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back to article Humans becoming steadily STUPIDER, says brainiac boffin

A US biologist is of the opinion that human brainpower peaked thousands of years ago, and that our smarts have been declining ever since. "I would be willing to wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our …

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electrolytes:

its what genes crave.

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Anonymous Coward

Judging

Judging some of the comments left on here I think there is some truth in this article.

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Anonymous Coward

A quote for a quote

"Advances in science, he says, will eventually enable our species to figure out how to continue to maintain our civilization despite a decline in raw brainpower." - Article

"The years passed, mankind became stupider at a frightening rate. Some had high hopes the genetic engineering would correct this trend in evolution, but sadly the greatest minds and resources where focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections." - Idiocracy

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Re: electrolytes:

Thank you... that commetn made my day

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Re: Judging

The genepool needs more chlorine

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Judging

So to summarise what he was saying.

Many years ago, the stupid, the weak would have been killed off young by natural causes, like drinking from the toilet. Nowadays these people are put in front of cameras on "reality TV shows" and then breed like rabbits, spreading their idiocy through the genepool. Rather than being killed off, they get protected.

The solution to prevent the further decline of our mental states? IQ tests, kill anyone who scores below 90.

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Re: Judging

@AC - I was going to 'thumbs up' until I saw the last paragraph.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Judging

... Or in a historical context, they became elevated to the European nobility. (Then bred like rabbits. With each other. Exclusively.)

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Stop

Kill everyone with an IQ below 90.

Oh, dear. The average IQ is 100, by definition. If you kill everyone whose IQ is below 90, the average intelligence will go up, but that is still defined as 100. So, post eugenics, a new bunch of people are now below 90, and hence must be eradicated. In the end you'll be left with a tiny number of people who are in the top 20% of the IQ range. Do you think you'll be in that group?

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Re: electrolytes:

"Get your hands of my junk!"

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Coat

Re: Judging @Thorne

The last thing my Jeans need is more chlorine.

what - oh, wrong genes :)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Judging

Looks more like a warning about drinking the bong water

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Anonymous Coward

Nice theory but it doesn't take into account the learning process which is far more important than inherited function. For instance there is no need for 1000 people to invent the wheel, just one - then pass the knowledge on.

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Coat

Except...

We invented a patent system that stops this sort of thing from happening.

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You never know...

"For instance there is no need for 1000 people to invent the wheel, just one - then pass the knowledge on."

The wheel is documented at the patent office, just in case anyone forgets and needs to recreate it:

<http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn965-wheel-patented-in-australia.html>

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yebbut those 1000 people have to be smart enough to see that the wheel is actually useful, and needs to be round.

Civilisation dies not because most people are too stupid to understand how to keep it running, but when most people are too stupid to:

(a) realise that it needs to be kept running at all..

(b) recognise someone who can keep it running, as opposed to someone whop claims they can.

We are past the tipping point now. And Darwin will be swinging into action.

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Re: Except...

Well - I've seen quite a lot of innovation generated as a way to work round patents.

One example is the aileron. The Wright brothers invented and patented wing warping as a way pf controlling roll in aeroplanes. People didn't want to pay for using wing warping so they invented ailerons - and it was a much better way. When was the last time you flew in an aeroplane with wing warping? The only current example I can think of is paragliders.

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Boffin

Re: Except...

Paragliders, and I think, hang-gliders. Though the paraglider deforms the wing along a line which might be considered more of an aileron with a very fat hinge...

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He's right but for the wrong reason

It's because we're protecting the stupid. Previously they used to die from sticking their heads in the mouths of lions. Now we put fences up and make it illegal.

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Re: He's right but for the wrong reason

Another Quote

"The problem with America is stupidity. I'm not saying there should be a capital punishment for stupidity, but why don't we just take the safety labels off of everything and let the problem solve itself?"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: He's right but for the wrong reason

"take the safety labels off"

That's sort of what they did in New Zealand, and of course many many countries never had the safety labels in the first place. Still plenty of leading grade idiots about in both cases.

