So it’s saying that (assuming the proposed theory is correct) that “more people are reaching their potential, but that the potential might be diminishing over time.” That would seem to suggest that society’s members are smarter on average, because more people are getting educated about more things, but that the positive outliers aren’t as outlying.
There are so many possible interpretations of this data point, and that also assumes that the data was collected in a rigorous way, which is not always the case with headline-splashing kinds of research results, where the reporter and the editor has a strong incentive to misinterpret results in a way that generates clicks.
It would be interesting to compare the mean and the median intelligence, and see how those have evolved over time. It may also be that the kinds of things that the intelligence test measures are no longer the kinds of things that our intelligence needs to master (i.e. shapes turning in space, etc.). If Google answers every question we need, perhaps it’s a different kind of thing we need to master.
A parallel might be eyesight. My guess is that human beings on average have poorer eyesight now than at any point in history. But does it really matter? We wear glasses or contacts instead. Sure, if technology suddenly disappeared lots of us would be screwed because of our bad eyesight, but my guess is we’d be screwed on many other accounts too.
Then there’s the question about where the data comes from. Who gets tested for IQ and what populations do they represent. I had thought that probably early IQ tests would have measured people likely to have high IQs, since they cost money, and you don’t spend money to test classes of people who you don’t think are worth a lot. However, the article does say it measures military entrance exams, which arguably will capture a larger cross section of society.
At the same time, one should ask whether the composition of military recruits has changed over time, and the answer to that is almost certainly yes: WWII had a large cross section of society recruited into the military (at least the men), professors and construction workers, white and black, etc… Even the Vietnam war had a fairly broad cross section, such that middle class students had to run to Canada if they wanted to dodge the draft, or GW Bush had to get his politically connected father to transfer him to the Air National guard. The military these days tends to select (albeit not exclusively) from less privileged segments of society. It may even offer those people decent training and better exit options when they are done, but the people going in tend to have fewer attractive offers elsewhere, and so it is not too surprising if the average enlisted IQ result is less than it was during WWII or Vietnam.
And maybe we only need human beings to be “intelligent enough” to accomplish daily tasks. It may be that only 1/4% of the population are now geniuses, whereas half a century ago, 1% were. But if the population has moved from 2 billion to 8 billion, that means that we have - in absolute terms - the same number of geniuses wandering around. Perhaps our social reward systems can’t handle larger numbers of geniuses. After all, no matter how populous the world is, there are still only 400 slots in the Forbes 400. There’s still only room for one POTUS. The systems that are tuned to look for geniuses and place them in locations where their intelligence can be used can presumably expand somewhat, but they probably cannot expand in proportion to population growth (admittedly, Europe’s population is shrinking, but there is still plenty of immigration, and the US is still growing).
When you can source intelligence anywhere in the world, the US, BRICs, etc., why do you need to have so many intelligent people in developed countries. In fact, what is the benifit to being a genius, unless you get your own joy out of being smarter than others (and plenty of dumb people are perfectly capable of convincing themselves that they are smarter than everyone else anyway). We are now in a world where intelligence is almost commoditized, and so what’s the point of developing great intelligence if that intelligence is not rewarded as much as having family wealth, or being physically beautiful, or a celebrity, etc… When being intelligent itself is often a baisis for others to mock you.
In fact, perhaps society doesn’t really want people that are excessively intelligent. There is so much misinformation and logical fallacy running around that it’s now confusing what it even means to be intelligent anymore. Teachers being asked to teach creationism as science? How can people understand the scientific method with something like that. Belief substituting for logic? Perhaps our structures don’t want people to be more intelligent, because then things like examining the evidence for climate change or the effects of enormous concentrations of wealth actually have to be considered. As wealth becomes concentrated, it often helps to have the vast mass of people unable to construct a logical argument.
So yeah. The basic premise seems to be: the vast majority of people have more exposure to education than every before, but there seem to be fewer top intelligences.