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Algernon's Law (gwern.net)
128 points by gwern 1505 days ago | hide | past | web | 129 comments | favorite



Gwern, this whole subject is sloppy. It is trivially simple to improve IQ scores by practicing the types of questions IQ tests make. There is no reliable way to measure IQ, therefore it's not clear that IQ is measuring anything reliably. What, exactly, are you talking about then?


It is trivially simple to show that your objection is worthless. 'A thermometer measures temperature when placed in your armpit. But I can take a thermometer and put it in hot water and the temperature goes up! There is no reliable way to measure temperature, therefore, it's not clear the temperature is measuring anything reliably. What, exactly, are you talking about then?'


IQ tests are notoriously hard to make. And they don't measure IQ, so much as what the tester considers IQ.

An amusing story. There was an IQ comparisson between rural and urban areas and the finding was that people in rural areas do worse on IQ test. But one psychologist thought that this can't be true.

So he went back to test and realized that IQ test that were given to rural/urban areas were same. The people from rural areas did worse on the written part of exams, because the rural areas lacked schools and children started learning/reading much later. Once he went back and revised the tests, removing most of test that had to do with reading and generally type of thought that rural children have less encounter.

Conclusion - the old IQ test didn't measure intelligence, unless you can increase intelligence by going to a better school, in which case, that isn't intelligence but knowledge.


There's another famous, possibly apocryphal, story about an IQ test with the question:

Which of the following doesn't belong: a) Basketball b) Polo c) Hockey d) Billiards

The answer is obviously Basketball, since it's the only sport that doesn't use a stick to hit anything. Except the answer is obviously Polo, since it's the only one with horses. Except the answer is obviously Hockey, since it's the only one with a puck instead of a ball. Except the answer is obviously Billiards, since it's the only one without a team.

In case you're curious about the RIGHT answer, the test found that Canadians and Americans living in colder climates were slightly smarter than average.


Interestingly, to give further evidence of your point, I would say hockey is played with a ball, unless the reader assumes hockey is 'ice hockey'.


One time in school, we got that question and the choices were picture:

a) Fireman with hat b) Baseball player with hat c) Cowboy with hat d) Bus driver without hat

We were told the answer was d), but my answer was, "The cowboy, because that's the only one that's not a real job anymore."


Following your story I love this scene from Kaspar Hauser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAnOi0fnxuE

From the subtitles:

The Professor here has come all this way to ask you a question.

He wants to see how well you can think...

...and what you have learned in these two years...

...and whether you can think logically. Will you answer him?

- Yes! - Good.

Kaspar...

...let's pretend that this is a village.

In this village live people who tell only the truth.

Here is another village.

The people here only tell lies.

Two paths run from these villages to where you are standing...

...and you are at the crossroads.

A man comes along, and you want to know which village he comes from...

...the village of the truthtellers or the village of the liars.

Now in order to solve this problem, to solve it logically...

...you have one question, and only one.

What is the question?

That's too difficult for him, how can he know that.

I admit, the question is thorny.

If you ask the man whether he comes from the village of truth...

...and he does, then he will say, truthfully, yes.

But if he comes from the village of lies, he will lie...

...and also answer yes!

Yet there exists one question which will solve the problem.

That's much to hard, too complicated.

You have one question, Kaspar...

...and only one, to solve this problem of logic.

I wouldn't know either.

If you can't think of the question...

...then I shall tell you.

If you came from the other village...

...would you answer 'no' if I were to ask you whether...

...you came from the liars' village?

By means of a double negative the liar is forced to tell the truth.

This construction forces him to reveal his identity, you see.

That's what I call logic via argument to the truth!

Well, I know another question.

You do?

There is no other question, by the laws of logic.

There isn't?

But I do know another question.

Let us hear it, then!

I should ask the man whether he was a tree-frog.

The man from the truth village would say:

No, I'm not a tree-frog, because he tells the truth.

The man from the liars' village would say:

Yes, I'm a tree-frog, because he would tell a lie.

So I know where he comes from.

No, that's not a proper question.

That won't do, I can't accept it as a question.

That's no logic; logic is deduction, not description.

What you've done is describe something, not deduce it.

But I understood his question.

Understanding is secondary; the reasoning is the thing.

In Logic and Mathematics we do not understand things...

...we reason and deduce: I cannot accept that question.


See also:

The barometer problem: http://www.snopes.com/college/exam/barometer.asp

Richard Feynman interviews at Microsoft: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ericlippert/archive/2011/02/14/what-...


It's a funny story, but they screwed up the riddle. You need to know the answer to a yes/no question that this liar/truth-teller can answer. For example, which road should I take to get to the castle? You only have one question, so you can't ask are you a tree-frog, because then you wouldn't know which road to take.

http://mathforum.org/dr.math/faq/faq.liar.html


I am always surprised by those strange downvotes in HN...


I was going to say Billiards because it doesn't require much physical effort, even though it's fun.


> IQ tests are notoriously hard to make. And they don't measure IQ, so much as what the tester considers IQ.

They are notoriously hard to make, yes, but psychometricians have put in a ton of effort to make culture-fair tests and investigate claimed biases, so they're pretty good these days. We're a very long way from the WWI Alpha test.


Reminds me of the surefire way to totally cheat on your tests and always get a great score and never, ever get caught. All you have to do is spend a bunch of time beforehand going over all the material until you understand it.


It's a well established fact that thermometers measure temperature. It doesn't matter if its a person's temperature or an object's, it is still going to measure temperature.

It is a highly contested assertion that IQ tests accurately measure I.Q. It's completely possible that if you take a reasonably smart person and make them study for a specific type of I.Q. test, that he will score higher than he would have otherwise, even though his intellectual ability would remain unchanged over a broader spectrum of skills than the test involves. Therefore, it may not be a reliable measurement of I.Q.

Your example makes no sense whatsoever, and you should have already known that before you typed it out.


> It is a highly contested assertion that IQ tests accurately measure I.Q. It's completely possible that if you take a reasonably smart person and make them study for a specific type of I.Q. test, that he will score higher than he would have otherwise, even though his intellectual ability would remain unchanged over a broader spectrum of skills than the test involves. Therefore, it may not be a reliable measurement of I.Q.

It is not contested in the area in question; psychologists routinely use IQ tests without a qualm, and it is a consensus in the field that they are meaningful. See for example the consensus paper on IQ released in the wake of _The Bell Curve_ controversy or look at more recent review articles like Nisbett's "Intelligence: new findings and theoretical developments". Whatever the layman or politicians may think, the debate is over: if you make a good IQ test, it will estimate accurately general performance on all sorts of cognitive performance. If you destroy the accuracy of a given IQ test by training and then measure performance on the original variety of cognitive performance, this will immediately show up in the factorization and demonstrate how the IQ test's accuracy has been destroyed, and IQ tests developed with different kinds of questions will not show the spurious increase, just like if you took a different thermometer and put it in the person's armpit, it would show a different reading from the thermometer stuck in the mug of hot water.

