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Out of Control

June 30, 2011

You amaze me.

I took a short-class on manufacturing methods. When a manufacturing process is “under control” the process produces the expected product with the expected performance. The process is “out of control” when you get either less or more than you expected. It seems to me that the whole human race is “out of control”. Let me explain.

I’ve been trying to put my finger on a human characteristic. Human children are unpredictable in what they can and can not do. I know people who can hear a concert and remember every note. They know more than “the notes”. They know how each note was played, the rhythm, the emphasis in the phrase, which notes were on pitch and which were slightly off. You could say they have a “phonographic ear”. Some have a “photographic eye” for shapes or colors or the stars. Heck, I can’t even memorize the birds I see every day or the stars I see most nights. How do you memorize a sky? I don’t know, but some of us can do it. Some of us can “see” many moves ahead in a game of chess. Some can calculate numbers or dates easily in their head, and others can learn a new language with ease. Now you know why I think humans are “out of control”. 😉

Was this always so? I wonder if we had these unusually skilled people among us since we filled the continents, or if these are new skills. A friend of mine grows fruit on a few thousand trees. “Some don’t breed true,” he says. Perhaps intelligence is fragile and we are only now seeing the mix of genetics and environment that let it blossom. Maybe nature is playing with the human recipe and hasn’t figured out the formula yet. We are absolutely “out of control” any way you want to measure. We are different from each other in every physical way, yet these physical variations are trivially small compared to the variations in how we think. I listed a few mental skills like remembering music or images, but we are a general purpose thinking machine. So I’m wondering if “humans” are slowly changing. There are more of us. We mix more. We are healthier in general. We have learned that early illness/malnutrition can impair how well we think for our entire lives. What if the spark of intelligence has only been flickering, and we are slowly uncovering the conditions that let it burst into flame. Are there more Shakespeares, Da Vincis and Einsteins than before? There are thousands of genes that shape our brain and nervous system. Maybe a few years from now some neuro-geneticist will identify the dozen genes that control how well we think.

Thank you. You amaze me, and I must wonder why.

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