Are We As Smart As We Can Get?

In a recent paper, University of Warwick psychologists hypothesize that humans can't get too much smarter without unintended consequences.

Pharmacological enhancers of cognition promise a bright new future for humankind: more focus, more willpower, and better memory, with applications ranging from education to military combat. Underlying such promises is a linear, more-is-better vision of cognition that makes intuitive sense.

This vision is at odds, however, with our understanding of cognitionís evolutionary origins. The mind has evolved under various constraints and consequently represents a delicate balance among these constraints. Evidence of the trade-offs that have shaped cognition include (a) inverted U-shaped performance curves commonly found in response to pharmacological interventions and (b) unintended side effects of enhancement on other traits.


(The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch)

SF authors still dream of getting smarter. Philip K. Dick, writing in his 1965 novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, describes special genetic tampering called E Therapy which could actually give anyone a huge frontal lobe:

The man's head reminded Hnatt of a photograph he had once seen in a textbook; the photo had been labeled _hydrocephalic_. The same enlargement above the browline; it was clearly domelike and oddly fragile-looking and he saw at once why these well-to-do persons who had evolved were popularly called _bubbleheads_.
(Read more about Philip K. Dick's bubbleheads)

Update: I have been reminded that Aldous Huxley had some ideas about improving human cognition by interfering at the proper moment in the gestation process. See the entry for Alpha Plus from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. End update.

From Why Arenít We Smarter Already via io9 via Frolix_8.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/8/2011)

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