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Ianuarie 4, 2011


After Altamira, everything is decadence.

Pablo Picasso

As a matter of fact, the words of the motto are attributed to Picasso, but there is no proof that he has ever said them or even that he has ever visited Altamira. However, since these words have reached us, someone has thought this to be true of painting.

What I intend to prove here is that ‘after Altamira’ all is decadence in terms of human intelligence. In other words, I will prove that the Cro-Magnon man has been the most intelligent sapiens that has ever lived and that the genetic degradation of intelligence does not start as late as the Industrial Age, but much earlier, with the emergence of Palaeolithic technological innovations.

I agree with all those who assert that it has been the migration towards the North that has played a major part in the growth of human intelligence: by facing greater problems in terms of adaptation, only the most intelligent have managed to survive and breed.

Indeed, the south means more sun, meaning more vegetation. More vegetation means more herbivores and, consequently, more carnivores. For an omnivorous being, as the sapiens was, this means an abundance of food, which translates into a weaker pressure of selection. More sun also means a lesser need for food in order to maintain one’s bodily temperature. This is a climate where other apes can survive today.

The North means less sun, i.e. a poorer flora and fauna, meaning less food. But less sun also means coldness, i.e. a greater need for food in order to maintain one’s bodily temperature. The North requires more intelligence than the South, given that there is less food available. This is a climate where no other ape besides man can survive.

Let us recall, in passing, that the North has given birth to great performers in other species of hunters. The strongest tigers are the Siberian (Amur) tigers, which live the furthest up North. The strongest bears are the polar bears. Finally, the strongest wolves are those in Europe and America, which have evolved 150,000 years ago following a migration towards the North (similar to that of humans). As a matter of fact, wolf fossils from Europe are similar to wolves in the South, from the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia, that are estimated to have evolved 800,000 years ago. Central and East Asian wolves represent intermediary links between the Northern and the Southern wolves. Let us also mention that, as in the case of humans, the Northern wolf has a brain 5-10% larger than the Southern one. This difference is probably also reflected in the level of intelligence.

If migration towards the North has increased the pressure of selection exerted on human intelligence, then any migration towards the South should have the opposite effect, i.e. decreasing intelligence as a consequence of a weaker pressure of selection exerted on it.

I believe that technological progress during the Palaeolithic age has been the equivalent of a migration towards the South, just as the Industrial Revolution has been the equivalent of a tropical equatorial paradise.

Indeed, better mastery of fire coupled with improvements of clothing and footwear manufacturing have led to the Northern Palaeolithic human living further south than his actual geographical latitude. Technological progress in terms of weapon manufacturing has also had the effect of ‘moving him further south’. For instance, the bow and arrow have made accessible certain types of prey that had so far been unreachable – as if food had become more abundant. Fire, clothes and weapons compensated for the lack of sun. Human intelligence compensated for the lack of sun. Since all technological progress was passed on as part of human culture (becoming a form of ‘extra-genetic heritage’), this amounted to every new generation of humans being born into a sunnier world, further South. As a consequence, the pressure of selection exerted on intelligence became ever smaller. Intelligence kept decreasing, and it is happening ever since.

Before engaging with those who assert that the decrease in intelligence has only started after the Industrial Revolution, I would like to set down a pre-requisite. When a certain pressure of selection is reached, the intelligence of a population stays constant. For any inferior pressure, intelligence will decrease; and for any superior pressure, intelligence will increase. Unfortunately, the situation is too complicated to be translated into mathematical equations, so we shall have to have to take a different route.

I shall take as reference one of the works that I admire very much: ‘Dysgenics’ by Richard Lynn. It is a very well documented book, written with a great deal of intelligence, honesty and courage. It is a book that I agree with entirely regarding what has happened to humans after the Industrial Revolution. With respect to what has happened before, I hold different views.

