The winds of freedom

« previous post | next post »

David Starr Jordan, among other accomplishments, was president of Stanford University from 1891 to 1913, and then chancellor of Stanford until 1916. He was also director of the Sierra Club from 1892 to 1903. He chose Stanford's motto, "Die Luft der Freiheit weht" ("The winds of freedom blow"). Stanford's Jordan Hall is named for him, and now houses the psychology department.

In the course of randomly scanning the results of a query at, I stumbled on Jordan's essay The Blood of the Nation: A Study of the Decay of Races Through the Survival of the Unfit. This work was apparently published for the first time in 1901 by the Peace Association of Friends in America, as the "abstract of an address given at Stanford University, May 9, 1900". The whole thing was put out in 1902 by the American Unitarian Association in Boston, and in at least three other editions in later years

To today's reader, even the title is somewhat shocking; and the work itself fully delivers what the title promises.

Here's how it starts:

In this paper I shall set forth two propositions : the one self-evident ; the other not apparent at first sight, but equally demonstrable. The blood of a nation determines its history. This is the first proposition. The second is, The history of a nation determines its blood. […]

We know that the actual blood in the actual veins plays no part in heredity, that the transfusion of blood means no more than the transposition of food, and that the physical basis of the phenomena of inheritance is found in the structure of the germ cell and its contained germ-plasm. But the old word well serves our purposes. The blood which is "thicker than water" is the symbol of race unity. In this sense the blood of the people concerned is at once the cause and the result of the deeds recorded in their history. For example, wherever an Englishman goes, he carries with him the elements of English history. It is a British deed which he does, British history that he makes. Thus, too, a Jew is a Jew in all ages and climes, and his deeds everywhere bear the stamp of Jewish individuality. A Greek is a Greek; a Chinaman remains a Chinaman. In like fashion the race traits color all history made by Tartars, or negroes, or Malays.

The climate which surrounds a tribe of men may affect the activities of these men as individuals or as an aggregate, education may intensify their powers or mellow their prejudices, oppression may make them servile or dominion make them overbearing ; but these traits and their resultants, so far as science knows, do not "run in the blood," they are not "bred in the bone." Older than climate or training or experience are the traits of heredity, and in the long run it is always "blood which tells."

It's difficult to imagine the respected president of a major American university giving this speech today, and it's not much easier to imagine the Quakers and the Unitarians publishing and promoting it.

Some of the mystery surrounding the role of the Quakers and Unitarians is dispelled by the nature of Jordan's overall argument, which is that war is bad eugenics:

By the sacrifice of their best or the emigration of the best, and by such influences alone, have races fallen from first-rate to second-rate in the march of history.

For example,

Greece died because the men who made her glory had all passed away and left none of their kin and therefore none of their kind. […] [T]he Greek of to-day, for the most part, never came from the loins of Leonidas or Miltiades. he is the son of the stable-boys and scullions and slaves of the day of her glory, those of whom imperial Greece could make no use in her conquest of Asia.

But still, cultural history is weird. (And in fact, the people and organizations involved in  1900-ish American eugenics are somewhat unexpected in the modern context: the League of Women Voters, the Carnegie Foundation, Margaret Sanger, etc.)

For the obligatory linguistic connection — beyond the tenuous chain of associations involved in my "bookworm" test — we can turn to another work of Jordan's, Evolution and Animal Life, 1907, where he takes up and extends an analogy that goes back to Darwin, developing a sort of social Darwinism of vocabulary.

Darwin noted that "descent with modification" was accepted as the basis for the origin of languages, and suggested that a similar process could be responsible for the origin of species. Jordan says that

There is the closest possible analogy between the variations of species of animals or plants in different districts and that of words in different languages. The language of any people is not a unit. .It is made up of words which have at various times and under various conditions come into it from the speech of other people. The grammar of a language is an expression of the mutual relations of these words. The word as it exists in any one language represents the species. Its cognate or its ancestor in any other language is a related species. The words used in a given district at any one time constitute its philological fauna. There is a struggle for existence between words as among animals. For example the words begin and commence, shake and agitate, work and operate (Saxon and French) are in the English language constantly brought into competition. The fittest, the one that suits English purposes best, will at last survive. If both have elements of fitness, the field will be divided between them. […]

The spread of a language, like the spread of a fauna, is limited by natural barriers. It is the work of civilization to break down these barriers as limiting the distribution of civilized man. The dominant languages cross these barriers with the races of man who use them, and with them go the domesticated animals and plants and the weeds and vermin man has brought unwillingly into relations of domination.

