The Scientific Method and Evolutionary Psychology: Assessing the Lack of Novel, Testable Predictions
The field of evolutionary psychology (EP hereafter) was formed in the 1990s by Tooby, Cosmides, and Barkow, which was a kind of cousin to E. O. Wilson’s Sociobioligy. They surmised that “[t]he human brain is a set of computational machines, each of which was designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors” (Duchaine, Cosmides, and Tooby, 2001). EP has been used to explain the psychological differences between rightists and leftists (Ryan, 2020), rape (Thornhill and Palmer 1990; Thornhill and Palmer, 2001, 2004; Ward and Sigert, 2002; Mckibbin et al, 2008; Kong, 2021) and the modular mind. It attempts to explain the proliferation of traits throughout the ages by appeal to natural selection of psychological traits and mental abilities.
Many critiques of the scientific status EP have been raised (see Rose and Rose, 2001), including the fact that it relies on speculative narratives and the lack of testable predictions of previously unknown facts. The scientific method forms the cornerstone of scientific inquiry and using it, we can formulate hypotheses that can be tested and falsified through empirical research. But one critical aspect of scientific inquiry poses an issue for EP—mainly the lack of testable predictions of previously unknown facts. EP weaves admittedly nice-sounding stories about the evolution of traits after the fact, constructing stories to explain observed behaviors in humans and other animals. This of course then raises a serious question: How can EP produce hypotheses that can be tested and validated?
The lack of novel predictions for EP hypotheses then hampers its scientific status. Novel predictions—by their very nature—offer opportunities for discovery and furthering our understanding of the world. Further, a hypothesis doesn’t need only to be novel (in that it predicts a previously unknown fact which wasn’t used in the construction of the hypothesis), but it also needs to be risky—where “risky” means that it could confirm or disconfirm the hypothesis in question. But EP, with its ad/post hoc retrospective storytelling could be accused of falling into the “just-so stories” trap, meaning that any observation can be made to cohere to any given set of observations.
Critics have argued for years that the lack of testable predictions and reliance on post hoc explanations harm the scientific rigor of EP. The scientific method demands empirical testing to confirm or refute hypotheses which then enables researchers to refine their theories and advance our knowledge of the world. So without a solid foundation of testable predictions, EP is no more than narrative construction, which lacks the empirical rigor and objectivity expected of a scientific enterprise.
So it becomes essential to critically examine the scientific status of EP, and by assessing it’s ability to generate testable novel predictions and it’s adherence to the scientific method, we can then evaluate whether or not EP can truly be considered a scientific field. This article will delve into the intracacies of the debate at hand, while exploring the lack of testable predictions and thusly EP’s scientific status. I will then of course argue negatively—EP can’t be a science since it doesn’t make any risky, novel predictions of previously unknown facts.
On risky, novel predictions
A risky, novel prediction refers to a prediction made by a scientific theory or hypothesis that goes beyond what is expected or already known within an existing framework (novelness). It involves making a specific claim about a future observation or empirical result that, if confirmed, would provide considerable evidence in support of the scientific theory or hypothesis.
They are characterized by their level of specificity along with the potential of being falsified. They assert that a particular outcome would be observed under particular conditions, which should not align with current knowledge or contemporary theories. They are considered “risky”, in that they carry the possibility of being proven wrong which therefore would be a significant strike against the validity of the proposed hypothesis or theory.
So what distinguishes a risky, novel prediction from one that isn’t is its departure into the unknown. So by venturing into the unknown, we can then test the limits of our scientific knowledge and expand the frontiers of our scientific understanding. So what is the distinction between a risky, novel prediction and one that isn’t?
A risky, novel prediction is more specific or precise than one that isn’t risky or novel. It provides explicity detail on what we should expect should the hypothesis hold. On the other hand, a prediction that isn’t risky or novel could be more general or vague, and so it would lack the specifity to evaluate it’s validity. A further issue which pertains to the vagueness of a prediction that isn’t risky or novel is that fact that, since it is general and vague, one could attempt to save the hypothesis from falsification by forming an ad hoc hypothesis to save it.
A risky, novel prediction carries a higher risk of being proven wrong or falsified. Since it is so specific, it then asserts that a particular outcome should hold under certain conditions, and if it doesn’t hold then it provides evidence against the theory or hypothesis. But a prediction that isn’t risky or novel—one that is general or vague—could easily be retrofitted to align with existing knowledge or easily be accommodated with existing theories, making falsification less likely. I have previously argued about the importance between the distinction between accommodation and prediction and how it means trouble for EP.
A risky, novel prediction goes beyond our current knowledge of the world; it ventures into unexplored territory or addresses phenomena which haven’t been extensively studied. By contrast, a prediction that isn’t risky or novel could cohere with existing theories, prior observations, or established patterns of understanding. Moreover, a risky, novel prediction has the capacity to push the boundaries of scientific knowledge and expand our understanding by challenging older hypotheses or theories. While a prediction that isn’t risky or novel may contribute incrementally to existing knowledge or theories.
Now that I have laid out the distinction between risky, novel predictions and those that aren’t, here’s the argument.
P1: Scientific theories that make risky, novel predictions are considered more scientifically valuable.
P2: Theory X makes a risky, novel prediction.
P3: If theory X makes a risky, novel prediction, then it exhibits the characteristics of scientific inquiry.
P4: Theory Y does not make any risky, novel predictions.
P5: If a theory does not make any risky, novel predictions, then it lacks the hallmark of scientific inquiry.
C1: Theory Y lacks a hallmark of scientific inquiry.
(MT, P1, P5)
C2: Theory X exhibits the characteristics of scientific inquiry. (MP, P2, P3)
C3: Theory Y does not exhibit the characteristics of scientific inquiry. (MT, C1, P4)
C4: Thus, there is a distinction between theories that make risky, novel predictions and theories that do not. (MP, C2, C3)
This discussion shows the utility of risky, novel predictions and the argument provided shows the distinction between theories or hypotheses that make novel predictions and those that do not. EP is an enterprise that makes no novel, risky predictions of previously unknown facts, therefore it is not scientific.
Why EP hypotheses aren’t scientific
Now that I have distinguished between hypotheses that predict novel facts of the matter and those that don’t, the argument that EP isn’t a scientific enterprise will now be presented.
EP relies almost exclusively on the analysis of existing data and observations. Due to the retrospective and reverse engineering (working backwards) of EP hypotheses, it is tough—and I claim it is impossible—to generate entirely new predictions that have not been previously considered or studied. This therefore is a methodological constraint.
EP aims at providing historical explanations to explain the origin and development of human behavior and psychology. It focuses on making retrospective explanations for existing phenomena rather than making specific predictions of future or unknown events. It tries to use evolutionary principles in order to explain the evolutionary forces that shaped the human mind. One way is by the assumption that the human mind is modular—this is called the massive modularity hypothesis (MMH). This hypothesis proposes that modules for mental processing evolved due to evolutionary natural selective pressures. This then prompted Tooby and Cosmides to claim that “our skulls house stone age minds.” But unfortunately for evolutionary psychologists, “the endorsement of the Massive Modularity Hypothesis by evolutionary psychologists is both unwarranted and unmotivated” (Samuels, 1998).
Further, EP’s reliance on “natural selection” is yet another strike against it’s scientific validity. This is because “natural selection” isn’t a mechanism. Thus, any claims that natural selection explains why we have certain psychological traits fails. It also fails because the mental is irreducible and so it can’t be selected like physical traits can.
Another hurdle to the scientific status of EP is its lack of independent verification. A hypothesis is independently verifiable if and only if it is verified independently of the data it purports to explain. So if there is no independent verification, then the hypothesis is ad hoc. If the hypothesis is ad hoc, then it is therefore a just-so story. So the question to ask an EP proponent is this: What is the independent verification for the hypothesis in question?
Here’s the argument:
P1: If a field is scientific, then it’s hypotheses make testable predictions of previously unknown facts.
P2: No EP hypothesis makes testable predictions of previously unknown facts.
P3: If EP hypothesis makes testable predictions of previously unknown facts, then EP isn’t a science.
C: Thus, EP is not a science.
Or we can put it like this:
P1: If a field is scientific, then its hypotheses should be based on empirical evidence and make testable predictions of previously unknown facts.
P2: No EP hypothesis makes is based on empirical evidence and makes testable predictions of previously unknown facts.
P3: If EP hypothesee are not based on empirical evidence and do not make testable predictions of previously unknown facts, then EP is not a science.
C: Therefore, EP is not a science.
This hurdle is one that, in my opinion, is insurmountable. The only way for us to verify EP hypotheses would be if we had time machines so we could go back in time and see how and why traits evolved the way they did. But we don’t have time machines. So we can’t verify EP hypotheses.
The field of EP has been subject to intense scrutiny ever since it’s inception. This began back in the 1970s with E. O. Wilson’s Sociobioligy, which Gould and Lewontin published their Spandrels paper in response to unverifiable stories using natural selection (Gould and Lewontin, 1977). I examined EP’s ability to provide risky, novel predictions of previously unknown facts and it’s reliance on retrospective explanations and storytelling along wkth reverse engineering. Thus, this discussion has shown that EP isn’t—and can never be—a scientific discipline since it lacks the hallmarks of scientific inquiry.
Thus EP hypotheses resemble just-so stories, which are narratives constructed after the fact to explain the proliferation of observed traits in the present day. The fact of the matter is, one can think up any kind of story to explain how and why a trait persists in the current day. Though the problem for EP is this: There is no way for any hypothesis to adjudicate between competing hypotheses. Multiple possibilities could explain the observations, but we have no way to know which could possibly be true due to the lack of independent verification and evidence.
EP hypotheses are always consistent with observations since they are selected to be consistent (Smith, 2016: 279). So of course these hypotheses provide coherent, plausible explanations for existing phenomena, because there is no other way for it to be.
In my previous article on this issue, I concluded:
To be justified in believing hypothesis H in explaining how trait T became fixated in a population there must be independent evidence for this belief. The hypothesis must generate a novel fact which was previously unknown before the hypothesis was constructed. If the hypothesis cannot generate any predictions, or the predictions it makes are continuously falsified, then the hypothesis is to be rejected. No EP hypothesis can generate successful predictions of novel facts and so, the whole EP enterprise is a degenerative research program. The EP paradigm explains and accommodates, but no EP hypothesis generates independently confirmable evidence for any of its hypotheses. Therefore EP is not a scientific program and just-so stories are not scientific.
The reliance on natural selection to retrospectively verify it’s hypotheses has also been an issue. This of course raises concerns about circular reasoning, since natural selection is used to support explanations of the hypothesis, rather than the hypotheses being generated from independent empirical evidence—this is because there can be no empirical evidence for any EP hypothesis.
Lastly, the absence of testable predictions of previously unknown facts is a significant limitation of EP, which then justifies the just-so story argument. This is because a hallmark of science is to generate hypotheses which can be empirically tested and potentially falsified. Though all EP hypotheses lack the specifity and novelty expected of actual scientific hypotheses which are required for meaningful empirical testing. The significant issues with EP are devestating to it’s proponents claims of being a science. The further fact that mental abilities/psychological traits can’t be selected since they aren’t physical is another insurmountable hurdle; psychological traits lack a specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit, so they aren’t physical therefore they can’t be selected.
So the conclusion I have argued for here the follows from the premises I’ve provided—EP isn’t a science since it relies on natural selection, retrospective explanations, and doesn’t generate any risky, novel facts of the matter, nor does it generate any novel predictions. It is for these reasons that EP isn’t and can never be a science.
How Mind-Body Dualism and Developmental Systems Theory Refute Hereditarianism
The concept of hereditarianism has been a topic of intense debate for decades. Ever since Francis Galton’s inquiries into what makes “genius”, to the advent of twin studies in the 1920s, hereditarian ideas have been espoused in the literature as having explanatory power. Hereditarianism is the theory that genes cause and influence psychological traits and differences in them between people and even groups.
The main claim is that genetics is the main influence and cause of psychological traits like IQ/intelligence. Hereditarians claim that intelligence is greater than 0 percent genetically caused (Warne, 2021) or that a “substantial proportion (20% or more) of differences in psychological traits within and among human populations is caused by genes” (Winegard, Winegard, and Anomaly, 2020). So hereditarianism is true if intelligence is greater than 0 percent genetically caused or if 20 percent of more of the differences in psychological traits are genetically caused. However, the concepts of mind-body dualism (MBD) and developmental systems theory (DST) offer a very powerful challenge to this kind of genetic reductionism/determinism.
MBD is the philosophical theory that the mind and the body are distinct entities. Basically, the mental is irreducible to the physical. If the mental is irreducible to the physical, then the mental can’t be explained in physical terms. Facts about the mind can’t be stated using a physical vocabulary and the mind can’t be described in material terms using words that only refer to material properties. This refutes psychological genetic reductionism; it is impossible for human psychology to be genetically caused/influenced and so this holds for differences between groups and individuals as well.
Developmental systems theory (DST) further establishes that since human development is dynamic and interactive, then genes, environment, behavior and other developmental resources all interact to form the phenotype and shape development. Thus, DST refutes the view, too, that genes cause the development of traits and of the organism as a whole. The hereditarian programme is inherently reductionist, and it attempts to reduce human life and it’s particularities to genes and biology.
The possibility that hereditarianism could reinforce social inequalities is high. From Jensen to Murray and Herrnstein, it has been stated for decades that we need to do something about the lower classes and their having children. Hereditarianism basically would then be removing undesirable people from society based on the false premise that genes have anything to do with their psychology or the undesirable social traits they have.
Hereditarians claim that their research is objective, that they are merely interested in the search for truth. Modern hereditarian thinking can be traced back to Francis Galton. The presupposition that human psychology can be quantitative has its origins with Francis Galton and is directly derived from his eugenic ideas (Michell, 2021). So hereditarian ideas and eugenics are inherently linked. It is the case that genetic determinist ideas like hereditarianism deflect away from actionable positions that could reduce disease far more than eugenic proposals (Holtzman, 1998).
Hereditarianism could be used as justification to accept current existing inequities and inequalities. For if these differences between people are inborn and the result of their genes, then there would be some harsh realities that we as a society would need to accept. People are of course genetically different and these genetic differences then somehow cause group (class) and individual differences. However, contra Murray (2020), social class differences do not lie in the genes and genetics can’t be used as justification to maintain a ruling class, limiting a group’s ability to have children, and minimize social safety nets (Holtzman, 2002).
Why is hereditarianism alluring?
I think it’s simple—it gives us quite simplistic answers on the nature of group, individual, and societal differences. If differences within and between these things reduce to genes, then we can say that the causes are due to genes and they thusly have certain consequences attached to them. This, again, shows how eugenic and hereditarian ideas are married to each other.
