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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Why didn't Asians come up with any major scientific breakthroughs?

East Asians -- Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans -- have an average IQ roughly seven or eight points higher than the average for whites. Yet they never had a Newton, a Galileo, a Darwin, a Planck, a Tesla, or an Edison.

I've always heard that the reason for that is that they have a higher, narrower IQ bell curve, i.e, with shorter tails, meaning fewer idiots and fewer geniuses. I haven't seen statistics on this, but I have heard the theory mentioned several times. This seems intuitively true, as they show less genetic variety in appearance as well: nose shape, hair color, eye color, skin color vary little. If there's less variation outside the skull, one would expect less inside as well.

I've never really bought the theory that the Confucian ethic alone kept all of the budding Asian Galileos and Darwins from speaking their minds. (Shyness and a reluctance to upset the social apple cart didn't seem to prevent Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, and numerous others from realizing their ambitions.)

Anyway, I've always sort of vaguely accepted the bell curve theory, without having given it too much thought.

Genius certainly does require a high IQ -- you have to be able to analyze things, and see how they work in the first place, in order to come up with a better idea. But real genius can't really measured by just IQ.

There's also a certain creative spark that one person with an IQ of 150 can have, and another with the same score can entirely lack. And it's that spark, wherever it resides in the brain, that sets the genius apart. Some say it's correlated with being right-brained (and left-handed); I don't know about that.

You have to have both a healthy skepticism about the established way of looking at things, and an abiding self-confidence in your own thinking. It helps to not identify closely with the reigning ethic (which saves one from succumbing to groupthink).

A certain monomania, or obsessive quality, is all important. If you think about one thing all the time, you'll see things others don't. That can't be captured in an IQ test. I've heard that both Newton and Einstein probably had Aspergers, along with its resulting tunnel vision. At a certain level, this would make sense. Both men were capable of incredible focus.

Look at those lists of famous people's IQ's compiled by "experts." This one, Top 12 People with Highest IQ in the World, is typically silly: they rank actress Sharon Stone 12th with a (supposed) IQ of 154. The put Stephen Hawking at #10 with 160, and rank Einstein at #9 with a range of 160 to 190 (at least this shows an appealing uncertainty).

Then look at three of their top four. At #4, Kim Ung-Yong, at 210; he is now a professor at Chungbuk National University in Korea. At #3, Christopher Hirata, with an IQ of 225 (he was a child prodigy). At #2, Terence Tao, at 225-230; Tao was another child prodigy who is now a professor of mathematics at UCLA.

So, among the top four, they list an ethnic Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. This would seem to give the lie to the bell curve theory. (Keep in mind, though, that all three of them seem to have been child prodigies, and it's far easier to obtain a stratospheric score as a youngster, because of the age adjustment.) Will these three go down in history the way Einstein and Tesla and Galileo did? Will they ever invent anything significant? It seems highly doubtful.

IQ alone could never capture what sets apart an Einstein, or a Shakespeare, or a Galileo. (And, when you think about it, even just thinking one can judge the IQs of these various towering historical figures shows a mind-boggling effrontery in the first place.)

So why exactly is it that Asians didn't come up with the industrial or technical revolutions? It's not that they lack focus. Quite the opposite, they can be fanatical about all sorts of things. Just look at Hiroo Onoda and all those other Japanese soldiers who kept fighting WWII in the jungles of the Philippines for decades after the war was over.

And it's not that they're not smart enough to understand how thing work. Their strength -- and reputation -- for decades has been to be able to take Western inventions and improve upon them. They didn't invent the car, but they now make better cars, on average, than the West. They didn't invent the television, but now make excellent TV's. And so on.

But they never really invented anything significant, and if the scientific and industrial and technology revolutions hadn't happened in the West, Asians would still be dressing in kimonos and fighting with samurai swords. Sony and Hitachi and Hyundai simply wouldn't exist.

The huge, seminal breakthroughs seem to have been a function of some special magic that exists only in the minds of a few whites.

So, yes, after all that analysis, that's my final answer: magic.

Call it sorcery, witchcraft, voodoo, or whatever you want. But that special brew of high IQ, monomania, intellectual self-confidence, creativity, and a willingness to take risks seems to ferment into wizardry only in the brains of a few special whites.