In general, attempts to apply notions of morphemic "fitness" to the evolution of vocabulary have not been especially successful; and for some discussion of the notion of "dominant" languages and their association with "dominant" races, see Nick Ostler's Empires of the Word. One of the key lessons of Nick's book is that the histories of languages (like those of words) are strongly influenced by network externalities and other factors that have nothing to do with the "fitness" of individual competitors, and are often surprisingly detached from questions of military or political domination.


  1. Q. Pheevr said,

    September 24, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

    I think I'll take this as a reminder to beware of self-evident propositions.

  2. Alan Gunn said,

    September 24, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

    Why the surprise? Woodrow Wilson, whose reputation today seems to be mostly that of a wise internationalist whose enlightened views were rejected by louts, was a vicious racist who extended racial segregation in the Federal government and who, when he was president of Princeton, barred blacks from the Princeton campus. This sort of thing was pretty much the norm in those days. Sometimes it's good to be reminded how far we've come since then.

  3. Belial said,

    September 24, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

    It is not really news that eugenics, and related pathologies today deprecated, were enthusiastically adopted by the leaders of the early 20th-century Progressive movement.

  4. The Ridger said,

    September 24, 2011 @ 4:28 pm

    To be fair, he never said it was "news". He said it was "shocking" and "difficult to imagine … today", both of which are true. It is good to realize how far we've come, even if we're not all the way there.

  5. grackle said,

    September 24, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

    "Greece died because the men who made her glory had all passed away and left none of their kind…he is the son of the stable-boys and scullions and slaves of the day of her glory…"

    And the meek shall inherit the earth?

  6. Larry Goldsmith said,

    September 24, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

    Not only Stanford President Jordan, but the founder of Stanford University himself held racist views that were common at the time. From his 1862 inaugural address as Governor of California:

    "While the settlement of our State is of the first importance, the character of those who shall become settlers is worthy of scarcely less consideration. To my mind it is clear, that the settlement among us of an inferior race is to be discouraged, by every legitimate means. Asia, with her numberless millions, sends to our shores the dregs of her population. Large numbers of this class are already here; and, unless we do something early to check their immigration, the question, which of the two tides of immigration, meeting upon the shores of the Pacific, shall be turned back, will be forced upon our consideration, when far more difficult than now of disposal. There can be no doubt but that the presence of numbers among us of a degraded and distinct people must exercise a deleterious influence upon the superior race, and, to a certain extent, repel desirable immigration. It will afford me great pleasure to concur with the Legislature in any constitutional action, having for its object the repression of the immigration of the Asiatic races."

  7. JMM said,

    September 24, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

    I not really an expert on early twentieth century Progressivism, but I don't think that Social Darwinism was always one of it's tenets, or that Woodrow Wilson was considered the Progressive candidate in in either of his presidential campaigns (though some of his policies, especially his (early) isolationism and pacifism were considered Progressive). But would anyone expect the chosen leader of Leland Stanford's school to be a leading light of Progressivism?

    Party alignments have shifted quite a bit from then, and T. Roosevelt was considered Progressive (but only in some matters). But the same was true for a Democratic nominee (three times), William Jennings Bryan (but only in some matters) and, I think, you will find as many of Byran's objections to evolution in Jordan's screed as you will in "Inherit the WInd"; it may have been hard for many to distinguish the scientific idea from its perversion back then.

    Also not all groups of Friends have been liberal or progressive, at times many have been very conservative in some matters, it's a problem groups that value individual thought often run into, though their pacifism was firm, and I agree with MYL, the antiwar ideas were the reason for their support. It's my impression the Unitarians will go almost anywhere to get an argument going.

    Look at the work of Jane Addams. Look at what Alice Hamilton (one of the great unsung heroes of America) did. Look at Barrow's early career (I needed at least one male). That is the way to fight Social Darwinism, and it worked. It word big time! But it is a lesson we seem to have forgotten.

