Weight, Taste, and Politics: A Theory of Republican Over-Indulgence

So I was thinking about taste (flavor) and disgust (emotion.)

As I mentioned about a month ago, 25% of people are “supertasters,” that is, better at tasting than the other 75% of people. Supertasters experience flavors more intensely than ordinary tasters, resulting in a preference for “bland” food (food with too much flavor is “overwhelming” to them.) They also have a more difficult time getting used to new foods.

One of my work acquaintances of many years –we’ll call her Echo–is obese, constantly on a diet, and constantly eats sweets. She knows she should eat vegetables and tries to do so, but finds them bitter and unpleasant, and so the general outcome is as you expect: she doesn’t eat them.

Since I find most vegetables quite tasty, I find this attitude very strange–but I am willing to admit that I may be the one with unusual attitudes toward food.

Echo is also quite conservative.

This got me thinking about vegetarians vs. people who think vegetarians are crazy. Why (aside from novelty of the idea) should vegetarians be liberals? Why aren’t vegetarians just people who happen to really like vegetables?

What if there were something in preference for vegetables themselves that correlated with political ideology?

Certainly we can theorize that “supertaster” => “vegetables taste bitter” => “dislike of vegetables” => “thinks vegetarians are crazy.” (Some supertasters might think meat tastes bad, but anecdotal evidence doesn’t support this; see also Wikipedia, where supertasting is clearly associated with responses to plants:

Any evolutionary advantage to supertasting is unclear. In some environments, heightened taste response, particularly to bitterness, would represent an important advantage in avoiding potentially toxic plant alkaloids. In other environments, increased response to bitterness may have limited the range of palatable foods. …

Although individual food preference for supertasters cannot be typified, documented examples for either lessened preference or consumption include:

Mushrooms? Echo was just complaining about mushrooms.

Let’s talk about disgust. Disgust is an important reaction to things that might infect or poison you, triggering reactions from scrunching up your face to vomiting (ie, expelling the poison.) We process disgust in our amygdalas, and some people appear to have bigger or smaller amygdalas than others, with the result that the folks with more amygdalas feel more disgust.

Humans also route a variety of social situations through their amygdalas, resulting in the feeling of “disgust” in response to things that are not rotten food, like other people’s sexual behaviors, criminals, or particularly unattractive people. People with larger amygdalas also tend to find more human behaviors disgusting, and this disgust correlates with social conservatism.

To what extent are “taste” and “disgust” independent of each other? I don’t know; perhaps they are intimately linked into a single feedback system, where disgust and taste sensitivity cause each other, or perhaps they are relatively independent, so that a few unlucky people are both super-sensitive to taste and easily disgusted.

People who find other people’s behavior disgusting and off-putting may also be people who find flavors overwhelming, prefer bland or sweet foods over bitter ones, think vegetables are icky, vegetarians are crazy, and struggle to stay on diets.

What’s that, you say, I’ve just constructed a just-so story?

Well, this is the part where I go looking for evidence. It turns out that obesity and political orientation do correlate:

Michael Shin and William McCarthy, researchers from UCLA, have found an association between counties with higher levels of support for the 2012 Republican presidential candidate and higher levels of obesity in those counties.

Shin and McCarthy's map of obesity vs. political orientation
Shin and McCarthy’s map of obesity vs. political orientation

Looks like the Mormons and Southern blacks are outliers.

(I don’t really like maps like this for displaying data; I would much prefer a simple graph showing orientation on one axis and obesity on the other, with each county as a datapoint.)

(Unsurprisingly, the first 49 hits I got when searching for correlations between political orientation and obesity were almost all about what other people think of fat people, not what fat people think. This is probably because researchers tend to be skinny people who want to fight “fat phobia” but aren’t actually interested in the opinions of fat people.)

The 15 most caffeinated cities, from I love Coffee
The 15 most caffeinated cities, from I love Coffee–note that Phoenix is #7, not #1.

Disgust also correlates with political belief, but we already knew that.

A not entirely scientific survey also indicates that liberals seem to like vegetables better than conservatives:

  • Liberals are 28 percent more likely than conservatives to eat fresh fruit daily, and 17 percent more likely to eat toast or a bagel in the morning, while conservatives are 20 percent more likely to skip breakfast.
  • Ten percent of liberals surveyed indicated they are vegetarians, compared with 3 percent of conservatives.
  • Liberals are 28 percent more likely than conservatives to enjoy beer, with 60 percent of liberals indicating they like beer.

(See above where Wikipedia noted that supertasters dislike beer.) I will also note that coffee, which supertasters tend to dislike because it is too bitter, is very popular in the ultra-liberal cities of Portland and Seattle, whereas heavily sweetened iced tea is practically the official beverage of the South.

The only remaining question is if supertasters are conservative. That may take some research.

Update: I have not found, to my disappointment, a simple study that just looks at correlation between ideology and supertasting (or nontasting.) However, I have found a couple of useful items.

In Verbal priming and taste sensitivity make moral transgressions gross, Herz writes:

Standard tests of disgust sensitivity, a questionnaire developed for this research assessing different types of moral transgressions (nonvisceral, implied-visceral, visceral) with the terms “angry” and “grossed-out,” and a taste sensitivity test of 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) were administered to 102 participants. [PROP is commonly used to test for “supertasters.”] Results confirmed past findings that the more sensitive to PROP a participant was the more disgusted they were by visceral, but not moral, disgust elicitors. Importantly, the findings newly revealed that taste sensitivity had no bearing on evaluations of moral transgressions, regardless of their visceral nature, when “angry” was the emotion primed. However, when “grossed-out” was primed for evaluating moral violations, the more intense PROP tasted to a participant the more “grossed-out” they were by all transgressions. Women were generally more disgust sensitive and morally condemning than men, … The present findings support the proposition that moral and visceral disgust do not share a common oral origin, but show that linguistic priming can transform a moral transgression into a viscerally repulsive event and that susceptibility to this priming varies as a function of an individual’s sensitivity to the origins of visceral disgust—bitter taste. [bold mine.]

In other words, supertasters are more easily disgusted, and with verbal priming will transfer that disgust to moral transgressions. (And easily disgusted people tend to be conservatives.)

The Effect of Calorie Information on Consumers’ Food Choice: Sources of Observed Gender Heterogeneity, by Heiman and Lowengart, states:

While previous studies found that inherited taste-blindness to bitter compounds such
as PROP may be a risk factor for obesity, this literature has been hotly disputed
(Keller et al. 2010).

(Always remember, of course, that a great many social-science studies ultimately do not replicate.)

I’ll let you know if I find anything else.

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Southpaw Genetics

Warning: Totally speculative

This is an attempt at a coherent explanation for why left-handedness (and right-handedness) exist in the distributions that they do.

Handedness is a rather exceptional human trait. Most animals don’t have a dominant hand (or foot.) Horses have no dominant hooves; anteaters dig equally well with both paws; dolphins don’t favor one flipper over the other; monkeys don’t fall out of trees if they try to grab a branch with their left hands. Only humans have a really distinct tendency to use one side of their bodies over the other.

And about 90% of us use our right hands, and about 10% of us use our left hands, (Wikipedia claims 10%, but The Lopsided Ape reports 12%.) an observation that appears to hold pretty consistently throughout both time and culture, so long as we aren’t dealing with a culture where lefties are forced to write with their right hands.

