James Flynn challenges our fundamental assumptions about intelligence.
James Flynn – Moral philosopher
We are going to take a quick voyage over the cognitive history of the 20th century, because during that century, our minds have altered dramatically. As you all know, the cars that people drove in 1900 have altered because the roads are better and because of technology. And our minds have altered, too.
We’ve gone from people who confronted a concrete world and analyzed that world primarily in terms of how much it would benefit them to people who confront a very complex world, and it’s a world where we’ve had to develop new mental habits, new habits of mind. And these include things like clothing that concrete world with classification, introducing abstractions that we try to make logically consistent, and also taking the hypothetical seriously, that is, wondering about what might have been rather than what is.
Massive I.Q. gains
Now, this dramatic change was drawn to my attention through massive I.Q. gains over time, and these have been truly massive. That is, we don’t just get a few more questions right on I.Q. tests. We get far more questions right on I.Q. tests than each succeeding generation back to the time that they were invented. Indeed, if you score the people a century ago against modern norms, they would have an average I.Q. of 70. If you score us against their norms, we would have an average I.Q. of 130.
Now this has raised all sorts of questions. Were our immediate ancestors on the verge of mental retardation? Because 70 is normally the score for mental retardation. Or are we on the verge of all being gifted? Because 130 is the cutting line for giftedness.
Now I’m going to try and argue for a third alternative that’s much more illuminating than either of those, and to put this into perspective, let’s imagine that a Martian came down to Earth and found a ruined civilization. And this Martian was an archaeologist, and they found scores, target scores, that people had used for shooting.