Surely as gravity is no longer considered a theory but a fact, so too now, goes evolution. If you’ve taken the time to watch David Attenborough's BBC docs: First Life, Our Planet, Life of Mammals, Planet Earth, Blue Planet, Life in the Undergrowth, Life of Birds, Life in Cold Blood, Walking With Prehistoric Beasts, Walking With Dinosaurs, Life, Frozen Planet, Prehistoric Planet, The Mating Game, The Great Barrier Reef, and other such scientific series, you’ve realized the holes in evolution have long ago been plugged. [See, Breaking the Spell, Darwinism Evolving, Origins of Life, The Theory of Evolution, The Third Chimpanzee, A Universe from Nothing, Why Evolution is True, Sapiens, Wonderful Life, The Blind Watchmaker and The Origin of the Species. Only the idiot winds and religious fundamentalists would take exception and respond with an irrational theory of history which no longer any real scientist can believe without a polite whimsical smile of disbelief. This time a century ago, you were not realistically compelled 100 percent to believe, ‘tis true I’m afraid. Many renowned people had their doubts! There was room for some runner-up theories. Now? Darwin’s doctrine has been delivered up by the rational class, cleaned-up, dried and neatly elucidated by thousands of PhDs: microbiologists, sociologists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, geologists, historians, mathematicians, psychologists and biologists.
Chaos isn’t just a pretty adventure, but indeed stunningly awesome in its variety and subtlety. And we’ve had the good luck to be invented by the powers of its serendipity to be the single species, par excellent, with big brains. While life without a creator frightens some of us, it should not bother reasonable women and men. I say, good for us realizing the earth rotates around the sun, that gravity keeps it all afloat as a consequence of masses accelerating straight in a curved spacetime, that evolution can and has led to sentient life, that Big Bang kicked it all off, that it has an end, as all things must, and that the micro world is as unpredictable as any given person’s next thought.
Here is the other thing that’s becoming irrefutable: neuroplasticity. It’s the brain's capability to readjust neural connections throughout the life of a person to respond to a changing environment. It allows the brain’s nerve cells to reorganize for injury, wear & tear, disease, drug abuse, (provided it stops), and novel & challenging situations. See, The Brain That Changes Itself, Change Your Brain Change Your Life, The Marshmallow Test, Predictably Irrational, Learning to Learn, (see Oakley's free LTL MOOC), Outliers, Flow, Switch, Range, Nudge, Original, Behave, Willpower, Mindshift, How We Learn, Smarter, 7&1/2 Lessons of the Mind, all of Oliver Sacks books, especially, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Big Brain, Mind in the Making, Remember it!, The Future of Mind, Of Boys and Men, Mindsight, Brain Maker, The Origins of Virtue, The Nurture Assumption, The Bonobo and the Atheist, How the Mind Works, The Evolution of Morality, A Thousand Brains, (my response to it), Moral Origins, The Moral Animal, Beyond Order, (my response to it), and The Flynn Effect, (see endnote), and (also, The Righteous Mind, Thinking Fast and Slow and The Big Picture and my response to these three books).
We define the human mind as a faculty of consciousness with self-aware abilities (including perception, creating ideas, conception, focused thinking, judgement, language and memory) and while the human brain controls most of the physical activities, meting out and coordinating the information it’s given from the senses, much is done automatically by the body’s many autonomous systems. Thirty or forty years ago, your mental station was a given; the brain was set in genetic cement and the mind in an environmental paste. Indeed racism and eugenics dovetailed nicely into a view that smart was smart by genetic fiat and dumb ran both the race and the poor into a relentless unyielding hopelessly futile struggle to increase your awareness—your mindfulness. Those on the bottom were there for their life-time and their offspring as well, in the stagnant “hell” of their own grey matter where one was found at birth; deaf, dumb, blind included. Oh how all of that has changed, the geniuses shown to be a product of their special cultural niche and the dumb-downs getting quicker by the generation.