I shall start by comparing two fragments from Professor Lynn’s book. The first fragment is chapter 3, ‘Hunter-gatherers’, which shows how natural selection functions (including sexual selection) for contemporary ‘pre-historic’ tribes: a leader has 2-3 wives and 9 children during his lifetime, 5% of all males have more than one wife, 62% of males have no children at all, 45% of children die before reaching adulthood. The second fragment from ‘Dysgenics’ that I want to refer to is Table 2.1, page 28. Based on works by Skipp, Weiss and Pound, this is an illustration of the difference in fertility, of 50-100%, in favour of the middle class compared to the lower class in 16-17th century pre-industrial Europe.

Firstly, let us take notice of the fact that in the two cases there is a significant difference in terms of natural and sexual selection. There is a far greater pressure in ‘pre-historic’ tribes than in pre-industrial Europe. Let us assume now that in pre-industrial Europe, natural selection was sufficient to maintain a constant average intelligence because the more intelligent individuals had more offspring. In this case, the pressure in ‘pre-historic’ tribes, being higher, should lead to an explosive growth in intelligence from one generation to the next, something which has not been recorded. My opinion is that the existing selection in contemporary ‘pre-historic’ tribes can barely maintain a constant level of intelligence for these populations. It is noteworthy that all these tribes live in mild, ‘southern’ climates. In order to see an increase in the pressure of selection to such an extent so as to determine a growth of intelligence, these tribes would have to migrate towards the North. And if these ‘pre-historic’ tribes can barely maintain a constant level of intelligence, then surely the pressure of selection in pre-industrial Europe was no longer sufficient to slow down the decrease in intelligence, even if the more intelligent had more offspring.

Let us take a look at nature and notice that not all offspring of an alpha wolf are alphas. And even if, in the case of the wolf, it is only the alpha male and female that breed, this does not lead to a growth of the species’ qualities, but only to a preservation of the existing qualities.

The theory according to which offspring should inherit, on average, the qualities of their parents is erroneous, as it does not take into account the occurrence of genetic mutations and the fact that most of these are not favourable. Human intelligence is a relatively recent human addition, so it is more fragile. Also, the number of genes involved in determining intelligence is probably very high, as high as 40% according to some estimates. Therefore, the likelihood of unfavourable mutations is also very high, which leads me to conclude that not all the offspring inherit their parents’ intelligence; that the average intelligence of the offspring is below that of the parents. I am referring, of course, to the genotypic intelligence – the one that is inherited.

Because I have made a brief reference to the wolf in an earlier paragraph, I would like to come back to it. Although human has evolved from ape, he has something which distinguishes him from all other apes. The Palaeolithic human is a great predator, a predator that hunts animals far larger than him, something no other ape does. In this sense, man is an ape ‘grafted’ with a wolf. This affinity, this relationship with the wolf has also allowed the taming of the wolf by the Palaeolithic hunter and the achievement of a true symbiosis between the two species – species that are so phylogenetically distant.

In my opinion, modern man represents a deterioration, including in terms of intelligence, of the Northern Palaeolithic hunter through domestication; just as the dog represents a deterioration (including in terms of intelligence) of the wolf through domestication. It is obvious that wolves as well as hybrids between wolf and dog are smarter than dogs. Besides, wolves, especially the Northern ones, have a larger skull and brain compared to dogs. A wolf’s brain is 20-30% larger than that of a dog the same size. Even a dog twice the size of a wolf has a brain 10% smaller than the latter’s. But even the brain of today’s human (1350 cm3) has decreased compared to the Cro-Magnon (1600cm3). The decrease is not entirely the result of the Industrial Revolution. Recent studies show that throughout the past 5,000 years, the human brain has decreased in size by 10%. The other 5-10% has therefore been lost before.

I have followed with great interest the works of Professor Philippe Rushton regarding the correlations between brain volume and IQ, as well as the hereditary component of these characteristics. If, for today’s populations, there is a relationship between the level of intelligence and the size of the brain and there is an important hereditary transmission of both, I assume that this was also true of older populations. The difference between in brain size between a Cro-Magnon and a modern-day Asian is greater than the difference between the brain volumes of an Asian and an African. There should be a corresponding difference in IQ. The Cro-Magnon human should be more intelligent than any population today. This is the same conclusion that I have reached through my reasoning (i.e. the weakening pressure of selection as a consequence of the ‘migration towards the South’ triggered by technology). As a matter of fact, if the entire anthropogenesis is characterized by an increase in brain size, a decrease should suggest anthropolysis.