> Your example makes no sense whatsoever, and you should have already known that before you typed it out.

My example is exactly analogous to the argument that was made.


Your example isn't remotely close to being analogous to the argument that was made. If you stick a thermometer in hot water, it is measuring the water's temperature accurately. If an individual studies for a specific type of IQ test, that particular IQ test fails to accurately measure his general intelligence.

The IQ test is generally accepted because there aren't any practical applications where a near-perfect measurement of a person's intelligence is going to be a matter of life and death, the same cannot be said for the measurement of temperature.

Basically, it doesn't matter that an IQ test isn't perfect. It is accepted because it does a merely adequate job in most cases, and even if it happened to be manipulated by someone who studied for a specific version of the test, no significant damage will be done to anything or anyone.

Just to be clear, I don't have a grudge against IQ tests, in fact, I scored in the 140s on a test administered by a psychologist. I'm just saying that they are highly susceptible to manipulation (Don't worry, I didn't even know I was taking it until I arrived at his office).

The entire field of psychology is in its infancy, it is one of the least developed of all sciences. We are making quite a bit of progress, but there's still a long way to go. There are a lot of really strange ideas that are accepted by experts that are going to be proven wrong as soon as our understanding of the mind matures sufficiently.


> Your example isn't remotely close to being analogous to the argument that was made. If you stick a thermometer in hot water, it is measuring the water's temperature accurately. If an individual studies for a specific type of IQ test, that particular IQ test fails to accurately measure his general intelligence.

Yes, it is. IQ tests are designed to reliably measure intelligence under certain reasonable, but not adversarial or universal, conditions. Just like a reading off a thermometer is a reliable way of measuring body temperatures under certain reasonable, non-adversarial, non-universal conditions. Memorizing the answers or training by taking the test repeatedly is akin to a kid pretending to be sick and dunking the thermometer in his hot chocolate to get out of school. It's still reporting something, but not what you think it is.

> The IQ test is generally accepted because there aren't any practical applications where a near-perfect measurement of a person's intelligence is going to be a matter of life and death,

Indeed. Your standard IQ test like a RAPM is not used in adversarial contexts (sadly, 'publish or perish' increasingly means that research is an adversarial context as well), and failure to understand this seems to be leading to a lot of confusion in these comments. If you want to handle even adversarial contexts, you need a procedure way more complex & costly than a 10 minute pen and paper RAPM - you need something like a proctored SAT or GRE.

> The entire field of psychology is in its infancy, it is one of the least developed of all sciences. We are making quite a bit of progress, but there's still a long way to go.

Intelligence and measuring it via IQ tests is some of the oldest and most conceptually & statistically deep and commonly-used parts of psychology, going back a century at this point, which is something few parts of psychology can claim. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for psychology to abandon it because it's in 'its infancy' and 'is one of the least developed of all sciences'. At this point, it's roughly like expecting the spacing effect to go away.


I improved my IQ by 20 pts in an year's time. It was pretty simple: study SAT/GRE words, and do a lot of arithmetic exercises.

I know that it increased by 20 pts. because I underwent an IQ test conducted by a licensed psychologist twice.


Exactly, my logic professor always used to say that studying logic improves your IQ (btw, so does programming.) Well it does, because a bunch of the questions on an IQ test are logical riddles. Math and vocabulary have the same effect.


it was always my understanding that "good" IQ tests should have almost zero variance based on your vocabulary, or hell, even your mathematical abilities. A "good" IQ test simply tests your logic facilities.

Example "good" questions would show a sequence of 6 shapes and ask you what the next one in the series should look like. or perhaps a question like "given that all boogles are quinks and some quinks are flets, are all flets boogles?".

A question on a "bullshit" IQ test would be: "'Daring' is an appropriate adjective for: A. Rocks. B. Planets. C. Humans.". Another would be "x^2 = 36, solve for x"

Now, I know that some standardized tests (ACT, SAT, IBTS), will sometimes try to estimate your IQ by correlating your scores, but that is fraught with problems and shouldn't be taken as gospel.


> A "good" IQ test simply tests your logic facilities.

You can dramatically improve your logic facilities by taking a course in logic. Your boogles, quinks, and flets question is trivial if you know even rudimentary set theory.


Not even that - it's the kind of question that becomes dramatically easier to answer if you know how to trick your brain into thinking it's easy. "Given that all cats are animals and some animals are mice, are all mice cats?"


It's actually a harder question if you phrase it with cats, animals, and mice! The correct answer is "possibly" (either yes or no), but the cats, animals, and mice question predisposes you to answer with "no".


For me, that kind of comes under the category of "know how to answer the question": that is, "remember that you have produced an example, which does not constitute proof but merely evidence". You're right that it's still not easy to distinguish between "definitely yes" and "not {definitely no}", though I do still find it easier with nouns-which-I-know than made-up-words, I think. I should have put in an attempt to make the statement true - maybe "Given that all cats are cats, and some cats are cats, are all cats cats?"


I think logical reasoning can be improved by training too.

In my first year in CS at university, we had a logic course. I was definitely better at solving that kind of problems after the course. They usually become easy once you formalize them and you start to recognize patterns once you've seen enough.


The WAIS-III was multimodal when I took it. Most of it was as you described, but some of it was general knowledge testing as well.

Overall it was a fun experience since I like taking tests, but I felt it didn't accurately judge anything, regardless of my satisfaction with the result.


Indeed. Studying vocab is even the example I've used for years on the dual n-back mailing list to explain how a previously valid measure can be rendered meaningless by training: just memorize vocab and boost your scores on the vocab subtest. Of course, if you took a bunch of people who studied SAT/GRE words and looked at the factorization on a battery of tests, you'd find that the g-loading of the vocab subtest had gone way down, but that can't be done in this sort of case and so all you're left with is a meaningless measure.

this was in relation to Moody's critique of the original n-back study: he thought that all the n-back training, which involved tracking moving squares in a grid, was effectively training you to be able to manipulate shapes on a grid better than you would normally, and destroying part of the validity of the matrix tests. And indeed, in the later studies which used more than just matrix tests, the n-back training tends to show more limited gains. It's not officially out yet, but an example of this would be "Adaptive n‐back training does not improve fluid intelligence at the construct level; gains on individual tests suggest training may enhance visuospatial processing", Colom et al 2013.


My mother told me the story of a girl whose IQ she increased by 30 points in one day!

After observing the first IQ test, my mother recommended that the severely abused girl be tested by a woman instead of a man. Voila! Magic! The IQ increased.

