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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Genius and masculinity

Commenter "Beppo" brought up an interesting point after the 7/14 post about why Asians didn't come up with any of the seminal scientific breakthroughs: 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).

It goes without saying that all of the great scientists and inventors in history were men; in fact it's so obvious that most consider it hardly worth mentioning.

But why?

IQ doesn't entirely explain it. I've heard that men average 5 points higher than women in IQ tests, though I'm not sure whether that's true. (If true, it's not exactly a well publicized fact.) Over the past few decades boys have on average scored slightly higher on the math portion of the SAT's, but girls have scored higher on the verbal.

It's not as if there aren't plenty of very smart women around. I've personally known several, and have had the pleasure of "meeting" (in cyberspace) a couple more through this blog. These are women who have common sense as well as insight, write well, and have a sense of humor to boot.

Some of the smart women I've known had personal issues which could sometimes skew their thinking, but that didn't detract from their intelligence. (And I've known intelligent men with issues as well.)

So why is it only men who were the great geniuses? It's not as if women weren't given the opportunity to lead. There were female monarchs, like Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. There were even female military leaders, like Boudicca and Joan of Arc.

So why no great female creative geniuses?

There's obviously only one possible answer: the way that male hormones shape the brain. They provide that special magic -- yes, that word again -- that provides the creative spark somehow.

But here's the more interesting question: if it's testosterone that gives the brain the juice it needs to become a creative genius, why is it that many of the greatest geniuses tended to be not particularly masculine men?

If you look at pictures of great military and political leaders, you'll see a fair number of guys who were obviously just bursting with male hormones. Think of Charlemagne, a rugged 6' 5" in an era when most men were 5'7". (There's some dispute about this height, but he was definitely over six feet.) Henry VIII was also over six feet and sturdily-built; when young -- before he got fat -- he could leap onto a horse while in full armor. Genghis Khan was reportedly bursting with muscle. Think of George Washington, 6' 2" and strongly built.

If you want to be a leader of men, it doesn't hurt to look like a champion wrestler. People are naturally inclined to kowtow to a man who looks fearsome.

Now look at pictures of the great geniuses. I've included scientists and mathematicians, but stayed away from writers and composers, since their output must be judged more subjectively. And, admittedly, we must view the figures above who predated photography through the eyes their portraitists.

But even so, it's clear that most didn't represent an extreme of masculinity. They had enough testosterone so that their brains became male. Most seem to be ectomorphs; there are surprisingly few mesomorphs or endomorphs among their number. Anyway, here they are, in no particular order:

Albert Einstein:

Nikola Tesla:

Isaac Newton:


Leonardo da Vinci:

Charles Darwin:

Johannes Kepler:



Blaise Pascal:

Max Planck:

J. Robert Oppenheimer:

Neils Bohr:

Guglielmo Marconi:

Thomas Edison:

James Watson:

Francis Crick:

I admit, this list was ever so slightly cherry-picked: I omitted Descartes and Galileo simply because they looked too androgenized; but, those were the only two on my original list whom I left out.

In case you're curious, here's Galileo, as renowned for his intellectual courage as his intellect:

And Rene Descartes, who was a great mathematician as well as philosopher, and who looked as if he could have been Sean Connery's ugly brother:

But for the most part, these guys are of average masculinity. None are quite effeminate; but none look as if they might have been cast in The Expendables 2. Several of them also seem to have a strikingly serene look.

Anyway, the point is, the elixir for true genius requires testosterone -- but too much of it may ruin the formula.


Anonymous said...

This isn't my original thought, but I've seen data indicating that the standard deviation of IQ in men is larger than it is in women, so that even with equal mean IQ, there will be more very high IQ men (also very low IQ men) than women. If the mean for men is 3-5 points higher than for women, another thing I've seen but don't have the expertise to analyze, this will only increase the excess in high IQ men (say, >3 SD above mean IQ) compared to women. Testosterone doesn't even have to enter into the explanation. I've also read (same caveats as above) that the SD for IQ is greater in Caucasians than for Asians, so that even though the mean IQ may be higher for Asians, Caucasians may outnumber Asians at extremely high IQ, for the same reason.

beppo said...

