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  • We are going to take a quick voyage

  • over the cognitive history of the 20th century,

  • because during that century,

  • our minds have altered dramatically.

  • As you all know, the cars that people drove in 1900

  • have altered because the roads are better

  • and because of technology.

  • And our minds have altered, too.

  • We've gone from people who confronted a concrete world

  • and analyzed that world primarily in terms

  • of how much it would benefit them

  • to people who confront a very complex world,

  • and it's a world where we've had to develop

  • new mental habits, new habits of mind.

  • And these include things like

  • clothing that concrete world with classification,

  • introducing abstractions that we try to make

  • logically consistent,

  • and also taking the hypothetical seriously,

  • that is, wondering about what might have been

  • rather than what is.

  • Now, this dramatic change was drawn to my attention

  • through massive I.Q. gains over time,

  • and these have been truly massive.

  • That is, we don't just get a few more questions right

  • on I.Q. tests.

  • We get far more questions right on I.Q. tests

  • than each succeeding generation

  • back to the time that they were invented.

  • Indeed, if you score the people a century ago

  • against modern norms,

  • they would have an average I.Q. of 70.

  • If you score us against their norms,

  • we would have an average I.Q. of 130.

  • Now this has raised all sorts of questions.

  • Were our immediate ancestors

  • on the verge of mental retardation?

  • Because 70 is normally the score for mental retardation.

  • Or are we on the verge of all being gifted?

  • Because 130 is the cutting line for giftedness.

  • Now I'm going to try and argue for a third alternative

  • that's much more illuminating than either of those,

  • and to put this into perspective,

  • let's imagine that a Martian came down to Earth

  • and found a ruined civilization.

  • And this Martian was an archaeologist,

  • and they found scores, target scores,

  • that people had used for shooting.

  • And first they looked at 1865,

  • and they found that in a minute,

  • people had only put one bullet in the bullseye.

  • And then they found, in 1898,

  • that they'd put about five bullets in the bullseye in a minute.

  • And then about 1918 they put a hundred bullets in the bullseye.

  • And initially, that archaeologist would be baffled.

  • They would say, look, these tests were designed

  • to find out how much people were steady of hand,

  • how keen their eyesight was,

  • whether they had control of their weapon.

  • How could these performances have escalated

  • to this enormous degree?

  • Well we now know, of course, the answer.

  • If that Martian looked at battlefields,

  • they would find that people had only muskets

  • at the time of the Civil War

  • and that they had repeating rifles

  • at the time of the Spanish-American War,

  • and then they had machine guns

  • by the time of World War I.

  • And, in other words, it was the equipment

  • that was in the hands of the average soldier

  • that was responsible, not greater keenness of eye

  • or steadiness of hand.

  • Now what we have to imagine is the mental artillery

  • that we have picked up over those hundred years,

  • and I think again that another thinker will help us here,

  • and that's Luria.

  • Luria looked at people

  • just before they entered the scientific age,

  • and he found that these people

  • were resistant to classifying the concrete world.

  • They wanted to break it up

  • into little bits that they could use.

  • He found that they were resistant

  • to deducing the hypothetical,

  • to speculating about what might be,

  • and he found finally that they didn't deal well

  • with abstractions or using logic on those abstractions.

  • Now let me give you a sample of some of his interviews.

  • He talked to the head man of a person

  • in rural Russia.

  • They'd only had, as people had in 1900,

  • about four years of schooling.

  • And he asked that particular person,

  • what do crows and fish have in common?

  • And the fellow said, "Absolutely nothing."

  • You know, I can eat a fish. I can't eat a crow.

  • A crow can peck at a fish.

  • A fish can't do anything to a crow."

  • And Luria said, "But aren't they both animals?"

  • And he said, "Of course not.

  • One's a fish.

  • The other is a bird."

  • And he was interested, effectively,

  • in what he could do with those concrete objects.

  • And then Luria went to another person,

  • and he said to them,

  • "There are no camels in Germany.

  • Hamburg is a city in Germany.

  • Are there camels in Hamburg?"

  • And the fellow said,

  • "Well, if it's large enough, there ought to be camels there."

  • And Luria said, "But what do my words imply?"

  • And he said, "Well, maybe it's a small village,

  • and there's no room for camels."

  • In other words, he was unwilling to treat this

  • as anything but a concrete problem,

  • and he was used to camels being in villages,

  • and he was quite unable to use the hypothetical,

  • to ask himself what if there were no camels in Germany.

  • A third interview was conducted

  • with someone about the North Pole.

  • And Luria said, "At the North Pole, there is always snow.

  • Wherever there is always snow, the bears are white.