Meanwhile, millions of years ago, a strange thing happened in the animal world, a species came along who would in time dominate the planet, for good or ill. Naked and swift on the warm lush plains of Africa, Homo erectus strove for millions of years in the brutal system of survival of the fittest. They stumbled into the future walking upright. As funny as it sounds, grass is as responsible as anything else for this. Many think grass came before fern and forest, but indeed this is not true. Ferns came first, and then trees—forests—evolved, only afterwards, grass came along, (wheat, rice, and corn among them). Grass after a fire recovers much quicker than its rivals. With this edge, and a changing environment, grasslands appeared in Africa. We got down from the trees and ran like hell to the next woodlands through the grasslands for more food, (in a manner of speaking). This upright adaption allowed bigger babies to be born, and big brains came along largely because of this, and we took advantage of it, eating meat copiously by using bigger brains, hunting & gathering food in tribes of twenty to fifty members (or more), given the season, using tools more often, gesturing with our hands, and more frequently, grunting perhaps their names as they became incrementally more important for the mastery of a harsh environment. This was a slow steady ascent of the mind.
Thirty, maybe at the outside, 40,000 years ago, a tall, smooth-skinned, flash-of-a-runner with a bone density to rival their genetic cousins, the chimpanzees, became self-aware. And when that happened, this slowly ended the three billion years of mindless biological evolution. Now the conscious mind of humans created over time, cultural evolution. However what biological evolution had given homo sapiens was a big brain which was flexible, elastic and subject, for the sake of its survival, to the ability to adjust in an upward awareness if the opportunities arose—to learn from feedback—to re-wire its circuits. And with speech and self-awareness, we were to become the top predator, likely killing and/or absorbing all of our competitors.
Some of our ancestors were taller and had bigger brains. In fact our brains have shrunken considerably since we became self-aware, and some nutritionists and scientists think this is due to farming on the one hand and civilization on the other—see also, People and Plagues. These theories are yet to be proven conclusively. In fact, we could say nothing at all has ever been proved for an absolute certainty, but some things have positively been ruled out, such as Intelligent Design.
Consciousness is the process of creating a model of the world using multiple feedback loops in various parameters (e.g., in temperature, space, time, and in relation to others), in order to accomplish a goal (e.g., find mates, food, shelter) –The Future of Mind (see above). General activities of our consciousness are focused cognition, intuitive phenomenal awareness and sentience; all three adaptable to the intake of knowledge, to having a sense of self, producing thoughts and developing concepts about the information we find.
We see that there’s a method of increasing “mindfulness” as there is a method of improving physical health, and oh how they are so similar and in so many ways. The root of all our understanding is knowledge. What we eat, the education we receive and/or give ourselves, the purity of our purpose, our vision & goals, our sleep, our moral relationships with the world and our physical exercise regime: this is our life as we know it. There are rules to the modern world, rules not given by illiterate prophets of centuries gone, such as Jesus Christ or Mohammed, but now in our own time formulated with the backdrop of scientific facts. They are difficult rules. Far harder than any religious commandments from a burning bush! I didn’t jump for joy today to do my exercises. But I did do them. I do everyday with very few exceptions. Some days it’s a breeze, and some not. On a number of them you have a cold and a few you want to forget about them and go back to bed. So why do them? It’s the same reason why you make decisions to keep aware, alert and focused—to problem solve. It’s the law of life: the way of being in the modern world. It’s hard, but it is as good as it gets. Indeed, the soft life, the one that makes you as appalling as bad breath, as pious as a pedophile priest and as plump as a couch potato, has the counterintuitive result of producing misery, laziness, regrets and endless anxiety.
If you want to make the attempt to be smart, healthy, happy and live long & prosper, then here are some more of the books you need to read: The Conquest of Happiness, The Power of Habit, Atomic Habits, Stumbling on Happiness, Authentic Happiness, Finding Flow, The Rational Optimist, The Primal Blueprint, Wheat Belly, Grain Brain, The Pegan Diet, The Paleo Diet, Salt Sugar Fat, Warrior Diet, Why We Get Fat, Fat Chance, Omnivore's Dilemma, Fast Food Nation, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living, Death By Food Pyramid, Wahl's Protocol, Big Fat Surprise, and 15 Health Benefits of the Paleo Diets, According to Science.
We see that there are methods of increasing our intelligence, and no, not necessarily Luminosity or other online brain challenges offered to the public for profit. But real-life focus learning events, like getting your PhD, MBA, college and university degrees, or other difficult mental challenges like learning a new language, playing a new musical instrument and such ordeals, which to accomplish take dedication, commitment and follow-through, i.e., You can rewire or re-circuit your brain to prevail over your deficits.
