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The Sexualization of Steatopygia and Adaptationist Claims of Sex Organs

Steatopygia is an extreme accumulatation of large amounts of fat on the buttocks, and is also known as obesity in the coccyx (Wallner et al, 2022). “Steato” means “fat” and “pygia” means “buttocks” in Greek. This body type is claimed to be “common in women of the Khoi tribe or ‘Hottentots’ and is considered an aspect of beauty” (Todd, 2010). Steve Sabol, writing for The Genetic Literacy Project, opines that steatopygia could be “the ancestral state of the human lineage.” Steatopygia in the Khoisan has been written about since around the 1600s. This trait has been linked with primitiveness, since it was first noted in the Khoisan (Hudson et al, 2008; Fox, 2020: 16) and has also been observed in the San, the pygmies of Central Africa and the Ong of the Andaman Islands (Shepherd, 2017). Shattock (1909) also notes steatopygous artworks throughout antiquity. Francis Galton noted that while he was too ashamed to ask a Khoisan woman to measure her, he stood back with a pocket ruler and calculated the width and breadth of her buttocks (Hudson, 2004: 326) A few hypotheses have been proposed to explain why Khoisan women are more likely to have this condition, which will be reviewed below.

Perhaps the most famous woman to be afflicted with this condition is Sarah Baartman. Though the date of her birth is contested, she was probably born between the 1770s and 1789. She lived on a farm which belonged to South African colonialist David Fourie, who had settled the land that Baartman’s family lived on. Then, after his death, her clan was broken up and sold to various different people. One free black man took possession of Sarah, and due to his massive debt, began showing off Sarah’s enlarged buttocks which was due to steatopygia, showing her off to British soldiers. She was an exotic dancer for soldiers who were in the infirmary, while men would be able to touch her and even have sex with her if they paid. Then in 1810 she set sail for England with the freed black that bought her and a Scottish physician who thought that she would be better off than being a sideshow for mere soldiers on their deathbed. Racial theories at the time linked fatness to blackness and thinness to whiteness. In fact, fatness as pertains to black bodies had not been seen as anything bad until the Enlightenment, since fatter bodies used to be seen as beautiful to Europeans of that time. This then changed when fatness was linked to racial inferiority. Fatness was a negative racial trait first, before it was medically linked with negative outcomes (Lyons and Lyons, 2004: 31-33; Strings, 2019: 86-87, 94; Stahl, 2018; Nanda, 2019; see Carlan, 2020, Jennings, 2020, Sturgis, 2020, and Davis, 2021 for reviews). After Baartman’s death, her body was kept on display at the French Natural History Museum before being repatriated back to her home of South Africa in 2002. Indeed, Khoisan skeletal remains were seen as valuable due to their steatopygia (Botha and Steyn, 2016).

Strings states in an interview:

fat phobia is not based on health concerns. What I found in my research is that in the West, it’s actually rooted in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and Protestantism. In the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonists and race scientists suggested that black people were sensuous and thus prone to sexual and oral excesses. Protestantism encouraged temperance in all pleasures, including those of the palate. By the early 19th century, particularly in the U.S., fatness was deemed evidence of immorality and racial inferiority.

De Villiers (1961) states that the Bushman’s lumbar curve is flatter than other races, and that since they have lower levels of subcutaneous fat, their steatopygia is more pronounced. She notes a small correlation between “butterfly labia” and steatopygia, with an r of .3223. She also states that there is no evidence that the large labia in Khoi women are artificial (I take this to mean that they weren’t stretched), but we now know this is not the case. She ascertained the degree of steatopygia by measuring “the horizontal distance between the apex of the lumbar curvature and a vertical plane touching the most posteriorly projecting point of the buttocks” (de Villiers, 1961: 226) So she noted a 3 to 4.5 inch distance in adults before middle age.

Steatopygia is claimed to be adaptive in warmer climates, or as an adaptation to food stress (Tobias, 1961 and also see Tobias’ discussion with Boyd and Richerson, 1996; see Hudson et al, 2008 for work on steatopygia figurines from the Jomon period in Japan, and they argue that it was adaptive due to food shortages, just like Tobias). Tobias (1961) notes that steatopygia has been observed in Bushwomen throughout Africa, though it can’t be seen as an adaptation to water storage but it could have been an adaptation for fat and protein storage. It has even been claimed—on the basis of one picture of an Andamanese woman with steatopygia—that it was helped them carry their children and that the fat reserves allowed women to carry more body fat for times of famine. This is how ridiculous adaptationist claims are. Tobias (1971: 147) proposed that steatopygia was due to the effects of cultural and natural selection:

The stronger the cultural pressures, the more drastic would be the cultural selection of certain qualities deemed desirable.

But there is no evidence for this hypothesis (Montagu, 1966) (nevermind novel evidence). Froment (2001) states that steatopygia could be a genetic adaptation to food storage.

Even as early as 1919 it was stated that:

Evidence is not presented to show that peoples in which steatopygia is common (it appears to be nowhere universal) are any more able than others to withstand famine, or that among the Hottentots the women on the whole suffer less than the men during scarcity of food. On the other hand it is well known that races in which this character does not occur have accustomed themselves to unfavorable food conditions. (Miller, 1919: 201)

Montagu (1966) proposed his own adaptive explanation:

steatopygia is principally an adaptation to the unique habitat in which the Bushman has evolved, a habitat of great heat and aridity necessitating an adaptive reduction in general body fat in order to permit rapid heat loss, while maintaining a sufficient amount of fat for normal metabolic purposes, especially in an environment which may grow very cold at night. Hence, the reduction of general body fat and its relegation to an unobtrusive part of the body, where it serves as a depot for general utilization by the body.

The claim that steatopygia is adaptive could be seen as basically what is known as the “thrifty gene hypothesis”. The hypothesis states that fat storage was positively selected for in hunter-gatherer populations (Sugden et al, 2018)—this is also similar to the nutritional reserve hypothesis (Low, 1987). Even John Baker in his book Race (Baker, 1971:318) states that it is improbable that the large buttocks of these women is due to a kind of storage for famine, since they most likely did not evolve in the area.

An entailment of the hypothesis could be that men found steatopygous women attractive, and since the fat stores conferred a survival advantage, and since men liked it, then it continued to be passed on. The observations of the hump of a camel and excess fat in the ass of a desert sheep is said to be analogous to steatopygia in Khoisan women (Findlay, 1959). But Tobias (1961: 34) explicitly rejects this notion, stating that it’s an adaptation due to a hunter-gatherer economy, and that the fat stores are for fats and protein, also claiming that sexual and cultural selection worked with natural selection to enhance these features. Krut and Singer (1963: 181) also state that “there is no preference on the part of the males for steatopygous women.”

Basically the hypothesis is that fat storage is a vertebrate adaptation in response to times of famine and low food storage and so, since it was an adaptive trait and seen as beautiful, it continued to be preserved in certain lineages. It is even estimated that H. erectus had 66% higher daily energy needs than austrolopithecene with it being almost 100% higher in lactating erectus compared to austrolopithecene. Then the higher demand for energy could have led to higher fat storages, which could then explain the incidence of steatopygia in Khoisan women (Kuipers et al, 2012).

In Race Differences in Intelligence, Lynn (2006: 50) also repeats the famine hypothesis, while also stating:

The genitalia of the Bushmen are unique among the human races. Bushmen have penises that stick out horizontally, while Bushwomen have prominent minor labia that descend about 3 inches below the vagina. The adaptive advantages of these characteristics are unknown.

“Penises that stick out horizontally” may mean “semi-erect penises”, but I cannot find any reliable source of information for this claim. While there was an older comparison between bonobos, apes, and Bushmen comparing their “semi-erect penises” (Gordon, 1998: 41), this seems to me to be nothing more than a racist conjecture in an attempt to paint Africans as “closer to apes”, so of course Lynn repeated it. It was also claimed that as a Bushman become more admixed, they would then begin to have a “droopier penis”, and so one could ascertain a Bushman’s admixture on the basis of his “droopier penis” (Gordon, 1998: 38). Nevermind this panglossian claim from Lynn that the “adaptive advantages” for the traits are unknown, as if every trait needs to have an adaptive reason that it still exists today. The semi-erect penis claim, it seems, is merely an old, repeated claim with no evidentiary basis.

Sounds like just-so stories all the way down (Gould and Lewontin, 1979).

There is also the “Hottentot apron” (also known as the tablier; de Villiers, 1961) which is an elongation of the labia. This was noted in medical textbooks, but describing Khoi women was removed in subsequent editions (Hayes and Temple-Smith, 2022). The black body has clearly been fetishized (Villani, 2022). In any case, the labia minora is stretched by some African people, and has been seen to be stretched up to 20cm, with this being known as type 4 genital mutilation (Puppo, 2010; also see Koster and Price, 2008). It has even been argued that “contemporary cosmetic labiaplasty is highly invested in a colonial sexual imaginary, by which the aesthetic valuation of the labia is linked to the construction and maintenance of racial hierarchies” (Nurka, 2018; James, 2021).

The racist hyper-sexualization of the black body began around the time of slavery (Loft, 2020), while it continues to this day on the basis of myths of racial differences in penis size (Hilliard, 2012; Lynn, 2013) Though it’s nothing but pseudoscience. In any case, the sexualization of black men and women has been noted for years by many authors.

So paranoid and yet fascinated were many white males with the notion of the stallion-like sexual performance of black males that at the turn of the twentieth century, it was not uncommon for those white southerners who lynched black males to mutilate their poor victims’ genitals and castrate them as well. David M. Friedman, in A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, documents not merely the Western obsession with the black man’s penis but also the macabre lengths to which such fear and envy can go. He identified ritual castration as the final act of the lynch mob, explaining: “To really kill a black man, you first had to kill his penis.”6 Friedman devoted an entire chapter in his book to the ways in which white fears of sexual competition with black males had translated into a strange but enduring fetishism about the black male organ. (Hilliard, 2012: 72)

The racist hyper-sexualization of black women and men has its roots in colonialism (Holmes, 2016), and black women are dehumanized and hyper-sexualized more than white women, being compared more to objects and animals (Anderson et al, 2018). Basically, black women are objectified more than white women are.


Claims that any trait T are adaptive are merely just-so stories. That is, they are merely ad hoc hypotheses and no novel evidence can be provided in support for the hypothesis that would raise the probability of the trait being an adaptation. It is not confirmation of a hypothesis that a trait merely exists, since the hypothesis attempts to explain why the trait exists in the first place. Gould and Lewontin (1979) warned about assuming that traits are adaptations, and even said that once one adaptive story has been shown to be false that they would then erect another story in an attempt to show that the trait is an adaptation without ever contemplating that the trait is not an adaptation.

So Lynn’s wondering of the adaptive reasons of Khoisan steatopygia, “horizontal penises”, and enlarged labia are merely nothing more than the thoughts of a panglossian. “The trait exists so it MUST have an adaptive function.” And while there are a few different adaptive hypotheses for steatopygia, there is no way to distinguish it from being an adaptation or a byproduct. That is, a byproduct hypothesis would be just as valid as an adaptation hypothesis, due to the linkage of traits. But we need independent evidence in order to be justified in believing that T is an adaptation. That is, we need a novel fact of the matter that was unknown before the formation of the hypothesis. And if there is no novel fact, then the hypothesis is a just-so story. It’s merely circular reasoning. In fact, Lynn’s and Rushton’s obsession with penis size is merely due to their obsession with proving—whether they deny it or not—racial superiority and inferiority.

PumpkinPerson, using his long-outdated belief that evolution is progressive using evolutionary trees, claims—using a Y-chromosome tree—that the Bushman are at the bottom of the tree and “are believed to have absolutely colossal sexual characteristics” which is “consistent with Rushton’s theory that less advanced populations are more r selected.” “Rushton’s theory” meaning the long-dead Differential-K theory also known as r/K selection theory. PP here is just repeating the claim that these traits are “primitive”, since they are “older” and the traits are presumably not seen in “younger” populations, and is like the claim cited above from Sabol where he states that steatopygia is an ancestral state of the human lineage. The claim is, of course, ridiculous.

The fact of the matter is, there is no good evidence (by “good evidence” I mean independent evidence) that steatopygia is an adaptation, along with the other supposed adaptationist claims from the last 100 or so years. One can think of a multitude of different stories that explain the evolution of one single trait, but that isn’t good enough, as can be seen. Independent, novek evidence, is needed to raise the probability of the state of affairs being true, and I’m at a loss of thinking of any kind of novek facts generated from any of the steatopygia-as-adaptation hypothesis. These hypotheses were formulated due to the sexualization of Africans, which has of course continued to today with the claims of Rushton, Lynn, Kanazawa, Hart, and Templer. However, their just-so stories—along with the ones about sexual characteristics having an adaptive function—hold no water.


On the So-Called “Laws of Behavioral Genetics”

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In the year 2000, psychologist Erik Turkheimer proposed three “laws of behavioral genetics” (LoBG hereafter):

● First Law. All human behavioral traits are heritable.
● Second Law. The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of genes.
● Third Law. A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioral traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families. (Turkheimer, 2000: 160)

In March of 2021, I asked Turkheimer how he defined “law.” He responded: “With tongue in cheek. In fact, it’s a null hypothesis: an expected result when nothing in particular is going on.

In 2015, Chabris et al (2015) proposed a 4th “law”, that a typical behavioral trait is associated with many variants which each explain a small amount of behavioral variability. They state that the “4th law” explains the failure of candidate gene studies and also the need for higher sample sizes in GWA studies. (It seems they are not aware that larger sample sizes increase the probability of spurious correlations—which is all GWA studies are; Claude and Longo, 2016; Richardson, 2017; Richardson and Jones, 2019) Nice ad hoc hypothesis to save their thinking.

One huge proponent of the LoBG is JayMan, who has been on a crusade for years pushing this nonsense. He added a “5th law” proposed by Emil Kirkegaard, which states that “All phenotypic relationships are to some degree genetically mediated or confounded.”

But what is a “law” and are these “laws of behavioral genetics” laws in the actual sense? First I will describe what a “law” is and if there even are biological laws. Then I will address each “law” in turn. I will then conclude that the LoBG aren’t real “laws”, they are derived from faulty thinking about the relationship between genes, traits, environment and the system and how the “laws” were derived rest on false assumptions.

What is a law? Are there biological laws?

Laws are “true generalizations that are “purely quantitative” … They have counterfactual force” (Sober, 1993: 458). Philosopher of mind Donald Davidson argued that laws are strict and exceptionless (Davidson, 1970; David-Hillel, 2003). That is, there must be no exceptions for that law. Sober (1993) discusses Rosenberg’s and Beatty’s arguments against laws of biology—where Rosenberg states that the only law in biology is “natural selection.” (See Fodor, 2008 and Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, 2009, 2010 for the argument against that claim and for arguments against the existence of laws of selection that can distinguish between causes and correlates of causes.) It has even been remarked that there are “so few” laws in biology (Dhar and Giuliani, 2010; also see Ruse, 1970).

Biology isn’t reducible to chemistry or physics (Marshal, 2021), since there are certain things about biology that neither chemistry or physics have. If there are laws of biology, then they will be found at the level of the organism or its ecology (Rull, 2022). In fact, it seems that although three laws of biology have been proposed (Trevors and Sailer Jr., 2008), they appear to be mere regularities, including McShea and Brandon’s (2010) first law of biology; all “laws of biology” seem to be mere laws of physics (Wayne, 2020). The “special sciences”, it seems, “are not fit for laws” (Kim, 2010). There seem to be, though, no uncontroversial laws or regularities in biology (Hamilton, 2007).

Now that I have described what laws are and have argued that there probably aren’t any biological laws, what does that mean for the LoBG? I will take each “law” in turn.

“Laws” of behavioral genetics

(1) All human behavioral traits are heritable.

JayMan gives derivations for the “laws”, and (1) and (2) have their bases in twin studies. We know that the equal environments assumption is false (Charney, 2012; Joseph, 2014; Joseph et al, 2015), and so if the EEA is false then we must reject genetic claims from twin study proponents. Nevertheless, the claim that these “laws” have any meaning gets pushed around a lot.

When it comes to the first law, the claim is that “ALL human behavioral traits are heritable”—note the emphasis on “ALL.” So this means that if we find only ONE behavioral trait that isn’t heritable, then the first law is false.

