World’s biggest brained woman reunites with Cher

Despite about a six standard deviation difference in cranial capacity, Oprah and Cher have always got along well. Because Cher’s brain is literally several times smaller than Oprah’s, she needed Western beauty, a great body, a great singing voice and musical talent to become rich and famous.

Oprah didn’t have those advantages, but her huge brain gave her the adaptability to turn situations around to her advantage. The essence of intelligence.

The two women recently reunited for the premier of the Oprah produced documentary Sidney, but the two women, they go back.

Oprah always respected Cher because Cher, like Lady O, is a celebrity, so back in 1993, Oprah was shocked when some nerdy kid in the studio audience name Jeremy had the nerve to tell Oprah he would not date Cher because she was too old for him. Oprah was so indignant she ordered a staffer to get Cher on the phone.

In one of the great moments in TV history, Cher actually did call and ripped the kid a new one. Good times!

Anthropocentrism vs Anthropomorphism, Dr. Marino vs Professor Manger (guest post by Erichthonius aka Melo)

[The following is a guest post and does not necessarily reflect the views of Pumpkin Person]

Humans can be narcissistic; I don’t need a degree to tell you that. That’s something that most people figure out just from interacting with members of their species. Unfortunately, this narcissism has seeped into our research of life sciences and has had profound effects on the way we conduct said research, and I believe these effects are the most apparent within the current debate on animal consciousness and intelligence.

Humans have two bad habits, prescribing anthropomorphic traits to animals and things. The other is hyper skepticism to the idea that anything that isn’t human could be conscious and feel something the same way humans do. Unfortunately, the former has resulted in incidents like at the Berlin Zoo, where a gorilla named Bokito broke out of his enclosure and beat the shit out of some dumbass who thought the aggressive behaviors the gorilla was displaying towards her were friendly (“Gorilla Goes on Dutch Zoo Rampage,” 2007). The latter has led to enormous animal abuse, like whaling practices and dog fighting.

There is massive debate and research on whether animals are conscious or intelligent in the way that we are. I’m not going to regurgitate the entirety of this debate; if you’re interested in going further than what I have presented here, I suggest the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on animal consciousness as a start. In this post, I will give an example that I believe characterizes this debate the best! And nothing, I think, does this more than the ongoing feud between Dr. Marino and Professor Paul Manger (“We discovered that whale and dolphin brains produce lots of heat. Why it matters,” 2021).

Note** I wrote this almost a year ago, and some of the citations that were originally here were no longer in existence. One was a podcast that interviewed Marino and Manger about this topic and their papers. If you want to see the whole debate, just take Dr. Marino’s or Manger’s paper and put it in google scholar, and you can see who else has cited their papers. From there, just look for Marino/Manger in the list that pops up.

So, to put things simply, Manger believes that many of the supposed complex behaviors Dolphins and other Cetaceans exhibit have been overstated by the researchers documenting them and are not actually that special or impressive compared to other species. Moreover, he believes his hypothesis proves that Cetacean brains are built for thermogenesis, not intelligence. He also maintains that this caused increased encephalization during the Archaeocete-Neocete transition (Manger, 2006), (Manger, 2013). While Marino believes she is not overstating any perceived intelligence of cetaceans and that Manger is simply ignorant of the literature (Marino et al., 2007).

Now, I know a little about Neuroscience, but I won’t pretend that I am as competent as these two are in comparative Neurobiology. Admittedly I can’t tell which one of them is bullshitting because they both accuse the other of being dishonest or ignorant of the Neurobiological data on Cetaceans. But, as the smug fence sitter, I am, I have found some problems with both of their approaches to this kind of research.

If you read Manger’s 2013 paper I cited previously; you’ll quickly notice a pattern when he starts going down the list, “debunking” each example of supposedly complex cognition. His criticisms can be summed up as “Other, less encephalized animals do it too, so it can’t be that complex or special at all.”. And when he can’t just handwave it away with that argument, he instead will claim that it doesn’t align with the Archeocete-Neocete transition.

I can’t fault him for not seeing the irony in his criticism because he’s just trying to defend his hypothesis and is not an “anthropocentric individual .” At least, as far as I know. But what’s hilarious about all this is that he undermines his entire point in his hyper-skeptic frenzy. Because if none of those behaviors like tool use, the ability to count, or cooperative hunting are particularly impressive or cognitively demanding, what the hell makes Primates unique? I mean, all of the abilities mentioned above can be done by multiple species of invertebrates, and they all have “primitive” neurological systems (Carazo et al., 2012), (Gross et al., 2009), (Pierce, 1986), (Alloway, 1979), (Vail et al., 2013), (Mikhalevich & Powell, 2020).