Even though the average white is less intelligent than the average East Asian.


Justin said...

There's a trait called "low latent inhibition" that I believe captures what you're describing. In lower IQ individuals it manifests as mental illness a la schizophrenia, but in high IQ people can show up as pronounced creativity and individuality.

I myself have this trait, if you're curious to ask questions.

John Craig said...

Justin --
Yes, schizophrenia has long been associated with creativity. I've long thought that Brian Wilson, the musical genius behind the Beach Boys, has it. His breakdown in the late 60's was always attributed to overuse of drugs, but it sounds more like schizophrenia to me.

How does it manifest itself with you?

Justin said...

I'm hyper aware of stimuli in my environment, the filter that lets you tune out familiar sights or sounds is turned down. And I can run multiple trains of thought at once if they relate to my physical surroundings.

So I can be reading an article, while following along with a conversation in the other room, while noticing the cat is sleeping on a different stair than usual and thinking why this might be, while hearing the particular car door slam of a neighbor and running through the conversations we've had, all at once. I used to think all smart people did this, but apparently not.

The TV series Prison Break does a decent job of depicting LLI in its protagonist.

John Craig said...

Justin --
Wow, that's impressive. Do you think that that ability gives you any insights you wouldn't have otherwise? In a way, though, what you're describing is the opposite of focus. Or, maybe it's just a double or triple focus.

I'm completely unable to do that, and I've tried. There have been many times I'll tell myself, okay, I'm going to read this while listening to that, and inevitably one or the other gets completely lost. '

Then again, I'm half-Asian, so maybe certain kinds of magic are just beyond me.

Justin said...

It's neither more or less focus, it's like seeing things in higher definition. If I spot something that catches my interest I can zoom in very close, very quickly and bring all my brainpower to bear on whatever the thing is. Many times I arrive at conclusions through intuitive leaps that it takes others a while to reach, even smart people.

It has things in common with ADHD, OCD, and Aspergers, but is none of these and isn't a disorder. In your post about L. Ron Hubbard you mused that Tom Cruise may have Aspergers, but I think he has LLI, which explains the sort of otherworldly eccentric/intense vibe he gives off, which I've realized is the same impression I make.

The fact that the work I do, software engineering, doesn't exist out in the physical world, makes many automatic connections I run pretty useless though. I think LLI would make me a great mechanical engineer for this reason, I'm considering retraining for that career.

It's interesting you mentioned The Beach Boys, because growing up I always had an indescribable emotional response to their music from the 60s, like they were tapping into an invisible wavelength no one else was aware of but me. It would make sense if Brian Wilson had LLI.

I believe LLI most commonly occurs in people who have both mental illness and high intelligence in their blood line, which is the case with me. None of my relatives seem to have it, although around the internet I've seen people talking about families who are majority LLI.

Justin said...

On the subject of race, one of my friends who I think has LLI too is a Hindu Indian.

John Craig said...

Justin --
This is the first i've heard of LLI. While it sounds like a gift, I wonder if it's connected to creativity. I reacted the same way to Brian Wilson, but I can only describe what he had as another weird gift, but I wonder if the two are connected. Maybe they are, maybe not.

It is interesting how different syndromes will have things in common with each other, but aren't the same. for instance, Aspies have the same temperamental reaction to any sort of criticism that narcissists have, but in other ways, Aspergers is the opposite of narcissism, at least in my experience, since Aspies often come across strangely ego-less and pride-free, though they want approval, just like everyone else.

As far as your friend the Hindu Indian, Indians are actually racially more closely genetically related to Aryans then they are to East Asians. I've never been able to completely figure the Indians out; the average IQ in India is supposed to be low (in the 80's), and their country is a sinkhole of poverty. But the ones who come over here do very well, and often score high on the IQ tests.

What would you say are the downsides to LLI, if any?

Justin said...

Yes, LLI is barely known for some reason, I only found out because a friend talked about having it. Many of the traits are the same as described for "gifted" children, and I believe there must be many many people who don't know they have it.

