I am very glad that Garrett Jones has written “Hive Mind: How your nation’s IQ matters so much more than your own”.
And yes, I know that I have just posted up Stuart Ritchie’s review of the same book, but I had already made a long-drawn-out start on mine, so I am giving you the benefit of two perspectives.
Jones has focussed attention on the collective effects of intelligence, showing that intelligence strongly shapes societies and economies. This will be something of a shock to many economists, and to The Economist magazine, and the disturbance this may cause them provides intelligence researchers with a source of harmless amusement. It is time that the default hypothesis of equi-potential economic humans was challenged, and this book may do it, if economists get round to reading it. If intelligence is important, and groups vary in intelligence, then the speed with which they learn new things will also vary, with profound consequences for their group achievements.
On a narrower front, how does one distinguish between a hive mind and a set of individuals working together? Is there anything extra? Does the hypothesis of a “hive” mind lead to any testable conclusions? That is, can we detect the difference between an aggregate mind and a hive mind, the assumption being that the spirit of a bee hive involves a higher sense of purpose, and of more closely coordinated intellects, or indeed a critical mass of inter-conectedness that a mere agglomeration of intellects could not achieve?
Were the scientists in the Manhattan Project a Hive Mind? They were certainly very bright, had a common purpose, and worked together pretty well. However, it was clear to all that some were very much brighter than others. Oppie led the pack, Richard Feynmann was more than a sounding board to his elders, and with Neil Bohr and Enrico Fermi the four of them could probably have got the device together, bar the long-winded, hand-operated computing (which Feynmann reorganised into a speedier and more effective process anyway). I say probably, because so many contributed, and I wouldn’t want to exclude Hans Bethe and Joseph Rotblatt, the latter not only for his abilities but for the amusing stories he told me about the project.
Has the Internet made us all into a hive mind? There is certainly a case to be made that our collective ability to retrieve and apply knowledge has increased considerably, and we are more closely inter-connected in terms of thoughts and knowledge than ever before, though Britain, France, Germany and Italy in the Enlightenment must have been close rivals, certainly in terms of quality and depth of thought, if not quantity of communications. Here is the European Core as depicted by Charles Murray in “Human Accomplishment”.
So, what do we make of Hive Mind? First, Jones writes well. He wants to communicate, and has thought about the problems inherent in describing intelligence to those determined not to believe that it exists as a measureable characteristic of any importance. His explanations are good: well thought out and clearly written. Being understood takes much more work than being confusing. For example, he describes Spearman’s work in measuring ability as a decathlon where the best athletes tend to do well on all most of the ten events. Although forgotten, Spearman included the discrimination of musical pitch in his tests, finding it correlated with Maths and language ability, suggesting a more general capability than that caused by schooling. Jones calls this “the Da Vinci” effect. Jones says that the summary of ability given by the concept of g is no more nor less a simplification than giving a person’s temperature in a single number.
Another example: his description of Axelrod’s wonderful “The Evolution of Cooperation” is a fresh and interesting read. Patience, pleasantness and perceptiveness are required for good cooperation, and higher ability people have more of those than average.
Perhaps higher intelligence only leads to apparently patient behaviour because carefully considering the future requires keeping many facts in mind simultaneously, and having to do a few calculations.
Jones has a deep knowledge of economics, so there is much in the book about the link between personal characteristics and economic behaviour, and therefore between group differences and national economies. The core of the book is a set of explanations about how deeper and faster thinkers make better, more long-term and often kinder decisions.
I learned new things from this book, and also found much that I already knew expressed very well in ways which improve comprehension and memorability. We need more of these books, bringing up to date intelligence research to enclosed subject domains still working on distorted and poor quality findings.
Patience is often mentioned by Jones as a virtue of intelligent people. Since patience, by operational definition, requires the capacity to anticipate future events and to calculate the benefits of delayed gratification, this is part of intelligence,and no further explanation seems necessary. Jones seems to suggest that patience is an important personality variable which may be linked to intelligence. In current parlance “patience” is a facet of the major personality factors, such that patience is an aspect of the conjunction of agreeableness and emotional stability. I think that we will need to do some work on personality variables and economic achievement before concluding that patience is an essential extra requirement.
I admit I can’t understand Jones’s argument about why low skill (low IQ) immigrants are good for high productivity (high IQ) countries. I would have thought the whole tenor of the book was against that notion, but I may have been reading that chapter too late at night. He does say that he hopes rich countries will find “deep and effective” ways of raising the ability levels of people from poor countries, but if, as is very likely, rich countries are rich because of the high ability of their citizens derived from surviving demanding circumstances for many generations, and poor countries are poor because there was less selection for ability, then this quick few-generation IQ-boosting project is unlikely to be successful.
Has Jones proved that “your nation’s IQ matters so much more than your own”. Not really. Bright people do well in all countries. Bright people can also emigrate to brighter countries, and at least half of them do, away from Africa at least. A bright person can generally make their way anywhere. Jews, even when they are small in number, generally do very well, though much better in open societies.
Can we really prove the contrary assertion “Your IQ matters more than anybody else’s”? Not quite. Jones acknowledges that the smart fraction probably contribute far more than everyone else, but points out that this fraction is mathematically related to the average ability of each nation. A fair point, though the authors did their best to test the soundness of their results by comparing the average IQ with the higher smart fraction IQ, and the finding of stronger effects for the latter seem to be holding up.
Have humans achieved a Hive Mind? I think they are on the way to that, having made the biggest leap by switching on the Web at the turn of the Millenium (and about 40% of the world now has access From that collective library we get so much of what we know, or think we know, all of which has become retrievable by anyone with any curiosity, and almost for free. Things known after the year 2000 are more easily retrieved, so now is the new Gutenberg.
I hope this book gets read, and it would be marvellous if The Economist were to review it. Some-one send them a copy.