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The New Enlightenment: We Are All Getting Smarter. Really.

the new enlightenment why we are getting smarter
Jason Dias
Written by Jason Dias

IQ scores are rising significantly with every generation. We’re getting smarter, data shows. If we can survive, we’re heading toward a new Enlightenment.

jason-dias-anewdomain-amazon-kindleaNewDomain I’ve been watching this TED talk by James Flynn. Not Medicine Woman, that’s Dr. Quinn. Flynn is the guy famous for the Flynn Effect, which is the tendency for IQ scores to rise in most nations by about three points per decade.

I’ve been watching it over and over again. The basic message is so hopeful. Hope isn’t an easy thing to come by, at least if you have any acquaintance with facts. I mean, we’re almost out of time, all of us. There are some serious geopolitical and ecological problems looming that it is probably too late to solve even as the hour grows ever later.

At the same time, signs show that, if we can survive, we are all heading to a New Enlightenment.

Take trolls. Trolling is easier than ever, too. But trolls seem to be having less and less success with their disinformation campaigns. 

The half-life of bullshit seems to be on the decline.  That’s because we’re getting more and more sophisticated. Because not only of school, but because of things like the Internet.

Fakesbook arguments can be virulent and acrimonious. This is true. We can see sexism and racism and all kinds of ism, flaming, ad hominem attacks, the introduction of fantasy (counter-factual statements, misleading data, outright lies). 

But …

enlightenment why we are all getting smarterIn the 1950s and 1960s, it took a great deal of effort to engage people in arguments over racism and civil rights.  There was a great deal of violence up to and including murder.  We remember Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and maybe a few others. Sometimes. 

But hundreds, maybe thousands, were murdered over the issue of segregation. 

By comparison, the gay rights movement has progressed much more rapidly.  Now we put that down to the prevalence of gay people in families of power – we tend to want rights for people like us, and in the 1960’s almost no people of color sat in the government or could even vote.  But congressional reps and senators have gay people in their families.  Voters have gay people in their families.

But what if it’s more than this?

Flynn suggests we’re getting more reasonable over time.  Through education and employment or the demands thereof.  Moral reasoning requires reasoning.  We’re increasingly capable of reasoning.  Now I have a beef with public education: it does not seem to teach a lot of higher-level thinking strategies.

why we are getting smarter

Or it didn’t in my day.  But my son comes home with homework at age 10 that would have challenged me at age 15.  And I’m no dummy.

School is getting better, not worse.  In some places – poor places – it is much worse.  For most of us, though, school is intellectually more demanding than ever. 

The internet, though, is the place we all meet.  We don’t go out to bars the way we did or have house parties the way we did. We meet on Fakesbook, in the comments sections on Youtube, on ratings and review sites.  On dating profiles.

 Now trolling is endemic.  But look what happens when people drop in trolling comments.  Stupid remarks are met by people with big brains and too much time on their hands: by intense and comprehensive explications of logic. School might account for the ability to do this. The need to program computers might account for some of it, too. But that stuff is out there, and people read it.

I play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons Online.  My people tend to be smart people and we talk about stuff while we’re slaying kobolds and trolls and whatnot.  Politics.  Someone makes a smart-ass (stupid) remark about something political and we hash it out.  Some people can’t do the higher-order symbolic logic.


By the end, though, everyone understands.

the new enlightenment why we are getting smarterYou start with a biased position. You learn to question everything and come to the conclusion that you don’t know what you thought you knew.

Half-lives.

Look.  Trump says something stupid that some voters think is smart.  It takes a lot less time than it used to take for such ideas to get deconstructed.  Now some folks are logic-impermeable. 

Watch the James Flynn Ted Talk video below the fold.: They can’t take the hypothetical seriously.  “Imagine you went to be one night and woke up black.”  “Well, that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.”

 But others of us can.

 And we’re winning.

 Trumps ideas aren’t gaining a lot of traction among undecided voters (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/27/upshot/theres-evidence-that-trumps-polling-support-is-overstated.html).  The base is amused, but the Democrats are still winning the polls basically, regardless of who they put up against Trump (Biden, interestingly, by the widest margin even though he isn’t running yet).

new enlightenment are we getting smarterTrump speaks, the webs deconstruct. 

That’s not all. Racism is increasingly intolerable.So is sexism. People get called out for these faster than ever. And conspiracy theories don’t last as long as they used to.  The idea that vaccines cause autism was big for a while, but it was just a fad. It isn’t in the public eye anymore because the public doesn’t really tolerate it. The Planned Parenthood attack-videos play well among a tiny segment of the population but most people just don’t buy it. 

