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Today's Big Idea: Neuroscience

The Big Idea for Sunday, December 02, 2012

Where is human intelligence headed? Will it be surpassed (and therefore subordinated) by machines or will it be augmented by artificial intelligence?

A recent study by the Stanford biologist Gerald Crabtree that looked at recent research in genetics and neuroscience sheds light on this question, and provides an interesting twist. Naturally occurring genetic mutations have been making humans less intelligent over the course of the past 3,000 years, Crabtree argues. And this has a lot to do with the types of mental tasks that civilization makes demands of. 

Crabtree argues that "many kinds of modern refined intellectual activity (by which our children are judged) may not necessarily require more innovation, synthesis, or creativity than more ancient forms." Crabtree also points out that advances made in AI -- computers winning a chess match or a game of Jeopardy -- are similarly superficial tasks. 

Some seemingly simple tasks, ont he other hand, like building a shelter, are actually quite complex. In other words, humans flexed their mental muscles the most when it came to devising methods of survival. We don't all need to exercise these metal muscles anymore, as we have become specialists, and that may very well be a good thing.  

What is important, as Crabtree points out, is that humans have devised ways to accelerate knowledge accumulation -- through education, for instance. So while humans may slowly be getting dumber, we have still managed to create an "intellectually robust society."


  1. 1 The Right Brain at the Right Place at the Right Time
    Daniel Honan Think Tank
  2. 2 Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction
    Daniel Honan Think Tank
  3. 3 The Matter of Einstein's Brain
    Kayt Sukel World in Mind
  4. 4 Does the Brain Control the Mind or the Mind Control the Brain?
    Parag and Ayesha Khanna Hybrid Reality

Today's Big Idea: Neuroscience

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