The downsides are needing an environment free of physical distractions, being intolerant of others, addictive personality, trouble getting to sleep, hating rules and limits.

The India thing has to do with the caste system, I believe.

John Craig said...

Justin --
Thank you. The downsides do sound as if LLI has certain things in common with Aspergers, OCD, and ADHD. (Aspergers and OCD are co-morbid, by the way; I saw bits of that cable show "Hoarders" once or twice and all I could think was, those people have Aspergers.)

Someone else was explaining about the caste system in India to me recently. Evidently it's not only IQ, but skin color, that varies with caste.

Justin said...

Hoarding can also be related to Schizoid Personality Disorder. My narcissist mother has schizoid traits and is a hoarder, but definitely isn't Aspergers or OCD.

I think skin color also varies along a north-south axis in India, but you don't see many upper caste members with dark skin, that's for sure.

arthur thurman said...

Hmmm. Magic. I can go with that one. I really enjoyed an article I came across a few years ago. Wish I could remember where it came from but the gist of it was how the world would like without white people. All the inventions, political systems and basic everyday things we don't notice but would in a hurry if they were not there.

I ponder at times if the end goal is to make the white race a minority, will it be a better world then? Probably not but the disheartening idea is I don't think the ones wanting it would care. Idiocracy will reign. Yikes.

John Craig said...

Arthur --
No question, whites invented almost everything that makes modern civilization "modern." But nobody ever calls it cultural appropriation when others ethnic groups use those inventions.

We do seem to be headed in a very dysgenic direction.

Pavonine99 said...

The Romans didn't invent much either, though. I wouldn't underestimate the effect that a culture that dismisses invention as frivolous and provides no incentive for it would have on the culture's output (it's hard to imagine a fundamentalist inventor of any stripe).

John Craig said...

Pavonine --
The Romans may not have pushed science forward, but they were incredible builders, with their paved roads, Coliseum, walls, aqueducts, etc. In fact, they built the first swimming pools as well.

Jhusta Twitte said...

The complexity of the written language has held back Asian innovation. Even though they invented printing, it was of little use when hundreds to thousands of characters are required compared to just 26 in English.
It's very difficult to share knowledge when a very high level of education is required just to read and write.
The industrial revolution followed closely after the discovery of printing as it became much easier to disseminate knowledge. Instead of a master training an apprentice purely through show and tell it became possible for one to educate many through books.
Until recently it was very difficult for to generate and mass distribute Asian text. Only now with modern technology is it possible for an individual to easily publish and distribute written material using Chinese. With the much simpler English and simpler alphabets it was always easy to print up and distribute pamphlets and the like. Morse would never have invented his code if he was limited to Chinese characters as the complexity would be overwhelming. Five bits suffice for English while 15 bits or more are required for Chinese.
Now that it is relatively easy for the Chinese to collaborate and disseminate information, a technology revolution is happening in China. Look at the spread of Chinese developed cell phones and other electronics usually developed using open source or other collaborative means.
The western scientific revolution happened because a discovery by one scientist was easily broadcast to others who could build on it. Printing was relatively cheap and easy and multiple copies of a discovery could easily be sent far and wide. An Asian scientist could make the same discovery, but would require a massive effort creating hand written copies to send to fellow scientists presuming that he even knew that there were fellow scientists. Creating a scientific journal with multiple copies available to all was just not possible without printing. Any discovery was limited to the discoverer and his or her closest associates.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I'd want to stay at the effrontery inn.

John Craig said...

Anon --
But the rates are quite reasonable!

(Thank you, I'll correct the error.)

jova said...

is it possible that the IQ of Europeans was higher 600 years ago when The Renaissance began ?
Europeans stopped marrying their cousins, due to the Catholic ban on cousin marriage, which may have helped increase the IQ of Europeans. Wealth was brought to Europe by expanding trade into Asia and Europe starting 600 years ago, trade expanded due to the crusades and Europeans saw the benefits of expanding trade, which resulted in expanding round the globe. While China remained isolationist. Chinese policies restricting private maritime trading and coastal settlement during most of the Ming dynasty. This enabled Europe to become wealthier, while Asia stagnated.

