Are we modern humans smarter or more intelligent than their ancient predecessors? Are we wiser?
The word ‘presentism’ was first introduced in 1923. It is an attitude that we moderns are smarter than our ancestors. Presentism has since evolved into different historical and philosophical avenues.
There is no doubt that our modern world has greater medical and scientific knowledge than in the past. However, does that mean modern humans are smarter than in past generations? As for wiser, read on if you are interested.
Are we Smarter?
Will brain size measurements give a clue? Today, we humans are physically taller and bigger because of diet and vitamins. We live longer because of medical discoveries in science and medicine. We have greater knowledge of our universe because of modern technology. Both science and medicine are the result of knowledge accumulated over a long period of time.
Test scores measure memory. Every time you add new facts or findings, you need to revise the tests and change the scoring mediums. What was a high score twenty years ago is no longer relevant today. The question is then, are we smarter because we score higher on tests or are we smarter because we have over time we have more scientific knowledge and equipment available than our predecessors?
Ancients did have knowledge of both science and technology as evidenced by the following two examples.
In the Chicago Tribune Perspective on November 8, 2015, an article was written about how Egyptians developed a pregnancy test 3200 years ago before it was invented in the 1920’s The women would urinate on barley seeds and wheat seeds for several days If the seeds germinated, she was pregnant. When the ancient method was tested in 1963, the seeds grew 70 percent of the time for pregnant woman, but never for men and non-pregnant women.
Christopher Columbus was wrong about sailing west to find a shorter trade route to far eastern trade sources. He believed the earth was round, but miscalculated the diameter of the earth. Many of our school text books stated the ancients believed the world was flat when in fact, ancient astronomers knew the earth was round and were familiar with constellations revolving in set times around the earth.
In relation to presentism, our school books, because history book writers inserted their presentism views, they distorted actual history. This in turn served to send a message to young students an attitude that our ancient predecessors were not as smart as we are today.
What is My Point?
My point is school administrators select curriculums to teach what they decide to be most valuable needs for students to learn. Today internet and computers are considered valuable tools needed to succeed in life. However, as a previous Boy Scout Leader, I know many children would not survive today if lost in the woods for an extended period of time. In ancient times, though, knowing how to survive in the wilderness was considered valuable. Today, unless a world catastrophe occurs, or you enjoy camping, survival in the outdoors is not considered valuable anymore.
Are we Wiser?
We all have met a person who is very smart and realize by his actions that intelligence alone does make him or her wise. For example, a rich gifted accountant caught embezzling for financial gain will be judged a moral fool when he or she is eventually discovered and sent to prison.
A priest, preacher, parson, or nun is poor financially, yet they are considered wise teachers of the rich ancient Christian Biblical wisdom that guides them to develop virtue, character, and morals to their students.
I have read many writings originated by different religious cultures that teach morals and virtue. I am not a religious scholar. I focus mainly on King Solomon because his writings concur with obedience to the Ten Commandments which I believe are fundamental to the subject of wisdom.
History records numerous wise men and women such as King Solomon, Aristotle, etc. whose writings of wisdom and philosophy are still being taught and considered to be valuable lessons to live a virtuous life. Problem is not many of our modern youths are being introduced in our public schools to the topic of wisdom, morals and virtue.
History also records that in spite of all the lessons humans have been taught and considered valuable, nothing has really changed over time. Each new generation in history continues to experience a war, poverty, poor education, and criminal behavior, same as in ancient times. In other words, we just cannot seem to manage how to wise up and make use of the lessons of history.
King Solomon was correct when he wrote these statements based on what I read being reported or hear on the news every day.
Nothing is new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
For what will the man do who is to come after the King? What men have already done. (Ecclesiastes 2:12)
She (Wisdom) is more precious (valuable) than jewels;
And nothing you desire compares with her more.
As a dog returns to its vomit, a fool repeats his folly. (Proverb, 26:11)
In My Opinion
The attitude of presentism is both erroneous and folly. If anything, we modern humans are bigger fools than our ancient predecessors. Why? Because we have available to us all the knowledge of both good and bad experiences recorded in history that the ancients did not have.
Yet, when you read and hear the news being reported every day, we never seem to wise up and make use of the knowledge of recorded history including scientific and medical advances. Many of us keep repeating the same folly of past generations over and over again.
Seven Deadly Sins
Almost every folly can be linked to the Seven Deadly Sins. For example, here are three contemporary interpretations.
The belief that there is no God, only “the love of one’s own excellence.” Read the news and decide how excellent we really have progressed morally over time.
Some people still smoke and use drugs even though there is scientific evidence that both will shorten their lives. We indulge, over-consume, food, drink, or wealth items to the point of extravagance, waste, and self-harm.
The USA has a national debt of twenty trillion, and our politicians still believe somehow or someday, we will pay down this debt without raising taxes. The intention of greed is to keep it for one’s self, far beyond the dictates of basic survival and comfort. It is applied to a markedly high desire for and pursuit of wealth.
Pride, Lust, Envy, Wrath, and Sloth are the other five which I will not expand because this is a blog post. Just listen or read the news and every time they report something foolish, relate the act to one of the seven sins.
If you check school curriculums, a course that teaches wisdom as a main subject would be a rare find.
Five thousand years ago, in ancient Egypt, wisdom was considered valuable and necessary to teach young sages to groom them to how to conduct themselves in life to become leaders. Also to learn how to morally and virtuously conduct themselves in a high office. Today, we teach every subject under the sun to our youth in our public schools except wisdom. Also, based on poll surveys, we are not too pleased with the wisdom being displayed by our present leadership in Congress.
The travesty is that because our youth actually has acquired a vain attitude of presentism, they will probably never be interested in reading or studying ancient wisdom to learn the advice of the teachings of wise men of the past even though history has proven their advice to be wise and is still relevant in today’s modern times.
What are the most valuable lessons you want your school teachers to teach your child? You would be wise to tell the school administrators. They probably will tell you they cannot comply because of laws that prevent them from teaching anything about religious beliefs. Be prepared, the boy scout motto, to teach your child yourself, if you are smart, and wise, in my opinion.
Regards and goodwill blogging.
Additional Source Links about Wisdom Education in Schools