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人類智力是否已達巔峰 未來只會越來越笨?

更新時間:2019/9/9 21:18:49 來源:紐約時報中文網 作者:佚名

Has humanity reached 'peak intelligence'?
人類智力是否已達巔峰 未來只會越來越笨?

You may not have noticed, but we are living in an intellectual golden age.

也許你還沒有意識到,人類現正處于智力的黃金時期。

Since the intelligence test was invented more than 100 years ago, our IQ scores have been steadily increasing. Even the average person today would have been considered a genius compared to someone born in 1919 – a phenomenon known as the Flynn effect.

自從100多年前出現智力測試以來,人類的智商值一直在穩步增長。跟1919年出生的人相比,如今一個智商平平的人在當時也稱得上是天才——這一智商測試結果逐年增加的現象被稱為弗林效應(Flynn effect)。

We may have to enjoy it while we can. The most recent evidence suggests that this trend may now be slowing. It may even be reversing, meaning that we have already passed the summit of human intellectual potential.

我們或許應該趕緊享受這一黃金時機吧。因為最新的證據顯示,智商的增長速度正在變緩,甚至可能已在逆向倒退,這即是說,我們也許已經過了人類智力所能達到的最高值頂峰,開始走下坡。

Can we have really reached peak intelligence? And if that is the case, what can the subsequent decline mean for the future of humanity?

人類真的已經登上智力巔峰了嗎?如果真是這樣,之后智力降低對人類未來會意味著什么?

Let’s begin by exploring the ancient origins of human intelligence, from the moment our ancestors began to walk upright more than three million years ago. Scans of fossil skulls suggest that the brains of the first bipedal apes, Australopithecus, were about 400 cubic centimetres – just a third the size of modern humans’.

讓我們先從人類智力的遠古起源,即300多萬年前我們的祖先開始直立行走之時講起。通過對頭骨化石的掃描我們知道,南方古猿(Australopithecus)這種最早的雙足猿猴腦容量大約為400立方厘米,僅僅是現代人類的三分之一。

That comes at a serious cost. The brains of modern humans consume around 20% of the body’s energy, so our bigger brains must have offered some serious benefits to make up for those excess calories.

我們也為此付出了巨大代價,身體20%的能量都被大腦消耗了,所以腦容量增大必須得有切實的好處,這才對得起多消耗的卡路里。

There are many potential reasons for this brain boost, but according to one leading theory, it was a response to the increasing cognitive demands of group living.

腦容量激增的可能原因有很多,其中一個主流理論認為,這是群體生活對認知需求越來越高所造成的。

From Australopithecus onwards, human ancestors began to congregate in bigger and bigger groups – perhaps, initially, as a protection against predators, which would have been a serious risk once they began sleeping on the ground rather than the trees. It would also allow individuals to pool resources – helping to spread out some of the risks of living in a changeable environment – and provide shared childcare.

從南方古猿開始,人類祖先聚集的圈子越來越大,最開始可能是為了抵御捕食者,因為從樹上轉移到地面睡覺之后,捕食者對他們構成了嚴重威脅。群居還能讓大家資源共享——既能降低在變化莫測的環境中生活的風險,也能共同撫育后代。

But as many of us know from our own social circles, living with other people can be hard work: you need to keep track of each person’s personalities, their likes and dislikes, and whether or not they can be trusted with gossip. And if you are working on a group activity, like hunting, you need to be able to follow what each member is doing as you coordinate your activities. For humans today, a lack of social understanding causes embarrassment; for our ancestors, it was a matter of life or death.

但我們中的許多人從自己的社交圈就能發現,與他人一起居住并不容易,得記清每個人的性格特點、喜好厭惡,以及能不能一起八卦東家長西家短。如果是集體活動,譬如打獵,就需要根據他人的行動來調整自己的行為。對今天的人而言,缺乏社會理解會引起難堪,但對人類祖先而言則關乎生死。

Besides presenting those immediate challenges, the larger social groups would have allowed members to share ideas and build on each other’s inventions, resulting in new technological and cultural innovations, such as tools that could improve the efficiency of hunting. And for that to work, you need to have the intelligence to observe and learn from others – providing another push for greater brainpower.

