The Frontal Cortex

Is Neuroscience Conservative?

In his most recent column, David Brooks argues that the new discoveries of neuroscience and biology have confirmed the conservative view of human nature.

Sometimes a big idea fades so imperceptibly from public consciousness you don’t even notice until it has almost disappeared. Such is the fate of the belief in natural human goodness.

This belief, most often associated with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, begins with the notion that “everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man.” Human beings are virtuous and free in their natural state. It is only corrupt institutions that make them venal. They are happy in their simplicity, but social conventions make them unwell.

Brooks then goes on to list the delusional policies based on this optimistic view of human nature, from progressive education to the advent of hippies and revolutionary bohemians.

He then points out that “the new science of human nature” (I always find this phrase rather scary; the old science of human nature has led us to some rather disastrous places) reveal that Rousseau was wrong and Hobbes was right. Life is nasty, brutish and short because we are naturally nasty and brutish:

From the content of our genes, the nature of our neurons and the lessons of evolutionary biology, it has become clear that nature is filled with competition and conflicts of interest. Humanity did not come before status contests. Status contests came before humanity, and are embedded deep in human relations. People in hunter-gatherer societies were deadly warriors, not sexually liberated pacifists. As Steven Pinker has put it, Hobbes was more right than Rousseau.

Moreover, human beings are not as pliable as the social engineers imagined. Human beings operate according to preset epigenetic rules, which dispose people to act in certain ways. We strive for dominance and undermine radical egalitarian dreams. We’re tribal and divide the world into in-groups and out-groups.

In general, I think Brooks is correct about the Rousseau/Hobbes divide.* But this isn’t exactly news. Freud, following Darwin, revealed a human mind that was much darker than the Enlightenment liked to believe. (We were evolved primates, not fallen angels.) At our center was a devious id, which needed to be repressed by a conscientious super-ego. Totems and taboos, which we got from society, kept our innate evil in check. Brooks makes it sound like we need modern neuroscience and evolutionary psychology to tell us that invading Iraq was a tragically terrible idea. But that’s nonsense: it doesn’t take an fMRI machine to realize that, as Brooks puts it, people “need a strong order-imposing state.”

So to the extent the psychological sciences reveal man as a Darwinian animal, full of the same devious instincts and desires as your typical warm-blooded creature, Brooks is right: Rousseau was wrong. But I think Brooks overlooks a much more important discovery made by modern neuroscience that has large socio-political implications: our neural plasticity. (Needless to say, plasticity is less amenable to the conservative world view.)

How is plasticity relevant to political discourse? While people do operate according “to preset epigenetic rules,” these rules are vague in their instructions. Although our genes are responsible for the gross anatomy of the brain, our plastic neurons are designed to adapt to our experiences. Like the immune system, which alters itself in response to the pathogens it actually encounters (we do not have the B-cells of our parents), the brain is constantly adapting to the particular conditions of our own life.

On the one hand, this neuroplasticity research is cause for optimism. It presents new treatments for all sorts of medical maladies, from strokes to Parkinson’s. But it also tells us something very disturbing about our society. While conservatives tend to regard poverty as primarily a cultural issue, solvable by increasing marriage rates and transitioning people to minimum wage jobs, this research suggests that the symptoms of poverty are not simply states of mind; they actually warp the mind. The truth of the matter is that our neurons are designed to reflect their circumstances, not to rise above them. As a result, the monotonous stress of living in a slum literally limits the brain. Our societal inequality leads to very real neural inequalities.

Here’s the abstract of a paper published last year by the lab of Martha Farah:

Growing up in poverty is associated with reduced cognitive achievement as measured by standardized intelligence tests, but little is known about the underlying neurocognitive systems responsible for this effect. We administered a battery of tasks designed to tax-specific neurocognitive systems to healthy low and middle SES children screened for medical history and matched for age, gender and ethnicity. Higher SES was associated with better performance on the tasks, as expected, but the SES disparity was significantly nonuniform across neurocognitive systems. Pronounced differences were found in Left perisylvian/Language and Medial temporal/Memory systems, along with significant differences in Lateral/Prefrontal/Working memory and Anterior cingulate/Cognitive control and smaller, nonsignificant differences in Occipitotemporal/Pattern vision and Parietal/Spatial cognition.