Reimann, Schilke, and cook (2017) used a sample of MZ and DZ twins and asked questions related to trust and distrust. They, of course, claim that “MZ and DZ twins share comparable environments in their upbringing“—which is false since MZ twins have more comparable environments. Nevertheless, they conclude that while trust has a heritability or 30%, “ACE analyses revealed that the estimated heritability [for] distrust is 0%.” This,therefore, means, that the “1st law” is false.

This “first law”, the basis of which is twin, family, and adoption studies, is why we have poured countless dollars into this research, and of course people have their careers (in what is clear pseudoscience) to worry about, so they won’t stop these clearly futile attempts in their search for “genes for” behavior.

(2) The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than genes.

This claim is clearly nonsense, and one reason why is that the first “law” is false. In any case, there is one huge effect on, children’s outcomes due to birth order and how, then, parental attitudes–particularly mothers—affect child outcomes (Lehmann, Nuevo-Chiquero, and Vidal-Fernandez, 2018).

Why would birth order have an effect? Quite simply, the first-born child will get more care and attention than children who are born after, and so variations in parental behavior due to birth order can explain differences in education and life outcomes. They conclude that “broad shifts in parental behavior appear to set later-born children on a lower path for cognitive development and academic achievement, with lasting impact on adult outcomes.” Thus, Murray’s (2002) claim that birth order doesn’t matter and JayMan’s claim that “that the family/rearing environment has no effect on eventual outcomes” is clearly false. Thus, along with this and the falsity of the “1st law”, the “2nd law” is false, too.

(3) A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioral traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.

This “law” covers the rest of the variance not covered in the first two “laws.” It was coined due to the fact that the first two “laws” had variance left that wasn’t “explained” by them. So this is basically unique experience. This is what behavioral genetics call “non-shared environment.” Of course, unique experiences (that is, subjective experiences) would definitely “shape who we are”, and part of our unique experiences are cultural. We know that cultural differences can have an impact on psychological traits (Prinz, 2014: 67). So the overall culture would explain why these differences aren’t “accounted for” in the first two “laws.”

Yet, we didn’t need the LoBG for us to know that individual differences are difference-makers for differences in behavior and psychology. So this means that what we choose to do can affect our propensities and then, of course, our behavior. Non-shared environmental effects are specific to the individual, and can include differing life events. That is, they are random. Non-shared environment, then, is parts of the environment that aren’t shared. Going back to Lehmann, Nuevo-Chiquero, and Vidal-Fernandez (2018) above, although children to grow up in the same family under the same household, they are different ages and so they also experience different life events. They also experience the same things differently, due to the subjectivity of experience.

In any case, the dichotomy between shared and non-shared environment is a dichotomy that upholds the behavioral geneticists main tool—the heritability estimate—from which these “laws” derive (from studies of twins, adoptees, and families). So, due to how the law was formulated (since there were still portions “unaccounted for” by the first two “laws”), it doesn’t really matter and since it rests on the first two false “laws”, therefore the third “law” is also false.

(4) Human behavioral traits are associated with many genes of small effect which contribute to a small amount of behavioral variability.

This “law” was formulated by Chabris et al (2015) due to the failure of molecular genetic studies which hoped to find genes with large effects to explain behavior. This “law” also “explains why the results of “candidate-gene” studies, which focus on a handful of genetic variants, usually fail to replicate in independent samples.” What this means to me is simple—it’s an ad-hoc account, meaning it was formulated to save the gene-searching by behavioral geneticists since the candidate gene era was a clear failure, as Jay Joseph noted in his discussion of the” 4th law.”

So here is the time line:

(1) Twin studies show above-0 heritabilities for behavioral traits.

(2) Since twin studies show high heritabilities for behavioral traits, then there must be genes that will be found upon analyzing the genome using more sophisticated methods.

(3) Once we started to peer into the genome after the completion of the human genome project, we then came to find candidate genes associated with behavior. Candidate gene studieslook at the genetic variation associated with disease within a limited number of pre-specified genes“, they refer to genes “believed to be” associated with a trait in question. Kwon and Goat (2000) wrote that “The candidate gene approach is useful for quickly determining the association of a genetic variant with a disorder and for identifying genes of modest effect.” But Sullivan (2020) noted that “Historical candidate gene studies didn’t work, and can’t work.” Charney (2022) noted that the candidate gene era was a “failure” and is now a “cautionary tale.”

Quite clearly, they were wrong then, and the failure of the candidate gene era led to the ad-hoc “4th law.” This has then followed us to the GWAS and PGS era, where it is claimed that we aren’t finding all of the heritability that twin studies say we should find with GWAS, since the traits under review are due to many genes of small effect. It’s literally just a shell game—when one claim is shown to be false, just make a reason why what you thought would be found wasn’t found, and then you can continue to search for genes “for” behavior. But genetic interactions create a “phantom heritability” (Zuk et al, 2011), while behavioral geneticists assume that the interactions are additive. They simply outright ignore interactions, although they pay it lip service.

So why, then, should we believe behavioral geneticists today in 2023 that we need larger and larger samples to find these mythical genes “for” behavior using GWAS? We shouldn’t. They will abandon GWAS and PGS in a few years when the new kid on the block shows up that they can they champion and claim that the mythical genes “for” behavior will finally be found.

(5) All phenotypic relationships are to some degree genetically mediated or confounded.

This claim is something that comes up a lot—the claim of genetic confounding (and mediation). A confound is a third variable that influences both the dependent and independent variable. The concept of genetic confounding was introduced during the era where it was debated whether or not smoking caused lung cancer (Pingault et al, 2021). (Do note that Ronald Fisher (1957), who was a part of this debate, claimed that smoking and lung cancer were both “influenced by a common cause, in this case individual genotype.

However, in order for the genetic confounding claim to work, they need to articulate a mechanism that explains the so-called genetic confounding. They need to articulate a genetic mechanism which causally explains X and Y, explains X independent of Y and explains Y independent of X. So for the cop-out genetic confounding claim to hold any water: G confounds X and Y iff there is a genetic mechanism which causally explains X and Y, causally explains X independent of Y and Y independent of X.


The “laws of behavioral genetics” uphold the false dichotomy of genes and environment, nature and nurture. Though, developmental systems theorists have rightly argued that it is a false dichotomy (Homans, 1979; Moore, 2002; Oyama, 2002; Moczek, 2012) and that it is just not biologically plausible (Lewkowicz, 2012). In fact, the h2 statistics assumes that G and E are independent, non-interacting factors, so if the claim is false then—for one of many reasons—we shouldn’t accept their conclusions. The fact that G and E interact means that, of course, we should reject h2 estimates, and along with it, the entire field of behavioral genetics.

Since the EEA is false, h2 equals c2. Furthermore, h2 equals 0. So Polderman’s (2015) meta analysis doesn’t show that for all traits in the analysis that h2 equals 49%. (See Jay Joseph’s critique.) Turkheimer (2000: 160) claimed that the nature-nurture debate is over, since everything is heritable. However, the debate is over because developmental systems approach has upended the false dichotomy of nature vs nurture, since all developmental resources interact and are therefore irreducible to development.

However, for the field to continue to exist, they need to promulgate the false dichotomy, since their heritability estimates depend on it. They also need to hold onto the claim that twin, family and adoption studies can show the “genetic influence” on traits to justify the continued search for genes “for” behavior. Zuk and Spencer (2020) called the nature-nurture “debate” “a zombie idea, one that, no matter how many times we think we have disposed of it, springs back to life.” This is just like Oyama (2000) who compared arguing against gene determinism like battling the undead (Griffiths, 2006).

Jay Joseph proposed a 5th “law” in 2015 where he stated:

Behavior genetic Laws 1-4 should be ignored because they are based on many false assumptionsconceptsand models, on negative gene finding attempts, and on decades of unsubstantiated gene discovery claims.

The “laws” should quite obviously be ignored. Since the whole field of behavioral genetics is based on them, why not abandon the search for “genes for behavior”? At the end of the day, it seems like there are no “laws” of behavioral genetics, since laws are strict and exceptionless. So why do they keep up with their claims that their “laws” tell us anything about human behavior? Clearly, it’s due to the ideology of those who hold that the all-important gene causes traits and behavior, so they will do whatever it takes to “find” them. But in 2023, we know that this claim is straight up false.

The Answer to Hereditarianism is Developmental Systems Theory

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It is claimed that genes (DNA sequences) have a special, privileged role in the development of all traits. But once we understand what genes do and their role in development, then we will understand that the role ascribed to genes by gene-selectionists and hereditarians outright fails. Indeed, the whole “nature vs nurture” debate implies that genes determine traits and that it’s possible to partition the relative contributions to traits in a genetic and environmental way. This, however, is far from reality (like heritability estimates).

DST isn’t a traditional scientific theory—it is more a theoretical perspective on developmental biology, heredity, and evolution, though it does make some general predictions (Griffiths and Hochman, 2015). But aspects of it have been used to generate novel predictions in accordance with the extended evolutionary synthesis (Laland et al, 2015).

Wilson (2018: 65) notes six themes of DST:

Joint determination by multiple causes

Development is a process of multiple interacting sources.

Context sensitivity and contingency

Development depends on the current state of the organism.

Extended inheritance

An organism inherits resources from the environment in addition to genes.

Development as a process of construction

The organism helps shape its own environment, such as the way a beaver builds a dam to raise the water level to build a lodge.

Distributed control

Idea that no single source of influence has central control over an organism’s development.

Evolution as construction

The evolution of an entire developmental system, including whole ecosystems of which organisms are parts, not just the changes of a particular being or population.

Genes (DNA sequences) as resources and outcomes

Hereditarians have a reductionist view of genes and what they do. Genes, to the hereditarian, are causes of not only development but of traits and evolution, too. However the hereditarian is sorely mistaken—there is no a priori justification for treating genes as privileged causes over and above other developmental resources (Noble, 2012). I take Noble’s argument there to mean that strong causal parity is true—where causal parity means that all developmental resources are on par with each other, with no other resource having primacy over another. They all need to “dance in tune” with the “music of life” to produce the phenotype, to borrow Noble’s (2006, 2017) analogy. Hereditarian dogma also has its basis in the neo-Darwinian Modern Synthesis. The modern synthesis has gotten causality in biology wrong. Genes are, simply put, passive, not active, causes:

Genes, as DNA sequences, do not of course form selves in any ordinary sense. The DNA molecule on its own does absolutely nothing since it reacts biochemically only to triggering signals. It cannot even initiate its own transcription or replication. … It would therefore be more correct to say that genes are not active causes; they are, rather, caused to give their information by and to the system that activates them. The only kind of causation that can be attributed to them is passive, much in the way a computer program reads and uses databases. (Noble, 2011)

These ideas, of course, are also against the claim that genes are blueprints or recipes, as Plomin (2018) claims in his most recent book (Joseph, 2022). This implies that they are context-independent; we have known for years that genes are massively context-sensitive. The line of argument that hereditarians push is that genes are context-insensitive, that is they’re context-independent. But since DNA is but one of the developmental resources the physiological system uses to create the phenotype, this claim fails. Genes are not causes on their own.

Behavioral geneticist and evolutionary psychologist J. P. Rushton (1997: 64) claims that a study shows that “genes are like blueprints or recipes providing a template for propelling development forward to some targeted endpoint.” That is, Rushton is saying that there is context-independent “information” in genes, and that genes, in essence, guide development toward a targeted endpoint. Noah Carl (2019) claims that the hereditarian hypothesis “states that these differences [in cognitive ability] are partly or substantially explained by genetics.” When he says the differences are “partly or substantially explained by genetics”, he’s talking about “cognitive ability” being caused by genes. The claim that genes cause (either partly or substantially) cognitive ability—and all traits, for that matter—fails and it fails since genes don’t do what hereditarians think they do. (Nevermind the conceptual reasons.) These claims are laughable, due to what Noble, Oyama, Moore and Jablonka and Lamb have argued. It is outright false that genes are like blueprints or recipes. Rushton’s is reductionist in a sociobiology-type way, while Plomin’s is reductionist in a behavioral genetic type way.

In The Dependent Gene, David Moore (2002: 81) talks about the context-dependency of genes:

Such contextual dependence renders untenable the simplistic belief that there are coherent, long-lived entities called “genes” that dictate instructions to cellular machinery that merely constructs the body accordingly. The common belief that genes contain context-independent “information”—and so are analogous to “blueprints” or “recipes”—is simply false.

Genes are always expressed in context and cannot be divorced from said context, like hereditarians attempt using heritability analyses. Phenotypes aren’t “in the genes”, they aren’t innate. They develop through the lifespan (Blumberg, 2018).

Causal parity and hereditarianism

Hereditarianism can be said to be a form of genetic reductionism (and mind-brain identity). The main idea of reductionism is to reduce the whole to the sum of its parts and then analyze those parts. Humans (the whole) are made up of genes (the parts), so to understand human behavior, and humans as a whole, we must then understand genes, so the story goes.

Cofnas (2020) makes several claims regarding the hereditarian hypothesis and genes:

But if we find that many of the same SNPs predict intelligence in different racial groups, a risky prediction made by the hereditarian hypothesis will have passed a crucial test.

But if work on the genetics and neuroscience of intelligence becomes sufficiently advanced, it may soon become possible to give a convincing causal account of how specific SNPs affect brain structures that underlie intelligence (Haier, 2017). If we can give a biological account of how genes with different distributions lead to race differences, this would essentially constitute proof of hereditarianism. As of now, there is nothing that would indicate that it is particularly unlikely that race differences will turn out to have a substantial genetic component. If this possibility cannot be ruled out scientifically, we must face the ethical question of whether we ought to pursue the truth, whatever it may be.

Haier is a reductionist of not only the gene variety but the neuro varietyhe attempts to reduce “intelligence” to genes and neurology (brain physiology). I have though strongly criticized the use of fMRI neuroimaging studies regarding IQ; cognitive localizations in the brain are untenable (Uttal, 2001, 2011) and this is because mind-brain identity is false.

Cofnas asks “How can we disentangle the effects of genes and environment?” and states the the behavioral geneticist has two ways—correlations between twins and adoptees and GWAS. Unfortunately for Cofnas, twin and adoption studies show no such thing (see Ho, 2013), most importantly because the EEA is false (Joseph, 2022a, b). GWAS studies are also fatally confounded (Janssens and Joyner, 2019) and PGS doesn’t show what behavioral geneticists need it to show (Richardson, 2017, 2022). The concept of “heritability” is also a bunk notion (Moore and Shenk, 2016). (Also see below for further discussion on heritability.) At the end of the day, we can’t do what the hereditarian needs to be done for their explanations to hold any water. And this is even before we look at the causal parity between genes and other developmental resources. Quite obviously, the hereditarian hypothesis is a gene-centered view, and it is of course a reductionist view. And since it is a reductionist, gene-centered view, it is then false.

Genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors operate as a system to form the phenotype. Since this is true, therefore, both genetic and epigenetic determinism is false (also see Wagoner and Uller, 2015). It’s false because the genes one is born with, or develops with, don’t dictate or determine anything, especially not academic achievement as hereditarian gene-hunters would so gleefully claim. And one’s early experience need not dictate an expected outcome, since development is a continuous process. Although, that does not mean that environmental maladies that one experiences during childhood won’t have lasting effects into adulthood due to possibly affecting their psychology, anatomy or physiology.

The genome is responsive, that is, it is inert before it is activated by the physiological system. When we put DNA in a petri dish, it does nothing. It does nothing because DNA cannot be said to be a separate replicator from the cell (Noble, 2018). So genes don’t do anything independent of the context they’re in; they do what they do DUE TO the context they’re in. This is like Gottlieb’s (2007) probabilistic epigenesis, where the development of an organism is due to the coaction of irreducible bidirectional biological and environmental influences. David S. Moore, in The Developing Genome: An Introduction to Behavioral Epigenetics states this succinctly:

Genes—that is, DNA segments—are always influenced by their contexts, so there is never a perfect relationship between the presence of a gene and the ultimate appearance of a phenotype. Genes do not determine who we become, because nongenetic factors play critical roles in trait development; genes do what they do at least in part because of their contexts.

