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Study Claims Human Intelligence Peaked Two To Six Millennia Ago

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the on-the-shoulders-of-consecutively-dumber-giants dept.

Biotech 637

eldavojohn writes "Professor Gerald "Jerry" Crabtree of Stanford's Crabtree Laboratory published a paper (PDF) that has appeared in two parts in Trends in Genetics. The paper opens with a very controversial suggestion: '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 colleagues and companions.' From there, Crabtree speculates we're on the decline of human intelligence and we have been for at least a couple millennia. His argument suggests agriculture and, following from that, cities, have allowed us to break free of some environmental forces on competitive genetic mutations — a la Mike Judge's theory. However, the conclusion of the paper urges humans to keep calm and carry on, as any attempt to fix this genetic trend would almost certainly be futile and disturbing."

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Intel Peak (5, Funny)

smitty_one_each (243267) | about 2 years ago | (#41971579)

Intel peak
And Idiocracy streak
Comes with beard
You hirsute freak.
Burma Shave

no (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971611)

*looks at the robot on Mars*

No. No it did not.

yes (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971777)

*looks at this comment*

Yes. Yes it did.

Re:no (5, Insightful)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 2 years ago | (#41971823)

Only workaround would be to require everyone to have an IQ of 100 or above to be permitted to procreate.

But that's not politically correct.

Re:no (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972003)

You are right; it isn't politically expedient. However, if you look at stats (work on your Google-Fu; find them yourself), you'll see that people with an IQ lower than 100 have a lot more babies than people with higher IQ. So it is not a surprise that overall there is a downward trend. Don't forget that in the distant past, people with a very low IQ were at enough of a competitive disadvantage that they were much more likely to qualify for a Darwin Award. Today, they just get welfare (or whatever it is called in other countries) and keep having kids. They are at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to measures like "has a big house" or "makes a lot of money", but when it comes to the life pressure of procreation they are winning.

Re:no (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972029)

It wouldn't necessarily be the answer as what they are intimating is that the resulting drop in intelligence is not from genetic factors but societal. It turns out that the solution might be to reduce the population so we can move out of the cities and back to an mostly agrarian society.

Besides, even if intelligence is mostly nature and not nurture, you're not allowing for spontaneous mutation. In any controlled breeding program you should leave room for the wild card.

Re:no (4, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#41972033)

Only workaround would be to require everyone to have an IQ of 100 or above to be permitted to procreate. But that's not politically correct.

It would also not help. Most mental deficiencies are caused by environmental factors, not heredity. Problems in childbirth and drug (especially alcohol) use are by far the most common causes of mental retardation.

As to the untestable hypothesis that we're getting dumber, the theorist (I almost said "researcher", duh!) has missed a few clues. The main strength of our species isn't that we're all really smart, it's that one really smart guy comes along once in a while and tames fire, invents the spear, invents pottery, invents calculus, etc, and the rest of us can learn from that person.

There's no reason to think that random chance, barring evolutionary pressures, wouldn't even things out. I read that humans almost became extinct at one time (I don't remember how long ago it was) but that is the sort of evolutionary pressure that results in huge shifts in a species' change.

I seriously doubt that Aristotle could have comprehended calculus or designed a Mars rover.

That said, people sure seem stupider than they were when I was young -- but that's not nearly a long enough time for evolutionary pressures. And I would posit that people are getting smarter, not dumber, because a thousand years ago there were far more things that would hinder a child's developing brain, from lead paint that they didn't know made kids stupid, to drinking mothers, who didn't know was retarding their fetus' abilities, to falling off of horses and things like that. It's far easier to protect young brains today than just fifty years ago, and things have gotten better over the centuries as we learn.

Re:no (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972201)

Wouldn't those environmental hazards (lead, disease) have created pressure for even smarter brains, to compensate?

Not saying it would, just pointing out a potential flaw in your logic.

Re:no (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972073)

You are confusing intelligence with acquired knowledge, thus demonstrating the point of the paper.

Disturbing, yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971613)

But also rather pleasant...

Idiocracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971617)

Looks as if the movie was right. But there is a solution: elecrolytes

Re:Idiocracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972169)

I read somewhere that the median I.Q. of the United States of America has declined two points to 98.

I expect this was greeted with great happiness by the rest of the Norther Hemisphere.

