Continuous Variation and Intelligence

Heredity refers to the transmission of characteristics from parents to offspring, and in that transmission process the primary biological functional unit is the gene. The human genome is thought to consist of between five and ten million genes. Intelligence is an example of the inheritance of a complex or quantitative character. The nature of intelligence is composite and complex, and its expression is dependent upon a combination of environmental effects and the products of a great number of genes. Those characteristics that are determined by the joint action of many genes, and intelligence and stature are two examples, are called quantitative characters because they are measured on a continuous scale. Such characters are more susceptible to environmental influences than are the polymorphisms. Therefore, because the contributions of individual genes cannot be recognised, there is need to resort to complex statistical analyses to sort out the relative contributions of the environment and heredity.

In order to understand the distribution of such an ill-defined concept as intelligence in the human population it is necessary to consider the process of natural selection and the development of the mental capacities of humankind. Biological heredity is transmitted by the four following mechanisms: mutation, selection; genetic drift; and hybridisation. Humans are the unique product of their environment, their social environment, and it is this social environment that is an important point in human evolution. Human biological nature can have no clarity, no understanding, without a correct knowledge of the social and cultural factors in the development of the human species. For M. F. Ashley Montagu the “…system of genes which permitted the development of specifically human mental capacities has thus become the foundation and the paramount influence in all subsequent evolution of the human stock.”

Biological adaptation is of two types. Firstly genetic specialisation, with genetically controlled fixity of traits. Secondly, the ability to respond to a range of environmental situations, and this is achieved by evolving traits that are favourable in those situations. This latter process is termed genetically determined plasticity. Human adjustment in the social environment which is complex, rapidly changing, necessitates immediate adjustments, which occur chiefly in the mental realm not the physical. Genetic fixation of mental traits in humans would obviously be unfavourable for the survival of both individuals and the species. From this it can be concluded that genetically controlled plasticity of mental traits is a uniquely human characteristic. The process of natural selection in all times and in all climes has favoured those genotypes which allow for greater and greater educability, coupled with plasticity of mental traits. This process has taken place under the uniquely social environments to which humans have continuously been exposed. Humans may differ from one another in many characters, and as these characters can be influenced by many genes humans will always differ, but these differences will be more so within groups than between groups. If the human race differs on its structural traits, it does not necessarily follow that they must necessarily differ in mental traits. Conditions in human societies have neither been rigid enough or stable enough to permit the selective breeding of those types genetically adapted to different statuses or forms of social organisation. As Theodosius Dobzhansky said “The capacity to modify one’s behaviour under the influence of experience and reasoning…” has had the effect of “…bringing all human groups up to pretty much the same level.”

To date available scientific knowledge has provided no basis for believing that the different groups of humankind differ in their innate capacity for intellectual and emotional development. With the genetic determination of human behaviour there is no scientific evidence to justify the erroneous conclusion that inherited genetic differences are the major factor in producing variations between the cultures and cultural achievements of different peoples.

In 1952 , under the auspices of UNESCO, a conference of anthropologists and geneticists issued the following statement on The Nature of Race and Race Differences, which said “…historical and sociological studies…support the view that genetic differences are of little significance in determining the social and cultural differences between different groups of men.”  That which determines the diversification of human behaviour patterns is not the genetical factor but those cultural and social experiences each group has undergone. The intellectual and moral life of individuals and groups being conditioned by training and the particular social environment. In the man-culture relationship over the period of a million years, or even the period up to about one hundred thousand years ago, we could safely assume that there was some absolute increase in the magnitude of the biological factor in human evolution.

During the last hundred or fifty thousand years we have no evidence of an appreciable increase in mental ability. The assumption is that the psychic unity, or even uniformity,  of humankind is now probably pivotal in the working philosophy of the majority of anthropologists, sociologists and some biologists. It is maintained that biological evolution has run its course, that the genetic basis of culture has been achieved, and this is now a matter of evolutionary history, and as a result the genetic basis of culture is uniform in its distribution and that cultural evolution has long since taken over.

There is no evidence that, among the ethnic groups of mankind that any process of mental selection has ever been operative, especially one that could act differentially upon mankind to produce different types of mind. It is of significance that innately determined mental differences between the varieties of mankind have thus so far not been demonstrable. However, it may be that some differences do exist. If they do then so far they have eluded all detection or proof of their existence. There is every reason to believe that such mental differences that are observed to exist between varieties of mankind are due primarily to factors of a cultural nature.  This being especially so in so far as they are, in no demonstrable significant way, connected to biological factors. Hence, it should be clearly pointed out that while mind is an aspect of the body’s functioning. It is also a great deal more than that. In man it is at least as much a product of the cultural environment as of the genes.