What he means by “critical roles in trait development” is clear if one understands Developmental Systems Theory (DST). DST was formulated by Susan Oyama (1985) in her landmark book “The Ontogeny of Information. In the book, she argues that nature and nurture are not antagonistic to each other, they are cooperative in shaping the development of organisms. Genes do not play a unique informational role in development. Thus, nature vs. nurture is a false dichotomy—it’s nature interacting with nurture, or GxE. This interactionism between nature and nurture—genes and environment—is a direct refutation of hereditarianism. What matters is context, and the context is never independent from what is going on during development. Genes aren’t the units of selection, the developmental system is, as Oyama explains in Evolution’s Eye:

If one must have a “unit” of evolution, it would be the interactive developmental system: life cycles of organisms in their niches. Evolution would then be change in the constitution and distribution of these systems (Oyama, 2000b)

Genes are important, of course, for the construction of the organism—but so are other resources. Without genes, there would be nothing for the cell to read to initiate transcription. However, without the cellular environment, we wouldn’t have DNA. Lewontin puts this wonderfully in the introduction to the 2000 edition of Ontogeny:

There are no “gene actions” outside environments, and no “environmental actions” can occur in the absence of genes. The very status of environment as a contributing cause to the nature of an organism depends on the existence of a developing organism. Without organisms there may be a physical world, but there are no environments. In like manner no organisms exist in the abstract without environments, although there may be naked DNA molecules lying in the dust. Organisms are the nexus of external circumstances and DNA molecules that make these physical circumstances into causes of development in the first place. They become causes only at their nexus, and they cannot exist as causes except in their simultaneous action. That is the essence of Oyama’s claim that information comes into existence only in the process of Ontogeny. (2000, 15-16)

Genes aren’t causes on their own, they are resources for development. And being resources for development, they have no privileged level of causation over other developmental resources, such as “methylation patterns, membrane templates, cytoplasmic gradients, centrioles, nests, parental care, habitats, and cultures” (Griffiths and Stotz, 2018). All of these things, and more of course, need to work in concert with each other.

Indeed, this is the causal parity argument—the claim that genes aren’t special developmental resources, that they are “on par” with other developmental resources (Griffiths and Gray, 1994; Griffiths and Stotz, 2018). Gene knockout studies show that the loss of a gene can be compensated by other genes—which is known as “genetic compensation.” None of the developmental resources play a more determinative role than other resources (Noble, 2012; Gamma and Liebrenz, 2019). This causal parity, then, has implications for thinking about trait ontogeny.

The causal parity of genes and other developmental factors also implies that genes cannot constitute sufficient causal routes to traits, let alone provide complete explanations of traits. Full-blown explanations will integrate various kinds of causes across different levels of organizational hierarchy, and across the divide between the internal and the external. The impossibly broad categories of nature vs. nurture that captured the imagination of our intellectual ancestors a century ago are no longer fit for the science of today. (Gamma and Liebrenz, 2019)

Oyama (2000a 40) articulates the casual parity thesis like this:

What I am arguing for here is a view of causality that gives formative weight to all operative influences, since none is alone sufficient for the phenomenon or for any of its properties, and since variation in any or many of them may or may not bring about variation in the result, depending on the configuration of the whole.

While Griffiths and Hochman (2015) formulate it like this:

The ‘parity thesis’ is the claim that if some role is alleged to be unique to nucleic acids and to justify relegating nongenetic factors to a secondary role in explaining development, it will turn out on closer examination that this role is not unique to nucleic acids, but can be played by other factors.

Genes are necessary pre-conditions for trait development, just as the other developmental resources are necessary pre-conditions for trait development. No humans without genes—this means that genes are necessary pre-conditions. If genes then humans—this implies that genes are sufficient for human life, but they are but one part of what makes humans human, when all of the interactants are present, then the phenotype can be constructed. So all of the developmental resources interacting are sufficient.

The nature vs. nurture dichotomy can be construed in such a way that they are competing explanations. However, we now know that the dichotomy is a false one and that the third way—interactionism—is how we should understand development. Despite hereditarian protestations, DST/interactionism refutes their claims. The “information” in the genes, then, cannot explain how organisms are made, since information is constructed dialectically between the resources and the system. There are a multiplicity of causal factors that are involved in this process, and genes can’t be privileged in this process. Thus the phrase “genetic causation” isn’t a coherent concept. Moreover, DNA sequences aren’t even coherent outside of cellular context (Noble, 2008).

Griffiths and Stotz (2018) put the parity argument like this:

In The Ontogeny of Information Oyama pioneered the parity argument, or the ‘parity thesis’, concerning genetic and environmental causes in development (see also Griffiths and Gray 1994; Griffiths and Gray 2005; Griffiths and Knight 1998; Stotz 2006; Stotz and Allen 2012). Oyama relentlessly tracked down failures of parity of reasoning in earlier theorists. The same feature is accorded great significance when a gene exhibits it, only to be ignored when a non-genetic factor exhibits it. When a feature thought to explain the unique importance of genetic causes in development is found to be more widely distributed across developmental causes, it is discarded and another feature is substituted. Griffiths and Gray (1994) argued in this spirit against the idea that genes are the sole or even the main source of information in development. Other ideas associated with ‘parity’ are that the study of development does not turn on a single distinction between two classes of developmental resources, and that the distinctions useful for understanding development do not all map neatly onto the distinction between genetic and non-genetic.

Shea (2011) tries to argue that genes do have a special role, and that is to transport information. Genes are, of course, inherited, but so is every other part of the system (resources). Claiming that there is information “in the genes” is tantamount to saying that there is a special role for DNA in development. But, as I hope will be clear, this claim fails due to the nature of DNA and its role in development.

This line of argument leads to one clear conclusion—genes are followers, they are not leaders; most evolution begins with environmentally-mediated phenotypic change, and then genetic changes occur (West-Eberhard, 2003). Ho and Saunders (1979) state that variation in organisms is constructed during development due to an interaction between genetic and non-genetic factors. That is, they follow what is needed to do by the developmental system, they aren’t leading development, they are but one party in the whole symphony of development. Development can be said to be irreducible, so we cannot reduce development to genes or anything else, as all interactants need to be present for development to be carried out. Since genes are activated by other factors, it is incoherent to talk of “genetic causes.” Genes affect the phenotype only when they are expressed, and other resources, too, affect the phenotype this is, ultimately, an argument genes against as blueprints, codes, recipes, or any other kind of flowery language one can used to impute what amounts to intention to inert DNA.

Even though epigenetics invalidates all genetic reductionism (Lerner and Overton, 2017), genetic reductionist ideas still persist. They give three reasons why genetic reductionist ideas still persist despite the conceptual, methodological, and empirical refutations. (1) Use of terms like “mechanism”, “trait”, and “interaction”; (2) constantly shifting to other genes once their purported “genes for” traits didn’t workout;  and (3) they “buried opponents under repetitive results” (Panofsky, quoted in Lerner and Overton, 2017). The fact of the matter is, there are so many lines of evidence and argument that refute hereditarian claims that it is clear the only reason why one would still be a hereditarian in this day and age is that they’re ignorant—that is racist.

Genes, that is, are servants, not masters, of the development of form and individual differences. Genes do serve as templates for proteins: but not under their own direction. And, as entirely passive strings of chemicals, it is logically impossible for them to initiate and steer development in any sense. (Richardson, 2016)

DST and hereditarian behavioral genetics

I would say that DST challenges three claims from hereditarian behavioral genetics (HBG hereafter):

(1) The claim that we can neatly apportion genes and environment into different causes for the ontogeny of traits;

(2) Genes are the only thing that are inherited and that genes are the unit of selection and a unique—that is, special and privileged cause over and above other resources;

(3) That genes vs environment, blank skate vs human nature, are a valid dichotomy.

(1) HBG needs to rely on the attempting to portion out causes of traits into gene and environmental causes. The heritability statistic presumes additivity, thy is, it assumes no interaction. This is patently false. Charney (2016) gives the example of schizophrenia—it is claimed that 50 percent of the heritability of schizophrenia is accounted for by 8000 genes, which means that each SNP accounts for 1/8000 of the half of the heritability. This claim is clearly false, as genetics aren’t additive, and the additivity assumption precludes the interaction of genes with genes, and environment, which create new interactive environments. Biological systems are not additive, they’re interactive. Heritability estimates, therefore, are attempts at dichotomizing what is not dichitomizable (Rose, 2005).

An approach that partitions variance into independent main effects will never resolve the debate because, by definition, it has no choice but to perpetuate it. (Goldhaber, 2012)

This approach, of course, is the approach that attempts to partition variance into G and E components. The assumption is that G and E are additive. But as DST theorists have argued for almost 40 years, they are not additive, they are interactive and so not additive, therefore heritability estimates fail on conceptual grounds (as well as many others). Heritability estimates have been—and continue to today—been at the heart of the continuance of the nature vs nurture distinction, the battle, if you will. But if we accept Oyama’s causal parity argument—and due to the reality of how genes work in the system, I see no reason why we shouldn’t—then we should reject hereditarianism. Hereditarians have no choice but to continue the false dichotomy of nature vs nurture. Their “field” depends on it. But despite the fact that the main tool for the behavioral geneticist lies on false pretenses (twin and adoption studies), they still try to show that heritability estimates are valid in explaining trait variation (Segalowitz, 1999; Taylor, 2006, 2010).

(2) More than genes are inherited. Jablonka and Lamb (2005) argue that there are four dimensions—interactants—to evolution: genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, and symbolic. They show the context-dependency of the genome, meaning that genotype does not determine phenotype. What does determine the phenotype, as can be seen from the discussion here, is the interacting of developmental resources in development. Clearly, there are many other inheritance systems other than genes. There is also the fact that the gene as popularly conceived does not exist—so it should be the end of the gene as we know it.

(3) Lastly, DST throws out the false dichotomy of genes and environment, nature and nurture. DST—in all of its forms—rejects the outright false dichotomy of nature vs nurture. They are not in a battle with each other, attempting to decide who is to be the determining factor in trait ontogeny. They interact, and this interaction is irreducible. So we can’t reduce development to genes or environment (Moore, 2016) Development isn’t predetermined, it’s probabilistic. The stability of phenotypic form isn’t found in the genes (Moore and Lickliter, 2023)


Genes are outcomes, not causes, of evolution and they are not causes of trait ontogeny on their own. The reality is that strong causal parity is true, so genes cannot be regarded as a special developmental resource from other resources—that is, genes are not privileged resources. Since they are not privileged resources, we need to, then, dispense with any and all concepts of development that champion genes as being the leader of the developmental process. The system is, not genes, with genes being but one of many of the interactants that shape phenotypic development.

By relying on the false narrative that genes are causes and that they cause not only our traits but our psychological traits and what we deem “good” and “bad”, we would then be trading social justice for hereditarianism (genetic reductionism).

These recommended uses of bad science reinforce fears of institutionalized racism in America and further the societal marginalization of minority groups; these implications of their recommendations are never publicly considered by those who promulgate these flawed extensions of counterfactual genetic reductionism. (Lerner, 2021)

Such [disastrous societal] applications can only rob people of life chances and destroy social justice. Because developmental science has the knowledge base to change the life course trajectories of people who are often the targets of genetic reductionist ideas, all that remains to eradicate genetic reductionism from scientific discussion is to have sufficient numbers of developmental scientists willing to proclaim loudly and convincingly that the naked truth is that the “emperor” (of genetic reductionism) has no clothes. (Lerner, 2021: 338)

Clearly, hereditarians need the nature vs nurture debate to continue so they can push their misunderstandings about genes ans psychology. However, given our richer understanding of genes and how they work, we now know that hereditarianism is untenable, and DST conceptions of the gene and development as a whole have led us to that conclusion. Lerner (2017) stated that as soon as the failure of one version of genetic reductionism is observed, another one pious up—making it like a game of whack-a-mole.

The cure to hereditarian genetic reductionism is a relational developmental systems (RDS) model. This model has its origins with Uri Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner and Ceci, 1994; Ceci, 1996; Patel, 2011; Rosa and Tudge, 2013. Development is about the interacting and relation between the individual and environment, and this is where RDS theory comes in. Biology, physiology, culture, and history are studied to explain human development (Lerner, 2021). Hereditarian ideas cannot give us anything like what models derived from developmental systems ideas can. An organism-environment view can lead to a more fruitful, and the organism and environment are inseparable (Jarvilehto, 1998; Griffiths and Gray, 2002). And it is for these reasons, including many, many more, that hereditarian genetic reductionist ideas should become mere sand in the wind.

Having said all that, here’s the argument:

P1: If hereditarianism is true, then strong causal parity is false.

P2: Strong causal parity is true.

C: Therefore hereditarianism must be false.

Mind, Science, and the First- and Third-Person

1250 words

Science is concerned with studying physical processes and phenomena. So anything that isn’t physical (like the mind/consciousness) can’t studied by science. I have made many sound arguments for this conclusion. However, we can go deeper. Here is the argument:

(1) Mind is first-personal and subjective.

(2) But science is third-personal and objective.

So (3) it follows that science (a third-personal objective endeavor) can’t study mind (first-personal subjective states).

I will defend these both premises and the conclusion in this article.

Defending the premises

Premise (1) The existence of a first-person perspective (FPP) is necessary and sufficient for consciousness. It is this first-person perspective that we are experiencing, as I write this article and as you read it. A first-person view is subjective experience. Each human has their own special access to their own minds that is “private.” By “private”, I mean it is only accessible to them, the agent, and not accessible to anyone else. If it’s not accessible to anyone else, and another observer would be a third-person observer, then it isn’t accessible by the methods of science. Further, the pronoun “I” denotes an FPP. When we refer to ourselves, we say “I.” “I did that.” “I will do that.” “I have done that.” All of these considerations point to one thing: Consciousness is a subjective state in which agents experience sensations and feelings, and the world around them.

The FPP is the first person perspective of “I”—and by that I mean the experience that we all have every day of our lives. It’s how we ourselves experience the world around us. By “subjective” I mean simply that which belongs to the thinking subject. Subjective states can be said to be intentional states. Intentional states are normative and so irreducible to the physical. So subjective knowledge is—private—knowledge of one’s first-personal states, their beliefs, goals, and desires.

Premise (2) When I say “Science is third-personal”, I mean that there is an observer—on the outside, deliberating on things, viewing things. They are using their first-personal subjective experience to do science, which is in the third person. The mind, apparently, is just the electro-chemistry of the brain—basically the mind is what the brain does. However, mind isn’t identical to brain. Yes, scientists can study the brain since it is made up of physical parts, and neurophysiologists can study the states of the brain. Of course we use our first-personal subjective states to scientifically study what is third-personal. But this need not license the conclusion that since we can study the brain using neuroscience then we can study the mind using neuroscience since M and P are not identical. M is subjective, while P is objective. Lavazza and Robinson (2014) explain this perfectly:

Another set of arguments that present an apparently unanswerable objection to a materialist view is grounded in the fact that every item in an entirely material world would admit of third-person description. Every item would be accessible to the third-person viewpoint and would be amenable to description based on what is revealed to that viewpoint. The problem for the materialist view is that any such description will fail to capture what is accessible only to a first-person viewpoint and thus necessarily will omit the very centre of a person’s world; more specifically, it will omit the self, understood as the subject of conscious states as well as much of the intentional content of those states. As David Lund maintains, third-person information about oneself (knowledge of oneself by description) seems indeed to be neither necessary nor sufficient for consciousness of oneself. It is not sufficient, for (in first-person terms) I would be unable to see that the third-person information is information about me unless I were already aware of myself in a first-person way. But in the materialist view, it would have to be sufficient.

Conclusion I have successfully defended both premises, and so the conclusion that science (third-personal) cannot study mind (first-personal) follows. Of course there is the field of neuroscience where we study the brain’s physiology. Neuroscience contains 2 assumptions—(1) that the mind is physical; and (2) that the brain (or some aspect of the CNS) is sufficient for the mind, that is, we are our brains. The goal, then, is to attempt to discover the sufficient conditions of consciousness; basically the brain produces the mind and there are parts of the mind which are reducible to or identical to parts of the brain. The physical enables conscious experience—that is, it is a dependency condition. But dependency conditions are not sufficient conditions. The ultimate claim, then, is that phenomenal experience is identical to, reducible to, or sufficient from neural activity. Neuroscience neither has the skills nor methods to study the mind—being a science and third-personal, it can only study the physical and so it studies the brain, and the CNS, not the mind. There are organs that have specific processes that we can study, like the stomach and digestion, or the lung and breathing, or the heart and blood circulation. So then it would follow that we study the brain for mind, as neuroscientists assume. But the claim clearly fails (Manzotti and Moderato, 2014).

