Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Modest Suggestion?

A few days ago I ran across a blog post that made the claim that intelligence has declined about one standard deviation over the last hundred years. In other words, that we are not as smart as the Victorians. That seemed so counter-intuitive that I couldn't believe it. I read a bit further and there seemed to be some evidence that this was indeed the case. But what about that other claim, the Flynn Effect, that IQ is steadily increasing over time? Oh, and what about that other theory, that listening to Mozart makes you smarter? I listened to a piano trio by him yesterday--how much smarter can I count on being today?

Alas, the Mozart effect has been shown to be, well, nonexistent. As for the Flynn Effect, there are a lot of variables there: for one thing, they are constantly changing the standard IQ tests. They say it is to make them harder, but I'm not so sure.

As for the idea that intelligence has declined, I just ran across a much more detailed study that seems to have discovered that IQ has declined 13.35 points since 1889. This is based on a study of reaction time which is considered to be a good proxy for IQ. Here is a link to that study.

I'm only mentioning this so I can make the modest suggestion that perhaps this might explain why classical music audiences are shrinking and no-one seems to want to read record reviews that are more than 300 words long and why television seems to get more brainless every time I inadvertently catch a glimpse of it.

Just a thought. And yes, the title is meant to allude to the essay by Jonathan Swift.

Let's listen to what was one of the most popular entertainments in the 19th century, an opera by Rossini who was able to retire, wealthy, when he was thirty-seven years old--from the composition of operas which were the blockbuster hits of their day. Here is the most famous aria from his most famous opera, The Barber of Seville:


Rickard Dahl said...

I thought that IQs in general were being raised over time (Flynn effect). It would indeed be strange if it's the opposite but if so maybe it's due to the activities we do (such as less reading and more TVs, computers). But on the other hand people we more physically active before. Either way, I don't like discussing intelligence or IQ (whatever it actually measures) and I also think your "modest suggestion" is wrong, you probably wanted to stir up some controversy. Speaking of reading, there is a reading technique called speed reading with which you can easily double your reading speed (if you read like an average person and never practiced anything like that). As for television, it's more of a thing of not trying so hard anymore and maybe overflow of low quality (more channels with low quality material instead of fewer channels but with high quality material), besides people are moving away from TV watching (from my experience) and use streaming services instead for instance. Finally, as for decline classical music, it mostly be blamed on the rise of popular music and the hugely reduced attention in media and society about classical music.

Rickard Dahl said...

people were* Not "we"

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, so did I, that's why I was a bit surprised by the suggestion that IQs might be going down, not up.

But I will admit that my post was not meant to be entirely serious (like Jonathan Swift's essay...)