Saturday, November 17, 2012

Dumber Days

Recently, Stanford University professor Gerald Crabtree presented evidence that humanity is actually getting dumber. His study, published in the journal “Trends in Genetics,” argues that mutations in the human brain are eroding our collective intellectual and emotional capabilities. He believes that this deterioration has been brought about by none other than the societal advances that make our lives easier. The idea is that we have become so efficient at providing for our basic needs (food, water, shelter) that we no longer exercise our cognitive muscles and they are slowly atrophying.

In fact, Crabtree theorizes that our intellectual peak occurred when we were still non-verbal and our most pressing need was survival. He estimates that at the current rate, we could suffer two or more harmful mutations within the next 3,000 years. He does caution that technological advances could mitigate this intellectual decline and we might even be able to isolate and treat the mutations by then.

I do find it interesting that he identifies our non-verbal phase as our most intellectually potent. I mean, how exactly would our thoughts and logical processes increase in dexterity when we conveyed information through a series of grunts and gestures? Surely, we couldn’t have been collectively smarter before we could speak. Then again, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo makes a convincing counter-argument.

While the idea of our inevitable slide toward stupidity is worrisome, I am more concerned with the loss of our emotional capabilities. It was not clear whether this meant we would experience and display less emotion as time went or we simply would be less able to control the emotions we currently have. Either way, both options would be a great voice-over for a post-apocalyptic movie trailer:

In a world where Earth is populated by heartless morons, our last hope rests with the one man who dares to weep while attempting long division. The question is not whether or not he will triumph, but rather, how will he express his disappointment if he doesn’t……

In a world dominated by emotionally-unstable imbeciles, one man will stand for reason and tranquility in a sea of unnecessary tears and rudderless anger. What will become of our hero? Will his Pragmatic Posse be any match for the evil Bi-Polar Brigade? Will order and balance be restored to the universe or will we continue to be enslaved by our irrelevant euphoria and inapplicable sadness?

There is a delicious irony in the fact that the very creature comforts the study identifies as our cerebral doom are essential to the study’s very existence. After all, if our primary objective each day was simply survival, I highly doubt the study of genetics (or the journals that publish its progress) would have ever come into being. In effect, we are devoting our dwindling intellect to the study of our dwindling intellect.

I do wish he had provided more details on how severe this pair of “mutations” will be. Are we talking about delaying a few scientific breakthroughs or am I going to wake up one morning and decide Bret Michaels was underrated? I suppose it is not such a bad deal. Even If I had the choice, I am not sure I would trade agriculture, literature, and science for a few IQ points. What good does high-order math do you when your day consists of not wearing pants so that it is easier to poop in your cave-house?

1 comment:

  1. Science Friday with Ira Flato on NPR had the Professor on to talk about this which was pretty hilarious because the Professor had a hard time trying to explain his findings with Flato becoming quite impatient. And so the Professor was "cut off" mid-interview and though purportedly an accident my guess is that Ira willingly pulled the plug on the interview because it was going no where.


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