Francis Crick—one of the discoverers of DNA along with James Watson and Rosalind Franklin— in his book The Astonishing Hypothesis said that humans are

“Just a bunch of neurons…You, your joys, and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”

Of course neurons and everything else that makes up the brain is necessary for the mind but necessariness isn’t sufficientness and it definitely isn’t identity, so Crick’s claim is false.

Richard Dawkins in 1976 argued that humans are mere gene-machines, that is, humans exist merely to propagate selfish genes. But selfishness is a property of organisms (so that’s a mereological fallacy), his idea isn’t even testable by Dawkins’ own admission and DNA can’t be regarded as separate from the cell (Noble, 2011, 2018).

The attempt from Crick to reduce human mental life to mere neurons and by Dawkins to reduce human social life to being for “selfish genes” clearly fail. The most important part, I think, is that they are reductive perspectives, and reductionism is false, so their claims are false. These two claims are attempts at using science to explain the mind and (what appear to be, for Dawkins) intentionality (from his selfish genes), and they obviously fail.


A similar argument is made by Lynne Rudder Baker, where she gives an argument she calls “the master argument”: (1) All phenomena can be explained by science. (2) All science is constructed exclusively from a third-personal view. So (3) All phenomena can be explained with a third-personal view. (Also see Baker, 2007.)

Obviously it’s valid, but is it sound? No, it isn’t, since the first premise is obviously false—mind cannot be explained by a third-personal perspective.

Scientific naturalism is clearly false, since it cannot explain all phenomena like the mind since the mind isn’t physically/ontologically reducible. So, again, as many other arguments have established and entailed, we are not fully physical and, due to this, science can’t explain all aspects of humans. Two substances exist, one first-personal, subjective and private, and the other objective and public. So we should accept that there is an irreducible aspect of human constitution that science simply cannot study, as hard as they try. Thus, the limits of science are clear—Science CANNOT explain everything.

Why Purely Physical Things Will Never Be Able to Think: The Irreducibility of Intentionality to Physical States

2600 words

What do “normativity” and “intentionality” mean?

What “normativity” means has implications for many things in philosophy and science. Normativity has been distinguished between “semantic normativity” and “conceptual normativity” (Skorupski, 2007). On the semantic version, “any normative predicate is definitionally reducible to a reason predicate” and on the conceptual version “the sole normative ingredient in any normative concept is the concept of a reason” (Skorupski, 2007). Skorupski rejects the semantic version and holds to the conceptual version. The conceptual version does hold value, so I will be operating on this definition in this article. “Intentionality” is the power of mental states to be “about” things. My mental state right now is to write this article on the normativity of psychological traits, so I have a desire to perform this action, making it normative.

Regarding the mind-body problem, the meaning of normativity entails that what is normative is not reducible to (physical) dispositions. Human psychology is intentional. What is intentional is normative. Intentions are done “on purpose”, that is, they’re done “for a reason.” If something is done for a reason, then there is a goal that the agent desired by performing their action. When someone performs an action, we ask “Why?”, and the answer is they performed the action for a reason. “Why did I go to work?”, because I wanted to make money. “Why did I write down my thoughts?”, because I wanted a written record of what I was thinking at a certain moment in time. So how the normativity of intentionality comes into play here is this—if agents perform actions for reasons, and reasons are due to beliefs, goals, and desires to bring about some end by an agent, then what explains why an agent performed an action is their reason TO perform the action.

When one “does something for a reason”, they intend to “do something”, that is they perform an action “on purpose”, meaning they have a desired outcome that the action they carried out will hopefully, for the agent, manifest in reality. The best example I can think of is murder. Murder is the intentional killing of an individual. For whatever reason, the agent that committed the act of murder has a reason they want the person they killed dead. Contrast this with manslaughter, which is “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.” There are two kinds of manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter which would happen in the heat of the moment, think a passion killing. The other kind being the unintentional killing of a human being. This distinction between murder and manslaughter is, basically, down to what an agent INTENDS TO DO. Thus, one is a murderer if they set out one night to kill an individual, that is if they plan it out (have a goal to murder); and one commits manslaughter if they did not intend to kill the other individual, let’s say two people have a fight and one punches the other and the hit person hits their head on the curb and dies.

Now that I have successfully stated what normativity means, and have distinguished between intentional and unintentional action (murder and manslaughter), I must discuss the distinction between intentions and dispositions.

The normativity of psychological states

The problem of action is how to distinguish what an agent does for reasons, goals, or desires, and what merely happens to them (Paul, 2021). I have argued before that reasons, goals, beliefs, and desires (what an agent does) make the distinction between antecedent conditions which then cause an agent’s movement but were not consciously done (what happens to them).

We know what intentions are, but what are dispositions? Behavior is dispositional, so Katz’s considerations have value here:

a disposition [is] a pattern of behavior exhibited frequently … in the absence of coercion … constituting a habit of mind under some conscious and voluntary control … intentional and oriented to broad goals” (1993b, 16).

There is a wealth of philosophical literature which argues that intentions are irreducible to dispositions (e.g. Kripke, 1980; Bilgrami, 2005, 2006; also see Weber, 2008). Intentional states are, then, irreducible to physical or functional explanations. It then follows that intentional states can’t be explained/studied by science. If intentional states can’t be explained/studied by science, then intentional states are special, indeed they are unique to agents (minded beings).

In the conclusion to Self-Knowledge and Resentment, Akeel Bilgrami describes his pincer argument using a Fregean extension of Moore’s non-naturalism:

Via a discussion of an imaginary subject wholly lacking agency, it was shown how deeply the very notion of thought or intentionality turns on possessing the point of view of agency, of subjectivity, the point of view of the first, rather than third, person. And it was there shown via an argument owing to a Fregean extension of Moore’s anti-naturalism that such a picture of intentionality required ceasing to see intentional subjects in wholly dispositional terns and, indeed, requires seeing intentional states such as beliefs and desires as themselves normative states or commitments. When so viewed, intentional states are very different from how they appear to a range of philosophers who think of them along normative lines, such as [Donald] Davidson. When so viewed, they are not only irreducible to and non-identical with the physical and causal states of the subjects; they cannot even be clearly assessed to be dependent on such states in the specific ways that philosophers like to capture with such terms as ‘supervenience’. (There are of course all sorts of other dependencies that intentional states have on the states of the central nervous system, which do not amount to anything like the relations that go by the name of ‘supervenience’.) This is because when they are so viewed, they are essentially first-person phenomena, phenomena whose claims to supervenient dependence on third person states such as physical or causal properties are either stateable or deniable. (Therefore, not assesable.) (Bilgrami, 2006: 291-292)

Intentionality is a sufficient and necessary condition for mentality according to Brentano. And intentionality along with normativity are 2 out of 5 of the “marks of the mental” (Pernu, 2017). It can even be said to be the aboutedness of the mind to a thing other than itself. If I talk about something or state that I have a desire to do something, this is the aboutness of intentional states. So mental states that are directed at things are said to be intentional states. Intentionality requires goals, beliefs, and desires, so this designates the intentional stance as one of action, which is distinguished from behavior. Since the mental is normative (Zangwill, 2005), then, since we have the problem of normativity for physicalism, this is yet another reason to reject dualism and to accept some kind of dualism.

Goal-directedness is another mark of intentionality. When one acts intentionally, they act in order to bring about a goal they have in mind about something. Take the example of murder I gave above. Knowing that murder is the intentional killing of a human being, the murderer has the goal in mind to end the life of the other person. They act in accordance with their desired to bring about the goal they have in mind.

Since psychological states are intentional states, and intentional states are normative (Wedgewood, 2007; Kazemi, 2022), then psychological states are normative. Since mental states that have content are normative then we cannot reductively explain mind. Thus, Yoo’s (2004) discussion of the normativity of intentionality holds value:

Thus, the reason why thought and behavior cannot be explained in terms of non-intentional, physical, vocabulary comes down to a certain “normative element” constitutive of our interpretation and attributions of the propositional attitudes. Clearly this normative element plays a pivotal role. But in spite of its significance, it is highly obscure and insufficiently understood. Indeed, there have been no serious attempts to systematically examine what, exactly, the normative element amounts to.

As Davidson points out, the normative element ultimately has its roots in the object of the interpreter’s inquiry, which is another mind. Unlike black holes and quarks, which do not conform to norms, let alone the norms of rationality, a mind, by its very nature, has to conform to the norms of rationality. Otherwise, we are not dealing with a mind, should no or too few norms of rationality apply. Black holes and quarks certainly conform to laws – nomological principles – that support statements like “Light ought to bend in a black hole,” but such uses of “ought” have no normative implications (see Brandom 1994, ch. 1). The mental states that make up a mind, on the other hand, are such that they bear normative relations among each other, since their very contents are individuated by the norms of rationality (which is clearly stated in the third account). And the observer of a person’s mind must discern in the other’s bodily movements and vocal utterances a rational pattern that is itself a pattern to which the observer (attributor, appraiser) must subscribe. Hence, insofar as the norms of rationality are reflexive – they constrain both the mental states of the interpreted mind as well as the process of interpretation engaged by the interpreter herself – this aspect of the normative fully satisfies the third constraint.

Many arguments exist which conclude that the mental cannot be explained in terms of words that refer only to physical properties, and this is one of them. And since the mental is normative, this is yet another reason why there cannot—and indeed why their never will be—reductive explanations of the mental to the physical.

The irreducibility of intentionality

If physicalism is true, then intentionality would reduce, or be identical to, something physical. Then we should have an explanation of intentionality in physical terms. However, I would say this is not possible. (See Heikinheimo’s Rule-Following and the Irreducibility of Intentional States.) It’s not possible because physical systems can’t intend, that is they can’t act intentionally.

The argument is a simple one: Only beings with minds can intend. This is because mind allows a being to think. Since the mind isn’t physical, then it would follow that a physical system can’t intend to do something—since it wouldn’t have the capacity to think. Take an alarm system. The alarm system does not intend to sound alarms when the system is tripped. It’s merely doing what it was designed to do, it’s not intending to carry out the outcome. The alarm system is a physical thing made up of physical parts. So we can then liken this to, say, A.I.. A.I. is made up of physical parts. So A.I. (a computer, a machine) can’t think. However, individual physical parts are mindless and no collection of mindless things counts as a mind. Thus, a mind isn’t a collection of physical parts. Physical systems are ALWAYS a complicated system of parts but the mind isn’t. So it seems to follow that nothing physical can ever have a mind.

Physical parts of the natural world lack intentionality. That is, they aren’t “about” anything. It is impossible for an arrangement of physical particles to be “about” anything—meaning no arrangement of intentionality-less parts will ever count as having a mind. So a mind can’t be an arrangement of physical particles, since individual particles are mindless. Since mind is necessary for intentionality, it follows that whatever doesn’t have a mind cannot intend to do anything, like nonhuman animals. It is human psychology that is normative, and since the normative ingredient for any normative concept is the concept of reason, and only beings with minds can have reasons to act, then human psychology would thusly be irreducible to anything physical. Indeed, physicalism is incompatible with intentionality (Johns, 2020). The problem of intentionality is therefore yet another kill-shot for physicalism. It is therefore impossible for intentional states (i.e. cognition) to be reduced to, or explained by, physicalist theories/physical things.

This is similar to Lynn Baker’s (1981) argument in Why Computers Can’t Act (note how in her conclusion she talks about language—the same would therefore hold for nonhuman animals):

P1: In order to be an agent, an entity must be able to formulate intentions.
P2: In order to formulate intentions, an entity must have an irreducible first-person perspective.
P3: Machines lack an irreducible first-person perspective.
C: Therefore, machines are not agents.

So machines cannot engage in intentional behavior of any kind. For example, they cannot tell lies, since lying involves the intent to deceive; they cannot try to avoid mistakes, since trying to avoid mistakes entails intending to conform to some normative rule. They cannot be malevolent, since having no intentions at all, they can hardly have wicked intentions. And, most significantly, computers cannot use language to make assertions, ask questions, or make promises, etc., since speech acts are but a species of intentional action. Thus, we may conclude that a computer can never have a will of its own.

So PP’s “depression” about ChatGPT “scoring” 11 points on his little (non-construct valid) test is irrelevant. It’s a machine and, as successfully argued, machines will NEVER have the capacity to think/act/intend.

What does this mean for a scientific explanation of human psychology?

The arguments made here point to one conclusion—since intentions don’t reduce to the physical and functional states of humans (like neurophysiology; Rose, 2005), then it is impossible for science to explain intentions, since what is normative isn’t reducible to, or identical with, physical properties. This is another arrow in the quiver of the anti-physicalist/dualist to show that there is something more than the physical—there is an irreducible SELF or MIND and we humans are the only minded beings. Science can’t explain the human mind and, along with it, the intentions that arrive from a deliberating mind. This is also an argument against Benjamin Libet’s experiments in which he concludes that the subjects’ brain activity preceded their actions, that is, it is the brain that initiates action. This view, however, is false, since the (minded) agent is what initiates action. Libet is therefore guilty of the mereological fallacy. Freely-willed processes are therefore not initiated by the brain (Radder and Meynen, 2012).

Elon Musk and Sam Harris have warned of a “robot rebellion” like what occurred in The Terminator. Though, since what I’ve argued here is true—that purely physical things lack minds, that is they can’t intend or think—then such worries should rightly stay in the realm of sci-fi. The implication is clear—since purely physical things cannot intend, and humans can intend, then there is an irreducible SELF or MIND which allows us to intend. The claim, then, that the human brain is a computer is clearly false. It then follows that humans aren’t purely physical; there is a mental and physical aspect to humans—that is, there are two substances that make us up, the mental and the physical, and it is clear that M (the mental) is irreducible to P (the physical). Sentient machines are, luckily, a myth. It’s just not possible for scientists to imbue a machine with a mind since machines are purely physical and minds aren’t. John Searle’ s Chinese Room Argument, too, is an argument against strong A.I.. Machines will never become conscious since consciousness isn’t physical.

This is yet another argument against the scientific study of the mind/self and, of course, against psychology and hereditarianism. This is then added to the articles that argue against the overall hereditarian program in psychology, and psychology more broadly: Conceptual Arguments Against Hereditarianism; Reductionism, Natural Selection, and Hereditarianism; and Why a Science of the Mind is Impossible. For if the main aspect of IQ test-taking is thinking, thinking is cognition, cognition is intentional and therefore psychological, it follows that since there can be no explanations of intentional states in terms of physical vocabulary, and if cognition—being a psychological trait—is normative, then the conclusion is, again, that hereditarianism and psychology fail their main goal. It is impossible.

Will Aid to Africa Increase the African Population?

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It has been commonly stated in hereditarian circles that by increasing aid to Africa, then we would be merely helping their demographic explosion. In 2020, the average adolescent fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) rate was 98 births per 1000 girls. Birthrates in most African countries are very high, and to some, the claim is that if we give aid to these countries then they will continue to have more children as they have the means to do so. Though high birthrates in SSA are “concentrated among vulnerable groups where progress is often poorest” (Neal et al, 2020). This worry however, has no basis in reality. In this article, I will provide a few studies looking at the relationship between economic aid and decreasing birthrates. This, then, refutes the (racist) worries of people like Steve Sailer who warn that by increasing aid to Africa we are then helping their population explosion. However, what is borne out by data in countries where this has occurred, if there are sufficient family planning methods, the birthrate will decrease—not increase—with monetary aid to poor African countries.

What is hunger?

Hunger is a feeling of discomfort or weakness; having a desire or craving for food or having pain that is caused by lack of food. There is malnutrition (a condition caused by a diet that has insufficient nutrients for normal functioning), undernourishment (where the food one does eat does not give enough kcal for normal functioning), and starvation (a state of the body caused by long-term lack of food or nutrients). Hunger is a self-reported notion, and so, we would then need to indirectly measure physical variables that are associated with being well-fed or not. Like measuring one’s blood for the lack of certain nutrients, measuring the foods they do eat and ascertaining the macro-nutrient content of what they eat, measuring their height and weight and comparing it to a representative sample, checking to see if there are micro-nutrient deficiencies (Conway, 2012).

