Michael Hart and the role of IQ in human history

- from a review of this book at http://www.amnation.com/vfr/archives/008902.html

From the work of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, we know that IQ--the measurement of a person's ability to process information--is an important determinant of outcomes in the lives of individuals. From the work of Richard Lynn, we know that IQ is an important determinant of outcomes in the lives of societies, namely of national wealth. In Understanding Human History, Michael H. Hart applies these truths to human history and civilization as a whole. Starting with the exodus of homo sapiens out of Africa 60,000 years ago, he traces the role of intelligence as a leading factor in the rise and differentiation of civilizations.

As an intriguing example of Hart's speculative but fact-based approach, he takes the average IQ of modern day sub-Saharan Africans, which is 70, as an indication that the average IQ of all humans 60,000 years ago, when the exodus from Africa occurred, was 70. Then, based on the fact that the IQ of modern day Europeans and Asians is substantially higher than 70, he traces the upward graph of the IQ of the peoples of the respective geographical regions over the last 60,000 years. He explains the rise of IQ on the grounds of the theory advanced by Richard Lynn and Philippe Rushton--which makes a lot of logical and intuitive sense, though it's still a theory--that the cold winters in the northern hemisphere selected for higher intelligence. To apply the "cold weather produces higher IQ" theory to the entire history of mankind and to all human societies makes for a new and exciting approach to the human story, ranging from the branching out of Paleolithic hunter-gatherer tribes across Eurasia, to the reasons for the Neolithic Revolution (primarily that the IQ of certain groups had risen to the level required for the invention of agriculture, pottery, the domestication of animals, etc.), to the achievements of modern science (ditto), and everything in between.

While Hart is a self-described atheist and materialist, his approach is not reductive in that he does not claim that IQ is the only force driving the advance of civilizations. He considers a variety of factors. For example, he looks at the industrial revolution, which occurred first in Britain, and notes several factors that would be conducive to that event, including high IQ, and finds that Britain was the only country in which all of them were present. Or he looks at the epochal transition to modern times around the year 1500 (an event he says is equaled in importance only by the Neolithic Revolution), and asks why did it occur in Europe not China, notwithstanding the fact that the Chinese IQ is equal to or slightly higher than the European, and he notes several factors that helped push Europe past China despite its lack of IQ superiority over China. For one, Europe had a vast coastline with many peninsulas, so that the development of seamanship and exploration was a pressing need for the Europeans, while China was a vast self-sufficient inland country with a short coastline and no need for exploration. For another, China had ethnic homogeneity and a united government, and so did not have much need for innovation in weapons, while Europe with its many warring countries was in a "perpetual arms race" leading to the invention of improved firearms. Or he looks at the fact that agriculture was invented independently in three different parts of the world--the Near East, China, and Meso-America--and identifies the factors that made this possible, among which is IQ. Or he asks why agriculture was invented in the Near East (which he calls the Middle East, a term not normally used for the ancient world), by people with average IQ of 88, rather than by Indo-Europeans with average IQ of 100, and he says that the fertile soil and long growing season of the Near East was so favorable to crop growing that it enabled the people there to develop agriculture notwithstanding their lower IQs. He adds that if their IQ had been lower than 88, they could not have invented agriculture. Along the way, he punctures Jared Diamond's theory that geography and the availabiltiy of domesticable plants and animals were the determinative factors in the invention of agriculture and the beginning of civilization, and that intelligence had nothing to do with it. But as a further illustration of Hart's absence of dogmatism, even as he rejects Diamond's rejection of intelligence, he applies Diamond's theory where it applies. Thus he argues that the pre-Columbian peoples of Mexico and South America developed agriculture and civilization more slowly than Old-World peoples of similar intelligence because the Diamondesque factors of north-south orientation and relative lack domesticable plants and animals made those developments harder.

Here's another example of the way Hart combines the general intelligence factor with local and specific factors. Why did the ancient Greeks surpass all other peoples in cultural achievement? While the Greeks had the high Indo-European IQ, they were no more intelligent than other Indo-European peoples. The answer Hart gives is fascinating. The Greeks' proximity to the ancient, advanced civilizations of Egypt and the Near East made them the first Indo-European people to come into contact with those civilizations. This gave them a school to learn from--in the fields of architecture, the visual arts, the alphabet, and so on--and this, combined with their high intelligence, sparked their unique intellectual achievements. I'm reminded of Camille Paglia's important account of how the Egyptian "Apollonian" representation of the human form as beautiful and harmonious--godlike--inspired the beginnings of Greek art. Hart points out that in 600 B.C., when the Greeks had been in contact with Egypt and the Near East for centuries and had a fully functioning written language with an alphabet based on the Phoenician alphabet, the Indo-European Celtic, Teutonic and Slavic peoples living to the north of Greece, who had never come into contact with the Near East, were totally illiterate.

While Hart often treats intelligence as one factor among several in the rise of civilizations, in some cases he makes intelligence the sole explanation. A deeply interesting case in point is the Indo-European expansion. According to the most accepted view, the Indo-Europeans began as a single tribe living north of the Black and Caspian seas around 4,000 B.C. They then branched out geographically and linguistically, becoming distinctive peoples, which over the course of two millennia conquered all of Europe, as well as Northern India, Iran, and Turkey, then later Mesopotamia and North Africa. What enabled the Indo-Europeans to overcome every people they encountered?

After considering several explanations, Hart concludes: "The simplest explanation is that the original speakers of Proto-Indo-European possessed, on average, considerably higher intelligence than most of the peoples they defeated (including the Egyptians, Babylonian, Assyrians, Carthaginians, Phoenicians, Pelasgians, Tartessians, Iberians, Etruscans, Berbers, and Dravidian-speaking peoples), all of whom had evolved in milder climates than had the ancestors of the Indo-Europeans."

Go to: Origins of human races

Go to: more on IQ's in Africa

Go to: Research data by race on IQ's and reaction time

Go to: Questions and Answers on race/ IQ issues

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