And there’s a large body of evidence from other primates to support this depressing, but not surprising, conclusion. For example, if a pregnant rhesus monkey is forced to endure stressful conditions – and poverty is stressful, especially in the ghetto – her children are born with reduced neurogenesis (the birth of new neurons), even if they never actually experience stress once born. This pre-natal trauma, just like trauma endured in infancy, has life-long implications. The offspring of monkeys stressed during pregnancy have smaller hippocampi, suffer from elevated levels of glucocorticoids and display all the classical symptoms of anxiety. Being low in a dominance hierarchy also suppresses neurogenesis. So does living in a bare environment. As a general rule of thumb, a rough life – especially a rough start to life – strongly correlates with lower levels of fresh cells and reduced dendritic connections.

So if you wanted to base your politics on neuroscience, then I think you’d have to start by funding Head Start, and investing in better inner-city education, and reforming our prisons, and doing all sorts of typically “liberal” things. You’d also probably realize that war is the most stressful thing in the world, and has lasting neural consequences, for both soldiers and civilians.

I think it’s pretty clear that modern neuroscience does not confirm the conservative world view. People aren’t perfect, but then we knew Rousseau was wrong after the French Revolution. The politically relevant discoveries of neuroscience should instead focus our attention on the biological reality of poverty and inequality. These problems don’t have easy answers – and neuroscience can’t tell us how to fix them – but recent scientific research does illuminate both the enormity and the reality of our problems.

*Before we get too depressed, it also worth noting that neuroscience has also discovered the myriad ways in which humans naturally relate to each other. From mirror neurons to our theory of mind, we are designed to sympathize with our fellow man. So the news isn’t all bleak.

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    February 19, 2007

    So, why is there a growing body of research showing that conservatism is a psychopathology?

  2. #2 Jonah
    February 19, 2007

    I wouldn’t take that “research” too seriously. All ideologies are biasing in the sense that lead us to favor evidence that confirms our belief system and exlude evidence that contradicts it. Conservatism is no more a psychpathology than liberalism. And some psychologists, like Jonathan Haidt, have even argued that conservatives better understand the moral underpinnings of the human mind.

  3. #3 coturnix
    February 19, 2007

    Are you sure? How can a hierarchical, Chain-of-Being, authoritarian, sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, religious ideology be ‘normal’ when it does not understand the world correctly? Isn’t it maladaptive to hold erroneous views of nature (and human nature) and try to organize societies to fit taht view instead of trying to organize societies in sycn with our best understanding of the way he world really works?

  4. #4 Jonah
    February 19, 2007

    You can disagree with conservative beliefs on gay marriage, or God, or tax policy without believing that conservatives suffer from a psychopathology. You can be wrong without being crazy. And I think it’s well documented that many of our “erroneous views of nature” are deeply adaptive. We suffer from all sorts of natural biases (like loss aversion) and delusions (like our sense of self) that have evolutionary origins. Natural selection isn’t particularly interested in epistemology.

  5. #5 Dan
    February 19, 2007

    Good post. Interesting food for thought.

  6. #6 laurelin
    February 19, 2007

    I think that another reason that the concept of plasticity is at odds with a conservative-style world view is that ‘people can change’ to a greater extent than was thought (or at least, taught) when I was growing up in the 80′s and 90′s.

    So, instead of living a life based on fear of ‘losing brain cells’ or thinking that your potential is fixed at birth and plugging away at things in order to ‘fulfill your potential’, there is the affirmation that a life of learning, thinking, and existing in a stimulating environment (that includes nice things like trees and creeks) can actually help your brain keep developing and improve individual (and, in turn, societal) potential.

