CogniFit's Science blog: We Can’t Get Smarter, But Could We?

We Can’t Get Smarter, But Could We?

A few days ago, several articles about the brain limits have been published in the newspapers around the world. The news is based on a compelling research by the Cambridge University, indicating that humans are reaching a point of not being able to get smarter.

As always, scientific research is moving very fast in the brain area and therefore this news should be taken with credibility, but also with a sense of criticism. Recall for a moment that famous (mis)quote, said about 100 years ago, “Everything that can be invented has been invented”. This quote is part of the urban myths, although not fully supported, but it plays a role in the topic we’re dealing with now.

But one doesn’t need to go this far to find an example of reaching a limit which was proven wrong – recall that just a few years ago the internet traffic was thought to have far lower limits than what we experience today. So the point here is to reiterate the general dialectic of the scientific knowledge – from the hypothesis, to the validation of the hypothesis, to the challenge of that validation and the creation of a new hypothesis.

So are human beings really reaching the limits of their intelligence? The hypothesis indicates that, because smart people show faster impulses in the brain that not so smart ones, there is a limit to the amount of energy our brain can consume and therefore we are reaching that limit. In this case, if the human being would need to be smarter, there wouldn’t be enough energy in the brain cells to support the connections between the neurons.

Several developments may occur in the future. Our brains have been getting smaller and smarter over time, but this process might be reversed if the human brain could start to conserve energy, needing a bigger brain. Other than this, the development of the grey mass in the world would need to rely on the development of computer intelligence, not on human grey mass. This last idea poses other concerns, which may be discussed in another article.

But neuroscience isn’t a stagnant field of research, and therefore for every limit found there is a potential development that will prove it wrong. In the same way as the internet traffic limit has been proven wrong (up to now), or the size and capacity of computers has developed far beyond the best expectations in 1980, maybe we are also facing an hypothetical limit that will be overcome by the human kind. Are we smart enough to do it?