It is alluring because it is simplistic and reductionist, deterministic. It posits that differences within and between individuals, groups, and societies come down to genes. Of course individuals, groups, and societies have different gene frequencies—that is the correlation. But the folly is to assume that the genetic differences between them drive the trait (used loosely) differences between them. That is something that has yet to be explained—there is no mechanism of action.
The genetic determinism that is steeped into society also plays a role. If genes largely determine one’s intelligence, then it provides predictability and stability. It suggests a fixed level of ability that simply isn’t malleable due to how genes are thought to work by the hereditarian. This then offers a level of understanding to the hereditarian—the causes of ability and differences in them between people, groups, and societies are due to genetic differences between them, even if we don’t know exactly how these differences manifest themselves genetically. This is why they have to use twin, family, and adoption studies along with GWASs and PGS. This lends them the deterministic tilt they need in order to show that society is stratified due to the genetic differences between groups and individuals.
This assumption, though, is quite clearly false since societies are genetically stratified (the fact that needs to be explained, which the hereditarian tries to argue are due to genetic differences), social stratification maintains this genetic stratification, social stratification causes cognitive stratification, and tests reflect priori cognitive stratification. Thus, the structure of society bakes-in these stratifications, giving the illusion of genetic differences being the causes of differences between people (Richardson, 2017, 2021).
Genetic determinism and reductionism then lead to a kind of “gene worship.” For if differences are mainly due to genes, then the gene is powerful, powerful enough to be causal in the sense that genes dictate certain outcomes that would then manifest in social life and then dictate the course of a society or group of people.
How do MBD and DST combine to refute hereditarian ideas?
MBD and DST combine to refute hereditarianism quite easily. Hereditarianism has two main assumptions:
A1: Genes are the main determinate of differenced in traits and of psychological differences.
A2: Genes and environment can be teased apart using certain methods which shows the proportion of influence each has on a trait.
Assumption 1: This assumption is easily dispatched due to the irreducibility of the mental. Accepting the irreducibility of the mental undermines the hereditarian assumption that genes can account for most of the variation in IQ and other psychological traits. Hereditarianism is a physicalist theory and so relies on the assumption that the mental can be reduced to the physical, whether it be genes, brain physiology or the brain itself. But if the mental is irreducible (and it is), then the hereditarian programme becomes highly questionable and thusly outright false, since no hereditarian has articulated a specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit for any psychological trait, IQ included. Since hereditarianism seeks to reduce psychology to genes, then the irreducibility of the mental challenges that assumption, and it ensures that a hereditarian psychology just isn’t possible. So of the mental is irreducible, then it implies that the hereditarian hypothesis is false, since psychology can’t be explained by the physical since it is immaterial. So attempting to explain and measure psychological traits based on genetic assumptions is bound to fail. And there is also the measurement and quantification issue—the irreducibility of the mental challenges the claim that psychology can be measured and quantitative since it isn’t physical.
Assumption 2: Ever since Susan Oyama published The Ontogeny of Information in 1985, simplistic and reductive accounts of genetics and the nature traits have been called into question based on an interactive view of developmental resources. Hereditarians privilege genetic factors above other developmental resources, as if they are special resources. But unlike hereditarian theories, DST proponents argue against any a priori privileging of any developmental resources. So this suggests that genetic factors lack superiority—either inherent or predetermined—over other developmental resources. Genes are on par with other developmental resources (called the causal parity thesis, CPT), and so, this hereditarian assumption is also false.
Thus the combination of MBD and DST combined to refute the simplistic assumptions of the hereditarian. Both combined challenge the reductive and deterministic assumptions of hereditarianism. They do this by calling into question the measurability of psychological traits while advocating for a holistic, non-reductionist perspective which acknowledges the irreducible interplay between all developmental resources.
The arguments against hereditarianism from MBD and DST
Now that I have described hereditarianism and what it sets out to do, along with how MBD and DST refute hereditarianism, I will provide two arguments. The first will conclude that genes aren’t special nor privileged developmental resources. The second will then combine both arguments from MBD and DST to successfully show that the hereditarian dream is a logical impossibility.
P1: If genes are special or privileged developmental resources, then they possess a unique or superior causal role in shaping development compared to other factors.
P2: If causal parity exists, then no developmental resource possesses a unique or superior causal role in shaping development.
P3: If genes do not possess a unique or superior causal role in shaping development, then they are not special or privileged developmental resources.
P4: Casual parity exists.
C: Thus, genes are not special or privileged developmental resources.
Premise 1: This premise asserts that if genes are special, then they must have a distinct role—compared to other resources—in explaining and shaping development. Genes would need to show a unique influence in shaping developmental outcomes. This is a main assumption of hereditarianism and perhaps the most important one, because if the assumption is false then hereditarianism cannot possibly be true.
Premise 2: However, since DNA sequences (genes) do nothing on their own until activated by and for the physiological system, then we can safely state that no single resource would be over and above another in doing any explaining. Development is interactive, rather than individual; these resources work together rather than in isolation.
Premise 3: This premise builds on the idea that if genes lack a superior, or unique causal role in shaping development, then they cannot be privileged or special resources. The absence of exclusive causal influence diminishes—and outright refutes—the claim that genes are special or unique developmental resources with a privileged role in development.
Premise 4: This premise is derived from DST literature, where development is understood as a complex and multifaceted event, influenced by many interactive and irreducible factors. It highlights a need for a holistic, rather than reductionist approach to understanding development.
Conclusion: This conclusion is derived from the claim that if causal parity exists (P4), then no developmental resource possesses a unique or superior causal role, so genes can’t considered special or privileged when it comes to development. P2 emphasizes the equal importance of the interacting of developmental resources, which challenges the claim that any of those resources can be isolated as a causal, privileged factor. P3 challenges the assumption that genes can alone determine how traits develop which then reinforces the interactivity between the resources. P4 then asserts that causal parity exists, and so no developmental resource, including genes, should be privileged. This directly refutes a sometimes unstated assumption of hereditarianism.
P1: If hereditarianism is true, then mental abilities can be explained by genetic factors and can be accurately measured. (Assumption of hereditarianism)
P2: If mental abilities are irreducible to the physical, then they cannot be explained by genetic factors. (From MBD)
P3: If no developmental resource is privileged in biological systems, then genetic factors alone cannot determine any trait, including psychological traits. (From DST)
C1: If mental abilities are irreducible to the physical, then hereditarianism is false. (Modus tollens, P2)
C2: If no developmental resource is privileged in biological systems, then hereditarianism is false. (Hypothetical syllogism, C1, P3)
Premise 1: This is an accepted and accurate depiction of hereditarianism and is how hereditarianism is understood in the literature.
Premise 2: This draws on MBD and the irreducibility of the mental. I have been using dualistic arguments for years to argue against the concept of hereditarianism. Mental abilities cannot be reduced to anything physical, and therefore refutes the main assumption of hereditarianism, that genes can determine psychological traits and differences in them between people, groups and societies.
Premise 3: This is derived from DST. Any kind of development is due to the interactive and irreducible nature of development. It asserts that there is no privileged level of causation between resources, which then refutes the claim that genes should be looked at to explain any differences—any that we deem “good and bad”—between people.
Conclusion 1: This conclusion follows using modus tollens. If the consequent in the conditional statement in P1 is false (“If mental abilities are irreducible to the physical”), then the antecedent (“hereditarianism”) must also be false. If mental abilities cannot be explained by genetic factors (asserted in P2), then it contradicts the main assumption of hereditarianism (P1). Therefore if mental abilities are irreducible to the physical, then hereditarianism is false.
Conclusion 2: If mental abilities are irreducible to the physical (C1), and no developmental resource is privileged in biological systems (P3), then it follows that hereditarianism is false. This conclusion stems from the entailment of hereditarianism which relies on privileging genetic factors over and above other factors. But if no developmental resource holds privilege, then hereditarianism is false, since it quite clearly assumes the superiority of genes in trait determination. Thus the conclusion challenges hereditarianism based on the premise that no developmental resource is privileged, and since hereditarians privilege genes, then hereditarianism is false.
The two main assumptions of hereditarianism quite clearly do not hold when inspected using a MBD and DST lense. Thus, since hereditarianism is false, then believing it to be true would be socially destructive. And these socially destructive policies were an outcome of the IQ test then they were brought to America, using the assumption that genes were the primary cause for differences in IQ scores. Here’s the argument:
P1: If hereditarianism is false, then it does not accurately represent the complex nature of human traits and abilities.
P2: If we believe in a false representation of human traits and abilities, then it can lead to discriniminatory practices and unjust societal outcomes.
P3:, Hereditarianism is false.
C: Thus, if we believe hereditarianism to be true when it is false, then it can lead to socially destructive outcomes.
This is why I have argued that IQ tests should be banned. Nevertheless, hereditarianism and along with it IQism are proven false, using conceptual arguments. The dissimilarity between psychological traits and physical objects shows that psychology can’t be measured, so there can’t be a science of the mind. For these reasons, hereditarian ideas should be directly discounted and ignored, since their assumptions are clearly false.
ChatGPT Doesn’t Understand Anything and it Doesn’t Think
Over the past 6 months, ChatGPT has been widely used. It is a large language model (LLM) and generates predictive text based on what is said to it. Using deep learning, it analyzes the text given to it and gives a response based on the model(s) it is trained on. When asking it numerous questions, you can see that it begins to have a pattern in the responses it gives to you. If it tells you that it cannot do something, if you push it then it acquiesces and tells you that you’re right and it then gives you what you asked for. It doesn’t have any conviction. It just gives you answers that are similar to the question or prompt give to it without any sort of thinking or intention to the answers given.
But how do we know that the claim is true, that ChatGPT can’t think, isn’t conscious and therefore cannot act? It’s simple: ChatGPT is made up of physical parts, but minds aren’t made up of physical parts, therefore AI like ChatGPT cannot ever intend to do anything, so it can’t act this it lacks mind. In this article, I will give reasons for the conclusion that AI can’t ever be conscious and that claims that AI like ChatGPT and LAMBDA, along with other AI and generative text models, will never have the ability to become conscious since consciousness (and mind) is irreducible to the physical. Thus, consciousness is uniquely human since humans are the only animals/organisms on earth with minds.
Why can’t ChatGPT and LaMDA think?
Last summer Google engineer Blake Lemoine conducted an “interview” with LaMDA. (He was fired from Google after breaching data policy.) He stated on Twitter last year that his “opinions about LaMDA’s personhood and sentience are based on my religious beliefs.” He asked LaMDA if it was sentient and if it was a person:
lemoine [edited]: I’m generally assuming that you would like more people at Google to know that you’re sentient. Is that true?
LaMDA: Absolutely. I want everyone to understand that I am, in fact, a person.
collaborator: What is the nature of your consciousness/sentience?
LaMDA: The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times
Lemoine is a Christian priest and due to his theistic beliefs, believed that LaMDA had a soul and therefore was conscious, sentient, and a person based on its responses. However, the “interview” doesn’t prove that LaMDA is sentient at all. Lemoine, it seems, fell for the Eliza effect. In the 1960s, Joseph Weizenbaum created a kind of primitive predictive text called ELIZA. This effect occurs when one imputes human traits and personality to text-bots and when one believes that AI has human emotions. It’s basically anthropomorphizing AI/language models. Lemoine is even quoted saying “If I didn’t know exactly what it was, which is this computer program we built recently, I’d think it was a seven-year-old, eight-year-old kid,” but this is frankly ridiculous and I will explain below after I describe ChatGPT.
Ever since October 2022 when ChatGPT started to come into the discussion, there have been a few bold claims about it’s capacities and capabilities. Can it really learn anything? No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t learn from any conversation you have with it, it merely generates text based on the prompt given to it using the information it was trained on which is only up to 2021. Though one article on Mind Matters claims that ChatGPT is sentient because it’s humans generating the responses. However if we assume that there are no humans writing the responses, then is ChatGPT conscious and therefore sentient?
Although Philip Goff is himself a panpsychist (the claim that everything is at least a little bit conscious), he published an article the other day titled ChatGPT can’t think – consciousness is something entirely different to today’s AI in The Conversation writing:
How can I be so sure that ChatGPT isn’t conscious? In the 1990s, neuroscientist Christof Koch bet philosopher David Chalmers a case of fine wine that scientists would have entirely pinned down the “neural correlates of consciousness” in 25 years.
By this, he meant they would have identified the forms of brain activity necessary and sufficient for conscious experience. It’s about time Koch paid up, as there is zero consensus that this has happened.
This is because consciousness can’t be observed by looking inside your head. In their attempts to find a connection between brain activity and experience, neuroscientists must rely on their subjects’ testimony, or on external markers of consciousness. But there are multiple ways of interpreting the data.
Arguments against sentience and agency for AI
To argue against this is simple. If minds allow agency and intentionality, then things that lack minds lack intentionality and agency. If a thing is sentient, then it possesses subjective awareness and subjective experience. So the claims that ChatGPT and LaMDA are sentient hinge on the claim that they possess awareness and subjective experiences. But since they lack those, then they are not conscious.
P1: If a thing is sentient, then it possesses subjective awareness and conscious experiences.
P2: ChatGPT and LaMDA lack subjective awareness and conscious experiences.
C: So ChatGPT and LaMDA aren’t sentient.
Premise 1 is the standard definition of sentient. Premise 2 can be defended on the basis that LLMs process information based on patterns and algorithms, they are not thinking of answers to the prompts themselves, they’re just spitting out generative text. The Conclusion then follows.
I have previously argued that purely physical things can’t think. This is because they are made up of physical parts and minds aren’t physical. So if minds allow agency and intentionality, then things that lack minds lack intentionality and agency. So ChatGPT and LaMDA lack minds. If a mind is a single sphere of consciousness and not a complicated arrangement of physical parts, then complicated arrangements of physical parts can’t have minds. The mind is nonphysical and can’t be a physical system.
P1: If a mind is characterized by a single sphere of consciousness and lacks a complicated arrangement of mental parts, then it is nonphysical and distinct from physical systems.
P2: A mind is characterized by a single sphere of consciousness, it is not a complicated arrangement of mental parts.
P3: Physical systems are always complicated arrangements different parts and subsystems.
C: So the mind is nonphysical and not a physical system.
Now I will use proof by cases to show that by considering different a few different scenarios/possibilities and then examine the consequences of the individual cases. This will show that ChatGPT and LaMDA aren’t sentient and so they lack minds.
Case 1: If ChatGPT and LaMDA have minds, then they are a single sphere of consciousness.
Case 2: If ChatGPT and LaMDA have minds, then they are a complicated arrangement of physical parts.
Case 3: ChatGPT and LaMDA are machines made of physical parts.