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Re: He's right but for the wrong reason

It can't help to have tax and welfare systems specifically designed to counter the effects of evolution i.e. pay the least competent folk to stay at home and procreate while the rest go to work to pay for them.

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Re: He's right but for the wrong reason

Taking the safety labels off just means that someone gets to sue the producer. I bet a lawyer wrote that.

Now which problem were we talking about?

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Re: He's right but for the wrong reason

The welfare system is part of the environment. So how stupid does that make the workers? In evolutionary terms it sounds like the wage slaves who whinge rather that adapt are on the way out.

I mean if white igoods are more important to you than your genes future I'd say that puts you quite a long way down the grooming order.

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Re: He's right but for the wrong reason

I've always said that we could easily have a mass cull of the stupid simply by having their satnavs work out when they are heading eastwards on Beachy Head and then issuing the direction "Turn Right Now"

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Unhappy

Well,

while I cant be sure about how the general populace from today compares intellectually with those from ancient Athens, I do know that a quick perusal at any Youtube comments stream makes believe the Athenians couldn't possibly be any thicker than the average pleb today. :/

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Pirate

Re: Well,

That only holds true if you believe YouTube commenters are a good representative sample of humanity. If they are, we're doomed.

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Pint

The bulk of people have not moved into cities

until recently in our history. So...?

It's probably true though that technological advances across all dimensions of life remove evolutionary pressures and checks against 'stupidity'. Modern culture certainly goes the other direction and encourages it [stupidity] along with the lowest common denominator thinking that a few yet rail against.

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Stop

> Although Crabtree freely admits that proposing answers to that question is "outside my comfort zone...

Yeah, I'll bet.

What might that include?

* Eugenics

* Selective education, and the push of excellence by those that can really achieve it.

* The death of socialism or at least the curtailing of it somewhat.

* The re-introduction of competition in schools rather then the "everyone wins therefore no-one actually does" mentality.

* A multitude of other things....

Nature is a cruel mistress but we have her on the floor kicking her in the ribs.

Although we gain somewhat, we also lose.

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Nah. Nature is not out. She's not even down.

A shake of the dice, a new pandemic and that's death on a post industrial scale and only a few smarter survivors.

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Go

So let me get this straight....

Mankind has evolved from enlightened rural he-men to close-minded rural deviants?

Gerald Crabtree, are you county Republican party chair? :)

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Ooops,

I meant close-minded URBAN deviants :)

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Seems unlikely

The alternative hypothesis (and in the absence of empirical testing this is a hypothesis at best) is that as the importance of intelligence rises while the need for brute strength or hardiness to disease, hunger etc. has declined selective pressure will tend to promote intelligence.

Combine that with a reduction in the likelihood of malnourishment or disease impairing development and it seems to me that the average modern person is likely to be brighter than the average Athenian.

It's obviously hard to measure raw mental horsepower directly (and who knows what an ancient Athenian would make of rows of people sitting quietly with pencils taking tests which purport to measure IQ) but the very fact that literacy is so much higher now and that educated society is composed of more than the small percentage of society that are male and wealthy at least hints that intelligence is higher now even if cumulative improvements in science and technology undoubtedly play a role too.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Seems unlikely

You claim that the importance of intelligence rises. I dispute that, but true or not, this is irrelevant. What matters is the importance of intelligence to the ability to survive and procreate. I contend that intelligence was more important for those functions in a less regulated, more dangerous Athenian environment.

Similarly, the application of external pressure in the form of malnourishment or disease increases the value of intelligence. The possibility that malnourishment or disease impaired individual development is irrelevant, since these are not heritable traits (unless you favour Lysenko's discredited theories on the heritability of acquired characteristics).

The fact that literacy is higher now is a product of social engineering, and simply shows that there is a greater distribution of knowledge. That again has nothing to do with intelligence. (Otherwise how do you explain Newton's belief in the possibility of transmuting lead into gold? He certainly wasn't stupid - he was simply ignorant.)