(Both IQ tests would have been administered at Stanford back in the 1950s.)


Gwern actually qualified what was meant, exactly:

> if you are a bright healthy young man or woman gifted with an IQ in the 130s, there is nothing you can do to increase your underlying intelligence 20 points.

That is to say, you want to make a significant improvement despite already doing really well as a baseline. The higher baseline affects how effective practicing IQ questions is, and how difficult it is to go up each additional point.


I think it's more malleable than people give it credit for. Over time my performance on IQ tests changed from being much higher on math to much higher on verbal. (I largely stopped reading for pleasure in high school, and didn't pick it up again until after college)

I do agree with one point in the article - there is diminishing returns. I've heard Warren Buffett say that after someone is 130 IQ, it all comes down to character. I'm inclined to agree. If I interview someone with 130 IQ, I'd much rather they have integrity and good social skills than another 5 IQ points.


He addresses this: "New methods like dual n-back or nootropics are ... years later discovered to ... be tantamount to training on IQ tests themselves"


But if IQ tests are trainable, what are they actually measuring?


If bench presses are trainable, what are they actually measuring?


Bench presses are measuring your ability to bench press. Iq tests are measuring your ability to do IQ tests (and not your IQ)

Edit: just to clarify, the fact that you can train to improve an IQ score means that it is not a very good measure of innate ability. You can't really talk about "having an IQ", all you can say is that you got 130 on your last IQ test, a bit like how you might tell someone what you got for your SATs.


How else is IQ defined?


You'd first have to define intelligence.


Why not define it as something that one can train? That certainly matches my intuitive notion of "intelligence".


Your intuitive notion of intelligence is "something one can train"? So then muscular strength is intelligence?


Uh, no. My intuitive notion of intelligence is that it is trainable. That is not its only attribute, come on.


[deleted]


No, I don't think so.


If IQ doesn't measure anything then why is it correlated with job performance across a wide range of jobs (and pretty much the only property for which this is the case)?


You remind me of an issue that sort of weighs at the back of my mind.

Scientists hate the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, mostly for perfectly good reasons. But I see a lot of claims that, with the exception of the introversion-extraversion axis, which was widely accepted, its dimensions are uninformative to the point of worthlessness. I've also read that along its T-F axis, 75% of men score T and 75% of women score F. To me, that seems to indicate that it's measuring something that's really there (if the T-F axis were meaningless, shouldn't all groups split 50-50?).

I guess in summary, a lot of people don't seem to agree that just because you can extract information from a test item, the test item must be informative. I'm with you though.


Hmm - the most common criticism I've heard of Meyers-Briggs is that it doesn't reliably predict even the result of taking another Meyers-Briggs test.


Agreed, I don't think the conclusion is reliable because we have yet to understand what exactly IQ is. If you don't know what you're measuring, how do you know IQ can or can't be improved?

My layman's prediction is we will be able to measure IQ in the future by some means of scanning the brain's process of building connections and nerves. An aptitude test is simply measuring the side effects of IQ.


I think that the idea of intelligence as a single number is similarly flawed as comparing cars just by speed.


You're right that it doesn't tell the whole story, but one of the major findings in the last century of psychology is that the one-number summary actually contains a surprising amount of information.

"Mental tests may be designed to measure different aspects of cognition. Specific domains assessed by tests include mathematical skill, verbal fluency, spatial visualization, and memory, among others. However, individuals who excel at one type of test tend to excel at other kinds of tests, too, while those who do poorly on one test tend to do so on all tests, regardless of the tests' contents."

"[G factor] is a variable that summarizes positive correlations among different cognitive tasks, reflecting the fact that an individual's performance at one type of cognitive task tends to be comparable to his or her performance at other kinds of cognitive tasks."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G_factor_(psychometrics).


> My layman's prediction is we will be able to measure IQ in the future by some means of scanning the brain's process of building connections and nerves.

There's some interesting imaging research over the past decade or two suggesting that if you want to reify IQ as something physical, it might wind up being something along the lines of global connectivity - how well and efficiently distant brain regions can communicate and coordinate activities.


But, how about creativity? it seems much difficult to measure than IQ and with it you can achieve results that are beyound your IQ.

What do you think?

pd: strange that this is the first time creativity is mentioned in this thread.


Creativity is so hard to quantify or even describe that I don't think anyone can say anything meaningful about what it's useful for or what its relationship to evolution might be.


Just because they are trainable doesn't mean they aren't measuring anything or aren't useful. Besides his arguments aren't for increasing IQ tests, but increasing intelligence in general. IQ being a rough measure of it.


He talks about MDMA and how it reduces anxiety near the end. When I first tried it, I found it quite amazing how a pill could completely eliminate my social anxiety for a few hours. I'd never felt so comfortable in my own skin and surrounding environment. I'd never realized that at every waking moment, even when alone, even when I think I'm pretty relaxed, I always feel some amount of background anxiety. This drug was able to take the anxiety down to zero. I was no longer afraid to go talk to strangers, I could really have fun at parties.

The downsides, though, are pretty obvious. For one, MDMA causes a crash. Sometimes, I'd be down for 2, even 3 days afterwards, which would be quite unpleasant and kill my productivity. Another thing is that well, anxiety and fear are sometimes useful. If you're too trusting of people around you, you might eventually get yourself in risky situations. You might trust people you really shouldn't.

There's also been a study on MDMA that showed that it changes the way you interpret signs of rejection given off by people. You interpret people's response to you more positively, even if it isn't all that positive. MDMA can help you approach people, but it can also make you a little delusional (over optimistic) about the way people perceive you.

My personal opinion is that people with less baseline anxiety are probably still generally better off in the modern world. They're less stressed, they're more open to approaching and being approached by people, they end up having more friends because of this. They might have a tendency to be more trusting and not notice as much when they annoy people, but it probably generally works in their favor. I probably worry too much about displeasing other people.


MDMA sounds to humans what Toxoplasma gondii infection is to rats.


With the difference that you're presumably much more intelligent than a rat. Even if you don't feel anxious, you can reason on a purely logical basis as to what might be a bad idea. Even if you stopped feeling fear, you'd probably still be intelligent enough to look on both sides before crossing the street. I do agree that it can, and probably will increase risk taking, though. The risks I took on MDMA were social risks, things I don't actually deem to be dangerous, things my fear stops me from doing but that I should probably be attempting more often.

I find that MDMA makes it very easy to "open up" to people and tell them what you think. This is probably one of the reasons why people are looking into using it as a therapeutic aid for PTSD and rape victims. In the context of a party though, this can translate in you being very comfortable telling your friends what you really think about them, even if it isn't a good idea. I found I'm still able to ask myself rationally "is this something I should be telling this person?", "could this be hurtful to this person?" and stop myself from saying stupid things. This is different from alcohol, which makes you both less anxious and less intelligent. I can tell you that on MDMA, I actually feel extremely sharp, more than normal (better recall, better verbal fluency, etc).

