Meta: Philosopher James Flynn on counterfactuals and secular IQ increase

Discussions on alternate history, including events up to 20 years before today. Hosted by Terry Duncan.
User avatar
Posts: 3255
Joined: 15 Jan 2019 22:32
Location: USA

Meta: Philosopher James Flynn on counterfactuals and secular IQ increase

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 14 Jun 2021 23:11

The moral philosopher James Flynn is best known for his work on IQ, discovering/popularizing the "Flynn Effect" wherein IQ has been increasing dramatically, per IQ tests, for as long as we have had IQ tests.

Flynn's explanations for this are subtle and varied but one central aspect is a more cognitively demanding modern environment in which people are forced to do counterfactual reasoning to an extent that our grandparents etc. did not. An accessible into to his views are in his TED Talk, where he gives amusing anecdotes about early-20th Century test subject's inability to handle counterfactual reasoning. This inability causes them to score very poorly on IQ tests.

Flynn's argument (TED and elsewhere) DOES NOT imply, however, that our grandfathers were as dumb as their IQ tests suggest. It's obvious, says Flynn, that we are merely better at a skill that IQ tests overvalue for inter-temporal comparisons.


Probably there is a "Flynn Effect" on AHF and in any other forum (real or virtual) in which different age cohorts conduct counterfactual reasoning. As Flynn's research shows, his effect continues to this day: the youngest cohorts in any forum will be most adept at counterfactual reasoning even if - in some more fundamental sense - they are no smarter than the older cohorts.

I want to politely suggest that this predicted dynamic actually plays out on AHF: older members who are impressively knowledgeable about WW2 are not necessarily as adept at counterfactual reasoning. Like the Old World interlocutors that Flynn humorously discusses, they often respond to counterfactual logic problems with rejection that, to someone unacquainted with Flynn's analysis, would suggest they have global cognitive difficulties.

Flynn's studies should remind us (remind me most saliently) not to infer global characteristics from specific lapses in counterfactual reasoning. Likewise, they should remind us of the centrality of counterfactual reasoning to modern modes of analysis.
"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

David Thompson
Forum Staff
Posts: 23711
Joined: 20 Jul 2002 19:52
Location: USA

Re: Meta: Philosopher James Flynn on counterfactuals and secular IQ increase

Post by David Thompson » 15 Jun 2021 00:24

Locked as off-topic. The subject is not a "what if?" and has an essentially self-congratulatory theme.

Return to “What if”