Are Humans Smarter or Stupider Than We Used to Be? (NSQ Ep. 34)

January 10, 2021 @ 5:00am


Also: how can you become a more curious person?

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Relevant Research & References

Here’s where you can learn more about the people and ideas in this episode:


James Flynn, former professor of political science at the University of Otago.
Zeynep Tufekci, associate professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Todd Kashdan, professor of psychology at George Mason University.
Kurt Lewin, American social psychologist.
John McWhorter, associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University.
Paul Silvia, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.


“Literacy Rate, Adult Total, (Percent of People Ages 15 and Above),” by the World Bank (2019).
“Fluid vs. Crystallized Intelligence,” by Kendra Cherry (Very Well Mind, 2019).
A Book Too Risky To Publish: Free Speech And Universities, by James Flynn (2019).
“My Book Defending Free Speech Has Been Pulled,” by James Flynn (Quillette, 2019).
“What Are the Five Dimensions of Curiosity?” by Tod Kashdan (Medium, 2018).
Are We Getting Smarter?: Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century, by James R. Flynn (2012).
“Steve Jobs on Why Computers Are Like a Bicycle for the Mind (1990),” by BrainPickings (2011).
“Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr (The Atlantic, 2008).
“Intelligence is Not Enough: Non-IQ Predictors of Achievement,” by Angela Duckworth (University of Pennsylvania, 2006).
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, by Neil Postman (2005).
120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait, by Tom Snyder (National Center for Education Statistics, 1993).


*In this episode, Stephen says that Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death is an extension of the Orwellian fear that the public is being distracted by bread and circuses. George Orwell did explore this idea in 1984, but in Brave New Planet (published nearly two decades before 1984), Adolph Huxley famously envisioned a world where humans would come to adore technologies that undo their capacity to think. Postman addresses the dystopian fears of both authors in his book.

Tags: Angela Duckworth, Rebecca Lee Douglas, Stephen Dubner