  7. #7 MattXIV
    February 19, 2007

    While I agree with the general thrust of your point about plasticity, I think you’re missing a couple of details. First, the transition from welfare to low-wage work would be supported by plasticity – one of the common arguments for welfare reform aimed at increasing employment is that entry level jobs allow the development of skills that make it possible to advance to better jobs – a similar argument would apply for work aiding development via mental conditioning as well. Second, the points about bare environments may not be generalizable to humans under realistic circumstances – the poor aren’t locked in featureless cages 24-7. Third, has there been any actual work relating glucocorticoid levels with income? If social dominance and stress act like mood and tend towards a “typical” value with perturbations occuring based on shortfalls from expectations, the variation of median levels across income may be trivial compared to variation within a population at an income.

  8. #8 Rugosa
    February 19, 2007

    Brooks is, as usual, delusional. His premise is wrong from the start; modern neuroscience is showing that our brains are more, not less, malleable than previously believed. He uses a lot of conservative scare-words (bohemians! drugs!), makes true statements that he deems wrong (bourgeoise social conventions are repressive), and makes false statements that he deems true (all those failed social programs). You can cherry-pick history all you like to find examples that prove whatever political viewpoint you want; sure, 60s-style communes were a fad, but increasing racial and sexual equality are here to stay, and Brooks doesn’t acknowledge them at all. On the other hand, life was nasty, brutish, and short when the social rule of the day was every man for himself. There’s also the cart-before-horse assertion that society has rejected the Rousseauian view of human nature and then become more conservative, when it has been the growing conservativism of society that led to that rejection. Brooks does nothing more than justify 19th century Social Darwinism, which Darwin himself rejected.
    I don’t have the exact quote at hand, but Darwin’s response to the glorification of ruthless competition was to say that if true, it would mean that every cheating tradesman was the superior person.

  9. #9 doublehelix
    February 19, 2007

    How can you separate the environment of those subjects of the Farah study from the people themselves? Your assumption that if you merely change the environment, the people will change, is so wrong I don’t know where to begin. Studies of adoptees and their biological vs. adopted parents is a particularly powerful way of demonstrating that genetic background has a huge role in childrens’ development.

    Sure, the impoverished environment of folks in the inner city undoubtedly affects their brain. But have you ever wondered why the environment is impoverished? I believe that the environment in which one lives is partly a function of the individuals who live there. If you reject that notion, then you are left with an infinite regression. Unless culture is at least partly a function of biology, genetics, and evolution, then there is no thing that can initiate the cultural differences we see today. This makes me very pessmistic that environmental manipulations can fundamentally change socio-economic conditions— without drastically curtailing liberty.

    Call me conservative, libertarian, whatever. But look at the data. Brooks is right

  10. #10 Chris Chatham
    February 19, 2007

    I had some trouble following your argument, doublehelix, but I think that this may be relevant:

    “The heritability of IQ at the low end of the wealth spectrum was just 0.10 on a scale of zero to one, but it was 0.72 for families of high socioeconomic status. [...] The genetic contribution to intelligence therefore differs in different environments [...] the same could be said of certain physical attributes such as height, which is heritable when nutrition is not limiting.”

    from this paper.

  11. #11 doublehelix
    February 19, 2007

    I can see that the paper you link to Chris is an Annual Review article, but I cannot see the reference. Would you mind citing it, please?

    Sorry if my argument was hard to follow. What I am trying to say is, an impoverished (or enriched) environment is at least *partly* the result of actions and choices made by the denizens of that environment. These actions that shape the environment may have been affected by racism, pollution, etc., but, if you grant me that human behavior is at least partly influenced by genetics, then I don’t see how Jonah can assume that remediation of the environment (e.g., through head start) will be *sufficient* to ameliorate poverty.