I can tell you that people have said stupid and offensive things to me while high on MDMA, however. One girl told me that she disliked my new hairstyle (thanks, I like it just fine), and also told me that she frequently had sex dreams about me, but that nothing could come of it since she had a boyfriend. Both of these were things I didn't want to know. I will say though that this same girl has said more offensive and annoying things to me while sober.


wow this all sounds so familiar and I wonder if this explains certain parts of my personality. I did Ecstasy A LOT for the summer of 2000, and then randomly here and there after that (now it has been a couple years since my last time). I was already generally easygoing and a people pleaser before then but it probably enhanced it.


I didn't read the articles, but sample of one (a.k.a. ancedotes) don't pique my interest - Root beer can take away your social anxieties if you think it's alcohol.


You probably don't experience much anxiety if you say that. Strong adrenalin-induced responses, or panic attacks even, are pretty much impossible to ignore. Try being social when you're shaky, sweating, and have shifty focus (i.e.: fight-or-flight response, your brain is looking for threats in your environment). It's hard slash impossible to will these kinds of symptoms away. Usually, this kind of social anxiety is only amplified by jumping into a social situation.

Furthermore, being even slightly inebriated from alcohol has a very noticeable feel to it. If I went to a party that only had non-alcoholic beverages but pretended these had alcohol, I'm quite sure that I'd be able to tell.


That's different from what I've said.

I meant that placebo effect was highly possible, nothing more and nothing less. You knowing it's a placebo doesn't cause placebo effect.


>You knowing it's a placebo doesn't cause placebo effect.

Actually it's often the case that even knowing you're taking a placebo still gives results, though smaller than when taking placebo unknowingly.


I wonder how many people thoroughly read these gwern articles before jumping to comment their opposing views. There is a lot of information inside. It may take me 5-6 hours to properly go through it before concluding that gwern didnt take X into account. Idea : On HN, even if I save long articles for later and read a week after, my posted views will not be read by anyone since the discussion is already over. Maybe HN can provide a service where everyone gets update whenever a new comment is posted on such articles. I get to choose which posts I want updates from(and most will be ones having lots of words since updates will be few and far between). That way even if someone comments after a week, she atleast knows few people are getting aware of it.


I wish there was a service like this.


If the proposed intervention would result in an enhancement, why have we not already evolved to be that way?

This is completely misguided, because evolution does not necessarily "progress" in any sense. Here is a good explanation:

http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/misconceptions_faq....

This looks like a typical example of what happens when people from mathematical fields or philosophers take up evolution and A) view it as some sort of simple optimization procedure and B) use it as some all-pervading philosophical principle from which things can be derived and don't have to be proven.


I think that the author covered most of the same objections in his essay that the FAQ you link does, missing only that evolution doesn't necessarily work well in small populations.


He nevertheless proceeds as if this is something that is generally true, with it only being false in exceptional situations. There is no reason to suppose that this is generally true, which makes the heuristic useless, and hence his reasoning gets very shaky, for example:

How about opiates? Morphine and other painkillers can easily be justified as evolution not knowing when a knife cut is by a murderous enemy and when it’s by a kindly surgeon (which didn’t exist way back when), and choosing to make us err on the side of always feeling pain. But recreational drug abuse?

#1 doesn’t seem too plausible - what about modern society would favor opiate consumption outside of medicinal use? If one wishes to deaden the despair and ennui of living in a degenerate atheistic material culture, we have beer for that.57

#3 doesn’t work either; opioids have been around for ages and work via the standard brain machinery.

#2 might work here as well, but this dumps us straight into the debate about the War on Drugs and what harm drug use does to the user & society.

He completely misses here what he wrote himself earlier for example about there not existing a simple mutation from the current state to the "desired" one.


There is reason to believe that it's true except in exceptional situations, and this is covered in the article:

Theoretical calculations apparently indicate that in a changing environment, the fitness gap between the current allele and its alternatives will be small and large gaps exponentially rare19; this is as one would expect from the market analogue (the bigger the arbitrage, the faster it will be exploited).


I understand this research to say: if there exists a simple mutation that is hugely beneficial, it will spread fast. This does not mean every beneficial change to the DNA we as intelligent beings can come up with can be expected to have most likely already happened in the course of evolution. The article acknowledges this at one point, but some of the further discussion in uninformed by this issue.


> He completely misses here what he wrote himself earlier for example about there not existing a simple mutation from the current state to the "desired" one.

We don't need a simple mutation. Learned associations and mental activity is quite enough for generating or suppressing pain. People can be terrified and panicked at the presence of particular people, pain can be controlled by hypnosis, or caused by phantom limbs. Is there a mutation, simple or complex, for phantom limbs? If I beat my dog brutally every day, does he need mutations to experience pain and stress at my approach?


I don't understand what this is about now. I understand in this fragment you are discussing why can't we make pain go completely away at will, and why didn't evolution invent such a thing. Among the causes you don't consider is this not being beneficiary overall, or not being "a simple mutation away" at any point of our evolution so far, both of which are perfectly feasible explanations.


If you would read the entire thing, most of it is about addressing that (that is explaining the reasons why evolution doesn't always produce the optimal result.) There are also a lot of links in the text to related material.

I'm not sure why you think this disputes anything he actually said.


Seems to me a flaw in this argument is that much smarter humans do show up from time to time, without apparent ill effect. It's conceivable that we could at least enhance intelligence to John von Neumann's level.


It's conceivable, but it's not going to be easy or simple. Think of how many billions of humans existed simultaneously with John von Neumann without being anywhere near his level. If we figure that Neumann was mostly due to a stellar combination of alleles, then that implies he got lucky on a very large number of alleles (imagine a bunch of alleles which can be on or off, and Neumann got all of them 'on'; then because he was 1 out of 5 billion or whatever, he got log_2 5,000,000,000 = 32. This is not 1 variation, which is easy to select on, or 2, but 32. The current state of the art, using n=100,000 is around 3 SNPs. (I apologize in advance to the geneticists for my reasoning here.))

And I would note that Neumann, despite being happily married, a gifted negotiator, lady's man, and party-goer, never had children.

So Neumann might violate either the simple or reproductive fitness requirements: to the extent we can hope to manufacture Neumanns through genetic engineering, it's not going to be easy; and to the extent we can judge from n=1, the reproductive fitness penalties may be large.



Ah. My bad. I guess I was thinking of his second marriage and didn't remember he had a daughter. But I see she only has 2 kids, so maybe it will still be true soon that von Neumann was without any surviving descendants...