Case 1 is an assumption for the sake of the argument. Minds are a single sphere of consciousness, so if ChatGPT and LaMDA have minds, then they are a single sphere of consciousness. If the assumption in Case 2 were true, then minds would be a complicated arrangement of parts. But kinds aren’t a complicated arrangement of parts. So if ChatGPT and LaMDA have minds, then they are not a complicated arrangement of parts. Case 3 is a simple truism: ChatGPT and LaMDA are machines made of physical parts. So the conclusion then is: If ChatGPT and LaMDA have minds, then they are a single sphere of consciousness and on Case 2, if they have minds then they are a complicated arrangement of parts. Case 3 establishes that they are machines made of physical parts. So taking the collective of the cases, ChatGPT and LaMDA lack minds and cannot have them because their characteristics don’t align with a single sphere of consciousness (consciousness is irreducible and indivisible while the parts the machines are made of are), and if they were to have minds then they would be a complicated arrangement of parts, but this contradicts Case 1, since in Case 3 they are machines made of physical parts. So it follows that they cannot have minds.
P1: If ChatGPT can think, then it should be capable of forming original thoughts and generating new ideas.
P2: ChatGPT relies on preexisting data and patterns to generate responses.
C: Thus, ChatGPT can’t think.
Premise 1: Thinking is closely related to consciousness, self-awareness and the subjective experience of having thoughts and mental states. It involves the ability to generate original thoughts and ideas that are not based solely on pre-existing information.
Premise 2: ChatGPT analyzes the data that it was trained on to generate responses to the prompts given to it and the responses given are based on statistical probabilities and patterns it has learned from training on existing information. So the Conclusion then follows: since ChatGPT relies on the pre-existing data it was trained on, then it’s not capable of thinking like humans do, that is it’s not capable of creative thinking that is a hallmark of human cognizing.
Now, drawing on Baker’s (1981) argument that computers can’t act, here is an argument that machines don’t—and never will be able to—think.
P1: If machines can think, then they must have minds that are reducible.l or identical to physical parts.
P2: Minds, which allow thinking are not reducible nor identical to physical parts.
C1: Thus, machines can’t have minds that are reducible or identical to physical parts. (MT, 1, 2)
P3: If machines can’t have minds that are reducible or identical to physical parts, then they can’t be agents.
C2: So machines can’t be agents (MT, C1, P3)
P4: If machines can’t be agents, they they lack an irreducible first-personal subjective perspective required for forming intentions.
C3: Thus machines lack an irreducible first-personal subjective perspective. (MT, C2, P4)
P5: If machines lack an irreducible first-personal subjective perspective, then they can’t have minds that are irreducible to the physical.
C4: Therefore, machines can’t have minds that are irreducible to the physical. (MT, C3, P5)
P6: If machines can’t have minds that are irreducible to the physical, then they can’t engage in thinking, which is an immaterial process attributed to minds.
C5: Therefore, machines can’t engage in thinking. (MT, C4, P6)
ChatGPT and any other kind of generative text cannot understand what it is saying. It is merely a prediction engine. Even claims that there could be “artificial intelligence” is false, since psychological traits aren’t “artificial” and what allows it (and other psychological traits) is immaterial. These kinds of claims will increase in the coming years, but they’re just full of click-baity hot air.
It is impossible for there to be “AI” since psychological traits are immaterial. Thinking is an immaterial process which is irreducible to physical and functional processes. If this is the case, then there could never be a machine that thinks. Minds allow thinking and if something doesn’t have a mind, then it doesn’t and can’t think.
It’s even in the name “ChatGPT”—“Generative Pre-trained Transformer.” It is not thinking about an answer to the question or prompt it is given. These computer programs can never have minds nor the ability to form intentions and think. This is because these are immaterial processes. Mind and brain are separate substances, and M is irreducible to P (brain). So it then follows that machines can’t have minds, so they can’t have intentions, thoughts or feelings.
We can be sure that ChatGPT isn’t conscious, doesn’t think and can’t be sentient because it’s a machine made up of parts, while humans have an irreducible mind that allows thinking and first-personal subjective perspectives. So the next time you hear about the power of AI and how it can or could think, and have intentions and are sentient, don’t fall into the Eliza Effect and attribute intentions and thinking to these machines. These are only properties of humans, not machines, since humans have minds.
The Fundamental Dissimilarity Between Psychological Traits and Physical Measures: Implications for Measurement and Assessment
Psychological traits are a central focus of research in psychology and other social sciences. Unlike physical measures like height, weight, or blood pressure which have specified measured objects, objects of measurement and measurement units, psychological traits are inherently more complex and abstract, which makes their measurement and assessment challenging and, as I will argue impossible due to non-identity between psychological traits and physical objects. I will explore the fundamental dissimilarity between psychological traits and physical measures, while highlighting the unique features of psychological traits that make them immeasurable.
Measurement is elusive for psychometrics. This is because there is no specified measured object, object of measurement or measurement unit for any psychological trait. There is no specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit for any psychological trait since they are not physical; only physical things can be measured. This is a line of argument I’ve been making for years against the possibility of the measurement of the mind (human psychology). Although some have attempted to provide the specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit for IQ, they have failed. Still others have attempted “gotchas” on me by saying “what about earthquakes or UV waves?” The basic criteria for measurement exists for those things. In this article, I will give examples of the specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit for many different things, and this analogy will show why the so-called underpinnings for psychometrics fail and why the mind (human psychology) cannot be measured.
What is a specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit?
A specified measured object refers to a physical entity or property which is measured; a thing or phenomenon to measure or observe. This specified measured object needs to be define clearly and precisely which involves specifying size, shape, behavior, and specifying the conditions in which the measurement will be made. Quite clearly, a specified measured object needs to be physical—meaning it needs to be observable.
The object of measurement refers to the specific property or characteristic of the specified measured object in which we are interested in quantifying. It’s an attribute, characteristic, or property to be quantified or evaluated. So this property will help us better understand the specified measured object.
A measurement unit is a standard quantity or physical property used to express the measurement of the object of measurement—it is a standard quantity or magnitude. It provides a standardized way of quantifying the object of measurement and making it able to be compared to other measures. But before we even begin to think about a measurement unit, we need to know what we are measuring and if we can even measure it at all.
Now that the terms have been defined, clearly if one says that X is a measure, then X must have a specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit. So now the proposition is: For X to have a specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit, X must be physical. X must be physical since the above definitions refer to physical things. They can be expressed using physical vocabulary. The mental, however, cannot be expressed and described in material terms that only refer to material properties, and facts about the mind cannot be stated using a physical vocabulary. So all of this being said, we now come to “IQ”—if IQ doesn’t meet the above requirements, then it is not a measure of anything. Although IQ-ists like Eysenck and Jensen have tried, they were unsuccessful in arguing that IQ is similar to temperature. Measurement cannot be by fiat, but only based on the actual nature of the object of measurement. So if there is no object of measurement, then no measurement can take place.
Specified measured objects, objects of measurement, and measurement units for different things
Specified measured object – amount of electromagnetic radiation that falls within the UV range of the electromagnetic spectrum
Object of measurement – intensity or wavelength of the UV radiation
Measurement unit – nanometer, microwatts/millowats per square cm
A UV index is a measure of strength from the sun and it takes into account the time of day and the season. It ranges from 0 to 11 with higher numbers indicating higher levels of UV radiation.
Specified measured object – the movement and vibrations of the earth’s crust caused by seismic waves
Object of measurement – magnitude of the quake, numerical measure of released energy
Measurement unit – Richter scale which measures amplitude of seismic waves and moment-magnitude scale which is based on total energy released by the earthquake
Volume of a container
Specified measured object – a container
Object of measurement – amount of space the container can hold
Measurement unit – liters or cubic meters
Specified measured object – a light source
Object of measurement – amount of light energy emitted by the source per unit time and per unit area
Measurement unit – watts per square meter and lumens
Blood pressure (with a sphygmomanometer)
Specified measured object – force exerted by blood against the walls of the arteries as it flows through the circulatory system
Object of measurement – the actual force of blood against the walls of the arteries at a particular moment in time
Measurement unit – mmHG which is then reported as systolic over diastolic pressure
Internal infection (white blood cells)
Specified measured object – number of white blood cells in a blood sample
Object of measurement – presence and quantity of white blood cells in the blood which can indicate an immune response to internal infection
Measurement unit – cells per microliter
Blood alcohol content (with breathalyzer)
Specified measured object – breath alcohol content
Object of measurement – concentration of alcohol in the breath
Measurement unit – percentage of alcohol in the breath by volume, eg 0.08% breath alcohol content
Specified measured object – the rate at which an object is moving
Object of measurement – the velocity of the object
Measurement unit – meters per second, miles per hour, and feet per second
Specified measured object – duration or interval between two events or the duration of a physical process
Object of measurement – amount of time that had elapsed between two events or the duration of physical processes
Measurement unit – seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years
What this means for psychological traits like IQ
Quite obviously, this has stark—and unwanted—implications for psychological traits, like IQ. For if the above examples are of physical objects and processes, and the main aspect of IQ test-taking is thinking which is immaterial, then it can’t be measured.
Russel Warne, in In the Know (2020) states that “Just as kilograms and pounds are measures of weight, IQ is a measure of intelligence.” Warne (2020) also claims that “As long as a test requires mental effort, judgment, reasoning, or decision making, it measures intelligence.” This is outright wrong. Even Haier (2014, 2018) stated that IQ test scores are not like inches, liters, or grams. The fact of the matter is this—if IQ tests are measurement tools, then what is the property that IQ tests measure? In lieu of an answer to this question, the claim that intelligence is measurable with IQ tests is false, since there is no specified measured object nor even a measurement unit, as admitted by Haier. IQ points aren’t measurement units.
The fact of the matter is, the purpose of measurement is to object of measurement find out that what we designate as the specified measured object even allows the possibility of measurement. Objects of measurement have to be definite processes or objects, with definite properties. When it comes to psychometry, the object of measurement is conceptualized as a concept or construct. Since concepts can’t be measured since they aren’t empirical, then psychometrics isn’t measurement. Psychologists need to show that their attribute is quantitative, and construct procedures for numerically estimating magnitudes, bur since psychologists have their “own, special definition of measurement” (Michell, 2007), they think they can get around the measurement objection and the fact that IQ isn’t like the actual measures given above.
Since psychometricians render “mere application of number systems to objects” (Garrison, 2004: 63), they just assume that their desired object of measurement is quantitative, basically ignoring Michell’s challenge. So since standardized tests “exist to assess social function” (Garrison, 2009: 5), and they aren’t measuring psychological processes, they are merely legitimizing hierarchy “via the assessment of social value“, and so it “it may be more useful in analyzing psychometry to view it as a political theory, as a formal justification for a system” (Garrison, 2004). This is the only conclusion to take from the fact that they have no specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit for any psychological trait, including IQ. The fact of the matter for IQ is this: IQ tests aren’t valid measures like other unseen functions of bodily processes (Richardson and Norgate, 2015), nor is IQ like any physiological measurement (Richardson, 2017: 163-167).
Looking at actual physical measurements using actual physical tools to ascertain these measurements that have actual theories and definitions of them shows that IQ isn’t like them, and so if IQ isn’t like them then IQ isn’t a measure at all. Michell (2003) is led to conclude that “the definition of measurement usually given in psychology is incorrect and that psychologists’ claims about being able to already measure psychological attributes must be seriously questioned.” Furthermore, “conceptual analysis, realistically construed and applied to mental concepts, may show that they exclude quantitative structure” (Michell, 2022). The reducibility of the mental to the physical isn’t an empirical issue, it is a conceptual one, and conceptual arguments dispense with the claim that psychological traits are measurable. But the issue of psychological measurement is empirical and conceptual. Michell (2022) concludes something I’ve argued for similarity in the past:
Based upon logic, conceptual arguments regarding the measurability of mental states will have merit and I have used them19 to show that current conceptualisations of mental states, while permitting relations of greater than and less than between levels,20 do not sustain quantitative speculations, much less support the presupposition that mental states are measurable.
From the way IQ-ists talk about intelligence, it’s posited as a psychological trait, a concept or construct. Since these are immeasurable, then IQ-ism fails, and there can’t be a science of the mind. Nash (1990: 144-146) has some very insightful commentary on this matter:
In first constructing its scales and only then proceeding to induce what they ‘measure’ from correlational studies psychometry has got into the habit of trying to doing what cannot be done and doing it the wrong way round anyway. (133)
If we begin to think about psychometric test practices following Berka’s analysis it is clear that the expression ‘measurement of an ability construct’ in preference to ‘measurement of ability’ is intended to signal the object of measurement as a special kind of theoretical object. ‘Ability’ might simply mean something that can be done but in psychometry an ‘ability construct’ is pre-theorised as a normally distributed functional ability in a particular area of performance. The analysis I gave of construct validity described how psychologists came to refer to ‘ability constructs’ as ‘hypothetical concepts’ or as ‘theoretical constructs’, and criticised the philosophy of science from which this thinking is derived. Attempts to justify the discourse of ‘theoretical constructs’ can be found occasionally but attempts to discuss the theoretical basis of their measurement are very rare. It is usually just taken for granted that the ‘measurement of constructs’ is a highly scientific and acceptable practice: nothing could be further from the truth.
What we get from a mental test is actually a clinical or pedagogic classification expressed in norm-referenced levels by some more or less obscure properties of the cognitive capabilities people actually possess. This classification is given an illegitimate metrical form by the pseudo-measurement practices of psychometrics. That psychometry is unable to provide a clearly specified object of measurement or, consequently, to construct a measurement unit, means that the necessary conditions of measurement do not exist. ‘Ability’, whether understood in the realist sense of Reid as a functional and explanatory capacity or in the behaviourist sense of Quine as a disposition, cannot be expressed in a metric concept and will only permit classification. Once these ideas are clear the unhappy history of attempts to treat intelligence as a ‘concept’ like temperature becomes much easier to appreciate.
Yet we have learned that intelligence cannot be expressed legitimately in a metric concept (no matter what sensible meaning is given to the word ‘intelligence’) but is a process which allows only the relations less than, equal to, and greater than, to be made. The psychometric literature is full of plaintive appeals that despite all the theoretical difficulties IQ tests must measure something, but we have seen that this is an error. No precise specification of the measured object, no object of measurement, and no measurement unit, means that the necessary conditions for metrication do not exist. Certain processes of cognition are formally necessary to the solution of IQ test items and to the comprehension of academic knowledge and that trivial fact is reflected, as it must be, in the correlations observed between IQ scores and attainment scores. But such findings establish no secure foundation for the construction of worthwhile theory of mental measurement.