A simple Mendel-square two-gene explanation for handedness–a dominant allele for right-handedness and a recessive one for left-handedness, with equal proportions of alleles in society, would result in a 75% righties to 25% lefties. Even if the proportions weren’t equal, the offspring of two lefties ought to be 100% left-handed. This is not, however, what we see. The children of two lefties have only a 25% chance or so of being left-handed themselves.

So let’s try a more complicated model.

Let’s assume that there are two alleles that code for right-handedness. (Hereafter “R”) You get one from your mom and one from your dad.

Each of these alleles is accompanied by a second allele that codes for either nothing (hereafter “O”) or potentially switches the expression of your handedness (hereafter “S”)

Everybody in the world gets two identical R alleles, one from mom and one from dad.

Everyone also gets two S or O alleles, one from mom and one from dad. One of these S or O alleles affects one of your Rs, and the other affects the other R.

Your potential pairs, then, are:

RO/RO, RO/RS, RS/RO, or RS/RS

RO=right handed allele.

RS=50% chance of expressing for right or left dominance; RS/RS thus => 25% chance of both alleles coming out lefty.

So RO/RO, RO/RS, and RS/RO = righties, (but the RO/ROs may have especially dominant right hands; half of the RO/RS guys may have weakly dominant right hands.)

Only RS/RS produces lefties, and of those, only 25% defeat the dominance odds.

This gets us our observed correlation of only 25% of children of left-handed couples being left-handed themselves.

(Please note that this is still a very simplified model; Wikipedia claims that there may be more than 40 alleles involved.)

What of the general population as a whole?

Assuming random mating in a population with equal quantities of RO/RO, RO/RS, RS/RO and RS/RS, we’d end up with 25% of children RS/RS. But if only 25% of RS/RS turn out lefties, only 6.25% of children would be lefties. We’re still missing 4-6% of the population.

This implies that either: A. Wikipedia has the wrong #s for % of children of lefties who are left-handed; B. about half of lefties are RO/RS (about 1/8th of the RO/RS population); C. RS is found in twice the proportion as RO in the population; or D. my model is wrong.

According to Anything Left-Handed:

Dr Chris McManus reported in his book Right Hand, Left Hand on a study he had done based on a review of scientific literature which showed parent handedness for 70,000 children. On average, the chances of two right-handed parents having a left-handed child were around 9% left-handed children, two left-handed parents around 26% and one left and one right-handed parent around 19%. …
More than 50% of left-handers do not know of any other left-hander anywhere in their living family.

This implies B, that about half of lefties are RO/RS. Having one RS combination gives you a 12.5% chance of being left-handed; having two RS combinations gives you a 25% chance.

And that… I think that works. And it means we can refine our theory–we don’t need two R alleles; we only need one. (Obviously it is more likely a whole bunch of alleles that code for a whole system, but since they act together, we can model them as one.) The R allele is then modified by a pair of alleles that comes in either O (do nothing,) or S (switch.)

One S allele gives you a 12.5% chance of being a lefty; two doubles your chances to 25%.

Interestingly, this model suggests that not only does no gene for “left handedness” exist, but that “left handedness” might not even be the allele’s goal. Despite the rarity of lefties, the S allele is found in 75% of the population (an equal % as the O allele.) My suspicion is that the S allele is doing something else valuable, like making sure we don’t become too lopsided in our abilities or try to shunt all of our mental functions to one side of our brain.

The hominin braid

Much has been said ’round the HBD-osphere, lately, on the age of the Pygmy (and Bushmen?)/everyone else split. Greg Cochran of West Hunter, for example, supports a split around 300,000 years ago–100,000 years before the supposed emergence of “anatomically modern humans” aka AMH aka Homo sapiens sapiens:

A number of varieties of Homo are grouped into the broad category of archaic humans in the period beginning 500,000 years ago (or 500ka). It typically includes Homo neanderthalensis (40ka-300ka), Homo rhodesiensis (125ka-300ka), Homo heidelbergensis (200ka-600ka), and may also include Homo antecessor (800ka-1200ka).[1] This category is contrasted with anatomically modern humans, which include Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo sapiens idaltu. (source)

According to genetic and fossil evidence, archaic Homo sapiens evolved to anatomically modern humans solely in Africa, between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago, with members of one branch leaving Africa by 60,000 years ago and over time replacing earlier human populations such as Neanderthals and Homo erectus. (source)

The last steps taken by the anatomically modern humans before becoming the current Homo sapiens, known as “behaviourally modern humans“, were taken either abruptly circa 40-50,000 years ago,[11] or gradually, and led to the achievement of a suite of behavioral and cognitive traits that distinguishes us from merely anatomically modern humans, hominins, and other primates. (source)

Cochran argues:

They’ve managed to sequence a bit of autosomal DNA from the Atapuerca skeletons, about 430,000 years old, confirming that they are on the Neanderthal branch.

Among other things, this supports the slow mutation rate, one compatible with what we see in modern family trios, but also with the fossil record.

This means that the Pygmies, and probably the Bushmen also, split off from the rest of the human race about 300,000 years ago. Call them Paleoafricans.

Personally, I don’t think the Pygmies are that old. Why? Call it intuition; it just seems more likely that they aren’t. Of course, there are a lot of guys out there whose intuition told them those rocks couldn’t possibly be more than 6,000 years old; I recognize that intuition isn’t always a great guide. It’s just the one I’ve got.

Picture 1( <– Actually, my intuition is based partially on my potentially flawed understanding of Haak’s graph, which I read as indicating that Pygmies split off quite recently.)

The thing about speciation (especially of extinct species we know only from their bones) is that it is not really as exact as we’d like it to be. A lot of people think the standard is “can these animals interbreed?” but dogs, coyotes, and wolves can all interbreed. Humans and Neanderthals interbred; the African forest elephant and African bush elephant were long thought to be the same species because they interbreed in zoos, but have been re-categorized into separate species because in the wild, their ranges don’t overlap and so they wouldn’t interbreed without humans moving them around. And now they’re telling us that the Brontosaurus was a dinosaur after all, but Pluto still isn’t a planet.

This is a tree
This is a tree

The distinction between archaic homo sapiens and homo sapiens sapiens is based partly on morphology (look at those brow ridges!) and partly on the urge to draw a line somewhere. If HSS could interbreed with Neanderthals, from whom they were separated by a good 500,000 years, there’s no doubt we moderns could interbreed with AHS from 200,000 years ago. (There’d be a fertility hit, just as pairings between disparate groups of modern HSS take fertility hits, but probably nothing too major–probably not as bad as an Rh- woman x Rh+ man, which we consider normal.)

bones sported by time
bones sported by time

So I don’t think Cochran is being unreasonable. It’s just not what my gut instinct tells me. I’ll be happy to admit I was wrong if I am.

The dominant model of human (and other) evolution has long been the tree (just as we model our own families.) Trees are easy to draw and easy to understand. The only drawback is that it’s not always clear exactly clear where a particular skull should be placed on our trees (or if the skull we have is even representative of their species–the first Neanderthal bones we uncovered actually hailed from an individual who had suffered from arthritis, resulting in decades of misunderstanding of Neanderthal morphology. (Consider, for sympathy, the difficulties of an alien anthropologist if they were handed a modern pygmy skeleton, 4’11”, and a Dinka skeleton, 5’11”, and asked to sort them by species.)

blob chart
blob chart

What we really have are a bunch of bones, and we try to sort them out by time and place, and see if we can figure out which ones belong to separate species. We do our best given what we have, but it’d be easier if we had a few thousand more ancient hominin bones.