God controls pairing and conception (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971645)

God can make children of Abraham from rocks. Evolution is driven by God, not random.

God says, "comprehending speed heavens wins intimately "

Re:God controls pairing and conception (2)

dyingtolive (1393037) | about 2 years ago | (#41971959)

And Christianity's prevalence was not until this, the most recent time of the two to six millennia decline. Not sure if you're a troll making the same point or serious, but you might be a compelling piece of evidence.

Re:God controls pairing and conception (2)

Farmer Tim (530755) | about 2 years ago | (#41971967)

Congratulations on providing proof that the study is correct.

Thought of earlier, Kornbluth's "Marching Morons" (1)

shoor (33382) | about 2 years ago | (#41971669)

I clicked to see who or what Mike Judge was. The topic immediately made me think of one of the first Science Fiction stories I ever read, C. M. Kornbluth's "The Marching Morons"

  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Marching_Morons [wikipedia.org]

Well... (5, Funny)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 years ago | (#41971671)

That explains the Kardashians.

I was wondering about that.

Re:Well... (5, Insightful)

Tony Isaac (1301187) | about 2 years ago | (#41971873)

Yes, and members of Congress!

Re:Well... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971909)

More like it explains the results of the most recent presidential elections in the USA.

Re:Well... (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972157)

More like it explains the results of the most recent presidential elections in the USA.

No, actually the victory in the recent presidential election was the victory of
decent people over self-absorbed scum.

Re:Well... (0)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 years ago | (#41972215)

Tell you what, let's check back in a couple years and see if you still believe that.

Re:Well... (1)

rwa2 (4391) | about 2 years ago | (#41972017)

*whew*

Now I don't feel so bad about not getting most of the jokes in Shakespeare without referring to the Cliff's notes.

I'm *so* relieved. Sort of.

Actually (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971673)

This would seem rather obvious. You don't see people like those of the classic Greek era anymore.

Re:Actually (0)

oodaloop (1229816) | about 2 years ago | (#41971783)

And yet, IQ scores continue to climb every year. The average person in 1880 would score 70 today. The brightest Greek mind would likely sound like an idiot today if you tried to talk to him. He wouldn't know anything about DNA, quantum mechanics, evolution, economics, astronomy, virology, microbiology, ad nauseum.

Re:Actually (4, Insightful)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | about 2 years ago | (#41971869)

There's a difference between IQ and education.

Re:Actually (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971891)

I don't think you understand the difference between knowledge and intelligence.

Re:Actually (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971907)

And yet, IQ scores continue to climb every year.

And IQ tests change every year, too. An IQ test from 1900 couldn't possibly look the same as one from today. And if an IQ test was any good, it wouldn't be the same as the one the previous guy took and copied all the answers from. We've got no way to tell if increasing IQ scores mean we're getting smarter as a culture or if the test is getting dumber.

Re:Actually (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971937)

This is a "no shit?" comment.

The point was if you transplant a guy from 1000BC as a child, and raise him today, he would be smarter than people today.

Re:Actually (5, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 2 years ago | (#41972189)

And there is no objective way to test this. Let's remember here that the output of Classical Greek learning and thought was done by a relatively small number of people compared to the number of people living in Ancient Greece. Trying to determine how smart (by whatever metric you use) the average Greek was based upon how intelligent Socrates or Eratosthenes were is about as useful as trying to determine how smart the average Renaissance Italian was by looking at Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo Galilei, or the average Enlightenment Briton by John Locke or Isaac Newton.

Re:Actually (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971947)

Knowing about things doesn't automatically imply intelligence. You're thinking of exposure.

Re:Actually (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971977)

Well, no, he'd sound like somebody who spoke Ancient Greek, which I have not even the slightest passing familiarity with.

I'd almost be tempted to call him a barbarian.

But no, IQ scores aren't based on any objective measure, unlike thermometers, there's no direct principles involved. Instead it's what people think they need to test.

Re:Actually (4, Funny)

David Chappell (671429) | about 2 years ago | (#41972217)

Well, no, he'd sound like somebody who spoke Ancient Greek, which I have not even the slightest passing familiarity with.

I'd almost be tempted to call him a barbarian.

Oddly enough, the original meaning of barbarian was "someone who does not speak Greek". So, he would be very puzzled.

Re:Actually (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 2 years ago | (#41972019)

Which goes to show you that of course IQ tests are horrible at measuring intelligence.

