[Note from Pumpkin Person: the following is a guest article and does not necessarily reflect my views]
The physical interactions behind cognitive variation are arguably the most studied and elusive aspects of human diversity. Despite the HBD community’s enormous interest in the mind, I find that many of the modern theories they propagate are lacking conceptual rigor. Within this thesis I will attempt the following: 1) To persuade the audience that my conception of particular mental phenomena is more precise than or at least endorses the most epistemically accurate contemporary hypotheses. And 2) To lay out a simple yet reliable framework for future HBDers to base new ideas on by giving biological explanations of particular psychological phenomena. For this purpose alone you can treat this article as a short summarization of the extensive research into our concept of consciousness, as such I will not be covering any of this in extreme detail, neither will I be covering every single aspect of the mind, but it will of course be accompanied by studies and papers that will elucidate these concepts further for anyone who is interested.
Philosophy of mind
First, I think it’s appropriate to cover the philosophical grounds of my views. It should be no surprise that Physicalism/Naturalism is the most dominant position among philosophers within that domain (Bourget and Chalmers, 2013). The number is even greater if you consider scientists as philosophers (which they are). These figures are expected because Physicalism is the most parsimonious explanatory model for how our world works. So what is Physicalism? At the basic level, Physicalism is the belief that our world is a result of physical laws. I cannot highlight the entirety of this debate, the intricacy of the subjects within this article could span the length of multiple textbooks. I will delve more into this in future posts. Instead, I’m going to simply rebut what I believe are common fallacies that underlie dualistic thinking.
The arguments I have read tend to follow similar patterns in their reasoning. The one we will discuss first is the intensional fallacy. Dualist arguments that suffer from this flaw are presented in the following format:
P1: X (usually the mind) has property A
P2: Y (usually the brain/body or just physical entities in general) has property B
P3: Leibniz law which states: Necessarily, for anything, x, and anything, y, x is identical to y if and only if for any property x has, y has, and for any property y has, x has.
C1: X is not Y
From the onset this doesn’t seem that fallacious, and of course some would even argue the intensional fallacy cannot apply here, as leibniz law is not dependent on what someone knows but the properties a target may exhibit. This is incorrect, knowing the different properties the entity may possess by definition requires knowledge and subsequently a thinker. To see why this argument is ultimately fallacious, observe the following syllogism:
P1: Water is knowable with the unaided eye
P2: H2O is unknowable with the unaided eye
P3: leibniz law
C1: Water is not H2O
Descartes, Ross, and arguments on the unity of consciousness tend to all commit this fallacy. We could replace the subjects and their properties with that of neon and boron and the conclusion would be true, the problem is that discrepancies between the descriptions of physical and mental states (or any concept) does not necessarily entail that the two cannot be identical in reference. To make definitive statements on the mind’s characteristics requires an identification of the mechanisms that catalyze such functions. Physicalists have this luxury, Dualists do not. This idea is echoed (actually I’m the echo) by Kant (1781) in his 2nd paralogism of his Critique of Pure Reason (Kitcher, 1990) This brings me to the second fallacy: ad ignorantiam. We know a lot about the mind, Philosophy, Art, History, Literature, Psychology, Neuroscience, etc. What seems to be the crux of the issue is how subjectivity arises from objectivity. I am not charging any particular Dualist argument with this fallacy. Instead, I believe this fallacy pervades Dualism as a whole. It usually goes:
P1: Despite Physicalism’s explanatory power, it hasn’t explained the phenomenological character of experience.
P2: Since Physicalism cannot explain this particular aspect it cannot be a tenable model for our world
C1: Dualism is the only tenable position
What makes this a fallacious argument is that the proponent is essentially asking you to “prove him wrong”. Phenomenology is a difficult concept to ground in physical structures simply because of the sheer complexity behind it. Donald davidson even advocated Dual Aspect Monism as a solution to this perceived indeterminism (more on stochasticity later). Despite the debate on the aforementioned subject, if Dualists accept interactionism (which they have to), positing an “ectoplasmic” nature to mental states is pure ad hoc. This brings me to the final fallacy I will discuss: begging the question. If Physicalists can account for these qualities then any Dualist argument against Physicalism already presupposes the need for Dualism. If Physicalism cannot account for said phenomena then these criticisms could cut both ways. More on Dualism and its presumed fallacies.