But what causes hunger? Inequality/inequities and poverty cause hunger. Indeed, we have enough food to feed 10 billion people—the world produces enough food to feed 1.5 times the world population, but people making $2 a day cannot afford the food (Holt-Giminez et al, 2012) while 828 million people per day go hungry. About 14 million children suffer from acute malnutrition, 45 percent of child deaths around the world are due to hunger and it’s causes, and 700 children die per day due to dirty water, unhygienic water sources, and hunger. So we DO have the food to feed these people, what they DON’T have is the money to feed themselves and their families due to the pittance wages they receive. The year 2022 has been called “a year of unprecedented hunger” by the World Food Programme.

In The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the world 2021 published in mid-2021 it was reported by the UN that an:

estimated that between 720 and 811 million people went hungry in 2020. High costs and low affordability also mean billions cannot eat healthily or nutritiously. Considering the middle of the projected range (768 million), 118 million more people were facing hunger in 2020 than in 2019 – or as many as 161 million, considering the upper bound of the range.

In 1974, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) began reporting on the number of people that faced hunger issues. They define hunger as:

an uncomfortable or painful physical sensation caused by insufficient consumption of dietary energy. It becomes chronic when the person does not consume a sufficient amount of calories (dietary energy) on a regular basis to lead a normal, active and healthy life. For decades, FAO has used the Prevalence of Undernourishment indicator to estimate the extent of hunger in the world, thus “hunger” may also be referred to as undernourishment.

Hunger is related to food insecurity, where food insecurity is when one is unable to procure items for nourishment due either to availability or lack of monies to procure foodstuffs that would lead to normal development. The FAO also has a measure of food insecurity prevalence of undernourishment (PoU) along with the prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity in a population based on the food insecurity experience scale (FIES) which estimates how prevalent food insecurity is in a population down to the household or individual level which is ascertained through interviews with the populace.

Now that I have defined hunger, how we indirectly measure hunger (with its physical correlates) and the troubling future we have with hunger across the world, we can now turn to the claim that aid to poor countries will increase their birthrates. This claim has been made a lot by many different groups, and it certainly is a logical claim to make, but what does the data say in countries where such an intervention did occur? Did their population increase even after aid was given to them? Or did their population decrease as they got aid? The answer to this question will be the answer to the question in Africa as we continue to reach the fabled year of 2050 when their population is expected to reach 5 times its present size by the year 2050 in one 1988 estimate (Yanagishita, 1988) to 4 projections based on different assumptions (Haub, 1997), to certain African countries increasing even past 2100 (Ezeh, Kissling, and Singer, 2020). Africa is quickly urbanizing (Veary et al, 2019), and since urbanization decreases fertility rates (Yi and Vaupel, 1989; White et al, 2008; Martine, Alves, and Cavenaghi, 2013; Lerch, 2019), I would hedge my bet that the population growth in Africa—if ample aid is provided since aid to developing countries decreases, not increases, a country’s population—will be far lower than predicted, nevermind the fact that the assumption would be that the population would increase linearly.

Food security and population growth

In his 2010 book One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?, Gordon Conway (2010) writes about the claim that aid to Africa will increase the African population. He cites a study stating that giving developing populations more food is a self-defeating policy since it will cause their population to increase. He writes:

Nevertheless, the fertility rate decline has not been universal. In many Sub-Saharan countries fertility rate declines have stalled at rates over 5.0 after gradually decreasing for several years.25 The reasons are complex, but a common feature appears to be the decreased funding for family planning programs. According to data from thirty-one countries, on average 30 percent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa have an unmet need for modern family planning methods, a proportion that has not declined in the last decade.26 In nineteen of these countries, it is as high as nearly 50 percent. If fertility were to remain constant at current levels, the population of less-developed regions would increase to 9.8 billion in 2050 instead of the projected 7.9 billion.27

A popular misconception is that providing the developing countries with more food will serve to increase populations; in other words, it is a self-defeating policy.28 The more food women have, the more children they will have and the greater will be their children’s survival, leading to population growth, so goes the argument. However, the experience of the demographic transition described above suggests the opposite. As people become more prosperous, which includes being better fed and having lower child mortality, the fewer children women want. Providing they then have access to family planning methods, the fertility rates will drop and the population will cease to grow.29

Let’s take a look at these references in turn:

25 – Ezeh, A., Mberu, B., and Emina, J. 2009. Stall in fertility decline in Eastern African countries: regional analysis of patterns, determinants and implications. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 364:2991–3007.

In Kenya and Tanzania, fertility has declined for the most educated women and in certain other regions. In Uganda, while fertility levels remain at the pre-transition state, there is a decrease in fertility for specific demographics of women—the most educated and urbanized, along with those in the raster region of the country. In Zimbabwe, though fertility rates continue to fall, it isn’t falling for women with less than a secondary education and in certain regions. This is yet more data that speaks to the claim that as locals urbanize and get more educated, the fertility levels begin to decrease.

26 – Prata, N. 2009. Making family planning accessible in resource-poor settings. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 364:3093–3099.

Since 30 percent of women in SSA have an unmet need for family planning, by educating them on the need for family planning along with readily accessible contraceptives, ensuring that contraceptives become a permanent part of family planning, and taking action to remove barriers that hinder family planning, we can then help those 30 percent of women plan for families and therefore birth rates will decrease. It is therefore imperative that we roll out programs that would teach people how to plan for families and that would mean educating them on contraceptive use and, as I will explain below, give aid to them, since when people become more prosperous, the birth rate will decrease since they have more children since their death rates are so high.

28 – Hopfenberg, R. and Pimental, D. 2001. Human population numbers as a function of food supply. Environment, Development and Sustainability. 3:1–15.

The authors claim in this paper that experimental and correlational data state that as food production increases, so too will the population that is receiving that food, as they will then be unfettered by the ravenous issues that affect their death rates. They would then be able to have as many children as they want, so the story goes. However, as I will go into below, this is not what we have seen when aid and family planning have been to countries that so sorely needed it.

29 – Foster, A., and Rosenzwieg, M. 2006. Does economic growth reduce fertility? Rural India 1971–1999. Delhi: NCAER India Policy Forum. (pg 179-205)

Foster and Rosenzwieg showed that although female literacy rose to 81 percent in India from 1981-1999, they found no evidence that the increase in female literacy had an effect on decreasing the birthrate in India. The Green Revolution in India led to increased growth and the ability to diversify their occupations. This, in turn, made child-rearing more expensive which then led to a subsequent decrease in the birthrate. Their results do show that the decrease in fertility was driven by an increase in wages for Indian women. They, furthermore, found evidence that health centers (like hospitals) were associated with a decrease in fertility. Foster and Rosenzwieg, thus, “have clearly demonstrated that economic incentives have mattered greatly for the decline in rural fertility in India” (Desai, 2006).

29 – Gertler, P., and Molyneaux, J. 1994. How economic development and family planning programs combine to reduce Indonesian fertility. Demography 31:33–63.

Gertler and Molyneux show that the dramatic decrease in fertility in Indonesia between 1982 to 1987 was due to the increased use in contraceptives along with the increased demand of contraceptives. They found that improvements in women’s education along with an increase in wages for both men and women were responsible for 45 to 60 percent of the decline, and this was driven by contraceptive use. Further, 75 percent of the decline was due to contraceptive use, while 87 percent of the use in contraceptives was due to increased wages and education. They therefore showed that increasing education and wages were responsible for 65 percent of the fertility decline.

29 – Poston, D. Jr, and Gu, B. 1987. Socioeconomic development, family planning and fertility in China. Demography 24:531–551.

Poston and Gu showed that structural development had strong negative effects on fertility, and that family planning has a negative effect on fertility. Basically, SES factors led to a decrease in the birthrate in China. In urban Chinese areas, family planning is higher than in rural areas where fertility is higher, which then licenses the conclusion that family planning decreases birthrates (Poston, 2008). Limieng, Shatalova, and Kalabikhina (2022) show that the higher the per capita GDP, the lower the fertility rate is.


The studies reviewed here show that as people become more well-off, given that they have access to family planning methods, their population will then begin to decrease. There is though, as is the case with China, a fine line to walk through where the population will get too old and not enough younger people will be around, as is the case in Asia already (Goh, 2005). SSA lies at one end of the spectrum—increased fertility due to lack of family planning, low education, low contraceptive use, and low income—while Asian countries like China represent the other side of the spectrum—decreased fertility, higher contraceptive use, and a higher GDP which then leads to a decrease in fertility. Very clearly, there is a middle-ground where a population can be well-off and sustain a population when they have the resources to do so.

In an article for The Conversation, Akinyemi, Dungumaro, and Salaam write:

Why are birthrates so high in five African countries?

The major factors driving population growth in these countries include low contraceptive use, high adolescent fertility rates and a prevalence of polygamous marriages. There’s also the low education status of women, low to poor investment in children’s education, and factors related to religion and ideas.

The use of modern contraceptives is generally low across sub-Saharan Africa. The overall prevalence is 22%. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, however, the uptake of short-acting contraceptives is at 8.1%. In Nigeria, it is at 10.5%. The uptake in Ethiopia is 25%, in Tanzania it’s 27.1% and in Egypt 43%.

For long-acting family planning methods, apart from Egypt with over 20% uptake, the other four countries driving population growth in the region recorded very poor uptake. This low uptake will logically lead to a population explosion.

Some of the factors associated with high contraceptive use in Africa are women’s education, exposure to news and mass media, good economic status and urban residency.

Investing in women’s health, furthermore, leads to “strong intergenerational spillover effects” which then encourages economic development, which would then further decrease the birthrate (Bloom, Kuhn, and Pretnner, 2018). This is borne out in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Botswana where women had higher levels of education and subsequent decreases in child mortality (Ramirez, Tania and Stewart, 1997). There is also evidence that declining fertility explained a bit less than one-third of the decrease in poverty in rural India in the years 1987 and 1988 and 1993 and 1994 (Dupta and Dubey, 2003). Reducing infant and child mortality also decreases fertility and increases schooling (Kalemli-Ozcan, 2000).

When locales are food secure, then they will have a lower child mortality rate, ceteris paribus and malnutrition is a large driver of this relationship (Bain et al, 2019). Household food insecurity along with dietary diversity is associated with “stunting” (low height for one’s expected age) in SSA (Gassara et al, 2021). So the claim that aid—whether it’s monetary or foodstuffs—will increase the population exponentially is obviously false.

So for people like Steve Sailer who look at current demographic trends using the UN’s data, calling it “the world’s most important graph“, the literature shows that, as Africa urbanizes, becomes more educated, has access to family planning and contraceptives, that their population will decrease. So, by giving aid and education, the population in Africa won’t increase, it will actually DECREASE. We have the means to feed the world on the basis of the food we already produce, it is we just need to educate propel, provide aid to them in all shapes and forms, and then people will have fewer children when they are food secure and have access to contraceptives along with education about them.

Thus, the answer to the question “Will aid to Africa increase the African population?” is a big “No.”

Nonhuman Animals are not Agents: Language Sets Humans Apart from the Rest of the Animal Kingdom

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To be an agent is to be a being with the capacity to act. To be able to act one must be able to intend. To be able to intend one must have a mind. But nonhuman animals lack minds. So nonhuman animals don’t act, they merely behave. This does not mean that nonhuman animals should not be treated with any value, indeed since we are moral beings and act morally, we should treat non-minded organisms as best we can. In my view, the capacity to act is what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. That is, humans are the only animals with minds and the capacity to act and reason, and this is because humans are the only animals with language. So this is what makes humans special and unique—it is what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. This is the conclusion that I will mount this in this article.

Language and propositional attitudes

Perhaps the most well-known philosopher to deny agency to animals is philosopher of mind Donald Davidson (1975, 1982). In his paper Rational Animals, Davidson (1982) basically argued that no organism can think or have a reason to do X if they have no concept of belief, so nonhuman animals are incapable of thought or reason, therefore nonhuman animals lack minds and they do not act. Davidson’s argument is a modern-day Descartes “animals are automata” argument.

Davidson argues that in order to have a belief, the organism needs to have a concept of belief and that in order to have a concept of belief then the organism must have language—they must be able to state their intentions, beliefs, and desires. Davidson (1982: 322-323) puts this well:

The version of the thesis which I want to promote needs to be distinguished from various related versions. I don’t, for example, believe that thinking can be reduced to linguistic activity. I find no plausibility in the idea that thoughts can be nomologically identified with, or correlated with, phenomena characterized in physical or neurological terms. Nor do I see any reason to maintain that what we can’t say we can’t think. My thesis is not, then, that each thought depends for its existence on the existence of a sentence that expresses that thought. My thesis is rather that a creature cannot have a thought unless it has language. In order to be a thinking, rational creature, the creature must be able to express many thoughts, and above all, be able to interpret the speech and thoughts of others.

If a thing is said to have propositional attitudes, if a thing lacks language, how can it be said to have propositional attitudes, where a propositional attitude is an intentional state “about” something? Language is important here because the contents of intentional states are propositions. So if an organism can’t talk, then it can’t have propositional attitudes, that is it can’t have intentional states.

I think Davidson’s argument in Rational Animals successfully shows that animals lack minds and therefore do not act. I have reformed it:

If X is to have a belief, then X has to have the concept of belief. If X has the concept of belief, then X has language. If X doesn’t understand or speak a language, then X cannot have beliefs. Belief is necessary for thought/reasoning. So nonhuman animals don’t think/reason. So nonhuman animals lack mind.

The argument can also be put into premise and conclusion form like this:

(1) To be able to think, an organism must have a full range of propositional attitudes (PAs). (2) Having a full range of PAs rests on having language. (3) Nonhuman animals lack language. (4) So nonhuman animals lack PAs. (5) So, nonhuman animals don’t think. (6) So nonhuman animals lack mind.

The argument as formulated is valid and, I think, it’s obviously sound. Since animals lack language and this is an empirical fact, then they cannot have PAs so they therefore do not think. Nonhuman animals do not utter words, since they lack language.

Action and behavior

What nonhuman animals DO is behave (Stroecker, 2009)—where behavior is due to antecedent conditions. I have made the distinction between “action” and “behavior” quite simple. Goals and reasons distinguish action from behavior. Action is goal-oriented and done for reasons, whereas behavior is a reaction due antecedent conditions—the organism behaves due to causal stimuli. This can be said to be a form of Descartes’ view of animals as automata—that they are material beings without minds. Humans, he held, are both material and immaterial—the mind being immaterial and the body being material. Descartes showed that nonhuman animal behavior is akin to the automatic behaviors in humans—where “behavior” is a result of antecedent conditions and not goal-directed. This argument by analogy from Descartes shows that nonhuman animal behavior is reflexive, and so they cannot think and they can be rightly said to be automata (Thomas, 2020).

Brenick and Webster (2000: 147) wonderfully articulate the distinction between action and behavior, and once this distinction is made clear, it is quite obvious that the claim “animals don’t act, they merely behave” is true.

Teleology, the reader is reminded, involves goals or lures that provide the reasons for a person acting in a certain way. It is goals or reasons that establish action from simple behavior. On the other hand the concept of efficient causation is involved in the concept of behavior. Behavior is the result of antecedent conditions. The individual behaves in response to causal stimuli or antecedent conditions. Hence, behavior is a reaction to what already is—the result of a push from the past to do something in the present. In contrast, an action aims at the future. It is motivated by a vision of what can be.

The best example is being hit with a mallet in the knee by a doctor which tests the L2, L3 and L4 segments of the spinal cord. Try as they might, if the doctor hits them in the right spot—assuming they have no issues with their L2, L3, and L4 segments of their spinal cord—the knee will jerk up which indicates no issues with those spinal cord segments. The knee jerking is due to an antecedent condition. Now think of that same movement being done as an exercise, the knee extention on an exercise machine. There is conscious thought to be the knee in accordance with the exercise to work the targeted muscles. This, therefore, is an action, since there this is goal-driven and performed for a reason—to work out the specified muscles of the exercise. This of course occurred for a reason, but it was an intention by the doctor, not the individual who was getting his patellar reflex tested.

(1) If nonhuman animals had the capacity to act, then they could make decisions based on their own preferences, goals, and beliefs.

(2) Nonhuman animals cannot make decisions on their own preferences, goals and beliefs (they don’t have a concept of BELIEF).

(3) Therefore nonhuman animals can’t act.

I can also make the claim and give an argument that animals aren’t moral agents and so they cannot be concerned with “right” or “wrong” since they lack language and thusly a mind.

