We live in an era where our phones can give us all the information we could possibly want (if we’d just check), we have bionic legs, our video games teach us more about history than our teachers, and our laptops can probably run NORAD. So yeah, I’m not surprised when I hear that a new study suggests that civilization is making people stupid.
Professor Gerald Crabtree from Stanford University has noted that over time, the need for abstract thought has been less and less, to the point that in our evolution, the genes reducing our strength of intelligence and emotional nuance are passed on, leading to a gradual decline.
The gene evolved into our ancestors anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000 years ago, when the more crafty of humans would survive by building shelters for protection and outwitting prey for food, and those less intelligent would simply die out.
But because now we’re not needing to worry about, y’know, lions killing us — unless, of course, we jump over a fence at the zoo — our intelligence is not as necessary for survival as it once was. The development of agriculture led to community life, where people would essentially make up for your dumb ass and protect you when you made a stupid mistake.
Crabtree reported this horrifying detail:
A hunter-gatherer who did not correctly conceive a solution to providing food or shelter probably died, along with his or her progeny, whereas a modern Wall Street executive that made a similar conceptual mistake would receive a substantial bonus and be a more attractive mate. Clearly, extreme selection is a thing of the past.
Apparently we peaked about 2,000 to 6,000 years ago. Crabtree theorized that if the average Athenian from 1,000 BC came to be in modern times, he would be considered “the most intellectually alive” of our fellow idiots.
Of course, with a study like this, Crabtree had to make it clear that we aren’t even going to notice any change. A couple hundred years won’t do much of anything in our evolution. “If we do not blow ourselves up first” he says across tens of thousands of years human’s ingenuity is still strong enough to find a way around this problem.
Question: Civilization is making people stupid. Do we care?