So why is neuroplasticity so important? Well, firstly because it can get us from here to there, here being a place of consciousness that might be okay but which at any rate likely could be improved. People involved already at maximum “mindfulness” will not get from dim-witted to focused, they are already there, but there is no downside. Even online games can’t hurt; it’s just that there’s no research to show that they have much of a long term effect on the cognitive ability other than to do better doing the games themselves. That said, in general, transfer from down to up in mind is not only possible for the individual, but in a sort of cultural transference, is also possible for communities, societies and even nations, see, The Culture Series, Culture and Carnage, The Red Queen, A History of Warfare, Idea and Culture, Knowledge and Decisions, Why the West Rules, The Triple Package, Why the West is Best and Black Mass.
You argue, “Eighty f-king books, I don’t have the time to read those!”
Yes, and still, there’s this conundrum; true, you not only have a big brain, you have big genitals. I love reading books and won’t stand in judgment. I’m just giving you the facts. If you could read so many books to increase the working function of your genitals, I’m sure you’d find the time, but you also have a big brain, and if you use it, your genitals and every other part of your body will work pretty well right up into your late eighties without a “smart pill” or “a sex drug”. So, you have to work at your own individual solution, but check this out: 20,000 years ago you only had the word of maybe five of your tribal elders, ten thousand years ago, the wisdom of a few dozen of your religious leaders, five thousand years ago, the knowledge of a hundred or so world adventurers—idea guys with Longboats and small armies. Now, online, you have the facts of all the thousands of living and dead scientists of the last two centuries, I mean, damn, what a great time to be alive. Start reading, you have to for the love of your future.
Some geneticists have taken exception to Gladwell’s depiction of the ten thousand hour rule, in regards to mastering a skill, and I suppose that there have been times in the course of human history where all the stars have aligned: your genetic disposition to a certain endeavor is also your loving parents’. They see it at once and act upon it when you are still very young; while training, you come across a brilliant and loving teacher, professor, mentor, etcetera, who recognizes your talent and helps you climb Everest. So without anything near ten thousand hours of practice, you become a virtuoso such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, James Gates and Thomas Sowell, three of the smartest Americans alive today.
I stood beside an associate one night who had bought a lottery ticket—a scratch & win—he put it under the ticket scanner, and said to me, “I think I just won a million dollars” and passed me his ticket. I checked to be certain and gave it back, responding, “Congrats, you’re a millionaire.” Circumstance plays an important role in life, but for most of us pedestrians struggling day to day to achieve our goals, luck is made by the old, almost, ancient rule: ‘Practice makes perfect’.
Imagine if the spiritually crippled inside have got it all wrong, as it appears they do, and there’s absolutely no afterlife—no supernaturalism whatsoever to mop up their sorrow and hatred of sensual life. Wow, what a whopper, like walking out onto the 401 highway at rush hour unable to hear, scream or see. And they have the nerve to speak at weddings, funerals and other solemn and important occasions like they have a monopoly on truth; totally unacceptable. Whenever I see them coming I put on my Beats. I don’t want to hear that the bible is Shakespearean, and the Koran is, Gabriel’s Alphabet. They’re brain-deadening works of hate completely unworthy of the human mind’s attention, they should be read to crocodiles. Now, speaking of which, the lizard brain is an illusion; there inside our heads is a massive interconneced neuron network not as hardware but what we might call a digital information building block of evolution. Perhaps some day when we build self-aware robots, their conscious minds will have been built, like ours, one layer on top of the other, and they too will have their quirks. No one is saying that there aren’t eccentricities of the human brain and people everywhere feel the temptation to give into the base urges that happen in all of us. But, this is easily controlled with worthwhile goals. The more important question is, can the brain be kept in good repair by certain behaviors (i.e., is it a muscle we can whip into shape with science, learning/testing and reason?
