|Posted by James Flynn on July 28, 2015 at 10:20 AM|
Hi there, I hope you've all been well.
It's not that often that I write a blog these days. I only tend to bother writing one up if I've created a new piece of artwork, or if I've made significant progress on my novel (which, by the way, is almost finished but not quite). But this time, the thing that urged me to type away at this post was my reoccurring worries about population control. This may seem a bit random but hey, this is what my blog is for, so bear with me. It may be the case that I'm older now, and I'm noticing the younger generations springing up all around me, but everyone seems to be obsessed with having babies these days. Why? I know that it's a natural process, but it seems to be fashionable now to have lots of kids. Isn't it better to have a little free time to pursue your own interests? I think so, but clearly, many people seem oblivious that we can only sustain so many people and continue to contribute to the huge population that is now way over seven billion. It's a very real problem that the world faces, and I sometimes dread to think what the future holds.But putting that specific thought of numbers to one side for a moment, my main point that I want to get to here, is that I think the way that the world has become now, may be changing the evolutionary process that got us here.
Now I'm no scientist, and I don't pretend to be, but I read a hell of a lot about science; evolution mainly, and I've been finding myself speculating whether the intelligence that our species somehow managed to acquire in the past may have now peaked. I'm sure I'm not the first person to wonder about such a thing, but here is what I have to say on the matter:
It's an amazing and beautiful thing that our species has evolved such a high level of intelligence. I say this in such admiration because it doesn't seem to be a necessary trait for survival. There are plenty of other species on earth who do just fine without the large neocortex that we now possess. In fact, if our distant ancestors hadn't have gone down the particular route that they had all those millions of years ago, ie: if they hadn't decided to leave the familiarity of the trees that they knew for the open Savannah, they would never have ended up taking the evolutionary path that eventually led to the bipedal beings that we are today, complete with our big brains. We owe this to the fact that our ancestors put their opposable thumbs to good use by making tools, lighting fires, learning how to farm crops and animals etc. If this hadn't of happened, this unlikely line of evolution that led to our increased brain capacity would never have happened, and we would never have been able to make the monumental leaps that we've managed to achieve, like locomotive travel, life saving medicines, and aviation/space travel, to name but a few. But that is what has happened, as here we are right now: the most intelligent species ever to have lived on this planet (as far as we know).
The era in the distant past that the likes of Homo Erectus and Homo Habilis lived in demanded the sharpest wit to survive, where it was essential to be a good craftsman and tool maker, and to be able to light fires, and generally be alert enough to spot predators approaching, or else it was down to natural selection to leave you behind and wipe you out.
This particular life that our distant line of ancestors fell into caused our increase in brain size, resulting in our species to become very smart. However, I often wonder whether Homo sapiens have now reached a plateau in terms of intellect. It's a nice comforting thought that we might carry on marching up the evolutionary slope and become even brainier still, but for that to happen, the smartest individuals would have to be the ones who reproduce the most, and that is simply not the case in today's world. In the past, I suppose we have to presume that the smartest specimins among the pack would have reproduced the most; spurring on the natural selection that led to our bigger brains. But we've advanced so much now that we've reached a point where people can live in complete comfort, with every one of their basic needs catered for. Providing that you live in the right part of the world, food is always at your fingertips, warm houses are available, clean drinkable water is on tap, and medical care is there for you to fall back on. This, of course, is a marvellous thing, and I'm personally grateful for it every day, and regularly count myself lucky that I wasn't born into a different era in the past when things would've been very different. But my point is is that we've reached a point where breeding and reproducing is no longer linked to being able to look after yourself exceptionally well, it's no longer linked to being smart or sharp witted, or even well adapted to survive for that matter. Now I'm not going to go as far as putting people down who have large families; having kids isn't exclusive to having a low IQ, but there certainly is some truth in saying that the big breeders among our species nowadays aren't always of the ilk that will propel humanity to higher levels.
By taking note of this inevitable outcome that our comfortable way of life has cast upon us, I reckon that it's a possibility that, at best, we can expect to simply maintain our current level of brain capacity, and merely accept that the large surge in our higher state of consciousness that occurred in the past has well and truly peaked. And at worst: who knows? We might actually start to revert back a few notches. Evolution is blind, and if intelligence is now not necessary for reproduction, our species' intellect will not be growing anymore in the future. The more capable, well-wired brains might be "diluted down" into the growing pool of mediocrity.
Whereas higher intelligence may not be on the cards for our future selves, I personally think that maybe sexual selection will be the one that shapes us the most in the future (as well as now). No doubt it must have had an influence on us in the past, just like it has on most animals, but I think it may become the major driving force if we're not careful. It's debatable, but one could say that there are increasing levels of vanity, and a growing self-obsessed mindset amongst modern generations now. The world seems to be run on attraction and sex appeal nowadays on a huge, newfound level. Maybe it has always been this way to an extent, but it's pretty much unaviodable now, and the comfortable environment that we've managed to carve out for ourselves has rendered cognitive ability unessential to reproduction, allowing sexual selection to take over. I hesitate to use the following as indicators of our future, but the film and music industry arguably has become more and more plastic and artificial, and the music industry in particular has become less concerned about the quality of the art form itself, and more concerned about the image and personalities of the performers. It is a little simplistic and inappropriate to talk about the film and music industry in connection with evolution, but these industries (whether you like it or not) shape and influence the young, new generations, and young people look towards these people for guidance on how to act and behave, and ultimately for what they should become. I haven't written this post to have a prudish rant, and I don't consider myself to be part of any kind of intellectual elite either, but I just want to express the opinion that I think sexual selection is the dominant force now; much more dominant than natural selection in favour of IQ, that would favour the individuals with the sharpest wit, or higher levels of cognitive ability, as was the case with our distant ancestors who were pioneers: leaving the trees to begin to learn how to manipulate their surroundings in a way that had never been done before, in the form of tools, fires, clothing and inventing wheels etc.
If one was to make a wild speculation, it could be said that we are edging towards a future where a primitive form of human: a breed who will be merely a shadow of our former selves, will live amongst the infrastructure of technology and industrial advancements created by their forefathers, completely incapable of working out what any of it does, or what it was built for. Maybe future Homo sapiens will revert back to their old ways, but instead of climbing back into the trees where we once were, we'll climb up into the structures and puzzling contraptions that were left over from the various industrial and technological revolutions of the past, with no hope of successfully operating it or working out its function, due to our reverted brain casings, but hey, at least we'll look good. If things get really bad, maybe future humans won't even wonder what their surroundings are all about; they might be too caught up in a savage race for survival after the food supplies inevitably run low, and the world erupts into a dog eat dog struggle to find nourishment and warmth.
Ok, so I got a bit carried away there, maybe I should save the last paragraph for one of my future novels, but it's possible that this world has already seen its cleverest creatures it will ever produce in the form of us, and we won't be getting any smarter anytime soon...