    Sorry, Prof. Liberman, I seem to have added to the off track comments again, but I come here to learn about your main points; occasionally I grasp the dictums

  8. Jon Weinberg said,

    September 24, 2011 @ 8:06 pm

    Following on JMM's point: During the first couple of decades of the twentieth century in the U.S., eugenics was, in Thomas Leonard's words, "the broadest of churches" — mainstream and "popular to the point of faddishness," supported by social conservatives (such as Charles Davenport) as well as by folks associated with progressive politics. The eugenics-inspired Immigration Act of 1924 (which choked off immigration from eastern and southern Europe for forty years, and confirmed a total ban on Asian immigration) passed the Senate by a vote of 62-6. There's plenty of blame to go around.

  9. bloix said,

    September 24, 2011 @ 8:15 pm

    In 1900, everyone was a racist in the sense that they believed in racial and national characteristics that extended beyond physical appearance to personality. Here is an excerpt from an essay called “The Characteristics of the Negro People,” by an African-American college president named H.T. Kealing. The essay was published in 1903, along with essays by Booker T Washington, W.E.B. DuBois,, and other prominent Black leaders, in a book called The Negro Problem:

    The characteristics of the Negro are of two kinds—the inborn and the inbred… Inborn qualities are ineradicable; they belong to the blood; they constitute individuality; they are independent, or nearly so, of time and habitat. Inbred qualities are acquired, and are the result of experience. They may be overcome by a reversal of the process which created them… The Negro is not a Caucasian, not a Chinese, not an Indian; though no psychological quality in the one is absent from the other. The same moral sense, called conscience; the same love of harmony in color or in sound; the same pleasure in acquiring knowledge; the same love of truth in word, or of fitness in relation; the same love of respect and approbation; the same vengeful or benevolent feelings; the same appetites, belong to all, but in varying proportions. They form the indicia to a people's mission, and are our best guides to God's purpose in creating us…

    Studied with sympathy and at first hand, the black man of America will be seen to possess certain predominant idiosyncrasies of which the following form a fair catalogue:

    He is intensely religious. True religion is based upon a belief in the supernatural, upon faith and feeling…

He is imaginative. This is not evinced so much in creative directions as in poetical, musical, combinatory, inventional and what, if coupled with learning, we call literary imagination. Negro eloquence is proverbial…
    He is affectionate and without vindictiveness. He does not nurse even great wrongs…
    He has great endurance, both dispositional and physical. So true is the first that his patience has been the marvel of the world; and, indeed, many, regarding this trait manifested in such an unusual degree, doubted the Negro's courage, till the splendid record of the '60's and the equal, but more recent, record of the '90's, wrote forbearance as the real explanation of an endurance seemingly so at variance with manly spirit…

 He is courageous. His page in the war record of this country is without blot or blemish…
    He is cheerful. His ivories are as famous as his songs. That the South is "sunny" is largely due to the brightness his rollicking laugh and unfailing good nature bring to it…
    The above traits are inborn and fundamental, belonging to the race everywhere, in Africa as well as America. Strict correctness requires, however, that attention be called to the fact that there are tribal differences among African Negroes that amount almost to the national variations of Europe; and these are reflected in American Negroes, who are the descendants of these different tribes. There is as much difference between the Mandingo and the Hottentot, both black, as between the Italian and the German, both white; or between the Bushman and the Zulu, both black, as between the Russian and the Englishman, both white…

  10. mgh said,

    September 24, 2011 @ 10:15 pm

    for those interested, Cold Spring Harbor was the seat of american eugenics through the 1920s and maintains a good archive about the history of the (widely accepted and popular) movement — which, as this post implies, is not given due diligence in most elementary american history books

  11. SC said,

    September 24, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

    "It's difficult to imagine the respected president of a major American university giving this speech today…"

    Actually, it's not:
    Lawrence Summers, Harvard University, 2005.

    [(myl) This is a bit unfair to Summers, who merely argued that the distribution of human male abilities and aptitudes has a larger variance than the female distribution does, so that both the upper and lower tails extend farther. It's controversial where and why this is true, and much more controversial how much it has to do with the under-representation of women in various academic fields; and in the specific context of a discussion about how to increase this representation, it was a spectacularly insensitive, inappropriate, irrelevant, and even stupid thing to say. It was roughly like getting up at a funeral and talking about all the little things that used to annoy you so much about the dear departed. But it wasn't an essentialist argument, unless you think that group variability is an essentialist property of individuals.]