    My initial post was stimulated by the assumption that the genes of the individuals in the Farah study had nothing whatsoever to do with their performance.

    Jonah wrote, “so if you wanted to base your politics on neuroscience, then I think you’d have to start by funding Head Start, and investing in better inner-city education”

    I don’t think there is much evidence that Head Start has had any positive, lasting effect on academic achievement, much less on participants ultimate socioeconomic status. Can he provide evidence to the contrary? And I recall not too long ago, a NY Times article about how damnably difficult it has proven to be to significantly improve the achievement of *most* inner city school kids. I’m not saying those efforts are worthless… as a neuroscientist that studies the effect of the environment on the brain– I care about the subject very much! But, I am very pessimistic that we as a society can significantly alter the socioeconomic trajectory of most people through policy. This opinion, which is certainly conservative (sorry — pathological, insane, criminal, according to coturnix), is partly based on my reading of the literature in neuroscience, behavioral genetics, biopsychology, and primatology. The other part is no doubt a matter of my own genes x environment.

  12. #12 Colugo
    February 19, 2007

    Some articles that may be relevant to the discussion:

    Evolution and inequality
    James S Chisholma and Victoria K Burbank
    International Journal of Epidemiology 2001;30:206-211
    http://tinyurl.com/yr23v8

    “Some scientists remain wary of evolutionary theory because of its supposed genetic determinism and insensitivity to the inequalities often associated with gender, race and class. Our aim is to show that such fears are outdated and to foster a role for evolutionary theory in public health. We use complex adaptive systems theory and the concept of a tradeoff between current and future reproduction to argue that when the future is objectively risky and uncertain the optimal reproductive strategy will often be to reproduce at a young age and/or high rate. Because reproducing early and/or often can lead to ill health and shortened lives, and because inequality is a major source of environmental risk and uncertainty, we argue that any attempt to use evolutionary theory to understand human reproduction, health or wellbeing must include considerations of inequality and social capital. …

    Thus, on top of the empirical evidence that inequality is bad for our health we now have an explanation in principle of why it is bad: because the optimal reproductive strategy under conditions of inequality is likely to entail tradeoffs in the form of ill health and shortened lives. In addition, because reverse dominance hierarchies tend to minimize inequality it may not have been a major selective force during hominid evolution, suggesting that we are not well adapted to it today. … On the evolutionary logic advanced here, strategies for building social capital should aim at maximizing the number of people whose subjective experience of risk and uncertainty is sufficiently low that their naturally contingent predispositions to set the stage for the future are given the fullest possible expression.”

    From a developmentalist perspective, it is clear that cognitive traits are reflective of developmental stress.

    Mother’s rows in pregnancy ‘affects IQ of baby’ – cortisol
    http://tinyurl.com/2j7chf

    (And some brain functions are less buffered than others.) That’s probably why heritability of cognitive traits declines with lower SES.

    Heritability of intelligence increases with socioeconomic class: Turkheimer et al. 2003 (study alluded to above)
    http://tinyurl.com/2e3hx4

    2006 replication
    http://tinyurl.com/2gcoe4

  13. #13 Russell Blackford
    February 20, 2007

    Just how radical are these radical egalitatarian ideas? There are a lot of ideas around that no one on practical politics takes seriously – ideas that would demonise all economic competition, for example. If Brooks is saying that economic competition “feels” so natural to us that we’ll never be able to experence it as seeming entirely morally wrong … well he’s probably correct about that.

    But you don’t have to be such a radical egalitarian as all that to argue (as I do) for a greater degree of wealth redistribution. A mixture of sympathy for others and reasoning about how to help their plight, without great loss to ourselves, is enough.

    I think that what people often lack is not sympathy for others (which Hobbes ruled out as having much effect at all, but Hume and Rousseau rightly emphasised); it’s agreement on how best to act on their sympathies in an effective way. We’re seeing that right here: everyone would like to help the poor, but there’s no agreement on how, or on whether efforts are likely to be futile. I think it’s answers to those questions that are more likely to shape (and be shaped by) political allegiances.

