A Meeting with Hank Pellissier

This Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting up with Hank Pellissier, who used to work for the IEET, a futurist/transhumanist institute, and is now a blogger-journalist and amateur researcher at the Brighter Brains blog.

2013-09-15 16-59-15 - meeting with Hank Pellissier

As one may glean from the title of that blog, his current area of major interest lies in IQ and how you can bolster (or deflate) it. His most recent book is 225 Ways to Elevate or Injure IQ, the product of four years of research consisting of trawling through and summarizing the existing academic literature on the topic. In the meetup, he expounded upon his work.

Much of it was commonsense, or otherwise of no surprise to people who take an active interest in the topic. Some it was also of doubtful validity, with correlations not always being substantiated by a solid case for causation. But some of it was also new, counter-intuitive, even surprising. Certainly all this material is well worth publicizing and pushing into the public debate because quite apart from the intrinsic individual benefits of higher IQ’s it also leads to more efficient economies, higher technological growth, lower crime rates, etc.

Here is a list of most of these 225 IQ factors from Pellisier’s website. Below is a rough classification and brief discussion of some of the most important and interesting points from his research.

Commonsense/Well-known Factors

The big ones are:

Nutrient deficiencies: The important ones are iodine, iron, and zinc. Causes can include poor/unvaried diets and infectious diseases, such as malaria and intestinal worms. Has a ~15-20 IQ point impact on national IQ.

Cousin marriages have a huge observable (negative) impact on IQ. I suspect Pellissier and hbdchick would have a lot to talk about. Causes a ~10 IQ drop… which is really significant when half the population is practicing it, as in much of the Muslim world.

Not mentioned, but significant nonetheless: Racial/ethnic average IQ ceilings. Probably not worth talking at length about, since there isn’t much to do for it and only serves to turn more “respectable” people off from the very concept of IQ and the goal of optimizing it for everyone to the maximum extent possible.

Other commonsense things Pellissier mentions: Good prenatal environement; breastfeeding, preferably on demand, not a set schedule (~4 points); environment free of toxic metals and poisons (lead, cadmium, pesticides, etc); social connections and support; environments with cognitive stimulation (music, chess, computer strategy games – not shooters, learning new languages esp. Mandarin); exercise; sleep well.

Avoid bad things: Concussions, on the basis of which Pellissier is a proponent of banning American football – one study claims 14 point IQ loss after 20 weeks. Binge drinking alcohol; marijuana; smoking and smoke exposure; khat. But magic mushrooms are an exception and are apparently good for repairing brain damage from severe trauma or PTSD! Avoid obesity. Some studies claim fluoride in drinking water is bad for IQ – others disagree.

Questionable Factors

Spanking/corporal punishment; exposure to violence as a child – although its likely and commonsensical that severe child abuse would reduce IQ, I suspect its more likely that the kids who are spanked and/or disciplined more will have lower IQ’s in the first place (more likely to misbehave) and lower IQ parents – aka less capacity for reasoned argument, and readier to resort to impulsive, physical measures – and since IQ is hereditary and all… Anyway, suffice to say, spanking was near universal in Europe before the 20th century, and that certainly didn’t stop it from producing many geniuses.

Diet – junk food, skipping breakfast, sugar, etc., all claimed to reduce IQ – or do lower IQ children (aka with lower IQ parents) have these poorer dietary habits in the first place? I’m sure it goes both ways

National wealth – An obvious one… but I don’t think it matters much at all really (except insofar as national wealth can enable some basic level of nutritional and educational provision… but you don’t need a whole lot of it to buy children books and feed them. Studies in Italy and the US seem to show that the level of educational spending has next to no effect on performance in standardized tests (rough proxy for IQ).

Cold Weather – Great example of necessity of being really careful about rushing to conclusions in these matters. Is it the cold that makes IQ – or is it having ancestors that evolved in colder climes? Kinda doubt you’d up your intelligence much by moving to Kolyma.

Researchers at California School of Professional Psychology claim that “persons in colder climates tend to have higher IQs.” The theory correlates with data from the 50 United States.