The reasonable arguments are too easily accessed and, these days, understood.

 We seem more divided than ever, but maybe that’s just because fewer and fewer people vote.  We’ve all realized the left wing and the right wing are in the same building.  National politics is so futile it doesn’t bear participation.  Only extremists bother anymore.  But that could be about to change, with politicians realizing they have to energize the untapped electorate – not the undecided by the apathetic.

Vice News seems to be buying H2, the international version of The History Channel that predominately features bullshit history like Ancient Aliens and America’s Book of Secrets. An organization dedicated to revealing hard truths about the world and current events versus made-up rubbish. 

Climate change is real and I’m increasingly hopeless about it.  It seems to inevitable.  It seems so because so much money is invested in the things that are killing us and, thus, in spreading lies and confusion over the issue.  But the half-life of bullshit seems to be shrinking, especially in America.

I feel like we’re poised on the edge of a precipice.  Down there, over the edge, is enlightenment. 

How many average-IQ-points away is the drop-off?

I don’t know, but it feels close. 

Sen. James Inhoff (R-Okla), the inveterate climate change denier, brings a snowball into congress, and that seems ridiculous. 

And what’s hopeful is that so many of us immediately understand it’s ridiculous.

Hamm debates Bill Nye over evolution and that seems so stupid, so absurd … and what’s hopeful is that we can see how absurd it sounds.  And that Nye gets to school people on logic. And that Tyson is all over the TV all the time.

I think enlightenment is just around the corner.  I do. I just hope there is enough time left for us to achieve it.

For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.

Here’s James Flynn’s Ted Talk on the gradual rise of IQ points:

Cover image and image three: NationalPost.com, All Rights Reserved; image one: MalcolmX.com, All Rights Reserved; image two, Go-Grafix.com, All Rights Reserved; image three: TransitionCityLancaster.org, All Rights Reserved.

About the author

Jason Dias

Jason Dias

Jason Dias, PsyD is an existential psychotherapist who breathes words. He's a senior columnist at aNewDomain.

  • Mairead

    As you know, IQ tests really only measure the ability to succeed at IQ tests, which are culture- and class-bound. That ability is probably related in some way to G, but certainly isn’t identical to it. So to say that increasing IQ scores mean we’re “getting smarter” is unsupportable unless “smarter” is defined as “higher IQ scores”. If it’s defined as “more G”, then no soap.

    We’re pattern-matchers. The speed and generality of our ability to pull figure from ground and pattern-match on it is certainly part of G, but is it all of it, as Herb Simon seemed to think? Maybe.

    How do we get better at pattern-matching? Basically by doing it more often. Brownian motion. Or, if we’re lucky, we get the benefit of guidance. What’s the therapeutic relationship, if not guided training in figure-extraction and pattern-matching within a safe space?

    The essential classism of IQ testing was brought home to me forcefully when I took the Miller for grad school, enough so that I was surprised into laughing out loud (quite embarrassing!).

    The test seemed to be filled with questions about artists. What made me laugh was that, although I’d been a moderately successful commercial artist for some years before returning to school, I didn’t know the answers to any of those questions!

    They required the kind of knowledge gained by owner-class kids being polished up for their future roles as Masters of the Universe, something that I, a kid from the slums, certainly never got. “What is the most significant difference between the work of Reynolds and the work of Stubbs?” No. Clue. I knew that Stubbs painted horses and Reynolds didn’t, and that they were probably both English because Reynolds was Sir Joshua, but that was all.

    I probably lost 15 points off my final IQ score because of my ignorance. If they’d asked me about Norman Rockwell and Albert Dorne, or Jehan Pucelle and the Maître aux Bouquetaux, or even Albrecht Dürer and Holbein der Jüngere, okay. But they didn’t, because those people were just top-notch artists, not part of Anglo-American Received Culture. And IQ scores are one of classism’s filtering mechanisms.

    We cotton on to troll ploys faster now because, since they’re low-rent psychopaths, their repertoire is necessarily small. They can’t exploit us and feel powerful by being honest and straightforward, so they’re forced to ring changes on a small set of ploys. And the more they do it, the more invariance we have available for reliable matching.

    Same thing with owner-class lies. They spend billions per year, 24/7/365.25, to keep us mystified and docile. But they have to keep changing their stories, because we see through the lies faster as our experience increases.

    Are we getting smarter, or is it just that we have more to work with now than when our experience was formed only by our immediate physical and social environment?