According to Dr. Gerald Crabtree of Stanford University, the human species is slowly losing its cognitive abilities as adverse genetic mutations fail to be removed due to evolutionary pressures.
“I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions, with a good memory, a broad range of ideas, and a clear-sighted view of important issues. Furthermore, I would guess that he or she would be among the most emotionally stable of our friends and colleagues,” the leading geneticist began his article in the scientific journal Trends in Genetics, adding the same could be said of the “inhabitants of Africa, Asia, India, or the Americas.”
Crabtree went on to explain the human emotions and intelligence is dependent on thousands of genes, which act together like links of a chain, rather than on their own. A single mutation in any of these genes can produce an emotional or intellectual disability. His research found that most of these genes are relative susceptible to mutations.
Ancient humans lived under harsh circumstances, even the slights reduction in intelligence could have gotten a person killed. Those with lower cognitive abilities were far more likely to be dead before they were capable of having children, leaving only those with advanced intelligence to pass on their genes.
Crabtree speculates that our ancestors lived in a world “where every individual was exposed to nature’s raw selective mechanisms on a daily basis.”
Crabtree also stated that the height of human intelligence took place around 50,000-500,000 years ago, when selective pressures were the highest.
Humans slowly moved away from the small bands of hunter-gatherers into dense agriculture-based civilizations. The “survival of the fittest” become less and less of an everyday issue. Crabtree credits this transition as taming natural selection. Lack of evolutionary pressure prevented adverse genetic mutations from being eliminated from the population.
However, Crabtree isn’t predicting a future full of idiots. Any noticeable decline in human intelligence would likely take hundreds of years. Society will most likely overcome this problem long before it is a greater issue.
“One does not need to… have visions of the world population docilely watching reruns on televisions they can no longer build,” he concluded. “Remarkably, it seems that although our genomes are fragile, our society is robust almost entirely by virtue of education, which allows strengths to be rapidly distributed to all members.”
- Gerald R. Crabtree. Our fragile intellect. Part I. Trends in Genetics, 2012; DOI:10.1016/j.tig.2012.10.002
- Gerald R. Crabtree. Our fragile intellect. Part II. Trends in Genetics, 2012; DOI:10.1016/j.tig.2012.10.003
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