Thursday, July 18, 2013

Flash! Humanity Getting Stupider

A recent study published in the journal Trends in Genetics postulates that once humans started living in dense agricultural settlements several thousand years ago, we lost the evolutionary pressure to be smart. In other words, people are getting stupider*. The study author Gerald Crabtree of Stanford University, writes in the article that, "A hunter-gatherer who did not correctly conceive a solution to providing food or shelter probably died, along with his/her progeny, whereas a modern Wall Street executive that made a similar conceptual mistake would receive a substantial bonus and be a more attractive mate. Clearly, extreme selection is a thing of the past."

There may be something to this. The ancient Celts disapproved of writing. They believed that it spoiled the memory. An educated person spent a lifetime memorizing lore and stories to word-for-word perfection. A modern person would consider a bard's memory nothing short of miraculous. Nowdays...well. I am reminded of something Earlene Fowler said to me a couple of years ago: "First there was e-mail, then Facebook, then Twitter. Now there's Pinterest for those who can't be bothered to use words at all."

The fact that I am about to finish the first draft of my next novel has caused me to ponder this stupidity hypothesis. I have this almost-finished manuscript and it's an enormous tangle of words that is full of jewels stuck in a big pile of you know what. I've worked so long and hard on it. Why isn't it as fantastic as it ought to be? I know where I want to end up, but I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to get there. Sometimes I feel frightened, and wonder if I still have it in me. Will I find my way out of this maze, and do it in such a way that I bring the reader along with me? Am I getting stupider?

I try to comfort myself with the thought that I get this feeling with every book I write. And I'm not the only one. We’ve all heard many times that writing is rewriting, and anyone who’s ever scribbled a page knows that’s true. At least I’ve never met a literary Mozart, whose first draft is so perfect that it doesn’t need any alteration. In fact, most authors I know, even very well known and accomplished authors, think of their first drafts as something too embarrassing to be seen by anyone. It’s the rewriting that makes the book. If I may repeat something I’ve said here before - and never let it be said that I missed an opportunity to repeat myself - you have to have that block of marble before you can carve out a statue of David. Well, right now I'm sitting on a huge block of marble. I just hope I'm still smart enough to chisel a David out of it.
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*All right, since we're talking about intellect, I know it's 'more stupid'.  But 'stupider' is funnier.

8 comments:

Heidiwriter said...

That's a scary hypothesis, but I'm afraid it's true! I too have the feeling with every book--will I be able to make any sense of this jumbled mess? Maybe my last one was just a fluke! LOL

Clea Simon said...

I don't know if it helps or not, but you're not alone.

Donis Casey said...

I suppose it's better than thinking I'm the living reincarnation of Mark Twain and every word I write is gold. Isn't it?

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

It seems we're all in this together. First draft agony. I'm stopping to go back and fix a subplot because I know already that it isn't going to work.

LD Masterson said...

I'm not sure this applies to the re-writing but as I read your post the thought occurred - if intelligence if failing, common sense (at least in our society) is already gone.

Judith Starkston said...

I like your comment about Celts and memory. The Homeric scholar Milman Parry studied oral bards in Yugoslavia (back when there were both bards and Yugoslavia) and discovered that when these bards learned to read, they could no longer recite from memory the long oral compositions they had done before. I guess the brain decides if you've got a place to store it, there's no point in the brain holding on to it. Can I blame my bad memory on my good reading skills?

Donis Casey said...

Absolutely right, Judy. I personally can read like the wind but can't remember why I came into the room, so your hypothesis must be true.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Use it or lose it must be true. I used to be able to spell. Now I can't and I blame it on Spellcheck