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#77- The Moral Complexity of Genetics A Conversation with Siddhartha Mukherjee

 
Nhoj Morley
 
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Nhoj Morley
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22 May 2017 17:42
 

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Siddhartha Mukherjee about the human desire to understand and manipulate heredity, the genius of Gregor Mendel, the ethics of altering our genes, the future of genetic medicine, patent issues in genetic research, controversies about race and intelligence, and other topics.

The Moral Complexity of Genetics A Conversation with Siddhartha Mukherjee

This thread is for listeners’ comments.

 

 
paddy_o_door
 
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22 May 2017 21:35
 

A couple points:

1. Sam vs Bo Jackson

Sam rightly suggests Bo Jackson’s superior athleticism would make him proficient in most sports, well beyond the average person. Jackson played professional football and baseball, a rare accomplishment. Suppose Bo attempts to learn and play tennis competitively. Presumably he could do both better than average, though not necessarily elite.

Siddhartha rebutted with the elite Kenyan distance runner, incapable of playing football but surely a faster marathoner than Jackson. The Kenyan is a specialist, whereas Jackson is a generalist.

To complete the thought, replace athleticism with intelligence. We know high IQ individuals can learn, process and perform most intellectual activities well beyond average. But this doesn’t mean they are gifted among all activities requiring intelligence, though their baseline abilities would distinguish them in all but the most specialized circles.

Obviously Shakespeare and Einstein would stand out academically in secondary studies, likely gaining Ivy League admission if they applied.  But Shakespeare would have struggled to discover the Theory of Relativity, just as Einstein would have had trouble writing Othello, Macbeth and other masterworks.

2. The Increasing Utility of High Intelligence, and….

We already see highly intelligent people using information technology, science and reason to single-handedly create impressive businesses and technologies. With AI waiting to take over more human workload, it stands to reason these same individuals will harness machines to do what humans previously did on a much grander scale. See Amazon fulfillment warehouses where highly engineered robots have replaced forklifts, runners and box packers.

So if this trend continues, and productivity gains fall increasingly into the hands of brilliant thinkers, what happens to everyone else?

This would include most college graduates and people of above average IQ. IBM Watson, teamed with medical sensors and good algorithms, could do what many primary care doctors are doing at present: diagnosing colds, allergies and flu.

Do we collect a universal basic income and play video games all day, while power consolidates to those with IQs above the 99.9 percentile?

 
SlackerInc
 
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23 May 2017 00:38
 

Interesting thoughts.

I was on Sam’s side when it came to the Vox critique, and I hope Klein does come on the podcast.

But when it came to the points Siddhartha made, I thought he had Sam dead to rights.  He didn’t name-check Gardiner or his “multiple intelligences” theory, but that is definitely the kind of thing he was talking about by raising the “blue eyes are beautiful” analogy, and referencing LeBron James.  I would also point to dance and jazz as things that African Americans have shown great facility in, and which certainly require a kind of intelligence, but not the kind measured on the SAT or in an IQ test.

 
Twissel
 
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23 May 2017 02:03
 

Sam Harris did a great setup for the podcast, demolishing the Vox piece as the misguided attempt at PC that it was.
The science on the genetics of intelligence are clear, and become clearer all the time:

http://www.newsweek.com/intelligence-genes-discovered-scientists-iq-clever-inherited-613348

 
 
sculptorbill
 
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23 May 2017 06:05
 

best thing I’ve read since “the body ritual of the Nacirema”

 
paddy_o_door
 
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23 May 2017 07:55
 
SlackerInc - 23 May 2017 12:38 AM

.But when it came to the points Siddhartha made, I thought he had Sam dead to rights.  He didn’t name-check Gardiner or his “multiple intelligences” theory, but that is definitely the kind of thing he was talking about by raising the “blue eyes are beautiful” analogy, and referencing LeBron James.  I would also point to dance and jazz as things that African Americans have shown great facility in, and which certainly require a kind of intelligence, but not the kind measured on the SAT or in an IQ test.

For the record I agree with Sam and Charles Murray’s conclusion on Mean Intelligence, as measured by IQ tests. They both pointed out the fallacy of treating any individual equal to his group’s mean IQ. The main takeaway is not overreacting to statistics which don’t necessarily harm an individual’s potential unless misused. Racists, and to a lesser extent highly biased people, being likely to parrot this knowledge for the wrong reasons.

