan even more serious objection might be “the uses to which the increasinglydistant and unaccountable globalist elites may put such technologies.” A purelyself-interested elite—or, as the authors do not point out, one particularethnic component of that elite—might focus exclusively on enhancing therelative success of its own offspring, e.g., through selection forruthlessness.

直接的基因增强可能在未来成为可能。但无论是基督教的遗风,还是一种自然本能,许多西方人都对“干预人性”深恶痛绝。Dutton和 Woodley认为,更严重的反对意见可能是“越来越遥远、越来越不负责任的全球主义精英们可能会把这些技术用于什么用途”。 一个纯粹以自我为中心的精英——或者,正如作者没有指出的那样,精英中有一个特定的种族成分——可能只专注于提高其后代的相对成功,例如,通过残酷的选择。

Anotherpossibility might be the systematic identification and encouragement of genius,although this would require a radical reversal of the educational trendsdescribed above. Still another strategy might be some sort of religiousrevival, though such an event may not be possible to control.


Theauthors are most hopeful about the possibilities of long-term knowledge storageto ensure that the next wave of rising general intelligence does not have torediscover everything for itself:
Eventually,the winter will give way to spring and then summer. Perhaps, with a gift ofknowledge from the present to the future, because we have come so far thistime, the next Renaissance will take those who are to come even further.


Life is going to become more harsh, more dangerous, and simpler. Togive an obvious example, many houses are now entirely reliant on electricity:no fireplace, no gas. What are these people supposed to do when electricitybecomes unreliable?


Many people now commute into London from 70 miles away oreven more. How are they going to get work as trains become more and moresporadic? They need to live closer to work, just as we all once did. If westart planning for this—rather than kid ourselves that “things can only getbetter”—then things will run far more smoothly when the time comes.