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Re: Seems unlikely

"You claim that the importance of intelligence rises. I dispute that, but true or not, this is irrelevant. What matters is the importance of intelligence to the ability to survive and procreate. I contend that intelligence was more important for those functions in a less regulated, more dangerous Athenian environment."

If you look at koalas, they eat food which is nutrient poor so have evolved with a smaller brain so it requires less energy to run. Stupidity is their survival trick.

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Re: Seems unlikely

Your hypothesis (and, as before, in the absence of empirical data it is only that) looks shaky to me. If selective pressure strongly pushed intelligence during periods of high uncertainty (either through prevalance of disease or because of politics) then there should be ample evidence.

Are the North Koreans or the Ethiopians more intelligent after several generations of political instability and cyclical famine? I've seen no evidence to support that they are.

As the commenter who replied to you points out, intelligence is an expensive trait. Brain size and weight has a calorie cost which is not insignificant. Likewise, your claim that strength, disease resistance and intelligence were ALL more important then ignores the basic role of selective pressure in propagating more useful traits at the expense of less. There is ample evidence that people are becoming weaker and more disease prone as the selective pressures on those traits fall away and I believe that, combined with an environment in which the higher calorie costs and longer adolescant development time for higher intelligence drop off, promotes brain power.

Your point about accumulated knowledge is taken, but you'll note that I already mentioned that in my initial answer. Greater literacy and knowledge don't automatically mean higher intelligence, but it's not unreasonable to hypothesise that an environment in which literacy and knowledge are more important will put selective pressure on intelligence. As for your straw man raising and then dismissal of the idea that Newton's wacky beliefs might indicate stupidity, note that bright people are as likely to have absurd beliefs as anyone else (because they're better at articulating and fleshing them out, they could in some ways be said to be more absurd - a la L Ron Hubbard). That's not something that's likely to go away as the overall body of knowledge increases.

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Joke

Re: Seems unlikely

"If you look at koalas, they eat food which is nutrient poor so have evolved with a smaller brain so it requires less energy to run. Stupidity is their survival trick."

Or do they eat nutrient poor food _because_ they are stupid? Maybe one day we'll see a koala say "sod this eucalyptus, I'm having a steak", and it'll start a while new line of superintelligent carnivorous killer dropbears.

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Lead to gold

Is possible with the right sort of nuclear and subatomic reactions.

Newton wasn't theoretically wrong..

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Re: Seems unlikely

"it's not unreasonable to hypothesise that an environment in which literacy and knowledge are more important will put selective pressure on intelligence"

That doesn't fit with any historical human society - literacy goes with wealth, as wealth spreads, literacy rises. The illiterate have always still had babies.

There hasn't been a point at which literacy significantly improved the chance of successful reproduction.

Basic literacy is also not difficult to achieve - it is no reliable indicator of raw brainpower, so even if it was somehow and advantage in becoming an ancestor that wouldn't select for the higher ends of human intelligence.

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Re: Seems unlikely

ahhhhhh +1 for the dropbears!

Just when I thought it was gone and forgotten, Those drop bears are back again. ;)

What is more amusing is people still fall for it on youtube and the videos become even more rediculous,Maybe it is a sign humanity is becoming more stupid?

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Facepalm

Hitler would be proud.

Of the author, of course...

I may try to reason with this lunatic, but I would give up. I'll try with you, though.

More people means more of everything, smart and not so smart. Darwin still applies and random genetic mutations are still in vogue. What is killing the author's hopes is not genetics but his culture. What makes many people appear, well, let's say not very Athenian, is our culture. Our culture of conformance, of lame artists with lame lyrics, stupid tv shows, etc. Its as though we are being farmed for the underground. Putting a kid in jail for a picture of a burning poppycock. That Huxley and Orwell share a Joint Flawless Victory! (tm) is what makes our culture dull.

It's the software, not the hardware.

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Re: Hitler would be proud.

