The chosen people

I have always had a fascination with Jews as a group. They are after all this super high achieving, creative ultra minority group that accounts for like 25% of the people at the top of various disciplines. Most notable are mathematics and physics. In math, you have von Neumann, Grothendieck, Paul Cohen, etc. In physics, the list is even longer: Einstein, Feynman, Gellman, Landau, Teller, too many to name. And these are the brainiest fields. But also, Jews excel at the highest levels in literature and music and in softer sciences. Marx, Freud, Chomsky, etc. They also excel in finance, law, and entrepreneurship. Look at the founders of some of the important SV firms and the top Wall Street hedge funds. This is rather universal. Even in the Soviet Union, some of the most prominent musicians and film producers were Jewish. Sergei Eisenstein, Iosif Kobzon. And many of the most infamous Russian oligarchs are Jewish too. In that realm, comes to mind Roman Abramovich, that guy who, in addition to marrying a trophy wife, bought the world’s best soccer team!

People use IQ as an explanation. Jews as a group, as we all know, have a very high median IQ (with extra advantage at verbal), and we all know what effect such has on the far tail (assuming same sigma (even there, Jews may be higher)). But could IQ alone account for most of such disproportionate achievement? A highly talented math PhD of Jewish origin has hypothesized (and communicated such directly to me) that Jews, aside from cultural and socioeconomic advantages, have higher aesthetic discernment, which enables them to be more creative. We all know that in science and the arts, horsepower is important, but there is also the taste and vision aspect.

I know some Jews, some of whom have lived in Israel, and I enjoy talking with them enormously. One of them I consider far smarter than I am. On the other hand, one of them, who is quite deficient academically and spouts a lot of nonsense, I have a rather low opinion of. He once sent me photos of military hardware that China bought and cloned from Israel to express to me how uncreative Chinese people are. I had already know, from talking with people in China, that China imported some cutting edge military technology from Israel, especially in the 80s. Earlier today, I glanced through the page on the Six Day War, the one in which Israel decisively defeated Arab countries that the Soviet Union had supported during the Cold War. It further reinforced my impression of how formidable the Israeli military is. I know that they have nuclear weapons, and are widely believed to possess thermonuclear ones as well, which they are very confident work despite not having tested them. A guy I talk to, who is doing a PhD in string theory at a top school, of very neutral Indian origin, however, says that they didn’t develop them on their own. (In contrast, it is almost universally accepted that China developed those independently in the 60s after the Soviet experts left.) To my great surprise, Gwydion Madawc Williams, who is highly knowledgeable about history and politics in an objective way, has publicized his doubts as to whether Israel would even survive in the long run. That seems to me quite far-fetched. Even though the demographics, and perhaps even public opinion, is against them, they are too competent and powerful (with weapons of mass destruction) not to survive. I may be wrong though in that judgement, with my near total lack of knowledge at the detailed level.

Yes, I know almost nothing about Jewish culture or even about Israel. I recall learning about it in my bull shit history class senior year of high school, which had the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of its major units. I know who Herzl was, what the Balfour Declaration was, and other such commonly known facts. However, how could a 17 year old possibly understand something like that in any deep, non-trivial way? Maybe in my spare time, I can actually accumulate all that requisite knowledge of biblical history as well as of the modern one. And learn some Hebrew too. If only I had the intellectual horsepower to devour that alongside Chinese language and history, which is already boundless enough. In spite of the great degree of my lack of JvN, I’ll do what I can. I could at least do better than all those Jews I’ve talked to who’ve said completely ridiculous things about Chinese culture and history to me. Jewish culture is little known and misunderstood outside those who practice it, but Chinese culture is far more so, with China having been traditionally isolated from and developed almost entirely independently of the West, alongside the freeze in relations with America following the Korean War that lasted for 20 years, the legacy of which is still ubiquitous today in America, around which global culture revolves. Though I grew up almost entirely in America, someone as intelligent as I am inevitably realized over time that the American or Western portrayal of Chinese culture, both the traditional one, and the PRC one, is more or less nonsense, and factually inaccurate in many ways. To de-brainwash myself on that one, I did what any reasonable person would do: read a ton of Chinese online, learning it in the process.

I’ll conclude by writing that as far as I see it, Jewish intellectual supremacy is hard to deny. As a group, Jews really do seem to produce a lion’s share of the geniuses, and by genius, I mean one who radically changes a field, who produces revolutionary work, as opposed to one who merely becomes professor at first rate university. It won’t be a surprise if this persists for quite a while, perhaps through the 21st century. People love to talk about now how in the young generation, it is the East Asian students who are outperforming, with their domination now of the IMO and Putnam contests, and other olympiads, as well as their increasing population in hard STEM departments in universities. There is still however some doubt on their ability to create new fields, to alter the face of science, as there is the widespread belief that East Asians are not as creative. Though I definitely cannot say with confidence, at this point, that Jewish ultra intellectual elite can be matched, I do think the aforementioned hypothesis regarding East Asians is rather overblown. I’ll explain why in the next paragraph.

First of all, I’ve come to realize that Japan has been producing ceiling creative people at a very high rate since they’ve been a developed country. This is true for mathematics, for physics, for engineering, for video games, for anime. That Jewish math PhD cited earlier in this post feels the same. Their high performance in science is evident from the plethora of Japanese names at the apex of various scientific fields who created their own directions which turned out to be extremely important and fundamental. In theoretical fields, Yoichiro Nambu, Hideki Yukawa, Goro Shimura, Kiyoshi Ito, Kenkichi Iwasawa, too many to name. Japanese have won a lion’s share of Nobel Prizes in the 21st century. Given such, it’s ironic that Satoshi Kanazawa wrote that Asians can’t think. People then will point to China and its underperformance. For that, one needs to keep in mind that China did not begin rapid modernization until the 1950s, whereas Japan was already more or less an advanced country during WWII. The high level of poverty, the great need for applied work, which diverted many of the smartest people away from pure science, and political movements such as the Cultural Revolution that substantially disrupted pure research all contributed to this. China following the reforms had many of its best and brightest go to American PhD programs, with most of them not returning, many of them eventually becoming professors in good or top American universities. It seems like that that cohort of mainland Chinese in America did exceedingly well, many becoming quite distinguished. As for conformism, if one knows the slightest about 20th century Chinese revolutionary culture and history, it will be apparent that Chinese are plenty non-conformist. That way smarter than me guy with Jewish blood, who I talk to regularly, once said that Jews produce the greatest extremes in virtually every direction, from Benjamin Netanyahu to Norman Finkelstein, from Garry Kasparov to Bobby Fischer, which I could not disagree with. As I learned more about 20th century Chinese history and culture though, I feel like Chinese are plenty crazy too. Politically, there is the very original culture and political system created by the Chinese communists, and on the other direction, you have liberal anti-communists like Fang Lizhi as well as Liu Xiaobo and other Tiananmen Square liberals who are now saying crazy things in America in the likes of Kasparov and Fischer. The Chinese communists developed one of a kind methods of warfare that proved to be highly successful, that enabled them ultimately to fight successfully against the most powerful country in the world, proving Chinese military ability in the modern era for the first time. However, due to cultural and linguistic isolation, coupled with political bias from the West, this is little known by the rest of world.

I’ll conclude by saying that all of this, on Jews, on East Asians, is rather consistent with theories derived from psychometrics. Psychometrics would predict, based on their higher base IQs, that those two groups would be vastly overrepresented within the intellectual elite, as they are. And it also seems to me that higher IQ really does make people more likely to be non-conformist and extreme, not only intellectually but also politically. Genius and madness go together.

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