The fact that different “species” can interbreed complicates the tree model, because branches do not normally split off and then fuse with other branches, at least not on real trees. These days, it’s looking more like a lattice model–but this probably overstates the amount of crossing. Aboriginal Australians, for example, were almost completely isolated for about 40,000 years, with (IIRC) only one known instance of genetic introgression that happened about 11,000 years ago when some folks from India washed up on the northern shore. The Native Americans haven’t been as isolated, because there appear to have been multiple waves of people that crossed the Bering Strait or otherwise made it into the Americas, but we are still probably talking about only a handful of groups over the course of 40,000 years.

Trellis model
Trellis model

Still, the mixing is there; as our ability to suss out genetic differences become better, we’re likely to keep turning up new incidences.

So what happens when we get deep into the 200,000 year origins of humanity? I suspect–though I could be completely wrong!–that things near the origins get murkier, not less. The tree model suggests that the original group hominins at the base of the “human” tree would be less genetically diverse than than the scattered spectrum of humanity we have today, but these folks may have had a great deal of genetic diversity among themselves due to having recently mated with other human species (many of which we haven’t even found, yet.) And those species themselves had crossed with other species. For example, we know that Melanesians have a decent chunk of Denisovan DNA (and almost no one outside of Melanesia has this, with a few exceptions,) and the Denisovans show evidence that they had even older DNA introgressed from a previous hominin species they had mated with. So you can imagine the many layers of introgression you could get with a part Melanesian person with some Denisovan with some of this other DNA… As we look back in time toward our own origins, we may see similarly a great variety of very disparate DNA that has, in essence, hitch-hiked down the years from older species, but has nothing to do with the timing of the split of modern groups.

As always, I am speculating.

Do small families lead to higher IQ?

Okay, so this is just me thinking (and mathing) out loud. Suppose we have two different groups (A and B) of 100 people each (arbitrary number chosen for ease of dividing.) In Group A, people are lumped into 5 large “clans” of 20 people each. In Group B, people are lumped in 20 small clans of 5 people each.

Each society has an average IQ of 100–ten people with 80IQs, ten people with 120IQs, and eighty people with 100IQs. I assume that there is slight but not absolute assortative mating, so that most high-IQ and low-IQ people end up marrying someone average.

IQ pairings:

100/100    100/80    100/120    80/80    120/120 (IQ)

30                 9                9                 1               1            (couples)

Okay, so there should be thirty couples where both partners have 100IQs, nine 100/80IQ couples, nine 100/120IQ couples, one 80/80IQ couple, and one 120/120IQ couple.

If each couple has 2 kids, distributed thusly:

100/100=> 10% 80, 10% 120, and 80% 100

120/120=> 100% 120

80/80 => 100% 80

120/100=> 100% 110

80/100 => 100% 90

Then we’ll end up with eight 80IQ kids, eighteen 90IQ, forty-eight 100IQ, eighteen 110 IQ, and 8 120IQ.

So, under pretty much perfect and totally arbitrary conditions that probably only vaguely approximate how genetics actually works (also, we are ignoring the influence of random chance on the grounds that it is random and therefore evens out over the long-term,) our population approaches a normal bell-curved IQ distribution.

Third gen:

80/80  80/90  80/100  90/90  90/100  90/110  100/100  100/110  100/120  110/110  110/120  120/120

1             2            5             4            9             2              6                9               5              4             2             1

2 80         4 85      10 90      8 90     18 95      4 100       1,4,1       18 105     10 110        8 110       4 115        2 120

3 80, 4 85, 18 90, 18 95, 8 100, 18 105, 18 110, 4 115, and 3 120. For simplicity’s sake:

7 80IQ, 18 90IQ, 44 100IQ, 18 110IQ, and 7 120IQ.

Not bad for a very, very rough model that is trying to keep the math very simple so I can write it blog post window instead of paper, though clearly 6 children have gotten lost somewhere. (rounding error???)

Anyway, now let’s assume that we don’t have a 2-child policy in place, but that being smart (or dumb) does something to your reproductive chances.

In the simplest model, people with 80IQs have zero children, 90s have one child, 100s have 2 children, 110s have 3 children, and 120s have 4 children.

oh god but the couples are crossed so do I take the average or the top IQ? I guess I’ll take average.

Gen 2:

100/100    100/80    100/120    80/80    120/120 (IQ)

30                 9                9                 1               1            (couples)

60 kids        9 kids       27 kids       0              4 kids

6, 48, 6

So our new distribution is six 80IQ, nine 90IQ, forty-eight 100IQ, twenty-seven 110IQ, and ten 120IQ.

(checks math oh good it adds up to 100.)

We’re not going to run gen three, as obviously the trend will continue.

Let’s go back to our original clans. Society A has 5 clans of 20 people each; Society B has 20 clans of 5 people each.

With 10 high-IQ and 10 low-IQ people per society, each clan in A is likely to have 2 smart and 2 dumb people. Each clan in B, by contrast, is likely to have only 1 smart or 1 dumb person. For our model, each clan will be the reproductive unit rather than each couple, and we’ll take the average IQ of each clan.

Society A: 5 clans with average of 100 IQ => social stasis.

Society B: 20 clans, 10 with average of 96, 10 with average of 106. Not a big difference, but if the 106s have even just a few more children over the generations than the 96s, they will gradually increase as a % of the population.

Of course, over the generations, a few of our 5-person clans will get two smart people (average IQ 108), a dumb and a smart (average 100), and two dumb (92.) The 108 clans will do very well for themselves, and the 92 clans will do very badly.

Speculative conclusions:

If society functions so that smart people have more offspring than dumb people (definitely not a given in the real world,) then: In society A, everyone benefits from the smart people, whose brains uplift their entire extended families (large clans.) This helps everyone, especially the least capable, who otherwise could not have provided for themselves. However, the average IQ in society A doesn’t move much, because you are likely to have equal numbers of dumb and smart people in each family, balancing each other out. In Society B, the smart people are still helping their families, but since their families are smaller, random chance dictates that they are less likely to have a dumb person in their families. The families with the misfortune to have a dumb member suffer and have fewer children as a result; the families with the good fortune to have a smart member benefit and have more children as a result. Society B has more suffering, but also evolves to have a higher average IQ. Society A has less suffering, but its IQ does not change. Obviously this a thought experiment and should not be taken as proof of anything about real world genetics. But my suspicion is that this is basically the mechanism behind the evolution of high-IQ in areas with long histories of nuclear, atomized families, and the mechanism suppressing IQ in areas with strongly tribal norms. (See HBD Chick for everything family structure related.)

 

 

Corporations and the Litigious Environment that is Destroying America

I’ve been thinking about whether we should quit creating various forms of corporations–like LLCs–for for the past 15 years or so–ever since Bakunin, more or less. But other than the fraud post a few days ago, I think the only other piece I’ve really written on the subject was a short explanation of my opposition to letting corporations have any kind of political rights (eg, donating to campaigns, freedom of speech,) on the grounds that they are non-human organisms (they are meta-human organisms,) and since I am a human and rather speciesist, I don’t want non-humans getting power.

The problem with discussing whether corporations should exist (or in what form, or if they are good or bad,) is that people are prone to status-quo fallacies where they forget that  corporations are just legal fictions and act instead as though they were real, physical objects or forces of nature created by the Will of God, like mountain ranges or entropy.