Meaning it can’t be due to the structure of the Nervous System because the behavior that makes said neural architecture important is present across virtually all orders of life! This problem leads to my other issues with his critique. One is his claim that the absence of a prefrontal cortex means Cetaceans are dumber or lack abilities associated with the said region. This is puzzling because areas of the cerebral cortex are not demarcated by morphological differences but by function, and said functional localizations vary significantly between individuals, minute by minute (Sporns et al., 2005), (Uttal, 2014). So to suggest that the absence of a prefrontal cortex means Cetaceans are incapable of higher-order thought is complete asinine bullshit, and I’m pretty shocked someone of Manger’s caliber would make such a mistake.

Furthermore, his critique of their “language” capabilities seems wanting. The idea that it takes a long time for these dolphins to learn the language doesn’t really help his case because it takes a long time for humans too, and if you’ve ever been on the internet, like ever, some adults still haven’t mastered their language even after decades of using it. He goes as far as saying that dolphins don’t even understand when objects disappear, but this was later refuted after adjusting the settings of the experiments to match more closely with their natural marine environments (Johnson et al., 2014).

I’m not here to shit on Manger, I may cover his paper in more depth in the future, but I simply want to draw the relation between anthropocentrism and his thesis mentioned earlier. His skepticism is so exaggerated that you almost have to wonder if Manger even believes other humans are conscious. After all, that is the burden this side of the aisle must be ready to take on if you think it is impossible to understand the mental states of other organisms. I mean, everyone interacts daily with members of their species and never really questions whether that person genuinely has consciousness or not. We just assume this is the case, and we base our interactions, which are sometimes Machiavellian, upon the perceptions of other people’s mental states. Maybe it is better to go with this intuition and not be afraid of anthropomorphizing “lower” species.

However, the problem with that and Marino’s side is that, as scientists, we have to base our beliefs on empirically reasonable grounds. Unfortunately, she has not provided ample evidence suggesting that cetaceans are as conscious or intelligent as they appear. Moreover, just as I wouldn’t say that Manger believes we can’t ever know if animals are conscious, I also wouldn’t say that Marino has entirely made up her assertions that Dolphins have human-like cognition. But sometimes, she can go a little far, like in her interview on the All things wild podcast, where she suggests a group of orcas is “culturally conservative” when you could equally assert that they are too dumb to adapt to a changing environment.

But no one wants to say that because humans are not rational creatures. We all enjoy going by just our common sense and intuitions, and even our coldest logic is still directed by emotion. To me and many others, it’s as obvious that animals, like cetaceans, have minds as it is that my neighbor has one, but that’s not empirically provable (yet). And, of course, this is in direct conflict with how we ought to operate in science which we often like to see as an objective lens through which we use to decipher the world around us. At the same time, this conflict poses a severe problem for people who want to toss intuition aside because you end up arriving at ridiculous conclusions. Ultimately, we may never know “what it’s like to be a bat,” but maybe in the future, when cognitive science becomes more developed, we will (Nagel, 1974). But for now, we must sit back and wonder whether animals have consciousness.

Native Americans are the key to understanding human COGNITIVE history

Some folks think HBD can be divided between HBDers like Jensen, Rushton, Lynn, Frost, Cochran, Clark & Jayman and anti-HBDers like Gould, Richard Klein, Chomsky, Steven Jones.

But the real division is not between those who think races differ in IQ and those who don’t; it’s between those who think important cognitive evolution more or less stopped in the Paleolithic, and those who think it speeded up in the last 10,000 years. In the former group I would put not only Gould, Klein, Chomsky, Jones, but also perhaps Rushton, Lynn and Jensen.

In the latter camp, I would put Frost, Jayman, Clark and Cochran.

This is why Native Americans, like our very own “Deal with it”, are so important. They split off from other Northern Eurasians around the time some say intelligence stopped evolving, and most of them remained hunter-gatherers until discovered by Columbus. So if their IQs are similar to those of whites and Northeast Asians, it implies intelligence pretty much stopped evolving in the Upper Paleolithic (with rare exceptions like Jews). But if their IQs are much lower, it implies the neolithic transition and civilization played a major role in the evolution of IQ.

