January 8, 2013

"More intelligence and fewer offspring?"

"Perhaps Idiocracy was stating a more general rule...."

But another thing...
When it comes to humans, for example, though our brains are only 2% of our bodies, they take up a whopping 20% of our energy requirements. 
If that's really true, it could be the key to why one person can eat heartily and never gain weight while the next person, eating the same thing, gets fat. Maybe it's a big brain/small brain distinction. Also, is it possible that instead of going to the gym or getting on a bicycle when we hope to lose weight, what we really should be doing is studying calculus or reading philosophy?

ADDED: Idiocracy primer:

73 comments:

Paul said...

Nice try Ann but keep in mind EIGHTY PERCENT of the body is NOT the brian.

People need to get off their fat arse (including me) and go work out. The old formula holds true. Eat less, exercise more.

Paul said...

Excuse me... NINETY EIGHT percent is not the brain and EIGHT percent of the engery is not used by the brain.

Math is hard for me without my morning twinkee.

wyo sis said...

Thus, the saying, fat and happy.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

As always, Natural Selection provides the answer.

Given enough time, and subject to environmental pressures, an organism will evolve just about any feature you can imagine, as long as it provides a survival advantage which can then be passed on to other generations.

And once you are top of the food chain, it works to make you not TOO dominant, lest you win/eat all the food and die out from too much success.

So the brain is as big as it is, and no bigger, because it doesn't need to be bigger to get top billing.

Shouting Thomas said...

Big Joe, the lead guitar player in the Old Dawgz, just had another grandkid.

He's spawned a hell of a litter. I can't even count all the grandkids. Sure as hell can't remember their names.

This may be proof that the Idiocracy theory is valid!

We've tried to kill him, repeatedly, but his head is too damned hard.

So, Italian Catholic guitar players from the Bronx are your future. Be very afraid!

sparrow said...

Intelligence is only self limiting when it's conducive to arrogance and selfishness. That video was the typical sneering condescension reserved for those who have lots of kids.

ironrailsironweights said...

As I understand it, brain size doesn't differ that much from person to person, and most of the differences are attributable to differences in overall body size. It's not something that would explain why some people can lose weight easier than others.

Peter

creeley23 said...

Human brains don't vary that much in size to account for such different responses to diet.

I'm persuaded by the Gary Taubes argument that it's not calories-in/calories-out that drives weight gain so much as carbohydrates from sugar, flour, and starches coupled with an individual's response to carbohydrates.

http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Gary-Taubes-on-ldquo-Why-We-Get-Fat-rdquo-2376593.php

Seeing Red said...

I was reading The Belmont Club and he was discussing Tolkien & The Hobbitt.

Tolkien covered this in Akallabeth, the sneering & disdain for kids.

HT said...

Thank you Peter for pointing out the glaringly obvious.

Idiocracy is a very funny movie! ("I got my here [Costco].")

Ann, will you EVER read Taubes?

traditionalguy said...

Runaway Brains!

When given the choice, brains like to eat fats and proteins on a caveman diet. But the family that eats together has to first develop social taboos against eating a diet of humans. That's how evolution rolls.



Seeing Red said...

As I sit here sipping on my soda....I read him, not doing so well.

I think I'll go make some eggs.

Shouting Thomas said...

So, it's going to be all Julias and Big Joe's.

God help us!

Our next president will probably be Mandingo!

Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) said...

We must remember there's a huge difference between intellect and "intelligence". Some of the least intelligent people I know are highly intellectual people, and the closer they get to American academia the worse it becomes on balance.

For example, it takes real intelligence to develop and maintain a successful business. Ditto for successful parenting. I am close to two families who've built good businesses whilst (between them) raising 13 happy, productive, well-adjusted children to responsible adulthood.

Such people are of much greater value and benefit to society than all the professors and students of "XYZ Studies" combined.

sparrow said...

Bart,

You're talking EQ vs IQ and you have a point

Bob Ellison said...

The Beginning Was the End explains the most important relationship between brains and humans.

AEH said...

