CNHI News Service

Opinion

November 28, 2012

COLUMN: News is good and bad on the scientific front

— There’s good news and bad news in the science world this week.

On one hand, scientists tell us there’s evidence suggesting humans are becoming more stupid over time. That’s bad news.

On the other hand, different scientists report that people with heart disease can lower their blood pressure, experience less stress and reduce death risk by practicing transcendental meditation. That’s good news for heart patients.

There’s also good news for those without heart disease. A third group of scientists reports that meditation techniques may have a beneficial effect on brain function that continues even after the meditation session ends.

Assuming all this news is correct, we may all be gradually getting stupider, but if we meditate, we don’t have to be upset about it. Let’s take a look at the evidence.

Item 1: Dr. Gerald Crabtree, a medical doctor and developmental scientist at Stanford University, argues that mankind reached his intellectual peak 2,000 to 6,000 years ago and has been in gradual mental decline ever since.

Dr. Crabtree’s conclusions appear in the recent edition of the journal Trends in Genetics. Evidently, Dr. Crabtree links humanity’s intellectual downhill slide to the historical point at which “we started living on farms.” (It’s really beside the point, and I hesitate to mention it, but Dr. Crabtree hails from Potrock Hollow, W.Va., which boasts a population of 13. This probably has nothing to do with his belief in the brain-numbing effects of farm life.)

Dr. Crabtree and some of his colleagues cite genetic studies suggesting mutations in our DNA tend to lower our intellectual abilities but these declines are masked by advances in technology and medicine. He predicts this trend will continue leading to further “dumbing down” of our species.

Item 2: Researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, studied a group of 201 African-Americans diagnosed with heart disease. The subjects were divided into two groups. One spent at least 20 minutes a day at home practicing heart-healthy behaviors such as healthy meal preparation, exercise and nonspecific relaxation techniques.

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