We are all pinheads compared to the Ancient Greeks and Romans

One of my activities during the coronaplague has been listening to Major Transitions in Evolution, a 24-lecture course that probably is best enjoyed in the video format because there are a lot of fossils presented. (And let me remind readers that the theory of evolution is only a theory!)

Are you an elderly curmudgeon who believes that every successive generation has been getting dumber? Do you think that the 19th century British were right to emphasize the study of Greek and Roman authors?

Science backs you up!

Over the last 10,000 years, human brains have been getting smaller! Professor John Hawks says that our brains have shrunk nearly 10 percent in relatively recent times and quite a bit of the shrinkage has occurred since Virgil was having a slave scribble out the Aeneid.

(Upset about all of the head injuries that occur as part of our sports culture? Our skull bones have been getting thinner as well.)


11 thoughts on “We are all pinheads compared to the Ancient Greeks and Romans

  1. High intelligence is not necessary for most modern activities. My personal experience is that congenitally mentally retarded people can discuss politics with as much insight as pundits on television. Really. Try it some time.

    Are modern views of intelligence really useful? Consider your chronicles of your town’s elementary school expansion. It is a monumentally stupid project, yet supported by a majority in your super-smart community.

    A passage from Discover gives an interesting perspective:

    “On the flip side, dogs leave wolves in the dust when it comes to tracking the gaze and gestures of their masters—or as Hare puts it, “They are very good at using humans as tools to solve problems for them.” “.

    What we moderns call intelligence, and by extension, our cultivation of that intelligence through education, can be considered less as independent problem solving ability than an ability cogitate in an approved manner. We are like the domesticated dog. We do not prove our fitness by a successful hunt, but by our ability to please our masters.

  2. There is no doubt that Julius Caesar & Trajan were vastly smarter than Trump, even though they couldn’t count to 0 & lacked 2000 years of science. Even Nero & Caligula would have realized injecting draino was a bad way to cure a disease before Trump got the memo.

    The Roman emperors knew they couldn’t print money, despite their limited knowledge of math. There are no current leaders with any knowledge about money.

    • Lt. Frank Drebin: “Cops and women don’t mix. It’s like eating a spoonful of Drano; sure, it’ll clean you out, but it’ll leave you hollow inside.”

    • Yes, we do have a stupid public that apparently thinks Trump said something about injecting draino. All he did was to repeat what an expert said earlier about research into medicines to disinfect a coronavirus infection.

  3. There’s some correlation, about 0.4, between the ability to test well and the brain volume.

    However, there is also evidence to the contrary, e.g. Ashkenazim usually have lower cranial capacity than the surrounding population ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3171282/ ) and yet they test ok as opposed to modern Eskimos who have the highest brain volume but do not do so well on standardized tests. Female brains are smaller too than male’s (controlling for body size of course) and yet on average their testing abilities equal those of men, mas or menos.

    By brain volume logic, Aristotle is a pinhead in comparison to the hunters/gatherers who predated him by 25-40Kyrs so for real pearls of wisdom one has to re-create a hunter/gatherer from his/her DNA of 40K years ago ! By the way, Aristotlee thought that the only purpose of having the brain was to cool blood (which may be true for some people, granted).

    Having said that, there is substantial evidence of the ability to test decline during modern times. E.g., see the Iceland population study: https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/01/10/1612113114. Various estimates seem to converge at about 1 point decline in I.Q. per generation.

  4. “were vastly smarter than Trump”

    What should one call this phenomenon ? Godwin Law II ? Trump Law ?

  5. This is timely for me, as I just received the results of my brain MRI with the NeuroQuant analysis. Although a doctor has to order the procedure, list price for a brain MRI (without contrast) at the imaging center that I used was only $600, and I think the NeuroQuant adds about $100. So 2x the price of the wireless headphones I bought to survive the open office.

    It seems like a good idea to get a measurement as a young person to use as a baseline before injury, toxic exposure, or aging sets in. But I know almost nothing about neurology at this point.


    • Evolution is on much firmer ground, so to speak, than gravity! Nobody knows the source of the phenomenon that we observe as gravity!

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