It is stated,authoritatively I understand, that the Negro race has a higher testosterone level than any other of the other races or sub-races of Man.

There is, however, scant evidence that this is accompanied by high levels of creativity.

Anonymous said...

AGAIN Mister Craig your instincts are good...
Are you familiar with the book by J. Philippe Rushton "RACE, EVOLUTION, AND BEHAVIOR"?

He has aggregated some data (in "Race, Evolution, and Behavior") that IS RIGHT NEXT TO this very topic.

I hate to say "oh the book is great" and not say why...but I would have to write a long long piece, and, I bet the actual book would bring you such enjoyment SERIOUSLY that I hate to spoil your dinner with a snack as it were.

you can get it used from eleven bucks on amazon...or I used to read lots of books free from interlibrary loan...

(One time I met a woman who was a professor from the University of Regina, she was attending a conference on twin studies...I took a shot and asked her if she knew Rushton..."Yes" she said, "I know Phil." I asked her if he was an evil tendentious prancing racist who loved controversy, or what. She said far from it, he was more like a shy smart guy WHO HAD NO IDEA that he was going to get into so much trouble. (TRUE STORY, for what it's worth))

John Craig said...

Anon --
Yes, I mentioned that theory about the higher, narrower bellcurve in my post of 7/14 about why the Asians never came up with any of the seminal scientific breakthroughs. And yes, I've heard the same about women. But the point of that 7/14 post is that IQ alone doesn't explain true genius, there need to be a number of things in place beside that for the magical alchemy to take place.

John Craig said...

Beppo --
Yes, all of the evidence indicates that sub-Saharan blacks have a high level of testosterone. They also have more androgen receptors, which is an equally important part of the formula. (I've heard that Asian men have surprisingly high testosterone levels, but they have fewer androgen receptors, so don't "express" the testosterone the same way.) But the evidence also shows that sub-Saharan blacks have lower IQ's, and as far as scientific breakthroughs go, a keen understanding of how things work is even more important.

John Craig said...

I'm familiar with Ruston and his work on r/k selection theory, though I've never read his book. (I have read a couple of his papers, or maybe they were excerpts from the book, I'm not sure.) I"m also familiar with the controversy that surrounded his work. He committed the one great unforgivable modern sin: he was honest.

I know someone who knew him too, and who said basically the same thing about him. I enjoyed E.O. Wilson's quote about him in that Wiki article you linked, that seemed to sum up the situation perfectly.

Steven said...

I was under the impression that men and women have equal IQs or maybe just a couple of points difference but that they differed on subtests- men higher on math, women on verbal- and also with regard to the distribution or range (whatever the right word is)- more male idiots and geniuses and women clustering more around average.

I don't agree that men and women had anything like equal opportunities historically, but we can see that from the 19th century onwards, there are numerous great female writers and poets and not as many mathematicians, physicists or inventors. I think the male brain is more mathematical and more interested in mechanics and less so in feelings and people.

The masculanised brain is certainly related to a certain kind of genius, scientific and technological, the type that takes society forward in those ways.

There is also the fact that men are trying to achieve things to impress women and get laid!

John Craig said...

Steven --
I had been under the impression that men and women averaged the same, too, which is why I was surprised when I first heard about the five point gap. Intelligence does correlate positively with brain size, though, and there is clearly a visible difference in that regard between men and women.

I wouldn't say that men and women had the same opportunities, I was merely making the point that it wasn't as if no women had opportunities to shine in traditionally non-female pursuits. And that has become even more true in the last 150 years, when many of the breakthrough were achieved.

Mark Caplan said...

Richard Lynn and others have established that by late adolescence males have higher I.Q.s than females by around 5 points. (In childhood, there is little difference, or even a slight edge given to girls.) Lynn states that the supposed female advantage in verbal I.Q. is a myth. I suppose because some women are stereotypically nonstop chatterers, people were inclined to accept their supposed verbal I.Q. advantage uncritically.

