"Brilliant scientist" reveals simplistic views on I.Q.

Somebody figured I’d enjoy this talk by Neil deGrasse Tyson. As a matter of fact, I did rather enjoy it. He’s a good speaker and brings up some good points. But what he said at the end gave me pause. In case you don’t want to listen to the entire talk yourself, I have transcribed the relevant parts:

We share like 98% plus identical DNA. We are smarter than a chimpanzee. So let’s invent a measure of intelligence that makes humans unique. Let’s say: Intelligence is your ability to like, compose poetry, symphonies, do art, math and science and so on. Let’s say, okay? Let’s make that as the arbitrary definition of intelligence for the moment. Chimps can’t do any of that. Yet we share 98, 99 percent identical DNA. Okay? The most brilliant chimp there ever was maybe can do a little bit of sign language. Well, our toddlers can do that. Toddlers… So… here’s what concerns me deeply. Deeply. Everything that we are, that distinguishes us from chimps, emerges from that one percent difference in DNA. It has to, ’cause that’s the difference. The Hubble telescope, these grand… that’s in that one percent. Maybe… everything that we are that is not the chimp is not as smart compared to the chimp as we tell ourselves it is. Maybe the difference between constructing and launching a Hubble telescope, and a chimp combining two finger motions as sign language – maybe that difference is not all that great. We tell ourselves it is. Just the same way we label our books optical illusions. We tell ourselves it’s a lot. Maybe it’s almost nothing. How would we decide that? Imagine another life form that’s one percent different from us. In the direction that we are different from the chimp. Think about that. We have one percent difference and we’re building the Hubble telescope. Go another one percent. What are we to they? We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence. That’s what we would be. They would take Stephen Hawking and roll him in front of their primate researchers and say, “well this one is like the most brilliant among them because he can do sort of astrophysics in his head. Oh, isn’t that cute! Little Johnie can do that too. Oh, that’s so nice…

If I understood correctly, Tyson is implying the following:
A) That the intelligence of an animal is the same sort of intelligence we humans have, that chimps and humans possess differing amounts of intelligence within a continuum. This is far from certain. Many, especially on the Left, even claim that there is no such continuum among humans. Instead, they believe in a multitude of intelligences.
B) That there is a direct correlation between genetic similarity and intellectual ability. This is as stretch, to say the least. I agreed with Tyson when he suggested that aliens might be as intellectually superior to us as we are to chimps. But for him to imply that the 1% difference, between ourselves and chimps, is what determines the gap – and that a 2% difference would necessarily double the intelligence gap between us – seems astoundingly simple-minded even for a layman. I can think of various animals, whose genomes differ substantially, but whose intelligences are similar. For example, dogs and octopuses don’t even belong to the same phylum, yet they seem to have comparable intelligence. Furthermore, who’s to say that the 1% difference is allocated equally to all abilities, including intelligence? Maybe 99% of that 1% has to do with body hair, opposable thumbs and skeletal structure. It’s true that he said “emerges from that one percent” but, as a scientist, he should have been more clear on this.
C) That “genetic difference” is the same thing as “difference”. The ease with which he equates the 1% difference in genome between humans and chimps with the difference between humans and chimps is disturbing – far more disturbing than the point he’s trying to make. Here is a scientist who seems to be unaware that most of our DNA is “junk DNA”, or that major differences in phenotype can arise from minute differences in genotype. For him to imply that the difference between a human and an ape can be accurately expressed as the percentage difference between our two genotypes is absurd. Would Tyson claim that humans are 75% similar to sponges given that we share about 75% of our DNA? I don’t even understand how it could be said that one species, or individual, is such and such percentage points similar to another – unless we are speaking of a specific trait, such as the ability to jump. If a kangaroo can jump 30 from a standing start, and a human can only jump 5 feet, then we may say that humans and kangaroos are 17% similar when it comes to jumping.
I don’t believe Tyson was aware of what he was implying when he made those statements. In truth, he unwittingly revealed an underlying mentality of the Left: That it is our superior intelligence that defines us as human and that this is the only thing that matters. This is why they get so touchy when we bring up differences in average I.Q. between races; to them, it’s the same as saying that some races are more human than others.
Am I making a big fuss over nothing? Perhaps.

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28 Responses to "Brilliant scientist" reveals simplistic views on I.Q.