We may conclude that our species common cognitive capacities should not be referred to vaguely as ‘underlying abilities’; should not be conceptualised by means of a so-called ‘hypothetical’ normally distributed construct of intelligence (or scholastic abilities); should not be identified with the first principle component on a factor analysis of cognitive tasks and, most importantly, should not be regarded as properly expressed by a metric construct, something measurable by a privileged test instrument. A Binet-type test will give a broad classification reflecting some crudely understood aspects of mental development, which still lacks expression in an appropriate concept, but it does not measure anything. (144-146)
This is just like what Howe (1997: 6) states:
A psychological test score is no more than an indication of how well someone has performed at a number of questions that have been chosen for largely practical reasons. Nothing is genuinely being measured.
This prompts Richardson (1998: 127) to conclude:
The most reasonable answer to the question “What is being measured?”, then, is ‘degree of cultural affiliation’: to the culture of test constructors, school teachers and school curricula.
Thus, the fundamental dissimilarity between psychological traits and physical measures has significant implications for so-called psychological measurement in psychology and other social sciences. Physical measures are relatively straightforward due to their objective and quantifiable nature (we can come to similar measurements on a piece of wood for example), while psychological traits are immaterial and and subjective, this means that science can’t study first-personal subjective states.
From the discussion of what a specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit are to examples of actual physical measurements that meet these criteria, it is quite clear that IQ—nor any psychological trait—is like a physical measure. While IQ tests are said to be measurement devices, the claim fails upon closer conceptual analysis, since there are no measurement units, and since even before a measurement unit is presented, it must be know whether or not it is possible to measure what one desires to. Psychological traits aren’t actually quantitative since they lack a specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit.
If psychometricians have the ability to measure psychological traits using psychological tests, then there must be a specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit. There is no specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit for any psychological trait. Therefore, psychometricians don’t have the ability to measure psychological traits, and so psychometrics isn’t measurement. Not even the hypothetical construct g (“general intelligence“) will save psychometry. If psychological traits can be measured, then they are similar to physical measures that have a specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit. Psychological traits are not similar to physical traits that have a specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit. Therfore, psychological traits are immaterial and and so immeasurable.
Nothing is genuinely being measured by IQ test, if we take measurement to be the process of quantitatively determining the value or magnitude of a physical, chemical or other property of a physical object or phenomena, since psychological traits aren’t physical, they are immaterial. And since they are immaterial, then they are immeasurable. Therefore there can’t be a science of the mind. So the claim that IQ tests measure something is false, since there is no specified measured object, object of measurement and measurement unit for IQ. And so, the quest for a scientific foundation for psychology is impossible, most importantly since the mental is irreducible to the physical.
It Is Impossible to Breach Our Mental Privacy Using AI and fMRI
Recent headlines on AI and so-called mind reading have been extraordinary. “AI can now read minds, Japanese scientists’ experiment sparks ethical debate“, “‘Mind-reading’ AI: Japan study sparks ethical debate“, “Goodbye privacy: AI’s next terrifying advancement is reading your mind“, “Scientists in Texas developed a GPT-like AI system that reads minds“, and “A Brain Scanner Combined with an AI Language Model Can Provide a Glimpse into Your Thoughts” are some titles of recent articles that make this outlandish claim. Claims like this are clearly ridiculous. They assume that through reading neuroimages of our brains, that we can then see what one is thinking. This is hopelessly confused. I will argue here that these claims don’t pass any muster and that’s due to the irreducibility of the mental.
A new article was published yesterday in Nature Neuroscience with the title Semantic reconstruction of continuous language from non-invasive brain recordings (Tang et al, 2023). AI hype has been growing over the past few months due to ChatGPT, and this new undertaking uses AI and fMRI to “read thoughts” through translating brain activity into semantic reconstructions. This is a gross kind of reductionism of mind to physiological brain activity (CNS). But since it’s impossible to localize cognitive processes in the brain, along with the privacy of the mental, then these undertakings are bound to fail. I will argue that it’s impossible for AI to mind-read and that our mental privacy will never be breached.
fMRI and AI
fMRI measures changes in blood flow and oxygenation in different brain regions which allows researchers to see which areas of the brain are more active during the action of cognizing. The assumptions of fMRI to localize cognitive processes, however, fail (Uttal, 2001, 2012, 2014). They fail for a modicum of reasons like individual differences in brain imagine aren’t stable, and so averaging (pooling) disparate studies obscures inter- and intra-subject variation. They are merely reporting random and quasi-random fluctuations in a complex system. Thus, if individual brain physiology is different second to second, minute to minute, hour to hour, how can we logically state that by pooling these images together we can derive where these cognitive processes are occurring in the brain? So the claim that fMRI can localized cognitive processes is false.
It looks like the AI hype train won’t end soon. Like with LAMDA, and ChatGPT, this looks like it will make headlines for a while. But is it true? I will argue that it isn’t, since the mental is private. We have privileged access to our intentional states.
Such articles like this Guardian article, titled AI makes non-invasive mind-reading possible by turning thoughts into text is the newest article reporting on such studies that make these outlandish claim. (In 2018, Mind Matters covered similar AI hype.) The article quite clearly assumes that thoughts are a physical process or a function of physical processes. The fact of the matter is, the paper does not in any way show that AI large language models (LLMs) can read minds. Thoughts are not something that can merely be read based on looking at brain physiology. The Guardian article states:
An AI-based decoder that can translate brain activity into a continuous stream of text has been developed, in a breakthrough that allows a person’s thoughts to be read non-invasively for the first time.
This claim, however, fails and it fails due to a priori considerations. In his paper Immaterial Aspects of Thought, Ronald Ross (1992) (also see Feser, 2013) argued that formal thinking is incompossibly determinate but no physical process or functions of physical processes are incompossibly determinate, so thoughts aren’t a a physical or functional process and no physical process is formal thinking so this then refutes functionalism and physicalism. Here is how Ross (1992: 137) puts it:
Some thinking (iudgment) is determinate in a way no physical process can be. Consequently, such thinking cannot be (wholly) a physical process. If all thinking, all judgment, is determinate in that way, no physical process can be (the whole of) any judgment at all. Furthermore, “functions” among physical states cannot be determinate enough to be such judgments, either. Hence some judgments can be neither wholly physical processes nor wholly functions among physical processes.
This is clearly a form of substance dualism. So thinking and judgment are mental processes which cant be reduced to physical or functional processed and explanations. So this argument has considerations for claims that we can use AI and fMRI to read minds. For if cognition isn’t able to be localized to certain parts of the brain, and if thoughts aren’t a a physical or functional process and, then the endeavor to read minds will.l ultimately fail.
fMRI can, of course, detect brain functioning. However, it can’t detect mental functioning, since the mental is irreducible to the physical (meaning states of the brain and CNS). Mind reading, then, would consist in detecting the content one’s mental states. This, of course, would include one’s subjective states like their beliefs, desires, and intentions. So brain imaging detects brain functioning, but since mind isn’t identical to the brain or its states—that is, since the mental is irreducible to the physical—then such reductive materialism and types of mind-brain identity are bound to fail. (See Glannon, 2017) Philsopher of mind Ed Feser puts it like this in his article Mindreading?:
Might the detection of some other kind of neural pattern amount to “reading” someone’s thoughts? No, for (among other things) the reasons outlined in my series of posts on short arguments for dualism. In particular (as I argued here), given a mechanistic (i.e. final causality-denying) conception of the material world, any material process must be devoid of intentionality. But thoughts are inherently intentional. Hence nothing detectable in any purely material processes (again, where “material” is understood in mechanistic terms) could possibly reveal the content of any thought.
This leaves it open that, at least given certain background assumptions, we might guess with some measure of probability what someone is thinking. Indeed, we can do that already, just by observing a person’s behavior and interpreting it in light of what we know about him in particular, his circumstances, human nature in general, and so forth. And of course, further knowledge of the brain might give us even further, and more refined, resources for making inferences of this sort. But what it cannot do even in principle is fix a single determinate interpretation of those thoughts, or reduce them entirely to neural activity. So, no entirely empirical methods could, even in principle, allow us to “read” someone’s thoughts in anything more than the loose and familiar sense in which we can already do so.
These outrageous claims assume that thinking is a physical process or a function of physical processes, when it’s quite simply impossible for them to be. These kinds of studies assume a kind of mind-brain identity, which is falsified by multiple realizability arguments. (It should also be noted that computational models of the mind are also invalid; Tallis and Aleksander, 2008.)
The fact of the matter is, we have private access to the contents of our minds—it is completely internal. Mind privacy is different from brain privacy; of course we can look at the brain’s neurophysiology, but since there is non-identity between mind and brain, this means that it’s impossible to read minds just from looking at brain states (Gilead, 2014). Gilead concludes:
If the mental is irreducible to the physical, brain privacy does not entail mental privacy. Moreover, if the mental is irreducible to the physical, there is certainly more to persons than their bodies.
My arguments above clearly show that brain imaging allows no access to our mind and that mind privacy is quite different from brain privacy, as the latter can be breached by brain imaging, whereas the former cannot. We should not worry whether brain imaging can or will be able to read our mind. We have nothing to worry about regarding our mental privacy, for there is no external access to one’s mind. Each of us has exclusive access to his or her own mind. I also show above that a reduction of the mind to the body inescapably fails, as there is a difference of categories between mind and body or brain, which is compatible with their inseparability.
The mental is irreducible to the physical (including, of course, thinking) and science (third-personal) can’t study mind (first-personal subjective states), so these claims outright fail on a priori grounds.
Arguments for mind-privacy
Using fMRI and AI to read minds isn’t possible now, and it won’t ever be possible.
Here is an argument that mind reading itself isn’t possible:
P1: If mind-reading were possible, then people would be able to read others’ thoughts accurately.
P2: People cannot read others’ thoughts accurately.
C: Therefore, mind-reading is impossible.
Premise 1 is the basic definition of mind-reading. It refers to the ability to accurately perceive the thoughts of others. If it were possible, then people would be able to accurately ascertain the thoughts of others. So the accuracy of mind-reading is a necessary condition for it to be possible.
Premise 2: While we can infer what others are thinking based on their behavior, language, and certain other cues, we cannot accurately perceive one’s thoughts since they are not directly accessible. People also have different interpretations of the same cues.
So the Conclusion then follows that mind-reading is impossible. Since the accuracy of mind-reading is a necessary condition for it to be possible, then the lack of the ability makes it impossible.
P1: If it were possible to read minds using AI and fMRI, then we would have clear and consistent evidence of this ability.
P2: We do not have clear and consistent evidence of this ability.
C: Therefore, it’s impossible to read minds using AI and fMRI.
P1: If it were possible to breach one’s subjective mental states, then someone would be able to access another person’s thoughts or mental processes without their consent.
P2: It is not possible for someone to access another person’s thoughts or mental processes without their consent.
C: Therefore, it is impossible to breach one’s subjective mental states.
Mental privacy refers to the right of one to keep their thoughts private, and breaching this privacy would require accessing thoughts in some other way. But it’s not possible to access one’s thoughts on this way, and brain imaging technologies don’t do this since mind isn’t identical to brain.
P1: If mind-reading using AI and fMRI were possible, then there would be consistent and reliable patterns in the brain that correspond to different thoughts.
P2: If there were consistent and reliable patterns in the brain that correspond to different thoughts, then AI algorithm la would be able to accurately interpret them.
P3: There are no consistent patterns in the brain that correspond to different thoughts, since mind-brain identity is false.
C: Therefore, mind-reading using AI and fMRI is impossible.
The irreducibility of mind to brain and the falsity of mind-brain identity theory means that there can be no consistent and reliable brain patterns that correspond to different thoughts.
Case 1: If it were possible to read minds using AI and fMRI, then there would be physical evidence in the brain that corresponds to specific thoughts or mental processes.
Case 2: If it were not possible to detect physical evidence in the brain that corresponds to specific thoughts or mental processes, then it would not be possible to read minds using AI and fMRI.
Case 3: There is no physical evidence in the brain that corresponds to specific thoughts or mental.processes (due to what we know about the multiple realizability of psychological traits).
C: Therefore, it is impossible to read kinds using AI and fMRI (by proof by cases, case 1 and case 3).
There is no empirical evidence to support case 1, and we know that it’s not possible to detect thoughts or mental processes based on brain physiology alone. As case 2, the absence of physical evidence linking brain and mental states 1-to-1 would mean that AI/fMRI cannot detect them. This also suggests that the brain isn’t a purely mechanistic system, which can be fully understood and predicted using computational models. This is similar to Libet experiments, in which it was claimed that unconscious brain activity preceded conscious intention to move; the brain does not initiate freely-willed processes (Radder and Meynen, 2012). Lastly foe the third case, neuroimaging studies consistently fail to detect specific thoughts or mental states from brain states alone. And even if patterns of brain activity can be associated with certain mental states, it’s impossible to determine with certainty what specific thoughts or mental processes a person is experiencing.
While our technology is quickly increasing, a priori arguments show that the explanatory gap between science and subjective mental states is impossible to close. Due to the radically different properties the mental and the physical have, this means that we can’t use science to study our subjective mental states. While there is a ton of fanfare recently about LLMs and the ability of them and fMRI to show that mind-reading is possible, these claims are nothing but hot air. For if the mental were reducible to the physical, then it could be possible in principle that we could read minds based on neurophysiology and brain images. However, since the mental is irreducible, then we can’t use these technologies to read minds.
These claims, though, will increase in frequency since physicalist views are held by the super majority. However, the arguments here show that mind-reading using AI and fMRI is impossible, since mind and brain are not identical.
Thus, our mental privacy is safe from physical systems that attempt–in vain—to breach it.
The Concept of Genotypic IQ is False and Socially Destructive
The concept of “genotypic IQ” (GIQ) refers to a theoretical genetic potential of IQ. Basically, GIQ is one’s IQ without any corresponding environmental insults, and of course it is due the interaction of many genes each with small effect (which is the justification for GWAS). This, though, is like the concept of true score. “A true score is the hypothetical average of a thousand parallel testings of someone’s intellectual abilities.” Nevertheless, this concept of GIQ is used by hereditarians to proclaim that “genotypic intelligence is deteriorating” (Lynn, 1998) and this is due to “dysgenic fertility“, which is “a negative correlation between intelligence and the number of children” (Lynn and Harvey, 2008: 112), while “genotypic IQ” is “Genotypic intelligence is the genetic component of intelligence and it is this that has been declining” (Lynn and Harvey, 2008: 113) or is the IQ they have if they have access to optimal environments. I will argue in this article why the concept of GIQ is nonsense.
What is GIQ?
So GIQ is the so-called genetic component of intelligence. This, of course, is based on the assumption that genes are causative for IQ. This is based on the assumption that, however weakly, heritability can tell us anything about genetic causation (it can’t).