  12. Steve Sailer said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 5:39 am

    "One of the key lessons of Nick's book is that the histories of languages … are often surprisingly detached from questions of military or political domination."

    Which language are we discussing this question in? And what language was spoken by the ultimate winner in WWI, WWII, and the Cold War?

    Romance languages: they wouldn't happen to have anything to do with Rome winning a few wars? Arabic? German?

    [(myl) Well, there's also the case of the Normans in England, or the Mongols in China; or the Ottoman Turks in a lot of places; and Nick argues that the Romans spread Greek as broadly as they spread Latin.]

  13. peterv said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 7:08 am

    Alan Gunn said (September 24, 2011 @ 3:47 pm)

    "Why the surprise? Woodrow Wilson, whose reputation today seems to be mostly that of a wise internationalist whose enlightened views were rejected by louts, was a vicious racist who extended racial segregation in the Federal government and who, when he was president of Princeton, barred blacks from the Princeton campus. This sort of thing was pretty much the norm in those days."

    Except that not every prominent politician of the time shared Wilson's racist views. Wilson's Republican predecessor Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, invited a black man to dinner at the White House and appointed a person of Jewish faith to his Cabinet, both of which actions led to criticism from, among others, Democrats.

  14. Harold said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 8:31 am

    Yes, but Teddy Roosevelt said that the use of contraceptives would entail "race suicide" and for this reason, Franklin Roosevelt and Alice Longworth proclaimed their membership in the "race suicide" club. (If I remember correctly). Teddy was an imperialist and moderate on racial matters.

  15. Jon Weinberg said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 8:37 am

    Roosevelt was complicated (as are we all). While he stated for eugenic reasons that criminals and the feeble-minded should be prevented from breeding, he didn't seem to think that what he saw as an overall low level of "intelligence, morality, and thrift" among African-Americans was inevitable. Rather, he argued that it was possible to "educate [the black man] to perform the duties a failure to perform which will render him a curse to himself and to all around him" — to "train" the "backward race." It's perhaps not so surprising that he invited Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House, since Washington believed much the same things. (Roosevelt, fwiw, also strongly defended the rights of white Southerners to be free from "social intermingling" of the races, and found it nearly self-evident that "race purity must be maintained.") (All quotes from his Lincoln Day address, 2/1905).

  16. Harold said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 8:38 am

    One of the few who understood how traits were passed along was Henry A. Wallace (later vice president of the United States), who made a fortune from his understanding that the superficial appearance of corn kernels was unrelated to their productivity. (He learned botany from the African American scientist George Washington Carver, who had lived in his household while serving as Professor at the University of Iowa. The Wallaces were long-time abolitionists and Presbyterian ministers.

  17. Mr Punch said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 8:57 am

    @JMM – Woodrow Wilson was absolutely considered a progressive in his day.

    The period roughly 1880-1920 was one in which great efforts were made to create an American upper class, with the universities in the lead; the German and British models were pursued simultaneously. In addition to the imposition of the Jewish quota, there were also cases of formerly coeducational institutions going men-only.

  18. Ray Dillinger said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 10:20 am

    Eugenics did not become a generally discredited idea until World War II and the racist policies of Nazi Germany showed us what some still call its natural conclusion and what some still call a complete failure to implement anything like it.

    We should not be surprised that eugenics as an idea was accepted by people who had not yet experienced that. On its face, it is not false that eliminating genetic disorders from the gene pool would be a good thing. But race is not and never has been a genetic disorder. Racism was rampant in the early 20th century, however, and it's not too surprising that the idea of "eugenics" that got popularized was to do with race rather than individual genetic traits.

    Today doctors advise and assist people who have certain genetic disorders in avoiding passing them on to offspring. This is also "eugenics", but it is applied to particular individuals and couples with specific, known, proven genetic conditions that have known and uncontroversially bad medical effects, not to entire "races" of people. And, it's applied without killing or imprisoning anybody.