社會群組規模增大后,除了要面對這些直接挑戰外,成員們還可以分享想法,并在彼此發明的基礎上進行再創造,于是產生了技術與文化創新,譬如提高打獵效率的工具。這就需要擁有觀察他人以及向他人學習的智力,這又促進了大腦又一步發展。

By around 400,000 years ago, the brain of Homo heidelbergensis had reached around 1,200 cubic centimetres – just a shade smaller than the brains of modern humans, which are around 1,300 cubic centimetres. When our ancestors left Africa around 70,000 years ago, they were smart enough to adapt to life in almost every corner of the planet. The astonishing cave art suggests they were fully capable of thinking about huge cosmological questions – including, perhaps, their own origins.

大約40萬年前,海德堡人(Homo heidelbergensis)的腦容量已經達到了1200立方厘米,只比現代人類1300立方厘米的腦容量小了一點。我們人類的祖先在大約7萬年前離開非洲的時候,已經聰明到可以適應地球上幾乎各個地方的生活。令人驚嘆的洞穴藝術說明他們已經能夠去思考宏觀的宇宙問題,也許還包括自身的起源。

Few experts would argue that the more recent changes to IQ are the product of this kind of genetic evolution – the timescales are simply too short.

沒有什么專家會認為,人類智商在近階段的變化是基因進化的產物,因為時間跨度太短了。

It was only 100 years ago, after all, that scientists first invented the “intelligence quotient” to measure someone’s intellectual potential. Their success relies on the fact that many cognitive abilities are correlated. So your ability to perform spatial reasoning or pattern recognition is linked to your maths ability and your verbal prowess, and so on. For this reason, IQ is thought to reflect a “general intelligence” – a kind of underlying brainpower.

畢竟,“智能商數”(簡稱智商)是100年前才被科學家們發明出來以衡量一個人智力潛能高低的測量評分。智商測量有效是因為人的許多認知能力是彼此相連的。人的空間推理能力和圖形認知能力是與數學及語言能力有關,諸如此類還有很多。因此,智商反映的是“綜合智力”,相當于大腦的潛在能力。

Although IQ tests are often criticised, a vast body of research shows that their scores can be useful indicators of your performance on many tasks. They are especially good at predicting academic success (which is not surprising, considering that they were initially designed to be used in schools) but also predict how quickly you pick up new skills in the workplace. They are not a perfect measure, by any means – and many other factors will also shape your success – but in general they do show a meaningful difference in people’s capacity to learn and process complex information.

盡管智商測試飽受詬病,但大量的研究表明,智商得分能夠體現人在許多工作任務中的表現。在預測學業成績方面尤為出色(這不出奇,因為智商測試本來就是設計給學校使用的),還能預測出你在工作中掌握新技能的速度有多快。智商測試絕對不是完美標準,許多其他因素也會影響你的成功,但總體而言,智商測驗確實能說明人與人之間在學習和掌握復雜信息的方面存在重要差異。

The rise in IQs seems to have started in the early 20th Century, but it’s only relatively recently that psychologists have started taking much notice of the phenomenon. That’s because IQ scores are “standardised” – meaning that after people take the test, their raw scores are transformed to ensure that the median of the population always remains 100. This allows you to compare people who took different forms of the IQ test, but unless you look at sources of the data, it means you would not notice differences between generations.

人類智商之升高似乎早于20世紀初已開始,但心理學家們直到最近才開始關注這一現象。這是因為智商的評分被“標準化”了:人們智商測試后,其原始得分會經過公式換算,以確保人類整體的智商中位數永遠是100分。這樣就可以比較參加不同形式智商測試者之間的智商高低,但如果不看原始數據的話就看不出不同世代之間的智商差異。

When the researcher James Flynn looked at scores over the past century, he discovered a steady increase – the equivalent of around three points a decade. Today, that has amounted to 30 points in some countries.

研究學者弗林(James Flynn)比較了過去100年來的智商測試得分,發現分數在穩定增長,大約每10年增長3分。有些國家如今總共增長了30分。

Although the cause of the Flynn effect is still a matter of debate, it must be due to multiple environmental factors rather than a genetic shift.

