Somebody figured I’d enjoy this talk by Neil deGrasse Tyson. As a matter of fact, I did rather enjoy it. He’s a good speaker and brings up some good points. But what he said at the end gave me pause. In case you don’t want to listen to the entire talk yourself, I have transcribed the relevant parts:
We share like 98% plus identical DNA. We are smarter than a chimpanzee. So let’s invent a measure of intelligence that makes humans unique. Let’s say: Intelligence is your ability to like, compose poetry, symphonies, do art, math and science and so on. Let’s say, okay? Let’s make that as the arbitrary definition of intelligence for the moment. Chimps can’t do any of that. Yet we share 98, 99 percent identical DNA. Okay? The most brilliant chimp there ever was maybe can do a little bit of sign language. Well, our toddlers can do that. Toddlers… So… here’s what concerns me deeply. Deeply. Everything that we are, that distinguishes us from chimps, emerges from that one percent difference in DNA. It has to, ’cause that’s the difference. The Hubble telescope, these grand… that’s in that one percent. Maybe… everything that we are that is not the chimp is not as smart compared to the chimp as we tell ourselves it is. Maybe the difference between constructing and launching a Hubble telescope, and a chimp combining two finger motions as sign language – maybe that difference is not all that great. We tell ourselves it is. Just the same way we label our books optical illusions. We tell ourselves it’s a lot. Maybe it’s almost nothing. How would we decide that? Imagine another life form that’s one percent different from us. In the direction that we are different from the chimp. Think about that. We have one percent difference and we’re building the Hubble telescope. Go another one percent. What are we to they? We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence. That’s what we would be. They would take Stephen Hawking and roll him in front of their primate researchers and say, “well this one is like the most brilliant among them because he can do sort of astrophysics in his head. Oh, isn’t that cute! Little Johnie can do that too. Oh, that’s so nice…
If I understood correctly, Tyson is implying the following:
A) That the intelligence of an animal is the same sort of intelligence we humans have, that chimps and humans possess differing amounts of intelligence within a continuum. This is far from certain. Many, especially on the Left, even claim that there is no such continuum among humans. Instead, they believe in a multitude of intelligences.
B) That there is a direct correlation between genetic similarity and intellectual ability. This is as stretch, to say the least. I agreed with Tyson when he suggested that aliens might be as intellectually superior to us as we are to chimps. But for him to imply that the 1% difference, between ourselves and chimps, is what determines the gap – and that a 2% difference would necessarily double the intelligence gap between us – seems astoundingly simple-minded even for a layman. I can think of various animals, whose genomes differ substantially, but whose intelligences are similar. For example, dogs and octopuses don’t even belong to the same phylum, yet they seem to have comparable intelligence. Furthermore, who’s to say that the 1% difference is allocated equally to all abilities, including intelligence? Maybe 99% of that 1% has to do with body hair, opposable thumbs and skeletal structure. It’s true that he said “emerges from that one percent” but, as a scientist, he should have been more clear on this.
C) That “genetic difference” is the same thing as “difference”. The ease with which he equates the 1% difference in genome between humans and chimps with the difference between humans and chimps is disturbing – far more disturbing than the point he’s trying to make. Here is a scientist who seems to be unaware that most of our DNA is “junk DNA”, or that major differences in phenotype can arise from minute differences in genotype. For him to imply that the difference between a human and an ape can be accurately expressed as the percentage difference between our two genotypes is absurd. Would Tyson claim that humans are 75% similar to sponges given that we share about 75% of our DNA? I don’t even understand how it could be said that one species, or individual, is such and such percentage points similar to another – unless we are speaking of a specific trait, such as the ability to jump. If a kangaroo can jump 30 from a standing start, and a human can only jump 5 feet, then we may say that humans and kangaroos are 17% similar when it comes to jumping.
I don’t believe Tyson was aware of what he was implying when he made those statements. In truth, he unwittingly revealed an underlying mentality of the Left: That it is our superior intelligence that defines us as human and that this is the only thing that matters. This is why they get so touchy when we bring up differences in average I.Q. between races; to them, it’s the same as saying that some races are more human than others.
Am I making a big fuss over nothing? Perhaps.