I hear all the time that human only use ~10% of their brain, what if its because we don't need to use more?
There are examples of people who manage to get superhuman strength in moment of danger etc.
So is it possible that all the inventions prevented human from reaching their full potential?

For example, maybe if there were no phones people would develop ability to communicate using some sort of brain waves? If there were no airplanes maybe people would have learned to levitate?

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    You could also claim that those inventions are the realization of humanity's potential (and there are many history books that attempt to claim this, saying that humans' strength is our invention skills). – Yechiam Weiss Mar 26 '18 at 22:48
  • The problem is chances. How high is chance that people could levitate? Lower than the chance that people would develop wings. But it is more likely all of these can be done by technologies rather than random mutation. – rus9384 Mar 27 '18 at 0:13
  • Hi, welcome to Philosophy SE. Please visit our Help Center to see what questions we answer and how to ask. We are taking questions that are more or less objectively answerable, which counterfactual history/evolution is really not. Biologists might be in a better position to tell what might have happened to human physiology in a different environment. – Conifold Mar 27 '18 at 0:38
  • Just a small comment about "superhuman strength"...yes, it is because of adrenaline (or the like). Normally, there is a security threshold preventing muscles from going beyond a certain level. Adrenalin makes us transcend these. It leads to damages on neurological and muscle fibre level. If we did this all the time, we would be paralyzed pudding within days. I assume the same could be said about the brain (and: this is 10% at the same time of highly specialised areas - we do not need to access long-term memory for retracting the hand from something hot). – Philip Klöcking Mar 27 '18 at 13:12
  • Yes! It is obviously possible. Whether it is the case would be another question. I suspect it is the case but this is a tricky issue and I wouldn't argue the point. – user20253 Mar 27 '18 at 16:31

Not only is it possible, it has degraded humanity. But it has also provided benefits.

First, the bad news: People live relatively long lives today, thanks to modern technology and plentiful food. But if you took away all that technology, people would start falling over dead by the thousands.

Thousands of years ago, people with various illnesses or "conditions" would have been weeded out by natural selection. Today, there are countless people who are kept alive by medication, therapy, emergency surgery, etc.

The war against the environment is another byproduct of "progress." People didn't live in their own sewage 10,000 years ago.

On the other hand, technology has given us electricity and ice cream.

I hear all the time that human only use ~10% of their brain, what if its because we dont need to use more?

That's an interesting line of inquiry. We certainly use our brains in different ways than our ancestors did. The fact that we can spend half our lives in school suggests we get a lot of use out of our brains. On the other hand, mind control (e.g. propaganda) is a terrible reality today - and it takes an enormous toll on people's minds.

There are examples of people who manage to get superhuman strength in moment of danger etc.

There's nothing new about adrenaline rushes. Nor are they confined to humans.

So is it possible that all the inventions prevented human to reach their full potential?

Sure, it's possible, but there are limitations. Levitating people sounds a little far-fetched, for example.

There were a couple philosophers named Hobbes and Rousseau who had very different ideas about Nature and "progress." Hobbes thought man's natural state was brutish, while Rousseau was more of a romanticist who thought progress degraded people.

I believe another philosopher named Locke was somewhere in the middle.

My natural inclination is to side with Rousseau. Unfortunately, I couldn't survive without electricity and ice cream.

In the end, it's a balancing act. There's no question that technology has affected us in both positive and negative ways. But some would argue "What's so bad about a physically disabled person (who would have been eaten by predators thousands of years ago) who's a guru of astro-physics?"


I've been asked to back up some of my statements with references. Specifically...

The mere opinion without further support lies between the lines: That natural selection of not technologically supported humans is "better" or "less degraded" than natural selection of humans as they currently are.

I think someone misread or misinterpreted my answer.

Natural selection can't be better or worse, because natural selection hasn't changed. What has changed is the fact that modern humans have, in a sense, divorced themselves from natural selection (with the help of technology).

Imagine if we could transport the late Stephen Hawking (while he was still alive) back in time 10,000 years. How long could he survive without the technology that kept him alive?

That isn't to say that natural selection isn't at work on humans today. But the sheer magnitude of global population growth speaks volumes.

You implicitly suggest that the least degraded state of humans was before industrialisation. You need some support for that.

Actually, this is what I wrote:

Not only is it possible, it [technology] has degraded humanity. But it has also provided benefits.

In other words, it's a two-edged sword.

I then pointed out some of the obvious benefits of technology (e.g. longer lifespans, electricity and ice cream). I also pointed out some of bad things, such as overpopulation, environmental degradation and people who are biologically less fit than our distant ancestors in many respects.