Althouse said: "Also, is it possible that instead of going to the gym or getting on a bicycle when we hope to lose weight, what we really should be doing is studying calculus or reading philosophy?"

The article discussed that through evolution, we learned to eat meat to get more energy out of less food. Now, food is easily accessible, so people eat too much food with more energy (calories). And studying is a perfect time to snack on empty calories.

AllenS said...

The size of the brain isn't important. It's what you do with it that matters.

Mitchell the Bat said...

Guppies are smart enough that they'll spit out their own excrement after they try to eat it, but they're dumb enough that they'll do it repeatedly, even with the same turd, until it disintegrates and no longer resembles a worm.

Gulp, spit, gulp, spit, gulp, spit, gulp, spit.

Observing the process can induce thoughtfulness in a sixth grader.

Brew Master said...

Idiocracy is indeed a hilarious movie, and fun to point out the current paralells in our own society.

However, evolution favoring lower intellegence only holds true during time of plenty. When food is cheap and easy to acquire, then a society can support more non-productive members.

Once food becomes scarce, hard to acquire, intelligence once again becomes a more important trait.

It will take relativly hard times to reassert, but evolution will always favor the smarter, quicker, faster set over the dumbe, slow set when it comes to competition for food.

EMD said...

Given enough time, and subject to environmental pressures, an organism will evolve just about any feature you can imagine, as long as it provides a survival advantage which can then be passed on to other generations.

This is bullshit. Shouldn't mothers have third arms by now?

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann, will you EVER read Taubes?"

Taubes is Dr. Atkins, written for men. Meade read it for me. Duh. Everyone knows carbs are the problem. Low carb. Noted. Don't eat bread, potatoes, pasta, crackers, rice... all that starch (and of course not sugar). I've known that since before Taubes published that book.

jr565 said...

It strikes me that the two smart people in the example have very little in the way if emotional intelligence. Meanwhile the dummies seem to grasp the intricacies of social interaction as naturally as breathing. The two smart people though have perfected aloofness as a way of life.

I'm not sure if aloofness is necessarily a character trait of smart people but its definitely a defect in this case.

I see a lot of Elizabeth Wurtzel in these two, obvious, liberals. They're directionless but insistent on following their barren course to the grave.

bpm4532 said...

Thank god Obama only spawned two females.

jr565 said...


"Given enough time, and subject to environmental pressures, an organism will evolve just about any feature you can imagine, as long as it provides a survival advantage which can then be passed on to other generations."

do you ever foresee a time when we as a race will grow wings? Any variation is already encoded in the DNA.

Hagar said...

In nature, it is not that the best suited to the present conditions survive, but that those least suited do not.
And it is not the same thing at all.

AprilApple said...

You can bring your kindle to the gym.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

For anyone else troubled by deja vu:

Trevor in the video is Mad Men's obnoxious stand-up comic Jimmy Barrett, portrayed by actor Patrick Fischler.

ironrailsironweights said...

Not long ago, I read at West Hunter that dysgenic breeding (nincompoops having more children than smart people) is a very long-term threat, if it is a threat at all. Under a worst-case scenario it will cause a population group's average I.Q. score to decline by no more than one-half point per generation. As it would take a decline of at least a few points to be noticeable, no one will be able to perceive any change over the course of a human lifetime.


Peter

chrisnavin.com said...

Bart,

We need really smart people to push the boundaries of the social sciences, say, economics, and design a system. Then we need a group of intellectuals and interested parties to form a circle and keep the ideas alive. Then we just need a coup or crisis, and get a political leader to sign on.

Voila, my friend, a majority will think they thought of the ideas themselves. The air they breathe in a generation or so.

Fernandinande said...

Seriously old hat: check out "r/K selection".

chrisnavin.com said...

I should say just one economist or political philosopher. Common law and separation of powers offer the people some protection, from economists and political philosophers and themselves. Tyranny of the majority and all that.

In the meantime enjoy keynsians and socialist leaning Krugmans to guide folks like Obama as they grasp at the brass rings.