Nature of the system
These following sections won’t be new or helpful to anyone versed in current literature on neuroscience or similar fields. This is simply a reference point for those less knowledgeable on the subject. Usually, when you read on the Nervous system, authors will refer to its descriptions with computer and engineering metaphors (Furber and Temple, 2007). This article will do the same, but for conceptual clarity I will stress that the brain is not a computer. Yes, it’s true that computers are the closest thing to a brain that we’ve engineered, but it is a biological organ that has been crafted by millions of years of sloppy evolution. As obvious as that is, let it serve as a reminder to not to take the metaphors too seriously. Despite my previous views, the brain is not a parallel system. There aren’t actual physical boundaries that could represent independence. Subsequently, the brain and the mind cannot be modular as modularity also requires independence. The NS and its parts is in fact parallel if you consider each neuron as its own processor with each synaptic cleft as a physical boundary (though you could arguably still contest the independence). Unfortunately, this is not what Scientists of the mind refer to when they use these terms. Cognitive scientists and Psychologists refer to more complex interactions, and as a result many of their computational models could be labelled parallel. Their divisions are more abstract, the subject of this article is a more empirically grounded level of function.
If anything the brain is an integrated memory system. Which is to say that it is dependent upon neighboring receivers to produce certain behaviors and actions. An integrated system has the same potential as a parallel one, as it can run multiple operations simultaneously (Born 2001). I find integration a better description of our nervous system because it allows for the dependency we clearly witness. Compartmentalization of the cerebral hemispheres is arbitrary. As you can see from the previous video, simple observation indicates that there are no real anatomical boundaries except possibly sulci. However, this would still be against the interests of the consensus. Despite this, localization can still be realized through averaging the enormous variation in functionality (Sporns, Tononi, and Kotter, 2005). Localization is still tricky to realize, as the brain is a biological construct with a general purpose function. This implies that neuronal activity of the same tasks can vary in individuals day by day. There exists a tug and pull between minimization of cost and maximization of growth and adaptation. This is how the brain retains plasticity via a “winner takes all” scenario while simultaneously allowing arborization of localized functionality to solidify (Barbey, 2018). These functions are carried out by populations of neurons. This is because there is no specificity (except maybe some kind of spatial tendency) in regard to the connections between individual neurons. It should be noted that this is not in reference to variation over time. The plasticity of individual neuronal connections and the categorical selection of pathways that groups of neurons take is determined by a multitude of factors that can be coherently expressed, so a lack of specificity is not equivalent to indeterminism in this context. RaceRealist has an interesting article that could explain the stochasticity of low level connectivity. This link will also be helpful to those interested in how this connectivity is realized. As far as the connectivity on the population level goes, there is considerable determinism that shapes the probabilistic nature of cognition (Dold et al., 2018).
This is possibly the most important aspect of consciousness, as it is an accumulation of our memories that help formulate how we perceive and establish ourselves. Alzheimers is a type of dementia that affects memory which can slowly make its carrier lose themselves over time. Our memories are completely dependent on external stimuli. Sub-mechanisms of neural plasticity are responsible for this function and can be carried out in multiple ways. Synaptic plasticity is the most commonly discussed aspect of neuroplasticity. Nonsynaptic Plasticity is newer to the field of neuroscience but works synergistically with the former to carry out key mechanisms involving memory and learning (Tully, Hennig, and Lansner, 2014). Simply put, learning a new skill requires locally specific neurons and their glial modulators to strengthen or weaken their connections with each other. The more you carry out these tasks the stronger these connections become, and subsequently the easier it becomes to perform said tasks. Your eyes, ears and skin are sensory organs that transfer information to your brain where it is integrated, which then catalyzes a motor response (most of the time). The world we model around us completely relies on the information from these organs. Because of this, the brain can be said to be experience dependent. Hence, why the brain is a memory system above all else.