The answer is a definitive yes! Remember the story in the papers some while ago of the deaf patients and non-cochles filtering-device they received? [See above, Smarter.] They were attached directly to the auditory nerve. Soon the deaf patients heard unintelligible noise, but as the weeks went by, patients who had previously had hearing and had consequently lost it, learned once more to hear with some distinction: that’s neuroplasticity at work, a slow re-wiring of the brain. The implants allowed the brain’s circuits receiving the signals (the senseless noise) to change. It was a classic learning process with feedback and readjustment. They regained their hearing to some extent.
There is growing evidence that the gut and brain cannot survive a modern divorce between processed foods and whole foods. Three deadly forces exist in the modern world to harm you, (from, Brain Maker, above): “Force #1: Exposure to substances that kill or otherwise adversely change the composition of the bacterial colonies. These include everything from environmental chemicals to certain ingredients in food (e.g., sugar, gluten), water (e.g., chlorine), and drugs like antibiotics. Force #2: Lack of nutrients that support healthy, diverse tribes of bacteria and instead favor bad bacteria. Force #3: Stress. While it may sound like a cliché to say that stress is bad for your health, I’ll explain why it’s even worse than we previously thought.
So we need to feed the gut to support the brain. Foremostly, we need to eat a whole-food low-carb diet with lots of greens, and fruits too. As regards, stress. Stress is manageable, and after all you do need to get up and make a life; to have ambition and a plan for success.. It is chronic stress that is dangerous: Exercise daily, particularly doing resistance physical exercises and non-contact sports. Laughter is not to be underestimated! Love your life, cherish your friends, keep a balanced budget, (The latte Factor, The Wealthy Barber, Rich Dad Poor Dad), work hard and learn to separate work and your personal life, i.e., have a life of your own outside of work. Try to find employment that you enjoy. Your spouse partnered with you for a reason (love of life, romance, family, security) don’t take them for granted! In evolutionary time, our stress was from fear of the dark, predators and day to day famine. But it wasn’t chronic. It usually found cessation. You must mimic this through the right food, exercise, love, laughter and fun, (get up and dance!). Most importantly in regards to stress, you must find activities that take you out of yourself without using artificial means (such as alcohol or drugs), [see above, Finding Flow].
I don’t use the expression Neuroplasticity to mean endless malleability of the mind or to in anyway contradict our human nature as set by evolution. Moreover, I don't want to be misunderstood as saying there is no room in theory for broad genetic influences on intelligence, of course it is in many cases huge. My point is that all kinds of genetically gifted people are under-rated systematically by a belief (spurred in large part by a false nature-nurture argument) that their social station or their environment has locked them into a path of mediocrity when indeed they can do much better with a hard-paced plan of tenacity, inner-purpose and faith that the mind can be tapped when you embrace some sort of intellectual adventure. This certainly applies to anyone raised without irrational dogmas, with empathy for science and developing respect for reason. As Dan Hurley says, (Smarter, above), sometimes a person is cognitively challenged, & grit, & 10,000 hours is all good; however, hard mental work, (like learning a new language or a musical instruement), rather than practice alone, actually needs to be really difficult to get us to "smarter" through time.
"The issue is bigger than race vs. IQ. It’s more likely about the meaning of IQ at all. Have a look at the book titled Genius Revisited: High IQ Children Grown Up, which studied what became of hundreds of graduates of Hunter College Elementary school in NYC, a selective public school where the students have an average IQ of 150+. Tracking them into adulthood, one might imagine great achievements among them. Not so. There were no Nobel Laureates. No Pulitzer Prize winners. In fact, no person was singularly distinguished in his or her field. Meanwhile, they are all successful by any normal measure in American society—happily married, secure jobs, manager-level or higher, homeowners, etc. But one can’t help reflecting on what distinguishes singularly successful people from others, because if IQ mattered on the level that IQ purveyors claim, then all the shakers and movers of society would be people drawn from this population. But the data show this not to be the case. IQ correlates nicely with GPA in high school and college, but after your first job, nobody ever asks what your college GPA was. What matters are your people skills, leadership skills, real-world problem solving skills, integrity, business acumen, reliability, ambition, work ethic, kindness, compassion, etc. So for me, conversations about race and IQ are of no practical consequence, any more than are conversations about race and hair color, or race and food preferences." Letters From an Astrophysicist, N DeGrasse Tyson
In regards to the Flynn Effect: From Genome: “Support for this idea [rising global intelligence] comes from the so-called Flynn effect. A New Zealand-based political scientist, James Flynn, noticed in the 1980s that IQ is increasing in all countries all the time, at an average rate of about three IQ points per decade. Quite why is hard to determine. It might be for the same reason that height is increasing: improved childhood nutrition. When two Guatemalan villages were given ad-lib protein supplements for several years, the IQ of children, measured ten years later, had risen markedly: a Flynn effect in miniature. But IQ scores are still rising just as rapidly in well-nourished western countries. Nor can school have much to do with it, because interruptions to schooling have demonstrably temporary effects on IQ and because the tests that show the most rapid rises are the ones that have least to do with what is taught in school. It is the ones that test abstract reasoning ability that show the steepest improvements. One scientist, Ulric Neisser, believes that the cause of the Flynn effect is the intense modern saturation of everyday life with sophisticated visual images—cartoons, advertisements, films, posters, graphics and other optical displays—often at the expense of written messages. Children experience a much richer visual environment than once they did, which helps develop their skills in visual puzzles of the kind that dominate IQ tests.”
