Thought is fascinating. There are so many parts of experience that are mysteries only recently presenting themselves. As we find a clue to known questions about the mind we bump into three new questions that bolster curiosity and implore exploration. We are in the age of the mind with tools enabling us to dive into concepts with reduced need to further slice into flesh. When you think to yourself the dance that plays out can feel like gentle destiny. We are always follow to our thoughts' lead and their might be deeper reasons as to why this is the case.
The forms of thought seen and named in people today are extensive and illuminating. The kinds of thinking we engage in combine the experiences we had up to that moment or that we hold in mind. Forms of thinking such as situational awareness, social cognition, and instinct are seen broadly in nature and not special to how human thought is understood today. Being present in the moment is a life or death skill in the wild. Connecting with others that help you brave the environment means you have to understand where you stand within given groups of peers and elders. All else that we feel move us from within is instinct and is often felt soon after each new stage of growth. The people of times past had to hold much more urgent information in mind. Knowing you are in a lion's den when you try to rest at night from the rain is a life skill you would list on a prehistoric resume. Today the abstract holds and moves us forward. Moreover, the increasing complexity of thought required daily has reshaped our minds and brains for the specific tasks demand regularly as well as the new environmental constraints implemented by generations past.
The modern brain has a reduced average volume compared to those of people from times past. It is thought to be nearly 10 percent lower in volume [one , two] than 20,000 or even 10,000 years ago. The reduction has been largely in grey matter which is used for muscle control as well as sensory perception such as hearing, seeing, memory, emotions, and speech. The environment was more varied and demanding on the senses in times past. Nomadic peoples had to hold much more in mind as seasons, landscapes, external group relationships, and resource availability fluctuated. Today brains have been able to get with the times and specialize. The extra mass for remembering where the lions were became excess and an energy cost the body did not develop to maintain. The relationship between environmental demands through changing seasons and resource scarcity can even be seen in the distribution of average brain size around the world today. This is not to say that were we plunged into a primitive world by some catastrophe the young raised in the new normal would not adapt back to the volume seen prior. Our ability to function as a larger whole and the physical infrastructure we have laid to facilitate that has allowed a reduction of the burden placed on individuals.
A question that would be harder to assess would be how the speed of neurons in the brain and thought in the mind has changed compared to those times past. Moreover, a crucial realization to make is that though the average individual neural mass has gone down the aggregate or total social neural mass has increased decidedly. The skills prized in society today calls for the ability to connect the abstract with the concrete. Being able to solve specific reasoning and calculation problems is how many are assessed in the world today. Measures of the ability to do this include standardized tests, IQ tests, and situational assessments. A hint as to the path minds are taking with regards to these tests over generations is shown by the Flynn effect which essentially says that IQ has been increasing over the years.
The merit of these tests in predicting performance at tasks to be seen in the wilds of the working world are being reconsidered. Proposed reasons are many and one to consider, mentioned prior, is that the increases seen speak to daily proximity to complex tasks. An increasingly complex world means deeper daily use of the kinds of things looked for on these kinds of assessments. However, the method of assessing present skill is only a portion of the whole task. Public health improvements and education system changes are other possible factors. Also, how neurons have changed over recent generations and millennia is an important question as well. What would make sense in addition is noting "cognitive extensibility" and how it changes over time. This would speak to the change in creative capacity with exposure to new knowledge and experiences. What considerations for social and economic constraints can be made to adjust this metric with the deep inequality seen throughout the world today? How can society avoid making longitudinal metrics, such as would be required, that flatten creativity to productivity numbers as done in times past? These are questions that will take more time to explore.