There is considerable debate how memories are stored or retrieved. These traces of memories are called engrams. The most prevalent theory is that the patterns of neurons that were initiated when a memory was solidified are what reactivate when a memory is retrieved. These patterns all happen to be a part of a redundant circuitry, just in case if an engram is wiped out it can still be reformed by using alternative pathways. This is important to note, because this means our brains do not perfectly recall information, they reconstruct it. One counter (though they may coincide with each other) to this theory is the possibility that memory is stored in DNA or RNA through epigenetic changes (Bedecarrats, Chen, Pearce, Cai, Glanzman, 2018). In this study, the researchers were able to transfer memories from a trained slug to an untrained one by injecting it with RNA of the former. Usually the criticism against this study has to do with the supposed “conflation” of memory with the response showcased by the untrained Aplysia (an example being Mattei, 2018). This is an obfuscation from a distinction without a difference. In reality, this effect probably explains how instincts become ingrained within organisms over evolutionary time. The difference is simply the complexity involved and it’s quite possible both mechanisms are responsible for the propagation of memories. Refer to Abraham, Jones, and Glanzman, 2019 for further information on the topic.
In my opinion, emotions are probably the hardest aspect for laymen to conceptualize properly. At the most basic level emotions are simply a type of interoception (Critchley, Garfinkel, 2018). Interoception is the brain’s ability to receive information on the internal state of its physiological systems which allows it to maintain homeostasis. These fluctuations in physiology can be triggered by exogenous stimuli and depending on cultural/social differences these stimuli will have varying responses from the individual (Barrett, 2017). Those specific factors are very important as some studies and experiments have showcased that different emotions can have incredibly similar physiological responses. A frequently cited example is Dutton and Aron, 1974. Not only can different emotions have nearly the same physiological effects there are also overlapping physiological effects for different emotions! However, there is enough consistency that localization is reliable (Nummenmaa, Glerean, Hari, Hietanen, 2013). To give an example that many HBDers would probably relate to. Let’s say the sight of interracial sex angers me. The external input (interracial sex) is recieved by sensory organs (my eyes) and then because of accompanying mental dispositions (like racsim) it triggers physiological responses like increased heart beat, higher blood pressure, your brain becomes flooded with catecholamines giving you a burst of energy, your muscles tense, breathing becomes more rapid, etc. This holistic process is itself what we refer to as emotion.
Now emotions are an important part of our decision making processes. You literally cannot make decisions without emotions. As emotions not only dictate the type of decisions we make, they also influence which path we choose when confronted with choice. Cold logic is far more subjective than most people would even realize. This brings forth a new question: What is the relationship between intelligence and emotional intelligence?
Before discussing this we need to first make it clear what exactly it is we’re talking about. Pumpkinperson recognizes that EQ is a very vague concept that isn’t distinguished well from others in his 2016 article. He states that: “And Goleman ruined his whole construct by not distinguishing between people who are smart at emotions (i.e. a master manipulator), and those who just have good emotions (someone who doesn’t feel the need to overeat).” The latter definition is closer to what we will be using. I believe the former is more akin to what we know of as “social intelligence”. For the sake of this post we will be defining it specifically as the ability to regulate and recognize one’s emotions, as I believe attributing any more to the concept will render it indistinguishable from Theory of Mind. Instead it would be more accurate to say that SQ and EQ are subsidiary abilities to TOM.
Since we’ve more or less established that emotions are a type of interoception it seems the best way to answer the previous question is to find exactly what the relationship between interoception and IQ is. To find this out we need to understand how one goes about quantifying this construct. Garfinkel, Seth, Barrett, Suzuki, Critchley, 2015 do just this by making the distinction between subjective and objective measurements of interoception and how both are required to make accurate assessment of one’s EQ (see table one for detailed examples). Now of course the authors cited never mention EQ once in the paper, but I believe conceptually what they are measuring is incredibly similar if not identical to EQ. For example, Garfinkel et al, 2016 found that people with higher anxiety had poorer abilities to accurately gauge their respiratory functions. This connection is further corroborated by some studies indicating that IQ and EQ overlap heavily in the neural networks that create said properties (Barbey, Colom, Grafman, 2012). Our own Racerealist provided considerable evidence that the mediating factor behind racial differences in aggression was education, not testosterone: “However, as I’ve noted last year (and as Alvarado, 2013 did as well), young black males with low education have higher levels of testosterone which is not noticed in black males of the same age group but with more education (Mazur, 2016). Since blacks of a similar age group have lower levels of testosterone but are more highly educated then this is a clue that education drives aggression/testosterone/violent behavior and not that testosterone drives it.