For X to be moral, they need to be concerned with “right” or “wrong.” For X to have those concepts, they must have a language and therefore a mind. Nonhuman animals lack language. Nonhuman animals lack mind. Therefore nonhuman animals lack morals.

For animals to be said to have thought, they must be able to think about words using a language, but they cannot do so since they lack language and so they lack propositional attitudes. So animals lack the ability to intend to do things, they merely react to what occurs to them (they “behave”).

Human language is compositional and referential (Pagel, 2017). Humans (and Neanderthals) also share a derived TF (transcription factor) of FOXP2—FOXP2 has been claimed to be a “language gene”, though, as Mason et al (2018: 403) rightly state, “FOXP2 is likely needed in the neuromuscular pathway to make sounds.” But in 2018, a paper was published—No Evidence for Recent Selection of FOXP2 among Diverse Human Populations (Atkinson et al, 2018)—where the authors show that “natural selection” can’t be attributed to FOXP2 and therefore the development of human language, meaning it’s a just-so story. So there is no support for positive selection of the FOXP2 locus.

Apes like Koko and Nim Chimpsky, it is claimed, can use sign language and construct sentences using sign language when they want something. However, it is now known that 92% of Ally’s (Nim’s brother) and all of Koko’s signs were signed before they signed their “thoughts” (Terrace et al, 1979: 899). Thus, these apes don’t understand what they’re doing, they don’t have the desire for what they are claimed to be signing, they are just doing what their handlers tell them to do. And there is still no evidence that nonhuman animals possess a theory of mind (ToM) (Penn and Povinelli, 2007).

I would say that in order for nonhuman animals to have a ToM, they must have the concept of belief. But, as Davidson (1982) has shown, they can’t have a concept of belief since they lack language so they can’t have a ToM. There is, furthermore, no good evidence that human babes under the age of 3 and nonhuman animals cannot attribute beliefs or mental states (Burge, 2018). Though, of course, human babies grow and eventually do acquire this ability, they are not born rational, they need to acquire it through experience. They can do this because they have human brains which is a necessary pre-condition for mindedness. The same cannot be said for nonhuman animals, though.

My view that animals don’t act and they merely behave may be a fringe one, but one author holds this view, too. In Why Animals Can’t Act, Stroecker (2009) argues that animals don’t act, but they do behave. Agency, to Stroecker (2009: 267):

is a skill that is dependent on a highly sophisticated, social practice, the practice of public practical deliberation. Only because we are raised in this practice and moreover because we have internalized it can we be expected to do whatever it is that is arguably the best and in turn can our doings be explained on the basis of this particular skill.


The argument that has been mounted here shows that for an organism to be able to think, it must have propositional attitudes and therefore language. The claim that one must possess language in order to have beliefs and thusly propositional attitudes is the strongest claim against animal minds and rationality. This view I articulated is called “lingualism”—the claim that agency is confined to language utterers, thusly agency is confined to humans since to be an agent one must have a mind and humans are the only animals with minds.

The discussion here shows that since nonhuman animals lack language, they lack belief and they ability to have beliefs about beliefs. And since they lack language, they lack propositional attitudes. So nonhuman animals aren’t moral agents, they lack minds, and since they lack minds they cannot think and so they cannot be rational and cannot be said to be agents.

So what sets humans apart from the animal kingdom—that is, what makes humans special and distinct from the animal kingdom—is the capacity for language, and along with it thought, action, and agency, that is, the ability to act intentionally and not merely due to antecedent conditions. Language, action, and mind are what makes us unique and special—but this is not a theistic claim. So, at the end of the day, the ultimate claim is that our minds are what make us unique in the animal kingdom, since other animals lack mind.

The Racial Identity Thesis: Why Race is a Social Construct of a Biological Reality

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“Race” is a heavy topic. It influences many aspects of our daily lives, and in some cases, it even influences people to carry out heinous acts on groups of people deemed “inferior.” Such thoughts of “inferiority” of groups deemed (racialized as) races comes from horribly interpreting scientific studies, and in some cases, it is outright stated by the authors themselves, albeit using flowery language (eg Rushton, 2000). People that believe in the reality of race are called “race realists”, whether or not they hold a biological or social view of race.

On the socialrace side, social groups are racialized as races. “Social identities are contextual to historical and cultural elements.” “Racialization” is “the process through which groups come to be understood as major biological entities and human lineages, formed due to reproductive isolation, in which membership is transmitted through biological descent” (Hochman, 2019). Thinking about the root words for “racialization”, the two words are “racial formation.” Thus, when a group becomes racialized, it becomes a race based on societal expectations and thought.

“Hispanics” are an easy example to illustrate this case. In daily American discourse, people speak of “Hispanics”, “Spanish” people, and “Latinos/Latin Americans.” There are 33 Latin American countries to which this designation can be assigned to. In any case, what I term the “HLS distinction” (Hispanic, Latin American, Spanish distinction) is clearly a social designation and not a biological one. The group is an amalgamation of different peoples with differing amount ancestry to different countries of the world. “Hispanics” in some studies (eg Risch et al, 2002) don’t cluster in their own cluster (which would be taken to be a race, given that one has an argument for the claim), since they are an amalgam of different racial groups, it makes sense that they “clustered variously with the other groups.” Thus, “HLSs” are a social, not biological, kind.

Race concepts

Since “HBDers” call themselves “race realists” too, there needs to be a distinction between those who believe what I term “psychological race realism”—the claim that the psychological differences between the races are genetically transmitted and reduced to physical things—and regular old race realism—the claim that race exists as a social construct of a biological reality. Kaplan and Winther (2014) distinguish between bio-genomic/cluster race realism (the claim that race is real on the basis of genomic clusters from studies using programs like STRUCTURE); biological race realism affirms a kind of one-to-one mapping between social groups and clusters in DNA studies (though this not need be the case); and social race realism which is the racialization of social groups. They are anti-realists about biological race, but conventionalists about bio-genomic/cluster race. I think this is a good avenue to take, since the main program that psychological hereditarians push cannot ever be logically viable due to the irreducibility of the mental. (The “HBD” (Human Biological Diversity type racial realism is what I term psychological racial realism, while the type of racial realism I push is bio-genomic/cluster realism.)

In 2017, philosopher of race Michael Hardimon published his Rethinking Race: The Case for Deflationary Realism. In the book, Hardimon distinguishes between four race concepts: racialist races, in which it’s proponents attempt to rank-order racialized groups in socially-valued traits. Racialist races are socially constructed groups which then purport to pick out biological kinds. However, the concept of racialist race does not refer to any group in the world, genetic variation in Homo sapiens is nonconcordant, human variation is clinal, that is human groups aren’t sharply distinguished between one another on the basis of genomic data. Socialraces are groups taken to be racialist races, the social position taken by a group said to be a socialrace, or the system of positions that are social races (Hardimon, 2017: 131). So these two concepts need to be grouped together since they are hierarchical, though they need not be correlated with each other that strongly—one can be an anti-realist about biological races but be a realist about social races. This is why there is no contradiction in saying that biological race isn’t real but socialraces are. Socialraces also have a biological correlate, and these are what Hardimon terms “minimalist races”, which I will describe below.

Hardimon (2017: 69) has what he calls “an argument from the minimalist biological phenomenon of race” (Hardimon, 2017: 70):

Step 1. Recognize that there are differences in patterns of visible physical features of human beings that correspond to their differences in geographic ancestry.

Step 2. Observe that these patterns are exhibited by groups (that is, real existing groups).

Step 3. Note that the groups that exhibit these patterns of visible physical features correspond to differences in geographical ancestry satisfy the conditions of the minimalist concept of race.

Step 4. Infer that minimalist race exists.

Basically, if minimalist races exist then races exist because minimalist races are races. Contrast this argument (and Spencer’s newest argument arguing for the existence of OMB races) with hereditarian reasoning on race—basically just assume it’s existence.

The minimalist race concept does not state which populations are races, it just states that race exists. Hardimon’s populationist race concept (PRC) does, though. Although we don’t need genes to delineate race, using new technologies can and does help us to elucidate the existence of races. However, if minimalist races are populationist races, then the kind minimalist race equals populationist race. So if minimalist races are real, then so are populationist races.

Since 2014 in his paper A Radical Solution to the Race Problem, philosopher of race and science Quayshawn Spencer has been tinkering with an argument he now calls “the identity argument” (which I will provide below). The Office of Management and Budget has guidelines for the classification of people on the US census, being White, Black, Native American, Pacific Islander and Asian. The OMB never calls race a kind or a category, but they do refer to races as a set of categories or a proper name for population groups (Spencer, 2014). Spencer (2019a: 113) makes and defends 3 claims in regard to his OMB race theory:

(3.7) The set of races in OMB race talk is one meaning of ‘race’ in US race talk.

(3.8) The set of races in OMB race talk is the set of human continental populations.

(3.9) The set of human continental populations is biologically real.

In Spencer’s (2022) chapter in Remapping Race in a Global Context, A metaphysical mapping problem for race theorists and human population geneticists, Spencer has—in my opinion—articulated the best version of his OMB race argument.

Spencer’s identity argument

Of course, in the discussion of STRUCTURE and how many clusters it is told to construct from genomic data, the program is merely doing whag the human tells it to do. However, the five populations that come out in K= 5 “are genetically structured … which is to say, meaningfully demarcated solely on the basis of genetic markers” (Hardimon, 2017: 88). Hardimon (2017: 85) calls these clusters” continental-level minimalist races” whereas Spencer (2022: 278) calls these “the human continental populations” or “Blumenbachian partitions(Spencer, 2014: 1026).

K = 5 shows 5 human continental populations which are robust and have been replicated numerous times. The 5 human continental populations are Africans, Caucasians, East Asians, Native Americans, and Oceanians. K = 5 corresponds to the racial scheme used by the OMB, and by scientists and Americans in daily life. Human continental populations and OMB races correspond one-to-one in the following way: African, black; Caucasian, white; East Asian, Asian; Native American, American Indian; and Oceanian, Pacific Islander. So there is a metaphysical relation between the human continental populations in K = 5 and the OMB races. Spencer states that “identity” is what is exemplified between K = 5 and OMB races, and he then constructed this argument he calls “the identity thesis”:

(2.1) The identity thesis is true if, in OMB race talk, ‘American Indian,’ ‘Asian’, ‘Black’, ‘Pacific Islander,’ and ‘White’ are singular terms, and ‘American Indian’ means Native American, ‘Asian’ means East Asian, ‘Black’ means African, ‘Pacific Islander’ means Oceanian, and ‘White’ means Caucasian.

(2.2) In OMB race talk, the first conjunct in (2.1)’s antecedent is true.

(2.3) In OMB race talk, the second conjunct in (2.1)’s antecedent is true.

(2.4) So, the identity thesis is true.

(2.1) is true since the antecedent analytically entails the consequent; (2.2) is true based on the OMB’s intentions when they when coining the race terms, that is to provide a common language across US agencies; (2.3) is true since human continental populations are the best choices for the meanings of the OMB race terms—they posit referents which are part of the semantic content of the OMB race terms; it therefore follows that the conclusion (2.4) logically follows so the argument is deductively valid and I think it is sound.

Spencer (2019a) professes to be a radical pluralist about race—that is, there are many different race concepts for certain contexts based on American race talk. The referent “race” is merely a proper name for a set of human population groups. Race is therefore a social construct of a biological reality.


Race is meaningful in American social discourse—call it race talk. We should not be eliminativist about race, since there is medical relevance for certain groups deemed races. That is, we shouldn’t eliminate the concept RACE from our vocabulary, since it has a referent. RACE is a social construct of a biological reality. It must be said, though, that many people believe that since X is a social construct then X is therefore not real or doesn’t exist. But this line of thinking can be easily countered. Money is a social construct, so does that mean that money doesn’t exist so money isn’t real? No—the example perfectly shows the fallacious thinking of those who think that social constructivists are claiming that since X is socially constructed then X is not real. This couldn’t be further from the truth since social constructivists about race are realists about race. Pluralism about race is true—that is, there are many natures and realities for race based on the relevant context (Spencer, 2019: 27).

Lastly, these theories of race I have shown here do not license the claims that realists about racialist races or biological racial realists (as termed by Kaplan and Winther) have about these groups. While Hardimon distinguishes between the four concepts of race, Spencer’s concept and then argument tried to argue that race is a social construct of a biological reality.

Spencer even worries that those—like Charles Murray who don’t even have a coherent concept of race—may try to use his research for their own purposes:

Nevertheless, I do worry that politically right-winged people—for example, Charles Murray—might try to misuse my research for their own purposes. I’m also worried about the educational research that shows learning about human genetic differences in racial terms—for instance, lactase persistence alleles—increases racist attitudes among the learners.

Spencer took care of the first part as early as his 2014 paper and has reiterated it since—the DNA evidence that elucidates the reality of human races are on noncoding DNA, so Spencer (2014: 1036) states:

Nothing in Blumenbachian race theory entails that socially important differences exist among US races. This means that the theory does not entail that there are aesthetic, intellectual, or moral differences among US races. Nor does it entail that US races differ in drug metabolizing enzymes or genetic disorders. This is not political correctness either. Rather, the genetic evidence that supports the theory comes from noncoding DNA sequences. Thus, if individuals wish to make claims about one race being superior to another in some respect, they will have to look elsewhere for that evidence.

As for Spencer’s second worry, since racism is borne of ignorance, education can ameliorate racist attitudes (Hughes et al, 2007; Kuppens et al, 2014; Donovan, 2019, 2022).

Although I am a pluralist about race, the race concept I think best shows the reality of race is Spencer’s as he holds race to be a social construct of a biological reality in his OMB race theory. And we can easily see that RACE is a social construct of a biological reality with Spencer’s identity thesis by looking at the mapping between K = 5 and the OMB—the social part is the OMB designations of races, whereas the biological part are the clusters that appear in K = 5.

My thinking on race has changed a lot over the years. I used to be against the claim that race is a social construct. Though, if you know that being a social constructivist about race means that you don’t need to be an antirealist about the concept RACE as a whole, then you can state “Race is a social construct of a biological reality”, where “biological reality” means the concept RACE has some biological grounding, as seen in K = 5 STRUCTURE studies. RACE is an idea invented by people, which is the “social construct” claim. Thus, we impute racial categories onto people (the social construct part of the argument) and the racial categories we impute onto people have a biological grounding (as seen by K = 5).

P1: If RACE is a social construct of a biological reality, then RACE is not an inherent characteristic of the individual.

P2: If RACE is not an inherent characteristic of the individual, then one’s RACE is designated by the society they live in.

C: Thus, if RACE is a social construct of a biological reality, then one’s RACE is designated by the society they live in.

Why a Science of the Mind is Impossible

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P1: Dualism is the belief that the mind is a nonphysical entity that is distinct from the body.

P2: If dualism is true, then the mind cannot be studied by science since science can only study physical processes and phenomena.

C: Thus, since dualism is true, the mind cannot be studied by science. (modus tollens, P1, P2)

P1 defines what dualism is. P2 states that if dualism is true then it cannot be studied by science since science can only study what is physical and it’s processes. So the conclusion follows from P1 and P2 using modus tollens, since dualism is true then the mind cannot be studied by science. Evidence and reasons for each premise will be given in the body of this article.


The relationship between the mind and body—termed “the mind-body problem”—has puzzled us for many millennia. Over this time period, many philosophical theories/arguments have been made claiming to solve the problem. From physicalist, to dualist, to eliminativist, to idealist, and everything in between, many arguments have been mounted that claim to have solved the problem. The solution (or lack thereof) to the problem has implications on what we think of the mind and how—if it is indeed possible—to study the mind using the principles of science. In this article, I will review some arguments for physicalism of the mind, some hereditarian thoughts on the mind (since hereditarianism is a form of mind-brain identity theory), and finally, I will argue that if the mind is not a physical object then it cannot be (1) selected for by the environmental filter that “selects for/against” deleterious/advantageous traits and (2) an object of scientific study. Mind is distinct from body, making it outside the realm of scientific explanation. Psychology is said to be the scientific study of the mind, but if what I argue here is true, then there cannot be a science of the mind as the mind is immaterial.