Richard Lynn:

The assertion that women tend to perform better than men in verbal tasks is incorrect and it is astonishing that some scholars are making this contention. The only explanation would seem to be that they have never read the literature on this issue.


Anonymous said...

There was a great woman mathematician named Emmy Noether, who Einstein admired very much. Due to the prejudices of the time, she didn't study algebra until she was 18. I happen to think this wasn't an impediment because boys & girls mature differently. However, it might shed a clue as to why there weren't more women geniuses. If you have zero opportunities, you can't go anywhere.

I do think most of this is a delicate interplay between genes, hormones, and culture, and that there will always be more women clustered in the middle of the curve rather than the tails. I don't see why this is such a controversial topic.

About the Chinese/Japanese, you got me. I've never been to China but I have friends who have. One went to the big museum in Peking and told me that it has the glories of Chinese culture going back 7,000 years to the last century. And it was all the same. China is a great culture, but do they have a Chartres cathedral? Have you seen Chartres?


Anonymous said...

PS I'm Puzzled. I think I may have accidentally published a comment with my real name. Please don't publish it. Thanks. (It was the comment about Chartres.) It really sucks not to be able to sign my name to my comments. It's almost as if we don't live in a free society where people can express themselves without fear of retribution.

John Craig said...

Mark --
But what about the statistic that girls outscore boys on the verbal SAT?

John Craig said...

Puzzled --
I don't think anyone would argue that women have had the same opportunities as men have in the past. But that still wouldn't account for the huge disparity in accomplishment at the highest levels.

And yes, there have been brilliant women who have accomplished a lot. Marie Curie was another. But she, like Noether, wouldn't quite make the cut as far as the most towering geniuses who made breakthrough discoveries.

I haven't been to Chartres, but I have seen some of the great cathedrals, and yes, they are mind-boggling. The Chinese had a more advanced civilization than Europe for thousands of years, but then, somehow, once the Europeans got the ball rolling in the 1400's, they just left everyone in the dust.

And I agree, the existence of differently shaped (and situated) bell curves for different segments of the population should not be controversial. But, given the reigning politically correct sensibilities, it is. In fact, there's nothing more controversial. Which, in part, is what makes it so interesting.

John Craig said...

Puzzled --
You're fine, you never used your real name. If you still want me to delete it, I will.

Mark Caplan said...

John Craig writes: "[W]hat about the statistic that girls outscore boys on the verbal SAT?"

I wasn't able to find the statistic you're referring to. In fact, I found the opposite. For instance:

Females now score 36 points below males on the Math portion of the SAT and 4 points lower on Verbal.


Additionally, only college-bound boys and girls take the SAT test, whereas the I.Q. statistics we were talking about apply to the entire population.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Noether would be on anyone's list as one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century. She absolutely did make "breakthrough" discoveries - although you'd have to ask a mathematician to define them.

The comments are fine as they are. I am so sick of being anonymous. There is something liberating about signing your name to your opinions but right now I can't risk it.


John Craig said...

Mark --
Thank you for researching that. I stand corrected.

I do remember hearing that about girls outscoring boys on the verbal portion, but that was probably decades ago. I've also heard that girls get better grades on average than boys (this, too, may be outdated), but I don't see that as a function of IQ, but the different natures of boys and girls. (Boys being more likely to have ADD-like natures, and being more rebellious, girls being more likely to be well behaved.)

John Craig said...

Puzzled --
I hadn't heard of Emmy Noether, not that that means anything. I consider myself numerate, but know nothing of higher math.

Your last two comments were illustrative of what you mentioned in passing in your comment before those, about why this shouldn't be a controversial topic -- but is.

Almost no one who comments on this blog does so under their real name, which I understand perfectly. The thought police are everywhere.

The Ambivalent Misanthrope said...

I agree with your reader Steven above that male genius is related to a specific type of creativity, namely a technological/inventive kind. Male brains tend towards systemizing and female ones towards empathizing, which is why there are some superlative women writers, poets and --- actresses, too.

Historically, women were not afforded the same opportunities as men in terms of education and personal development, so I am sure that many a brilliant female went by the wayside. Also, nothing will bring outside creative activity to a screeching halt as childbearing and childbearing. Raising children is extremely labor-intensive, in every sense of that word.