He also died from pancreatic or bone cancer at age 51


Yeah, but that's almost certainly unrelated. It's not like geniuses routinely die young of cancer.


That's not the argument. The argument is that it's impossible to artificially improve a person's intelligence.


Does studying count as "artificially improving a person's intelligence"? Because that works, and it seems quite artificial.


Not "impossible", but merely "impossible now".


I concur. In my opinion the "impossibility of improving IQ" in gwern's first sentence should be understood as "impossibility of improving IQ through supplementation at the current level".

I think the source of the problem is rather our very limited understanding of maintaining and improving the brain functions. As far as my limited knowledge goes, we still cannot reverse many dementia-inducing illnesses; once we see deeper into them, maybe better supplementation will appear. It's understandable that various "trivial" methods at increasing IQ fail.

(Heck, we don't know much about benefit/hazard of many chemicals that enter our body; and even when we do -- smoking, obesity -- people tend to disregard the advice.)


While you can't improove your IQ overall (in controlled tests), it's completely possible do get better at logical games, thus increasing you score at IQ tests.

I know it because I have trained a bit for some IQ tests and the results improve the more you train for it. That's something everyone should be capable of.


Previous discussion (of an earlier version of this article?) 461 days ago:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4201233

Readers who are interested in following up on the professional literature on human intelligence and IQ testing are invited to dig into the "Intelligence Citations" bibliography

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:WeijiBaikeBianji/Intellig...

in Wikipedia user space.


I haven't read the whole article, but there is at least one inaccuracy I spotted. Piracetam's primary mechanism of action is glutamatergic, not cholinergic. This is why the known side-effects include anxiety, headaches, insomnia or irritability. The cholinergic impact is less pronounced.


googles

> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glutamic_acid

so wait, the natural protein that correlates with being a fast learner and thinker also causes anxiety, insomnia, and irritability?

I am so not surprised in the slightest.


Citation?


I don't have much time right now to sift through so many papers, but see these for instance:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10583700 , http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1372342

I haven't stated anything outrageous, it's been known for a long time that piracetam is a positive modulator of glutamate receptors.


I'm not disputing that. But I've read a ton of studies about piracetam, and I've always had the impression that its primary mechanism was cholinergic.


It largely depends on what you've read: how reputable the journal, how well-informed and genuine the researchers were etc. Some papers are written just for the sake of making one researcher's 'quota' or fulfilling the minimal requirements for a grant. It's not unusual even in the research community to keep rehashing old information.


I too was distinctly under the impression that piracetam's mechanism was cholinergic and other mechanisms were bit players; Wikipedia likewise gives that impression: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piracetam#Mechanisms_of_action


I always take Wikipedia with a grain of salt, especially when it comes to pharmacology / pharmacodynamics / pharmacokinetics. I may be wrong though, so take my opinions with a grain of salt as well please.

Here's another way of looking at the issue though.

For instance, an example of the symptoms a cholinergic overdose would cause ('bradycardia, sinus arrhythmia, vomiting and respiratory insufficiency'), as opposed to piracetam's most common side-effects listed on Wikipedia ('anxiety, insomnia, irritability, headache, agitation, nervousness, and tremor'): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14658400

Although not listed on Wikipedia, sinus tachycardia is another potential side-effect of piracetam, perhaps more common than bradycardia. Unfortunately I can't find where I put my Thomson Micromedex toxicology leaflets on piracetam, I'd look up more info.

Btw, I hope I haven't offended you, it's clear you put a lot of work into the article and are passionate about the subject. I'm off to sleep, have an awesome day wherever you are.


So... the evidence for your claim was that some of the side-effects sound similar?


To me, a related supposition is more interesting: if you put a human in an environment which minics closely their recent evolutionary history, will previously-missing environmental triggers boost intelligence (or any other bodily function?) to their optimum, perhaps via hormesis? Such an environment would include:

- higher amounts of exercise - periodic fasting and/or malnutrition - lower carb intake (sugars, grains) - higher plant intake - higher sunlight exposure - sleep/wake cycle dictated by the Sun - less sitting

... but might also include:

- exposure to rotted food and disease - increased bodily injury - increased exposure to the elements


The article opens with a claim that (i) an individual's brain is wired in a way which makes change in IQ difficult for a set of healthy humans with IQ over a certain threshold which is basically orthogonal to the main thrust of the article (ii) that higher [potential] IQ has an evolutionary disadvantage Sure, one can posit that (i) occurs because of (ii): i.e. (iii) to mitigate against the risk of people harming their reproductive ability by training up their IQ, the evolutionary process selects for immutable IQ

But that seems like a hypothesis with little to recommend it against the alternate hypothesis that mutability of IQ is neutral with respect to evolution but evolving brain structures whose performance in certain tasks can be radically improved in adulthood is difficult, period. Especially when one considers that high IQ at birth isn't eliminated from the gene pool, and marked increases in 1930-normalised IQ between generations doesn't appear to markedly disadvantage modern Westerners.

Similarly, it seems simpler to accept that the phenotype "potential 140 IQ" is the consequence of specific, rare combinations of certain genes which overall aren't correlated with survival, without positing side effects of IQ-linked genes. Ubermensch can't be bred because their kids aren't clones rather than because they're necessarily deficient in other ways.

I'd see the incidence of Tay Sachs disease as a counterexample to the theory that high performance in a specific brain function necessarily has evolutionary tradeoffs. Ashkenazi Jews on average test with higher verbal and mathematical intelligence and lower spatial intelligence than other ethnic groups, which could imply that human brains naturally-selected for optimal function in one area are punished in other areas. Ashkenazi Jews are also more likely to carry the recessive gene for the very rare and very debilitating Tay-Sachs disease. But since 26 out of 27 Ashkenazi Jews don't have that recessive gene, which afaik is uncorrelated with IQ amongst Ashkenazi Jews, it suggests the common factor between Askhenazi intelligence and Ashkenazi Tay-Sachs incidence is inbreeding. Reduced average spatial intelligence could, like Tay-Sachs, be the unfortunate effect of a restricted gene pool rather than an "tradeoff" which must inevitably be caused by higher scores in other tests.


> alternate hypothesis that mutability of IQ is neutral with respect to evolution but evolving brain structures whose performance in certain tasks can be radically improved in adulthood is difficult, period.

Merely 'difficult' is not much of a counter-argument - almost every component of a human being is at least 'difficult' to design. There doesn't seem to be reason to believe creating higher intelligence is especially more costly, in comparison to the already achieved intelligence.


> it’s not too surprising that human medicine may be largely wasted effort or harmful 13 (although most - especially doctors - would strenuously deny this).

This claim requires evidence, but the citation is to a blog post about nutrition, not medicine.