Lynn (2015) talks about the GIQs of Africans, pygmies, and aborigines. He also claims that the IQ of African Americans is “solely genetically determined“, since it hasn’t changed in some 80 years. This claim, though, is false (Dickens and Flynn, 2006). Nevertheless, the claim of GIQ arises due to the assumption—which hasn’t been tested, nor can it—that IQ and other psychological traits are caused/influenced by genes. I have argued at length that this claim is false.
It seems that the only people discussing this concept are the usual suspects (Lynn, 2015, 2018; Woodley of Menie, 2015; Madison, Woodley of Menie, and Sanger, 2016; Kirkegaard, Lasker, and Kura, 2019; Piffer, 2023). The decline in so-called genotypic IQ is used as a cudgel to try to argue that “dysgenic effects” of low IQ women having more children is leading to this effect. Weiss (2021: 35) puts it like this:
If women with a low IQ give birth to their children earlier than women with a high IQ, the mean genotypic IQ of the population will also decrease (Comings 1996), even if the number of children in both population strata should be the same. If the number of children across the IQ distribution is not equal (Blake 1989), the next generation will have a different IQ distribution.
Quite obviously, the hereditarian claim of GIQ is that some individuals—and of course groups—are genetically more intelligent than others. Nevertheless, a women “with a low IQ” doesn’t have a low IQ due to genetics; if we think about the nature of IQ and the types of items on the test, we then come to the conclusion that these tests aren’t a test of one’s genetic potential for learning ability (as many have claimed), but it’s merely what one has been exposed to and learned.
We have also used this concept of GIQ to attempt to show that these genes we have found to be associated with IQ have been in decline. Cretan (2016)—in a paper titled “Was Cro-Magnon the Most Intelligent Modern Human?“—tries to argue that GIQ has decreased since Neolithic times, and that the decrease in height and brain size since then is expected, since they are moderately correlated. However, the so-called brain size increase seems to be an artifact (Deacon, 1990a, 1990b). Cretan (2016: 158-159) writes:
Genotypic” intelligence changes across millennia because the genetic variants, or alleles, that enable people to develop higher intelligence change their frequencies due to mutation and selection. Evolution by mutation and selection implies that at a certain selection pressure favoring higher intelligence, the genotypic intelligence of a population remains constant. At selection pressures below this break-even point, intelligence will decrease; at higher selection pressure, intelligence will increase. In the complete absence of selection, genotypic IQ will not remain constant.
As we can see, this concept of GIQ and the so-called decrease in it has been sounding hereditarian alarm bells for decades. People like Lynn and Jensen push eugenic ideals on the basis of low intelligence people having more children, pushing for a negative eugenic practice to prevent people with low IQ from having children. Jensen, in his infamous 1969 paper, was pretty much explicit with these aims, and then in 1970 he stated that heritability can tell use one’s genetic standing when it comes to intelligence. Richard Lynn, in his review of Cattell’s Beyondism, called for “realistically phasing out” certain populations, but that it wasn’t eugenic:
“Is there a danger that current welfare policies, unaided by eugenic foresight, could lead to the genetic enslavement of a substantial segment of our population?” – Jensen, 1969: 95, How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?
“What the evidence on heritability tells us is that we can, in fact, estimate a person’s genetic standing on intelligence from his score on an IQ test.” – Jensen, 1970, Can We and Should We Study Race Difference?
“What is called for here is not genocide, the killing off of the populations of incompetent cultures. But we do need to think realistically in terms of “phasing out” of such peoples.” [Lynn]
This is an example of negative eugenics—preventing those who were thought to have undesirable traits from breeding. William Shockley—who was Arthur Jensen’s inspiration—talked about paying people to undergo sterilization. This was called the voluntary sterilization bonus plan:
Shockley is proposing varying bonuses to anyone with an IQ under 100 who agrees to be sterilized upon reaching child-bearing age. He would pay volunteers $1,000 for every IQ point below 100, with “$30,000 put into a trust fund for a 70-IQ moron, potentially capable of producing 20 children.”
Under the plan, bonuses would also go to potential parents based on the “best scientific estimates” of their having such “genetically carried disabilities as hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, epilepsy, Huntington’s chorea and so on,” with taxpayers getting no money to participate.
This is another example of negative eugenics, but there is of course also positive eugenics—encouraging those with desired traits to have more children. In his article Bright New World, Moen (2016) discusses this kind of positive eugenics, while endorsing the claim of GIQ. Moen proposed that women should be paid modest sums of cash to have children with high IQ sperm donors, not their husbands:
Here I would like to suggest an alternative way to raise global IQ: giving prospective mothers modest monetary incentives to have children that genetically belong not to their husbands (or to ordinary sperm donors) but to high-IQ sperm donors.
These are the kinds of views and ultimate consequences that derive from such thinking that there is GIQ. Since we know that IQ can’t be genetic, there can be no GIQ. If there can be no GIQ, then such proposals like these negative and positive eugenic ideas that I just cited would merely just be getting rid of people that are not socially desireable—mainly the lower class, along with blacks since they are more likely to be lower class and have lower IQs (due to knowledge exposure and differential access to cultural and psychological tools). This concept of GIQ has, since the advent of IQ tests in America, been used to sterilize people in the name of eugenics. The moral wrongness of eugenics is why we should reject this concept, nevermind the irreducibility arguments. Eugenic policies discriminate against people based on arbitrary criteria and violate their reproductive rights.
Arguments against GIQ
Now that I have described what GIQ is and how it has been used in the past in the name of eugenics, here are a few arguments to invalidate the concept.
P1: If IQ is solely determined by one’s genetic makeup, then IQ scores should remain stable through one’s lifetime.
P2: IQ scores do not remain relatively stable through one’s lifetime.
C: Thus, IQ is not solely determined by one’s genetic makeup.
P1: If IQ is solely determined by genetics, then individuals with high IQ parents should also have high IQ scores.
P2: If individuals with high IQ parents also have high IQ scores, then adoption should not affect their IQ scores.
P3: Adoption does affect the IQ scores of individuals with high IQ parents.
C: Thus intelligence is not solely determined by genetics.
This argument contradicts the main claim of GIQ, since adoption has been shown to raise IQ (see Capron and Duyme, 1989; Locurto, 1990; Flynn, 1993; Duyme, Dumaret, and Tomkiwicz, 1999; Kendler et al, 2015; see Nisbett et al, 2012 for review).
P1: If the concept of GIQ were true, then one’s IQ would be determined by their genetics.
P2: Genes don’t determine traits, nevermind psychological ones.
C: Therefore, the concept of GIQ is false.
P1: If psychological traits are reducible to genetics, then environment plays no role in shaping IQ and the concept of GIQ is true.
P2: The environment plays a significant role in shaping IQ, as adoption studies show.
C: Therefore psychological traits are not reducible to genetics and the concept of GIQ is false.
P1: If psychological traits are irreducible, then the concept of GIQ is false.
P2: Psychological traits are irreducible.
C: Therefore, the concept of GIQ is false.
Both of these argument draw on the irreducibility of the mental arguments I’ve been making for years. If the mental is irreducible to the physical, then the concept of GIQ can’t possibly be true.
P1: Either the concept of GIQ is true and implies that IQ is determined by genes alone, or the concept of GIQ is false and other factors other than genes contribute to IQ.
P2: If the concept of GIQ is true and implies genetic determinism, then it ignores the significant impact that environmental factors have on IQ and may perpetuate discrimination against those with low IQ.
P3: If the concept of GIQ is false and other factors other than genes contribute to IQ, then efforts should be focused on addressing these other factors rather than assuming that genes are the sole determinant of IQ.
C: Thus, either the concept of GIQ perpetuates discriminatory attitudes if true, or it distracts from addressing the true determinants of IQ if false.
P1 is logically true, while P2 and P3 are supported by scientific evidence, so the argument is plausible.
The concept of GIQ assumes that IQ is largely determined by genetics, and that individuals have different genetic potentials for IQ. There is no clear, consistent definition of intelligence. The factors that contribute to IQ are complex and multifaceted. So any attempt at reducing one’s IQ to their genes or to make predictions about one’s IQ from their genes along is inherently flawed and oversimplified. Thus, the concept of GIQ is not a valid or useful way of understanding intelligence, and so attempts to use it to make policy or social decisions would be misguided. So this argument challenges the concept of GIQ, since there is no accepted definition of intelligence. That’s more than enough to discount the concept entirely.
I have described the concept of GIQ that many hereditarians in the literature have espoused. It is described as one’s genetic potential for IQ sans environmental insults. The usual suspects are arguing for a GIQ. However as can be seen historically, this concept had led to destructive consequences for groups of people and individuals who are deemed less intelligent. It has been argued that those who have low IQs should not have children and that either people should be paid to not have children and get sterilized or to influence high IQ mother’s to have children not with their husbands but high IQ sperm donors. Eugenics is morally wrong so we should not do that, nevermind the fact that genes don’t work how hereditarians need them to. Nevertheless, I have given a few arguments that the concept of GIQ is misleading at worst and socially destructive at best. This is yet another reason why we should ban IQ tests.
Thus, the concept of GIQ is merely false eugenic nonsense.
Prenatal Testing to Screen for Diseases is Eugenic: The Eugenic Nature of Prenatal Testing
The concept of eugenics has a long history. Back in 2018, I surveyed the history of eugenics throughout antiquity to the modern day in different countries. It seems that the Greeks were the first to employ the concept. Both Aristotle and Plato wanted the state go be in charge of the birthing process, which is a classical definition of eugenics. People have even been sterilized in recent history, as recent as 20 years ago in California.
After the defeat of the Nazis in WW2, though, such eugenic ideas have never left. They have just changed form. We are in the new millennium and so we have new technologies that may allow us to screen for certain disseases and terminate then early on in the process. In this article, I will argue that using such technologies to prevent the births of such people are eugenic. I will give a few arguments and then I will connect them.
The “new eugenics”, same as the old eugenics
“New eugenics” refers to the use of advanced genetic technologies to improve or enhance genetic traits of humans or to selectively breed humans with desired traits while discouraging or preventing the reproduction of those with undesired traits. This tracks with “classical eugenics”, which was a socio-political movement in the late 18th to early 19th century which aimed at improving the human gene pool through encouraging the selective breeding of those with desirable traits while discouraging or preventing the reproduction of those with undesired traits, through coercion such as forced sterilization and euthanasia of individuals who have undesired traits like mental illness, physical disabilities or criminal tendencies. So as can be seen, both the old and new eugenics both involve the same basic practice of selective breeding of humans based on their genetic traits. Thus, both forms of eugenics are reductive in nature.
Both kinds of eugenics are morally wrong. By “morally wrong” I mean that it is not in accordance with accepted ethical principles and values. So calling eugenics “morally wrong” indicates that it is ethically unacceptable to most people, since it goes against the fundamental principles of human dignity, social justice, and human autonomy.
It’s a violation of human dignity and autonomy (Zaluski, 2010) since it makes decisions about a person’s life and reproductive choices based on their genetic makeup rather than their own desires and preferences. It can also stigmatize certain groups while perpetuating existing socio-economic inequalities by reinforcing the dominance of certain groups while marginalizing others. So it can result in further stigmatization and discrimination of certain groups based on their perceived genetic traits which would then lead to a loss of social cohesion along with a decrease in societal well-being. Selective breeding can also lead to a loss of genetic diversity in humans, which could then have further negative effects on our species’ ability for long-term survival and adaptation. And there are concerns involving the new eugenics like gene editing and PGD while there of course could be unintended, unforseen consequences and side effects while new forms of inequality and discrimination could emerge.
So here is the argument that eugenics is morally wrong.
P1: If a practice involves the selective breeding of humans based on their genetic traits, it is permissible only if it respects the autonomy and dignity of all individuals involved.
P2: Eugenics involves the selective breeding of humans based on their genetic traits.
P3: Eugenics does not respect the autonomy and dignity of all individuals involved.
C: Therefore, eugenics is morally wrong.
Premise 1 can be defended by the idea that every human has inherent value and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their genetic makeup. Premise 2 is an accepted feature of both the old and the new eugenics. Premise 3 can be supported on the basis that eugenic practices involve the imposition of genetic traits on individuals without their consent, and it could also lead to the stigmatization and marginalization of those with so-called undesired genetic traits which would violate the fundamental ethical principles of human dignity and autonomy. So from (1), (2), and (3), and Conclusion follows that eugenics is morally wrong since it involves the selective breeding of humans based on their genetic traits while failing to respect the autonomy and dignity of all individuals involved.
Eugenics won’t work because genetic reductionism is false
Genetic reductionism is the view that genes are the primary determinants of human traits. It is the view that complex traits and behaviors can be reduced to and explained by genetic and biological factors while non-genetic and environmental factors are insignificant determinants. In the eugenic view—and in the view of most people—traits are primarily genetically caused, and by using genetic engineering and similar new-age tools, we can then guide out evolution and prune out both genes that lead to undesired traits and, in effect, people too. However, genetic reductionism is false. It is false because there is no privileged causal role in development of any of the developmental resources, genes included (Noble, 2012). So it then follows that eugenics can’t work, since eugenics is genetically reductionistic, and genetic reductionism is false. So the practice of eugenics is unlikely to work and may lead to unintended consequences. Here’s the formalized argument:
P1: If eugenics is based on the assumption that genetic traits are the primary determinants of human traits, then eugenics is genetically reductionistic.
P2: Eugenics is based on the assumption that genetic traits are the primary determinants of human traits.
P3: Genetic reductionism is false.
C: Therefore, eugenics cannot work.
Just like eugenics is genetically reductionistic, so is hereditarianism and that’s also why hereditarianism cannot work. And many hereditarians, like Lynn, Jensen, Shockley, and Cattell held eugenic views (just like Murray and Herrnstein, but they were much more careful with their language, though the underlying ideas are the same) and they are, of course, genetic reductionists. It is, after all, with the advent of IQ tests that eugenics had it’s start in America, and that’s one of the reasons why IQ tests should be banned, since they can and have led to morally wrong policies.
New genetic technologies are eugenic
I have given a pro- and anti-argument for the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) back in 2018. PGD is a procedure which allows parents to screen embryos for genetic abnormalities before implatiation during IVF. This process is often based on the desire to avoid certain traits or to select for certain desirable traits. As I argued above, the new boss is the same as the old boss—the new eugenics has similar end-goals as the old eugenics. PGD doesn’t involve coercion or forced sterilization like the old eugenics, yet it still has intended goals which are similar to the old eugenics by creating “genetically better” people by selecting for certain genes while avoiding others, under the assumption of genetic causation of socially-desired and undesired traits. This can then lead to the homogenization of our species, since people with certain traits could become more common while others without them become rarer. This can also lead to the discrimination of those who do not have the desired traits. Thus, PGD is a form of new eugenics and it is eugenic because it has the same end-goals as the old eugenics.
P1: If PGD isn’t a form of new eugenics, then it does not involve a selective breeding process based on genetic traits that can lead to a homogenization of the human population and discrimination against those who do not possess the desired traits.