  1. When he talked about intelligence he didn’t mention anything about the intelligence it takes to be an athlete or manual laborer. According to him human intelligence is only expressed in the arts and sciences.

    • MonkeyFish says:

      When he was mentioning intelligence, he did rattle them off in a list> “Let’s say: Intelligence is your ability to like, compose poetry, symphonies, do art, math and science and so on.” He did kind of say “and so on.” I’m sure he’s aware there can be many other forms of “intelligences.”

    • Tom says:

      His was listing items of intelligence that differ from the abilities of chimps. For example, chimps can perform manual labor, and in some ways posses more physical strength than humans. However, no chimps are known to have written a symphony to rival Mozart, or have added to Einsteins general theory of relativity

  2. CS says:

    The idea that differences among species in intelligence is related to the magnitude of the differences in DNA sequence seems nonsensical. At the biochemical level, all terrestrial life operates on the same model. Thus all species have much DNA in common. Nevertheless, the mental capacity of a monkey is many times that of a water melon.
    A single gene mutation could increase the number of rounds of cell division in a portion of the embryonic fore-brain resulting in a two- to many-fold increase in brain mass, which could surely correspond with a significant improvement in mental capacity.
    What I have argued distinguishes mankind from other apes is the ability to make effective use of an expanded neocortex.
    To service such an energy intensive organ a species needs to develop language, civilization and technology and thus raise the productivity of labor. Otherwise, a big brain is merely a useless luxury and a costly burden.
    This cultural transformation is precisely the transformation that any organically evolved creatures anywhere in the universe must undergo if it is to rival mankind’s intellectual achievements.
    And once civilization arises and evolution is subject to intelligent control, it likely follows the same course anywhere in the universe. As humans, we have become a species of the gods — unless we become victims of our own technology. But in that case, intelligent life may be a self-limiting phenomenon, wherever it arises in the universe.

  3. Naw, you’re making a big fuss over something very important – the elite’s abdication of sense on matters of species and cognition.
    Your critique is spot-on. As far as I know, a single mutation can render a human a blithering idiot unable to even feed himself. With a single mutation, he’s way more genetically similar to a human of average IQ than a chimp is to either of them, yet chimps can feed themselves. Hmm.
    Best not to generalize, analogize, or generally mess around when it comes to genes and IQ. I’ll leave the conclusions to Greg Cochran and the like.

  4. countenance says:

    The most brilliant chimp there ever was maybe can do a little bit of sign language.
    The old axiom is that if you give a million chimps a million typewriters and a million years, you get Shakespeare.
    On the other hand, if you give on Elizabethan-era Englishman a quill pen and fifty-two years, you also get Shakespeare.
    If Tyson defines intelligence in terms of poetry, then we’re doomed. Of course, the reason he defines intelligence in terms of the fine arts is that he probably lives in an area where most intelligent people are interested in the fine arts.

    • Anon says:

      “The old axiom is that if you give a million chimps a million typewriters and a million years, you get Shakespeare.”
      Thanks to the internets we know this is not the case.

    • Isaac says:

      I’m going to ignore the whole unintelligent discussion on what Tyson said and how you people interpreted it (hint: you’re all misunderstanding, and this entire discussion is an issue of semantics more than anything)
      but I will address this:
      On the other hand, if you give on Elizabethan-era Englishman a quill pen and fifty-two years, you also get Shakespeare.
      No. You will not get Shakespeare. Shakespeare is one incredible person. I’m sorry to tell you, but in all probability, you would not become Shakespeare if you were given a quill pen and fifty-two years. There are people that dedicate their whole lives to certain trades, and while they all certainly master the skill, becoming Shakespeare is something that unfortunately can’t be done by just anyone.

    • countenance says:

      Hey genius, aka Isaac.
      I was referring specifically to Shakespeare when I said “an Elizabethan-era Englishman.” You might be the only person on Earth who missed my point.

      • veritas says:

        Where to start… a) not even 10% of the world will read this, so most people missed your point. b) Shakespeare is the result of hundreds of millions of lives and years attempting language. So he is the result of “millions of apes over millions of years trying to write.” c)Shakespeare is by no means a standard of average human ability. So to claim he is just “an Elizabethan-era Englishmen” is negligent. Thats like me saying, humans are better than chimps because we can make space stations, but the truth is 99.999999999% of us can not even draw the schematics for one let alone build it. d) I am familiar with the lecture Tyson gave and he did justice. We developed over 4 billion years (roughly) so is it that confusing that 1% of us could make such a difference? Im not going to explain this any further. If you can not understand it now, I suggest education.