But a “corporation” is not so much a big building full of people, but a piece of paper in your filing cabinet. Modern corporate structures did not exist throughout most of humanity’s 200,000 year existence, and in fact only came to exist when governments passed laws that created them.

All that takes to change them is a new law. Unlike mountains, they only “exist” because a law (and pieces of paper tucked away in filing cabinets,) says they do. What man has made, man can unmake.

So let’s talk about lawsuits.

America is a litigious society. Extremely litigious. Probably the most litigious in the world. (We also incarcerate a higher % of our people than any other country, though on the bright side, we summarily execute far fewer.)

Sometimes I think Americans are the kinds of people who solve disputes by punching each other, but we’ve gotten it into heads that lawsuits are a kind of punching.

At any rate, fear of litigation and liability are ruining everything. If you don’t believe me, try setting up a roadside stand to sell some extra radishes from your garden or build a bridge over a creek on your own property. You have to pass a background check just to help out on your kid’s school field trip, and children aren’t allowed to ride their bikes in my neighborhood because, “if they got hit by a car, the HOA could get sued.” As farmer Joel Salatin put it, “Everything I Want to do is Illegal.” (All Joel wants to do is grow and sell food, but there are SO MANY REGULATIONS.)

100 years ago, the kind of litigation people are afraid of simply wouldn’t have happened. For example, as Stanford Mag recounts of campus violence around 1910:

Black eyes, bruises, and occasional bouts of unconsciousness didn’t seem to alarm the administration. … Farm life came with a brutish edge. Some freshmen slept in armed groups to ward off hazers, a state of affairs apparently enabled by the administration’s reluctance to meddle. “Persons fit to be in college are fit to look after their own affairs,” Stanford President David Star Jordan said.

Fast forward a century to MIT getting sued by the parents of a student who killed herself:

Elizabeth Shin (February 16, 1980 – April 14, 2000) was a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student who died from burns inflicted by a fire in her dormitory room. Her death led to a lawsuit against MIT and controversy as to whether MIT paid adequate attention to its students’ mental and emotional health, and whether MIT’s suicide rate was abnormally high.

… After the incident, MIT announced an upgrade of its student counseling programs, including more staff members and longer hours. However, the Shins claimed these measures were not enough and filed a $27.65 million lawsuit against MIT, administrators, campus police officers, and its mental health employees. …

On April 3, 2006, MIT announced that the case with the family of Elizabeth Shin had been settled before trial for an undisclosed amount.[7]

Universities, of course, do not want to get sued for millions of dollars and deal with the attendant bad publicity, but these days you can’t say “Boo” on campus without someone thinking it’s the administration’s job to protect the students from emotional distress.

All of this litigation has happened (among other reasons) because corporations are seen (by juries) as cash cows.

Let’s pause a moment to discuss exactly what an LLC is (besides a piece of paper.) What’s the difference between selling your extra radishes as yourself and selling your extra radishes as a corporation? If you are selling as yourself, and one of your radishes makes a customer ill and they sue you, then you can be held personally liable for their sickness and be forced to pay their $10 million medical bill yourself, driving you into bankruptcy and ruin. But if you are selling as a corporation, then your ill customer must sue the corporation. The corporation can be found liable and forced to cover the $10 million bill, but you, the owner, are not liable; your money (the income you’ve made over the years by selling radishes) is safe.

(There are some tax-related differences, as well, but we will skip over those for now.)

There are doubtless many other varieties of corporations, most of which I am not familiar because I am not a specialist in corporate law. The general principle of most, if not all corporations is that they exist independent of the people in them.

This is how Donald Trump’s businesses can have gone bankrupt umpteen times and he can still have billions of dollars.

But precisely because corporations are not people, and the people who own them are protected (supposedly) from harm, people are, I suspect more likely to sue them and juries are to award suits against them.

As a lawyer I spoke with put it, he was glad that his job only involved suing corporations, because “corporations aren’t people, so I’m not hurting anyone.”

Suppose MIT were just a guy named Mit who taught math and physics. If one of his students happened to commit suicide, would anyone sue him on the grounds that he didn’t do enough to stop her?

I doubt it. For starters, Mit wouldn’t even have millions of dollars to sue for.

When people get hurt, juries want to do something to help them. Sick people have bills that must get paid one way or another, after all. Corporations have plenty of money (or so people generally think,) but individuals don’t. A jury would hesitate to drive Mit into poverty, as that would harm him severely, but wouldn’t blink an eye at making MIT pay millions, as this hurts “no one” since MIT is not a person.

You might say that it is kind of like a war between human organisms and corporate organisms–humans try to profit off corporations, and corporations try to profit off humans. (Of course, I tend to favor humanity in this grand struggle.)

The big problem with this system is that even though corporations aren’t people, they are still composed of people. A corporation that does well can employ lots of people and make their lives better, but a corporation that gets sued into the gutter won’t be able to employ anyone at all. The more corporations have to fear getting sued, the more careful they have to be–which results in increased paperwork, record keeping, policies-on-everything, lack of individual discretion, etc., which in turn make corporations intolerable both for the people in them and the people in them.

So what can we do?

The obvious solution of letting corporations get away with anything probably isn’t a good idea, because corporations will eat people if eating people leads to higher profits. (And as a person, I am opposed to the eating of people.)

Under our current system, protection from liability lets owners get away with cheating already–take mining corporations, which are known for extracting the resources from an area, paying their owners handsomely, and then conveniently declaring bankruptcy just before costly environmental cleanup begins. Local communities are left to foot the bill (and deal with the health effects like lead poisoning and cancer.)

The solution, IMO, is individual responsibility wherever possible. Mining companies could not fob off their cleanup costs if the owners were held liable for the costs. A few owners losing everything and ending up penniless would quickly prompt the owners of other mining companies to be very careful about how they construct their waste water ponds.

People need to interact with and be responsible to other people.

 

I’m probably wrong!

When trying to learn and understand approximately everything, one is forced to periodically admit that there are a great many things one does not yet know.

I made a diagram of my thoughts from yesterday:

humantreebasedonHaakMy intuition tells me this is wrong.

Abbreviations: SSA =  Sub-Saharan Africa; ANE = Ancient North Eurasian, even though they’re found all over the place; WHG = European hunter-gatherers; I-Es = Indo-Europeans.

I tried my best to make it neat and clear, focusing on the big separations and leaving out the frequent cross-mixing. Where several groups had similar DNA, I used one group to represent the group (eg, Yoruba,) and left out groups whose histories were just too complicated to express clearly at this size. A big chunk of the Middle East/middle of Eurasia is a mixing zone where lots of groups seem to have merged. (Likewise, I obviously left out groups that weren’t in Haak’s dataset, like Polynesians.)

I tried to arrange the groups sensibly, so that ones that are geographically near each other and/or have intermixed are near each other on the graph, but this didn’t always work out–eg, the Inuit share some DNA with other Native American groups, but ended up sandwiched between India and Siberia.

Things get complicated around the emergence of the Indo-Europeans (I-Es), who emerged from the combination of a known population (WHG) and an unknown population that I’m super-speculating might have come from India, after which some of the I-Es might have returned to India. But then there is the mystery of why the color on the graph changes from light green to teal–did another group related to the original IEs emerge, or is this just change over time?

The IEs are also, IMO, at the wrong spot in time (so are the Pygmies.) Maybe this is just a really bad proxy for time? Maybe getting conquered makes groups combine in ways that look like they differentiated at times other than when they did?

Either way, I am, well, frustrated.

EDIT: Oh, I just realized something I did wrong.

