Monday, July 20, 2015


This is continuing comment on “The 10,000 Year Explosion”.

Cochran and Harpening did a brave, dangerous thing.  It had two steps.  The first one was to point out that mutation and evolution, which go hand in hand, are a changing code flow that make bodies change, including the brain.  That is, people today think in a different way that they did only centuries ago or in different environments because their brains have evolved but the same cells evolve differently when challenged by different tasks.  We think about this when we say that kids’ attention spans are shorter but more of them have an ability to see patterns quickly -- both of which we attribute to the impact of the internet.  

We do not think of “thinking” as anything concrete, but as a kind of vapor that hangs in a thought bubble over our heads.  But “thinking” is X and O, electrochemical charges, molecules and blood flows -- very real.  Its codes and functions change.  They say there are over 200 different KINDS of neurons, each specializing in some certain information.

With that insight in place (one hopes) the second step was to study a specific population, assert that it has demonstrably evolved differently than the surrounding population because of stigma and oppression or restrictions, and then describe specifically what became different and why.  They chose  Ashkenazi Jews to study.  Probably they could not have done that in an Ivy League university, but they were working in Utah.  This meant NOT studying Mormons who practice polygamy.  Maybe they haven’t evolved.   Or maybe they HAVE. (Jokes.)

Most Americans are not aware of the subdivisions of the Jewish population over the millennia or what has happened to them.  The subdivision called Ashkenazi (meaning German) Jews were practicing Judaism and identifying with it in Germany, but barred from the main culture and, anyway, compelled by their beliefs to marry within their faith community.  The result was that by 1800 they were small group who specialized in finances because Christians are supposed to avoid usury (that’s the theory, anyway).  

Such work does not make the world love Jews running banks, but it DOES make those peoples' IQ’s go up, because success is predicated on handling complex transactions and lots of math and theory.  A magazine length version of this reasoning is in the Journal of Biosocial Science 38, no.5 (2005): 659-693.  The article by the same two men is called “Natural History of Ashkenazie Intelligence.”  

I recommend this whole book, esp. for Valier since it talks a lot about how brains developed to handle agriculture, particularly crops but also pastoral herding, much helped by a mutation that allowed milk and other dairy products as a source of food.  It knocked out the enzyme that made people lactose intolerant.  Good nutrition means good functioning, no matter the creature.  Belgians carried lactose tolerance and other traits good for agriculture to the early immigrants to Valier.

The dark side of the Ashkenazi evolution, which through bottlenecks caused the survival of “smart” people, was that the same mutations (there were several) that made them smarter also carried along -- if there were not quite the right changes in the right amounts -- deadly diseases.  Mostly the mutations had to do with the dendrites of brain cells proliferating (involving fats).  These changes were detectable by 1800.  Below normal dendrite numbers meant below normal intelligence.  The right number within a narrow spectrum meant high intelligence as expressed in IQ.  (I have a lot of quarrels with IQ.)  Too many dendrites meant disease and early death.  They do not have children.

Since the many other populations of practitioners of Judaism -- those not Ashkenazi who are from other world populations -- have gathered in Israel, and since Europe and North America had mostly stopped resenting Jews so much after the Holocaust (until now), intermarriage has lessened this curse/blessing.  WWII didn’t just murder many Jews, but also drove many of the smartest and most accomplished people into enclaves like Manhattan, where they were impressively high achievers.  But there are still people who when they have hardships will look for someone to blame -- they still focus on Jews and immigrants.  I have no answers for that.

I have a special interest in two populations: Blackfeet and the Smash Street Boys.  Both have been confined and stigmatized, the originally hunter/gatherer Blackfeet tribe for about as long as Jews have been changing in the US.  The traits that were encouraged until after the horse arrived have not been helpful today, but the transition to the new world is happening, with the help of Metis and tribes who were traders, like the Mandan genome that helped the original Joe Kipp make deals and build forts.  

Joe Kipp

The Smash Street Boys time span is way too short for actual DNA mutations that are consistent, though they are under enormous molecular pressure both from the HIV in their cells and the violent meds in their blood streams.  Nevertheless, one can speculate, particularly in terms of the epigenome, which is a sort of molecular annotation of the four gene elements.  But their sources are multiple and each boy is too unique for anyone to suspect a bad seed gene.  There is no such thing anyway, since no gene can be expressed without an environment.  The universal environment for the boys is unstable and punishing families.  Poverty, bad mental health, lack of nutrition and shelter -- the “bad seed” is really a toxic seed bed or as one playwright has it "A Chalk Garden".

What’s intriguing is that both Blackfeet and SSB are natural artists and, as well, take to the cyberworld like ducks discovering ponds.  Nor are they afraid to stick their heads down into the muck.  They know muck.  They do not sit paralyzed in front of a keyboard but at once begin to explore.  If their internal heads were watched via fMRI, the paisley patterns of the connectome and its underlying blood flow would be urgent and various.  Of course, head phones would be necessary to fortify the brain waves with a beat.

I don’t think IQ tests can pick up such things.  IQ tests only identify those who do well on IQ tests, which correlates pretty well with good grades in schools.  We are now calling into question the efficacy of stair-stepped schools, the constant sorting according to previous assumptions and expectations.  This system, which worked pretty well a century ago, might be creating the wrong kind of people. Or at least brain mutations perpetuated by the wrong kind of environment.

Darrell Kipp, founder and director of the Piegan Institute and
Cuts Wood Immersion Blackfeet School.

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