I prefer to believe the former. I love the idea of a nice clean split between biological evolution and cultural evolution. It’s much more romantic to think the modern mind emerged from the wilderness to create civilization than it is to think modernity created the modern mind. Early white settlers may have felt the same way and this partly led to the red man being sometimes valorized as a Nobel savage, reminding Europeans of their own hunter-gatherer roots and thus not dehumanized as slaves as others were.

Now most research suggests that on a scale where white Americans average IQ 100 and fully black descendants of U.S. slaves average 80, Native Americans average 86. Native Americans scoring so close to black Americans suggests very little evolution took place from the time we left African 70,000 years ago, and the time Native Americans split off about 15,000 years ago, and the REAL leap forward occurred, not because exposure to the ice age, but because of events that followed like the neolithic transition, the invention of cities, states, literacy and numeracy.

But not so fast. Native Americans live in abysmal environments. Indeed by some estimates, they are as far below African Americans in socio-economic status as black Americans are below whites. Could cultural deprivation, and not stunted evolution, help explain their low IQs?

Consider the following study:

And yet despite having limited English and living on a reservation, when you eliminate Picture Arrangement (they probably didn’t understand the instructions) their Performance IQ was 100 (U.S. norms). Only 2 points below the U.S. white mean. And notice this study was published only seven years after the WISC-R was normed, so even the most extreme estimates of the Flynn effect would have only inflated their performance IQ by 3 points.

Despite approaching white levels on Performance IQ, their verbal IQs averaged in the mildly retarded range though this can be blamed on their limited English.

At the very least, one might argue that at least Performance IQ stopped evolving in the Upper Paleolithic.

Reference: Hynd, G. W., Kramer, R., Quackenbush, R., Conner, R., & Weed, W. (1979). Clinical Utility of the WISC-R and the French Pictorial Test of Intelligence with Native American Primary Grade Children. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 49(2), 480–482.

More evidence that the Wechsler Flynn Effect has been overestimated

As long-time readers know, my independent research has found that the Flynn effect, when properly studied, has only been about 1 point a decade on the Wechsler in Northern America, and not 3 points a decade as Flynn had claimed.

But why should anyone believe me, a nobody blogger, over one of the greatest psychologists of the 20th century?

Because I’ve found some research in support of my claim. A study where the original WISC, which was normed in 1947, was given to a fairly representative sample of American kids circa 1967.

Source: Pasewark, R. A., Sawyer, R. N., Smith, E., Wasserberger, M., Dell, D., Brito, H., & Lee, R. (1967). Concurrent Validity of the French Pictorial Test of Intelligence. The Journal of Educational Research, 61(4), 179–183.

If the Flynn effect were 3 points a decade, we’d expected kids tested on a 20-year-old test to average 6 points above the U.S. mean of 100, but instead they only averaged 3 points above 100, consistent with a Flynn Effect of 1.5 points per decade.

Source: Pasewark, R. A., Sawyer, R. N., Smith, E., Wasserberger, M., Dell, D., Brito, H., & Lee, R. (1967). Concurrent Validity of the French Pictorial Test of Intelligence. The Journal of Educational Research, 61(4), 179–183.

Was Richard Klein right? Major mutation may have made Sapiens smarter than Neanderthals

Richard Klein has long claimed that the archeological record shows an abrupt increase in sophistication about 50,000 years. Before 50,000 years ago Sapiens behaved more or less like Neanderthals and were largely confined to the continent of Africa with few complex tools and zero representational art. After 50,000 years ago, we suddenly colonized every continent except Antarctica, killed off all the Megafauna living outside Africa, drove all other human species to extinction, and filled our camp grounds with stunning works of art. Klein believed that such a massive rapid change could only be explained by a brain mutation making us smarter.

I on the other hand have argued Klein had it backwards. Getting smarter didn’t cause us to leave Africa. Leaving Africa (and facing the cold) selected for higher IQ.

However new research may clarify this issue once and for all. Scientists have discovered a major mutation in Sapiens that may have made us smarter than Neanderthals. Of the 19,000 genes in the human genome, only 96 protein encoding mutations separate us from Neanderthals. One of these alters the TKTL1 gene which affects the brain’s cortex, especially the frontal lobe.