Real problems arise when concocting social policy. Even then, do the few points which separate each group call for specialized programs for each race? That seems absurd on its face.

Yes, dance and music “IQ” of many African Americans is prodigious, equaling many counterparts in the math and verbal areas. But as a practical matter, one can secure a stable career and job with these abilities compared to finer arts. Thus the “circularity of IQ testing” Siddhartha discussed is important to remember: those at the top - verbal and mathematical standouts - are creating tests which define who is gifted at language and equations. Tautological language used on purpose smile

 
mortiscrum
 
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mortiscrum
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23 May 2017 09:38
 
paddy_o_door - 22 May 2017 09:35 PM

A couple points:

1. Sam vs Bo Jackson

Sam rightly suggests Bo Jackson’s superior athleticism would make him proficient in most sports, well beyond the average person. Jackson played professional football and baseball, a rare accomplishment. Suppose Bo attempts to learn and play tennis competitively. Presumably he could do both better than average, though not necessarily elite.

Siddhartha rebutted with the elite Kenyan distance runner, incapable of playing football but surely a faster marathoner than Jackson. The Kenyan is a specialist, whereas Jackson is a generalist.

To complete the thought, replace athleticism with intelligence. We know high IQ individuals can learn, process and perform most intellectual activities well beyond average. But this doesn’t mean they are gifted among all activities requiring intelligence, though their baseline abilities would distinguish them in all but the most specialized circles.

Obviously Shakespeare and Einstein would stand out academically in secondary studies, likely gaining Ivy League admission if they applied.  But Shakespeare would have struggled to discover the Theory of Relativity, just as Einstein would have had trouble writing Othello, Macbeth and other masterworks.

I registered an account to make exactly this point. The correct comparison for Bo’s theoretical marathon abilities is NOT a mediocre Kenyan marathoner (who is an elite runner on the scale of human ability), but an average person. That is, imagine a test was created to measure general athletic ability. Off the top of my head it would be some measure of strength, speed, reflexes, coordination, endurance, and proprioception. Bo would no doubt score extremely highly on this test. He would almost certainly easily beat any person who had an average score on this test in all or nearly all physical activities.

This is general athletic ability. It wouldn’t be useful to say which sports or activities Bo (or someone who scored highly on the test) could challenge the elite at, but it would certainly be predictive of how they’d match up against a random/average person at any given task.

 
eucaryote
 
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23 May 2017 09:50
 
Twissel - 23 May 2017 02:03 AM

Sam Harris did a great setup for the podcast,
The science on the genetics of intelligence are clear, and become clearer all the time:

http://www.newsweek.com/intelligence-genes-discovered-scientists-iq-clever-inherited-613348

Intelligence as a function of genetics is nothing new. When you say Harris “demolishing the Vox piece as the misguided attempt at PC that it was”, are you saying that Harris made an actual compelling argument that the genetics that describe intelligence is the same as that which describe skin color what what some uniformed people call “race”.

 
 
paddy_o_door
 
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23 May 2017 10:55
 
mortiscrum - 23 May 2017 09:38 AM

This is general athletic ability. It wouldn’t be useful to say which sports or activities Bo (or someone who scored highly on the test) could challenge the elite at, but it would certainly be predictive of how they’d match up against a random/average person at any given task.

I anticipate Sam would reply in one or both of the following ways:

1. Distinction without a difference. Comparing one gifted generalist vs. one gifted specialist is talking about two unique gifts with no difference in ability to succeed relative to others.

2. Practical Realities. If one had to choose whether to be Bo Jackson or a Kenyan runner, most would choose to be Jackson. His high general ability allowed him to earn substantial income in multiple sports. Contrasted to the runner—more of a “one trick pony”—he must become a gold medal Olympian in order to have a prayer at making half the money Bo did. Even if the runner is a profoundly gifted specialist relative to Bo’s general athletic capabilities, Bo still does better economically with his gifts.

Which sort of makes Sam’s case that general abilities are predictive of success. Conversely, that success is also determined by how the world remunerates our gifts, refined to the greatest of their abilities.

A gifted teacher still makes less than a mediocre Wall Street Trader. Go figure.