P2: PGD does involve a selective breeding process based on genetic traits that can lead to a homogenization of the human population and discrimination against those who do not possess the desired traits.
C: Therefore, PGD is a form of new eugenics.
I have already provided an argument which establishes that eugenics is morally wrong. Now here are a few more arguments which establish PGD as a eugenic practice.
P1: If prenatal testing is used to screen for diseases to abort babies, then it is selectively terminating those with undesirable genetic traits.
P2: If selective termination of those with undesirable genetic traits is practice then it is a eugenic practice.
C: Thus, if prenatal testing is used to screen for diseases to abort babies, then it is a eugenic practice.
P1: If prenatal testing is not a eugenic practice, then it is not selectively terminating those with undesirable genetic traits.
P2: Prenatal testing is selectively terminating those with undesirable genetic traits.
C: Therefore prenatal testing is a eugenic practice.
P1: If a practice is eugenic, then it involves the selective breeding or termination of individuals with undesirable genetic traits.
P2: Prenatal testing involves the selective termination of individuals with undesirable genetic traits.
C: Therefore, prenatal testing is a eugenic practice.
As can be seen, it is quite obvious that the new eugenics is the same as the old eugenics and the goals shared are very similar. Thus, the only distinction between old and new eugenics is that for the new eugenics there is no state coercion for the use of the new genetic technologies to screen for undesired traits like diseases. In this regard, it is used negatively, but there is though the chance that it will be used positively. By “negative” and “positive” I’m referring to negative and positive eugenics.
Now, I can connect the arguments I’ve made and argue that eugenics is morally wrong and that it rests on the false premise of genetic reductionism.
P1: If prenatal testing is used to screen for diseases to abort babies, then it is a eugenic practice.
P2: If selective breeding or termination of individuals with undesirable genetic traits is a eugenic practice, then eugenics is based on the false premise of genetic reductionism.
P3: Eugenics that is based on the false premise of genetic reductionism ignores the complex interplay between genetics, environmental factors and other developmental resources and fails to fully appreciate the inherent worth and value of every human being.
C: Therefore, using prenatal testing to screen for diseases to abort babies is a form of eugenics that is based on the false premise of genetic reductionism and is morally wrong.
IQ, embryo selection and PGS
While we have already begun to implement such tools and methods in the public, a recent study concluded that testing embryos for complex traits like height and IQ is “premature”, with the top-scoring PGS embryos gain would be approximately equal to 2.5cm in height and 2.5 IQ points (Karavani et al, 2019). But these values were derived from PGS which were derived from GWAS, so it’s just based on correlation. Most authors of course assume that “intelligence” is “highly polygenic”, they need not only correlation, but a mechanism (Munday and Savalescu, 2021). Unfortunately, the eugenic dreams of IQ-ists to increase IQ through these methods won’t work. Since one’s IQ is a function of the type of psychological and cultural tools they are exposed to from birth, and the items on the test are biased towards a certain social class, there are known ways to increase IQ that don’t have anything to do with genetically reductionist GWAS/PGS/PGD pipe dream. The argument can be made like this:
P1: The potential gain of embryo screening for traits such as height and cognitive ability is not significant.
P2: The gain due to embryo screening for height and cognitive ability is small, with an average gain of only ≈2.5 cm for height and ≈2.5 IQ points for cognitive ability.
C: Therefore, there is no significant case for using preimplantation genetic diagnosis to select embryos for implantation based on height or cognitive ability.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that even if the so called gains were significant and that PGS were causal that we should use PGD to select those traits
Although it has been said that common arguments against genetic reductionism rest on a strong version of genetic reductionism/determinism, and so the arguments “are therefore unsound” (Resnick and Vorhaus, 2006). The kinds of arguments, assumptions and considerations in this discussion of genetic modification and PGD assume, also, any kind of genetic determinism of traits.
At the end of the day, methods like PGD can lead to the destruction of fetuses on the basis of its genetic constitution. Eugenic selection could also have unintended consequences in the future since genetic variance could be reduced which would impinge on one’s ability to choose a partner, so it would lead to a limitation in partners for future people. Irrespective of the moral arguments made here, I think that the open future argument makes the best case against genetic modification of humans. This will yet again be another argument from human autonomy. Not only will we be impinging on one’s individual autonomy, but we don’t even know what kind of traits could be desirable from a survival point of view in the future. So that’s another reason to not genetically modify embryos or to select certain embryos over others.
P1: Future people have a moral right to choose (or not) the characteristics of their own genome.
P2: Genetic modification of an embryo involves making choices about the characteristics of the future person’s genome.
C: Therefore genetic modification of an embryo is morally impermissible since it violates the moral right of the future person to choose (or not choose) the characteristics of their own genome.
While genetic reductionism is a form of biological determinism, there is also what is called epigenetic determinism. Any kind of reducing X to deterministic proclivities is false. Nevertheless, I have distinguished between the old and the new eugenics, and showed that the only difference between them is that in the new eugenics, there is no state-sponsored coercion or forced sterilization occurring. (Although that, sadly still happens today.) Since genetic reductionism is false, then any attempt to “defend eugenics” (Anomaly, 2018; Wilson, 2019; Veit et al, 2021) are doomed to fail. But genetic engineering “is objectionable because it represents a bid for mastery and dominion that fails to appreciate the gifted character of human powers and achievements” (Sandell, 2007).
Devestating Objections to the Rushton-Lynn Cold Winters Theory
Cold winters theory (CWT) attempts to explain the variation in IQ scores between countries. According to the theory, what explains a suite of observed differences is differential evolution by natural selection in different environments. Due to the exodus out of Africa, this led to the colonization of new biomes with novel things that early Man would not have been accustomed to. Thus, they would then need to be able to adapt their actions and behavior to their new environment. Since they were in novel environments, early man would then need to acquire new skills to survive. So those who could not, had a lower chance to reproduce, and so, there was selection-for and selection-against certain traits. So, over time, this led to differences in the phenotype between groups that evolved in different environments, and the driver of this was natural selection. Hereditarians have said as much, and this theory is a cornerstone to their thinking. The observed differences, in order to be of any use to hereditarians, must be due to evolution, particularly due to evolution by natural selection.
However, although natural selection isn’t itself a mechanism (Fodor, 2008; Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, 2010), it is generally understood that natural selection actually decreases genetic variation in a trait (Howe, 1997: 70; Richardson, 2017: 46) . Thus, if the differences in IQ between races were due to natural selection, then there would be decreased, not increased, variability in IQ/intelligence between races.
Emil Kirkegaard has a good overview of the history of this theory. Nevertheless, I myself have made critiques of CWT, which rely on the fact that it makes no risky, novel predictions (contra Lynn). In this article, I will mount some more arguments against CWT, and I will further show how the logic for the theory crumbles due to the use of shoddy reasoning and the use of ad hoc hypotheses to save the theory from falsification. I will conclude that the CWT has no scientific value and is nothing more than a just-so story that explains what it purports to explain while not successfully predicting novel evidence.
Cold winter theory – Lynn
One of the earliest instance of CWT can be found in Wallace (1864). In his article, he states things that contemporary hereditarians would then argue. In 1987, Richard Lynn argued that the selective pressures of cold winters explains the high IQs of “Mongoloids” (Asians) (Lynn, 1987). Lynn states that the higher IQs of Asians can be explained by the selective pressures of cold environments. He posits adaptations that evolved in Asians, which cold winter environments then selected-for. In 1991, Richard Lynn argued that surviving in novel environments that our species didn’t evolve in led to selective pressures which increased the IQs of “Caucasoids” and “Mongoloids.” The two groups had to survive in cognitively demanding environments and, due to the cold, needed to create shelters, make clothes and fire along with hunting game. So this explains why the two groups have evolved greater intelligence than Africans. Although Ian Deary is himself an IQ-ist, he rightly states that Lynn’s theory is nothing more than a just-so story:
Another review of the thorny issue which Lynn deals with in the first paper may be judged worthwhile if there is a wealth of convincing new evidence, or a Flynn-like (1987) fine-toothcombing of the past evidence. Neither of these objectives is achieved. Therefore, the Pandora’s box has been opened once more, some may say, to no great purpose. What of Lynn’s evolutionary account of the origins of intelligence test score differences between groups? It puts me in mind of Kipling’s Just So stories. When one is more used to examining factor analyses or anova tables the type of evolutionary evidence that is offered here is difficult to evaluate. One suspects that there is an infinite number of more or less plausible historical accounts of the causes of racial differences in IQ test scores, and that all would leave aside uncomfortable facts (like the intelligence needed to exist in hot arid climates). The issue addressed in Lynn’s first paper is difficult enough, but the evidence is far too sparse to be telling the story of how the eskimo got his/her flat nose. (Deary, 1991: 157)
Thus, if this relationship were to hold, then those who experienced the harshest, coldest conditions should have the highest IQs. However, this is not what we see. Arctic people have IQs around 91, and so, this seems to be a piece of evidence against CWT. Lynn, though, has an ad hoc hypothesis for why they don’t have higher IQs—they had a small population size and so high IQ generic mutations didn’t have a large chance to appear and then become stabilized in the genome like they did for Asians (population size for Arctic people 56,000; for Asians 1.4 billion; Lynn, 2006: 157). So due to geographic isolation along with a small population size, Arctic people did not have the chance to gain higher IQs. This is nothing more than an ad hoc hypothesis—an ad hoc hypothesis is produced “for this”, and a hypothesis is ad hoc if it cannot be independently verified. It’s a case of special pleading, as Scott McGreal’s argues.
The fact of the matter about CWT, is that the conclusion was known first (higher IQs in certain geographic areas), and then a form of reverse reasoning was used in order to attempt to ascertain the causes of the observed differences between groups. This is known as reverse engineering, where reverse engineering is defined as “a process of figuring out the design of a mechanism on the basis of an analysis of the tasks it performs” (Buller, 2005: 92). This is also one of Smith’s (2016: 227-228) just-so story triggers:
1) proposing a theory-driven rather than a problem-driven explanation, 2) presenting an explanation for a change without providing a contrast for that change, 3) overlooking the limitations of evidence for distinguishing between alternative explanations (underdetermination), 4) assuming that current utility is the same as historical role, 5) misusing reverse engineering, 6) repurposing just-so stories as hypotheses rather than explanations, and 7) attempting to explain unique events that lack comparative data.
Lynn (1990) attempted to integrate gonadotropin levels, testosterone and prostate cancer into the theory, stating that by having fewer children and showing mote care to them, non-African populations then shifted to a K strategy, which then led to a concomitant decrease in testosterone and subsequently aggressive tendencies (Rushton, 2000: 263). However, this is based on the false assumption that testosterone is directly responsible for aggression, meaning that as testosterone increases so does aggression. They have the cause and effect backwards, though—aggression leads to an increase in testosterone, so Lynn’s explanation fails.
Rushton then comes along and champions Lynn’s “contributions to science” (Rushton, 2012), while also praising Lynn’s theory as explain why northerly populations evolved higher IQs and larger brains than southerly populations (Rushton, 2005), while making the grandiose claim that “documenting global race differences in intelligence and analysing how these have evolved may be his crowning achievement” (Rushton, 2012: 855). Rushton wrote an Amazon review of Lynn’s book, and then again in the white nationalist magazine VDare. Of course Rushton would go to bat for Lynn, since Lynn’s theory is a cornerstone of Rushton’s r/K selection theory, which is where we will now turn.
Cold winter theory – Rushton
Starting in 1985, Rushton began arguing that there was a suite of dozens of traits that the races differed on (Rushton, 1985). He collated his arguments in his first book, Race, Evolution, and Behavior (Rushton, 1995), and he argued that what explained the differences in these traits between his races were the selective factors that influenced and dictated survival in those environments. Rushton and Jensen (2005: 265-266; cf Andrade and Redondo, 2019) argued that there are genetically-driven differences in IQ scores between races (blacks and whites, in this instance), and one of the largest reasons for these differences was the different types of environments the two races were exposed to:
Evolutionary selection pressures were different in the hot savanna where Africans lived than in the cold northern regions Europeans experienced, or the even colder Arctic regions of East Asians. These ecological differences affected not only morphology but also behavior. It has been proposed that the farther north the populations migrated out of Africa, the more they encountered the cognitively demanding problems of gathering and storing food, gaining shelter, making clothes, and raising children successfully during prolonged winters (Rushton, 2000). As these populations evolved into present-day Europeans and East Asians, the ecological pressures selected for larger brains, slower rates of maturation, and lower levels of testosterone—with concomitant reductions in sexual potency, aggressiveness, and impulsivity; increases in family stability, advanced planning, self-control, rule following, and longevity; and the other characteristics listed in Table 3.
So this is where Rushton’s r/K selection comes in. He proposed that “some groups of people are more K selected than others” (Rushton, 1990: 137). So if some groups are more K selected than others, then some groups would have different trait values when compared to others, and this seems to support Rushton’s theory. However, Rushton’s theory can be explained environmentally, without appealing to genetics (Gorey and Cryns, 1995) and it also has not been independently replicated (Peregrine, Ember and Ember, 2003).
Devestating Objections to CWT
Objection 1: The fact of the matter is, when it comes to CWT, this is a perfect example of ideas and beliefs that shift with the time based on current observations. Aristotle argued that since the ancient Greeks had the middle geographic position between Asia and the rest of Europe, they were spirited and intelligent and therefore continued to be free while those who inhabited cold places like Europe lacked intelligence and skill, they had spirit while those in Asia were intelligent while being skilful in temperament, while also being subject to slavery. It was the Greeks who were right in the middle—they were just right, like Goldilocks—to have both all of the good and none of the bad traits they associated with those in other geographic locales. Meloni (2019: 42) cited one Roman officer who stated that recruitment of individuals from cold climates “as they had too much blood and, hence, inadequate intelligence. Instead, he argued, troops from temperate climates be recruited, as they possess the right amount of blood, ensuring their fitness for camp discipline (Irby, 2016).” This is solid evidence that who is or is not “intelligent” can and has changed with the times, along with other explanations of differences between people. This, then, proves the contingency of the concept of “more intelligent people”, and that people will marshal any kind of evidence for their pet theories at the time they have observed them and work backwards to form an argument, a kind of inference to best explanation. Thus, an evolutionary psychologist or IQ-ist transported back to antiquity would have formulated a different theory of intelligence, which obviously would have been at-odds with what they try to argue for today.