Which tells us what? Every year evolution significantly increases intelligence? Ridiculous. Or maybe Teachers are getting better at teaching the test, or students better at cheating?

Re:Actually (1)

TemporalBeing (803363) | about 2 years ago | (#41972047)

And yet, IQ scores continue to climb every year. The average person in 1880 would score 70 today. The brightest Greek mind would likely sound like an idiot today if you tried to talk to him. He wouldn't know anything about DNA, quantum mechanics, evolution, economics, astronomy, virology, microbiology, ad nauseum.

You obviously have not studied the greeks. At the time of Aristotle they had quite a bit of information that we are only just figuring out. There are still many feats of the Ancient world that we still cannot figure out (e.g. construction of the pyramids).

As to the IQ scores, it is hard to compare them even over a 10 years period due to assumptions of what should be in the tests administered. The tests do not translate well across cultural or temporal boundaries.

Re:Actually (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972127)

I just don't buy this. Have you read what people in the 1880s wrote? Their prose puts us to shame and I somehow doubt it was one genius in a news room writing all of that.

Re:Actually (1)

mooingyak (720677) | about 2 years ago | (#41972203)

I just don't buy this. Have you read what people in the 1880s wrote? Their prose puts us to shame and I somehow doubt it was one genius in a news room writing all of that.

You might not be so impressed if you could read *everything* written in the 1880s, instead of just the best stuff that people felt was worth preserving.

Re:Actually (2)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 2 years ago | (#41972071)

In what respect? Over the last five hundred years we have seen technological, philosophical and scientific revolutions that not even the Classical Greeks, for all their gifts, could match. Part of that is of course that the Classical Greeks did not have the printing press and the other revolutions in communicating ideas that have made the permanent loss of knowledge much less likely.

Frankly, I think the conclusions the paper reaches are so subjective as to be daft. The Greeks, like us, reached their great heights by standing on the shoulders of giants. Why would you pick the Classical Greeks as a high water mark? Why not the Ancient Sumerians, Chinese and Egyptians, who invented writing, urban living and civilization itself? Frankly, I think picking the Classical Greeks indicates a not insubstantial cultural bias, one that has been present in Western (and Islamic) academia for centuries.

I don't buy it. I don't think there are any substantial cognitive differences between, say, some proto-Literate Sumerian from 6,000 years ago and your average big city dweller today. There may be small differences due to selection pressures, but I simply do not believe 6,000 years is long enough for the full genetic effects of changed environments to be that huge. The chief differences are going to be the advances that the culture as a whole have achieved.

Re:Actually (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972177)

Of course not. Anyone smart enough to match wits with the ancient Greek philosophers, if not driven mad by the way the modern world works, would keep their heads down and stay off the radar. It's no good having that kind of intelligence and then having to work your ass off keeping the idiots in line.

Even Socrates finally gave up on the world as he found it. He couldn't find anyone his equal, refused to have any of his many friends pay what was a paltry fine and chose to join the great minds that had gone before him.

Ha. Even then someone noticed that the general intelligence was declining.

Childhood factors (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971675)

And the effects of childhood environmental factors on brain development? Which have inarguably improved over the last several thousand years?

I remain suspicious. Suuuuuspiciooouuuuus!

Flynn effect? (5, Informative)

Janek Kozicki (722688) | about 2 years ago | (#41971681)

What about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect [wikipedia.org]

"The Flynn effect is the substantial and long-sustained increase in intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world from roughly 1930 to the present day."

Sure IQ is not Intelligence. But, this publication should relate somehow to this effect.

Re:Flynn effect? (4, Insightful)

tylikcat (1578365) | about 2 years ago | (#41971745)

Especially since the Flynn effect is likely not tied, or at least not exclusively tied, to genetics.

(Though mind you, with epigenticis trundling along, the distinction is dwindling.)

What about attractiveness? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971687)

If you compared the average American to a Greek citizen of 1000 BC, who would appear more physically fit?

Because of technology, humans as a species are not evolving in a favorable direction.

Re:What about attractiveness? (1)

tylikcat (1578365) | about 2 years ago | (#41971761)

And who would the average American or Greek citizen find more attractive. (Keep in mind that standards of physical beauty have not been static over time.)

Re:What about attractiveness? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971993)

They liked fat women.

Re:What about attractiveness? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972091)

That's odd, I didn't know I was Greek.