雖然弗林效應的原因尚未有定論,但這肯定是由多重環境因素共同造就的,并非基因的轉變。

Perhaps the best comparison is our change in height: we are 11cm (around 5 inches) taller today than in the 19th Century, for instance – but that doesn’t mean our genes have changed; it just means our overall health has changed.

身高的變化或許是個最佳對比:與19世紀時相比,如今我們平均高了11厘米(約5英吋),但這并不能說明人類的基因有變,變化的只是整體的健康情況。

Indeed, some of the same factors may underlie both shifts. Improved medicine, reducing the prevalence of childhood infections, and more nutritious diets, should have helped our bodies to grow taller and our brains to grow smarter, for instance. Some have posited that the increase in IQ might also be due to a reduction of the lead in petrol, which may have stunted cognitive development in the past. The cleaner our fuels, the smarter we became.

有些因素也許會帶來雙重改變。譬如,醫藥水平提高、兒童期的感染患病減少,以及飲食營養加強,既令我們身體長得更高,也讓大腦變得更聰明。有人指出,智商增加也可能是因為汽油中的鉛含量降低,過去鉛可能阻礙了認知水平的發展。燃料越清潔,我們就越聰明。

This is unlikely to be the complete picture, however, since our societies have also seen enormous shifts in our intellectual environment, which may now train abstract thinking and reasoning from a young age. In education, for instance, most children are taught to think in terms of abstract categories (whether animals are mammals or reptiles, for instance). We also lean on increasingly abstract thinking to cope with modern technology. Just think about a computer and all the symbols you have to recognise and manipulate to do even the simplest task. Growing up immersed in this kind of thinking should allow everyone to cultivate the skills needed to perform well in an IQ test.

但應該還不止這些,人類社會的智力環境也經歷了巨大變革,如今孩子們從很小就開始訓練抽象思維和推理能力。譬如在教育過程中,大多數孩子都被教導要以抽象方式思考問題(譬如動物是哺乳類還是爬行類)。我們也越來越傾向于用抽象思維來使用現代技術。譬如,用電腦的時候,即使是最簡單的操作也需要識別和處理各種符號。如果在這樣的思維方式中成長,就能培養出在智商測試中取得好成績的技能。

Whatever the cause of the Flynn effect, there is evidence that we may have already reached the end of this era – with the rise in IQs stalling and even reversing. If you look at Finland, Norway and Denmark, for instance, the turning point appears to have occurred in the mid-90s, after which average IQs dropped by around 0.2 points a year. That would amount to a seven-point difference between generations.

無論弗林效應的原因為何,有證據顯示,智商增長的時期都可能已經結束,增長的速度放緩,甚至可能正在逆向倒退。以芬蘭、挪威和丹麥為例,轉折出現在90年代中期,此后智商測試的平均水平每年下降大約0.2分,兩代人之間的差距就能達到7分。

Partly because they have emerged so recently, these trends are even harder to explain than the original Flynn effect. One possibility is that education has become slightly less stimulating than it once was – or at least, has not targeted the same skills. Some of the IQ tests used have assessed people’s mental arithmetic, for instance – but as Ole Rogeberg at the University of Oslo points out to me, students are probably more used to using calculators.

這一趨勢比之前的弗林效應更難解釋,部分原因是此趨勢最近才剛剛出現。一種可能的解釋是教育不像以前那么激發人的智力,起碼所傳授的不是應對智力測試。奧斯陸大學的羅格伯格(Ole Roeberg)告訴我,譬如有些智商測試測的是心算能力,但學生們現在都用計算器計數。

For now, it seems clear that our culture can shape our minds in mysterious ways.

目前已經明確,我們的文化會以我們所不知的神秘方式影響我們的心智。

While scientists continue to untangle the causes of those trends, it’s worth questioning what these changes in IQ actually mean for society at large. Has the IQ boost of the Flynn effect brought us the dividends we might have hoped? And if not, why not?

科學家們仍在尋求解答人類智商增加和下降之謎,不過值得我們思考的是,智商的變化對整個人類社會有哪些影響。弗林效應中的智商增加有沒有帶來我們所希望的好處?如果沒有,又是為什么?