The nature of mind

What is the mind? The mind is, very simply, what allows our mental life—it’s a set of mental faculties which allow our mental life. Concepts of the mind are similar cross-culturally in 5 different cultures and these concepts are present by mid-childhood but there were differences in how the social-emotional concepts were thought of (Weisman et al, 2021). Physicalists claim that since the mind is just the brain, then if we study the brain then we can study the mind—what allows our mental life.

On functionalism about the mind, the mind is what the brain does just like digestion is what the stomach does. That is, digestion is just the result of physical processes that occur when one is hungry and then eats so then the mind is what the brain does and this mental activity arises when the agent sees physical things. However, minds are intentionally constituted, and digestion is not so this analogy fails.

So the implicit claim here is that there can basically be a physiology of the mind on functionalism. Functionalist accounts of the mind suggest that mental particulars could be physical and so by studying the physiological states of the brain, we can then study the mind. Since physiology is a result of the interactions between mental life and what the agent experiences/sees then we can study this process scientifically. But there are problems with the functionalist account of mind.

The two main issues are (1) functionalism can be seen to be a type of mind-brain identity (which is the claim that mental states are merely brain states and so the mind is identical to the brain and its physiological processes; Smart, 2007) and (2) since all formal thinking is determinate and no physical process can be determinate then formal thinking cannot be physical or a result of physical processes, which then refutes functionalism of the mind (Ross, 1992; see also Feser, 2013). The argument can be formulated like this:

1) All formal thinking is incompossibly determinate
2) No physical process or functions of physical processes are incompossibly determinate
∴Thoughts aren’t a physical or functional process; no physical process is formal thinking; therefore functionalism and physicalism are false

The claim that the mind is what the brain does entails that mind reduces to brain and so the brain is the thing that thinks and feels and decides. This, however, is an example of the mereological fallacy (Kitchen, 2015). This kind of conceptual confusion arises when one imputes psychological predicates to the part (in this case the brain) when they actually apply to the whole (the self, “I”, the person). Brains don’t think, humans think. Brains don’t get sad, happy, or angry. Humans do. Brains are needed to think, to be happy, sad or angry. But this does not entail that brains are “feeling” the emotions or thinking. Psychologist Richard Haier has a lecture titled The Intelligent Brain, and this shows that he falls prey to the mereological fallacy. The brain is the thing that allows us to think, this is true. But to IQ-ists like Haier, it is the “quality” of the brain (whatever that would mean) that would dictate IQ scores. (This claim can be evidenced by looking at Haier’s brain imaging studies and attempts to correlate/localize aspects of cognition to fMRI readings and similar technologies along with his 2016 book—The Neuroscience of Intelligence. But we cannot localize parts of the brain to aspects of our cognition using meta-analyses of fMRI and IQ studies, see Uttal, 2012, 2014.) Hereditarians fall into this same conceptual confusion about the relationship to the mind and the brain, which I will review below.

Cognitive scientists, it is said, have been “implicit” dualists; that is, what they write can be construed as having dualist sympathies and that they are guilty of the mereological fallacy (Bennett and Hacker, 2004; Smit and Hacker, 2014; Kitchen, 2015; Boyles and Garrison, 2017). The mind is NOT merely the brain, as many have claimed. And if one does make that claim then they are guilty of the mereological fallacy.

The physicalist argument for mind-brain identity and functionalism is therefore refuted on a priori grounds. Since physical states are indeterminate, that means that there is nothing about a particular physical state that would tell you exactly what it would/could be and it could in fact be many incompossible forms. The argument shows that the mind is non-physical and if it is non-physical then it cannot be studied by physical sciences.

Dualism is true

If dualism is true, then attempts at a science of the mind are impossible. The immateriality of the mind can be proven a priori. Empirical evidence, then, is irrelevant to a priori, conceptual arguments. Conceptual arguments are based on logical coherence and not empirical evidence.

Thomas Nagel (2012), with the publication of his Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, set off a firestorm with his arguments against Darwinism (as did Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini, 2009; see Evan, 2014). Nagel argues that the natural and social sciences cannot explain the existence of the mind and so we must revise our conception of nature. Nagel’s (2012: 23) argument is:

But if the mental is not itself merely physical, it cannot be fully explained by physical science. And then, as I shall argue, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that those aspects of our physical constitution that bring with them the mental cannot fully be explained by physical science either. If evolutionary biology is a physical theory—as it is generally taken to be—then it cannot account for the appearance of consciousness and other phenomena that are not physically reducible. So if mind is a product of biological evolution—if organisms with mental life are not miraculous anomalies but an integral part of nature—then biology cannot be a purely physical science.

Mind is not a product of biological evolution since it is not physical, but if we accept physicalist premises then biology is something more than a physical science. I don’t think many physicalists would accept this. The first argument in this passage is sound and it establishes the fact that what is not physically reducible (consciousness) cannot be explained by science. If science cannot study what is immaterial, then it cannot explain what is immaterial. So science therefore cannot explain the mind. Since (some forms of) materialism requires reductionism and reductionism is false, then materialism cannot explain the mind. The argument has force against, of course, evolutionary psychology as well. Along with being a field full of just-so stories, even if we disregard that, since the object of their “study” isn’t physical, then we cannot explain it using scientific principles and so, natural selection about the mind fails which then refutes neo-Darwinian hereditarian theories of the mind and the evolution of racial differences in mind, as well.

Of course, the physical being a necessary pre-condition for human mindedness matters, but it is not a sufficient condition to explain our mental life (Gabriel, 2017). The claim that the mind can be explained scientifically is, also, basically scientism, which is the claim that we can only derive knowledge from our 5 senses. Some arguments that argue for the physicality of mind state that if brain damage occurs then the mind is, too, affected and this proves that the mind has a physical basis. This, however, is expected on a dualist account as well. Scientists (physiologists) can study physiological states, but since the mind isn’t simply the brain’s physiology—that is, since the mind is not identical to physical or functional states (i.e., the mind is not simply what the brain does just like digestion is what the stomach does)—then since the arguments given above prove the immateriality of mind, mind is outside of the realm of scientific study.

Scott Brisbane argues a case against physicalism and for a form of substance dualism. Using modus ponens, he argues that a physicalist would try to argue that: If we are the result of natural evolutionary forces, then physicalism is true. However on the modus ponens form, if we are the result of natural evolutionary forces, then physicalism is true.

Yet, placing talks of biological origins aside, consider this evolutionary argument framed in the modus ponens form:

1. If we are the result of naturalistic, evolutionary forces, then physicalism is true.
2. Humans are merely the result of naturalistic, evolutionary processes.
3. Therefore, physicalism is true.

Despite differing words, physicalism is assumed for both sides in the first premise, which clearly begs the question. Yet the dualist could turn the argument around to be more favourable:

1. If we are the result of naturalistic, evolutionary forces, then physicalism is true.
2. Physicalism is not true.
3. Therefore, we are not the result of naturalistic evolutionary processes.

If evidence for a non-physical mind is good, then perhaps the latter modus tollens form of the argument should be embraced?

Now, the thing is, we are not simply just bodies or just brains (which is why Markus Gabriel’s (2017) book I am not a Brain is important reading here). If we are not simply bodies or brains, then there is an aspect of our constitution that is not physical. If there is an aspect of our constitution that is not physical, then physicalism is false. If physicalism is false, then science cannot study the mind since the mind is immaterial.

Robledo-Cardona (2021) argues for what he terms “biological materialism”—which is an attempt to naturalize/biologicize the mind. The claim is that consciousness is an evolved biological mechanism that was naturally selected for. He argues that consciousness is a biological mechanism that is composed of parts and organizations—neurons and wiring, respectively. (This is like what Bennett and Hacker call “neural materialism.”) Reading this paper, the author assumes that there is something “it is like” to be certain animals (it is true that there is something that “it is like” to be certain animals) and that this “what-it’s-likeness” is selected-for by natural selection. This assumption is false, since only physical things can be selected, “what-it’s-likeness” isn’t physical, and no argument the author made undercuts any argument made by Fodor and Piatteli-Palmarini (2009). He assumes that natural selection causes biological mechanisms.

Under Robledo-Cardona’s (2021) biological materialism, “a man is a sum of physical objects that is more than an aggregate of parts since these parts are organized. The same would apply to consciousness: a biological mechanism that consists of both parts (neurons) and organization (wiring).” But if we take “Man” to mean a “self”, if we take the self to be “I”, if we take “I” to be simple and not composed of proper parts, and if our brain contains proper parts, then “I” am not my brain and by studying the brain science is not studying “I”, it is only studying a part of “I” that cannot be reduced. “I” cannot be reduced, nor can it be divisible into parts since it is simple (Barnett, 2010). Barnett’s argument from simplicity can be formualted like this:

I am simple; I contain no proper parts (there is no such thing as half an “I”); but my brain contains proper parts (that is, my brain is divisible, there is such a thing as half a brain); therefore “I” am not my brain.

This argument is like Descartes argument from divisibility: My brain can be divided but my mind cannot. If my brain can be divided and my mind cannot, then it follows that my mind is not identical to my brain; the mind is distinct from the brain (that is it is a distinct subtance). “I”—that is, the bearer of mental states—cannot be divided even though my body and its parts can.

Adults are intuitive mind-brain dualists (Forstmann et al, 2015) and people—including children—are overwhelmingly mind-brain dualists (Joubert, 2016). Although this isn’t evidence that dualism is true, I think it is quite suggestive that dualism is intuitive to humans.

The self is not identical to the brain, the body, the central nervous system, nor any part of the body. If the self is not identical to any part of the body, then the self is sui generis—it is unique. The self is an immaterial substance, as shown by Lund (2005: 176-177).

(1) Whatever is secunda facie conceivable for me is something I am secunda facie warranted in believing to be metaphysically possible.
(2) I can clearly and distinctly conceive of myself with exactly my thought properties existing in isolation from all material things (i.e., this state of affairs is secunda facie conceivable for me).(3) Therefore, I am secunda facie warranted in believing that my existing in isolation from all material things (i.e., as disembodied or even in the absence of all material things) is metaphysically possible.
(4) It is not metaphysically possible for a material thing to become immaterial and exist in isolation from all material things;

which, along with (1)–(3), yields:

(5) Therefore, I am secunda facie warranted in believing that I am not a material thing.”

Premise (7) of Hasker’s (2010: 215) Unity of Consciousness argument also establishes that the subject of experience (“I“) isn’t the brain or nervous system:

If the subject is not the brain or the nervous system then it is (or contains as a proper part) a non-physical mind or soul; that is, a mind that is not ontologically reducible to the sorts of entities studied in the physical sciences.

I” and not any part of my body or its physiological processes is the subject of experience. E. J. Lowe’s Unity argument (Lowe, 2010: 481) further establishes the claim that “I” am not identical with my body or its physiological processes:

I am the subject of all and only my own mental states.

Neither my body as a whole nor any part of it can be the subject of all and only my own mental states.

I am not identical with my body or any part of it.

Morch’s argument in Phenomenal Knowledge Why: The Explanatory Knowledge Argument Against Physicalism (2019: 274) in The Knowledge Argument (2019, ed. by Sam Coleman) establishes that some facts are non-physical and so if some facts are non-physical then it follows that physicalism is false and dualism is true.

1. All physical facts are knowable without experience.

2. Some explanatory facts are no knowable without experience.

3. Therefore, some facts are non-physical.

These arguments establish the claim that the self isn’t identical with anything physical and that some facts are non-physical. So if what I argue here is true—that science can only study what is physical—then the self cannot be studied by science.


Before I begin, I need to make a distinction: one between what I call “psychological hereditarianism” and “racial hereditarianism.” Psychological hereditarianism is the claim that mental states/abilities can be genetically transmitted. Racial hereditarianism is the claim that natural selection molded the minds of different racial groups, and that mental differences between racial groups are genetically heritable and so genetically transmitted. As can be seen from the overall argument I’ve been mounting, psychological hereditarianism is false, therefore racial hereditarianism is false.

I personally don’t discount the claims from racial hereditarians on the basis that race doesn’t exist—since I am a pluralist about race. I discount the claim for a variety of reasons. Mainly the facts that (1) IQ tests aren’t construct valid, and so IQ isn’t real; (2) IQ tests are mere knowledge tests and the item content on them are class-specific; (3) the irreducibility of mind to anything physical and (4) natural selection isn’t an explanatory mechanism so it can’t select-for traits, not least psychological traits which are immaterial.

Michael Egnor is a pediatric neuroscientist/professor of neurological surgery, intelligent design advocate and a blogger for the Discovery Institute. Using the long-dead, outdated concept of “heritability” (Moore and Shenk, 2016), Egnor argues that the capacity for abstract thought is material since intellectual activity is passed genetically from generation to generation:

The widely accepted heritability of IQ…is strong evidence for the materiality of the intellect.If intellectual activity is passed from generation to generation by DNA, then the capacity for abstract thought would seem to be material,and not immaterial nor spiritual.

Egnor claims that “What is heritable about IQ is not intellect and will but the capacity for perception, imagination, memory and emotion“—these make up “the material powers of the soul.” He is assuming here that the capacity for perception, imagination, memory, and emotion are physical—material—“powers.” But this claim fails. It fails because the aforementioned things are immaterial, not material. We of course need our organs to function properly in order to be capable of experience—meaning that they are necessary. But this does not license the claim that the “powers” are physical in nature.

This is quite obviously a ridiculous claim. The concept of “heritability” has been scrutinized for decades as an invalid concept (Layzer, 1974; Richardson, 2012, 2022; Joseph, 2014, 2022; Moore and Shenk, 2016; Charney, 2012, 2017, 2020). “Heritability” estimates for IQ are said to range from .5-.8, based on a range of twin, adoption, and family studies. However, the actual—unreported—“heritability” of IQ in the MISTRA was 0% (Joseph, 2022)! The fact of the matter is, the methods that hereditarians use are highly confounded and do not license the conclusions they make from the data they have. Further, their newest attempt at proving that psychological traits reduce to genes is polygenic scores (PGS). However, PGS, too, has similar pitfalls as GWAS (since they are derived from GWAS data). The hereditarian must construct an valid deductive argument in which the conclusion is the phenomena to be explained; they must provide an explanans that has a law-like generalization; and they need to show that the preceeding premises have empirical content and are true. In absence of an answer to this challenge, the claims hereditarians make about PGS fail. Moreover, the larger a dataset is, the higher chance of spurious correlations (Calude and Longo, 2016), and there are nothing but spurious correlations that arise from GWAS and PGS (Richardson and Jones, 2019).

Back in 2019, I published an article with 4 sections with arguments against hereditarianism. One of the arguments I provided was one that showed that anything that cannot be described in physical terms using words that only refer to material properties is immaterial. And since the mind cannot be explained in that way, it is therefore immaterial. The other argument I provided stated that if physicalism is true then all facts can be stated using a physical vocabulary but facts about the mind cannot so the mind must not be physical. Philosopher of mind William Jaworski provided a similar argument against materialism and why it has nothing to do with the mind since not everything can be explained using a physical vocabulary and that since explanations of biology appeal to biological organization/structure, and there are good reasons to believe that such descriptions and explanations cannot be eliminated, reduced or paraphrased in physical terms, then materialism must be false (Jaworski, 2016).

Hereditarianism, in my view, assumes a form of mind-brain identity as I have argued in the past. And because of this, hereditarianism falls prey to the mereological fallacy—which is when one ascribes psychological predicates to the brain when they are predicates of the whole human. This is seen in hereditarian neuroimaging studies, for example. Contemporary hereditarians aren’t using phrenological methods anymore, nor are they really measuring skulls anymore and ascertaining “qualities” of the person from the skull. But there is a “new phrenology” and this new phrenology is cognitive neuroimaging.

Recall how above I stated that minds are intentionally constituted. If mind-body reduction is possible, then there must be functional definitions of mental properties in terms of lower-level properties. But, drawing on Kripke’s normativity argument, Heikinheimo argues that such definitions are not attainable for mental properties and this, then, has implications for the attempted explanations of intentional states in terms of brain states. There must be causal-functional analyses of meaning and this is just not possible. Bilgrami (2006) in Self-Knowledge and Resentment argued that we have privileged access to our intentional states and that human agency and the intentional states of human agents are irreducibly normative. One reason why is the simple fact that science is third-personal and cannot possibly study first-personal states (Nagel, 1974). Another reason is that intentional states don’t reduce to physical states. And so, if minds are intentionally constituted, then it follows that minds are irreducible and therefore non-physical.