*Fiddles*

Still speculative, but hopefully better
Still speculative, but hopefully better

Among other things, I realized I’d messed up counting off where some of the groups split, so while I fixing that, I went ahead and switched the Siberians and Melanesians so I could get the Inuit near the other Americans.

I also realized that I was trying to smush together the emergence of the WHG and the Yamnaya, even though those events happened at different times. The new version shows the WHG and Yamnaya (proto-Indo-Europeans) at two very different times.

Third, I have fixed it so that the ANE don’t feed directly into modern Europeans. The downside of the current model is that it makes it look like the ANE disappeaed, when really they just dispersed into so many groups which mixed in turn with other groups that they ceased existing in “pure” form, though the Bedouins, I suspect, come closest.

The “light green” and “teal” colors on Haak’s graph are still problematic–light green doesn’t exist in “pure” form anywhere on the graph, but it appears to be highest in India. My interpretation is that the light green derived early on from an ANE population somewhere around India (though Iran, Pakistan, the Caucuses, or the Steppes are also possibilities,) and somewhat later mixed with an “East” population in India. A bit of that light green population also made it into the Onge, and later, I think a branch of it combined with the WHG to create the Yamnaya. (Who, in turn, conquered some ANE groups, creating the modern Europeans.)

I should also note that I might have the Khoi and San groups backwards, because I’m not all that familiar with them.

I could edit this post and just eliminate my embarrassing mistakes, but I think I’ll let them stay in order to show the importance of paying attention to the nagging sense of being wrong. It turns out I was! I might still be wrong, but hopefully I’m less wrong.

Absolute Monarchy, Revolution, and the Bourgeoisie

So I was thinking about the Russian Revolution (as is my wont,) and wondering why everyone was so vehemently against the bourgeoisie and not, at least in their rhetoric, the nobility. (I’ve long wondered the exact same thing about the French Revolution.)

If there is one thing that all commentators seem to agree on, including the man himself, it’s that Nicholas II (aka Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov, final Tsar of all Russia,) was not fit to rule. He was not an evil man (though he did send millions of his subjects to their deaths,) and he was not an idiot, but neither was he extraordinary in any of the ways necessary to rule an empire.

But this isn’t reason to go executing a guy. After all, Russia managed to survive the tsardom of Peter the Great’s retarded half-brother (principally by making Peter co-tsar,) so there’s no particular reason why the nobility couldn’t have just stepped in and run things for Nicholas. Poor little Alexei probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer, and then one of Nicholas’s brothers or nephews would have been in the running for tsar–seems like a pretty decent position to hold out for.

But in an absolute monarchy, how much power does the nobility have? Could they intervene and change the direction of the war (or stop/prevent it altogether?)

Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) consolidated an absolute monarchy in France (with the height of his power around 1680.) In 1789, about 110 years later, the French Revolution broke out; in 1793, Louis XVII was executed.

Peter and Catherine the Greats (1672 – 1725; 1729 – 1796) consolidated monarchical power in Russia. The Russian Revolution broke out in 1905 and then more successfully in 1917; Nicholas was executed in 1918. Assuming Catherine was fairly powerful until her death, (and I suspect she likely would have been deposed had she not,) that gives us about 110 or 120 years between absolute monarch and revolution.

Is there a connection?

Obviously one possibility is just that folks who manage to make themselves absolute monarchs are rare indeed, and their descendents tend to regress toward normal personalities until they just aren’t politically savvy enough to hold onto power, at which point a vacuum occurs and a revolution fills it.

Revolutionaries, by and large, aren’t penniless peasants or factory workers (at least, not at the beginning.) They’re fairly idle intellectuals who have the time and resources to write lots of books and articles about revolution. Lenin was hanging out in Switzerland, writing, when the Russian Revolution broke out, not slogging through the trenches or working in a factory.

As I understand it, the consolidation of absolute monarchy requires taking power from the nobles. The nobles get their support from their personal peasants (their serfs.) The Royalty get their support against the nobles, therefore, from free men–middle class folks not bound to any particular noble. These middle-class folks tend to live in the city–they are the bourgeoisie.

Think of a ladder–or a cellular automata–with four rungs: royals, nobles, bourgeoisie, and peasants.

If the royalty and bourgeoisie are aligned, and the nobles and peasants are aligned, then this might explain why, when Russia and France decided to execute their monarchs, they simultaneously attacked the bourgeoisie–but said little, at least explicitly and propagandically, against the nobility.

By using the peasants to attack the bourgeoisie, the nobles attacked the king’s base of support, leaving him unable to defend himself and hang onto power. A strong monarch might be able to prevent such maneuvering, but a weak monarch can’t. Nicholas II doesn’t seem like the kind of person who’d imprison infant relatives for their whole lives or have his son tortured to death. He didn’t even bother taking another wife after the tsarina failed to produce a suitable heir.

I see the exact same dynamic happening today. For the peasants, we have America’s minority communities–mostly blacks and Hispanics–who are disproportionately poor. Working and middle-class whites are the bourgeoisie. College students and striving rich are the nobles, and the royalty are the rich.

Occupy Wall Street was an attempt by student-types to call direct attention to the wealth of the royalty, but never got widespread support. By contrast, student protests attacking bourgeois whites on behalf of black peasants have been getting tons of support; their ideas are now considered mainstream, while OWS’s are still fringe.

There’s a great irony in Ivy League kids lecturing anyone about their “privilege,” much like the irony in Lenin sitting on his butt in Switzerland while complaining about the bourgeoisie.

But in this case, is the students’ real target actually the rich?

Southern Election Data

Picture 13

Picture 8

(I divided the spreadsheet so it would fit comfortably on your screen.)

So I got curious about trends in the Southern election data, (see yesterday’s post on Northern election data and last week’s post about my migration/Civil War theory,) thinking to myself that perhaps an opposite trend happened in the South–maybe poor sods who couldn’t catch a break in slavery-dominated states decided to go test their luck on the frontier, leaving behind a remnant population of pro-slavery voters.

Methodology/discussion:

I took as the “South” all of the states south of the Mason-Dixon. This turned out to be incorrect for Delaware and Maryland, which both tended to vote against the Southern states; Delaware, IIRC, voted with Massachusetts more often than “Northern” New Jersey.

The practice of having the legislators rather than citizens vote for president persisted for longer in the South than in the North, especially in SC, which did not have popular voting until after the Civil War; all of SC’s votes here, therefore, come from the legislature.

A “yes” vote means the state voted with the Southern Block during the age before individual vote counts were recorded or the state did not allow individual voting. A “no” vote means the state voted against the Southern Block under the same circumstances.

Originally I had planned on using VA as my touchstone for determining the “Southern” candidates, but VA did not always vote with the rest of the South. So I decided which candidates were the “Southern” ones based primarily on how badly they polled in MA.

A few of the elections had some weird anomalies.

Four candidates ran in the 1824 election. Only one of them was popular in NE, so that was easy, but the other three each won electors in the South, which resulted in the election being decided by the House of Representatives. In this case, Jackson carried most of the Southern states, but not VA or KY, so I decided to count only votes for Jackson.

In 1832, SC decided to cast all of its votes for the “Nullification” (State’s Rights) party. Since “States Rights” is the more polite form of Civil War grievances, I decided to count this as SC voting in line with pro-slavery interests, even though it was not in line with the other Southern states.

