We’re Getting Stupider, According to the Science

scene from Idiocracy

You might be surprised to learn that for many decades intelligence has been steadily declining worldwide.

Yeah. We’re getting stupider.

We think of ourselves as smarter than previous generations, excepting for our political opponents, of course. Want proof we’re smarter? Look at our technology! And, besides, doesn’t evolution teach we’re ever moving to a higher state of intellectual perfection?

And, for a while—most of the 20th century, really—developed nations enjoyed a significant and dramatic rise in intelligence. Researchers attributed this rise to things like good education, improved nutrition, better health, and reduced inbreeding. They call it the Flynn Effect, after intelligence researcher, James R. Flynn.

But about 20 years ago research started to show that the Flynn Effect had run its course and that in reality intelligence has been dropping in developing nations since the late 1970s.

Science turned to dysgenic fertility to explain these falling levels of intelligence. In short, dysgenic fertility argues that those of higher intelligence have fewer children than those of less intelligence. Thus, the world is being exponentially overcome by the unthinking masses having more babies than the Harvard grads.

Seems legit, right? Yeah, no.

A recent study out of Norway seems to undermine the whole dysgenic fertility argument. It found that intelligence, as measured by IQ, is falling within families. This means that even smart people’s kids are turning out less intelligent than their parents. Uh oh.

We’re getting stupider—and no one seems to know why.

Well, almost no one.

Iain McGilchrist in his stunning book, The Matter With Things, says our declining intelligence may likely have something to do with the hemispheres of our brains. More specifically, that this and many other problems may be related to how our societies have been growing to favor one hemisphere over the other.

I can’t do his work justice, but in short, the left hemisphere of our brains are about systems, process, abstraction, categorization, deconstruction, the inanimate—essentially analytical, mechanical, science-y stuff. Conversely, the right hemisphere is more about the whole, contextualizing, direct experience, art, meaning, and living things.

McGilchrist argues that in an ideal situation both hemispheres work together. The right would take in the whole, and then hand it off to the left which would then pick it apart to understand all the pieces. The left would then hand all that back to the right, which would incorporate the left’s contribution into a more nuanced, more meaningful whole.

In essence, the right hemisphere would be the master and the left hemisphere its emissary. (See McGilchrist’s 2009 work, The Master and His Emissary.)

He continues by arguing that our left hemispheres have usurped their supporting role and have taken over. Because of this, our societies have become more and more systematic, abstracted, mechanized, devitalized, and bereft of meaning.

The thing that ties this all together is that intelligence is rooted in the right hemisphere.

This means, assuming McGilchrist’s argument is correct, we’re essentially making ourselves dumber by diving deeper and deeper into our technological, systematic, and abstracted world.

The more we move towards Zuckerberg’s Meta the more our intelligence will plummet.

To be clear, McGilchrist isn’t anti-technology. Nor am I. But, it may be that our ever-growing infatuation with creating our own world, one ruled by the systems, chemistry, and machines of our design—a world dominated by science and technology—is resulting in the degradation of our minds.

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