  14. #14 Herb West
    February 20, 2007

    Imagine the number of neurons killed during a single game of dodgeball.

  15. #15 Blake Stacey
    February 20, 2007

    In your country, neuroscience is evidence for conservative viewpoint. In Soviet Russia, neuroscience proves mind is matter, soul no exist, God no exist and will of proletariat supreme.

  16. #16 Agnostic
    February 20, 2007

    If the brain is as plastic as people are claiming, why do adoptive siblings raised in the exact same home environment, neighborhood environment, and school environment, turn out no more similar or different than individuals chosen at random from the population, when measuring their IQ and personality traits?

    Sure, the brain is plastic and responds to the environment. But if someone thinks we’re going to get kids to be smart and have whatever suite of personality traits we find desirable, simply by social engineering — they’re wrong, else adoptive siblings would resemble each other more than arbitrarily chosen strangers resemble each other.

    And obviously to the extent that providing equally favorable environments to children will lift those who are in squalor to a higher level, this will exacerbate the role that genetic differences play in creating inequality: the less a variable varies (i.e., the environment in a social engineering situation), the less it can account for variance in outcomes. Assuming we don’t also genetically engineer kids, then genetic variance will remain, and the ratio of genetic to environmental variance will increase.

  17. #17 Agnostic
    February 20, 2007

    Also, the idea that we knew Rousseau was wrong since the French Revolution — look at the 20th Century, and see how many intellectuals believed this, rather than the “corrupt social institutions” view.

  18. #18 David Harmon
    February 20, 2007

    The problem with talking about “what humans are like” is that a human in isolation is not a complete system. Our cultures are both the environment we develop in, and also the accumulated results of that development. That’s an ecological cycle in its own right, and predicting the effect of any given change is very hard indeed.

    Consider the current outbreak of corporate and government corruption in America. The problem isn’t that the nature of people has suddenly changed, it’s that the social structures restraining that corruption have been allowed to break down over time. That opens the way for opportunists to gain not only wealth, but power — and of course, having gained power, they’re not terribly interested in rebuilding the structures that would limit their own ambition. So things get worse… until the situation is so dysfunctional (roughly, Hobbesian) that people start banding together to defend against the opportunists and create “safe spaces” where they can do business and generally live life in relative peace.

    If you’ve grown up during the “secure” part of the cycle, it’s easy to think people are “naturally” good, because the constraints of a strong society are less visible than effective. If you’ve grown up during the “dog-eat-dog” times, then it’s easy to think that people are naturally vicious, because you need to pay attention to all the hazards around you. In neither case is it particularly obvious that the social world you grew up in is only one of several possiblities.

  19. #19 Chris
    February 20, 2007

    I’m probably getting to this late, but honestly, I don’t know what the hell Bora’s talking about. I’m pretty sure I know all of the recent studies on personality and political conservatism, and I can’t think of a single one that says anything remotely similar to “conservatism is a psychopathology.” There was one study (one study!) in which instances of psychosis (I think just schizophrenia) were found to be higher in political conservatives, but we’re still talking about a very small percentage of political conservatives. That probably says less about conservatives, or conservatism, than it does about schizophrenia. And if I recall, that study hasn’t even been submitted for peer review anyway.

    In fact, in the most thorough study to date (of which I know Bora is aware, ’cause I sent it to him), the only consistent difference between liberals and conservatives on any personality dimension was on the openness to experience dimension. In some samples, there was a difference between the two groups on the neuroticism dimension (some people might, mistakenly, treat neuroticism as psychopathology), but when those differences appeared, liberals scored higher on neuroticism than conservatives.