Re:What about attractiveness? (4, Informative)

jedidiah (1196) | about 2 years ago | (#41971995)

That's kind of a loaded comparison right there. Just by using the term "Greek citizen" you are likely excluding all of the riffraff that would bring the numbers down. So this is a sampling problem more than anything else.

The modern definition of "citizen" is much more inclusive.

Thus spoke the sage on the stage... (5, Insightful)

tylikcat (1578365) | about 2 years ago | (#41971699)

Having read only the popular article so far, I confess, it sounds rather speculative.

But more to the point, there is an assumption that intelligence is itself is a single quantifiable thing, and that the intelligence that did so well on the African savannah, or in ancient Athens would do equally well in our circumstance. (For that matter, that this "intelligence" would be the primary contributing factor to who lived or died.)

That there are genetic differences relating to intelligence seems highly likely. That they produce more or less of a single linearly quantifiable intelligence seems rather less likely. That selection pressures have greatly changed (as everything else about our environments have greatly changed) seems something like overhwelmingly likely.

What this means, and what conclusions can be drawn... seems speculative to the point of parlour games.

Re:Thus spoke the sage on the stage... (4, Interesting)

radtea (464814) | about 2 years ago | (#41972137)

What this means, and what conclusions can be drawn... seems speculative to the point of parlour games.

And yet the very facts you adduce lead one almost trivially to the same conclusion as TFA: if anything remotely resembling "intelligence" is both heritable and results in a reproductive advantage, then it is almost certain that we have the least of it of any generation in recent (evolutionary) history.

Nor does one have to go back 6000 years. a few hundred will do, when the human population started its several-ten-fold expansion from a few hundred million to getting on for 10 billion today. That tells us the selective pressure of all kinds have been essentially zero in the past ten-ish generations.

Since we have posited that something vaguely resembling "intelligence" was selected for, and has not been selected for in the past 10+ generations, we can be certain that a lot of dumb people survived to breed who would not have done so previously (me, for example, if we include various kinds of social sagacity in the multi-factor definition of "intelligence").

I've pointed this out in the past on /.: if you grant those two assumptions--even slightly heritable intelligence and an even slight selective advantage for the more intelligent--the complete absence of selection in the past several hundred years necessarily implies we ain't too bright, on average, compared to our historical ancestors.

Re:Thus spoke the sage on the stage... (1)

curril (42335) | about 2 years ago | (#41972193)

There are many threats to our life and health in the modern environment. Cars, electricity, toxic compounds under the sink, industrial machinery, and so on. It takes intelligence to navigate these dangers and accidents are a significant cause of death for people of reproductive age, thus evolutionary selection for intelligence. Granted, most modern humans would be ill suited for surviving on the savannah, but the article's assumption that Athenians would be better suited for rapidly reading road signs and adjusting for oncoming traffic is a bit much.

Civilization removes natural selection. (4, Insightful)

concealment (2447304) | about 2 years ago | (#41971705)

As soon we form fixed civilizations, natural selection is no longer in effect.

For a few millennia, perhaps, we get by with early social selection, which shows people selecting mates for admire for bravery, intelligence, wisdom and strength. This puts the wealthiest, smartest, most healthy and most attractive into the same elite breeding pool.

After that, society gets faddish. Think of Rome in its final days. People no longer pick the best, but the most popular. That means people who are good salespeople, drama queens, hip cats, etc.

Thus begins the long slow path to Idiocracy.

Re:Civilization removes natural selection. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971875)

How is selecting the most popular not a form of natural selection? The most popular are the most successful, and success has always been what natural selection was selecting for. In the past, success was defined as being able to find food, and now it's defined as being able to navigate human social structures, and obtain wealth. It's still selecting for "the best." It's just not what you would wish "the best" would be defined as.

Re:Civilization removes natural selection. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971979)

Wealth seems to cause less breeding, however.

Re:Civilization removes natural selection. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972209)

Tell that to all of the athletes, musicians and movie stars who fuck anything that moves. The average long term Hollywood romance is as tenuous as the first couple weeks of a relationship is to normal people.

Re:Civilization removes natural selection. (1)

techstar25 (556988) | about 2 years ago | (#41972107)

Keep in mind that Nickelback are the most popular and most successful rock band. If we let natural selection use "most popular" as its selection criteria, we'll end up with a bunch of Nickelbacks, Michael Bays, and Stephenie Meyers.