But I suspect that even with a level playing field, women would not make the cut with the likes of a DaVinci. That kind of creativity is linked with an extreme 'male' brain-type of intelligence. There is an autism researcher, Simon Baron Cohen, that speculates that autism is a case of extreme male brain gone haywire. People with ASD's often demonstrate a type of tunnel-vision, obsessive systematizing, and poorly developed language and social skills that sometimes go hand-in-hand with technological/mathematical genius.

The Ambivalent Misanthrope said...

And I am still chewing over your observation that many of these guys were ectomorphs. Hmmm.. Genius-fast metabolizer link. Wonder if that is also politically incorrect? Hehe. Not sure, but regardless, it's a fascinating correlation. Fast metabolism is also hormone-related, but the hormones in question are not related to gender. I'm speculating that fast metabolizers clear toxins out of the body at a faster clip, and that has to be good for brain function. Come to think of it, all the ectomorph men I've ever known were fairly bright.

John Craig said...

Ambivalent Misanthrope -
I deliberately stayed away from writers just because judgment of them is so subjective. Generally nobody argues about Shakespeare or Tolstoy or Dickens, but after that it's just too easy to get bogged down in opinion. With the guys who came up with calculus, there's less room for subjectivity.

Yes, the Aspergers theory for people like Newton and Einstein does make sense.

My first thought about the ectomorph thing was that these guys were neither the personally aggressive types one tends to associate with mesomorphs, but also not lazy (as we tend to think of endomorphs as being). But that's just a vague, unthought-out theory. I was struck by the serenity in some of their faces, but that may have been partly a function of the artists who drew the earlier ones. Fast metabolizers clearing out toxins makes as much sense. But I don't know.

Anonymous said...

okay, I will go ahead and scoop out the one part of Rushton next to this blogpost's thesis...

I forget based on what data, but, Rushton arranges Africans at one end with high testosterone and low intelligence, Caucasians in the middle with high testosterone and high intelligence. and then Asians with low testosterone and high intelligence

which does, on a group basis, bear resemblance to your talk about individual manhood and genius


Steven said...

Speaking of great innovations, this is how I cut the top of the bushes behind the pond.

John Craig said...

Yes, actually on virtually every behavioral trait you can think of, Asians are at one end and blacks at the other. I've seen some of those charts by Rushton, it's amazing how many differences he details.

Anonymous said...

Could it be as simple as this:

Very high testosterone men are more likely to be spending their time hunting, conquering, engaging in sport activities, and having sex with lots of women? As you mentioned, focus – and also time invested – are a factor. Would very high T men be happy locked in the lab their entire lives?


John Craig said...

Ed --
That could very well be a factor. Just think, would the average boy today rather be a young James Watson, or a young Lebron James?

And, this is somewhat beside the point you're raising, but would the average boy rather end up as the 70-year-old James Watson, or the 70-year-old Mick Jagger? (Not that Jagger is a good example of someone who has a lot of testosterone.) But yeah, you're right, being locked in a lab thinking about theoretical things doesn't appeal to a lot of people.

Anonymous said...

Not to change the subject but just adding this observation.

I was in a fast food restaurant yesterday. (Yes, I eat in them.) The clientele was at least 50% black, although the area is 99% white. The blacks/Hispanics are almost always workingmen.

I notice that on the whole, the black men can be very high level specimens. Not saying there are no white men like that, but they won't be found in the labor pool of blue collar work in my nabe. There was one black man who was frankly built like a god. A Greek god, with black skin & African features. This man could have been a pro athlete of some sort except that he would be competing against other black men. The bar for pro athletes is very high. For black athletes - out of sight.

I would venture a guess that this body type: beautiful proportions, magnificent natural musculature, etc., is more common among black men than any other race.

Nature makes up for the black IQ deficit by giving blacks a higher "MQ" - muscle quotient. Nature assigns no value system to any of this. In a different epoch, we would value the muscles more than the brains.


John Craig said...