    At most, if we take what is ultimately a pretty bad theory, “conservatism as motivated social cognition,” the difference between liberals and conservatives becomes one of a focus on cold reasoning vs. hot (emotional) reasoning, with conservatives doing more of the latter. This is a pretty bad theory, of course, because motivated social reasoning is what everyone does, regardless of political orientation. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Bora’s selective interpetation of the science as favoring liberal political views as motivated cognition, in fact. But even if we accepted, for the moment, that conservatives were more likely to use motivated reasoning than liberals (a claim for which there is absolutely no evidence — motivated reasoning has nothing to do with openness to experience, for example), this wouldn’t indicate that conservatism is a psychopathology.

    I don’t know what motivates Bora’s approach to this issue. Science is not, ultimately, going to tell you which political view is the right one. The very idea that it could is patently absurd, because it ignores the social processes at play in both science and politics (and the relationship between science and politics). I won’t even get into the fact that it assumes that conservativism and liberalism exhaust the ideological space. It’s important not to forget one of the most important philosophical lessons of the Enlightenment (and of Aristotle, of course): is does not imply ought. Scientific facts don’t give us ethics. We have to get ethics elsewhere, and while ethics should not be inconsistent with facts (it wouldn’t do to believe that torture is morally good because it doesn’t do anyone harm, when it’s an empirical fact that it does, for example), we shouldn’t pretend that the empirical facts exist in an interpretive vacuum either. Science measures and organizes data. Ideology tells us what to do with that data once its measured and organized. It doesn’t work the other way around.

  20. #20 jm
    February 20, 2007

    > If you’ve grown up during the “secure” part of the cycle, it’s
    > easy to think people are “naturally” good, because the
    > constraints of a strong society are less visible than
    > effective.

    To counter this a little: look at kids growing up in secure suburbs. Their parents care for them and expect them to be “decent” and respectable. (Humans aren’t apes after all, aren’t they?) But sometimes the more archaic streaks of human nature get hold of the kids and they start listening to death metal or gangsta rap, becoming bored, depressed, suicidal, craving thrill and sex in this evolutionary novel environment.

    So human nature dies hard and it’s not that conservatives are always comfortable with drawing conclusions from that.

  21. #21 doublehelix
    February 20, 2007

    Colugo– the proposal offered in that Int J Epidemiology paper is a very old and quite well established idea. Its amusing that they would tout it as something new. Look up “r-K strategy”. As the authors suggest, r-K strategies are based on evolution: sexual selection, as a matter of fact. Where the authors seem to go wrong is their idea that these sexually selected, genetically-based traits could be ameliorated by redistributing wealth.

    I believe that human races differ in terms of r-K strategies, and this in turn has profoundly important implications for their socioeconomic status. For example, sub-saharan africans, IMO, embody an r-based reproductive strategy. Many sub-saharan africans are obviously very poor. Some of the poorest people on earth. The lives of these people are clearly marked by uncertainty and risk (some of it of their own making, and much of it due to the physical environment). These environmental conditions would predict the sexual selection of an r strategy over evolutionary time. Not surprisingly, when sub-sarahan africans are moved to a new environment, one which, in the last 2 – 3 generations has become vastly more wealthy, predictable and less risky than their environment of evolutionary adaptedness, they continue to show traits characteristic of an r strategy. African Americans, on average, enter puberty significantly earlier than whites, have larger penises, have more children, have vastly higher rates of illegitimacy, and to die at an earlier age. The commonality of these life-history traits between sub-sarahan africans and african americans, in spite of their very different environments, is consistent with an *adapted* reproductive strategy, not a contingent one. Critically, this indicates that the redistribution of wealth will have very little lasting impact on the behavior and the social conditions of impoverished african americans.

    One cannot have freedom and equality at the same time. Many societies have tried to impose equality through the forcible redistribution of wealth and persecution of the wealthy elite, but all have failed…. “Some animals are more equal than others”

  22. #22 Colugo
    February 20, 2007

    doublehelix:

    I am well aware of the development of life history theory, as well as Rushton attempts to utilize it. Rushton’s book is bunk. His theory is even worse than his data.