In 28 and 32, the states of Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama seem unsure how this “voting” thing works, and returned unanimous or near votes for their chosen candidates. Many Northern states also had anomalously high percents in those yeas, IIRC, so this may not be voter fraud so much as everyone just feeling like they ought to vote for the same guy.

In 1836, the Whigs ran four candidates in hopes of throwing the election to the House again, resulting in a fragmented Southern block. I counted all Whig candidates as part of the MA/Puritan side, and so give here the vote percents for Van Buren, the Democratic candidate.

In 1856, the Whig party had disintegrated, and two parties took its place. The Republicans, soon to be very famously anti-slavery, emerged in the North but do not appear to have run at all in the South; I don’t think they were even on the Southern ballots. In the South, an anti-immigrant/nativist party sprang up to balance the Democrats. It won few states, but performed well overall. I couldn’t decide whether to count the Democrats or the nativists as the more pro-South / pro-slavery party, so I wrote down both %s, Dems first and then nativists.

This oddity persists in 1860, when again the Republicans do not appear to have even been on the Southern ballots. The Democrats split in two, with one candidate running in the North against Lincoln, and another candidate running in the South on an explicitly pro-slavery platform, against the the “pro-union” party whose main platform was opposing the civil war. The Union party polled decently throughout the South–taking VA, KY, and Tenn.–but received very low %s in the North. The North, it appears, was not as concerned with trying to stop the Civil War as Virginia was.

Conclusions:

The data does not support my suspicion that less-slavery-minded people moved out of the Southern states. In fact, the most ardently pro-slavery, pro-secession states were Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas, who also happen to be the last 5 Southern states admitted to the Union, with last but not least Texas outstripping them all at 75%. In that same election, Virginia, the first Southern state, voted for the pro-union party.

So it looks like the same pattern appears here as in the Northern data: more conservative people have moved Westward.

However, the %s voting for the Southern candidates held fairly steady once the era of unanimous voting ended. Georgia, for example, went from 48% 1836 in to 49% in 1860. Mississippi went from 59% to 59%. VA hovered around 55%-50% until the last election. So I don’t see any clear trend of coastal states becoming more liberal over time, aside from maybe VA.

Pre-Civil War Election Results by State

Picture 11
Simplified version
Picture 10
Detailed version

I wanted to see if I could find any evidence in support of the theory I discussed the other day that emigration of more “conservative” folks from the Northern East Coast toward the American West left behind an increasingly liberal population that became increasingly concerned about slavery.

I decided to use election results as the easiest way to gauge relative “liberal”ness over time. If the theory is correct, we ought to see an increase in the % of the vote going to “liberal” candidates over time on the Northern East Coast, and a lower % of the vote going to “liberal” candidates in the western areas settled by former East-Coasters.

Since the theory does not concern itself with the behavior of Southern voters, I ignored them completely and only looked at election results for states north of the Mason-Dixon.

Ideally, I’d also look at Congressional elections, but I decided that focusing on Presidential elections would let me quickly get a general idea of whether or not I had a potentially viable idea.

Some notes:

The first difficulty in compiling this data was deciding who the “liberal” candidates were. I eventually decided to dispense with the notion entirely (see Friday’s grumbling on the subject of whether the Puritans or Jamestown settlers were more “liberal.”) Rather, there is a very clear pattern in the data of Massachusetts and Virginia voting for different parties; MA and the other Puritan states tend to vote together, while VA and the rest of the South tend to vote together. Taken over the long haul, the voting pattern looks more like two ethnically-based parties than two ideologically based parties. Since I am not interested here in some Platonic ideal of “liberalness”, but merely the ideas that prompted the Northern attitudes toward the Civil War, I decided to regard whichever party was dominant in MA (the most consistently anti-whoever-won-VA state) as the “liberals.”

I’ve ordered the states by year of settlement for the original colonies and year of entry to the US for the rest.

There’s no data on popular votes for most states prior to 1824, mostly because most states didn’t have popular voting back then. These elections I have marked merely “Yes” or “No” for “voted for the Puritan candidate” or “voted against the Puritan candidate.”

There’s a period of mass agreement that affected most–but not quite all–of the states until about 1832. The election of 1820, for example, was nearly unanimous–only one elector chose to vote against James Monroe. This I suspect has more to do with the whole country being relatively novel (and early elections lacking popular voting,) rather than mass Puritan or anti-Puritan sentiment.

Starting in 1840, third parties with anti-slavery platforms appeared on the scene and quickly grew in significance. These parties polled pretty much zero outside of the North. The “detailed” dataset gives both the main party’s total and the third party’s totals; the “simplified” set only shows the composite total. (Since it I’ve been working on this very late at night, I hope the math is all correct, but if you find an error, I’d appreciate knowing about it.) I regard the emergence of these third parties as evidence of further leftward movement of the voting public.

The third party polled particularly well in 1848 due to having a very popular candidate; this should not be seen as evidence that the party itself was as popular as it looks in ’48. Likewise, 1836 had a very unpopular candidate.

Interestingly, this period also saw the emergence of a very small fourth party in the North devoted to opposing immigration. I regard these as local “conservative” parties and so didn’t include them in the graph.

Several states are “border states” that received significant migration from both the North and the South; they should be considered accordingly.

Conclusions:

The data looks tentatively favorable to the theory.

If we ignore the period of mass agreement, MA’s support of the Puritan candidate goes from 47% to 62% between 1832 and 1860.

NY holds fairly steady (perhaps because NY is a large enough state that many of its migrants stayed within the state,) but increases from 48% to 54%.

RI: 50% to 61%

Conn holds mostly steady, but increases a bit, from 55% to 58%.

NH: 43% to 57%

New Jersey, a border state, went from 49% to 48%. (Though it was 42% in 1824.)

Pennsylvania, interestingly, did not vote with MA at the beginning, but consistently voted against it. In 1832, it appears that the Puritan candidate wasn’t even on the Pennsylvania ballot. Generously ignoring 1832, Penn makes a remarkable rise from 12% in 1824 to 56% in 1860.

VT: 35% to 76%

Ohio did not originally vote with the North; it went from 25% in 1824 to 52% in 1860.

Indi: 19% in 1824 to 51% in 1860.

Il: 32% in 1824 to 51% in 1860.

ME, formerly part of MA, follows the general coastal New England pattern of mass agreement in the early yeas, then goes from 44% in 1832 to 62% in 1860.

Missouri also seems to have not run the Puritan candidate in 1832, but otherwise went from 4% in 1824 to 44% in 1852, then dropped down to 0% and 10% in the final two elections–most likely due to confusion and campaign difficulties after the Whig party dissolved and the Republicans took their place, rather than a sudden massive shift in attitudes.

Michigan went from 46% in 1836 to 57% in 1860.

Iowa: 50% in 1848 to 54% in 1860.

Wisconsin: 62% in 1848, then down to 57% in 1860.

CA: 47% in 1852, then down to 42 % in 1860.

Minn: 63%

OR: 36%

In the 1860 election, the Puritan candidate polled above 60% in MA, RI, VT, ME, and Minn. Four of those are old Puritan states, and I think Minn is full of Scandinavians.

Puritans polled below 55% in NY (those Dutch!) Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa (all Midwest states,) below 50% in NJ (border state,) and Missouri (both a border state and probably a fluke,) and below 40% in the most Western states, CA and OR.

Thus I conclude that we see a general trend in most of the Eastern states toward increasing support for the Puritan candidate, while the more Western states, despite their Puritan transplants, showed much less (sometimes decreasing) support.