Mazur (2016) also replicated Assari, Caldwell, and Zimmerman’s (2014) finding that “Our model in the male sample suggests that males with higher levels of education has lower aggressive behaviors. Among males, testosterone was not associated with aggressive behaviors.”” This all seems to imply that both EQ and IQ are heavily integrated with one another. In fact, intelligence may be required to regulate one’s emotions and that this creates a feedback loop where emotional issues cause intellectual issues and vice versa. This of course has effects on the racial level that I will delve into in another blog post.
What exactly is intelligence? Pumpkinperson and I usually define it as the mental ability to adapt and I imagine most people would agree, but there is no actual agreed upon definition and I tend to see great variation when reading upon the subject. Truthfully, most variations are semantic rather than conceptual. Macdonald & Woodley, 2016 refer to intelligence as novel problem solving. They state: “Intelligence is usually distinguished from learning which subsumes a variety of mechanisms that allow the organism to take advantage of temporary regularities in its environment – paradigmatically classical and operant conditioning….Intelligence, on the other hand, assumes no environmental regularities – even temporary ones – nor does it refer to learning how to achieve a goal by observing others who have already solved the problem. Rather, as stated in Jerison’s definition, there is the implication that the organism has a goal and is integrating its knowledge in order to solve problems.” I see this definition the most in regards to Evolutionary Biology, and while it is not that different from Pumpkin and I’s definition, notice that we already established earlier that no aspect of cognition can be independent of one’s previous experience. So “novel problem solving” is a nonsensical term. Subsequently one cannot define mental constructs as being separate from the cultural/environmental conditions they are situated in because said mental constructs cannot develop or exist without input from these exogenous factors. Intelligence is holistically catalyzed, so terms like innate, novel, or potential cannot be accurate descriptors for this concept.
Unfortunately, intelligence is almost always coextensive with these terms. These types of issues can cause all sorts of conceptual misunderstandings in discourse on the subject. For example a common criticism thrown at intelligence testing is the idea that they are culturally biased. Now these types of critiques are appropriate when in reference to more menial aspects of cultural differences like how the Japanese read right to left instead of left to right like Americans, or how the former tends to think more collectively than the latter. However, when you divorce the idea of “culture free potential” and “intelligence” from one another it becomes clear that intelligence is not really distinguishable from the application of cultural knowledge. Obviously it doesn’t take some sort of genius to see the fallacy in trying to give a Ugandan who only speaks his native tongue and has never ventured outside of his country the Weschler in english and then call him stupid when he inevitably fails, but that is not what’s happening. The truth of the matter is that East Asians consistently score higher on Intelligence and academic achievement tests than do westerners whom the tests are supposedly biased in favor of.
Ultimately, since human environments are their culture (Fuentes, 2018) and intelligence is the cognitive expression of your imprinted culture it may controversially imply that some cultures are just superior to others. Now of course you can’t impose any idea of “superiority” without first defining a reference point. So if intelligence is simply the mental ability to adapt then what is a good hallmark of intelligence? Innovation for one, and as most HBDers are aware, 1st world countries like South Korea and Germany have the highest levels of Innovation. Historically, western societies have also had the most instances of technological innovation. Even Physical Anthropologists use technological complexity( among other things) to deduce differences in intelligence between species of hominins (of course there are some exceptions). So some cultures are superior at producing innovation and concurrently are better at fostering the development of intelligence than others.