Puzzled --
There's absolutely no question about that. Blacks (both men and women) have higher levels of testosterone and the muscles to match. And the results in sporting events bear that out. In the past 8 Olympics, 8 out of 8 of the finalists in the men's 100 meter dash have been black. Coincidence? The NBA is 80% black, and the NFL is 60% black. (And blacks dominate the speed positions the NFL.) The physical differences between blacks and other races are just as obvious as the mental differences (though somewhat less controversial to point out).

As far as the speed, btw, it's not just more muscle, it's how the body is constructed. Blacks have longer legs for their body length (as well as longer arms), bigger gluteal (butt) muscles, longer thighs, which makes for better sprinting, and a higher proportion of fast twitch muscle fiber.

Anyway, yeah, I've seen homeless guys in the summertime with six packs that white guys who spend hours at the gym could never hope to achieve.

Anonymous said...

"Anyway, yeah, I've seen homeless guys in the summertime with six packs that white guys who spend hours at the gym could never hope to achieve."

Exactly - that was my point. I'm not surprised that elite athletics are wildly disproportionately black. What's surprising is that the superiority works its way down to the general population and you see these gapeworthy specimens everywhere. I

don't know why it's surprising. Maybe I mean dispiriting and I don't want to admit it. I envy them the way I don't envy geniuses.


John Craig said...

Puzzled --
I suppose I envy some of them their physicality too, but REAL envy consists of wanting to exchange entire lives with another person. Are you that envious? I'm not.

Also -- I'm assuming from a couple of your comments that you're female -- why would you be envious of men when you're a woman?

Anonymous said...

No, I don't want to exchange lives with them. I'm not envious of them as men. I can envy physical superiority. I've seen black women who are tall, lithe & graceful as panthers. They don't all look like Leslie Jones, or Moochelle Obama. Take a look at the older daughter (I always forget her name).

John Craig said...

Puzzled --
Malia is the older one, Sasha the younger.....Okay, gotcha.

Well, we're about to watch the Olympics in a couple weeks (I am, anyway), so let's get ready to be envious, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Yeah that was me.

I'm boycotting the Olympics. They are going to have tranny's competing - no way!

But you read my mind sort of. One of my favorite competitions is (or used to be before the tranny invasion) the women's sprinting. Those black ladies are gorgeous, especially the ones who don't dope. :) Alyson Felix is a lovely young lady. As is Malia, she is graceful & exotic looking. She takes after her East African father, and with the white blood came out looking Ethiopian. (They are racially mixed, this is proven by gene studies.)


John Craig said...

Puzzled --
Oh, come on, there will be very few trannies there. And if you're talking about Caster Semenya, she's not a tranny but someone who was born intersex, or hermaphroditic, so you can hardly blame her for being what she is.

Yes, Alyson Felix is a beautiful specimen, though she won't be at her best this summer, as she has an injured ankle and didn't even make the team in the 200 (she did make it in the 400).

Yes, Ethiopians and Somalians look nothing like West Africans. Somalian women in particular are quite beautiful.

Anonymous said...

There's probably a different explanation to testosterone for why so many effeminate men have been creative. Studies link increased cerebral blood flow and a high ratio of glial to neuron cells in the parietal region of the brain with creativity. Unlike neuron cells, glial ones can replace themselves and synesthise the excitatory neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is responsible for learning and memory (acetylcholine levels drop as we age; this is why older people tend to be more forgetful).

Low latent inhibition (LLI) might explain the lack of masculinity in creative men. People with LLI are overwhelmed by incoming information, so they notice things that others overlook. If you're constantly mesmerised by the world around you, silently thinking about atoms, you're hardly going to spend your time doing masculine activities like bodybuilding.

Men and women have different sorts of IQ: if you look at an IQ bell curve, women tend to be around the average, whereas men are more likely to inhabit the extremes (this is probably due to variations in brain structure, which would, as you suggested, be due to testosterone exposure (in utero): This is why there aren't any female Einsteins and why there are fewer female high school dropouts.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
Interesting, thank you. I'm not a neurophysiologist, I'll defer to you on all this.