Your families will be footing the bill for as long as they're needed

X said...

I'm not sure about any of this

Peter said...

See also "The Marching Morons" by C.M. Kornbluth.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_19?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=the+marching+morons&sprefix=the+marching+morons%2Caps%2C1256

creeley23 said...

Taubes is Dr. Atkins, written for men. Meade read it for me. Duh. Everyone knows carbs are the problem. Low carb. Noted. Don't eat bread, potatoes, pasta, crackers, rice... all that starch (and of course not sugar). I've known that since before Taubes published that book.

Ann: Geez. If you understood Taubes, you wouldn't have posed such a stupid topic premise.

You would also not claim:

* Everyone knows that bread, rice, pasta are the problem.

Current medical wisdom and government policy on diet doesn't know this; in fact it's quite the opposite. It's based on the calorie-in/calorie-out model and the new food pryarmid recommending bread, cereal, rice and pasta as the foundation of a good diet, while fats and oils are on par with candy bars.

* Taubes is Atkins for men.

I'd be surprised if Atkins was even Atkins for women. I heard about Atkins from guys myself.

In any event Taubes is a highly respected science journalist who tried Atkins out of desperation and scientific curiousity. When it worked, diet became the focus of his writing and he began a crusade to reform current scientific understanding of diet.

It's working. Taubes has raised the debate of low-fat vs. low-carb diet to a high national scientific level. Authorities, who succeeded in dismissing and vilifying Atkins as a quack, are having much more difficulty combating Taubes and justifying the low-fat diet.

Taubes now has the backing of a foundation to do scientific research to test the claims of the low-fat vs low-carb approaches.

That's quite a story.

SteveR said...

The problem with most discussions where "evolution" (especialy of humans) is involved is that we really don't have a good handle on time. As much as we'd like to think that some modern technological or medical advance means anything, anytime soon, it won't. Lifespan and living conditions is not genetics. Large animals with wings flunked the test.

HT said...

I'm not sure if I am ready to deify Taubes yet, I still have questions, but Neeley, you nailed the response perfectly.

HT said...

This one was especially true:

I'd be surprised if Atkins was even Atkins for women. I heard about Atkins from guys myself.

The guy I was dating years ago was so into Atkins and all the supposed wisdom. I could not have cared less!

Taubes on the other hand, I like.

MrCharlie2 said...

ow, my balls

Carol said...

Taubes is Dr. Atkins, written for men.

Well, plus the history of the suppression of low-carb dieting by the government. I mean back in the sixties every girl knew to avoid bread and starches, and eat steak and salad, when you could.

Then everything went whack.

edutcher said...

If smart people were that smart, they'd have more kids, so they wouldn't be surrounded by idiots.

Of course, "doin' whut comes natcherly" is the most a lot of people have on their minds. The rest are thinking.

So we gotta put a stop to all that thinking and start shtupping?

Expat(ish) said...

Hmmm, I did the atkins thing and lost weight but got it all back.

I switched my diet to a very balanced diet of lower fat protiens lower on the food chain (fish over steak, beans over fish) and with a much lower daily intake.

Voila, 70+ lbs lost and staying off with east. If I could give up beer I'd be back at my high school weight in a month. :-)

There is a calorie-in/out part to this equation too. If I ate the exact same balance with 1.5x as many calories....

Final thought: I think we get dumber as we get older. It's just that some portion of older people learn to STFU so they seems smarter than they are.

-XC

Bruce Hayden said...

Given enough time, and subject to environmental pressures, an organism will evolve just about any feature you can imagine, as long as it provides a survival advantage which can then be passed on to other generations.

And once you are top of the food chain, it works to make you not TOO dominant, lest you win/eat all the food and die out from too much success.

So the brain is as big as it is, and no bigger, because it doesn't need to be bigger to get top billing.


A couple of tweaks here. First, evolution mostly works towards maximizing genetic inheritance, and, thus, it isn't survival per se, but rather, that of grandchildren, etc. Thus, fish may die right after spawning, but cancer and Alzheimer's avoidance in humans is weakly pushed because it mostly affects us after we are done breeding.