 
Ramz1112
 
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23 May 2017 12:17
 

the best part “...male cultural macheesmo bragadoccio” Sam *Laughs*. I rarely hear an actual laugh from Sam Harris, so it made the statement even more hilarious.

 
aGoonForHire
 
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23 May 2017 14:42
 

-

[ Edited: 24 May 2017 07:59 by aGoonForHire]
 
Trumanhw
 
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24 May 2017 00:15
 

Siddhartha Mukherjee engaged in motivated reasoning, and worked backwards from his preconceived bias.

As others have mentioned (here), SH used examples from sports of generalists to discuss (g) ... and Mukherjee replied to both analogies by referring to specialists.

The twin study also showed a reversion to the mean as they got older:

Perhaps Sam Should have spent more time preparing a powerful question (rather than fun familiar rhetoric which Mukherjee can easily escape if he’s inclined to obscurantism and PC views…) Sam could have asked:

IF we are unable to find ANYONE with a Doctoral from ANY reputable college in physics, engineering, philosophy who doesn’t have an IQ above 110—then irrespective of of the tests “state of perfection”—isn’t this precisely what we mean when we refer to someone as “smart” or “intelligent” ??

If the clearer and more simply someone explains complex things, the more likely they are to have a higher IQ, then isn’t the test validated?

OBVIOUSLY, since there are autistic savants, there will always be ways to have a high IQ yet have other cognitive impairment. And so—an IQ is a NECESSARY condition to the things we think of as intelligent… but not a sufficient condition.

And in accordance with that Sam acknowledged there were many other features of human cognition that are required for success.

Mukherjee could have been representing his egalitarian, ideological, compassionate or any of a million other biases—if not delusion… but my money is on obscurantism.

NONE of these obscurantists will accept a bet where for instance, I, can select black people at my choosing who’s IQs I needn’t ever know in advance… to earnestly take IQ tests—in which I will BET that they

A. NEVER have scores below 100, let alone, the black average, 85.
B. By asking them surrogate questions of what they do, how well they do it, and listening to how well they speak, I can predict with some accuracy their score.


I need only to pick the black people with law degrees, philo, physics, etc.

WHY can I blindly pick with absolute precision those people who’ll have gifted to genius IQs ... if the test results are all just the product of racism and racial bias - shouldn’t I lose? It’s a game rigged against black test takers. Its easy money… right?

Getting them to bet against me, in which I bet ON blacks to have high IQs—higher than the white average, the asian average or even ashkenazi average should be enticing to anyone who TRULY believes the false scoring of the black average should make it impossible for me to win with any regularity. Yet, I would LITERALLY bet everything I own at this. I would do it professionally, all day, every day if I could get people to bet against me.

But people like Mukherjee would refuse this bet—is proof to me that they’re aware of their obscurantism.

Money, is truth serum.

 
paddy_o_door
 
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24 May 2017 07:57
 
Trumanhw - 24 May 2017 12:15 AM

Mukherjee could have been representing his egalitarian, ideological, compassionate or any of a million other biases—if not delusion… but my money is on obscurantism.

NONE of these obscurantists will accept a bet where for instance, I, can select black people at my choosing who’s IQs I needn’t ever know in advance… to earnestly take IQ tests—in which I will BET that they

A. NEVER have scores below 100, let alone, the black average, 85.
B. By asking them surrogate questions of what they do, how well they do it, and listening to how well they speak, I can predict with some accuracy their score.

I’m not sure Siddhartha was practicing obscurantism. Such a position is like using a monkey wrench in debate, hoping to work individual nuts of an opponent’s argument.

You argued IQ is predictable due to it being highly correlated to educational attainment. I would agree this is largely true, save mechanics, musicians and school teachers with high general intelligence who only pursue a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) after secondary education. So I wouldn’t bet against you in most cases.

One of Siddhartha’s rebuttals criticized the “circularity of IQ testing”, that is, people gifted in verbal and mathematical abilities create a test to identify the same in others. People who score highly advance to the upper echelons of society, thereby confirming both the validity AND bias of the test.

For example, there is no portion of the General Intelligence test for music, body movement, drawing or emotional awareness. Imagine the world’s most accomplished music theorists wrote a section of the test, would it have to be re-normed afterwards? Would the same people on top of the verbal and math version also ace a test with music?