Proving this mutation played a causal role in brain growth, Dr. Anneline Pinson and her team injected the Sapien version in animals as different from us as mice and ferrets and watched in awe as it caused their brains to grow more neurons. Next, with consent from the mothers, they looked at human fetal brain tissue from aborted babies and after snipping out the TKTL1 gene from the cells using molecular scissors, the number of progenitor cells giving rise to neurons declined.

Lastly, they edited Sapien embryonic stem cells to either have have the Sapien specific mutation or the ancestral version carried by Neanderthals and apes, put them in a chemical bath and coaxed them into becoming a blob of brain tissue called brain organoids or mini brains, and found the Sapien version produced more neurons and scientists suspect, this may explain why our brains are spherical and Neanderthal brains are elongated.

The next questions I have are, exactly when did this mutation occur and how many IQ points is it worth. In the early 2000s there was much excitement in the HBD community about microcephalin mutations supposedly causing major differences in IQ. Now that’s all gone. Too often genetic variants are found to have trivial effects.

However neuroscientist Laurent Nguyen thinks this might be a big deal, recently telling the New York Times “This is really a tour de force. It’s remarkable that such a small change has such a dramatic effect on the production of neurons.”

Of course ethical standards prohibit scientists from editing the embryos of actual future children just to see how it affects their IQ, though perhaps some government might do this in secret.

But with nearly eight billion people on the planet, and only 6 billion nucleotides in the human genome, odds are there might be someone out there who by chance, has the Neanderthal version of the TKTL1 gene. That person needs to take a brain scan and an IQ test.

Short, stumpy AND stupid? The IQ of the World’s shortest strong man

For decades it’s been quietly known that height is positively correlated (+0.24) with IQ and that weight/height ratio is negative correlated with IQ (-0.15). It is interesting to apply these correlations to the World’s shortest strong man and the World’s strongest short man, Andrew “Stumpy” Raynes, who was reportedly 5’3″ and 275 lbs when he achieved these distinctions.

Sadly, despite being a British hero, I suspect the Queen (like a lot of older upper class women) and the snobby men around her would have HATED him, not because he’s short, but because the combination of short and muscular is caveman looking and thus the opposite of Western civilization. The Grenadier Guards are supposed to be over 6’2″ and svelte and the Queen goes weak at the knees for tall nerds with glasses.

Indeed their short muscular build is one reason Neanderthals were long dismissed as primitive brutes incapable of thinking or running, stooped over and inferior to modern man in every way, physically and mentally.

Early reconstructions of Neanderthals portrayed them as monkeys

Stumpy’s height subtracts 9 points from his expected IQ

Let’s begin with Stumpy’s height. Given that he is 2.4 standard deviations shorter than the average white male of his generation, and given the 0.24 correlation between IQ and height, we’d expect his IQ to be 0.24(2.4 SD) below the white mean, or roughly 91 (British norms).

Stumpy’s weight/height ratio subtracts 5 points from his expected IQ

Weight/height ratio is usually calculated using the body mass index formula which is your weight in Kg divided by your squared height in meters. Don’t waste time doing the math when there are so many convenient calculators. When we calculate this for Stumpy we get 48.7.

Using table 15 of this document, we see that the mean BMI for non-Hispanic white males in the age range when Stumpy competed is 27.7 and the SD (which can be calculated by multiplying the standard error by the square root of the sample size) is 9.9, which means Stumpy’s BMI is +2.12 SD.

So based on the -0.15 correlation between IQ and BMI, his expected IQ is -0.15(+2.12) = -0.32 SD or about 5 points below the UK mean. defined as 100.

Stumpy’s fat-free weight/height ratio may subtract 15 points from his expected IQ

Of course BMI underestimates how truly exceptional Stumpy’s physique is because elite strongman typically have only 18.7% body fat. This suggests Stumpy’s fat-free body weight was (0.813)(275 lbs) = 224 lbs, giving him a Fat Free Mass Index of 39.7.

To put this number in perspective, let’s compare Stumpy not to the general population like we did before, but to the weight lifting population because they, like Stumpy, are closer to their genetic potential for fat-free mass. Compared to steroid users, Stumpy’s FFMI is an astonishing +6.78 SD and compared to non-steroid lifters, he’s +9.9 SD. Even if we conservatively assume that Stumpy is part of the steroid population, the odds of a random steroid lifter having an FFMI this high are about one in 190 billion assuming a bell-shaped curve.