In 1940 the American anthropologist Franz Boas came to the honest conclusion that “…the claim to biologically determined mental qualities of races is not tenable. Much less have we the right to speak of biologically determined superiority of one race over another. Every race contains so many genetically distinct strains, and the social behaviour is so entirely dependent on the life experiences to which every individual is exposed, that individuals of the same type when exposed to different surroundings will react quite differently, while individuals of the same type when exposed to the same environment may react the same way.” In a more modern context and reflecting developments John Lewis and Bernard Towers [Naked Ape or Homo Sapiens?  Garnstone, 1969]  in a critique of the ‘Naked Ape’ of Desmond Morris, wrote that “The belief that racial difference indicating both superiority and inferiority, and also natural differences, which may indicate aggressiveness, a militaristic nature, laziness, lethargy, and initiative, are innate in various nations, tribes, races, is now entirely obsolete among geneticists and anthropologists. These characteristics are now regarded, as we have seen, as basically cultural.”

It is useful to examine the concept of the superficiality of physical traits. From the point of view of anatomy and morphological considerations there are already elementary observations on the physical anthropology of race. As W. G. Le Gros Clark pointed out, a close anatomical study seems to show that physical differences are confined to quite superficial characters, and that this does suggest that the somatic differences of race are of a very fundamental nature only. In spite of statements made to the contrary, there is no microscopic or macroscopic difference which allow the anatomist to distinguish he brains of individuals from different ethnic groups. It has been asserted that there is every reason to believe that in certain parts of the human nervous system new connections can be established through education.

The neurons that make up the nervous system of an adult human are arranged in a system the larger outlines of which are hereditary, but many of the details of which are shaped by the experiences of the individual. The material bases of those structures which are eventually organised to function as mind are to a large part inherited just the same as all other structures of the body. In humans however the nervous system continues to develop long after birth, and as a result is appreciably influenced in its development by the experience of the individual.

The brain is essentially that organ that co-ordinates and integrates nervous activities, and to a large extent it performs those functions according to the pattern of education that is offered to it. That pattern, as we have seen, is always culturally determined and conditioned. Therefore an individual is capable of functioning at the necessary integrative level according to the extent and sort of cultural experience to which he has been exposed, and been thus caused to co-ordinate  and integrate within his nervous system. Brain function then has determinants that are environmental. We recognise that certain basic brain mechanisms are obviously genetically determined, but that at a critical period that follows birth environmental effects are very important. Malnutrition at this period can result in permanent deficits in brain structure and thus the inter-relationships between brain cells. Less extreme deprivation can also cause deficits in function, and thus lead to behavioural effects. In humans the childhood pattern of one generation influences the way in which that generation rears its offspring. Hence environmental effects in one generation can cause trans-generational results in the following generation. These effects may be substantial, without any genetic factors being involved.

Environmental effects have been shown quite undeniably to result in a whole series of well defined changes in brain structure and thus performance. That behaviour and performance can be altered by the environment of the individual child is underlined by the fact that quite subtle changes can produce pronounced effects, hence the fact that the period of childhood is of critical importance, and has to be borne in mind when the question of intellectual performance is discussed.

To return to the position regarding race and intellectual capacity it can be stated that there is  no more rationale in liking race and intellect than there is in liking race and culture. Every individual is born with a certain heredity, and a genetic potential. A potential which is dependent on his or her familial genes and not race. Whether or not this potential is fully realised depends upon the experience of the individual. Especially with regards to what is offered by culture and education. A so fluctuating concept such as intelligence, which is related to learned behaviour cannot be reduced to the same sort of genetic explanation for a character such as eye colour for example.

The measurable mental characters of different human groups suggest that there are few if any mental differences that can be attributed to the nervous system alone. The mental differences which allegedly exist between human groups would thus appear to be less considerable than those that are found to exist between individuals within the same group. Mental functions as they so dependent upon social, cultural variables, are not in a position where any conclusions can be drawn as to the equivalence or non-equivalence of their existing between groups. This is especially so when cultural conditions are not strictly comparable. In short, no statement about the intellectual capacity of an individual or grop is of any value without it being accompanied by specific statements about the conditions of the cultural environment in which the particular mentality in question has developed.

No discussion of ‘racial’ mental characters can be considered that ignores full consideration of all the associated social variables. It is these cultural and social variations that are precisely the most significant aspect in the creation of mental differences between different groups. From this statement we can surely conclude that cultural achievements represent the outcome of cultural experience, not the expression of biological potentiality.

