Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)


The scientist James Watson has spoken out again on the subject of intelligence and race. It’s very easy to get caught in the racial prejudice / political correctness arguments with which his views are usually met and not to look at the other implications of what he has said, so I’ll leave that to the media (not that I condone his views in any way). But it also raises a couple of other questions for me.

Firstly, his definition of ‘intelligence’. I wonder if he is using the word purely in the sense of the ability to complete conventional IQ tests? These are known to concentrate in the area of logical reasoning, and aren’t so good with other areas of what most of us tend to classify as part of intelligence, such as artistic talent and the ability to interpret, understand and empathise with the emotions of others. In addition most IQ tests are known to be biased against people from other races who have different social backgrounds and ways of reasoning. Maybe more common ground with could be found with Watson if other terminology could be found to discuss all this? Or maybe he just isn’t interested in forms of intelligence which aren’t measured by the conventional tests?

The second thing that struck me on the BBC news report was his comment that he believes that within 20 years we will have a DNA test which can predict intelligence. Obviously as discussed above we have to ask is what kind of intelligence? I’m no geneticist but I would expect that different skills would be covered by different parts of the DNA sequence? Then there’s the old question of nature or nurture: how much of our intelligence is genetically determined and how much comes from our education and upbringing?

Then there are the implications on society of this test. There are already concerns about DNA tests on foetuses leading to abortions if any kind of physical impairment is detected. Would parents start aborting foetuses if they were below a certain level of intelligence? And how soon would it be before we could influence the level of intelligence by genetic manipulation? Would the wealthy genetically manipulate their offspring to ensure that they are of above average intelligence? And in that case what of the less well-endowed who can’t afford to do this?

What would a society with a highly intelligent upper class and a more ‘average’ working class look like? Maybe it is far from the mark, and possibly shows my western upbringing, but HG Wells warning with the Morlocks and Eloi is beginning to sound more relevant……


October 17, 2007 - Posted by | General

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