Civilization adds education (2)

AcidPenguin9873 (911493) | about 2 years ago | (#41971931)

At least, modern civilization does. I buy the study's argument if you remove the mass-education system we have from the equation, as it was in, say, the Middle Ages where monks and elites were the only ones who had a chance of studying anything. (Cue all the people lamenting the state of education in the US, but still.) But once you add mass education into the mix, you will unearth and/or create plenty of smart people that way, rather than just by the stupid people dying off.

Re:Civilization removes natural selection. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971951)

Not sure I agree. The natural selection parameters just altered; where supporting a family required being strong or cunning, it now requires that you have an income.

Re:Civilization removes natural selection. (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | about 2 years ago | (#41972211)

Of course natural selection is still in effect. It's not as if we've separated ourselves from the environment. Evolution still continues.

Why read the report? I already saw the movie. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971755)

www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808/

Easy... (3, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41971767)

1. Find the link between the genotype and intelligence.

2. Sequence a lot of old bones.

3. Sequence a lot of living people.

4. Profit...?

Re:Easy... (2)

dyingtolive (1393037) | about 2 years ago | (#41972069)

Maybe. I would have to dig out that article from a few weeks ago about the half-life of DNA.

Tag suggestion. (1)

hvm2hvm (1208954) | about 2 years ago | (#41971769)

Duuuuh! We see this trend everyday, people refusing to think further than what the TV tells them to, people relying on safety measures and warning signs instead of common sense, people preferring to do mindless repetitive tasks instead of thinking of ways to improve their work/life.

I knew it, I knew it.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971771)

Damn that explains a lot of things. Idiocracy here we come.

Doesn't matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971789)

That very slow loss of intelligence is more than offset by being able to take advantage of all the advances of those before us.

Only when averaged out... (3, Interesting)

killfixx (148785) | about 2 years ago | (#41971793)

As the years progress, an ever increasing majority of people are forced, through various agencies, into a state of poverty which becomes a self perpetuating cycle of ignorance and...well, stupidity.

On the flip side, an ever decreasing minority of wealthy families become smarter and more wealthy.

Most of my evidence to this is conjecture, but only because I haven't had enough time to read all the supporting studies. This is because I have to spend an inordinate amount of time working to afford the bare necessities of survival.

This is, in my opinion, an example of man knowing what the best course of action is (spreading around the wealth to insure societal betterment, not just allowing a few to control the best resources), but being too shortsighted and greedy to "do the right thing".

I am also to blame, but as I get older I have found ways to counteract those mistakes.

I blame our much of mans greed AND ingenuity on how short lived we are. With more time, we would have less impetus to be rash and brazen while young. Given us more time to contemplate how to be more effective cohabitants.

I feel sorry for our kids...

Re:Only when averaged out... (1)

killfixx (148785) | about 2 years ago | (#41971971)

Damn!

"I blame our much of mans greed " subtract "our"

"Given us more time to" subtract "n" from given...

I really need to proof!

Re:Only when averaged out... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971983)

This is because I have to spend an inordinate amount of time working to afford the bare necessities of survival.

WTF the bare necessities? Like a computer? So you can spend time whining on Slashdot?

I don't think you actually know what a 'bare necessity of survival is,' The average American spends less than 10% of their income on food, for example. More likely, you don't know how to manage your finances, and that is your problem.

Those who believe that God's Creation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971805)

was perfect in the beginning and has been running down according to the laws of physics (entropy) would naturally hold these conclusions to be correct. The people who built the pyramids, were every bit as intelligent if not more so, as those who design the latest microprocessors or space rockets.

Test It (1)

brit74 (831798) | about 2 years ago | (#41971811)

Seems like something that can be tested. You could either: (A) find a society which doesn't have cities or agriculture and see how intelligent they are (which seems odd, since if they haven't developed cities or agriculture, it sounds like a mark against them - though there are environmental reasons they might not have done so) - for example, the Khoisan in South Africa (i.e. the original natives of South Africa before Central-African people and European people moved in; admittedly, the Koisan probably didn't have too many evolutionary forces for competitive genetic mutations, since food is abundant in their native environment), (B) use artificial insemination to create a person with the genetics of ancient times (which would probably be seen as unethical, though if the mother agrees, it probably shouldn't be unethical).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khoisan [wikipedia.org]

Re:Test It (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | about 2 years ago | (#41971965)

Umm, but that is a completely different genetic stock of humans.
Testing a tribal African (for example) today can tell you little about that same tribe 2000 years ago and even less about a very distantly related European ancestor 2000 years ago.

