I shall be a-goin’ to England for a conference. Expect no posts until May.

I still love you guys.

Elijah L. Armstrong

Consonantal rhyme and vowel rhyme

I have noticed something rather interesting about consonantal rhyme versus vowel rhyme. The former is very common indeed in poetry (common in Dickinson and Yeats among others) but much less so in song-lyrics. The reverse holds for vowel rhyme: it’s rare in poetry but quite common in song lyrics. This is interesting, and probably related to the greater cognitive effort generally expended in appreciating poetry (and, perhaps, in the greater emphasis on word sounds in songs). A rhyme like “dream/slime” seems very odd in the context of a song, but in a poem it is much more natural. In a song or in a poem, a rhyme like “thing/pit” sounds rather odd. But in a song, a vowel rhyme where one word ends in a vowel (sea/need), or where the consonant sounds are fairly similar (dim/thing), is much more acceptable than in a poem.

Another reason is that vowel rhymes are more frequently used as “fallbacks” when the poet/songwriter can’t think of a better rhyme. (There are only about 10 vowels, counting diphthongs, in English, but 25 or so consonants; hence vowel rhymes are easier to construct.) This is, of course, far more common in songwriting than in poetry, since songwriters tend to be far worse poets.

Come to think of it, I can’t think of many songs where the lyrics would make good poetry standing alone. However, this is partly because song lyrics tend to be rhythmically very “sprung” and therefore dependent on the music of the song itself – and dependent on the music in many other ways. Even Bob Dylan’s lyrics, generally considered the best of all rock lyrics, would not always make good poetry if published alone. The lyric “And though the rules of the road have been lodged/It’s only people’s games that you have to dodge” isn’t very good out of the context of the song. (Robert Christgau once made a similar point.)


I once read a poem with a very interesting rhyme scheme. As I recall, the consonantal structure of each four-line stanza formed an ABAB pattern, but the vowel structure formed an ABBA pattern. So the ending words might have been, for example, rock/done/suck/con.

Response to John Fuerst’s response to my dysgenics article

Fuerst’s reply is here: http://elijahlarmstrong.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/john-fuerst-responds-to-my-dysgenics-article/

My response is as follows.

1. I am not, in fact, claiming that the Flynn effect is evidence against a dysgenic effect. Of course there has been dysgenic selection for low IQ over the past century. However, phenotypic IQ has increased overall, and across nearly all domains.

2. It is unknown whether Piagetian tests have shown a Flynn effect. One British study shows a Piagetian anti-Flynn effect of four points per decade. However, British Flynn effects have been anomalously low in general. Moreover, during about the same time period, Piagetian IQ increased in France. It is a safe bet IMO that Piagetian ability, generally speaking, has shown a fairly considerable Flynn effect.

3. The only reason that is more important in the real world than is that abilities are fairly narrow. If all or nearly all abilities are increasing, than changes in the level of genotypic do not matter very much.

4. I am not sure what is meant by the term “horizontal measures [of ability].”

#75 (Shakespeare, c. 1600)

So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-season’d showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As ‘twixt a miser and his wealth is found;
Now proud as an enjoyer and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure,
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then better’d that the world may see my pleasure;
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight
And by and by clean starved for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight,
Save what is had or must from you be took.
Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
Or gluttoning on all, or all away.

-William Shakespeare, date unknown

A favorite set of song lyrics: “The Runaway” (Gentle Giant, 1974)

He is the runaway. Lie low the wanted man.
Mask his elusive face: soon he will getaway – and free is his
future, no more aimless time to spend.
And evading, he’s escaping
Four dirty walls and a bed in a cage his home no more.

Run in the underwood, cover and hide the trail
Senses like sharpened sword, guards for the shadow on his

And yet all his joy is empty and sad.

All thoughts are scarred with the prison cell and freedom
seems like freedom’s hell.
Hopes stained with strange regret. His dreams are dreams
for that he cannot get.

And yet all his joy is empty and sad.

Lose all identity. Vanish in own denial.
Seeks only lies and hide. Truth never brought to trial.
And caught in his own net, he looks to find endless life and
evading, he’s escaping
Four dirty walls and a bed in a cage his home no more.

Run in the underwood. Cover and hide the trail.
Senses like sharpened sword. Guards for the shadow on his


The art of the shaggy-dog story

Shaggy-dog stories have several virtues:

They have a similar appeal to anti-jokes, but aren’t as tedious and overused.

They are often, in essence, practical jokes: you waste the time of – troll – the joke-recipient.

In the banality of their endings (and, often, the tedium of the story itself) they reflect life, where anticlimaxes are ubiquitous.

I love shaggy-dog stories. They’re an art.


Cf. this Less Wrong post: http://lesswrong.com/lw/3zf/the_orange_head_joke/

“La belle dame sans Merci” (Keats, 1819)

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Thee hath in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

-John Keats, 1819

John Fuerst responds to my dysgenics article

If I understand you correctly, you made the following arguments:

(a) Cognitive ability is increasing across the board so even if there was a dysgenic effect, it wouldn’t matter.
(b) Cognitive ability is increasing across the board and this is evidence against a dysgenic effect.

(Correct me if I am wrong.)

