Friday, September 09, 2005

Intelligence Evolves

This is an interesting article about two recently discovered genes, which apparently have an affect on human brain size and potentially cognitive ability. The mutations, which created these two genes probably, occurred less than 60 thousand years ago with one mutation likely occurring less than 6 thousand years ago. Previously, the common accepted view of human history was that after humans took on their modern form, around 200 thousand years ago, only our culture has changed. These finding indicate that genetic changes played a roll in humanity's shift from a hunter gather lifestyle to an agricultural and productive lifestyle. According to Bruce Lahn quoted in this article:
A lot of people, including biologists, think we are at the pinnacle of evolution
. . . that the human form may be at the best form ever. They think that in the
last 200,000 years [since the modern human emerged] there has just been a
cultural evolution, and we're saying no, there is also genetic evolution.

But will genetics continue to play a part in human advancement? Both of these genes apparently formed more at least 6 thousand years ago. At that time, our ancestors faced much greater threats to survival than we do today. In that environment, a cognitive advantage likely conferred an advantage in survival and a higher likelihood of producing offspring. Today however, most humans in the developed world do not face a challenge to survive on a daily basis - their lives are significantly more comfortable than that of our ancestors. As a result, almost every human has the opportunity to have offspring - in fact the problem in many cases is too many offspring. In today's environment, many successful people either choose not to have offspring or choose to limit the number of offspring that they have. On the other hand many less successful people choose not to limit their offspring. Given these circumstances is it still reasonable to expect genetic mechanisms to continue to work and to continue to make our species mintelligentgent?

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