by 1700 Europe was much wealthier than Asia, thus they were able to achieve more and expand their power around the globe, which resulted in more wealth and power. Thus Europe had the resources, wealth and ideology which resulted in creating the conditions for such scientific discoveries. I suspect the success of European nations eventually resulted in a dysgenic effect as the poor and lower class, lower IQ people were able to start having more children in the 1800s due to the rising wealth , increased food supply etc..thus the European IQ levels started to fall after 1800. as an example, the population of Ireland was 1 million in 1200 AD , 1.2 million in 1600, 2.1 million in 1700, 5.4 million in 1800, 9 million in 1845 thanks to the introduction of the potato, which increased the caloric production and enabled the poor to have more children...while the famine caused their population to collapse. many fled to England and America. But the massive increase in population may have resulted in a reduced IQ. Thus the increase in wealth resulted in a lowering of the European IQ.

beppo said...

Surely this must lead into a discussion of the differences in inventive ability between the sexes, even when confined to the European race (for a start).

John Craig said...

Java --
Everything you say is certainly plausible. And certainly the entire world is moving in a dysgenic direction thanks to the factors you mention (modern science and technology and wealth allow the lower-IQ-ed, for whom reproduction tends to be an accidental product of sex, to have more surviving offspring).

But your arguments, while all true, are more about average IQ, and this post was more about that special spark which existed in the minds of a few, solitary geniuses like Newton and da Vinci. In order for those people to exist, yes, it's true that they would have to come from a population with a higher average IQ to begin with. But the East Asian population has a high average IQ, and they are capable of producing extremely high-IQ-ed individuals, like the three in that silly list mentioned in this post. Yet they seem to be lacking that special spark that sets apart the great inventors, and even artists. (There were not only no Teslas and Einsteins and Newtons who came from Asia, there were no Shakespeares or Beethovens or Mozarts, either.)

Mark Caplan said...

Jhusta Twitte makes a good point about the advent of printed books in the West compared to the East. I wonder whether the Chinese were also hindered by a cumbersome system for expressing numbers. The Romans must have been held back in scientific progress by their Roman numerals, which have proven suitable only for enumerating Super Bowls. But by the time of Galileo, the West had adopted the simple yet powerful base-10 number system.

John Craig said...

Beppo --
Ha, that's a great point too. But it seems so obvious the nobody ever bothers to bring it up -- though they should whenever feminists are around. Musta been that glass ceiling that kept all those budding Newton-ettes and Einstein-ettes from proposing their theories.

I asked a feminist once why none of the great inventors or scientists or explorers or musical composers were women, and she actually replied, "Because women had to do the cooking and cleaning!"

John Craig said...

Mark --
Yes, Jhusta Twitte does make a good point, but that raises the point, why was the printing press invented in the West and not Asia in the first place. Scientific breakthroughs and Great inventions follow upon the backs of other inventions, and yes, it's easier to make further progress once the ball has started rolling, but there was only one place the ball started rolling in the first place.

Also, I'd expand the argument, as I just indicated above, to great music composers and artists and writers. And the Asians just didn't come up with much in that regard.

Jhusta Twitte said...

Around the time the printing press was invented Asian technology was superior to western technology in every way except for weaponry. Chinese ceramics were more advanced, government was more advanced, generally all craftsmanship was more advanced. Would you rather have Chinese silk or English wool next to your skin? The superior western weaponry give the west the edge over the east, but in terms of trade goods, the only western technology that the Asians desired was watches. Even though the Asians were very good craftsmen, they couldn't make watches. The only reason Commander Perry used his gunships to force trade with Japan was that the Japanese didn't need or want what the English were peddling. Everything they had was superior and they considered using weapons like cannons and rifles to be dishonorable. The Japanese had invented cannons, but by general agreement were not used. Even now in western films, every fight even when it involves robots eventually comes down to an old fashioned slug fest.
Although the Asian societies were more advanced they were also stagnant. Innovation was frowned on, it was better to hone existing skills and products than to come up with new unproven things.
The Japanese are the best example. Automobile technology is over a century old and Japanese cars are the best made since they have been refining the technology for decades. Japanese software is absolutely the worst. The Walkman was seen as a major technological advance even though it was just a cassette player which was built using very high precision to make it smaller and more durable. It was a refinement of existing technology rather than a completely new concept like the iPod.
Another example is the Japanese inventor of the blue LED, Shuji Nakamura. He single handedly created a viable blue LED while much larger companies like IBM and HP failed. In the US he would be promoted to CEO, in Japan, he was given a small raise and had his desk moved to a slightly larger broom closest. The culture doesn't reward innovation.
Since the written language is no longer a barrier, there are many signs of increased Asian innovation, especially in China, Taiwan and Korea. Korean pop culture has taken over the rest of Asia and is starting to take over the west. Over the next few years it will become increasingly obvious that innovation is directly linked to IQ regardless of culture.

