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Biotech Education Science

Study Claims Human Intelligence Peaked Two To Six Millennia Ago 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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Study Claims Human Intelligence Peaked Two To Six Millennia Ago

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  • Flynn effect? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Janek Kozicki ( 722688 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:20PM (#41971681) Journal

    What about []

    "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.

  • by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:31PM (#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:Actually (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:34PM (#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 (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:36PM (#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.

  • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:37PM (#41971995) Homepage

    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.

  • Re:Actually (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @03:53PM (#41972281)

    There are still many feats of the Ancient world that we still cannot figure out (e.g. construction of the pyramids).

    Actually, we could easily build the Pyramids today. There's no problem in figuring that out, we could even improve it. The trick is not the result, but figuring out what processes they used, since they didn't tend to leave records around that give us a complete picture, we're just trying to fill in the picture.

  • Re:no (Score:5, Informative)

    by flyingsquid ( 813711 ) on Tuesday November 13, 2012 @10:38PM (#41976763)

    What's really really obvious is that if you take a human and raise them in isolation or in a primitive tribe, they might have a much lower IQ than if the exact same human was raised by the finest minds and educators in the modern world.

    NPR ran a story on this on their "Planet Money" economics show. They talked about research looking at the effects of preschool education on child development, and the discoveries were really shocking. They took a group of poor children, then randomly selected half of them to recieve a top-notch, free, pre-school education, then followed both groups. The kids who got pre-school tested higher on child IQ tests, but what's more, the differences stuck with them all the way into young adulthood. There were also major differences in terms of better earning potential, lower teen pregnancy rates, higher rates of attending college, with the pre-school group doing better than the control group on all of these fronts.

    So yes, smart parents tend to raise smart kids. But a big part of that is that if your parents raised you well and taught you well, you raise your kids well and teach your kids well.

    It's worth a listen- it's one of the best shows on NPR, and this is one of their best episodes in my opinion: []

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