The closest thing we have to get any kind of results about Greeks 2000 years ago is a current day Greek.

Obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971845)

I'll take that wager Mr Crabtree. For the defence I call Donald Trump.

Paradox (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971859)

Studies done by humans with peaked intelligence. Isn't that a paradox?

Uhhh, that doesn't really make sense (4, Informative)

Baloroth (2370816) | about 2 years ago | (#41971877)

Agriculture and cities tend to mean individuals do not need to be able to fend for themselves as much, but it does mean they need to be able to work together and look towards the future more. Farmers need to plant crops at the right times every year, need to save seeds, plant enough to survive through winter and trade some away for other stuff, city builders need to organize the whole city for future growth, etc. That means evolution will naturally tend to emphasize long-term planning and intelligence rather than the brute strength which was almost required to survive at all before the invention of cities and agriculture. If anything, modern life emphasizes intelligence more than it did millenia and centuries ago, when strength and survival skills would have been required and emphasized. Our intelligence is, in fact, the very reason we aren't as strong or physical capable as our primate ancestors were. In fact, if it weren't for our ability to live in society, our intelligence would be nearly worthless. The whole reason our intelligence gives us an advantage is that we are able to use tools and organization in order to overcome obstacles that would be otherwise physically beyond us.

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

Yeah, a Wall Street executive who is homeless and hungry is sure going to attract lots of mates. (/sarcasm) Simply because our decisions now are different from what they were 3000 years ago, does not mean the intelligence required is any less so. Or any more, for that matter.

Re:Uhhh, that doesn't really make sense (2)

killfixx (148785) | about 2 years ago | (#41972005)

To counter you last argument....
HP Failed Execs [bing.com]

That would be the individual intelligence peak.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971879)

As a society, we seem to still be advancing, even as most of our individual members spark dwindles.

Coincides with organized religion (1)

Ogive17 (691899) | about 2 years ago | (#41971881)

It's a coincidence that our downward trend started around the time that widespread, organized religion started to take hold? :)

sample size (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41971887)

I think their sample size and the selective nature of their criteria are far to small to make this type of conclusion. The shift from general agriculturalist/foragers to urban civilization would tend to make us more specialized rather than simply less intelligent.

Change to our genetic makeup is more a function of modern medicine increasing the survival rate of individuals who would normally die before reproducing. Be that cause, disease, genetic issues or simple stupidity. Modern science should never discount the effect of "Y'all watch this!" risk based behavior and its removal of unsound genes from the breeding population.

Ever since the Ancient times... (4, Interesting)

InvisibleClergy (1430277) | about 2 years ago | (#41971897)

...people have been thinking that the past was the "golden era", and that the people of the past were so much better.

Re:Ever since the Ancient times... (1)

killfixx (148785) | about 2 years ago | (#41971915)

Guess they were right! :)

This reminds me (2)

kilodelta (843627) | about 2 years ago | (#41971899)

Of that horrid book, The Bell Curve. And yes, progress still seems to be occurring, we have for example these little handheld computers. That counts for something.

For various definitions of "citizen" (5, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 2 years ago | (#41971903)

âoeI would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas and a clear-sighted view of important issues,â Professor Crabtree says in a provocative paper published in the journal Trends in Genetics.

The average Athenian lived a life of drudgery and was illiterate.

Citizenship was hereditary (or very rarely granted by democratic vote) which made the "average citizen" a much different class of person than the average Athenian.
It's like saying that if the average Harvard student were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive.

Re:For various definitions of "citizen" (5, Interesting)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | about 2 years ago | (#41972001)

...The average Athenian lived a life of drudgery and was illiterate...

Those illiterate drudges didn't leave any writings behind.

This guy seems to have studied the people who did write, and the people they wrote about, and came to the astonishing conclusion that the interesting people 2000 years ago were very bright and intellectual. Bah.

The Environment has changed. (1)

dmomo (256005) | about 2 years ago | (#41971919)

I imagine that in the modern World, an individual draws not just from their own intelligence, but from collective intelligence through advanced communications. In a way, we've become thin peer-to-peer clients in a much more powerful supercomputer.