    So, now we have this word, "Eugenics." It originated in ideas about improving the human gene pool by not perpetuating genetic diseases. That wasn't necessarily a bad idea, if you can in fact recognize genetic diseases. People who keep thinking of race as a disease clearly cannot. But is that still what it means? Can we use "eugenics" to name the processes, from gamete screening to adoption, that we create in order to allow people afflicted with or carrying genetic diseases to live without perpetuating those disorders? Or since what happened in the 1940s, has its meaning changed so that it can ONLY refer to ideas of race and racism: placing a different value on people because of their being of different races?

  19. Robert Coren said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 11:00 am

    I always thought that "blood is thicker than water" referred to loyalty to one's (more or less) close relatives, rather than one's "race".

  20. Rodger C said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

    Not only race was considered a disease but also poverty and non-elite culture. Thousands of poor white women were sterilized in the eugenics era, often without their knowledge. Profound distrust of doctors and hospitals persists to this day among the "lower" classes of both races in some parts of the South in particular.

    As late as the mid-1950s my cousin, b. 1940, used a high-school biology textbook which he then gave me (b. 1948) and whose chapter on heredity was full of the Jukes and Kallikaks.

  21. Mark F. said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 12:51 pm

    Ray Dillinger – No, "eugenics" isn't only used to refer to ideas of race and racism. Forced sterilization of the disabled is also eugenics. But what makes it eugenics (and I think this is a usage-based definition) is the focus on "improving" the genetic makeup of a population of many humans. Helping parents have healthy children is generally handled as a service to the individual parents, not part of a public policy to remove genetic problems from the population as a whole.

    You could imagine a kind of soft eugenics in which the government subsidized genetic counseling and put in place a bunch of policies designed to encourage people it considers desirable to have more kids (and discouraging those it considers undesirable). You could imagine using race-blind criteria and avoiding any compulsion, and I think the original proponents of eugenics would have thought the term applied perfectly, and I think most of us today would agree that the term applied but wouldn't approve.

  22. Bobbie said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

    Eugenics and sterilization procedures continued in North Carolina into the 1970s.

  23. lhc said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 8:02 pm

    this exemplifies what I love about Mark Lieberman's writing:
    "But it wasn't an essentialist argument, unless you think that group variability is an essentialist property of individuals."

  24. Belial said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

    Ray Dillinger "On its face, it is not false that eliminating genetic disorders from the gene pool would be a good thing."

    True only under certain conditions, namely, who makes the decision to eliminate. What made the eugenics programs of the early 20th century wrong, and the genetic counseling of today benign, is the fact that the former readily contemplated government coercion ("three generations of imbeciles is enough").

  25. maidhc said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

    Keep in mind, when reading the words of Leland Stanford cited by Larry Goldsmith above, that Stanford became fabulously wealthy as a result of a railroad built by an army of Chinese laborers. (Although the railroad had just begun at the time he made the speech.)

    [(myl) And if you're not confused enough, read about the Edward Ross case. He was a professor of sociology whose contract was not renewed due to pressure from Jane Stanford, then a member of the board of trustees.

    Ross was forced from Stanford because of his objection to Chinese immigrant labour (on racial grounds – he was an early supporter of the "Race Suicide" doctrine, and expressed his hatred of other races in strong and crude language in public speeches).

    Ross was fired in 1900, the same year that Jordan gave the speech that became Blood of the Nation.

    In other confusing news, Ross was in later years a supporter of the Bolsheviks, and a member of the American Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky, along with Franz Boas, Norman Thomas, John Dos Passos, and so forth.]

  26. Robert Harris said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 11:25 pm

    Jordan, at Harvard, was a student of Agassiz, a notable racist and anti-Darwinian. What little I recall of my childhood in southern California (1930's-40's) makes me think Jordan's views were shared by many of of my parent's contemporaries.

  27. Dennis Paul Himes said,

    September 26, 2011 @ 10:39 am

    I read Ostler's Empire of the Word, and it seemed to me that he didn't succeed with what seemed to be the book's main goal, to provide a theory of language expansion and survival. He gave convincing, and always interesting, accounts of different languages' histories, but I didn't see any overall explanation of why some languages thrive and grow while others die out, or any method for predicting what will happen to English, say, in the coming centuries.