  • What color are the bears at the North Pole?"

  • And the response was, "Such a thing

  • is to be settled by testimony.

  • If a wise person came from the North Pole

  • and told me the bears were white,

  • I might believe him,

  • but every bear that I have seen is a brown bear."

  • Now you see again, this person has rejected

  • going beyond the concrete world

  • and analyzing it through everyday experience,

  • and it was important to that person

  • what color bears were --

  • that is, they had to hunt bears.

  • They weren't willing to engage in this.

  • One of them said to Luria,

  • "How can we solve things that aren't real problems?

  • None of these problems are real.

  • How can we address them?"

  • Now, these three categories --

  • classification,

  • using logic on abstractions,

  • taking the hypothetical seriously --

  • how much difference do they make in the real world

  • beyond the testing room?

  • And let me give you a few illustrations.

  • First, almost all of us today get a high school diploma.

  • That is, we've gone from four to eight years of education

  • to 12 years of formal education,

  • and 52 percent of Americans

  • have actually experienced some type of tertiary education.

  • Now, not only do we have much more education,

  • and much of that education is scientific,

  • and you can't do science without classifying the world.

  • You can't do science without proposing hypotheses.

  • You can't do science without making it logically consistent.

  • And even down in grade school, things have changed.

  • In 1910, they looked at the examinations

  • that the state of Ohio gave to 14-year-olds,

  • and they found that they were all

  • for socially valued concrete information.

  • They were things like,

  • what are the capitals of the 44 or 45 states

  • that existed at that time?

  • When they looked at the exams

  • that the state of Ohio gave in 1990,

  • they were all about abstractions.

  • They were things like,

  • why is the largest city of a state rarely the capital?

  • And you were supposed to think, well,

  • the state legislature was rural-controlled,

  • and they hated the big city,

  • so rather than putting the capital in a big city,

  • they put it in a county seat.

  • They put it in Albany rather than New York.

  • They put it in Harrisburg rather than Philadelphia.

  • And so forth.

  • So the tenor of education has changed.

  • We are educating people to take the hypothetical seriously,

  • to use abstractions, and to link them logically.

  • What about employment?

  • Well, in 1900, three percent of Americans

  • practiced professions that were cognitively demanding.

  • Only three percent were lawyers or doctors or teachers.

  • Today, 35 percent of Americans

  • practice cognitively demanding professions,

  • not only to the professions proper like lawyer

  • or doctor or scientist or lecturer,

  • but many, many sub-professions

  • having to do with being a technician,

  • a computer programmer.

  • A whole range of professions now make cognitive demands.

  • And we can only meet the terms of employment

  • in the modern world by being cognitively

  • far more flexible.

  • And it's not just that we have many more people

  • in cognitively demanding professions.

  • The professions have been upgraded.

  • Compare the doctor in 1900,

  • who really had only a few tricks up his sleeve,

  • with the modern general practitioner or specialist,

  • with years of scientific training.

  • Compare the banker in 1900,

  • who really just needed a good accountant

  • and to know who was trustworthy in the local community

  • for paying back their mortgage.

  • Well, the merchant bankers who brought the world to their knees

  • may have been morally remiss,

  • but they were cognitively very agile.

  • They went far beyond that 1900 banker.

  • They had to look at computer projections

  • for the housing market.

  • They had to get complicated CDO-squared

  • in order to bundle debt together

  • and make debt look as if it were actually a profitable asset.

  • They had to prepare a case to get rating agencies

  • to give it a AAA,

  • though in many cases, they had virtually bribed the rating agencies.

  • And they also, of course, had to get people

  • to accept these so-called assets

  • and pay money for them

  • even though they were highly vulnerable.

  • Or take a farmer today.

  • I take the farm manager of today as very different

  • from the farmer of 1900.

  • So it hasn't just been the spread

  • of cognitively demanding professions.

  • It's also been the upgrading of tasks

  • like lawyer and doctor and what have you

  • that have made demands on our cognitive faculties.

  • But I've talked about education and employment.

  • Some of the habits of mind that we have developed

  • over the 20th century

  • have paid off in unexpected areas.

  • I'm primarily a moral philosopher.

  • I merely have a holiday in psychology,

  • and what interests me in general is moral debate.

  • Now over the last century,

  • in developed nations like America,

  • moral debate has escalated

  • because we take the hypothetical seriously,

  • and we also take universals seriously

  • and look for logical connections.

  • When I came home in 1955 from university

  • at the time of Martin Luther King,

  • a lot of people came home at that time

  • and started having arguments with their parents and grandparents.

  • My father was born in 1885,

  • and he was mildly