Cognitive evolution is a complex system of ideas, still nascent and elusive in its form. “Accelerating change”, however, is a simple, firmly established concept. If we first loosely define cognition as a ‘way of thinking’, and evolution as ‘change’, then is it possible that we can discover and quantify the difference in ways-of-thinking over time?
From a bicameral perspective, it took humans hundreds of years to transition into the intramentality that we now consider the essential ingredient in what it means to be human (^1). Is our cognition still in the process of changing and is that rate of change increasing? And if so, is there a point at which that rate of change surpasses the distance between generations, a quantity that has held relatively steady for the duration of our species?
Juan Enriquez, genomics-science writer, cites 29 “humanoid upgrades” in the human species to date, and goes on:
“The first place where you would expect to see enormous evolutionary pressure today, both because of its inputs, which are becoming massive, and because of the plasticity of the organ, is in the brain. … Are we seeing rapid brain evolution?” (Enriquez proceeds to question the seemingly rapid advance of autism…) (^2)
The speed of biological/DNA evolution was one bit per year, whereas the speed of technological/human-generated, technologically-mediated information is at 400exobytes per year (^3). Any possible permutation of a theory of coevolution cannot neglect to account for this difference in the "most evolvable human organ".
And finally, in an article about the filtering of pornography on family computers:
"Many [parents] want to take responsibility, but all too often they do not how know how because they find the technology too difficult to use or their children are more technically advanced then they are." (^4)
Every last institution on Earth is designed to work within the steady rhythm of human generations. Our schools aren’t working, and our leadership isn’t either, nor the media. It is possible that we can just now glimpse the puzzling glimmer of the effects of generational cognitive disparity on society. And it is perhaps not such a bad idea to strain our vision just a little bit harder, before this thing smacks us in the face.
1. Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, 1976
2. Juan Enriquez: Will our kids be a different species? TEDxSummit, Jun2012
3. Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants, 2010 (p334)
4. Automatic bar on net porn considered, BBC news, 27 June 2012
[Accelerating Change and Education]
SHAILA DEWAN, September 22, 2012