Are you smarter than a 10-year-old?
“I think teenagers are distanced from their parents based on subcultures. The word teenager didn’t even exist until 1950. My generation wanted to become adults as fast as we could to get money, sex, motorcars and privacy.
“Teenagers have that now without becoming adults. And they’ve got their own slang, their own world on the internet, and instead of becoming gradually socialised into the world of their parents, they’re quasi-resistant to it.”
This year he published a book trying to address this, The Torchlight List: Around the World in 200 Books. He also published Faith and Philosophy, about religion, ethics and science, and a fourth book called How to Improve Your Mind: 20 Ways to Unlock the Modern World.
This is a primer, he says, on “elementary social analysis, what a good social-science survey looks like, how to understand international politics, and how to avoid flawed moral arguments like appeals to nature. You know, ‘gayness is unnatural’, that sort of thing.”
Now in his mid 70s, Flynn’s level of output flies in the face of another of his headline findings, his discovery of a “bright tax”.
“Until recently it’s been thought that bright people’s intellectual faculties deteriorated more slowly after 65,” he says.
“In fact, though it’s true of verbal ability, when it comes to analytical ability, the brighter you are, the quicker you go down . . . It may be, and this is just one theory, that bright people tend to have cognitively demanding jobs. So like athletes they build up an exercise advantage over the average person and at retirement they lose that edge. A lot of people retire to play bridge and watch television and aren’t exercising their minds.”
As for himself? “I never retired.”
The Flynn effect
JAMES FLYNN discovered that when new subjects take old IQ tests, they do significantly better than those who did the tests at the time they were devised. IQs are getting higher.
The question then, for Flynn, was what IQ measured, as the gains were too rapid for an evolutionary explanation. He concluded that it was a certain kind of abstract thought facilitated by urbanisation and wealth.
So, he says, when asked what connects “dogs” and “rabbits”, the correct answer in an IQ test would be that dogs and rabbits are both mammals. Someone from a culture of subsistence might say: “You use dogs to hunt rabbits.”