Peak smart

Does this count as a “mega-trend”?

Technology may be getting smarter, but humans are getting dumber, scientists have warned.

Evidence suggests that the IQs of people in the UK, Denmark and Australia have declined in the last decade.

Opinion is divided as to whether the trend is long-term, but some researchers believe that humans have already reached intellectual peak.

An IQ test used to determine whether Danish men are fit to serve in the military has revealed scores have fallen by 1.5 points since 1998.

And standard tests issued in the UK and Australia echo the results, according to journalist Bob Holmes, writing in New Scientist. […]

Michael Woodley, of the Free University of Brussels, Belgium, claims people’s reactions are slower than in Victorian times, and has linked it to a decline in our genetic potential.

It has previously been claimed that quick-witted people have fast reactions and Dr Woodley’s study showed people’s reaction times have slowed over the century – the equivalent to one IQ point per decade.

Jan te Nijenhuis, a psychology professor at the University of Amsterdam, says Westerners have lost an average of 14 IQ points since the Victoria Era.

When you consider the large-scale achievements of Western societies in times past, such as for example the building of the cathedrals, the construction of the Empire State Building in less than 13 months during the Great Depression, and the moon landing (which was watched, live, by 600 million people around the world in 1969), it’s almost laughable to imagine the US even attempting, let alone successfully pulling off an effort of comparable difficulty in 2017, when adjusting for today’s far superior level of technology.

Or maybe even not adjusting for today’s far superior level of technology. After all, to take one absolute measure of achievement, no human has left low Earth orbit since 1972.

  • “That’s because it’s too costly / too dangerous / pointless / no political will” etc.

Regardless of the reasons, the fact is that we have not done so in almost half a century. That is functionally the same as saying that we can’t. And 45 years is a long enough time that, based on our previously demonstrated levels of competence, we should already have people strutting around on Mars by now. If we were capable of doing this, we would have done it, because it is simply too awesome not to. And we (the US, at least) haven’t had the excuse of a huge war, economic depression or other national cataclysm that would have made such a project impossible or even impractical.

Somewhere along the way, we lost the drive to explore new frontiers and push the boundaries of human achievement. Either that, or the drive is still there but we’ve simply become too dumb to organize collectively for hard projects like space exploration.

Either possibility suggests that our civilizational competence has declined (by a lot) over the past five decades. If so, that could be a function of the decline in average intelligence that some researchers are seeing.

This is encouraging