  28. KevinM said,

    September 26, 2011 @ 11:10 am

    Something about the tone of smug self-assurance rang a bell, and then it came to me: Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber.
    Theodoric: Well, I'll do everything humanly possible. Unfortunately, we barbers aren't gods. You know, medicine is not an exact science, but we are learning all the time. Why, just fifty years ago, they thought a disease like your daughter's was caused by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabelle is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors, perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach.

  29. L'Esprit de l'Escalier said,

    September 26, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

    Paul Graham, after noticing what quaint ideas people used to hold, went on to write a valuable essay about intellectual fashion:
    What You Can't Say

  30. wally said,

    September 26, 2011 @ 5:45 pm

    Great essay by Paul Graham. And I especially liked his using "diff" as a verb, from the Unix utility I imagine.

  31. Nathan Myers said,

    September 28, 2011 @ 3:51 am

    Paul Graham is an excellent essayist. Each of his essays begins with a value of 1.0, perfection, which it may carry through to the end. Each mention of Lisp halves the value of the essay. One I encountered had a value near 1e-26, a remarkably small number — but still positive.

  32. Dilettante said,

    October 5, 2011 @ 9:24 am

    Little late to comment on this thread, I suppose, and a bit off-topic. But I tried the above-linked intellectual fashion essay from Paul Graham and noticed some of his claims are stuffed with odd ideas. For example, he contends that physicists are generally of higher IQ than French lit professors. Possibly true, possibly not, but certainly unsupported. (And revealingly, a very fashionable thing to believe in IT circles.) In a later follow-up, he defends that idea with the observation that, if aliens were to either compel French professors to become physicists or physicists to become French professors, the physicists would have an easier time of it.

    I think that's very uncertain and suggests Graham doesn't know the requirements for humanities professors. Granted, a French professor would have to study a lot of math and science to become a physicist. On the other side, though, a physicist switching fields would have to learn written French to a high level of fluency in both modern and archaic forms; would have to be passably fluent orally; would have to become deeply familiar with a number of literary classics (prose & verse) and achieve surface familiarity with a much larger number of other works; would have to be current with French literature of the last years; would have to grasp linguistic concepts such as the evolution of grammar; would have to learn and understand academic concepts of textual criticism and analysis; and would then have to become current with what contemporary scholars are arguing about.

    In other words, this is an interesting example of the way one mentally discounts the requirements of other people's fields. One can disagree with the utility of French literature professors, but to believe it's an easy thing to pick up is pretty loopy. Graham supports his idea with a reference to l'Affaire Sokal, demonstrating he doesn't quite get what happened there (a physicist submitted a hoax paper to a pomo/litcrit journal to expose the weak standards of those fields) and conflates all the humanities. Sokal did not, after all, submit a learned paper on French literature to a specialist journal covering such things – he submitted a mock-physics paper to a journal that covered anything post modern.

    That said, it may be that physics professors, on aggregate, have higher IQs than the literature professors. I have no idea. (Are there more French professors? If so, one would certainly expect their average IQ to be lower.) But it's very unclear that the physicists would have an easier time switching; equally unclear that ease of switching means anything in any case (both groups would have a hard time quickly learning to become violinists, which I think tells us very little).

    It's also ironic, that, in an essay on the importance of penetrating intellectual fashion, Graham's unable to draw on the work of guys like Michel Foucault, who already covered this ground with a lot more precision.

    Apologies for the length; Graham's site doesn't seem to allow comments & had to get this off my chest.

    (Disclosure: I'm not a French literature professor. Just a bit of a pedant.)

  33. Treesong said,

    May 28, 2014 @ 8:34 am

    Dilettante: Most of the requirements for becoming a French professor are intensified versions of linguistic skills that every normal human being has. The abstractness of modern physics and mathematics, on the other hand, calls on skills that most normal human beings are weak on. That it's harder to go from humanities to physics than vice versa seems clear to me. Whether this correlates with IQ or general intelligence is a different question, and much more arguable.

    And math/physics ability is known to correlate with musical ability; 'both groups would have a hard time quickly learning to become violinists', but drop 'quickly' and the physicists win. As an anecdatum, Einstein was a talented violinist.

RSS feed for comments on this post