Evolution and Information Overload
The amount of information a human being consumed in the 18th century in his whole life is the same as a week worth of information in a regular newspaper. This bizarre fact let me to the question if people did in fact adapted themselves to an ever growing information overload in our modern society.
Adaptation is one of the basic phenomena of biology, and is the process whereby an organism becomes better suited to its habitat. Also, the term adaptation may refer to a trait that is important for an organism’s survival. For example, the adaptation of horses’ teeth to the grinding of grass, or the ability of horses to run fast and escape predators. Is this change in information consumption enough reason for our brains to adapt? It appears our brain is in fact capable to easily adapt itself. Blind people reading braille use the area of a human brain normally allocated to visual input. From another research it appeared that the area that gets activated when we listen to piano notes is approximately 25% larger in musicians than non-musicians. Did two centuries of ever increasing information consumption had the same effect on our brains?
Sociologist James Flynn might has an answer to this question. In 1980 he discovered in a routine check of historical IQ scores that these IQ scores were rising in a linear way. Flynn compared more that 7500 IQ tests between 1932 and 1978 and it appeared that the average IQ rose with three points per decennia. Off course could this rise in IQ scores be the result of a better education. But in that case the biggest improvements should have been in language and general knowledge and far less in problem solving skills. Problem solving is often seen as a cultural and education independent skill. The biggest improvement however wasn’t in language and general knowledge, it was in problem solving.
We could conclude that the increasing complexity in our environment accompanied by a growing information overload had a positive effect on our problem solving skills and resulted in a growing IQ score. Our brains adapted and will probably keep doing this in the future. But will this linear change in IQ scores be enough when information appears to be increasing in exponential ways?
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