The coming breeding of intelligent children

Keith Hudson

Outside the rain forests — as man has been for over six million years now — the survival of new species has tended to be by means of the growth of intelligence and the subsequent competition between a newly-arrived . . . species and its immediate predecessors, resulting in the extinction of the old species.  Within the rain forests new species tend to specialise in their mode of getting food from their predecessor species and thus both continue to survive without undue competition.

Man is a prime example of the out-of-forest type of evolution.  For example, when we left Africa some 60,000 years ago there were already four man-like species living  contemporaneously in Europe and Asia — Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo denisova and Homo floresiensis.  But Homo sapiens wasn’t as localised as they had become, had more general intelligence and, in one way or another, caused the extinction of the others.

A phenomenal growth in brain size (almost threefold) occurred during the waxing and waning of the Ice Ages when drastic changes were were repeatedly imposed on the natural environment outside the interior depths of the rain forests.  Intelligence was increasingly necessary to find food.  Today, although we have no Ice Age upon us (not yet anyway!) the environment by which we feed ourselves — in an advanced science-based economy — is also changing and becoming more complex.  Our intelligence has produced innovations and the innovations themselves are causing yet more competition for food (and much else), this time not between species — because there is only one — but between different countries and, within countries, between the higher social classes — those with more education — generally more intelligent — and the lower ones.

Today’s topic is prompted by yet another detailed analysis of the causes of intelligence involving 12,500 sets of twins — identical and non-identical — carried out by a team led by Professor Robert Plomin of the institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at Kings College, London.  It confirms, with more precision, what has been believed for many years now — that intelligence is mainly genetic.  More specifically in this study, general exam results at school at 16 years of age, depend on genes to the extent of between 54% and 65%, with home and school environments accounting for between 14% and 21% and the remainder, between 14% and 32%, due to the exigencies of life — accidents, friends, diseases, emotional experiences, etc.

Among other things Prof Plomin thinks ought to be done is the testing of intelligence in young children in order to intervene if a child is having learning differences and generally to maximise potential talent. All this is in line with what neuroscientists have been saying for some 20 or 30 years now. The upper social classes, being more intelligent and already being well-informed had already anticipated.  Top quality nursery education expanded enormously 30 years ago, and this passed without public comments until, at last, the government’s Department of Education got aound to it for children at large.

But the upper social classes will also be interested in actually improving their children’s health and intelligence if there are ways of doing so.  But nowadays, in an era of heightened political correctness — that everybody should have as equal outcomcs as possible — any attempt at the actual breeding of healthier and more intelligent children — is likely to run into immense opposition.  For example, now that research biologists are now beginning to be able to precisely remove or add genes by techniques such as Crispr (which I mentioned in an earlier posting) it has raised huge controversy already, and the possibilities are already being investigated by various bodies — religious organisations, new pressure groups, ethics  committees within and without the professions and governments.  Most advanced governments are already considering what regulations to apply.

But human breeding has alreeady started!  In vitro fertilization (IVF) was first proposed almost 70 years ago.  If there’d been the same density of political correctness then as now, then IVF would certainly not have developed as rapidly as it has done.  As it was, the parents of the first ‘test-tube baby’, Louise Brown, received postbags of abusive mail after her birth.  IVF doesn’t involve the precise selection or rejection of specific genes, as now looks to becoming possible in the not too distant future, but it certainly involves the selection or rejection of fertilized eggs.  In principle it is precisely the same.  IVF only came about due to desperate parents, with the help of specialists, quietly succeeding and then for the successes to become part of normal medical practice.

Although many parents seeking highly intelligent children will not be as desperate as childless couples seeking IVF, the motivation of some will be just as strong.  One preliminary pre-Crispr method will be by intelligent young women having their DNA sequenced and matching it against that of any possible marriage partner, in order to ensure that serious subpar recessive genes, which militate against health and intelligence, don’t double up between them and result in handicapped children.  There is talk of even this modest step being outlawed, so that DNA sequencing and matching can only be supervised by government-approved scientists.  But it is difficult to imagine that this can be prevented — any more, for example, than the rich can be orevented from evading taxation or using cocaine for recreational purposes.  For all we know, DNA matching might have already started.

The motivation for breeding children at least as intelligent as themselves and — in many years’ time — more intelligent than themselves with perhaps the actual introduction of additional genes will be irresistable, and the rich will do it first.  Whether the techniques will descend into the lower social strata — or, rather, how fast they do — will depend very much on government legislation in different countries and the culture of the people more generally.  But once it starts to become significant, as IVF did after the first 20 or 30 years, then even governments — the sensible ones anyway — will want to approve human breeding for better health and intelligence in order to promote the innovation potential of the country and its economic success vis-à-vis other countries.  Competition  between nation-states — or whatever else follows them — will always be fierce because loyalty to one’s own kind is likely to be as deeply implanted within our genes as intelligence.

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