And, the human brain size (and associated IQ) is fairly complicated trade offs. As noted, energy requirements rise as the brain gets bigger, but female hips get broader and our maturity is delayed, and these latter two factors maybe even more important. Hip size already affects how women walk, and if our young were born much more helpless, would they survive at all? We are probably at a finely balanced temporary optimum in terms of brain size and IQ.

But, if we don't blow ourselves up, over the next umpteen thousands of years, I suspect that at least for some of our descendants, brain size and IQ may increase over time. Female hip size may soon be of lesser impact, since we rarely now have to run for our lives from other predators, plus we already have C Sections and artificial wombs are on the horizon. And, our kids have less need for maturing somewhat quickly, so that constraint may be reduced. Heat from all those calories being burned? Air conditioning.

There still are advantages to brain power, and they are probably greater in some respects than ever before. It is probably not a total coincidence that the richest man on the planet for much of the last 20 or so years got perfect 800s on his SATs, and then dropped out of Harvard out of boredom. The top 1% or 2% in earning power (ignoring Hollywood) collectively tend to be notably smarter then the rest of the population, maybe 1-2 standard deviations above the mean in IQ (doctors, lawyers, etc. average one STD over the mean, and the average ones are typically not in the top tier of earnings).

The problem is that extreme wealth does not, any more, translate into more offspring, as it used to. Something about an aversion to polygamy. Well, maybe large wealth, because extreme wealth insulates from the financial pressures that couple was discussing.

Still, it wouldn't be surprising to me if in those umpteen thousands of years, if we did not develop somewhat into two species - one with even larger brains, and the other not, because the thing that is ignored is assortive mating. The best place to meet and marry a lawyer is in law school, and similar with engineering schools, graduate schools, etc. And, if you don't do it then, in the workplace working as peers. This is the facet that I suspect will drive the divergence the fastest, if there is one.

Carol said...

I hope people don't think the movie itself was "disdainful" of large families. It's just that the people doing that now should not be. A hundred years ago, it was quite different, with middle class Victorian families spawning as many as they could, "for the race" and all that.

Oops.

Captain Curt said...

While this is somewhat out of my area of expertise, I have read that more intense thinking does not increase the energy requirements of the brain. The reason the brain is such an energy hog is that it requires steady energy to keep areas INactive. (As a designer of power electronic circuitry, I find this curious, and evidence against "intelligent design".)

The fact that the brain requires 20+% of the body's energy, and therefore 20+% of the body's flow of warm blood (which cannot be restricted when the body is cold, as can the arms and legs) is almost surely the reason we still have fur over the brain, and the brain only - to prevent radical heat loss. (A description of Napoleon's army freezing in the Russian winter said that every night, the bald men went first.)

However, my kids have come home from high school science class saying that it is not correct to assume that because 20% of the blood flow is to the brain, that 20% of our heat loss is from the brain.

AprilApple said...

The bad news? In the future we will have trash-a-lanches, tall buildings tied together with rope, and our highway system will be in such disrepair that many will drive off the collapsed end into a low IQ abyss.

The good news? Costco will have a high speed train.

Bob_R said...

The biggest takeaway from Taubes is that the "science" of diet and exercise makes macro economics look like celestial mechanics. (And macro is only slightly better than astrology.)

Another relevant observation from Taubes is that expending a lot of energy makes you hungry. Probably doesn't matter if it is physical or mental. I do advanced math every day and I'm obese. (Getting rid of carbs is helping with that.) What we don't understand (and - going to an earlier thread - what Chris Christie doesn't understand) is why these urges are so much stronger in some people than others. (Before you tell me that you have the same urges as I, but you have more self control, please explain why Lindsey Lohan and Charlie Sheen are thin.)

Jake Diamond said...

Also, is it possible that instead of going to the gym or getting on a bicycle when we hope to lose weight, what we really should be doing is studying calculus or reading philosophy?