No discussion about variations in mental capacities is of any use without analysis of what intelligence is, or the tests which claim to measure it. To most people the word ‘intelligence’ implies a functional capacity, that is revealed in the course of action. The practice of psychometry or mental testing excludes the exercise of what might be called functional intelligence. Group intelligence tests isolate the individual from all his or her social relations, and thus from a real life situation. They are presented with a set of symbols to manipulate, items of a restricted and artificial nature. Therefore the test situation is different from those situations with which the individual is faced with in the everyday process of living. The questions exclude, or attempt to exclude, any emotional responses. In a real life situation an individual’s feelings and emotional responses play an important and essential part in their total response. Intelligence tests are deliberately constructed so that the questions are remote from real life situations.

Some people regard intelligence as a quality of mind, a kind of essence that is inherited by a child at birth. This was said by Sir Cyril Burt as “innate general cognitive ability.”. Yet amongst psychologists there is no agreement as to what intelligence is, or how it is measured correctly. Whatever it is that tests measure, it is not something that can be defined in a way that both commands general agreement, and is at the same time precise. As intelligence cannot be defined but we nonetheless believe that it does exist, we can only conclude that intelligence is that which is measured by the tests, or the ability to do them. How can one call something innate that you can be taught to do?

Tests are not an objective phenomenon, they contain a subjective element, which is the personal judgement of the tester. As P. E. Vernon has stated “All the test items or sub-tests are selected in the first place on the basis of the subjective opinion; they must appear to the tester to involve the exercise of intellect.” Intelligence tests do not measure mechanical or mathematical ability, or emotional stability, initiative, imagination or moral outlook. IQ is affected by illness, malnutrition, and accident, and the crucial variable is the environment. The IQ tests most widely used are culture bound, and their successful performance depends upon participation in a particular culture. This culture contains within it methods of socialisation and education. Evidence is ignored which shows that we all have to learn to learn. Culture bound tests therefore favour those individuals from that particular cultural environment. What is overlooked is the fact that various class, occupational, and other types of groups often have different sub-cultures. Most tests are standardised to the values current amongst the middle class.

What is the nature of the distribution of intelligence. It is plotted on a graph when all the scores have been collected, and a certain pattern is seen to emerge. The distribution of intelligence in a population displays a normal Gaussian distribution. Statistical observations are abstract and tend to lose sight of the individual case in a mass of observations. What is obvious though is the fact that if we cannot define intelligence how on earth can any conclusions be drawn as to its distribution?

The purpose of tests in a class society is to assist in this provision of different ‘types’ of school for different ‘levels’ of education, with its attendant selection processes and streaming. Tests must involve a great deal of acquired knowledge, and as such the tests are used to discriminate against working class children. With the so-called fair or culture free tests, which are non-verbal and involve symbols etc, the results are still dependent upon educational opportunity. There is a definite difference of opportunity between working class and middle class children. Just as there is a close relationship between test results and educational attainment then there is a close relationship between test results and social class.

Test questions inevitably favour the middle class child. The questions, and only the questions, determine and define the kind of intelligence that is being measured. Intelligence as is measured by intelligence tests is anything but pure intellectual power, hence the test evidently comprehends what can only be described as a class element. Intelligence as measured by tests concludes fallaciously that the working class is less intelligent than the middle class, this is understandable in view of the fact that the intelligence as measured by the test is a class conditioned attribute.

These processes militate against the culturally deprived sections of the community, but the reverse is the case when ‘soap box’ tests are employed. With these tests working class children demonstrated a resourcefulness of a kind seldom shown by those more fortunate children used to receiving their toys as presents. It is obvious also that verbal tests discriminate against working class children. Culture free tests in a class society where there is no common culture is the same as the search for the ‘will o’ the wisp’. Further to this is the comparison of the tests on racial and ethnic groups. There are four main reasons for their unreliability. These are socio-economic background, schooling, language and motivation. With the socio-economic background and its cultural deprivation, which is pervasive and enduring, there is little to make them want to be concerned with intellectual activity and education.

In so far as schooling is concerned, intelligence scores are influenced by the length and quality of that schooling, As well as inadequate facilities, overcrowding and lack of motivation. Language is also a problem because many tests are based upon verbal ability, and minority groups have linguistic handicaps. Motivation is the final aspect, not all are equally interested in tests, there often being caution, diffidence, and alienation felt towards the tester. Where anxiety is provoked and suspicion is aroused performance often deteriorates. In relation to Black studies in the USA it is seen that in the ghetto schools, the under-privileged status of the children produced harmful teaching attitudes, these attitudes declaring that the children are ‘un-teachable’. Hence the children are evaluated as inferior and this limits the effectiveness of any subject matter in creating confidence and self-esteem.