    Libertarian blogger Abiola Lapite demolishes “scientific” racism
    http://foreigndispatches.typepad.com/dispatches/2006/12/the_iq_genes_th.html

    Leonard Lieberman on Rushton
    http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/cgi-bin/resolve?id=doi:10.1086/318434

    Chisholm on Rushton’s criticism of his work
    http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=15782561

  23. #23 Greg
    February 20, 2007

    One must always distinguish, between people who are conservative, and people who say they are conservative.

  24. #24 Joe Blow
    February 21, 2007

    Here’s some biological or common sense thinking on the issue: nothing in life is free, including neurons. Poor people (or rhesus monkeys) don’t have time to be eggheads – in fact, eggheadedness might be very costly (or fatal) in a subsistence economy.

    Where I agree with conservatives is that behaviors, social forms, even physical features stick around because they are more useful than alternatives, on the whole. If I’m trapped in the wilderness, I’d rather have my one pal be Squanto than Jean-Jacque Rousseau.

    The big, silly European Enlightenment myth is that everyone can be rich, everyone can be a genius. This is nonsense. There is only so much “pie” to go around, and elites have their own problems. Of course, the social pathologies of the poor are always studied far more than those of the upper-middle classes (from whose ranks most sociologists, anthropologists, lawyers, psychologists et al generally come).

    The folly of liberal thinking is to underestimate the wisdom of the “great unwashed” who don’t give a damn about book learnin’ and have lots of kids and believe in God. Well-educated, refined, beautiful elites come and go – but the Masses endure. Maybe they embody more intelligence than meets the eye.

  25. #25 doublehelix
    February 21, 2007

    Well, if you’re going to dismiss the possibility that genes underlie some of the well-documented cognitive, behavioral and physiognomic variation between the races, what’s your explanation? Go ahead, call it bunk. But what’s the alternative to some combination of genes + environment producing the glaringly obvious differences between groups of people?

  26. #26 Dan S.
    February 22, 2007

    “one which, in the last 2 – 3 generations has become vastly more wealthy, predictable and less risky . . . ”

    What’s the murder rate in Philly again?

    “But what’s the alternative to some combination of genes + environment producing the glaringly obvious differences between groups of people?”

    Gee, my recent ancestors were a good bit shorter than I am! It’s really a glaringly obvious difference. Must be some combination of genes + environment . . .

  27. #27 Dan S.
    February 22, 2007

    “Go ahead, call it bunk”
    Bunk’s not what I’m calling it. There’s another name that fits even better . . .

    ” And I recall not too long ago, a NY Times article about how damnably difficult it has proven to be to significantly improve the achievement of *most* inner city school kids.”

    And you seem to have entirely missed the point of that article [behind paywall], which is that significantly improving achievement, etc. of pretty disadvantaged kids certainly can be done; it takes – surprise, surprise! – a lot of work; pretending that a crappy, broken-down, underfunded, grossly inferior version of the education we give pretty advantaged kids is not going to do the job; and if we continue to do so, “ then we will need to accept that its failure was not an accident and was not inevitable, but was the outcome we chose.

  28. #28 castielero
    February 22, 2007

    Jonah says: “While conservatives tend to regard poverty as primarily a cultural issue, solvable by increasing marriage rates and transitioning people to minimum wage jobs, this research suggests that the symptoms of poverty are not simply states of mind; they actually warp the mind.

    For sure you dont belive that globalization is good. That poverty is decreasing around the world and that liberty-property, as a cultural matter, is far more important than neural plasticity as a cause explaining that.

    The truth of the matter is that our neurons are designed to reflect their circumstances, not to rise above them.” As the developement of our history can teach you …

    ps: sorry if my ideas are awful, my english is even worse

  29. #29 Phil Tyson PhD
    February 12, 2011

    What a confusing essay. The mistake, as always, is to think Freud added something to the debate.

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