> This claim requires evidence, but the citation is to a blog post about nutrition, not medicine.

I didn't realize nutrition had nothing to do with medicine. And actually, the citation is to a list of 24 posts by Hanson covering various aspects of the negative case for medicine, including but not limited to nutrition.


Human brain is stupid - fit to the wrong environment. I was thinking the other day: Babies are afraid of strangers, any new people, especially if those are a little scary. But that makes no sense in modern countries - nobody ever threatens this child, and if on off-change somebody does, he'll try to be as "friendly" as possible when doing so. Children scares make no sense! Adult anxiety makes no sense either!


I think that should civilization collapse a lot of behaviors will begin to make a lot of sense. Hopefully that never occurs.


I've been collecting examples of the abuse and misunderstanding of the no-free-lunch theorems, and this is a pretty flagrant one:

> "Any simple major enhancement to human intelligence is a net evolutionary disadvantage." The lesson is that Mother Nature know best. Or alternately, TANSTAAFL: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.


Why do you think that is wrong?


The NFL theorem (for search and optimisation) states that all algorithms for searching a fixed problem space perform the same, in expectation, when you don't know anything about the fitness (cost) structure over that space. There is a tradeoff in a sense: an algorithm can only do better than random search on some instances of the problem if it does worse on others. There's no sense of a tradeoff between multiple objectives on a single instance of a search problem, which is what gwern is talking about.


I believe it's actually a reference to the general expression "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" and has little to do with the computer science theorem of a similar name.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_ain't_no_such_thing_as_a...)


Yes, but Gwern links to the wiki page on the NFL theorems.


Intelligence is not an unalloyed good as the article claims. An excess of intelligence without some outlet for it produces frustration and, in extreme cases, depression.


So it has a cost, exactly as the article claims?

The very point of the article is that there is no free lunch. Intelligence improvements are bound to be trade-offs, because otherwise they'd have evolved already. Frustration and depression may be some of these costs.


Another day, another gwern.net post.


Not a fan?


It's not that I am not a fan, but it's just strange that we've been seeing so many posts from gwern.net, considering he's been writing for many years. This article, for example, is from 2010.


He explained why he's submitting so many nine days ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6466422. He constanly updates and expands the articles on his website, so it isn't so strange for an article created in 2010 to be posted now. This post, for example, was last modified today.


I find the overall argument to be rather weak. The most relevant problem is that it starts on a premise that might as well be this: "Intelligence is a substance, and a nootropic is a drug that makes the brain produce more of it."

Of course I've intentionally phrased this as to make it seem ludicrous, but throughout the article he talks of "more" or "less" intelligence as though it were a fungible sort of thing. Really, though, intelligence is just a way that human beings interpret each other's behavior, related to performance on various tasks (mathematics, etc). There's no particular reason to assume that evolution would have optimized for, e.g., skill in mathematical analysis, and therefore there isn't any particular reason to assume that even the silliest of low-hanging fruit wouldn't have been picked, for instance an elderly and distinguished analyst, such as Paul Erdos, may benefit from taking amphetamine.

There are also radical differences in what we measure as "IQ", which is mostly performance on a battery of strange tasks, and the sort of mental performance that leads to evolutionary success. There are, for example, arguments to the evolutionary sufficiency of ADHD[1], OCD[2].

1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter_vs._farmer_hypothesis

2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocd#Causes

More critically, though, is that this represents yet another article on the basis of "I-think-it-oughta" evolutionary reasoning. You think "intellectual low-hanging fruit" ought to be selected for, but you don't have empirical evidence. The claim is based almost entirely on hand-waving and citations of Eliezer Yudkowsky, who is not in any case an authoritative source [3], and whose claims have not been in general accepted by contemporary neuroscientists [4].

3: http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.se/2010/09/eliezer-yudkow...

4: notably absent here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_human_intelligence and here: http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=evolution+intelligence+a...

Meanwhile, experimental evidence is contradicted. For instance, amphetamine is correlated with improvements in IQ, not to the tune of 20 points, more like four[5]. In fact, things as random -- and ostensibly detrimental -- as mescaline[6] can improve certain aspects of mental functioning, albeit at the cost of others. That what are essentially shots in the dark can produce noticeable improvements in certain qualities bodes well for rational drug design, which has been a success in other fields e.g. cisplatin vs. imatinib.

5: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amphetamine#Medical

6: http://www.medpagetoday.com/Psychiatry/Addictions/2070

Another thing that is important to keep in mind is that the workings of the body can be highly counterintuitive. For instance, one might expect choline supplementation to increase the level of brain acetylcholine. It seems natural, right? But it's not true[7]. Furthermore, while piracetam's effects are commonly considered to be affected (and side-effects reduced) by choline supplementation[8], it is now generally believed to act primarily as an allosteric modulator on ion channels linked to AMPA-sensitive glutamate receptors[9]. Facile reasoning of the sort "what negative effects might have prevented evolution from doing this" thus cannot, itself, tell us very much.

7: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mrm.1910390619/fu...

8: popular claim on longecity et al, e.g.: http://www.pillscout.com/2013/06/17/your-piracetam-dosage-is... , http://www.bluelight.ru/vb/threads/181563-any-piracetam-user...

9: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jm901905j

The most immediately difficult claim to me is the advocacy of spaced repetition, when it is not clear why the claims of the article necessarily apply to drugs but not to techniques such as this -- could we not evolve to use it instinctively?

For all this, there is a little useful data in the article. It is indeed widely suspected that choline is underrepresented in modern diets[10], possibly because major dietary sources of choline include eggs and fatty meats, which have been discouraged in Western diets due to a now-controversial belief that cholesterol and saturated fats are antinutrients. There are indeed large differences between WEIRD[11] and historical environments, many of which go without mention -- socializing is much easier, our lives demand much less energy, the risk of malnutrition has been all but eliminated, etc.

10: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choline

11: http://www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/jvt002/BrainMind/Readings/H...

The general thrust of my post is that "evolution" is not an argument that computer scientists can throw around in order to do biology without actually studying it[12], and that evolutionary psychology is often subject to epistemological problems, cf. The Emperor's New Paradigm[13].

12: http://www.amazon.com/Behavioral-Genetics-Robert-Plomin/dp/1...

13: http://commons.lib.niu.edu/bitstream/10843/13182/1/BullerTiC...


> I find the overall argument to be rather weak. The most relevant problem is that it starts on a premise that might as well be this: "Intelligence is a substance, and a nootropic is a drug that makes the brain produce more of it."

Which of course it is not. Some supplements work on a deficiency principle, but many do not.

> Of course I've intentionally phrased this as to make it seem ludicrous, but throughout the article he talks of "more" or "less" intelligence as though it were a fungible sort of thing.