A special issue of the Journal of Intelligence recently raised that specific question, and in the accompanying editorial, Robert Sternberg, a psychologist at Cornell University, wrote:

《智力雜志》(Journal of Intelligence)最近出版的一份特刊就提出了這個問題,在相關的文章中,康奈爾大學的心理學家斯特爾伯格(Robert Sternberg)寫道:

People are probably better at figuring out complex cell phones and other technological innovations than they would have been at the turn of the 20th Century. But in terms of our behaviour as a society, are you impressed with what 30 points has brought us? The 2016 US presidential election was probably about as puerile as any in our history... Moreover, higher IQs have not brought with them solutions to any of the world’s or the country’s major problems – rising income disparities, widespread poverty, climate change, pollution, violence, deaths by opioid poisoning, among others.

與20世紀之初相比,現在的人能發明更復雜的電話以及突破其他技術創新。但論及社會行為,那增加的30分帶給我們的變化你滿意嗎?2016年的美國總統大選跟歷史上的許多愚蠢行為一樣幼稚……不僅如此,智商增加后人們也沒有找到解決世界以及我們國家重大問題的辦法,譬如收入差距擴大、大規模貧困、氣候變化、人口問題、暴力以及鴉片中毒死亡等等。

Sternberg may be a little too pessimistic here. Medicine has made huge strides in reducing problems like infant mortality, for example, and while extreme poverty is by no means solved, it has declined globally. That’s not to mention the enormous benefits of scientific technological advances that have, of course, relied on an intelligent workforce.

斯特爾伯格可能有些過于悲觀。醫學在人類防治疾病增進健康等方面,比如降低嬰兒死亡,已經取得了重大進步,雖然極端貧困的問題遠遠沒有解決,但從全球來看已有所緩解。更不必說科學技術進步所帶來的巨大好處,當然這有賴于人的智慧。

He is not alone in questioning whether the Flynn effect really represented a profound improvement in our intellectual capacity, however. James Flynn himself has argued that it is probably confined to some specific reasoning skills. In the same way that different physical exercises may build different muscles – without increasing overall “fitness” – we have been exercising certain kinds of abstract thinking, but that hasn’t necessarily improved all cognitive skills equally. And some of those other, less well-cultivated, abilities could be essential for improving the world in the future.

弗林效應究竟有沒有顯著提高我們的智力?對這個問題持懷疑態度的可不止斯特爾伯格一人。弗林本人曾說,這種提高可能只限于某些特定技能。不同的運動能夠鍛煉不同肌肉,但整體“健康”可能并沒有提高。同理,人一直在訓練某些抽象思維能力,但并不一定就提升了所有認知能力。未來如果想讓世界變得更好,其他一些我們未能精心培養的能力可能至關重要。

Take creativity. When researchers such as Sternberg discuss creativity, they are not just talking about artistic expression, but more grounded skills. How easily can you generate novel solutions to a problem? And how good is your “counterfactual thinking” – the ability to consider hypothetical scenarios that haven’t yet come to pass.

以創造力為例。當斯特爾伯格等研究人員講到創造力時,所說的可不只是藝術表現,更是實打實的技能。你能夠輕松找到解決問題的新辦法嗎?你的“假設思維”,即思考并未發生的假定場景的能力有多強?

Intelligence should certainly help us to be more creative, but we do not see a rise in some measures of individual creative thinking over time, as our IQs increased. Whatever caused the Flynn effect, it hasn’t also encouraged us each to think in new and original ways.

智力肯定能幫助我們創新,但智商增長后,衡量人類創新思維的指數并沒有隨之上升。無論弗林效應的原因為何,這個未知的因素并未激勵我們大家以嶄新并原創的方式進行思考。

Then there’s the question of rationality – how well you can make optimal decisions, by weighing up evidence and discounting irrelevant information.

此外還有理性,即通過權衡理據摒棄無關信息做出最佳決策的思維能力,你在這方面又表現如何?

