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.

Comments (23) Add comment
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smartasugarsugar
139
Points
smartasugarsugar 12/09/12 - 03:42 am
1
0
thanks buddy

great now i have to watch out for zombies too? thanks a lot!!! LOL

Jane18
12332
Points
Jane18 12/09/12 - 07:42 am
4
1
Are Humans Getting Stupid-er?

stupid--given to unintelligent decisions and acts. I would say, Oh Yeah! I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but, I would say that anyone, and everyone that would vote for and elect someone they do Not know EVERYTHING about that person, would be leaning to the "stupid" side. That would be like getting someone you know that can hit a nail with a hammer, to build a house. I guarantee, that house is not going have everything it takes to make a home, and more than likely is going to collapse! Forrest Gump's mother(Sally Field) said it best, " Stupid is, as, Stupid does!

Riverman1
83739
Points
Riverman1 12/09/12 - 10:03 am
1
0
Hey, we had "Caution Zombie"

Hey, we had "Caution Zombie" signs in Henry County during filming of The Walking Dead.

But the truth is someone with a computer and Google IS more knowledgeable than a rocket scientist from a few years ago. I had even read about what this scientist said a few days back.

omnomnom
3964
Points
omnomnom 12/09/12 - 10:06 am
4
0
information is not the same

information is not the same as intelligence... the misconception between the two is a root problem with public and parochial schools, corporations, and of course, government

Willow Bailey
20580
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Willow Bailey 12/09/12 - 11:08 am
4
0
Smart Award to Omnomnom

Good column, Joe. Our government and many of their supporters lead the way in supporting the people getting more stupid part of this theory.

omnomnom, gets the "smart" award. Having the information and knowing When, Where, How or Whether it applies is far greater.

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 12/09/12 - 12:06 pm
0
0
Knowledge is their for the taking....
Unpublished

Wisdom is a gift with which you use knowledge. Hopefully for good. But doubtful in the 21 century.

Knowledge is simply the collective learning's of all mankind's history. In our new wisdom we are told to ignore history and just move forward.

Bizkit
31309
Points
Bizkit 12/09/12 - 01:03 pm
2
0
Our culture is impacting our

Our culture is impacting our intelligence. Humans are ultra-social animals the the Cultural Intelligence hypothesis posits "Humans have many cognitive skills not possessed by their nearest primate relatives. The cultural intelligence hypothesis argues that this is mainly due to a species-specific set of social-cognitive skills, emerging early in ontogeny, for participating and exchanging knowledge in cultural groups. We tested this hypothesis by giving a comprehensive battery of cognitive tests to large numbers of two of humans' closest primate relatives, chimpanzees and orangutans, as well as to 2.5-year-old human children before literacy and schooling. Supporting the cultural intelligence hypothesis and contradicting the hypothesis that humans simply have more “general intelligence,” we found that the children and chimpanzees had very similar cognitive skills for dealing with the physical world but that the children had more sophisticated cognitive skills than either of the ape species for dealing with the social world. "
So our individual intelligence "g" can be influenced by our cultural intelligence "c"-and as we see our culture decay=more stupid Americans. This hypothesis fits other studies like health disparaties are often rooted in cultural practices (not an inequality). Our technology is also altering our social interactions and impact "c". People think all this just ocurrs in a vacuum but there are biological implications for our actions.

freeradical
1075
Points
freeradical 12/09/12 - 02:09 pm
5
0
If not learning from the past

If not learning from the past qualifies as stupid we have reached

critical mass .

Ours is hardly the first society willing to sell its soul for a crust of bread

and free cell phones .

And those who have power of such fools lying prone with , jugular

exposed , will also act in historical concordance .

Riverman1
83739
Points
Riverman1 12/09/12 - 02:56 pm
1
0
Access to Info

Interesting article and comments. There is no doubt the internet has given us access to facts, opinions, philosophy and art of all kinds. Inherent intelligence will influence what we can do with it. In most cases the access to information and superior intelligence can’t surpass the specialized knowledge of someone who has studied a particular subject. That’s the rocket scientist whom we don’t want to play rocket science trivia with. But I also don’t know the routes a bus driver drives. He has special knowledge of THAT subject. Keep in mind, most have specialized training, but outside of their field, it means little.

What is spectacularly different these days is the access to all types of information that anyone with a computer possesses. It has leveled the playing field. Give me a bus driver with superior intelligence to the rocket science and I’ll take his advice about a subject neither one of them has specialized knowledge about.