  5. Apopkian says:

    I think he was just sloppy because he was in a hurry to make a bigger point about the limits of our understanding. Secular people both left and HBD types seem to believe that there is nothing beyond empirical observation and logic. But if there were beings significantly more intelligent than us than their understanding of the universe would be supernatural, and we would not be able to reason our way beyond our mental barriers anymore than a chimp can understand quantum physics.

  6. panjoomby says:

    talking about intelligence without mentioning “g” is like talking about…
    Abbott without Costello
    baseball without statistics
    religion without mentioning god (feel free to come up with better analogies:)

  7. pi31416 says:

    I have read that octopuses are surprisingly intelligent. Yet they are as different from us as a science-fiction writer could imagine, right down to their basic metabolism. Whereas we, other mammals, and reptiles, rely on hemoglobin, an iron-based molecule, they make do with hemocyanin, which is COPPER-based.
    Ask Google “octopus intelligence” and see what you find. Or go directly here:
    I once wrote a science-fiction short, short story where I credited wheat with having become sentient. Crop circles were its way of trying to communicate with us. Yes, I had my tongue firmly in my cheek 🙂

  8. Sara says:

    It seems as though everyone on this page is purposely ignoring what he was talking about altogether. To say that it takes intelligence to be an athlete isn’t necessarily false, but to say that intelligence is what determines all levels of ability to do with hard labor is most certainly ridiculous.
    Neil seems to try to make careful use in his wording. By using the example of our close ‘cousin’ genetically, he is isolating an evolutionary path for the simplicity of his point, he does not anywhere say that DNA itself determines intelligence or that different DNA would do anything predictable in causing specific differences(as example, in intelligence, as suggested by a commenter).
    The ‘Multitude of intelligences’ wikipedia article lists different (mostly)cognitive abilities that the theory in the article suggests as determinants(rather than just one measurable skill). All of which are examples that most people would block into the categories of ‘arts and sciences’ with maybe ‘linguistics’ as an extension, depending on your groupings. You didn’t disprove his point at all there, he doesn’t imply that he’s talking about only one thing, as ‘sign language’ is completely different than building a telescope and, along with others over periods of centuries, perfecting the model to the point that it can see so far that the distance in light-years makes the farthest thing we can see opaque because that’s the time in the universes history that the back round radiation was so hot that it was visible to the wavelengths of light we can observe. You take his statement too lightly if you misinterpret it so widely.
    He doesn’t at any point state that intelligence is more important than other things about humans, in fact he SAYS that our greatest feats of intelligence might be basically the same thing as mimicking another species hand gestures to communicate. It is clearly a thought exercise to be taken in context, as, from what I understand, was a speech in front of a group of students. Nothing to pick at as far as I’m concerned, you’re just being judgmental and rude.

  9. JesusChris says:

    After having a very long dissection of Dr. Tyson’s comments using DNA as a foundation, why would you even consider make the following statement: “This is why they get so touchy when we bring up differences in average I.Q. between races; to them, it’s the same as saying that some races are more human than others.” This statement contains 2 enormous generalities.
    If I understood correctly, jewamongyou is implying the following:
    A) That there is such a thing as race in nature. From what I understand “race” is a human construct. There are only traits in our DNA. What would make more sense is substituting the word “culture” for race. Again, even cultures have traits but they are generally agreed upon and apparent (e.g. language/dialect, food, dress, music, values, etc.)
    B) IQ test are a reliable way to measure intelligence. This is yet another can of worms I won’t delve into because I don’t have much understanding of “intelligence,” especially in different circumstances. But IQ test are only one, of many, measure of “intelligence.”
    I believe you undermined your own credibility doing so. Am I making a big fuss over nothing over nothing? Absolutely.