You might assume that the more intelligent you are, the more rational you are, but it’s not quite this simple. While a higher IQ correlates with skills such as numeracy, which is essential to understanding probabilities and weighing up risks, there are still many elements of rational decision making that cannot be accounted for by a lack of intelligence.

你可能覺得智力水平越高就越理性,但事情可沒這么簡單。雖然高智商與計算能力有關,計算能力強有助于理解各種可能性以及權衡風險,但仍有許多理性決策的因素無法用智力不足來解釋。

Consider the abundant literature on our cognitive biases. Something that is presented as “95% fat-free” sounds healthier than “5% fat”, for instance – a phenomenon known as the framing bias. It is now clear that a high IQ does little to help you avoid this kind of flaw, meaning that even the smartest people can be swayed by misleading messages.

討論人類認知偏差的文獻已汗牛充棟。譬如一個例子是“95%脫脂”聽起來比“5%的脂肪”要健康,這一現象叫做框定偏差。現在已經知道,智商高也不能免除這類問題,最聰明的人也會被誤導性信息所左右。

People with high IQs are also just as susceptible to the confirmation bias – our tendency to only consider the information that supports our pre-existing opinions, while ignoring facts that might contradict our views. That’s a serious issue when we start talking about things like politics.

高智商的人也一樣會受到確認偏差的影響,容易只考慮那些符合我們既有觀點的信息,而忽視那些與我們觀點相違的事實。這在我們談論政治時是個嚴重的問題。

Nor can a high IQ protect you from the sunk cost bias – the tendency to throw more resources into a failing project, even if it would be better to cut your losses – a serious issue in any business. (This was, famously, the bias that led the British and French governments to continue funding Concorde planes, despite increasing evidence that it would be a commercial disaster.)

高智商也免不了陷入沉沒成本偏差,即便止損更合理也要往失敗的項目上投入更多資源的這種認知偏差。此認知偏差在任何行業都很嚴重。(這種認知偏差導致英國和法國政府一直不斷注資協和飛機,盡管不斷有證據表明這會釀成商業災難。)

Highly intelligent people are also not much better at tests of “temporal discounting”, which require you to forgo short-term gains for greater long-term benefits. That’s essential, if you want to ensure your comfort for the future.

智商高的人若遇“時間貼現”的問題也不比智商次于他的人更勝一籌。“時間貼現”理論要求人們放棄短期所得來換取更好的長期利益。如果你想作長遠打算,能舒適地度過后半生,那這種選擇就是正確的。但事實上,不論智愚,多數都會選擇短期利益。

Besides a resistance to these kinds of biases, there are also more general critical thinking skills – such as the capacity to challenge your assumptions, identify missing information, and look for alternative explanations for events before drawing conclusions. These are crucial to good thinking, but they do not correlate very strongly with IQ, and do not necessarily come with higher education. One study in the USA found almost no improvement in critical thinking throughout many people’s degrees.

除了抵制這些認知偏差外,還有一些更基本的批判思維能力也非常重要,譬如能夠質疑自己的臆測,能分辨被漏掉的信息,以及能在得出結論之前尋找其他解釋的能力。這些都是優秀思維的關鍵因素,但跟智商聯系并不緊密,也不一定要受過高等教育才會具備。美國的一項研究發現,許多人教育程度升高,但批判性思維卻幾乎是原地踏步。

Given these looser correlations, it would make sense that the rise in IQs has not been accompanied by a similarly miraculous improvement in all kinds of decision making.

既然相關性這么低,也就是說,智商提高后,各種決策能力并沒有隨之奇跡般地一同進步。

As I explain in my book on the subject, a lack of rationality and critical thinking can explain why financial fraud is still commonplace, and the reason that millions of people dish out money on quack medicines or take unnecessary health risks.

正如我在書中所解釋的,缺乏理性和批判性思維是金融詐騙依舊普遍的原因,也是為何會有成百上千萬人掏錢去買沒藥效的藥,或是去承擔毫無必要的健康風險。

For our society, it can lead to medical errors and miscarriages of justice. It may have even contributed to disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and global financial crises. It is also contributing to the spread of fake news, and the huge political polarisation on issues like climate change – preventing us from finding an agreed solution before it is too late.

