You think you're so smart: Are humans getting stupider?

Sometimes when a news wire service has to substantially change a story it’s already sent, it’ll deliver an update with an editor’s note: “Story has been overtaken by events.”


My column got overtaken by events.

I had it all planned. I was going to write a column about Eric Hartsburg, the professional wrestler who auctioned off 10 square inches of his face on eBay. The highest bidder – who paid $15,000 – got to choose a face tattoo for Hartsburg. The bidder chose the red, white and blue Romney-Ryan presidential campaign logo.

That was before the election. And you know how that turned out.

So my column was going to be about – there’s no delicate way to put it – stupid people. And no, his choice of presidential candidate doesn’t make him stupid.

And getting a tattoo doesn’t make him stupid, either. I have friends with tattoos. A tattoo is like a pet rhesus monkey – I wouldn’t get one for myself, but if you want to, that’s fine.

What earned Hartsburg the “stupid” tag was that he initially told reporters that he was going to keep the tattoo on the right side of his face for the rest of his life. He said he was a man of his word.


THEN, ABOUT a week or so ago, he did something smart. He decided to have the tattoo removed. I’m reluctant to put a bumper sticker on my car because it would be such a pain to scrape off. Imagine what this guy’s going to go through over several visits to a tattoo removal service.

So that’s when my column got overtaken by events. I was going to have to find another stupid person.

This being America, I didn’t have to wait long.

Jared Gurman is a 26-year-old resident of Long Island, N.Y., who shot girlfriend Jessica Gelderman in the back with a .22 rifle last Monday. Apparently they got into an argument while watching the gory zombie TV drama The Walking Dead. The argument? About whether a zombie apocalypse actually could happen just like on the TV show.

“He felt very adamant there could be a military mishap that would result in some sort of virus being released that could cause terrible things to happen,” Detective Lt. Raymond Cote told the New York Daily News. “She felt it was ridiculous. He’s passionate about it. And it escalated from there.”

Animated corpses feeding on the flesh of the living? That’s not scary. People who believe in animated corpses feeding on the flesh of the living? That scares the pudding out of me. I mean, you can spot a zombie a mile off. But folks who think zombies are possible are lurking silently among us? Ick.

Are people that stupid?

Yep – and buddy, it’s not going to get much better.


THAT’S ACCORDING to Gerald Crabtree, a Stanford University geneticist who has said he would love to be proved wrong. His recently published theory states that mankind reached its intellectual peak about 2,000 years ago or so.

Back in the old days, evolutionary pressure meant you either had to get smarter or die. But then humans had to go and invent agriculture, which led to high-density living, which made survival easier. So the genetic mutations that got weeded out through hard living in ancient times don’t get weeded out in modern times. The more mutations that sneak into the genome, Crabtree says, the more our intellectual and emotional capabilities will decrease.

That’s the nice, scientific way of saying we’re getting stupider.

But today’s technology enables us to think we’re smarter. It’s so easy to access information these days, it seems as if everybody assumes the role of an expert.

“When it takes a mere few seconds to find information about almost any topic, the value of knowledge and expertise is being devalued as information becomes cheaper and more accessible,” explained Jason Lodge, a lecturer at Australia’s Griffith University.

Lodge offered this example: If you spent years at a top university studying rocket science, you likely still could find someone who, after skimming Wikipedia for 10 minutes, thinks he knows as much as you.

While some people are replacing their brains with Wikipedia, scientists are working on making a brain from scratch – creating computer models that simulate actual brain activity. Theoretical neuroscientists at the University of Waterloo in Canada recently unveiled Spaun, the world’s largest model of a functioning brain. It’s already showing researchers glimpses into how our brains juggle information to exhibit complex behaviors.

I meant to tell you all this a couple of weeks ago, but I hadn’t written a column in the past two weeks.

Stupid me.



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