Both are flawed. As for (b) it’s not clear that abilities are increasing in say Piagetian tests, tests which can be consisted to be intelligence ones. More importantly, you sidestep the issue of the anti-Jensen Effect on the Flynn Effect. You say:

Every single cognitive ability one can imagine – whether fluid or crystallized, rule-dependent or not, highly or poorly g-loaded – has shown noticeable increases. What does it matter if g has declined? g per se has no real-world impact: it operates only through the intermediaries of specific cognitive abilities.

Some factors must explain the narrow and broad ability increases. Presumably, these are of the environmental sort. And the anti-Jensen effect on the Flynn effect indicates that these environmental effects are not largely directly acting on g. We have, instead:

environment –> narrow abilities –> broad –> g

The situation then is not inconsistent with a dysgenic model (which runs genes –> g –> broad –> narrow abilities) nor is a dysgenic model superfluous. With the dysgenic model, increased environmental effect would be needed to offset the decreased genetic effect. The dysgenic effect has “real world” importance because g is more real world important (see note 1) and because to increase one unit of g you need much larger environmental effects than as needed to increase one unit of narrow abilities.

We might weight the productive value of different cognitive stratum e.g., III = 4, II = 2, I =1. (To weight these, we could use, for example, the correlation between g-load and job errors.) And we can estimate some correlation between environmental effect on these stratums e.g., III = 0.2, II = 0.4, I = 0.7, and genetic effects e.g., III = 0.7, II = 0.4, I = 0.2 And then we can evaluate the real world cost of dysgenic effects, for example:

DF= 0.7*(4)+0.4*(2)+0.2*(1) = 3.8
EF =0.2*(4)+0.4*(2)+0.7*(1) = 2.6
DF/EF = 1.7

This is just a framework for thinking about real world cost. The point is that the increase in narrow abilities –> broad –> g is moderated by dysgenic effects and that it’s moderated more on the more socially important aspect of intelligence. Just imagine the follow situations in hypothetical nations (with ranks based on my point scale):

(a) Euenviro + Eugenic Effect
(b) Eugenic Effect
(c) Euenviro Effect
(d) Euenviro + Dsysgenic Effect
(e) Dysenviro + Eugenic Effect
(f) Dysenviro
(g) Dysenviro + Dysgenic Effect

We have (d) which is suboptimal. That is the real world impact.

For the above reasons I have to disagree with your reasoning. A dysgenic effect would matter, assuming that it was occurring at a reasonable rate. The questions then are: (a) Is it occurring? (b) At what rate

If you knew the environmental antecedents of the Flynn effect and if you could control for them, you could determine by looking at the magnitude of the FE over time, though you would need a long time span. Alternatively, you could directly determine by e.g., determining (a) if lower IQ nlsy mothers had lower IQ cnlsy kids, (b) if due to relative breeding rates this affected the population mean, and (c) if this difference was genetically mediated. You could then input the dysgenic effect value into a cost function and estimate the impact.

Note 1: I couldn’t disagree more with this statement: “What does it matter if g has declined? g per se has no real-world impact: it operates only through the intermediaries of specific cognitive abilities.” Specific and broad cognitive abilities are vertical measures of g; there are numerous horizontal measures too. Moreover, intelligence is valuable because it indexes one’s ability to solve novel problems. It’s not clear that the Flynn effect represents a rise in novel problem solving ability as opposed to merely the ability to solve old familiar ones (as in the case of test-retest increase).

Gerhard Meisenberg responds to my dysgenics article

Dear Elijah et al,

I share your scepticism about the real-world implications of dysgenics and Flynn effect. Although dysgenics tends to be strongest on tests with higher g loadings and the Flynn effect is unrelated or negatively related to g loadings, what matters in the short run is that scores on all tests have risen through the Flynn effect, including many of those that have high g loadings. Assuming that test bias (familiarity with multiple choice questions, increased guessing) is not the major explanation of the Flynn effect, we would expect that people actually became more intelligent and act in more intelligent ways. Most indicators show that this is the case. There has been sustained economic growth for the last 2 centuries, and there has been a long-term trend for decreased violence that is still continuing (according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime).

So far the only indicator that bucks the trend is the rate of major innovations. Here we have lots of alternative explanations, with the low-hanging fruits argument being the most obvious. But is it the decline in genotypic g as opposed to specialized skills? Perhaps the real major innovations, and the Kuhnian paradigm shifts in theoretical science, require both extremely high innate talent and very favorable environmental conditions. We try to make good environmental conditions available to everyone through the educational system. But extreme innate talent is expected to become less common as a result of dysgenics, and because these people are self-starters, there is limited opportunity to counteract this genetic trend with better schools or greater specialization. Therefore we have to expect that very high achievement, and especially achievement that is interdisciplinary and requires integrative thinking, is the first casualty of dysgenics.

One reason why it is difficult or impossible to gauge long-term trends in creative achievement is that in modern science, methodological advances can open up whole new research areas. We got massively parallel DNA sequencing, and suddenly we can figure out how much inbreeding there was among Neanderthals! But there is the nagging question: Is the amount of scientific progress that we are squeezing out of this new technology really so impressive? Or is the more remarkable thing that progress is so slow despite this new technology? If today´s scientists were smarter, perhaps we would already know not only the Neanderthals´ extent of inbreeding based on their genomes, but also their personality traits and intelligence. And we would know how these traits changed in historic populations, and we would know which genes are under selection in modern populations. But we should be more patient. The age of high-powered genome-wide association studies started only 5 years ago.




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