Tuesday, December 6, 2016

We're so much smarter than our ancestors ...

We do indeed have different information. We know how to Google, but we'd likely starve without a grocery store.

Increasingly dense population appears to have been the foundation for most if not all significant human advancements. Explosive growth in industry, technology, science, and art can all be traced back to a tip-over point of population and proximity, where interconnectedness sparks collaboration and idea generation, where innovations are preserved across generations and geography, and skills can be shared.

Intellect and mental capacity are perhaps unchanged in the last 20,000 years or more.  We have no compelling science to the contrary.  Tools and art and complex cultures emerged long ago, but only in the more densely populated areas.  More sparsely populated areas, even though occupied by the same humans, waited until they also reached that density before joining the high-speed development path. Europe and western Asia were exploding with cultural growth while eastern and southern Asia followed much later.

It appears that significant advances in most categories require us to live close and work together, to talk and exchange ideas, and to make our way forward together.  If we're spread too sparsely across the landscape, new ideas tend to disappear before they can take root in the culture.

Cause and effect?  Since the 17th century, we've seen population increase 1000% at an accelerating rate.  In that time, we've seen stunning change in culture, in science, and in industry.  The rate of change appears to follow the rate of population change as well.

Question:  Did the emerging science create the population growth with improvements in agriculture, education, and health?  Or did the interactions of an increasingly dense population create the opportunity for such development?  👀 Post hoc, ergo propter hoc?
Next question:
 How much of the resulting change is helpful and how much is not?  Have we overpopulated some areas?
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So rather than evolutionary advances in brain power with some branches of humanity being smarter than others, it is more likely to be just population growth and proximity that trigger the rapid development we observe.  See a summary of the issue in a new study by UCL (University College London) scientists published in the journal Science.*
"Ironically, our finding that successful innovation depends less on how smart you are than how connected you are seems as relevant today as it was 90,000 years ago."
A lesson for today? Of course. Stay connected and involved in social discourse, understand what's changing, or ... perhaps be left behind. That's the difficulty faced today by government, church, educational systems, and ideologies.  Truth is unchangeable, of course, but everything else will inevitably change.  That's the difficulty we face as individuals; how do we participate in the inevitable changes we and our children will face?

Tomorrow will not be like yesterday.  They've been telling us that for a long time.**
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An interesting development; indigenous populations often resist the incursion of the developed world; native Americans (North and South, particularly Brazil), aboriginal Australians, etc.  Why might that be the case?  Are they uninformed or deliberately opposed on principle?

Ref: High population density triggers cultural explosions*
Ref: Late Pleistocene climate change and the global expansion of anatomically modern humans
Ref: Adam Powell, Stephen Shennan, and Mark G. Thomas. Late Pleistocene Demography and the Appearance of Modern Human Behavior, Science, 2009; 324 (5932): 1298 DOI: 10.1126/science.1170165
Ref: World Population Growth and Change
Ref: Change Bringers**

This of course is a particularly controversial subject.  😀
And for an additional perspective, if everyone lived as close together as they do in Manhattan, the entire world's population would fit on half the island of Madagascar with room to spare.  And beaches.