對社會而言,理性和批判性思維的缺失會導致醫療錯誤與司法不公,甚至與深海地平線(Deepwater Horizon)鉆井平臺漏油事故以及全球金融危機等災難也有關系。與此同時還助長了假消息的傳播,令我們在氣候變化等問題上出現嚴重的政治兩極化立場,以至于阻礙我們及時找到各方都能接受的解決辦法。

Considering the sweep of human history to date, then, we can see how our brains grew to live in increasingly complex societies. And modern life, while allowing us to think more abstractly, does not appear to have corrected our irrational tendencies. We have assumed that smart people naturally absorb good decision making as they go through life – but it is now clear that is not the case.

想想迄今為止人類歷史經歷的風風雨雨,那么,我們就能看出我們人類大腦智力是如何適應日漸復雜的社會而增長。現代生活雖然令我們能夠更加抽象地認知世界,但卻并沒有糾正人類的非理性傾向。我們以為聰明的人在生活中會自然而然地做出明智的決策,但現在已經清楚知道,事實并非如此。

Looking to the future, the “reverse Flynn effect” and the potential drop in IQs should certainly cause us to take stock of the ways we are using our brains, and preventing any further decline should undoubtedly be a priority for the future. But we might also make a more concerted and deliberate effort to improve those other essential skills too that do not necessarily come with a higher IQ.

展望未來,“反向弗林效應”以及可能出現的智商下降會促使我們評估對大腦的使用方式,避免智商進一步下降是未來的首要任務,這一點毋庸置疑。不過我們可能也會更加協調一致地專門做出努力,去提升那些不一定意味需要高智商的其他技能。

We now know that this kind of thinking can be taught – but it needs deliberate and careful instruction. Promising studies of doctors’ decision making, for instance, suggest that common cognitive errors can be avoided if they are taught to be more reflective about their thinking. That could save countless lives.

我們現在知道,這類思維是可以傳授的,但是需要專門的悉心指導。一些針對醫生決策所進行的研究帶來好消息。研究發現,如果醫生被教會診治病人能反復思考自己的想法,就能避免常見的認知錯誤,拯救無數生命。

But why not teach these skills in early education? Wandi Bruine de Bruin, now based at Leeds University Business School, and colleagues have shown that discussions of decision making errors can be incorporated in the history curriculum of high school students, for instance. Not only did it improve their performance of a subsequent test of rationality; it also boosted their learning of the historical facts too.

但為何不在教育的早期階段就教授這些技能呢?布萊恩(Wandi Bruine de Bruin)在利茲大學的商學院(Leeds University Business School)工作,她和同事們表示,可以將對決策錯誤的討論納入高中歷史課程。這不僅提升了學生們之后在理性測試中的表現,也能提升他們對歷史真相的認識。

Others have attempted to revitalise the teaching of critical thinking in schools and universities – for instance, a discussion of common conspiracy theories teaches students the principles of good reasoning, such as how to identify common logical fallacies and how to weigh up evidence. Having taken those lessons, the students appear to be more sceptical of misinformation in general – including fake news.

也有人想在學校和大學里重振批判性思維教學,例如,討論常見的陰謀論能教給學生優秀推理的準則,譬如該如何找出常見的邏輯錯誤以及如何權衡事實依據。參加這些課程后,學生們整體而言會對包括假新聞在內的錯誤信息更能抱持懷疑的態度。

These successes are just a small indication of what can be done, if rationality and critical thinking are given the same kind of respect we have traditionally afforded our other cognitive abilities.

我們一直都很重視認知能力,如果對理性思維與批判性思維也能給予同樣的重視,能做的還有很多,這些成功不過是區區幾例而已。

Ideally, we might then start to see a steep rise in rationality – and even wisdom – in tandem with the Flynn effect. If so, the temporary blip in our IQ scores need not represent the end of an intellectual golden age – but its beginning.

理想情況下,我們的理性會開始大幅提高,甚至會更富智慧,與弗林效應相一致。如果是這樣的話,人類一時的智商分數下跌并非代表了人類智力黃金時代的終結,反而是一個新的開始。

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