Performance is a measurable thing. It is measured all the time. There didn't have to be a positive manifold to cognitive performance, we could live in a world where there are two kinds of mental performance which are zero-sum - but nevertheless, there is a _g_.

> There's no particular reason to assume that evolution would have optimized for, e.g., skill in mathematical analysis, and therefore there isn't any particular reason to assume that even the silliest of low-hanging fruit wouldn't have been picked, for instance an elderly and distinguished analyst, such as Paul Erdos, may benefit from taking amphetamine.

Of course there's no reason to expect evolution to optimize human intelligence for humans' culturally-based and idiosyncratic desires. It optimizes for reproductive fitness. Hence if we optimize ourselves for our own desires, we are probably incurring a fitness cost, and satisfying one of the loopholes.

(I swear, I am amazed at how every time this essay shows up somewhere, I can reliably count on someone to take one of the loopholes - and no matter how repeatedly, clearly, explicitly, in bulleted or enumerated lists, I have stated them - someone will proudly take a loophole and offer it as a refutation: 'ah, what if we optimize thousands of genes simultaneously? ah, what if nature optimizes for reproduction and not our desires? ah, what about the latest self-improvement fad like dual n-back which might add an IQ point or two?')

> There are also radical differences in what we measure as "IQ", which is mostly performance on a battery of strange tasks, and the sort of mental performance that leads to evolutionary success. There are, for example, arguments to the evolutionary sufficiency of ADHD[1], OCD[2]. > > 1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter_vs._farmer_hypothesis > 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocd#Causes

Those are cute examples, I'll borrow those.

> More critically, though, is that this represents yet another article on the basis of "I-think-it-oughta" evolutionary reasoning.

No, it follows from straightforward reasoning about natural selection. How could intelligence be selected for if it does not have a fitness advantage? If it has a fitness advantage, why has it not reached fixation? And so on.

> You think "intellectual low-hanging fruit" ought to be selected for, but you don't have empirical evidence. The claim is based almost entirely on hand-waving and citations of Eliezer Yudkowsky, who is not in any case an authoritative source [3], and whose claims have not been in general accepted by contemporary neuroscientists [4].

You are badly mistaken here. I am not citing Yudkowsky because his authority 'makes it so', and it's interesting that you immediately jump to thinking that. I quote him because he formulated the idea well, and I think in some respects better than Bostrom's later paper, and his formulation makes a good jumping off point for all the other material I discuss, which is heavily referenced and generally to as standard authorities as one could wish for.

> Meanwhile, experimental evidence is contradicted. For instance, amphetamine is correlated with improvements in IQ, not to the tune of 20 points, more like four[5]. In fact, things as random -- and ostensibly detrimental -- as mescaline[6] can improve certain aspects of mental functioning, albeit at the cost of others. That what are essentially shots in the dark can produce noticeable improvements in certain qualities bodes well for rational drug design, which has been a success in other fields e.g. cisplatin vs. imatinib.

There is nothing 'random' about your choice of those substances and it is dishonest to describe it as so. You chose ampehtamines and mescaline because they are some of the very few substances which can claim to improve mental functioning as opposed to be inert or poisons. (Is a random pharmaceutical drug a random drug? No, because it has been through a rigorous selection process which may have examined hundreds of thousands of millions of chemicals in the pharmacorp or university's search for new drugs.) And as you point out, the benefits are offset by costs: mescaline has some famous effects, but amphetamines in the experiments also damage performance on some tasks. Finally, you do not show how these substances are completely free lunches, and so your entire paragraph is a non sequitur.

> Another thing that is important to keep in mind is that the workings of the body can be highly counterintuitive. For instance, one might expect choline supplementation to increase the level of brain acetylcholine. It seems natural, right? But it's not true[7].

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S092549270... "Oral choline increases choline metabolites in human brain"

> it is now generally believed to act primarily as an allosteric modulator on ion channels linked to AMPA-sensitive glutamate receptors[9].

Could you elaborate on how your reference supports your assertion? It seems to be about discovering (half a century later) that piracetam also affects some other receptor, but I see nothing in it to support your claims about 'it is now generally believed' to act 'primarily' on this receptor.

> The most immediately difficult claim to me is the advocacy of spaced repetition, when it is not clear why the claims of the article necessarily apply to drugs but not to techniques such as this -- could we not evolve to use it instinctively?

We do use it by default. That's what it is: multiple presentations over long time periods form strong memories. The presence of the spacing effect in many differing species (http://www.gwern.net/Spaced%20repetition#generality-of-spaci...) and different kinds of memories suggests that it's a heuristic for recognizing important regularly-repeating features of one's environment, rather than expanding substantial resources memorizing noise and regularly refreshing the synapses (see the Tononi papers for more discussion of the metabolic costs of sleep & memory). Spaced repetition itself is about faking this repeating regularity by a practice involving flash cards.

> The general thrust of my post is that "evolution" is not an argument that computer scientists can throw around in order to do biology without actually studying it[12], and that evolutionary psychology is often subject to epistemological problems, cf. The Emperor's New Paradigm[13].

I am not a computer scientist. As for the rest, readers can make up their own minds.


I feel most of what you said simply contradicts me. That you have not bothered to do basic research here is evident:

>No, it follows from straightforward reasoning about natural selection. How could intelligence be selected for if it does not have a fitness advantage? If it has a fitness advantage, why has it not reached fixation? And so on.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_human_intelligence

This is why. It should be the first goddamn thing you look up. Or, you know, a systematic review of some sort. Not your intuition. If something doesn't serve the primary drivers of the evolution of intelligence --which by no means must select for general intelligence as measured by the Raven Progressive Matrices Test, then it need not be selected for! This isn't, of course something you should take from me. Read something. By someone who actually studies biology. u.u


> I feel most of what you said simply contradicts me.

I feel I provided clear argument and at least as many citations, combined with less sloppy research and supercilious arrogance. And I note that you aren't bothering to address a single one of my points, such as pointing out that your confident claims about choline supplementation seem to be totally false.

> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_human_intelligence

I am sure you will be glad to explain to me, beyond a bare URL.

> If something doesn't serve the primary drivers of the evolution of intelligence --which by no means must select for general intelligence as measured by the Raven Progressive Matrices Test, then it need not be selected for!

I never said evolution optimizes performance on a RAPM and most of the essay was about this.


Let's say you have a dog, and you want to make it as smart as a person. How would you do that? Giving it drugs won't work. The dog is limited by the brain structures that make it distinct from a human. Regardless of whatever drugs or supplements you give it, the dog will always act like a dog. Maybe it will be slightly smarter, but not in any truly astonishing way. Maybe with the right drug, it could learn 100 words instead of 20. But the dog won't be able to do everything a person can do.

