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« A Necessary Absurdity | Main | The Key Challenge »

September 08, 2007


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Really people, selection pressure isn't evolution.

Now for a really contrarian view, what if, our ancestors were smarter than us? Leo Frankowski in the Conrad Starguard time travel novels visits on this idea which needs to be considered in this forrest of unexamined assumptions. I wonder just how smart we'd be without the tool of the Internet to back us up, do research for us, point out logical fallacies, and offer alternate viewpoints.


But do these finding indicate that we are geting smarter now for the first time, or that we simply dumbed ourselves down for a time, starting, say, around the fall of Rome?


"For example, the vault height of the plague skulls were 80mm, and the modern ones were 95mm -- that's in the order of 20% bigger, which is really rather a lot."

Yes, but isn't the *entire* skeleton almost 20% bigger now? And do we know the effects of malnutrition and disease on individual bones? And how many selection biases have been accounted for?

One should not draw permanent conclusions before reading the actual study, but it sounds to me like there is nothing interesting here, unless it is that even professionals can fall into logical fallacies now and then.


"So if selection pressure was supposed to explain this, what was it, exactly, that was killing off people with 80mm vault heights?"

Dude, 'cause girls with 95mm vault heights are wayyyy cuter!

On a more serious note, I once studied how scientists used to measure the skulls of Indigenous peoples to show that they weren't as smart, but it was later proved that the size of the skull does not correlate to mental capacity. What's changed, why do we now believe that vault capacity makes us smarter?


Hey ladies, I have a very high forehead. Dead sexy, eh?

Tom Craver

Just a hypothesis:


Sugar was a relatively late arrival in Europe - in fact not long before those 650 year old skulls were laid to rest. 'sugar was available in London at "two shillings a pound" in 1319 AD. This equates to about US$100 per kilo at today's prices so it was very much a luxury.' ( http://www.sucrose.com/lhist.html )

We've continued increasing our consumption right up through today (soda pop was a rare treat not so long ago - now kids guzzle it daily). So it might be associated with the Flynn effect. And it would make some sense that if an infant has a continuous surfeit of easily metabolized energy, the brain would be given an optimal opportunity to grow.

Moms! Be sure to feed your kids lots of the new Brain Food - SUGAR!

Tom Mazanec

I heard a theory that the Flynn effect is associated with more music (radio), intellectual interaction in early childhood (television) and more manual exercise (video games) and finally the learning capabilities of the internet. As each technology comes on board, there is an increase in IQ. Read it in Wired Magazine, IIRC.
Of course, it may be sheer bunkum.

David Gobel

maybe the elimination of famine by technological means becoming widespread in europe by 1840. The technological spread of frequent eating of meat and broader range of diet as agricultural production especially in the US increased around the same time. It would be interesting to see if there was an acceleration of brain size due to human breeding around this inflection point.


"Moms! Be sure to feed your kids lots of the . new Brain Food - SUGAR!"

I think you're confusing vault heights with diabetes.

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