Source: Kouri, E. M., Pope, H. G., Katz, D. L., & Oliva, P. (1995). Fat-Free Mass Index in Users and Nonusers of Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 5(4), 223–228.

If we assume the correlation between IQ and FFMI in the steroid population is the same as the correlation between IQ and BMI in the general population, and if we assume Stumpy’s part of the steroid population and that the steroid population has the same IQs as the general population, then his predicted IQ would be -0.15(+6.78 SD) = -1.02 SD or IQ 85.

The COMBINED effect of Stumpy’s height and FFMI on his IQ

The whole point of using (fat-free) weight/height ratio instead of weight is to eliminate the effect of height from weight. Thus the correlation between FFMI and height should be zero. A zero correlation has disasterous implications for Stumpy’s expected IQ because the deductions predicted from his height (9 points) are completely independent from the deductions predicted from his FFMI (15 points). That means we can simply add them and predict Stumpy’s IQ is 24 points below the UK mean of 100 which is IQ 76.

Of course, the standard error around this estimate is so large that I would take it with a grain of salt, but to paraphrase a famous scene in Animal House, short, stumpy and stupid is no way to go through life.

Gorgeous Oprah steals the show at Toronto International Film Festival

Packing an estimated cranial capacity of 1874 cc, Oprah’s been using her brains to figure out how to look great.

After years of social distancing at her eight and nine figure mansions in Hawaii and Santa Barbara, this weekend the World’s biggest brain woman AND its biggest brained black flew her private jet to my neck of the Woods to promote her new documentary honoring the late great Sydney Poitier (I’m kicking myself for not being there!). I’ve been scrambling to find out more about the event but all anybody can talk about is how great Oprah looked.

She was there to promote her new documentary about Sidney Poitier.

My favorite part of the below preview is when Oprah breaks down sobbing about her hero “I love him so much!”

She feels about Sidney the way millions feel about Oprah.

Not only is Oprah a huge fan of Sidney’s but so is the character she played in Lee Daniel’s The Butler. In this Oscar worthy scene, a young man who calls Sidney an Uncle Tom finds himself slapped in the face by his mother, played by Oprah.

Is IQ’s correlation with weight/height ratio too weak?

Commenter Neandercel said the following about the -0.08 correlation between IQ and weight/height ratio:

PP, please come to the southern US for a month.

-0.08 seems unbelievably low to me. I wonder whether the correlation would have been stronger had waist:height ratio (or some combined index of waist:height ratio and waist:hip ratio) been used as a proxy for corpulence in place of BMI.

Given that I derived my -0.08 figure from a study with over 6000 people, I’m pretty confident in it and that confident is affirmed by data from Kanazawa (2013) (bottom of page 438) who also used massive samples to show the correlation between IQ and BMI in adulthood ranged from -0.096 to -0.124.

In other words, a correlation of about -0.1 is well replicated, at least in the UK.

However there is reason to think these correlations are underestimates. The -0.08 figure I calculated came from a study which used the NART as a proxy for IQ however the NART only correlates 0.69 with the gold standard WAIS-IV. To crudely correct for this, let’s divide -0.08 by 0.69, strengthens the correlation to -0.12.

The other problem is BMI data is self-reported and people lie about their height and weight. In one study, the Pearson correlation between self-reported and objectively measured BMI was 0.75. Correcting for this further strengthens the correlation to -0.16.

Much better data on IQ & weight/height ratio

Here’s another study on IQ & weight/height ratio but this time the data is from 2007 instead of 1974 and the sample size is 6,798 people (in the UK) instead of just a few hundred Americans. In this study, for those with IQs around +1.66 SD, obesity puts you at the +1.07 SD of the normalized BMI distribution of your IQ group, but for those with IQs around -1.66 SD, obesity puts you around +0.8 SD. In other words, a 3.33 SD change in IQ (50 points) is associated with a 0.27 SD change in weight/height ratio. This suggests a standardized regression slope (and thus correlation) of 0.27/3.33 = -0.08.

It makes sense that the negative correlation is low given that there are so many incredibly overweight people who don’t seem the slightest bit stupid.

It would be nice to see a study that got beyond simple BMI and compared IQ with fat-free mass index and muscle-free mass index so we could see what type of weight is driving the negative correlation or if they both contribute equally. One theoretical possibility is that people with bad genes have both low IQ and high BMI, but with hard work in the gym and a little help from steroids, you can turn that high BMI into rock solid muscle.