Charlie says.. (1)

craznar (710808) | about 2 years ago | (#41971923)

Some Flowers for Algernon anyone ?

False perceptions, perhaps? (4, Insightful)

wcrowe (94389) | about 2 years ago | (#41971927)

I am not sure I can buy in to his hypothesis. Our perceptions could be skewed because most of what we know about the ancients was left behind by the more intelligent and intellectual members of those societies. I don't think humans are less intelligent today than they were in the past. It only seems that way because we have YouTube.

Re:False perceptions, perhaps? (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 years ago | (#41972055)

I have to agree. If anything, we'll split into two groups, those who while away their lives watching reality TV, and the rest of us, grimly fighting to keep science alive and hold our infrastructure together. Hopefully we won't grow long white hair and glowing eyes.

Re:False perceptions, perhaps? (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | about 2 years ago | (#41972129)

The day you make a TV show that's more interesting than f*cking, the TV group is doomed. Full immersion, 3d feely-vision could fit the bill.

Does this happen to coincide (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41971929)

with the invention of widespread monotheism?

It all depends on the definition. (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | about 2 years ago | (#41971957)

The word intelligence means different things to different people. It is like a stretchable sock. You can stretch it to prove anything you want.

If you define intelligence as the ability to survive off the land, then these soldiers trained to eat ants and bees to elude capture would be the most intelligent of all. They are the ones that have used all the inventions like writing, formal schooling, training from professionals to the task of surviving in the wild. If you define it as the ability solve abstract problems or as the ability to conjure up mechanical contraptions, or as the ability communicate your thoughts well, or as the ability to empathize etc etc you will get different sets of people as the most intelligent.

Albert Einstein might not have lasted three days in a the jungles of New Guinea. But New Guinean people engaged in constant chronic warfare. Incessant warfare that killed some 2% of the population every year. Now who is more intelligent?

Terrible, wretched, no good science (5, Interesting)

Raindance (680694) | about 2 years ago | (#41971975)

Greg Cochran over at West Hunter has a pretty damning critique [wordpress.com] of this paper.

Cochran's review:
In two recent papers, Gerald Crabtree says two correct things. He says that the brain is complex, depends on the correct functioning of many genes, and is thus particularly vulnerable to genetic load. Although he doesn’t use the phrase “genetic load”, probably because he’s never heard it. He goes on to say that that this is not his area of expertise: truer words were never spoken!

His general argument is that selection for intelligence relaxed with the development of agriculture, and that brain function, easier to mess up than anything else, has probably been deteriorating for thousands of years. We are dumber than out ancestors, who were dumber than theirs, etc.

The first bit, about the relaxation of selection for intelligence in the Neolithic -. Sure. As we all know, just as soon as people domesticated emmer wheat, social workers fanned out, kept people from cheating or killing their neighbors, and made sure that fuckups wouldn’t starve to death. Riiight -it’s all in the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the online supplement.

Why do people project a caricature of modernity back thousands of years before it came into existence? Man, he doesn’t know much about history.

Nor does he know much about biology. If he did, he’d understand that truncation selection is what makes such complex adaptations possible. If only the top 85% (in terms of genetic load) reproduce, the average loser has something like 1 std more load , so each one takes lots of deleterious mutations with him. But then, he’s probably never heard of truncation selection. I’m sure they never taught him that in school, but that’s no excuse – they never taught me, either.

If his thesis was correct, you’d expect hunter-gatherers to be smarter than people from more sophisticated civilizations, which is the crap that Jared Diamond peddles about PNG. But Crabtree says that everyone’s the same – stepping on the dick of his own argument. Of course, in reality, hunter-gatherers score low, often abysmally low, and have terrible trouble trying to fit in to more complex civilizations. They do a perfect imitation of being not-smart, amply documented in the psychometric literature. Of course, he doesn’t know anything about those psychometric results.

Which reminds me of secret clearances: it used to be that having a clearance mean that you were entrusted with information that most people didn’t have. Now, it means that you can’t read Wikileaks, even though everyone else does. In much the same way, you may have the silly impression that having a Ph.D. means knowing more than regular people – but in the human sciences, the most important prerequisite is not knowing certain facts. Some kind soul should post the Index, so newbies won’t get themselves in trouble.

