Evolution and falling levels of human intelligence: Learn from cats!


By Nury Vittachi

A new island appeared off the coast of Japan and scientists are watching it to see evolution at work.

So I was told. I was a bit dubious. Doesn’t evolution take a while? The reader who sent me the report, Sunita Chau, admitted that the only biological entity on the island of Nishinoshima so far was bird poop.

I suppose one can imagine bird poop evolving into extremely primitive live forms such as bacteria, single-celled micro-organisms, and Fox News viewers, for example. She said she reckoned that nationalist politicians in some countries probably shared 99 percent of their DNA with bird poop. I think she was joking, but either way, no offence is intended to any bird poop which might be reading this.

A Wikipedia check showed that organic communities develop fast. Scientists observing Surtsey, an island which appeared suddenly in the sea near Iceland in 1963, noticed that by 1964 it had insects, by 1965 a plant, and by 1998 a slug. In evolutionary terms, a slug is a long way from being a human, but in terms of intelligence, is perhaps not that far from nationalist politicians, supermodels and the like.

To do my due diligence, I phoned a scientist, who castigated me for making the common assumption that human intelligence was the pinnacle of evolution. Intelligence is an anti-evolutionary trait, he said, quoting numerous studies. Stupidity improves efficiency (Journal of Management Studies), boosts productivity (University of Texas), and increases happiness (University of Edinburgh).

That makes sense, if you think about it. The most powerful people in human society are rock stars, builders, footballers, supermodels, stockbrokers et al, folk whose intelligence levels are too often roughly level with that of an average novelist’s colonic microfloral bacteria.

In contrast, people who actually have big brains are writing novels or teaching math and not earning enough money to rub two coins together to keep warm, let alone marry and spread their DNA.

If humans are not evolution’s zenith, what is? One colleague nominated sharks. They do nothing at all except eat, sleep, reproduce and occasionally star in movies. (My dream schedule)

A second said it was domestic dogs. “We feed them and clean up their poop in return for nothing but love and affection.” A third said cat-owners feed and clean up the poop of cats “in return for nothing but disdain and aloofness”. Cats win.

Retreating to my inbox, I found a reader had sent a web link to a news report about a woman who accidentally shot herself when trying to take a “selfie” while holding a gun to her head. It was followed by a report about officials in India asking pet-owners to paint their dogs blue to differentiate them from wild dogs. A web-search led me to a New Scientist report that several studies showed that human intelligence was falling rather than rising.

All this could be good news for the long-term survival of the human race. So let’s all do our bit. Avoid the natural temptation to overthink things. Create balance by drastically under thinking every decision you make.

Step one is to stop worrying about what’s evolving on Nishinoshima and learn from cats. Feed me. Love me. In return, I promise disdain and aloofness.

(Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. With inputs from IANS)