More Althouse idiocy.

edutcher said...

From someone who expends no mental energy at all.

Pastafarian said...

I think the secret to weight loss is to drink more water.

Water, like from out of the toilet.

Bruce Hayden said...

I see a lot of Elizabeth Wurtzel in these two, obvious, liberals. They're directionless but insistent on following their barren course to the grave.

The problem there is that it isn't just liberals. Rather, it is much of the upper middle class. A couple of things are in play here.

First, and foremost, economics. If you want your kids to get into the best colleges so that they can get into the best graduate schools, it is likely going to cost money. Money for tuition to college, but also money for either private K-12 or for living in a neighborhood with top schools. And it does matter.

Secondly, the best jobs these days most often require graduate school, and if you get married and start having kids younger, the women, at least, are unlikely to ever do so, or do so so late that they rarely can build top careers. So, we have a lot of people skipping breeding during their top breeding years to get through grad school at a decent age, and, not surprisingly, they are less fertile. Decreasing fertility throughout our lives is partially a result of our ancestors rarely living into middle age (and, therefore reproductive resources were pushed forward, where they would do the most good evolutionarily). These young adults are essentially trading breeding capability for undergraduate and graduate degrees, and the likelihood of much higher lifetime earnings.

Third, and relatedly, for the upper middle class, raising kids well takes more resources on a per child basis than was spent on most of us. Not only are we talking quality individual time with parents, but also specialized education, etc. for any problems, sports and fine arts opportunities, etc.

As for liberal/conservative - I would suggest that this all is more conservative than liberal. The liberal ideal is collectivism, and, in many cases, socialism. In such an environment, resources will be redistributed from those who work hard, make the sacrifices, etc., to those who just breed because it is fun. The individualist, on the other hand, is more willing to take charge of his own life, and make the sacrifices necessarily to succeed, and therefore also providing his children and grandchildren with a better life than if he hadn't.

Wisco Gal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wisco Gal said...

@ Jake. Only a true idiot would bother to frequent a blog in which he found no intellectual merit. Find something more productive to do with your time than spew your negativity and contribute nothing.

Andy Freeman said...

> Also, is it possible that instead of going to the gym or getting on a bicycle when we hope to lose weight, what we really should be doing is studying calculus or reading philosophy?

What makes you think that calculus or reading philosophy increases brain energy use?

The majority of the brain is dedicated to handling vision. The next biggest fraction is for body control or hearing (I forget). "Logic" is way down the list.

So, if you're looking to increase the amount of energy used by your brain, you need visual and audio stimulus that provokes body control.

SteveR said...

Wow, beware the simple example.

Mitchell the Bat said...

I cried because I had no elliptical trainer until I met a man who had no Sudoku.

Renee said...

Massachusetts has some of the highest test scores in the nation. Most parents have one child. Not efficient. It's a wash in the end.

Sad we have 12 year olds who can do Algebra, but can't boil water.

elkh1 said...

"instead of going to the gym or getting on a bicycle when we hope to lose weight, what we really should be doing is studying calculus or reading philosophy?"

Ah, but without those brains, studying calculus makes you anxious. The next thing you know, you have finished another bag of potato chips. Reading philosophy is so boring that you glaze over and snore.

Instead of growing your brains, you have grown more guts.

elkh1 said...

AF: "if you're looking to increase the amount of energy used by your brain, you need visual and audio stimulus that provokes body control."

Hence Wii, xBox.

On the other hand, extreme audio stimulus, such as extremely loud music, destroys your hearing that very soon you can only hear your "god" speak to you in your head.

creeley23 said...

I do advanced math every day and I'm obese.

Speaking as a programmer, I find intense mental exertion doesn't burn calories so much as encourage quick sugar, cookie and caffeine hits to fuel brain work.

There is a reason that corps with big budgets offer amazing free snacks to staff. The dotcoms I worked at were awash in free M&Ms, chips, and cookies. I visited the SF Google office a few times and noticed that they had bottles of those expensive, syrupy-sweet Starbucks lattes for free.