The same goes for people. There's no way you'd be able to make a person meaningfully smarter through supplementation or drugs.


Essentially you just said:

> Supplementation could hypothetically improve the cognitive ability of dogs. But it could never make them as smart as humans.

> The same goes for humans. Supplementation could never improve their cognitive abilities.

I suppose maybe this shoddy little syllogism would be forgivable if you haven't had your coffee yet this morning.


> I suppose maybe this shoddy little syllogism would be forgivable if you haven't had your coffee yet this morning.

Caffeine may not be improving his intelligence, but removing damage ie. withdrawal. (And so about as surprising as 'lack of sleep deprivation increases intelligence!' or 'lack of iodine deficiency increases intelligence!') This is one of the challenges of studying addictive stimulants: how do you know whether, for experienced tolerant users, the apparent benefits are genuine benefits or just treating withdrawal?


It's a really interesting question. I'm looking askew at the coffee cup in front of me. I suppose it makes the most sense for studies to begin prior to first exposure; to have data on subjects going back perhaps even as long as it takes for them to become tolerant. I suppose factoring out the effect of learning for a long-term study which involves cognitive tests is it's own challenge as well? I'm enjoying http://www.gwern.net/Nootropics#caffeine now :)


coffee would help, if supplements can improve cognitive ability.


A little distraction for the Larry David file: It's annoying when you make a joke, and someone points out the joke as if you are unaware you are even making it. It's like they are simultaneously usurping credit for the wittiness, and insulting the intelligence of the originator. Why improve your cognitive ability at all, it's smart to be dumb.

And how about the food they serve on airplanes? Come on am I right?


I can't help but feel you did not bother to read the linked article, since the whole thing is about wondering why you can't make a person smarter, and with not just one, but a number of arguments all far more sophisticated and grounded in science than what you just tried.


I don't think you can know that. What if the drug turns on genes responsible for building more "brain structures"?

Or what if the human brain is currently artificially limited say to conserve energy and a drug could remove that limitation.


The problem with your logic is that improving a humans intelligence by as much as the difference between a dog and a human is a HUGE leap in intelligence. There are far smaller jumps in intelligence that are still meaningful that fit into the span of dog to human intelligence.


I believe that gwern is a little too obsessed about IQ.


It's common on less wrong to be very pro-IQ. I think this is a mix of contrarianism and desperately wanting to be superior at something, since most people on less wrong don't seem to be terribly well-off in other respects.

That said, it does seem like IQ correlates well with various other measures of success, unless all of the articles Gwern cites are wrong in some way (which is fairly probable), so you'd expect something to be there.


Gwern has some very good essays; I don't think this is one of them, because it's about 'laws' created on less wrong rather than anything actionable.

It seems possible to dismiss this entire article with another less wrong catechism: "life isn't fair."


> It seems possible to dismiss this entire article with another less wrong catechism: "life isn't fair."

I don't see how that's remotely relevant.


Well, it's a bit of a fully general counterargument, but then, so is "there's no such thing as a free lunch."

> If the proposed intervention would result in an enhancement, why have we not already evolved to be that way?

Life isn't fair.

Drugs seem to make you think faster/stay up later/be happier? Evolution didn't get it right the first time? Life isn't fair.


> Well, it's a bit of a fully general counterargument, but then, so is "there's no such thing as a free lunch."

It's not a fully general counterargument because it predicts a lot of things. Claiming that's a fully general counterargument is like saying the Halting problem is a fully general counterargument. It isn't.

> Life isn't fair.

Huh? How does that follow? 'Water is flowing uphill. Guess life isn't fair.' 'The hot air is not dispersing throughout the room due to convection. Guess life isn't fair.' 'Wall Street is incorrectly pricing a derivative, leaving billions in profit on the floor. Guess life isn't fair.'


>Huh? How does that follow?

Evolution isn't guaranteed to arrive at optimal outcomes at any given point in time. Obviously "algernon's law" isn't a, you know, law, because if that were the case humans wouldn't exist because any increase in intelligence would be accompanied by a corresponding drop in chimpanzee fitness.

Why are modern humans the point where this stops being true? The whole thing smells like sour grapes.

Why do people on MDMA have so much fun? Because life isn't fair. All the people who lived before MDMA will never have that much fun. Evolution just didn't hit the lucky path where humans are constantly tripping balls. Life isn't fair.

>It's not a fully general counterargument because it predicts a lot of things.

So what doesn't it predict?

>Claiming that's a fully general counterargument is like saying the Halting problem is a fully general counterargument. It isn't.

Well, the specific counterexample that indicates the halting problem is never generally solvable is not a fully general counterargument, yes. But I don't see how this is related.

Is there some reason why you think that using drug therapies to drastically increase human general intelligence is an impossibility akin to water flowing uphill? This is the logical step that the article failed to convey adequately to me.


> Why are modern humans the point where this stops being true? The whole thing smells like sour grapes.

Humans are the exception that proves the rule, just like efficient markets hypothesis does not mean that no one makes money on Wall Street - but the vanishing few people with the skills and knowledge make money. It is an observation that the base rate of successful improvement must be extremely tiny.

> All the people who lived before MDMA will never have that much fun. Evolution just didn't hit the lucky path where humans are constantly tripping balls. Life isn't fair.

To give the example I already gave in my essay, evolution may or may not have hit the lucky path, but if it did, because it disables perception of danger, the goofy lucky people would be quickly eliminated by Inspector Darwin.

> So what doesn't it predict?

It predicts that if we discover a genuine improvement in intelligence, it will be complex, fitness-reducing, or tiny. This is a very strong and specific prediction which seems to be doing well.

> Is there some reason why you think that using drug therapies to drastically increase human general intelligence is an impossibility akin to water flowing uphill?

Water flowing uphill is not an impossibility: it is extremely unlikely. I chose my examples to be unlikely but not impossible - just like it is not impossible that someone will discover a way to majorly increase intelligence which is simple and without reproductive fitness penalties, it's just incredibly unlikely.


>Humans are the exception that proves the rule,

You know, this phrase actually means "an exception that makes the rule more specific," not "a counterexample that mysteriously makes the rule more likely."

>To give the example I already gave in my essay, evolution may or may not have hit the lucky path, but if it did, because it disables perception of danger, the goofy lucky people would be quickly eliminated by Inspector Darwin.

This is a post-hoc justification, not an advance prediction, and not a finding of a focused research campaign. As is the rest of this article.

You haven't convinced me that any of those things are fitness-reducing! On the contrary, I think that to the extent that humans are fitness-maximizers rather than adaptation-executers, those things all increase fitness by rather a lot.

>This is a very strong and specific prediction which seems to be doing well.

Don't the legions of coked-up amphetamined-up professionals totally disprove this?




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