John Craig said...

Jhusta Twitte --
Thank you for that balanced view. Yes, Asian textiles were far superior, and their craftsmanship has always been great, in fact it still is today. The East Asians seem to be by nature a more painstaking people, and have a great work ethic, whatever their occupation. And their refinement of existing technologies is fantastic; I've owned mostly Japanese makes of cars for most of my adult life. But the seminal, groundbreaking innovations are just not there. Yes, culture had something to do with it; but it doesn't explain everything.

jova said...

if Shakespeare lived in Asia in 1600 he would not have had the ability to write his plays, as they lacked the wealth to support the theatre community found in London..few places in the world today have such resources...similar with Isaac Newton, who was from an upper class family and was well educated, few in Asia would have had the opportunity to study at any equivalent universities in the 1600s. Einstein came from a wealthy family and attended excellent schools and started at the university at 17. Did Asia have any well regarded universities in 1895 ? By the late 1800s, China is said to be “carved up like a melon” by foreign powers competing for “spheres of influence” on Chinese soil. They lost The Sino-Japanese war in 1894-95. Hard to imagine with all the problems they faced, due to wars, poverty and colonialism that they would be able to spend resources building schools to compete with the Universities of Europe. Einstein would not even know about Newtons laws if he had been raised in China. Probably would not have learned to read or write and died during the Japanese invasion.

John Craig said...

Jova --
I was about to apologize for misspelling your name above, but noticed as I wrote it just now that Auto-Correct automatically changes "Jova" to "Java." (And, btw, good to hear from you, it's been awhile.)

Anyway, yes, everything you say is true, but that still begs the question of why it was the Europeans who got the ball rolling in that direction in the first place. I could make a similar argument about sub-Saharan Africans, that it would have been hard for them to invent calculus since they didn't have any paper. But, you have to get to Step A before you can get to Step B, and it seems doubtful that a group which couldn't invent the wheel or build a two story house would have had someone who would have been able to invent calculus.

Anyway, I'm not writing this in some triumphant way, I'm half-Asian, so have no particular rooting interest here. I just find it interesting that group with a higher average IQ couldn't come up with the same level of inventions that a group with a lower average IQ could.

Jhusta Twitte said...

The main motivator behind western technological advances was war. Cannons and rifles require high precision machining and metallurgy. Almost every technical advance was accelerated by the military.
Other than the Mongols there were no great movements of armies and arms races in Asia. This was primarily a western thing. The Chinese did send out some ships to explore the world but that was a one time thing. They didn't send out armed warships like the Spanish, Portugese and English to all corners of the world. They also didn't have a history of attacking their neighbors or just generally fighting for the silliest reasons. The most technologically advanced countries generally have the most belligerent backgrounds. The Europeans have a long history of wars, both civil and against their each other. The Americans first fought the British then they fought themselves and then they fought the Germans and the Japanese and the Koreans and the Vietnamese and the Afghans and the Iraqis, etc. Each time the weapons and technology became more advanced. The technical advances in radar, vacuum tube technology, atomic energy, rockets, aerospace and computing during WWII were incredible.
Asian history is much different with each country generally happy to stay within its borders.
My wife is Chinese and I've also often wondered why people that are so smart are not ruling the world. I think the answer is that its just not worth the hassle. Why poke around in your neighbors yard when everything is so comfortable at home. They realize that war is not profitable and they don't have the impulse to show others how they should run their affairs.
Another example is the Chinese in Africa. When the Europeans were there they basically bullied the Africans and were in a constant state of semi warfare. The Chinese are more subtle and use money and influence to get what they want. The African leaders are happy as they get lots of graft and the regular Africans are happy as they get jobs and the Chinese are happy as they get access to resources.