The problem is science is making up for genetic problems which in previous times would have prevented the person from breeding. Infertility, birth defects, genetic faults, butt uglyness can be corrected by science thus the person has a chance to breed.

Now that these faults no longer stop you, Darwinism promotes traits that help you breed more. In modern society traits that use to hold you back now help you, of which stupidity is foremost. Second is being a crap parent. Traits that make you a crap parent (drug users, drunks, abusive etc) are now a good trait for breeding. In the old days, being a crap parent meant your children would be more likely to die thus ending your genetics. Now being a crap parent, society cares for your children while you devote your time to making new little rejects.

Society has been breeding animals to achive the desired traits for thousands of years. It's about time it applied the same standards to itself.

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Re: cycles

This topic really brings out the odious cranks.

The best living laboratory of the consequences of a less diverse genetic pool can be found amongst the surviving royals and other aristocrats. Somehow, despite generations of carefully selected traits, we have come up a bit shy of the eugenic ideal of superman. To be fair, a lot shy.

Given the shoddy make-up of most of these individuals, it is tempting to say it is time to give the druggies and abusers a shot at it; but I suspect that might have been the problem in the first place.

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Re: cycles

Aristocrats and royals are a really bad example, they were (are?) usually put together for political reasons and then from misguided feelings of social superiority, not because of any physical or mental capability.

The other problem is that while physical characteristics are often transferred (two tall parents usually produce tall offspring, for example), mental ones seem to be a bit more hit and miss. I know as many smart people with dumb kids and dumb people with smart kids as I do smart-smart and dumb-dumb families.

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Re: Hitler would be proud.

Don't know who said it, but "Never argue with the stupid. They'll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience."

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This guy has already been debunked. Tests of symbolic reasoning show steady improvement in the last century. He even seems to think the height of classical Greek civilisation was around 1000BCE when it was 5th to the 2nd centuries.

Plato didn't have to wade through reams of earlier thinkers before he could come up with a new idea. It's just like how having original ideas in computing was a lot easier in 1970, when a good engineer could design a new microprocessor, than now when it takes hundreds.

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The guy's an idiot

"failure of any one of the [genes] gives rise to deficiency."

Bollocks. Utter tripe. Complete and total bunk..

He's either claiming Intelligent Design by the back door, or that evolutionary pressure on humans completely stopped selecting for intelligence thousands of years ago.

Genes simply change, and the vast majority of changes are neither good nor bad.

Even in modern human society, changes notably for the worse are still selected against (the mentally disabled tend not to have children) - although there is probably still some selection pressure towards being religious.

It does appear that his overall contention is true of his educational establishment though, because he's still there spouting rubbish when he should have been thrown out by now.

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Boffin

Re: The guy's an idiot

"evolutionary pressure on humans completely stopped selecting for intelligence thousands of years ago"

I don't know about thousands of years but being stupid sure seems to have been accelerating breeding in the last 50 years or so.

I know several people who I would consider intelligent mainly due to being able to hold a conversation about something other than the latest reality TV rubbish. Most them are approaching middle age and childless.

On the other hand there are another lot whose primary topic of conversation is the latest exploits of their ill-disciplined offspring along with what ever rubbish it was that they watched on TV last night.

That's hardly a scientific sample of course but I'm sure I'm not the only one to experience this phenomena.

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Re: The guy's an idiot

"Even in modern human society, changes notably for the worse are still selected against (the mentally disabled tend not to have children) "

This is less true than it was 30 years ago. My brother was mentally disabled by an accident and I've therefore been around the mental health environment, as it were, for a long time and seen the changes. In the 70's there was a de-facto ban on people with Down's Syndrome having children. This is not the case, so much, today.

It's a distasteful subject, certainly, but the truth doesn't care about taste.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The guy's an idiot @Goat Jam

If your assessment of peoples' intelligence is based on their recreation, please don't even mention science. You're hereby banned from using the boffin icon, you sad Sheldon Cooper wannabe ...

ps It's phenomenon in the singular.

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