From Nature via Nurture: "Flynn himself now thinks he understands his own effect by referring to the way appetite reinforces aptitude. During the twentieth century society progressively made it more rewarding for children to seek intellectual, school-based achievement. Thus rewarded, they responded by exercising those parts of the brain more. By analogy, the invention of basketball has encouraged more children to practise their basketball skills. As a result each generation is better at basketball. Two identical twins resemble each other in their basketball ability because they started out with a similar aptitude, which gave them the same appetite for the game, which brought them the same opportunities for practice. It is aptitude and appetite, not one or the other. An identical twin, having the same genes as his co-twin, therefore goes out and gets himself the same experience."
An alternative or auxillary explanation: We die in large numbers in childbirth without obstetric intervention, often both mom and child together. Neonate humans with unusually relatively big skulls inflicted the evolutionary outcome with many compromises on the basic hominoid design: a svelte lighter female body, a flattened pelvis via a proportionally larger birth canal. This resulted in not being able to generally run as fast as males; thus, deaths due to greater predation, the necessary protection in childbirth by male human(s) and frequent premature births brought on by a pelvis restriction on what is basically an upright running machine. Now newborns seldom, comparatively, ever die in birth. This figure globally was 30 deaths in 1000 in 2018 falling rapidly, i.e., 65 per 1000 in 1990 down from between 200-300 per 1000 pre-Enlightenment. What use to be a few generations ago a genotype reduced by its phenotype became through science many more proportionally big-skulled babies, leading, one would expect, to smarter adults. This likely solves the Flynn Effect mystery (paraphrased and licentiously condensed from David D Friedman, Why We Are Getting Smarter).
Moreover: How often have you heard the common cliché that the adult brain doesn't make new neurons? Also from Nature via Nurture: "Now it is certain that all primates, including human beings, can grow new cortical neurons in response to rich experiences, and lose neurons in response to neglect. There is ample and growing evidence that, for all the determinism in the initial wiring of the brain, experience is essential for refining that wiring."
“There’s considerable adult neurogenesis [Neuroplasticity in action] in the hippocampus (where roughly 3 percent of neurons are replaced each month) and lesser amounts in the cortex. It happens in humans throughout adult life. Hippocampus neurogenesis, for example, is enhanced by learning, exercise . . . environmental enrichment . . . and inhibited by various stressors . . . The discovery of adult neurogenesis is revolutionary, and the general topic of neuroplasticity, in all its guises, is immensely important—as is often the case when something the experts said couldn’t be turns out to be.”, From Behave (above).
Innate, 2018, "Brain Plasticity: Our brains come prewired, but they are not hardwired. At birth, we have extensive individual differences in brain wiring due to genetic and developmental variation. But brain circuitry is, at a microscopic level at least, highly plastic. In fact, you could say that the brain’s main job is to change itself—that is how it reacts to the environment and how it stores memories of experiences, tracking the statistical patterns in the world, mapping out causes and effects, tagging outcomes as good or bad for future reference. Anything that we have learned has a physical substrate somewhere in the brain—a change in synaptic connections between some neurons, which will alter our response to the relevant stimulus or situation when we encounter it again."
© 2023 - E. A. St. Amant