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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What will be the Next Big Idea?

People are getting smarter with every generation, according to IQ testing. In part, this is because of revolutionary concepts like "evolution", "falsifiable" and even "percentage". We are so used to these ideas that we don't realise that previous generations were barely aware of them. So, what will be the next big idea that makes us all smarter, and how can you leap frog everyone to be smarter first?

People are getting smarter, and that’s a scientific fact. Skeptics might protest that people can’t even get their cash from the ATM machine in less than ten minutes. They might point out that there is a privately sponsored museum in The USA which shows Jesus riding a dinosaur. And they might lament that you can’t have a conversation with anybody without their feeble attention being diverted by an incoming sms. But they are wrong – at least according to the Flynn effect.

He gets in His early morning ride before breakfast

As I pointed out in my review of David Shenk’s The Genius in All of Us, the Flynn effect is that curious feature which emerged from the history of intelligence testing, namely that IQ scores keep going up with each generation - about three points on average. Fascinatingly, ninety-eight percent of today’s population will score higher than their counterparts from 100 years ago. The Flynn effect is named after psychologist J.R. Flynn, who popularised the idea. 

One factor which Flynn (and David Shenk) suggests is behind the Flynn effect, is the much improved capacity for abstract thinking. All you have to do is look at a World War One propaganda poster, and you have to wonder how anybody could actually be influenced by the image and words. 

 J.R. Flynn

Flynn points to the way that science and philosophy have enhanced the language of educated people “by giving them words and phrases that greatly increase their critical acumen.” He thus sees the world as being divided into pre-scientific and post-scientific thinking, the latter being the more deeply critical approach to knowledge. The psychologist referred to these emerging concepts as “shorthand abstractions” (or SHAs).

So what are these SHA’s? Just below, I will list them. However, as you go through these, take a leaf out of Flynn’s book, and think about them critically.
The obvious way to do this is to question which of these things have really made us smarter. Beyond that, we might ask whetherFlynn himself has missed some crucial ideas that we could add to the list. Finally, taking a Deep Futures approach, let’s step back a little, and ask whether there is some way that Flynn is looking at the problem which has restricted the way he sees the development of human intelligence. In particular, consider the following statement Flynn has made:

There is no reason to believe IQ gains will go on forever. There may remain few who have not absorbed the scientific worldview to whatever degree they can. (reference)

What is it that Flynn is assuming as a given?

Here are Flynn’s SHAs.

(1) Market (1776: economics). With Adam Smith, this term altered from the merely concrete (a place where you bought something) to an abstraction (the law of supply and demand). It provokes a deeper analysis of innumerable issues.
(2) Percentage (1860: mathematics). Its range is almost infinite. Recently in New Zealand, there was a debate over the introduction of a contraceptive drug that kills some women. It was pointed out that the extra fatalities from the drug amounted to 50 in one million (or 0.005 %) while without it, an extra 1000 women (or 0.100 %) would have fatal abortions or die in childbirth.
(3) Natural selection (1864: biology). This SHA has revolutionized our understanding of the world and our place in it. It has taken the debate about the relative influences of nature and nurture on human behavior out of the realm of speculation and turned it into a science.
(4) Control group (1875: social science). Recognition that before and after comparisons of how interventions affect people are usually flawed.
(5) Random sample (1877: social science). Today, the educated public is much more likely to spot biased sampling than they were a few generations ago.
(6) Naturalistic fallacy (1903: moral philosophy). That one should be wary of arguments from facts to values, for example, an argument that because something is a trend in evolution it provides a worthy goal for human endeavor.
(7) Charisma effect (1922: social science). Recognition that when a technique is applied by a charismatic innovator or disciples fired by zeal, it may be successful for precisely that reason.
(8) Placebo (1938: medicine). The recognition that merely being given something apparently endorsed by authority will often have a salutatory effect for obvious psychological reasons.
(9) Falsifiable/tautology (1959: philosophy of science). The stipulation that a factual claim is bankrupt (a mere tautology or closed circle of definitions) unless it is testable against evidence. (Reference)

It is easy for us to forget that these ideas have not been around for so long. Yet what most interests me is the way that Flynn’s thinking is restricted by his worldview. Indeed, the concept of “worldview” is another SHA that I believe should be added to the list. The fact that it hasn’t been added, suggests that Flynn has not distanced himself from the dominant paradigm of dominant science. And there we have another promising SHA – “the paradigm”.