He doesn’t even know things that would almost support his case. Average brain size has indeed decreased over the Neolithic- but in every population, not just in farmers. He might talk about paternal age effects, and how average paternal age varies – but he doesn’t know anything about it. He ought to be thinking about the big population increase associated with agriculture, and the ensuing Fisherian acceleration – but he’s never heard of it.

He even gets the peripheral issues wrong. He talks about language as new, 50,000 years old or so – much more recent than the split between Bushmen/Pygmies and the rest of the human race. Yet they talk. He says that the X chromosome isn’t enriched for cognition and behavioral genes – but it is (by at least a factor of two) , and the reference he quotes confirms it.

Selection pressures and mutation rates can vary in space and time. Intelligence could decrease – it’s not impossible. But we know that the pattern he suggests does not exist. Or, to be exact, in exists only in that neighboring world that’s full of Melanesian super-hackers, gay men whose main concern is avuncular investment, and butt-kicking pixies.

I never realized... (2)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 years ago | (#41971989)

...that "Morons from Outer Space" was a documentary....

Selection bias (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972009)

The average citizen of 1000BC Athens (and even more so, the average inhabitant of Athens, which would include all the slaves) was certainly less intelligent than the average citizen of 1000BC Athens we know about. That's because the people who are remembered are in most cases more intelligent than the average.

Re:Selection bias (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972075)

This is a genetic study, nothing to do with who we know in 1000BC Athen. It would stupid to base the study on who we knew 3000 years earlier.

Probably because of all these damn teen moms. (1)

Platum Jeffersonus (2771913) | about 2 years ago | (#41972059)

There is a clear correlation between raising and intelligence. The reason for this drop in intelligence may be the increasing inattentiveness and lack of caring in parents. Of course this could be completely wrong. I have no idea how attentive parents were millenia ago.

If he's that smart (1)

davidwr (791652) | about 2 years ago | (#41972061)

'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 colleagues and companions.'

If he's that smart he'll get bored and leave the planet.

Ever read ancient greek? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41972085)

If you have ever read ancient greek, you already know that the grammar is fantastically complex and nuanced. The writer expects the reader to be able to follow sentences that are parsed in multiple ways, carry ideas and frameworks in and out in complex and precise ways. A single sentence may continue over several pages.

Just reading and trying to dissect Plato was one of the most complicated tasks I have ever tried.

I have to agree with the article.

I love chicken little (1)

flyerbri (1519371) | about 2 years ago | (#41972093)

Is your sentiment (of decline without a subsequent rise) symptomatic of an addiction to an entrenched myopic way of thinking?

Or is this way of thinking symptomatic of your addiction to the cycle of addiction? ... Morpheus like Hmmmm.....

No, they just had good memory.. (1)

madhatter256 (443326) | about 2 years ago | (#41972131)

Back then, the common folk couldn't read, couldn't write - they talked and remembered. They learned by trial and error and memorized the procedures that lead to the results they desire. THis is how they built monuments, pyramids, etc. The pyramids of giza are technically third-generation pyramids.. the generations previous to them were inferior because they learned how to build them via trial and error, to put it so simply.

Back then, people could recite Homer's illiad in verbatim (or very close) because stories, news, and information was passed around by word-of-mouth, not by paper, or books. The gospels were remembered and only written well after jesus died and well after many of the disciples died.

Some would say that the advancement of technology can help us use our mental capacity to retain more advance information by taking the burden of "rudementary" knowledge.

I can somewhat see this (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 years ago | (#41972163)

I personally know people, some family members, who are just wiling away the hours until death claims them. They sit passively in front of the TV, eating and drinking artificial flavors that trick their bodies into thinking they are nutrients as the pretty lights hold their attention. They begrudge the time it takes to remain sanitary, let alone actually engage with other family members.

Have you ever tried to hold a conversation with someone who's been on a multi-day TV bender? First, it's really hard to get and hold their attention. Second, it's hard to get them to engage their forebrains and demonstrate cognition. Oh, after a short time they'll snap out of it, but what about the next generation? And the one after that? I wonder if we really are doomed.

the prophecy of Idiocracy came too late (1)

SpaceManFlip (2720507) | about 2 years ago | (#41972165)

Brawndo: it's got what plants crave!

This may be the answer to Fermi paradox. (5, Funny)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 years ago | (#41972195)

Civilization rises to the point where television is invented. Then it collapses.

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