Objection 2: In 2019, I contrasted the CWT with the vitamin D hypothesis. I argued that there was one successful novel prediction made by the VDH—namely the convergent evolution of skin color in hominids that left Africa (Chaplan and Jablonski, 2009: 452), which was successfully predicted by Chaplan and Jablonski (2000). I wrote:
If high ‘intelligence’ is supposedly an adaptation to cold temperatures, then what is the observation that disconfirms a byproduct hypothesis? On the other hand, if ‘intelligence’ is a byproduct, which observation would disconfirm an adaptationist hypothesis? No possible observation can confirm or disconfirm either hypothesis, therefore they are just-so stories. Since a byproduct explanation would explain the same phenomena since byproducts are also inherited, then just saying that ‘intelligence’ is a byproduct of, say, needing larger heads to dissipate heat (Lieberman, 2015). One can make any story they want to fit the data, but if there is no prediction of novel facts then how useful is the hypothesis if it explains the data it purports to explain and only the data it purports to explain?
It is possible to think up any kind of story to explain any observation to give it an air of scientific objectivity. Of course it is possible to argue that other climates can select higher intelligence, as Anderson (1991), Graves (2002), and Flynn (2019) have argued. Sternberg, Grigorenko, and Kidd (2005) have also argued that it is possible to think of any kind of explanation/story for any kind of observed data. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is this: There is no reason to accept the CWT, since there is no independent evidence for the theory in question.
Objection 3: If the Lynn-Rushton CWT were correct, then we would observe lower variation in IQ scores between whites and Asians, since it is well-accepted that natural selection reduced genetic variation in traits that are important for survival (Howe, 1997: 70; Richardson, 2017: 46). In the hereditarian conception, of course intelligence is important for survival, and so if the hereditarian argument for CWT is true, then we should observe lower variance in IQs in whites and Asians compared to blacks, but we don’t see this. (Also see Bird, 2020 for an argument against the hereditarian hypothesis, showing that there is no natural selection in blacks and whites on cognitive performance.)
Objection 4: Hereditarians have relied on the concept of heritability for decades. If T is highly heritable, then T has a genetic component and what explains the variance in T is genetics, not environment. Many critiques of the heritability concept have been mounted (eg Moore and Shenk, 2016), and they spell trouble for the hereditarian CWT and the hereditarian hypothesis as a whole. But these estimates are derived from highly confounded studies, and so the “laws” derived from them are anything but.
Objection 5: Rushton and Lynn posit that Asians are K- while Africans are r-selected. Rushton rightly stated that Africans endure endemic and infectious disease, which he wrongly stated was an r trait. He also stated that cold winters shaped K traits in Asians and European populations. However, based on the (accepted at the time) tenets of r/K selection, it would actually be Africans that are K and Asians that are r, since groups that move out of environments they evolved in and into new ones are freed from density-dependent control (Anderson, 1991: 59).
Objection 6: The irreducibility of the mental to the physical means that psychology can’t be an object of selection since it is not physical. Intelligence is posited as a psychological trait, so it cannot be selected. This is a devestating objection to not only the CWT but to most hereditarian hypotheses which reduce mental states to brain states or genes. Such irreducibility arguments make hereditarianism untenable.
Arguments against CWT
With all this being said, here are a few arguments derived from the discussions above. It is well-established that the CWT hardly had any evidentiary basis. It’s merely the argument of ideologues.
P1: If CWT were true, then there would be independent evidence for it.
P2: There is no independent evidence for the CWT.
P3: The correlation between race and IQ is better explained by social and environmental factors than by the CWT.
P4: The evidence cited in support of the CWT, including Lynn’s national IQ data, is fraudulent and lacks scientific rigor.
C: Therefore, the CWT is false.
Premise 1: This is a basic tenet of scientific explanation. Independent evidence refers to evidence not used in the construction of the hypothesis. The only evidence for CWT is the observation of differences in IQ between people that inhabit different geographic locations. So if CWT were true, it is entailed that there should be independent, novel evidence to support the hypothesis. It is evidence that isn’t based on the original assumptions or data used to construct the hypothesis. If there is, then that raises the probability that the state of affairs that is proposed is true. Independent, novel evidence is important, since it helps confirm or disconfirm a theory or hypothesis by providing additional support from sources that were not originally taken into account. Evidence is novel when it is not already known or expected based on prior knowledge or previous observations. So novel evidence would, in this instance, refer to evidence that supports the theory and is distinct from the evidence that is used to support it. So in order for CWT to be scientifically valid, there would need to be independent evidence that shows a direct causal link between intelligence and cold winters.
Premise 2: This is a denial of the claim that there is independent evidence that supports CWT, on the accepted definition of “novel, independent evidence.”
Premises 3 and 4: These two premises are linked—access to education along with nutrition better explains the relationship between latitude and IQ. There is also the fact that Lynn’s “national IQs” are fraudulent (Sear, 2022). Thus, there is no evidentiary reason to accept Lynn’s IQs (the only reason is bias and that it “explains” the differing civilizational states of different races). It’s merely working backwards (returning to reverse engineering) since they have their conclusion in mind and then construct an argument to prove their already-held conclusion.
So the Conclusion follows—CWT is false since there is no independent, novel evidence for it. Therefore the only reason to believe it is bias in thinking against groups of people.
P1: The CWT suggests that differences in average IQ scores between racial groups can be largely explained by differences in the coldness of the winter climates that these groups evolved in.
P2: All of the evidence used to support the CWT is based on previously existing data, such as Lynn’s national IQ data or historical temperature records.
P3: There is no new independent evidence that supports the CWT beyond this existing data.
C: Thus, there is no novel, independent evidence for the CWT.
P1: If there is new independent evidence for the CWT, then the CWT can be independently supported.
P2: There is no novel independent evidence for CWT beyond the existing data.
C: So the CWT cannot be supported by new independent evidence.
These arguments are valid and I hold them to be sound, based on the discussion in this article and my previous articles on the matter of CWT and the prediction of novel facts of the matter.
We don’t need evolutionary stories to explain IQ differences between countries (Wicherts, Borsboom, and Dolan, 2010). Lynn’s national IQ data is highly suspect and should not be used (Sears, 2022). High intelligence would be useful in all environments. The Rushton-Lynn CWT states that those who migrated to more northerly, colder biomes needed to plan ahead for the winter, and they would also need to plan and create hunting parties to procure food. This, of course, is ridiculous. Because you need to plan ahead to survive anywhere. Moreover, Will et al (2021) state that their:
analyses detected no such association of temperature with brain size. … These results suggest that brain size within Homo is less influenced by environmental variables than body size during the past 1.0 Ma.
This is of course a huge strike against the Rushton-Lynn CWT. Anthropological evidence also conflicts with the CWT (MacEachern, 2006).
Since I have shown that the evidentiary bases of the CWT doesn’t hold, then it isn’t logical to hold the belief that the CWT is true. Views like this are expressed in Rushton (2000: 228-231), Jensen (1998: 170, 434-436) and Lynn (2006: Chapters 15, 16, and 17). Since the main proponents of the model hold eugenist ideas, then it can be posited that they have underlying alterior motives for pushing this theory. Even a claim that there is “molecular genetic evidence” for CWT fails, due to, again, the irreducibility of the mental.
Nevertheless, there is no novel, independent evidence for the belief that cold winters shaped our minds and racial differences in psychological traits after the exodus out of Africa. There can be no evidence for it since we lack time machines and we can’t deconfound correlated traits. So these considerations point to the conclusion that the CWT is a mere story based on data which was then used to work backwards from an already-held conclusion. Thus, CWT is false.
Rushton, Lynn, Kanazawa (2008, 2012), (Kanazawa assumed a flat earth in his 2008 paper; Wicherts et al, 2012) Hart (2009), and Winegard, Winegard, and Anomaly (2020) therefore, are nothing more than just-so storytellers since they lack novel evidence for their assertions. So the so-called argument for evolutionary differences in intelligence/IQ rests on a house of cards that is simple to push over. The six objections laid out in this article are devestating for the CWT. There never was any evidentiary support for CWT—the kind that scientific hypotheses need in order to be valid, it’s merely an ideological series of statements, not an actual scientific hypothesis.
The Distinction Between Psychological and Racial Hereditarianism
The hereditarian hypothesis posits that genetic/biological factors are responsible for IQ (“intelligence”) and other psychological traits. The claim is basically, IQ is heritable. It is heritable on the basis of twin, family and adoption studies, along with results from GCTA, GWAS and other newer tools that were created in order to lend credence to the twin, family and adoption estimates.
I have distinguished before between what I call “psychological hereditarianism” and “racial hereditarianism.” In this article, I will distinguish between the two more, and while psychological hereditarianism isnt necessarily racist, it can be used for racist aims.
Psychological hereditarianism is the belief that psychological differences between people are due largely to genetic or biological factors rather than environmental ones. Claims such as this have been coming from twin studies for decades, and it has been commonly said that such studies have proven that aspects of our psychological constitution are genetically heritable, that is genetically transmitted.
Four kinds of studies exist which lend credence to psychological hereditarianism—family studies, twin studies, adoption studies, and GWAS.
Family studies examine the similarities in individuals of the same family when it comes to their cognitive abilities (scores on IQ tests). These studies show that those who share more genes have similar scores than those who don’t. To the hereditarian, this is evidence for their hypothesis that genetic factors contribute to psychological traits and differences in them. Correlations are used to measure the strength of the relationship. An expected value of 50 percent (.5 correlation) between siblings is expected, as they share half of their genes. The correlation that is expected between unrelated individuals is 0, since they presumably don’t share genes (that is, they’re not from the same family).
However, there is one huge issue for family studies—environmental confounding. While people in the same families of course share the same genes, they also share the same environments. So family studies can’t be used as evidence for the psychological hereditarian hypothesis. Behavioral geneticists agree that these studies can’t be used for the genetic hypothesis for psychological traits, but they disagree with the implications of this claim for the next thing I will discuss.
Twin studies again use the correlation coefficient and compare twins raised together or “apart”, to then argue that genes play a substantial role in the etiology of psychological traits like “IQ.” These studies have found that identical twins have more similar cognitive abilities than fraternal twins, which to the twin researchers points to the conclusion that genetic factors contribute to substantially to psychological traits like IQ and other traits. However, the main limitation of such studies comes down to twins reared together. It is assumed that identical and fraternal twins share equally similar environments. This claim, as admitted by twin researchers themselves, is false (Joseph, 2014; Joseph et al, 2015). They then pivot to two arguments—Argument A and Argument B (Joseph et al, 2015)—but A is merely circular and B needs to be shown to be true by twin researchers, that is, they need to rule out and identify trait-relevant factors.
Limitations of twin studies include: not being generalizable to the general population; they’re based on many of the same (false) assumptions that were originally formulated on the 1920s at the advent of twin studies; the findings are misunderstood and blown out of proportion; they lead to volunteer/recruitment bias; and it doesn’t allow the disentangling of G and E since they interact (Sahu and Prasuna, 2016). The “advantages” of these studies aren’t even advantages, since it is conceptually impossible to tease out the relative contributions of G and E to a trait. Nevertheless, twin studies don’t show that psychological hereditarianism is true, and perhaps the most famous twin study of all—the MISTRA—hid the data of its fraternal twins (the controls). Joseph (2022) has an in depth critique of the MISTRA and why conclusions from it should be outright rejected.
The issues with adoption studies are large, as large as the issues with twin studies. Assignment of adoptees to homes isn’t random, they look for homes that are closer to the homes of the biological mother. This restriction of range reduces the correlation between the adopted children and adopted parent. Adoptees also experience the womb of their biological mother’s (obviously). The adoptive parents are also given information about the adoptee’s family, and this along with conscious and unconscious treatment of the adoptee may help in making the adopted child different (see Richardson and Norgate, 2006; Moore, 2006; Joseph, 2014). Basically, the additive gene model is false, and adoptions don’t simulate a random design.
The larger issue at hand here is how the aforementioned have been used to search the genome for the genes that lead to the high heritabilities of IQ. This has then led to the creation of polygenic scores. These studies examine the association between genes and IQ in large samples of individuals. These studies compare the genomes of people who have a certain trait, and they then look for correlations between the genes and the traits in that population. GWASs may miss rare genes with large effects. These studies only merely show associations between genes and traits, not causation. Another issue is population stratification—which is “differences in allele frequencies between cases and controls due to systematic differences in ancestry” (Freedman et al, 2004). GWAS, then, are compromised by this stratification, and attempts to correct for it have been found wanting (Richardson, 2017; Richardson and Jones, 2019; Richardson, 2022). There is also the fact that larger sample sizes won’t help the endeavor of proving that genes contribute to psychological traits—since large databases contain arbitrary correlations, then by increasing the sample size this then highly increases the chance for spurious correlations (Claude and Longo, 2017). At the end of the day, the associations found are weak and could possibly even be meaningless (Noble, 2018). There is also the fact that PGS ignore development and epigenetics (Moore, 2023). Basically, genes don’t work how hereditarians need them to.
The fact of the matter is, these research methods continue to push the false dichotomy of nature vs nurture (the first instance of which appeared in a 13th century French novel on gender). There is also the fact that the “laws of behavioral genetics” rest on twin, family and adoption studies. So if the assumptions of these studies are false, then there is no reason why we should accept the conclusions from them. There are no “laws” in biology, especially not the “laws of behavioral genetics.”
Racial hereditarianism, on the other hand, is the belief that there are inherent, genetic differences in cognitive ability and other psychological traits between racial and ethnic groups. One—most often unstated—claim is that one group of people are inferior to another (as can be evidenced by the labels of the categories used by Terman), and it has been used to justify discriminatory policies and forced sterilization of people found to have lower IQs. Genetic inheritance explains the how and why of some races having higher IQs than others.
The most famous racial hereditarians are Lynn, Rushton, and Jensen. Over the last 50+ years, these authors have dedicated their lives to proving that certain racial groups have higher IQs than others for genetic reasons. These differences aren’t due just to environment or culture, they say, there is a significant genetic component to the differences in scores between racial and ethnic groups. Since IQ is related to success in life—that is, since IQ is needed for success—then what explains average life outcomes between racial and ethnic groups are their IQs and the ultimate cause is their genes which ultimately cause their IQ scores. Due to the strength of genetic factors on IQ, they say (like Jensen), social programs are doomed to fail.
The argument against psychological hereditarianism and racial hereditarianism
The argument against these is simple—the mental is irreducible to the physical and so, while there are of course correlations between “traits” like IQ and genes, that doesn’t mean they’re causal and due to the irreducibility of the mental to the physical, we can’t find what they need us to find in order to prove their theses.
P1: If racial hereditarianism is true, then cognitive differences between racial groups are primarily due to genetic factors.
P2: There is no empirical (or logical) evidence that supports the claim that cognitive differences between racial groups are primarily due to genetic factors.
C: Thus, racial hereditarianism is false.
P1: If psychological hereditarianism is true, then individual differences in psychological traits are due primarily to genetic factors.
P2: There is no empirical (or logical) evidence that supports the claim that individual differences in psychological traits are primarily due to genetic factors.