Originally I was planning on dedicating this section to the supposed construct validity of IQ tests which are currently the most accurate measures we have of intelligence. However, recently I came across what I believe is the single best critique(some may disagree) of IQ that I’ve read (Garrison, 2004). Garrison states in his section on validity: “In traditional psychometric theory, validity is defined as the degree to which a test measures what it claims to measure. I want to first point out the oddity of this formulation. For example, how does the reader respond to this: my ruler is valid to the degree to which it measures length? Is it normal practice to begin ruler validation by asking this seemingly circular question? Rulers by definition measure length. Note as well that by asking what a test measures the assumption that something is being measured goes unchallenged.” Notice, Garrison correctly points out the absurdity of construct validity as a sort of litmus test on whether a test supposedly measures what it purports to. Its circularity renders the use of construct validity in this way as fallacious and simultaneously charges of its supposed lack of construct validity (like Richardson, Norgate, 2015) are critically impotent.
In Garrison’s section on the “Scientific status of Psychometry” he states: “ The development of measurement has generally progressed from classification (qualities), to topology (comparisons) to metrication (measurements) (Berka, 1983). Classification concepts such as “cold” become topological when comparisons are used, such as colder than . . . . Thus they “enable us, not only to establish the sameness (or difference), but also to mutually compare at least two objects which possess a given property and, consequently, to arrange them into a sequence” (Berka, 1983, p. 6). he then goes on to claim that IQ tests only satisfy the first two criteria: “For example, norm-referenced achievement tests offer results in terms of percentile ranks, not delineations of what a student does or does not know about a given field of study, let alone diagnoses of the cause of difficulty. Put another way, scoring in the 70th percentile only indicates how well one did relative to the norm; it does not indicate 70 percent of required material was mastered. Thus the test remains at the topological level,” and because of this “The same problem exists with so-called measures of ability. Nash (1990) contends that norm-referenced ability tests only provide rank order information. “Students are ranked, in effect, by their ability to correctly answer test items, but it is inaccurate to argue that their ‘cognitive ability’ is therefore being measured” (Nash, 1990, p. 63).”. Of course this idea is false for reasons already iterated earlier in this post. Does answering test items correctly not require cognitive ability? However, Garrison believes that because “The validity discourse about test score meaning relative to testing purpose is based on value not residing in things or phenomenon themselves, but in their relation to subjects. Length, however, is a property of an object.” IQ tests are actually assessments of social value not measurements. First I need to clarify that there is a distinction between Criterion-referenced tests (CRT) and Norm-referenced tests (NRT), IQ is an example of the latter, and the former is indeed a measurement of a students knowledge in a particular field, not simply a comparison to the rankings of other students. Garrison may be correct in saying that because of this, IQ is just an assessment but scores on NRTs will highly predict those on CRTs and vice versa. So this distinction may matter little to the practical utility of IQ tests. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe its norm referencing isn’t the only reason it’s “just an assessment” and maybe the CRT’s don’t provide extra corroboration to these tests. Even If IQ is just an “assessment” instead of a “measurement” why does that matter? Moreover, even if it’s just an assessment of social value…so what? Do we not value the skills that are learned in school? Should we prioritize something else? Does he believe this subjectivity makes something less scientific? All definitions are inherently circular and thus are subjectively created. If we define this social value as intelligence is it not an ‘“assessment” of intelligence? What does this dichotomy really matter to the overall purpose of these tests?
In this article we’ve clarified what intelligence is, what emotions are, how both of these are catalyzed biologically. I’ve also cleared up logical misconceptions and criticisms on the subjects in the process: IQ is not something that is coextensive with innate potential and consciousness is not a biological mystery (at least in the sense of what it is). Furthermore, a lot of these ideas are not compatible with the consensus within HBD circles. If HBD wants to be taken seriously it needs to either address these issues and inconsistencies or get used to being treated like it’s astrology.
I’m going to go ahead and end this paper here. Simply because we’re already around 4,000 words and I’m sure I’ve bored half of you to death in the process. In the next part I’ll be going more into depth on the racial differences in EQ, what a culture neutral (not culture-free) IQ test may look like, our concept of personality, and the evolution of intelligence.