I realize I added another rebuttal here, the multiple intelligence argument. Howard Gardner discussed this, suggesting verbal and math abilities are “coin of the realm” because they are highly valued in school. Other intelligences are discounted to extra-curricular activities, due in part to being less economically viable as careers.

Has anyone ever worked with a genius IQ professor or colleague? Were their interpersonal abilities equally genius? I admit a High IQ pays more bills than a High EQ, but who wants to deal with difficult people?

 
Ramz1112
 
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24 May 2017 10:17
 

As with everything else when having to gauge how people feel or will react, you can draw a line between the applications of our world and general intelligence. You almost start to become something like a religious believer when your arguments lead toward claims like “who is to say what is consider physically gifted”. As was touched upon, within our working world, we do have these specific guidelines to latch these terms too.

 
Ramz1112
 
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24 May 2017 10:22
 
paddy_o_door - 24 May 2017 07:57 AM
Trumanhw - 24 May 2017 12:15 AM

Mukherjee could have been representing his egalitarian, ideological, compassionate or any of a million other biases—if not delusion… but my money is on obscurantism.

NONE of these obscurantists will accept a bet where for instance, I, can select black people at my choosing who’s IQs I needn’t ever know in advance… to earnestly take IQ tests—in which I will BET that they

A. NEVER have scores below 100, let alone, the black average, 85.
B. By asking them surrogate questions of what they do, how well they do it, and listening to how well they speak, I can predict with some accuracy their score.

I’m not sure Siddhartha was practicing obscurantism. Such a position is like using a monkey wrench in debate, hoping to work individual nuts of an opponent’s argument.

You argued IQ is predictable due to it being highly correlated to educational attainment. I would agree this is largely true, save mechanics, musicians and school teachers with high general intelligence who only pursue a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) after secondary education. So I wouldn’t bet against you in most cases.

One of Siddhartha’s rebuttals criticized the “circularity of IQ testing”, that is, people gifted in verbal and mathematical abilities create a test to identify the same in others. People who score highly advance to the upper echelons of society, thereby confirming both the validity AND bias of the test.

For example, there is no portion of the General Intelligence test for music, body movement, drawing or emotional awareness. Imagine the world’s most accomplished music theorists wrote a section of the test, would it have to be re-normed afterwards? Would the same people on top of the verbal and math version also ace a test with music?

I realize I added another rebuttal here, the multiple intelligence argument. Howard Gardner discussed this, suggesting verbal and math abilities are “coin of the realm” because they are highly valued in school. Other intelligences are discounted to extra-curricular activities, due in part to being less economically viable as careers.

Has anyone ever worked with a genius IQ professor or colleague? Were their interpersonal abilities equally genius? I admit a High IQ pays more bills than a High EQ, but who wants to deal with difficult people?

I agree with all of this, and have had many a discussion with friends about this same concept. “Reed Richards vs Batman - who is smarter” has been a coined debate forever.

I think you are likely to be more successful, generally speaking (in our current world), if you have a higher IQ in how the IQ test was created, vs an IQ test geared toward fitness, for example.

On the flip side, maybe 1000 years ago, having a higher “physically IQ” might have been more of an achievement, considering what we had to live through on a daily basis at that time.

 
mortiscrum
 
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24 May 2017 10:29
 
paddy_o_door - 24 May 2017 07:57 AM

One of Siddhartha’s rebuttals criticized the “circularity of IQ testing”, that is, people gifted in verbal and mathematical abilities create a test to identify the same in others. People who score highly advance to the upper echelons of society, thereby confirming both the validity AND bias of the test.

I would quibble with this based on the correlation between IQ scores and financial success. Getting a good IQ score is not a criteria to entering the various fields that benefit from having a high IQ. For instance, I would imagine that most people have never taken an IQ test. In the strictest sense, their IQ is “unknown.” However, the ones with good general intelligence generally distinguish themselves by being capable, learning quickly, and getting hired to positions that pay well. This is not self-selecting bias as Siddhartha seems to imply; rather, people with high IQ (whether their IQ has been measured or not) distinguish themselves through their ability to perform valuable tasks.

If one were to get the IQ scores of every person alive, and cross-reference the scores with people who’ve achieved financial success, the overlap between the two would be enough to have a credible shortcut to finding high IQ scores be just going straight to the people who are financially successful. That does not strike me as circular, but simultaneous.

 
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