Acupuncture – One small study in China indicated a ~15 IQ point gain in half the patients after “six months of acupuncture and other treatments” (so ~7 points overall?). Seems a bit too high. While I can readily testify that acupuncture really does promote relaxation and alleviate stress, I’m skeptical regarding such wilder claims.

Parental Socio-Economic Status, mother’s educational level, etc. – A myriad of studies claiming this. There are, of course, strong correlations with child IQ. But significant independent causation is quite roundly debunked in Charles Murray’s and Richard Hernnstein’s The Bell Curve.

Just correlations, not causations, and explicitly identified as such – Religion (atheists cleverer); political beliefs (liberals cleverer); monogamous males (are cleverer; aka beta males, hehe); vegetarianism (vegan hipsters cleverer than average).

Interesting Factors

Small families – On first impression, I imagined this might be a correlation, not a causational issue. After all stupid/less educated women have more children in the first place, and IQ is ~75% hereditary. But… “After adjusting for mother’s IQ, the children IQ gap is still 10 points with one vs. five or more children” (Maximizing Intelligence by David J. Armor). The theory is that IQ will be depressed when parents have to spread their attentions over many children, as opposed to just one or two.

Girls mature faster – Total cerebral volume peaks at age 10.5 in girls and 14.5 in boys; language and motors skills also mature earlier. This – my note – is a possible explanation for why girls now outperform boys in schools, but continue to underperform them later in life. They just reach their peak earlier and quicker.

Meditation – Some studies claim a very substantial gain in IQ (~8 points) while also, of course, producing other positive effects like less stress.

Wheat! – As we are fans of the paleo diet lifestyle, this I found particularly interesting. This might go some way to explaining the East Asian Exception (aka poor East Asian countries tend to have far higher IQ’s than equally poor countries from, say, the Mediterranean, where diets are grain-based):

A 2011 study of 290 Japanese schoolchildren revealed that those who ate wheat everyday had IQs that were, on average, 4.0 points lower than non-wheat eaters (i.e., rice eaters). Why? Nutritionists believe a neurotoxin in the “staff of life” – wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) – is to blame. WGA passes through the blood-brain barrier and attaches itself to the myelin sheath, the protective coating on the neurons; it’s presence there injures the growth, health, and survival of brain cells.

WGA is highest in whole wheat, especially sprouted whole wheat, and it also lurks in barley and rye. Nutritionists note that all grains contain “natural food toxins” to protect themselves from being eaten by mammals, with the average person eating about 1.5 grams daily of plant poisons. The safest grain is white rice; it’s toxic substances are largely annihilated by cooking. Japanese children who ate white rice and avoided wheat had “significantly larger grey matter volumes in several regions, including left superior temporal gyrus” and their perceptual organizational index (POI) was markedly higher.

Cholesterol-lowering statins – Are apparently a big IQ depressant, as “25% of the body’s cholesterol is in the brain, where it insulates neurons in “myelin sheaths” to create strong neural connections, an essential step in concretizing memory and learning.” Do your best not to get to the stage where you have to take statins.

Playing brain games – E.g. this one: http://www.soakyourhead.com/dual-n-back.aspx

Supplements that increase IQ

The most interesting ones:

Piracetam/aniracetam – Nootropics. Combine with choline. I can personally vouch that they do most definitely and powerfully work. However, there hasn’t been much research on side effects, so I didn’t continue using them for long.

Cocunut oil – One of the best and most accessible natural brain supplelements out there. Claimed to be able to reverse Alzheimer’s.

Deprenyl – Prescription drug, anti-aging, improves sex drive. Can be imported from Mexico.

Modafinil –  Prescription only. Fights ADHD, but French military gives it to their pilots for alertness.

Gingko biloba – Most studies say no effect; one study says very beneficial effects in older people. I tried it for a few weeks and saw no effect.

Huperzine-A – Another naturally derived nootropic; as with gingko biloba, more orientated towards preservation (not improvement) and older people.

Curcumin – As in turmeric spice. Said to combat Alzheimer’s.

Tea – In general, and esp. St. John’s Wort for older people.

Creatine – Enhances short-term memory. Verbal fluency increase seen only in vegetarians (not surprising as creatine is found in meat).

Omera-3 (DHA), Alpha Lipoic Acid – It’s basically good for everything.

Caffeine – Very accessible.

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