 

Tesla, Edison, Genius, and Loneliness (part 2/2)

Part 1 is here.

“If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.” — Confucius

This quote is one of my personal mottoes, but I have added a corollary: “If I am walking with only one man, I still have two teachers, for I may learn to achieve goodness from a man’s good side, and to avoid evil from a man’s bad side.”

At any rate, Edison is a man whose goodness instructs us on how to take brilliant ideas and build the structures necessary for them to benefit humanity. Edison is a man who literally built civilization and deserves credit for both seeing how the structures needed to fit together to work, and for having the skills necessary to actually bring people together and build those structures.

Tesla is a lesson on how society should not manage its creative geniuses, (and I don’t mean the dumb pay dispute with Edison.)

Tesla is an interesting character. He appears to have been one of the world’s exceedingly rare true short sleepers, which appears to be a genetic condition:

“Ying-Hui Fu … studies the genetics and other characteristics of short sleepers at her neurogenetics lab.

“Currently, Fu knows of three types of genetic mutations that are related to the ability to function well on minimal amounts of sleep, which often runs in the family. In a 2009 paper published in the journal Science, she described a mother and a daughter who shared the same genetic mutation of the gene DEC2 that allowed them to thrive on six hours of sleep per night. So far Fu has identified about 50 families of short sleepers.

“This group of short sleepers is unique,” Fu said, describing them as optimistic and energetic, often holding more than one job. …

“Interestingly, these high energy levels typical of short sleepers can sometimes reach behavioral extremes. For instance, a 2001 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research that examined the sleep patterns and personality of 12 short sleepers, researchers found some evidence of subclinical hypomania — a milder form of manic behavior, characterized by euphoria, disinhibition and, in fact, a decreased need for sleep.”

Please note that drinking 10 5-hour-energy drinks in a row is not the same as having a genetic mutation that lets you get by on less sleep. Chances are extremely likely that you, my friend, are already not getting as much sleep as you need for optimum health. Also, since very few short sleepers have actually been studied, what we think we know about them may not be entirely accurate; they may suffer long-term consequences that have not yet been documented, for example. I do wonder if chronic lack of sleep eventually got to Tesla, reducing him to a state of waking-dreaming toward the end of his life, when he began going obviously loopy.

 

Tesla’s rigidity of personality, behavior, and dress are reminiscent of the compulsive, repetitive, and restrictive behaviors associated with autism/Asperger’s Syndrome (now just another part of “autism” in the DSM,) eg,

“People with Asperger syndrome display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to inflexible routines, move in stereotyped and repetitive ways, or preoccupy themselves with parts of objects.

“Pursuit of specific and narrow areas of interest is one of the most striking features of AS.[1] Individuals with AS may collect volumes of detailed information on a relatively narrow topic such as weather data or star names, without necessarily having a genuine understanding of the broader topic.” (Wikipedia.)

I’ve long thought it a problem that these definitions/descriptions make no effort to distinguish between “Aspies” and genuinely intelligent people, who simply have more ability to memorize facts of any sort and will learn about any subject in more depth than someone of ordinary intelligence. If we want to define high IQ as a mental disorder, then, well, I guess we can, but it seems like a bad idea to me.

Autistic children apparently also have difficulty sleeping, which is why many of them are being prescribed melatonin as a sleep aid (as I discussed back in Melanin, Sexuality, and Aggression.) However, these autistic kids appear to actually need more sleep than they’re getting; they just seem to have trouble turning off their brains and keeping them off long enough for a proper sleep.

Anyway, to get extremely speculative: Much like Fu’s short sleepers, the autistic people I have worked with personally (N=small) seemed like they had brains on overdrive. Imagine that a normal brain is an Amish buggy, going along at a nice, reasonable clip, and their brains are Formula One race cars. Brain speed in this case may have nothing to do with IQ, per say, or may in fact be detrimental to it–autistics are far more likely than the general population to test as mentally retarded–but I favor a theory that having a small quantity of autistic-like traits may be useful for people in fields or occupations that require high IQ, but large quantities of autistic-like traits cause too many negative side effects, resulting in full-blown autism. In Tesla’s case, he got the benefits of the massively high-powered, sped-up brain, with a side effect that he couldn’t turn it off long enough to get more than a few hours of sleep and lacked the normal social instincts that lead people to marry, have children, and generally form stable relationships with other people.

There’s a certain irony to Tesla advocating for sterilization of the unfit and hanging out with Nazi propagandist George Sylvester Viereck at the same time as the Nazis were ignoring Hans Asperger’s plea that his subjects be employed as codebreakers and executing them as mental defectives instead. But then, the Nazis are kind of a great big case of how not to treat your smart people.

To be fair, this is not evidence that Tesla actually supported the Nazis or their policies.

Back in Is Genius Fragile?, I discussed a recent paper in Molecular Psychology that claimed to have studied 1,400 students with IQs of 170 or above, and found no rare genetic alleles that were more common in them than people of normal or low IQ, but did find rare, deleterious alleles in regular/dumb people.

Edit: I just realized that for scheduling reasons, “Is Genius Fragile” actually got moved to mid-November. The Molecular Psychology paper is here.

But are such alleles actually deleterious? Tesla never married and had no children; neither did Isaac Newton. Einstein had three children, but one of them seems to have died in infancy and one was institutionalized for schizophrenia.

In other words, perhaps some of these alleles they’ve noticed aren’t deleterious, but actually helpful in some way. Perhaps, for example, there is an allele that codes for processes that help you turn off your brain at night and transition to certain sleep states. Without that allele, your brain is more “on” all the time, you feel more alert and can think more clearly than others without getting tired, but ultimately there are some bad side effects to not sleeping. Or perhaps the brain’s ability to see patterns is normally regulated by another mechanism that helps you distinguish between real patterns and false matches, which might malfunction in people like John Nash, resulting both in increased pattern-matching ability and in schizophrenia. By the way, I am totally speculating and might be completely wrong.

Please note that from the evolutionary POV, traits–like IQ–are not inherently valuable. A trait is adaptive if it leads to the continuation of your DNA into future generations, and is deleterious or maladaptive if it hinders the continuation of your DNA. If high IQ people do not have children, the high IQ is maladaptive and being selected out of the population. (Please note, also, that different environments, both physical and cultural, select for different traits. Had Tesla remained near his family back in Croatia, they might have helped arrange a marriage for him, leading eventually to children and romantic entanglements with someone who wasn’t a pigeon.)

However, even if high-IQ people never reproduced under any circumstances, their existence in a population might still be advantageous to the population as a whole–you probably enjoy having lightbulbs, electricity, cell phones, and other such things, for example. The development of vaccines, industrial agriculture, and modern theories about nutrition and hygiene have vastly expanded the Earth’s human population over the past hundred years, and would have done so even if the people involved had not had any children at all.

This is a somewhat complicated issue that depends on the interaction of a lot of variables, like whether society can consistently produce high-IQ people even if the high-IQ people themselves do not have many children, and whether the innovations of modernity will actually help us survive (the Amish, after all, have more children than your average person with a cell phone.) See: “How–and why–genius is group selected–massive cultural amplification” for some more discussion on the subject.

Regardless, I am operating under the assumption that society benefits from the existence of people like Tesla (and, of course, Edison.)

Anyway, back to Tesla and his job difficulties.