The ideas of worldview and paradigm are often met with suspicion in modern science. Beyond the fact that these concepts are sometimes abused - to imply that all approaches to knowledge are equally truth-based - the suspicion towards these concepts indicates a reluctance for deep reflection on behalf of some within the scientific community.

Flynn’s division of the history of thinking into “pre” and post-scientific thinking emerges from his worldview. He assumes that critical and rational thinking represent the end point of human intelligence evolution, at least in terms of the Flynn effect.

The next obvious question, then, is “what will be the next big idea that will shift human intelligence?” Yet this question is itself restrictive if we do not question deeply the idea of “thinking”. Could there be “non-rational” cognitive processes which could further enhance human intelligence? Ones that are not presently on the mainstream scientific map?

The next big idea, I believe, will that of connectivity, including non-locality and non-temporality’ or what parapsychologist Dean Radin calls “entanglement”. These ideas have been around for some time, but they are yet to be widely accommodated in modern science. They represent a significant challenge to dominant paradigm thinking. Yet the evidence is mounting.

In a recent paper published in Nature (463, 644-647 -4 February 2010). Elisabetta Collini and other scientists presented evidence “ that long-range quantum coherence between molecules can… be sustained in complex biological systems.” The data supporting a deeply connected cosmos is only going to become greater, and it won’t be confined to cellular biology. Once it has been established that our universe incorporates consciousness fields that extend into infinite space, the entire field of cognitive science, and ultimately science itself, will have to expand massively beyond their current parameters.

In fact Dean Radin believes that within the next decade the idea of entanglement will become widely accepted. The days when only rebellious thinkers and “crackpot” scientists dared mention it will soon be over.

What will then happen to human intelligence, when entanglement and deep connectivity are commonly accepted? My prediction is that it will represent much more than a mere addition to Flynn’s list of shorthand abstractions. For entanglement potentially opens the doorway to a greater employment and experience of other ways of knowing, including what I call integrated intelligence. The extended mind will become an accepted cognitive process within science and education. So if you want to "get ahead" of the crowd, accept the reality of a connected universe, and then begin to expand your intuitive mind. Such an approach would mirror my own life journey. I first accepted the idea of an integrated intelligence intellectually, and after a few years, I eventually began to explore these levels of mind experientially. (you can even begin now)

I believe that human beings will soon become much smarter, but not just intellectually. With the advent of integrated intelligence, an entire vista of knowledge and understanding will open before our eyes. It will represent the beginning of a transformation of human consciousness, and human identity on this planet. We will never be the same again.

Outrageous? Time will tell.



  1. I do hope so because there is litle sign of humans becoming smarter emotionally, socially or morally.

  2. Hi Von. Such changes, if they occur, are as much a function of social and cultural factors. IQ goes up because modern society and education require advanced cognitive skills. I predict the other forms of intelligence will improve if they are valued and/or required by society.

  3. I believe education will play a big part in our intelligence some what expanding and our younger generations being smarter. It would be amazing to see if every person could afford to go to an expensive school and put themselves through university, just how much smarter we all would be. I also think higher self esteem in people would encourage us to explore our potentials.

  4. I agree that education is key. The fact that most people, by definition, won't be able to go to an expensive school, doesn't necessarily matter. We need to teach people how to learn and think deeply, and I believe to FEEL deeply, because there are other ways of knowing which modern education barely addresses.

    I went to a public school myself, and my parents had no interest in education (nor any of my brothers and sisters). Yet I managed to go onto finish high school, then uni, and ultimately get a PhD. My mother never even went to high school, and my father left school at 14.

    While it's a disadvantage to go to a school with a poor learning environment, kids can still turn it into something extraordinary, if they just know how. What they need is someone to show them that it can be done.

  5. I think great leaps in intelligence happen intuitively first. The right brain then communicate with the left brain and a paradigm shift occurs. The big question is how quickly does it occur?

  6. Yes I do agree with you, many of my friends do not have great educations too and it feels like we all are very intelligent, we just don't know how to use it to a degree as this website teaches. I hope I have explained myself the right way! We all think there is better things out there for us and we could be doing so much better in life.

  7. I'm reading a book by Gary Zukov right now that helps explain the jump in intelligence as an evolution from five senses to multi-sensory. I can tell you, my grandson is really, really scary sometimes. He's only two and can speak in complete sentences. He woke his mother yesterday by saying - get up Mommy, it is a beautiful, beautiful sunny day!

    What is he going to be like with an education (which will include his mother and grandmother encouraging him to use all his senses?)

    It reminds me of David Bohm's Implicate Order.