John Craig said...

Jhusta --
Good point about the correlation between the most belligerent nations and the most technologically advanced ones. Asians don't have the same history of warfare that the Europeans do, but they're not quite that pacifist. India and Pakistan are constantly at odds (I realize this isn't East Asia), the Gurkhas were known -- and are still somewhat known -- as an incredibly fierce fighting force. The words "assassin" and "thug" actually came from India (as I recall). Ceylon/Sri Lanka was wracked by the Sinhalese/Tamil conflict for a long time, Burma has been ruled for a long time by a military junta, Indonesia has been ruled in the past by by military strongmen, China had its revolution in 1949, Japan conquered most of East Asia and the Philippines in the 1930's, and attacked the US in 1941. North Korea, admittedly mostly because it's rule by a lunatic, is widely regarded as a threat by much of the world, and theKoreans didn't get their reputation for toughness and brutality by being pacifists. The Viet Cong were another group known for their toughness, and they ended up basically overrunning Laos and Cambodia after the Americans departed.

I think the reason that we're more aware of Western wars is that they tend to be one country vs. another, whereas in Asia a lot of the wars have been internal. Also, the West's superior technology made their wars, at least the 20th century wars, more "dramatic" in a way, and thus more memorable.

True, the Chinese approach in Africa has been quite successful, with lots less fuss.

Luqman said...

Regarding cultural attitudes, the point could be made that east asians outside the confines of their origin nations - the many high intelligence east asians in the west - do not seem to have that special spark either. A blogger called Bruce Charlton has written some interesting stuff about the origin and nature of genius (true, breakthrough creativity) and released a book, relevant excerpts of which are available at the following link:

Basically, the genius is a personality type, the self sufficient so-called endogenous personality. Inwards directed and self-motivated. A small proportion of intelligent and skilled endogenous personalities, with a bit of luck, become geniuses. I think that ties in nicely to why east asians seem to lack that certain spark. You have mentioned before that you consider east asians to be especially inhibited compared to whites (and whites compared to blacks) and I think there is a deeper truth here than simply in terms of their behaviour. The link to psychoticism dicussed earlier in the comments also seems sound and is a necessary ingredient.

The genius is a shaman first, not a nerd (if that term could be forgiven, I dont mean badly). Intelligence, while absolutely essential, is probably secondary to that `psychotic` wellspring, what you called magic, from which true creativity flows. Without intelligence it cannot be usefully sorted. LLI would be similarly secondary; a stupid person would be overwhelmed, an intelligent person would be able to handle it and maybe even use it to his advantage but only the true creative will discover the non-obvious insight in the stimuli. Endogenous personalities with high intelligence and high psychoticism are potential geniuses. LLI may be relevant to the particular expression of their genius however. For example I think both Bach and Glenn Gould, his famously odd modern interpreter, had LLI.

John Craig said...

Luqman --
You're right, "inhibition" goes deeper than superficial behavior, and extends to how we think as well. Some (most?) people will simply not allow themselves to stray beyond groupthink; it seems to almost (fully?) be engraved in their DNA.

My first instinct was to shy away from your association between creativity and "psychotism," since psychotic basically means crazy, and what distinguishes geniuses is that they come up with better ways of doing things, not just different (nonsensical) ways. Modern artists have high "psychotism," and I couldn't consider them geniuses. But then I thought of the relationship between schizophrenia and creativity, and though, yes, there is a relationship.

I'd say a genius has to have the basic disrespect for established truth that a shaman has, but also the understanding of how things work that a nerd does.

Anonymous said...

Actually a lot things were invented by the chinese.
Look up Joseph Needham 1900-1995
His famous set of books cover a lot of areas from gas fields to sailing

IN CHINA SERIES is the thing to read.

More recently things like charge/parity violation and QED were developed by asians.

Feynman of couse wasn't asian.