If your body doesn't handle refined carbs well that catches up with you.

Eustace Chilke said...

I seem to recall a popular movement from a hundred years or so ago that had much to say about stupid people breeding. I can't remember what they called it.

jr565 said...

Bruce Hayden wrote:
As for liberal/conservative - I would suggest that this all is more conservative than liberal. The liberal ideal is collectivism, and, in many cases, socialism. In such an environment, resources will be redistributed from those who work hard, make the sacrifices, etc., to those who just breed because it is fun. The individualist, on the other hand, is more willing to take charge of his own life, and make the sacrifices necessarily to succeed, and therefore also providing his children and grandchildren with a better life than if he hadn't.

except the liberal would be
More bound by some ism that would
Color her viewpoint to where doing the traditional thing would be considered a sell out or bourgeoisie. The angst that many women feel about their career vs raising a family is largely a byproduct of leftist
Feminism.
And the conversation these two have about making sure they have the optimal environment before having kids and hen not having them seems much more a conversation that a liberal couple would have.
By the way, socialists felt parenthood to be burgeoise.

HT said...

i see 'socialist' and 'progressive' and 'liberal' being tossed around here and there about that clip, so let me just say that was not a movie making fun of conservatives. It was making fun of the thin uptight couple as much as the others. Am I the only one who laughed during that movie? Or am I just the only one who's seen it?

If you want to laugh and have a good time, see Idiocracy.

Alex said...

Taubes is Dr. Atkins, written for men.

Wow, I can't believe Ann could say something so dumb. Since when is the application of the scientific method a strictly male thing?

Jake Diamond said...

From someone who expends no mental energy at all.

edumbshit has finally hit on the perfect way to sign his posts!

Jake Diamond said...

Find something more productive to do with your time than spew your negativity and contribute nothing.

Visiting Althouse amuses me. Go figure.

wildswan said...

Then after the Nazi era ended IQ became THE indicator of fitness to those who held the eugenic theory. But now that's all over. There's a new eugenics called biodemography. In this theory health is THE indicator of fitness. And the world-wide birth-collapse caused by the wide sudden dissemination of contraceptives without regard for the impact on the family is a social phenomenon which is considered central. You can't have a welfare state without a growing economy; you can't have a growing economy with a shrinking population. vide Japan.

n.n said...

All obsessive behaviors have their consequences. Intellectual pursuits without moderation are not an exception.

As for thinking in lieu of exercise, consider the account deficit analogy. The federal government's 10% account deficits, year over year, are additive. After 4 years, the account deficit exceeds 40%. This is a general devaluation of our economy or, analogously, a 40% increase of our body mass. Our federal government is morbidly obese and may, in fact, be impotent.

It's not just planned parenthood which engenders evolutionary dysfunction. There is an underlying cause which produces negative effects in a diverse range of our economy, society, and biology.

Marshal said...

HT said...
Am I the only one who laughed during that movie? Or am I just the only one who's seen it?

If you want to laugh and have a good time, see Idiocracy.


The idea was interesting. The movie sucks.

HT said...

oh pshaw.

Let me guess, you didn't laff during dumb and dumber either.

Marshal said...

HT,

Never saw Dumb & Dumber.

Idiocracy was too in your face. I prefer my comedy more like Groundhog Day - funny but with a story. I would have preferred the characters struggle to realize what was going on, perhaps with some pointed commentary about people assuming everything is fine "because that's how things get done" and "don't worry the best and the brightest are in charge".

Methadras said...

The brain is made of nearly all fat. It is also the most expensive tissue in the body. Keeping that in mind, the body requires a certain amount of fat in ones diet. What that is for whoever that may be will be different.

Methadras said...

sparrow said...

Intelligence is only self limiting when it's conducive to arrogance and selfishness. That video was the typical sneering condescension reserved for those who have lots of kids.


These people will produce nothing of note regardless of their IQ's. Instead they will seek insular succor to shield themselves from the scrutiny against their ideas. Basically they are mouth breathers without children. Go team.