The whole situation was further exacerbated in past by the scientific racism as postulated by Jensen and Eysenck. In the USA Jensen published his conclusions in the Harvard Educational Review of Winter, 1969. His views were as follows. Owing to their genetic endowment blacks in the USA are less intelligent than whites. Also that working class whites are less intelligent than are the middle and upper class whites. Jensen’s evidence is derived from psychometry. Claiming to indicate that both racial and class differences in intelligence are inherited, being impervious to change by way of social or educational policies. To quote him he writes “…these genetic differences are manifested in virtually every anatomical, physiological, and biochemical comparison…one can make between representative samples of identifiable racial groups…there is no reason to suppose that the brain should be exempt from this generalisation.”

Jensen can be exposed on several points. He employs a social concept of race, and proceeds to treat this group as a biological entity, with the validity of a race. He expresses his results in ways that provide ammunition for the racists. He fails almost totally to meet the minimum requirements for scientifically acceptable intergroup comparisons. Furthermore he overlooks the social functions of schools as institutions, as apart from the educational functions.

In Britain the issue was reiterated by Hans Eysenck of the Institute of Psychiatry in London. Famous as a Black Paper pundit, Eysenck took up the defence of Jensen’s conclusions. In the Black Paper No 2 in 1969 Eysenck displayed his concepts regarding education and its class nature. In his contribution entitled ‘The Rise of the Meritocracy’ he said “…an elite, pre-destined and predisposed to intellectual leadership and to the enjoyment of the fruits of education…” had to be concentrated on, and that these qualities were inherited. Eysenck associated on the Black Papers with Kingsley Amis, Robert Conquest, and Sir Cyril Burt. The main theme of these papers was: opposition to free play and discovery methods in primary schools; opposition to comprehensive education; opposition to expansion of higher education; opposition to expenditure of funds on deprived educational areas. Further from this the Black Paper Group supported eleven plus selection, streaming and IQ tests, grammar schools, and traditional examinations.

Hans Eysenck and Sir Cyril Burt were deeply committed to psychometry, and both were well known for their outright support for the now minority hereditarian view. Eysenck took the stand whereby he asserted Jensen’s views were a service to humanity and he stressed that the educational implications of Jensen’s theories indicate the necessity for selection and streaming. Eysenck also argued that those compensatory policies for the deprived will be no good, but will only do harm, because as he says in his own words “…with initial resources available for all of education, special help to some means less education for others.”

In 1971 Eysenck published a polemical book in support of Jensen’s theories, which was entitled ‘Race, Intelligence and Education’. In this book he demonstrated, in a very loose and unscientific manner, that he has no concrete evidence for any of his theories. In regards anthropology he can only make pathetic comparisons, for example he writes “The constant discovery of new blood genes has forced experts to increase the number of races so recognised.” Since when it has been claimed that race is dependent upon the sole criteria of the genetic nature of one’s blood group? With equal conviction Eysenck states that “North American negroes are certainly hybrids. It can be safely assumed also that the North American whites are also hybrids, by Eysenck conveniently overlooks that point.

However, with reference to the work of Shuey in the USA Eysenck goes on to assert a further absurdity, one that if it is analysed statistically proves to be complete nonsense, he writes “…if whites are superior to blacks in IQ genetically, then an admixture of white ancestry should produce offspring with higher IQ’s, on the average, than would be found in the offspring of pure black ancestry.” Assuming this to be so a closer look would show that admixture of an increasing number of genes on a gradient from black to white would produce a mulatto of genius standards, with the IQ’s of quadroons and octoroons being even higher. Conversely, if the gradient is from white to black, surely by the time a mulatto was produced he would be a congenital idiot? How can a half-caste be both a genius and an idiot, although on a flippant aside many so-called clever men have been fools!

In conclusion one cannot get to an all round understanding of the problem unless all the factors involved are considered. A purely genetic refutation of Jensen et al is only of little value as would be a purely sociological refutation. Evident in the whole polemic is the revival of ‘biologism’ and elements, though much more sophisticated, of the obsolete doctrine of Social Darwinism. This cannot, without unfortunate consequences, be separated from the socio-economic problems of those societies concerned. Biologism  attempts to describe and interpret the activity of human beings in society in terms of animal behaviour and biological urges. Examples can be seen in the polemical pseudo-science of Desmond Morris and Robert Ardrey. Also fitting into this bracket one can mention C. D. Darlington’s ‘Evolution of Man and Society’ which attempted to rewrite history in terms of the so-called key role of genetics. Hence it can be seen that the theory of intelligence fits very neatly into the above ideology, an attempt to ascribe human development largely to biological factors, if not primarily to the inheritance of key mental powers. The outcome has been to reintroduce into research and knowledge the concept of scientific racism thinly disguised as objectivity.






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