We have fMRI machines. Using these machines, we can measure small changes in blood flow in the brain—we can basically see which parts of the brain are active during certain tasks. Physicalists may then claim that if you do a task and a certain part of the brain lights up, the identity between the two shows that we can either read minds (a dubious claim) or we know which part of the brain is responsible for carrying out the task in question. The use of fMRI has been used by hereditarian researchers to attempt to localize cognition to certain aspects of the brain and outlandish claims have been made that one’s “intelligence” can be gleaned by just resting in an fMRI machine. Unfortunately for these theorists (eg, Jung and Haier, 2007), conceptual arguments undercut the claim that cognition can be localized to certain parts of the brain (Uttal, 2012). In my view, newer forms of hereditarianism have begun to lean toward a type of mind-brain identity—hereditarians assume physicalism is true and either attempt to reduce mind to genes, brain states, or neural states. But the falsity of mind-brain identity and the conceptual errors in attempting to localize cognition to parts of the brain means that this research program is a conceptual failure.

It is impossible to localize cognitive processes in the brain—effectively “pinpointing” where in the brain a certain cognitive task is occurring. This is due to many conceptual and methodological issues that Uttal (2001; 2012) brings up. There is neurophysiological variability in subjects and we can’t just pool neuroimaging studies together to get “a look” at an active brain and then correlate cognitive processes to it. Therefore, the attempts of hereditarians who use this research fail—conceptually—as well as empirically. Such follys like this arise since the assumption is the mind is what the brain does—basically, that the mind is merely the brain’s physiology at work. But such a claim needs to be rejected, since physicalism is false. And if physicalism is false, as has been successfully argued, then hereditarianism is false.

Speculative claims of “brain-based mind reading” have been made stating that we could use this technique to read the brains—and therefore minds—of, say, prisoners and see if they have or would have done something under a certain condition (Glannon, 2017). As Glannon rightly notes, fMRI detects brain function but not mental function so mind reading wouldn’t be possible. Since the mind refers to mental states, and we can correlate brain states with mental states, then there has to be a material basis of the mind and it must be able to be studied by science (Rainey et al, 2021).

The fact of the matter is, claims such as these are assuming that thought has determinate content. But going back to Ross’ (1992) argument above, we cannot ever “read minds” in a way that a physicalist wants to. Fortunately, mind privacy is different from brain privacy in that we can scan brains but we cannot scan minds. External access to one’s mind does not exist—it is completely internal. So mental privacy cannot be breached (Gilead, 2015).

But what [further knowledge of the brain] 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. — Ed Feser, Mindreading?

Anything material can be studied by science. The brain is material. So the brain can be studied by science. Thoughts are immaterial. So thoughts cannot be studied by science. The only way for scientists to be able to study the mind is if the mind is the brain—if the mind reduces to or is identical to the brain—but this is impossible due to what is argued above. So a science of the mind is impossible and hereditarianism fails.

The failure of psychometrics in measuring the mind

Psychometrics has been touted as giving us the ability to measure the human mind. There are many baked-in assumptions, though, that make the claim that psychometry is a measurement enterprise fail.

Most important for the claim that psychometrics is a science and that the mind is a measurable object is that we can therefore “number” and “rank” the minds of people using psychological tests. There are many types of measurement tools we can use to understand human bodies, like a scale and a ruler to measure height, and these are physical measures. For instance, when one steps on a scale they then see a number in a few seconds. What this number means is their weight—it is basically their mass. A unit of measurement is a magnitude of a quantity—that is, a physical quantity. Meters measure length, kilograms measure weight, and seconds measure time. Thus, weight is a measure since it satisfies the basic tenets of metrication.

Take the example of length. If we want to know how long, say, a stick was, then we need to satisfy three properties: (1) The measured object is the stick; (2) the length of the stick is the object of measurement; and (3) the measurement unit would be inches, centimeters, feet, etc.

Now that I have given some examples on what we claim to measure and how we know it is measured, I will now turn to how psychological measurement fails.

When it comes to psychiatric and psychological tests, it needs to be stated that they get a lot of their “data” from questionnaires that give numerical values which then gives the illusion of the ability of psychologists/psychiatrists to measure human mental states and put a number to them. This issue is put well by Berka (1983: 202-203):

…the methodologists of extraphysical measurement are very well aware that, unlike in physical measurement, it is here often not at all clear which properties are the actual object of measurement, more precisely, the object of scaling or counting, and what conclusions can be meaningfully derived from the numerical data concerning the assumed subject matter of investigation.

Put another way, psychometricians don’t actually conceptualize an object of measurement that meets the minimal requirements of measurement. The point is, argues Berka (1983) and Nash (1990), that there is no measurement unit for psychological kinds, and so if there is no measurement unit for psychological kinds, then the claim that mental “measurement” is possible fails.

In his recent book In the Know: Debunking 35 Myths about Human Intelligence, Warne (2020:12) argues that just as kg and lbs are measurements of weight, so too is IQ a measurement of intelligence:

IQ, or an IQ score, is not the same as intelligence or g. Instead, IQ is a measure of general intelligence. To use an analogy, just as kilograms and pounds are measures of weight, IQ is a measure of intelligence. IQ is not intelligence itself any more than the number on a scale is a person’s weight. In both cases, the number is a measurement and not the real topic of interest.

How strange that Warne does not discuss measurement units, specified measured objects or objects of measurement for the “trait” that the book is about. It’s because he—quite obviously—CAN’T. This is in stark contrast to Richard Haier’s (2011: 463) article The Biological Basis of Intelligence in The Cambridge Handbook of Intelligence where he claims that “Even polygenetic scores or DNA profiles might provide new definitions of intelligence.” Haier (2018), in his article A View from the Brain in the book The Nature of Human Intelligence, admits that there is “no measurement of intelligence comparable to a unit of distance or weight.” This fact means that the “measurement” of psychological traits is impossible because they aren’t physical and lack physical properties. Dario de Judicibus (2015) tries to argue that “intelligence” “is the ability to develop and manage relational schemas“, which of course depend on being exposed to the item content, which is class-specific. This, contrary to his claims, is NOT an “operational definition.” There is a list of 71 different “definitions” of “intelligence“, and they all have intentional content/mentalistic wordings in them, so my argument above about being able to describe psychological traits in words that refer only to physical properties still holds. The hereditarian has to give a definition without using mental phrases, and if they cannot describe the mental in words that refer only to material properties then it is immaterial and therefore immeasurable. In any case, the definitions that hereditarians have given over the years fail, since it does not refer to a single measurable property. And attempting an analogy between temperature and IQ and height and weight

Construct validity is the degree to which a test or measure assesses what the measurement tool is supposed to measure. In this case, construct validity refers to how well IQ tests “measure” “intelligence.” But, as we know from the arguments above, psychological traits are immaterial and what is immaterial is immeasurable so IQ tests can’t possibly be a measure of anything psychological. I made an argument using modus tollens back in 2019 arguing against the claim that IQ tests are construct valid:

Premise 1If the claim “IQ tests test intelligence” is true, then IQ tests must be construct valid.
Premise 2IQ tests are not construct valid.
ConclusionTherefore, the claim “IQ tests test intelligence” is false. (modus tollens, P1, P2)

If IQ is real, then IQ is measurable. If IQ is measurable then IQ is physical. So if IQ is real, then IQ is physical. The main aspect of IQ test-taking is thinking, which is irreducible. If thinking is irreducible, then it cannot be physical. If thinking isn’t physical, then IQ can’t be physical. So IQ can’t be measured. Therefore IQ isn’t real.

What IQ tests are are mere class-specific knowledge tests:

If IQ tests are merely class-specific knowledge tests, then they include class-specific item content. IQ tests include class-specific item content. Therefore, IQ tests are merely class-specific knowledge tests.

Over the past 100 years such tests have been used for malicious reasons, like to sterilize those who score low on the test (see the story of Carrie Buck). Who is or is not “intelligent” was decided a priori, by the test’s constructors, and so they designed the test to fit their desires. This means that IQ is arbitrary. In any case, as I have successfully argued here, hereditarianism is false. And if it is false and we believe it to be true, then that could cause bad outcomes policy-wise for certain groups. See the argument for banning IQ tests below:

(P1) The Hereditarian Hypothesis is false
(P2) If the Hereditarian Hypothesis is false and we believed it to be true, then policy A could be enacted.
(P3) If Policy A is enacted, then it will do harm to group G.
(C1) If the Hereditarian Hypothesis is false and we believed it to be true and policy A is enacted, then it will do harm to group G (HypotheticaSyllogismP2, P3).
(P4) If the Hereditarian Hypothesis is false and we believed it to be true and it would harm group G, then we should ban whatever led to policy A.
(P5) If Policy A is derived from IQ tests, then IQ tests must be banned.
(C2) Therefore, we should ban IQ tests (Modus Ponens, P4P5).

IQ tests aren’t construct valid, they aren’t true measures, they are mere class-specific knowledge tests, and so putting this all together, we must ban the use of IQ tests, since they don’t measure what they purport to and, due to the biased nature of the tests, we could harm certain groups on the basis of their test scores.

Thus, what psychometrics is isn’t a measurement enterprise, it is merely a political ring (Garrison, 2009). Standardized tests (which IQ tests are as well) “exist to assess social function” (Garrison, 2009: 5). Psychometricians render “mere application of number systems to objects” (Garrison, 2004: 63), so they just assume that their object of measurement is quantitative, without showing that it actually is.

Uher (2021) states that “psychometrics does not establish systematic relations to individuals’ minds as needed for measurement and that, consequently, psychometric results should not be used to make decisions about persons.” It is not a fundamental measurement, and analogies to physical measurement are false. Psychometricians just assume, without argument or showing how, that psychological traits are measurable and thusly quantitative. The claim that psychology is measurable is a “highly questionable idea” (Franz, 2022). Thus, according to Michell (2008), psychometrics is a pathological science, where a pathological science is when a hypothesis is accepted as true without testing it, and as so happened with psychometrics, it is assumed to be quantitative without it being shown that it is indeed the case.


The falsity of physicalism has been argued by many authors (eg., Chalmers, 1996, 2010; Koons and Bealer, 2010; Hasker, 2001; Lowe; Lavazza and Robinson, 2014 ; Robinson, 2016; Swinburne, 2019). As I have successfully argued here, if there are 2 kinds of substances—that is, if there is mental stuff and physical stuff—then a science of the mind is impossible since the mental stuff isn’t the same stuff as the physical stuff which is the object of scientific investigation.

A science of the mind is possible if, and only if, the mind is a physical object. If the mind is an immaterial object, then it cannot be studied by science, since science only studies the physical. This also has implications for AI, since AI (computers) are made up of a suite of physical parts and a mind isn’t made up of a suite of physical parts. Knowing this, this allows me to make this argument against the possibility of AI ever being able to think.

Only things with minds can think. Purely physical things lack minds. So purely physical things can’t think. Thinking is an action and machines don’t act so machines don’t think.

So now, after laying out the evidence and arguments, I can now make this argument:

If dualism is true, then it follows that the mind is not physical. If the mind is not physical (and if the mind is not a mere product of the brain), then it cannot be studied by science, since science studies what is a part of the natural world, that is it studies what is physical. Though it could be said that mind is part of the natural world, that doesn’t mean that it is physical and if it isn’t physical then it’s not amenable to scientific investigation. This means that the ultimate aim of psychometry and psychology (and by consequence, hereditarianism) is simply impossible. Mind-brain monism is an unconfirmed hypothesis (Joubert, 2016)—it is merely assumed that physicalism is true by people like psychologists and that, for example, that psychology can be reduced to the physical.

Indeed, even ignoring the arguments for the irreducibility of mind, it would still be impossible for psychology to be an empirical science (Smedslund, 2016). Moreover, psychological phenomena aren’t manipulable nor controllable, so they are immeasurable and a Galliean revolution in psychology isn’t possible if the quantification problem isn’t solved (and I claim that it’s a logical impossibility for them to be quantified) (Trendler, 2009). This also has implications for “general intelligence” or “g” theory and other hypothetical constructs—for if psychological traits are immeasurable, then claims that “g” is measurable fail, too. And there is the fact that there are no psychophysical or psychological laws, and that the mental is irreducible to the physical, which also mean that attempts to measure the mind will fail.

Although I have come to my conclusion that psychological traits are immeasurable from different avenues, other authors have (rightly) argued the claim that psychometrics isn’t measurement since psychology isn’t physical. And if it’s not physical—as I have successfully argued here—then dualism is true and psychology can’t be amenable to scientific investigation.

IQ/”Intelligence” in Cultural Context

TVs have “IQs” now—found in Best Buy

I was in Best Buy a few months ago looking at TVs and something caught my eye. Looking at the descriptions and features of certain TVs, I observed that certain TVs were being described as “intelligent” with “IQs.” This is one way how IQ-ism has seeped into mainstream culture and its evidence how IQ and intelligence are conflated.

The Bravia XR was heralded asThe world’s first TV with cognitive intelligence.” Though it seems that this phrase wasn’t thought through by their marketing department before they released the ad, since cognition is an action and “intelligence” is cognition. In any case, this TV is said tohave the power of the human brain.” The phrasing here implies that the human brain can be replicated in a machine. The “power” of the human brain is that it is a necessary pre-condition for our minds, and so the implication here is that this TV has the ability for mindedness. But implicit in the claim is that the mind is a collection of parts, that a collection of physical parts can count as a mind. The arguments below refute the claim that TVs are “intelligent” and can even one day be seen as “intelligent.”

Bravia states that the TV “in a sense” thinks like a human brain (nevermind the mereological fallacy here) and this cognitive intelligence allows the TV to do this.

I cannot imagine a complex, purely physical object having consciousness. So purely physical objects cannot have minds. Therefore my brain cannot possibly be my mind.

Individual physical particles are mindless. No collection of mindless things counts as a mind. Therefore a mind cannot be an arrangement of physical particles.

A mind is a single sphere of consciousness, it is not a complicated arrangement of mental parts. Though physical systems are always complicated arrangements of different parts and subsystems. Therefore the mind is nonphysical, and not a physical system.

Physical parts of the natural world lack intentionality, meaning they are not “about” anything in the same way thoughts are. No arrangement of intentionality-less parts will ever count as having intentionality. Therefore a mind cannot be an arrangement of physical parts.

The arguments given above conclude that mind cannot be an arrangement of physical parts, a (purely) physical object cannot have a mind, physical systems are arrangements of different parts, and that physical parts lack intentionality which is a mark of the mental. Thus, TVs cannot have “cognition” or “intelligence” as machines cannot be conscious.

Smart TVs are basically a mixture of computers, media players, and a TV. They can connect to the internet and do a whole slew of things that regular TVs cannot do since they lack the processing power. The “smartness” (the ability to hook-up to the internet, the ability to play media and use applications not found on regular TVs) runs through me—the TV only does what I tell it to do with the remote, though the TV has to have the ability to have apps, media, etc, it is but a passive machine that does nothing until I tell it to do something. (This is just like how genes work, they do nothing on their own until activated by and for the physiological system, the TV does nothing in its own until it’s activated by me.)

Just because a TV can be said to be “smart” or with “cognitive intelligence” does not mean that it is true. Indeed, the power of our TVs have increased since I was a kid. But this does not license the claim that TVs can do anything on their own—the human needs to tell the TV what to do; the human needs to be conscious of what they are doing to be able to tell the TV what to do.

People want “smart” TVs due to what they can do and so calling these TVs these certain descriptors will probably increase sales since people conflate IQ with intelligence. The TV is but a passive machine that awaits instruction from the human; it does not take initiative and do things without input from the human; therefore TVs are not—and cannot be due to what is argued above—intelligent.

Calling TVs “intelligent” is nothing more than a marketing campaign to sell more TVs. Sure, the TVs are nice and they have a whole lot packed into it making it better for the consumer to have one machine that does many things, but the claim that these machines are “intelligent” or have “IQs” fails, as it is (logically) impossible for machines to have those properties since machines are fully physical.

Seeing how TVs are even said to have “cognitive intelligence” and “IQs”—even if these terms are used in a specific manner—just speaks to how seeped in the IQ=intelligence claim is in our daily life, our daily discourse, and what we buy. This shows how IQ exists in a cultural context and how it is basically with us in our everyday lives. Machines cannot be intelligent, cognize, or have minds because machines are purely physical and what allows cognition (mind) is immaterial.

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