Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Dumber by the Day

As we age, our brains shrink. As humans continue to evolve, our collective brains apparently are shrinking, too.

brain-erase-130603One report says the average human male brain has decreased from 1,500 cubic centimeters to 1,350 centimeters – or the size of a tennis ball – over the last 20,000 years.

If the shrinkage continues over the next 500,000 years, males could have the same brain volume as our prehistoric forebears. Some, pointing to the current presidential election campaign, say the decline of the male brain is occurring much sooner than that.

Big brains have long been celebrated as symbols of wisdom. Small brains, like small hands, are the stuff of ridicule and late-night talk show jokes. Don’t ask Donald Trump about his hands or his brain because you know where that will lead.

It’s possible human brains are shrinking because our brains are becoming more efficient. Of course, it’s also possible our brains are atrophying because we think a lot less, especially while surfing around on social media or watching TV sitcoms.

In fact, credible scientists subscribe to the idiocracy theory of brain devolution. Mankind is getting dumber by the day. We are evolving into idiots. This is the kind of scientific finding that climate change deniers may have trouble disputing – or not reflecting.

A filmmaker dreamed up a plot in which a man was put into deep freeze hibernation and thawed out 500 years later. Not only had the scenery changed, the unchilled man was suddenly the smartest guy on the planet. Another case of science fiction as non-fiction.

Some theorize that human brains swelled as we moved from the cave to create civilization. There was a lot of pressure. We had to invent the wheel, learn to speak an intelligible language and wash the dishes after a hard day of chasing down dinner in the forest. As our chores grew, so did out diets. Our muscles bulged and our brains exploded.

Are-Humans-Getting-DumberNow the pressure is off. We are on the eve of driverless cars. We have electric dishwashers. We have emojis to substitute for intelligible language. We fetch dinner at drive-ins. Our bellies are bulging and our brains shrinking. Could there be a connection?

One theory espoused by a primatologist suggests we are breeding ourselves into small brainhood by selecting mates who are domesticated and not aggressive. This guy says domesticated animals worry less, so their brains shrink. When food is served in a bowl, animals expend less energy and their skeletons and muscles shrink, too.

This postulation more or less confirms what parents have told children for decades – “It’s dumb to be lazy.” Or maybe that should be, “Being lazy will make you dumb.”

However, there is some evidence the trend toward smaller brains may be reversing itself, at least among humans who have gone from near starvation to regular, nutritious meals. A big brain takes, well, a lot of brain food, which people facing famine couldn’t afford. Before long, with better food, electricity and the Internet, these people can stunt their brain growth like the rest of us.

365298-evolution-of-manJust maybe the big brain theory was hokum from the get-go. If we evolved big brains just to manage hard-to-digest food, who needs it. We can and are doing better. We aren’t eating less, but it is processed more, saving our stomachs, intestinal tracts and brains the trouble.

We may not be getting dumber. We may only be acting dumber.



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