I believe those who are bothered most by the stupendous available info are those who used to have locks on the access. They could offer opinions and the public would follow along because the person had more info. Not so much anymore.

Bizkit
31309
Points
Bizkit 12/09/12 - 03:29 pm
1
0
Interesting perspective

Interesting perspective Riverman. Cognitive abilites range wildly in humans and recently as much as a third of all humans are believed to have mild cognitive defects heretofore never appreciated. I spent a lot a time in libraries during my education years accessing info few bothered to pursue-now with the internet info is at click. I had to go through various stages of maturation in being ability to truly comprehend and master the intricacies of all the info and red herrings. An expert can hardly ever give you a straight answer because all the caveats and exceptions. But some people have great problem solving capabilities independent of any engineering, math, or crystalline knowledge basis. They are the ones you want to have on board if you are stranded on a deserted island. It is really intuition-which is what humans are=intuitive animals not intelligent. I'm good a figuring things out-always have been a problem solver and inventor. I know nothing of engineering yet I've built complex machines when the need has arisen during my research years-now it may look like a piece of crap but it does the function intended. But really I think it was my generation who were problem solvers-it was a competition of problem solving ideas with friends growin up. Working on farm equipment and jerry-riggin' things for function, or how to catch a coyote or some other varmit, or how to dam up a creek to make a duck pond or git rid of a beaver making one. Our youth have lost that problem solving spirit.

saywhatagain
409
Points
saywhatagain 12/09/12 - 05:10 pm
3
0
Agree

We ARE getting more stupid because we confuse knowledge with wisdom. Professing ourselves to be wise, we have become fools.

Young Fred
17448
Points
Young Fred 12/09/12 - 05:31 pm
2
0
Interesting. Intellectual

Interesting. Intellectual capabilities are decreasing, while the hubris of mankind is increasing.

seenitB4
87041
Points
seenitB4 12/09/12 - 07:12 pm
2
0
Question...

When a man is looking for a woman to marry & bear his children is he looking for the most intelligent woman to marry??

Naaah...I didn't think so either..

seenitB4
87041
Points
seenitB4 12/09/12 - 07:20 pm
2
0
I googled this answer..

Stupidity does not hamper reproduction! Stupid people breed. Stupidity may in fact help our ability to reproduce quite a bit. Anyone who has ever gotten married, had children and later wondered - why did I do that anyway? Oh yeah, that's right, I was really stupid - can attest to the helpful effects of stupidity on the mating, dating, and attraction process. Not thinking clearly is very helpful in making the whole mystery of chemical attraction seem worth pursuing.

On the other hand, thinking too clearly and being too smart or too sensible can really really mess it up. Thinking too much can badly inhibit the bonding process. The bonding process, which is essential for human survival, doesn't give a damn about what we think of as smartness, it cares about irrationality and chemicals, both of which it highly values. None of us would put up with each other for a moment if it weren't for the saving graces of stupidity and bonding.

Just blame it on the chemicals..:)

seenitB4
87041
Points
seenitB4 12/09/12 - 07:30 pm
2
0
All of these smart answers on here

When the mating call appears all of these wise thoughts on here won't matter......the body has its own clock--intelligence ---desires--& will make decisions based entirely on let us just say "other intelligence" & it won't be the ole brain...

seenitB4
87041
Points
seenitB4 12/09/12 - 07:41 pm
1
0
The great Arthur Miller

I couldn't help but think of Arthur Miller & think of his choice in Marilyn Monroe....
his autobiography. Miller's writing has earned him a lifetime of honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, seven Tony Awards, two Drama Critics Circle Awards, an Obie, an Olivier, the John F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish prize. He holds honorary doctorate degrees from Oxford University and Harvard University.

harley_52
23272
Points
harley_52 12/09/12 - 07:52 pm
2
0
Stupid Versus Ignorant...

....that's the issue being discussed here. A brilliant person can (and often is) ignorant of some particular issue, or fact. Stupid people are usually incapable of understanding complex issues, but can easily become expert at a particular task or skill.

Personally, stupid people bother me a lot less than ignorant people these days because, as has been pointed out by others here, vast stores of information are so readily available. There really isn't any excuse for being ignorant on most contemporary issues when you're equipped with a computer and an internet connection.

So, in these days of computers, internet connections, search engines and the wealth of information available to most of us.....