I would also like to talk a little about the Flynn effect. I begin by saying that I believe Richard Lynn explains it the best: through a better nutrition during the foetal and perifoetal stages. If the Flynn effect is more visible in our times, it does not mean that this effect has not occurred at any other time in the history of mankind. In my opinion, all technological innovations from the Palaeolithic age have generated phenomena similar to the Flynn effect. I believe that the Neolithic revolution has been accompanied by a Flynn effect perhaps as clear as the one we are witnessing today. A similar effect has always functioned in the case of privileged classes. But this effect – part of the ‘extra-genetic heritage’ of mankind, has significantly contributed to the degeneration of the genetic heritage because it has sheltered the latter from natural selection. Thus, it has ruined genetic heritage exactly where it was of a higher quality: in the dominant classes and in populations with advanced technology/civilization.

Those that support the idea that genetic degeneration has begun only after the Industrial Age are sometimes criticized, and rightly so I believe, for not being able to explain why today’s populations from Mesopotamia and Egypt have a low IQ, although they have once built great civilizations. My thesis – i.e. decrease in intelligence also occurring in pre-industrial ages – explains the downfall of these civilizations precisely through a faster genetic degradation of technologically advanced populations. Technology and agglomeration made survival easier and facilitated access to reproduction. This situation is obvious in today’s world and it was true of the Ancient Middle East, even if to a lesser extent.

As a matter of fact, I believe that my thesis gives a satisfactory explanation for the changes in terms of the ‘centre of the world’. A more intelligent population develops superior forms of technology and civilization. Precisely these developments accelerate the decrease in selection and, implicitly, in terms of intelligence. Meanwhile, a more ‘barbaric’ civilization, characterized by a higher pressure of selection, is subject to a slower decrease in intelligence in comparison to the more developed population. After a while, it surpasses the latter and, by assuming its civilization, manages to dominate it. We can observe how the centre of the world has moved from a civilized Europe to a ‘barbaric’ America, where the pressure of selection was obviously greater compared to the Old Continent. And let us also notice how today’s America, benefitting from a high degree of technology and civilization, is ready to hand over to East Asia (which has encountered advanced technology only more recently, meaning that it has been subject to slower genetic degradation).

Even if we look at the problem from another angle, a decrease in intelligence is more plausible than an increase.

Let us assume that the pressure of selection has been high enough to ensure a continuous increase in intelligence up until the Industrial Age. Only in the last 10,000 years, from the Neolithic Revolution, there have been 500 generations of humans. If we took into account an average rise of only 0.1 IQ points per generation, meaning 1 IQ point for every 10 generations, then, for an English citizen today to have an IQ of 100, a Neolithic ancestor must have had an IQ of 50 and a Cro-Magnon an IQ well under 50. But the Cro-Magnon used to hunt mammoths, perform cranial trepanations, paint in dark caves, sculpt, play the flute, build various tools from sewing needles to bows and arrows, create calendars based on the movements of the stars. In addition, he did all of this before the age of 30. How many people today, with an IQ of 100, could do all of this? Could a human with an IQ of 50 do all of this during the Ice Ages?

Just as implausible seems to be the idea that average intelligence has remained constant. We would have to accept that, in so many different ages and societies, the pressure of selection exerted on intelligence has always been constant. I find this impossible to imagine.

More likely, under the formidable pressure of the North, the Cro-Magnon had reached an IQ of 150. This IQ has very slowly decreased with the decrease in the pressure of selection, resulting from the technological ‘migration towards South’. It has decreased almost insensibly until the Neolithic revolution, and it has accelerated from then onwards: on average, a decrease of about 1 IQ point for every 10 generations (0.1 points per generation). The result is the IQ of 100 for today’s average English citizen.

If I am not mistaken, one of Broca’s projects was to compare the intelligence of today’s human with that of the Cro-Magnon. A project abandoned by Broca, abandoned for a long time… I have dared resume it…

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