Why Smart People Do Weird Things

QuestionWhy do intelligent men tend to go against the grain

Satoshi Kanazawa: My theory is that not just intelligent men, but intelligence evolved to deal with and solve evolutionarily novel problems. Human nature consists of various psychological adaptations to solve all the familiar problems that our ancestors dealt with. We have modules for mating. We have modules for parenting. All those things that our ancestors did all the time doesn’t require intelligence. We know what to do when it comes to mating.  We know what to do when it comes to parenting and learning a language associated with other people. All these things our ancestors did already have ready-made solutions in our brain, but occasionally there are novel problems that required our ancestors to think and that’s how intelligence evolves. Some people who could think and reason and solve these evolutionary novel problems did better occasionally, so my contention is that intelligence evolved to deal with novel problems and as a result more intelligent people are more likely to recognize evolutionarily novel entities and situations. As a result they become more likely to adopt these novel preferences and values like sexual exclusivity for men or atheism or liberalism, so what… The key part of the equation is that intelligence leads individuals to seek novel solutions and as a result they become more likely to adopt novel preferences and values, so intelligence makes people do unnatural things. 

QuestionWhy are night owls generally more intelligent

Satoshi Kanazawa: Once again, my basic theory is that intelligent people do unnatural things and staying up all night is part of unnatural things given human nature. Humans didn’t… Our ancestors didn’t have artificial source of illumination like lights in the ancestral past, so they had to wake up when the sun came up and they had to go to bed when the sun went down. The sun was the only natural source of illumination and it would be dangerous for ancestors to be up and about when it’s dark when they couldn’t see where our predators may have been able to see and attack us, so humans are once again designed to limit their activities to the daylight times and so it is unnatural for humans to stay up long passed the sundown and stay asleep long passed sun up and that is why more intelligent people are more likely to engage in nocturnal activities. 

QuestionWhat other unnatural activities do highly intelligent people engage in

Satoshi Kanazawa: My last paper I also showed that more intelligent people are more likely to be atheists and it has nothing to do with whether or not God actually exists. It’s because once again believing in God in natural. Humans are designed to be religious. Humans are designed to believe in higher powers that cause natural events and as a result more intelligent people are more like to reject that natural tendency to attribute causality to natural phenomenon and then become atheist. 

QuestionDo intelligent people display any other unnatural behaviors

Satoshi Kanazawa: The third part of the paper was that more intelligent men, but not more intelligent women are more likely to value sexual exclusivity because once again humans are polygynous. Humans are naturally polygynous, which means that throughout evolutionary history men had multiple mates, whereas women always had one mate in their stable relationships, so it was unnatural for ancestral men to limit their mating to one partner, whereas it was always natural for women to do so and therefore, more intelligent men today are more like to reject that natural state of polygyny and value sexual exclusivity, whereas intelligence doesn’t affect women’s tendency to value sexual exclusivity, but that does not mean as some newspaper reported, that more… men who cheat are less intelligent. My study is about values and preferences, what inside their head. It’s not about their behavior and if I have to predict, probably more intelligent men are more likely to cheat because more intelligent men tend to acquire greater status and resources and as a result more intelligent men are more desirable and when it comes to mating what men want has nothing to do with it. It’s all about what women want and if women want to have sex with a more intelligent man because they are more desirable then that is what is going to happen, so I would predict even though I have no data, I would predict that more intelligent men who have higher status and greater resources are probably more likely to have affairs than less intelligent men, despite to fact that they don’t want to.

Intelligent people create novel solutions to problems—a fact that has resulted in a rich history of smart people picking up eccentric values and habits.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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