How come some people remain liberals?

Bizkit
31309
Points
Bizkit 12/09/12 - 08:00 pm
1
0
Humans are incredibly stupid

Humans are incredibly stupid and ignorant in general. One can be cured for sure the other-debateable. But we work as a social collective so the brilliance of the few contribute to the whole-and the whole can sometimes collectively solve problems. The written word has made an incredible contribution to the evolution of man-the loss of the Library of Alexandria was probably the single greatest loss of antiquity. Man has experienced Dark ages and periods of enlightenment and then dark ages. We keep setting back the clock for the invention of specific tools, etc.

seenitB4
87041
Points
seenitB4 12/09/12 - 08:08 pm
1
0
Smart kids....

Classic story on self-fulfilling prophecies.

The quick version:

School in England. Computer program completely messes up the labeling of kids and literally puts the “smart” kids in the ‘dumb” class and the “dumb” kids in the “smart” class. Oops.

So, teachers start teaching the “smart” kids as if they’re smart and the “dumb” ones as if they’re dumb.

Fast forward 5 months.

They catch the error. And re-test the kids on IQ and other measures.

Guess what?

The truly smarter kids score significantly worse than before. The less intelligent kids? They improve dramatically.

Why?

As the teachers for the “dumb” kids said when asked to explain her teaching experience during the first few weeks of the term: “For some reason, our methods weren’t working,” they replied. “So we had to change our methods.”

Wow.

Little Lamb
45880
Points
Little Lamb 12/09/12 - 08:15 pm
2
0
Miller

SeenitB4 posted:

Arthur holds honorary doctorate degrees from Oxford University and Harvard University.

Yeah, and the scarecrow in Wizard of Oz had some degrees, too. Did those degrees make him intelligent?

seenitB4
87041
Points
seenitB4 12/09/12 - 08:21 pm
3
0
Llamb

I would say no LLamb ...having a degree doesn't mean you are intelligent.......posting wise & thoughtful words on here doesn't mean a person is either....beauty & intelligence are always in the eyes of the beholder......
and we won't ever be wise in ALL things.....& I've always heard a wise person listens more than he speaks.....so that leaves me out of the wise group..☺

seenitB4
87041
Points
seenitB4 12/09/12 - 08:42 pm
2
0
AutumnLeaves
7664
Points
AutumnLeaves 12/09/12 - 10:04 pm
1
0
If you mean...

When you say stupider rather than saying more stupid, are you trying to be funny?

itsanotherday1
42944
Points
itsanotherday1 12/10/12 - 01:26 am
0
0
"mankind reached its

"mankind reached its intellectual peak about 2,000 years ago or so."

I believe it. Every election cycle I've seen since adulthood has given us less and less of what our founders intended. I thought we scraped the bottom of the barrel this time, but alas, it will get worse and worse. Fortunately I am on the downside of life's curve and won't live to see the worst. My children and grandchildren will though.

oldredneckman96
5095
Points
oldredneckman96 12/10/12 - 09:00 pm
0
0
Are we getting dumber?
Unpublished

Yes, if not insane. We have elected the same Pres twice and expected change.

KasparHauser
364
Points
KasparHauser 12/14/12 - 10:38 am
0
1
Geneticist, not Evolutionary Biologist?
Unpublished

What were this experts real credentials?

Different is DIFFERENT, not better or worse unless the context is included. Evolution drives to fit conditions, not some theoretical Ubermensch.

I consider myself smarter than my recent ancestors if only because I understand it's germs, microbes, viruses, and our fellow man we need to fear, not some imaginary boogey whom YHWH smote.

I consider myself smarter than my recent ancestors if only because I have shaken off most of their racial bigotry, and know how to control the impulses I learned from them when someone different hoves into view.

I consider myself smarter than my recent ancestors if only because I realize the World is changing and it doesn't care if I keep up or not; it's up to ME.

This is mostly a social evolution, which is Lamarckian, as opposed to biological evolution, which is a good deal Darwinian, but unfailingly genetic.

And, it's social evolution, the ability for compassion and empathy, that places humans far above other animals, even if they have more primitive versions of those abilities.

Let's see if the good Geneticist releases his research in a peer reviewed journal.

Most of this is just a moan by old people that kids don't listen to them anymore, or an egotistical attempt to claim superiority by reason of age. Sounds like old Abe Simpson.

You earn a reputation for wisdom, you don't automatically deserve it.

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