  10. Adonyx says:

    It hurts me in my soul when I see people, who really need what Neil deGrasse Tyson has to offer, rejecting the enormity of what he is trying to give you. It hurts me right in my soul and my balls. If he’s not a genius sent here to enlighten us all, why did he suddenly become an inescapable overnight household name aggressively pimped and mass marketed by the media as the charismatic fun relatable new black Fonzie of academia who “knows everything!” ?? Hmm? Why would they say that? Why would they say he’s black?
    You’re threatened by the enormity of what this man has to offer you and the world. You’re threatened by the girth of it and it hurts me to see people close themselves off like that and push away a blessing that they know they need deep inside. It hurts me right in my balls and part of my cartilage.
    If NGT was not an omniscient genius god, scientifically sent here by god, to prove that there is no god, then why is the media on every channel always saying things like “he makes learning cool & fun!” and that he “makes lectures interesting and engaging and hip!” and “he’s black!” and “we’re not tricking you!” Hmm? Why would they say all that? If he was a fraud, black, and being propped up by political interests that control the media, to establish himself as a charismatic intellectual authority and gain the public’s trust and get them used to listening to him so that he could later be used to subconsciously steer them with subtext.. IF.. then why would they say all that?
    You need to stop being crazy and get some of his knowledge in you. When I see people turning on NGT, turning on the truth, molesting cats, turning their backs on science, and blacks, it hurts me. It hurts me right down in the soul of my balls because I know why you’re really like that. It’s not about Neil deGrasse Tyson, or conspiracies, or the cats, it’s just fear.
    You’re afraid of Neil deGrasse Tyson, and conspiracies, and jews, and cats, and lectures. But mostly you’re afraid of change. Because learning is change. Big change. Change is hard. Learning changes you. It changes your world around you. And those are some big hard changes.
    And youre afraid that learning black science might be a change that’s just too big and hard for you to take but you’re wrong. You CAN change, and you can handle a big hard change if you’re willing to let it in. You just gotta make room for it, inside you, by letting go of all the fear and the cats and jews and fear thats been holding you down with fear. And you gotta let go of your fear and let the fear go. And let the cats go. And try to actually listen to NGT speak about how much he believes that he knows about what you ought to know about what he thinks.
    But you don’t have to be afraid of NGT. He’s a chubby charming black charismatic omniscient non-threatening black genius with enough corprolitically pre-purchased ethos and pathos that his logos is passably excusable and conveniently overlooked in the whirling haze of charm and science and pills and all of the nobody knowing what those words are and there was a lot of liquor and a gun was involved and there was so much blood oh my god and Neil deGrasse Tyson has an innate ability to take a BIG scientific concept that normally you’d think you’d never be able to get your head around and within seconds he’s just drilling it in there you know?! And he just makes you enjoy it even if you never had an interest in it before.
    NGT likes to take a big concept and sprinkle it with hidden agenda & political subtext &
    I think I tasted satan & silicone, and he sprinkles it all on top like little subconscious seeds you’ll get to think about later and he wraps it in a big package of wisdom and he gets in front of a camera and before you know it he takes that big package and he’s just pounding it into your head and he’s making you love it. So it’s ok if he can’t substantiate his ideas when challenged, and that he debates people using cheap diversionary gotcha tactics to stifle an opponent or cliche persuasive speaking techniques to con an audience into siding with him because what’s important is that he got that package inside of you and filled your head with his seed.
    And now I hope you learned something about science and fear and Neil Patrick Harris and fear, and change because winter is coming and those who arrive survive the dragons and there’s gonna be a lot of dragons and they’re gonna be here real soon and they’ll have big floppy weiners, but they’re coming soon for sure and they’re gonna be awesome.
    Hope & Change.
    Murder drones.
    I’m out like a scientologist.

  11. Keith Brings says:

    I think Richard Dawkin pointed out this mistake during one of their group chats but I do think it’s an interesting point. How far have we actually diverged away from chimps in intelligence. Do formal mathematics, science, etc. require a change that is an order of a magnitude of that of our closest relatives or is all this caused by really a fairly minor difference in intelligence caused by evolutionary pressure over a fairly short period of time. What would a species that had continued as far along evolution for intelligence away from where we are today as from where we are from apes look like? Ignoring the non linear nature of dna there’s a very small difference in dna leading us from the apes to ourselves. Which means there’s a fairly small amount of divergence and change between our two species. E.g the time we’ve spent evolving for intelligence is startlingly brief. What would a species with hundreds of thousands of years on us in that regards look like.

  12. Luke says:

    I think Tyson was just pointing out that humans really can’t measure how intelligent humans are. And human intelligence could be similar to that of apes, if we were compared to an intelligence “1” level up from humans.
    Nice article!

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