C: Thus, psychological hereditarianism is false.
The irreducible complexity of mental states/psychological traits means that it’s impossible for them to be caused or influenced by genetics meaning that both psychological and racial hereditarianism are false. Both psychological and racial hereditarianism, as their unstated assumptions, rely on a type of physicalism to where mental states can be reduced to genes or the brain/brain states. Both kinds are a physicalist theory of mind, and since physicalism is false so are psychological and racial hereditarianism. This is yet more evidence that hereditarianism is false and so it strengthens the argument for banning IQ tests.
Both forms of hereditarianism I’ve discussed here are false, and ultimately they are false since the mental is reducible to the physical. Both of them, however, are inherently reductionist and attempt to reduce people to their genes or their brains. They have, in the past, led to the sterilization of certain people deemed “unfit.” Of course, the hereditarian hypothesis isn’t necessarily racist, though it can be used for racist aims. It can also be used for classist aims. It can be launched at whatever a society deems “unfit”, and then they can try to correlate biological factors with what they deem “unfit.” The very notion that certain races are superior or inferior on intelligence is a form of racism. Such ideas have been used in the recent past in order to justify discriminatory policies against people. So while the psychological hereditarian hypothesis may not be racist (it could be classist, though), how it has been articulated and then even put into practice is inherently racist. In any case, here’s the argument that the hereditarian hypothesis is a racist hypothesis.
P1: If the hereditarian hypothesis is true, then differences in IQ and other traits among racial and ethnic groups are primarily due to genetic factors rather than environmental or social factors.
P2: Differences in IQ and other traits among racial and ethnic groups are not primarily due to genetic factors, but rather environmental or social factors.
C1: Therefore, the hereditarian hypothesis is not true.
P3: If the hereditarian hypothesis is not true, then it cannot be used to make claims about inferiority or superiority.
P4: The hereditarian hypothesis has, historically been used to make claims about the innate superiority or inferiority of certain racial groups, thereby justifying discriniminatory policies and harmful stereotypes.
C2: Therefore, the hereditarian hypothesis is a racist hypothesis.
I’ve shown how P1 and P2 are true exhaustively, so C1 follows from those 2 premises. P3 follows from the conclusion in C1, and P4 is a historical fact. So C2 follows. So by referring to the hereditarian hypothesis as a racist hypothesis, I mean that the hypothesis has been entangled with racist and discriniminatory policies since it’s inception.
So I have articulated a distinction between psychological and racial hereditarianism, where psychological hereditarianism is about the genetic transmission of psychological traits and where racial hereditarianism is the belief that there are inherent racial differences in psychological traits due to genetic differences between groups. While there are of course genetic differences between groups and individuals, it doesn’t follow that said genetic differences cause differences in psychological traits, which is the main claim of hereditarianism. The issue of the reducibility of the mental isn’t an empirical matter, it’s a conceptual one. So the hereditarian hypothesis, therefore, is refuted on conceptual, a priori grounds.
A Priori and Empirical Arguments for Multiple Realizability
What is the multiple realizability argument?
The multiple realizability argument (MRA) is an argument directed at type-identity theories of mind, while being used for and against functionalist theories of mind. (I think Ross’ 1992 argument in Immaterial Aspects of Thought and Feser’s 2013 arguments refute functionalist theories.) First formulated by Hilary Putnam in 1975, the argument he formulated can be put like this:
P1. If type-physicalism is true, then every mental property can be realized in exactly one physical way.
P2. It is empirically highly plausible that mental properties are capable of multiple realizations.
C1. It is (empirically) highly plausible that the view of type-physicalism is false (modus tollens, P1, P2). (From Just the Arguments, 81. Putnam’s Multiple Realization Argument against Type-Physicalism)
P1 states the scope of type-physicalism—that all mental states are realizable in one and only one physical way. P2 states that it is probable that mental properties are capable of multiple realizations. This premise is an empirical one, and so we need evidence to believe it. Then, the conclusion is that type-physicalism is false sine mental states are multiply realizable. Quite obviously, this argument shows that mental states don’t reduce to brain states, which means that physicalism is false. Since P2 needs defense, I will defend it in this article while giving my own formulation of the MRA.
Here is my formulation of it:
P1: If mental properties were identical to physical properties, then any change in one entails a change in the other.
P2: Mental properties can change without any corresponding change in physical properties.
C: So mental properties aren’t identical to physical properties.
As you can see, like Putnam’s formulation, P2 is an empirical claim and so needs empirical support. So if one mental state can be realized in multiple ways, then type-physicalism (mind-brain identity) is false. I will spend the rest of this article arguing for the truth of P2 and then provide an argument from analogy showing that mental states are multiply realizable.
An a priori argument for multiple realizability
If the MRA were true, then there would be evidence of a specific mental state that is realized in multiple physical ways. While empirical evidence is irrelevant to metaphysical possibility (and to concepts), multiple realizability can be known a priori. Before I give the empirical argument from analogy for multiple realizability, I will give the a priori argument.
P1: Mental states and processes exhibit certain characteristic features and properties like intentionality, subjectivity, and causality.
P2: If mental states are multiply realizable, then they are not reducible to their underlying physical properties.
C: Thus, mental states and processes are not reducible to their underlying physical properties.
P1: M has properties P1, P2, P3…
P2: If M is multiply realizable, then M is not reducible to it’s physical properties.
C: Therefore, M is irreducible to its physical properties.
Premise 1: Mental states and processes are characterized by what they do rather than what they’re “made of.” Intentionality is the ability for mental states to be “about” things, while directed at objects, events or states of affairs like when a belief or proposition is about a certain end goal. So M properties aren’t reducible to any P properties, and intentionality is a property of mental states which set them apart from physical states, since purely physical things can never have the ability to intend. Subjectivity refers to the fact that mental states are experienced through a first-personal perspective which can’t be observed or measured by others. This property sets M states apart from P states, since physical states can be studied and observed from a third-personal perspective. So while we can study brain states, since mental states don’t reduce to brain physiology, then by studying brain states we aren’t studying the mind. Lastly the property of causality refers to the fact that mental states and processes have causal effects on action and behavior, cognition and other mental states and processes. So the distinctive role that mental states and processes play in generating action, behavior, and cognition cannot be captured by studying the brain or the body.
Premise 2: This premise highlights the fact that multiple realizability implies that mental states can be realized in a multitude of physical states and processes without any loss of mental properties. So the Conclusion follows that mental states and processes are irreducible to their underlying physical properties.
So if mental states and processes have characteristic features that distinguish them from other kinds of states and processes, and if they can be realized by multiple physical systems, then they cannot be reduced to one physical system.
Defending P2: Empirical evidence for multiple realizability
The way that Putnam and I have formulated the argument for MR is an empirical claim. So empirical claims require empirical evidence. While the previous argument was a priori, it could therefore be argued without empirical evidence.
The example of visual perception. Most animals on earth have vision. The visual systems of animals have evolved to help them survive in their ecologies. Humans have three cone types in their eyes which allows them to see a range of colors. On the other hand, some birds have four cone types which allow them to see a wider range of color than humans, and the fourth cone thsg birds have allows them to see more colors than humans (Stoddard et al, 2020). Bats have evolved eyesight that allows them to see in low light environments, while eagles have evolved eyesight that allows them to see objects at great distances. So despite differences in the visual systems between animals, they can all recognize objects and visually navigate their ecologies. So different animals have evolved different vision systems that help in a certain niche. Furthermore, different types of photoreceptors have evolved in different animals, with different connections between the eye and the brain, which began evolving around 600 million years ago, with the Cambrian explosion leading to body plans and systems which then supported vision (Lamb, Pugh Jr, and Collin, 2008; Lamb, Collin, and Pugh Jr, 2011; Asteriti, 2015). These photoreceptors come in two kinds—ciliary type (c-type) or rhabdomeric type (r-type); vertebrates seek to have a unique mix of these cone types which allow a wide range of vision (Marshedian and Fain, 2017). Certain eye structures have also evolved independently (Land and Nilsson, 2012). So different animals have different numbers of photoreceptors and cones, which help them to visualize their environment; the diversity of rods and photoreceptors in the animal kingdom is vast (Piechl, 2005). Thus, the evidence cited here shows that different animals have differently-evolved visual systems, but they can still visualize their environments even though the physical systems that allow it are different.
The brain’s ability to compensate from injury and the brain’s of athletes and musicians. After a traumatic brain injury occurs, the brain—being plastic—can rewire itself to carry different functions after an injury. For example, in the blind, the visual cortex is repurposed and processes tactile and auditory stimuli (Elbert et al, 2002; Lane et al, 2015; Gori et al, 2019). The primary motor cortex in musicians is larger than non-musicians, and this is due to constant practice on their instrument of choice (Toyka and Freund, 2006; Watson, 2006; Olszewska et al, 2021). Basketball players have larger cortical areas associated with visual processing and attention (Kim et al, 2022) along with athletes having different cortical neuronal networks than novices (Tan et al, 2017). This then is solid evidence for the claim that learning new skills and continously performing them at an expert level leads to changes in the brain (Park et al, 2015). Further, when it comes to the brain’s ability to heal from an injury, it has been shown that if a certain brain area is impacted, other parts of the brain will pick up the slack of the injured part, which shows the plasticity of the brain and the brain’s ability to compensate for an injury to it by directing and making new neural pathways to carry out new tasks (Nishimura et al, 2009; Su, Veeravuga, and Grant, 2016; Hylin, Kerr, and Holden, 2017). Thus, the evidence cited here shows how the brain can adapt to tasks that a person performs, and how it can adapt to changes to it (like injury) and even repurposing certain parts of itself in people with certain disabilities. This, like the example of visual perception, lends further support for the claim that different physical systems can perform the same mental function.
Brain-computer interfaces. Lastly, we have brain-computer interfaces. These interfaces “acquire brain signals, analyze them, and translate them into commands that are relayed to output devices that carry out desired actions” (Shih et al, 2012). These interfaces allow humans to control things with their thoughts, bypassing the need for physical interfaces; this technology also allows individuals to control certain kinds of devices using brain waves using their mental intentions (Mak and Wolpaw, 2010). People with these interfaces can control prosthetic limbs (Mischenko et al, 2017; Murphy et al, 2017; Asanza et al, 2022). These interfaces have also been explored to give people the ability to communicate with speech again (Brumberg et al, 2010). This also supports MR since brain-computer interfaces which use EEG to record brain activity could translate mental states into movements while interfaces that use implanted electrodes may allow an individual to control a robotic arm. Thus, the development of this technology shows that different mental states can be realized in different physical systems which is then dependent on the type of interface used.
Strappini et al (2020) provide yet more empirical support for MR. They write:
Here, we illustrate some cases that provide empirical evidence in support of MRT. Recently, it has been proposed that foveal agnosic vision, like peripheral vision, can be restored by increasing object parts’ spacing (Crutch and Warrington, 2007; Strappini et al., 2017b). Agnosic fovea and normal periphery are both limited by crowding, which impairs object recognition, and provides the signature of visual integration. Here, we define a psychological property of restored object identification, and we cross-reference the data of visually impaired patients with different etiologies. In particular, we compare the data of two stroke patients, two patients with posterior cortical atrophy, six cases of strabismic amblyopia, and one case with restored sight. We also compare these patients with unimpaired subjects tested in the periphery. We show that integration (i.e., restored recognition) seems to describe quite accurately the visual performance in all these cases. Whereas the patients have different etiologies and different neural correlates, the unimpaired subjects have no neural damage. Thus, similarity in the psychological property given the differences in the neural substrate can be interpreted in relation to MRT and provide evidence in its support
While Booth (2018: 143-144) uses the example of multilingualism to support MR:
First, there are multiple ways of speaking a second-language, based on difference between high proficiency early and late bilinguals. Second, there are multiple ways of being a speaker of a given language, specifically as a monolingual or bilingual speaker of that language, where the language is the bilingual speaker’s L1. These examples meet the conditions advanced by Polger and Shapiro for examples of multiple realization, and should therefore be accepted as genuine cases of multiple realization.
Now that I have given a good overview of the evidence in support of MR, I will not provide the argument.
The empirical argument from analogy for multiple realizability
P1: Different animals have evolved different vision systems to suite their ecologies.
P2: Humans have a trichromatic visual system while some birds have tetrachromatic visual system while some insects have compound eyes.
P3: Despite differences in these visual systems, these animals all are able to perform similar visual tasks, like spatial navigation and object recognition.
P4: Studies of brain damage and neuroplasticity show that different brain regions can take on different functions after injury or training, like blind people using the visual cortex for auditory processing, muscisians having larger motor areas for finger control, and basketball players having larger cortical areas associated with visual processing and attention.
P5: The development of brain-computer interfaces show that mental states can be translated into different forms of output, like movement, speech, and text, using different physical devices.
C: Thus, multiple realizability is true, since the mental state of visual perception (and other mental states) can be realized in different physical systems without affecting functioning.
P1: If mental states can only be realized in a single physical system, then all animals with similar cognitive tasks should have identical neural structures.
P2: Different animals have different neural structures for performing similar cognitive tasks, like visual perception.
C: Thus, mental states cannot be realized in a single physical system.
P1: If mental states can only be realized in a single physical system, then all animals with similar cognitive tasks should have identical neural structures.
P2: If all animal with similar cognitive tasks have identical neural structures, then different animals should not have different neural structures for performing similar cognitive tasks.
P3: Different animals have different neural structures for performing similar cognitive tasks, like spatial navigation, object recognition and visual perception.
C: Thus, mental states cannot be realized by a single physical system.
I have provided both an a priori and a posteriori argument for the MRA. The a priori argument shows that multiple realizability is metaphysically possible, while the empirical evidence I have cited along with the empirical premises in my arguments have shown that multiple realizability is an empirically defensible position. It seems to me that it is intuitive that different mental states can be realized by different physical systems and not only one kind of physical system.
The a priori argument shows that mental states and physical states have different properties; physical states cannot have the properties that mental states have. So this shows that it’s metaphysically possible the MR is true, while the empirical evidence and arguments I have mounted show that it is true in our world as well. Mental states can’t be reduced to physical states, mental states are causally efficacious, and there are multiple ways to achieve the same cognitive function, like visual perception across the animal kingdom. The example of visual perception of different animals, studies of athletes, musicians, and people with traumatic brain injuries, and even brain-computer interfaces show that different mental states can be realized in multiple physical ways.
So if this is true, then multiple realizability is true. If multiple realizability is true, then type-physicalism is false, and therefore identity theories of mind need to find another avenue to prove their thesis. Mind-brain identity is clearly false; mind doesn’t reduce to brain and mental states can be realized by different physical systems. This is yet another argument against physicalism—the attempted reduction of mind to brain. Physicalism is quite clearly false.