In “The Improperly Excluded,” Micheal Ferguson theorizes that there exists a maximum IQ difference between two people beyond which they cannot effectively communicate, which he places around 20 IQ points. (I think I discussed it here and here.) So a person with an average IQ of 100 can understand and communicate with someone with a 120 IQ, and someone with a 120 can understand a 140, but the 100 and 140 are essentially speaking Greek to each other; the 100 IQ person cannot make heads or tails of the 140’s thoughts, nor distinguish their claims from those of a crazy person or charlatan. If the 100 trusts the 120, the 120 can take advice from the 140 and recommend it to the 100, but beyond that, people of, say, 160 IQ are just too far removed from the average population to even get their ideas effectively communicated. Extremely high IQ people, therefore, may be improperly excluded from positions where they could actually do important work just because average people have no way to understand what they’re saying. Additionally, since extremely high IQ people are very rare, they may have to cope with a world in which almost no one they meet is within their comfortable conversation zone.

Note: see Hollingworth Fan’s comment below for some very interesting quotes on this subject.

Tesla, a guy who could do integer calculus in his head, was undoubtedly brilliant far beyond the common walks of man, and so seems to have faced the constant frustration of being surrounded by idiots like Edison. Upon Edison’s death, Tesla opined in the NY Times about his former boss:

“He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene … His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90 percent of the labor. But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor’s instinct and practical American sense.”

That idiot Edison, by the way, had six children, none of whom seem to have died in infancy or gone crazy. Three went into science/inventing, two were women, and I don’t know what happened to the fourth boy. Edison was undoubtedly helped in life by living in the same country as his family, but he also seems to have just been a more stable person who successfully managed to balance his work and social life. Edison: better adapted to his environment than Tesla.

Tesla’s genius was undoubtedly under-utilized. Tesla could not manage his own affairs, and so needed, at the very least, the strong structural support of a family that would prevent him from doing stupid things like gambling away his tuition money and dropping out of college, as well as a sound employer or university that would manage the business end of Tesla’s laboratory expenses and design implementation. Immigration to the US left Tesla without the support of his family, and his own stubbornness lead him to quit what would otherwise have been a productive career.

Additionally, Tesla’s ideas may truly have been too far ahead of their time for even other smart people to appreciate and understand. There were few people in the world at his level, and he must have spent much of his life completely isolated from anyone who could understand him. Even an employer willing to finance his schemes might not have been able to understand (and thus implement) some of them.

Isolation, I suspect, leads eventually to madness. Not because (or just because) isolation makes people lonely, which makes them depressed. But because the human animal is not designed to work in isolation.

In the extreme example, we know from observing people in solitary confinement that it breaks their brains and drives them insane.

In everyday life, our brains require regular feedback from others to make sure our ideas and impulses are correct. To give a trivial example, suppose I mention to my husband that a friend of mine did something today that really annoyed me, and he responds that I am misinterpreting things, that he heard from my friend’s husband that morning about some extenuating circumstances that explain her behavior and that I should not be annoyed with her. Likewise, he might come to me with a story about a co-worker who seems to be stealing his ideas, and I could help figure out if the guy really is.

Isolation removes this feedback, leading to more and more incorrect ideas.

In his recent post, “Mysticism and Pattern-Matching,” Scott Alexander writes:

“Think of top-down processing as taking noise and organizing it to fit a pattern. Normally, you’ll only fit it to the patterns that are actually there. But if your pattern-matching system is broken, you’ll fit it to patterns that aren’t in the data at all. …

“So hallucinations are when your top-down processing/pattern-matching ability becomes so dysfunctional that it can generate people and objects out of random visual noise. Why it chooses some people and objects over others I don’t know, but it’s hardly surprising – it does the same thing every night in your dreams.

“Many of the same people who have hallucinations also have paranoia. Paranoia seems to me to be overfunctioning of social pattern-matching. … When a paranoiac hears a stray word here, or sees a sideways glance there, they turn it into this vast social edifice of connected plots.”

Tesla’s claims to have been working on a “Death Ray” that turned out to be an old battery, his romantic entanglement with a pigeon, claims that “thieves” had broken into his hotel room in search of his “Death Ray” but not been able to find, and the Mythbusters’ thorough busting of his claims to have built an oscillator that nearly brought down the building and had to be destroyed with a sledgehammer all sound a lot like what Scott’s describing. As a guy who could do calculus in his head, Tesla had an extreme talent for pattern matching–perhaps too extreme. Scott continues:

“So to skip to the point: I think all of this is about strengthening the pattern-matching faculty. You’re exercising it uselessly but impressively, the same way as the body-builder who lifts the same weight a thousand times until their arms are the size of tree trunks. Once the pattern-matching faculty is way way way overactive, it (spuriously) hallucinates a top-down abstract pattern in the whole universe. This is the experience that mystics describe as “everything is connected” or “all is one”, or “everything makes sense” or “everything in the universe is good and there for a purpose”. The discovery of a beautiful all-encompassing pattern in the universe is understandably associated with “seeing God”.”

Recovered schizophrenics I’ve talked to report the exact same thing: both a mystical sense of the union of all things, and joy at the experience (though they also report that schizophrenia can be absolutely terrifying, because sometimes the voices are evil.)

And finally (at least for the quoting):

“I think other methods of inducing weird states of consciousness, like drugs and meditation, probably do the same thing by some roundabout route. Meditation seems like reducing stimuli, which is known to lead to hallucinations in eg sensory deprivation tanks or solitary confinement cells in jail. I think the general principle is that a low level of external stimuli makes your brain adjust its threshold for stimulus detection up until anything including random noise satisfies the threshold.”

Isolation/ lack of stimulus has a direct effect of lowering the brain’s threshold for identifying patterns until random background noise gets interpreted as conversation. (The general correlation between schizophrenia and low IQ could be partially an effect of smarter people being better at avoiding severe isolation, and dumber people being more likely to end up in situations where literally no one has a real conversation with them for years at a time.

Tesla seems to have been isolated in his own way, both by being far more intelligent than the vast majority of people, and so unable to converse properly with them, and also by having none of his family, kin, or fellow countrymen around. He even had to communicate primarily in a language that was hardly his first.

Long term, I suspect such isolation had a negative effect on Tesla’s sanity and ability to wisely conduct his own affairs.

 

Tesla is a difficult case, because he willingly walked away from what were probably excellent career opportunities, and there’s hardly anything anyone could do about his family being back in Croatia. However, since most people do live in the same country as their families, we can still draw some general conclusions:

Some really smart people may require significant support from society and/or their families/employers in order to properly function and fully realize their potential. Their families should probably step in and help them get married if they can’t do it themselves, at the very least to help keep them happy and stable.

The Wikipedia quotes physicist Y. S. Kim on the subject of P. A. M. Dirac (one of my favorite scientists)’s marriage to Margit Wigner, sister of Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Eugene Wigner:

“It is quite fortunate for the physics community that Manci took good care of our respected Paul A. M. Dirac. Dirac published eleven papers during the period 1939–46…. Dirac was able to maintain his normal research productivity only because Manci was in charge of everything else.”

Dirac and Manci in Kopenhagen
Dirac and Manci in Kopenhagen

Alas, the Wikipedia does not give the details of how an autist like Dirac managed to marry Manci.

Really smart people may have some ideas that are astounding brilliant, and also have a lot of ideas that don’t work at all, because that is just the nature of creativity, but the average person probably can’t tell the difference. They need other people like themselves to bounce ideas off of and generally converse with. Their eccentricities are generally harmless, and the community is better off tolerating them.

Above all, try not to abandon them. Humans are not built to be alone.