Human Intelligence

Pamela Olson's image for:
"Human Intelligence"
Image by: 

Upgrade Me Now, Please It is no longer a safe bet to assume that things will carry on as they have been up to now.

Look in the mirror. We may be genetically just about identical to our ancestors, but our brains have given us capabilities far beyond that of just being a biological human.

For example, anyone is as likely to invent something useful as anyone else is. Once something is invented, it's available to everyone. An idea is something that can be used by everyone and anyone. I'll pretend I traveled back in Time to 300,000 BC and met a Wilma Flintstone "{Time travel} is against reason, said Filby. What reason? said The Time Traveler?" H.G. Wells. If I took Wilma Flintstones's fur coat because I'm an animal rights activist; she would no longer have the coat. However, I did not take Wilma's idea of her coat. Wilma immediately replaced her fur coat with a faux fur coat. Wilma took my idea, no fur coat, combined it with her former idea, a fur coat, and came up with a new idea, a coat that looks like fur. Others than adopted my idea and Wilma's idea.

Because ideas can't be removed, ideas or inventions become more useful and powerful as a population becomes larger. Wilma had around a million humans in her time. Today, more than six billion humans have access to, and use, ideas. Economist Michael Kramer had an idea. His idea was that the rate of technological progress is proportional to the world's population. He made a very conservative start with his hypothesis by starting with one profoundly intelligent brilliant idea occurring per billion humans every year. In Wilma Flintstones's time, with the then around a million humans, that would be one brilliant idea every thousand years.

By the time there were a billion humans in 1800, that would be one brilliant idea every year, a stunning idea in itself. Kramer's idea matches the model unerringly well. Before 1798, technological progress was slow. That is the elegance of geometric progression versus arithmetic progression. By 1930, that would be one brilliant idea every six months. Today, that would be one brilliant idea every two months. That does not even take into account the everyday more mundane ideas constantly arising. Despite humanity's ever-increasing demand on resources, better technology seems to be winning the day.

Our individual rational behavior often backfires though with The Law of Unintended Consequences; and, it is not what is always best for everyone. It can, and has, produced irrational results for society and the environment. Our rational behavior also produces wonders. The evidence points to that the more brains there are out there to create ideas, the better the chances of surviving. If you can't do better with yourself or by yourself, you recruit allies. That is Game Theory.

So how does that explain the extinction of the Neanderthals? After 200,000 thriving years, it took just a short few thousand years after Homo Sapiens' appearance, for Neanderthal to be gone. They were local to the neighborhood so had the Home Field Advantage, were hairier, stronger, faster, had language, and were equally as smart. So what idea was it that Homo Sapiens had that Neanderthal did not?

My idea is that it was the idea of division of labor, which incidentally, other animals have also since then picked up on. Division of labor results in the very profitable economies of scale. In the case of Homo Sapiens, it was the division of the labor of hunting and gathering.

Successful ideas to me are just upgrades of being human. Our relentless pursuit of change coupled with our exponentially increasing ability to enhance constantly ourselves is what makes us today's human. Like our idea to turn our evolutionary capabilities on ourselves, especially our brains, which we carry everywhere with us. Something so obvious we sometimes forget the implications of that portability on the pervasiveness of technology.

The Internet is a technology add-on we created to upgrade massively our brains abilities to extend memory and to transfer data and information around.

Human's use of caffeine to upgrade our brains goes back thousands of years. Caffeine locks onto the receptors in the brain that usually handle the chemical adenosine. That interference reduces adenosine's activities. That results is an increase in another natural chemical in our brains. That being the neurotransmitter dopamine. It helps carry signals from neurons to other cells. The result is the human feeling of stimulation and an increase in concentration. This physical aid to our brain is the equivalent of a mechanical extension to the body. Another stimulant and concentration booster to our brain is nicotine, also used by humans for thousands of years. Like caffeine, it increases dopamine, and it boosts epinephrine (adrenaline) production. Epinephrine is a hormone that invigorates the physical activity of our body. A favorite drug of today's students is Modafinil. Trademarked as Provigil, it was originally developed for narcoleptics. More powerful than nicotine or caffeine, but without the jitters, Modafinil also improves intelligence/cognitive performance. Tested by Danielle Turner of England's University of Cambridge, it is described by her colleague Barbara Suhakian as "the first true smart drug."

Choline or lecithin boosts our brain's ability to form new memories, which is dependent on synapses. Hence self-described smart drinks and the eating of soybeans, liver, peanuts, peas, beans, yeast products, and green vegetables. Same for omega-3.

Use of magnetic fields is being reevaluated to help with brain disorders and stroke recovery.

Human language and our use of the written word, both tools of power, are also upgrades. Most if not all species and even plants communicate with each other and parts of their environment. Humans though, have used language and writing as an exponential acceleration to technology.

Even Phyliss Diller didn't fully realize then just how right she was when she joked, "The only parts left of my original body are my elbows."

It is no longer a safe bet to assume that things will carry on as they have been up to now.

Upgrade Me, Brian Clegg

More about this author: Pamela Olson

From Around the Web