If World War III shut down medical services, millions of people who suddenly found themselves deprived of critical medicines and aids would die.

In summary, it's hard to argue that humanity has been biologically enhanced by technology.

Especially considering the last 100 years of philosophical work on what human "nature" actually could be. Hint: Essentialism doesn't work (See e.g. Plessner, Arendt, or more recently: Grant Ramsey).

Good point; what about our MENTAL and CULTURAL development?

Since the mind is dependent on the brain (a physical organ), it's reasonable to assume that we're dealing with another two-edged swords.

People's brains (and minds) do suffer from a wide range of problems, from brain cancer to psychological maladies. Mind control takes a terrible toll; the almost incomprehensible stupidity of the people I encounter right here in "progressive" Seattle frankly stuns me.

On the other hand, people who are fortunate enough to grow up in stable homes and receive a good education can blossom into mental giants that would have utterly amazed our prehistoric ancestors. In this spirit, Stephen Hawking is a good symbol of physical/biological degradation and mental "progress" at the same time.

Many would argue that science and philosophy didn't even exist until just a few thousand years ago, a good sign that our species is being upgraded, rather than degraded. But how closely are philosophy and science linked to "technological progress."

One could argue that neither would exist without agriculture and writing. But is philosophy really joined at the hip with technology? Yes or no, philosophy itself has been degraded to some extent by propaganda.

When you put it all together, you have a rather confusing situation, as evidenced by philosophers who view Nature as something noble and virtuous versus those who view technology as a refuge from Nature, which they view as abhorrent.

I'm arguing that technology has undeniably degraded humans in some respects, particularly our biological fitness, but it has also helped us in other respects. In fact, philosophy is one area where humans have made enormous progress...but is philosophy joined at the hip with technology? Can it keep up with technology?

Imagine if global civilization suddenly broke down - via WWIII, a massive terrorist attack, or an environmental disaster - and one or two billion people died, with the others reduced to survival, living lives more wretched than our prehistoric ancestors.

How would we answer Mr. Noob's question now? Would we say that technology made people better and better...until they suddenly destroyed themselves?

P.S. If I'm covering too much territory, then it would be helpful if Mr. Noob could edit his question to be more specific; is he referring to humanity's physical fitness, mental fitness, quality of life, etc.?

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  • Cholera limited the size (or at least stability) of cities until clean running water that wasn't channeled through lead (lead poisoning is thought to have helped topple Rome & it's aquaducts) – CriglCragl Mar 27 '18 at 1:56
  • @CrigiCragi - Yes, that's another downfall of technology; it has made it possible for humans to reproduce like lemmings. Of course, people have the option of embracing family planning, but they don't. Maybe that's an example of people using just 10% of their brains. ;) – David Blomstrom Mar 27 '18 at 2:08
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    There is a shift from. more 'r' selection to more 'K' selection as a human evolutionary strategy, with the lowering of disease burden and increase in available resources blogs.worldbank.org/health/… Lemmings strategy no longer – CriglCragl Mar 27 '18 at 2:29
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    I have no problem with your normative position, and you can have it along with natural order rooted in a divine purpose for mankind, for example. The problem is with trying to cloth it into pseudo-biological language of "fitness", etc. You can reconcile it with evolution, but it will not be Darwinian one, something more like Teilhard de Chardin's teleology perhaps. Or you can keep Darwinian biology and come up with some pragmatic replacement for "natural order" that does not require timeless posits. But you can't have both. – Conifold Mar 29 '18 at 23:44
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    This site is not for discussing things. If you cannot offer anything but your personal thoughts and sentiments, so be it. But it remains a bad fit for SE. There is a reason you've had problems in several communities of the SE network. – Philip Klöcking Mar 30 '18 at 8:28

The 10% thing is totally made up. It obviously doesn't make any sense. How could such a situation have evolved? Similarly with telepathy, if that had survival advantages, why would it have 'devolved' - surely only because of negatives, or insufficient positives to balance costs.

It has been argued life before farming was idyllic and settled life much worse, but it seems warfare was an essential way to maintain survivable population densities "Forget the Garden of Eden; think Mad Max." https://www.economist.com/node/10278703

Degraded is a pretty loaded term. Douglas Adams suggested in describing the Belcerabons, that telepathy would be the very worst thing to have. We know perfectly well how to become stronger, and know more; we just generally choose other options. Set out what you think our purpose/s are and you will be able only then to say whether that is degredation or advance.

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I am skeptical of the claims about our only using 10% of our brains, our DNA (the remainder being junk DNA), etc. Such claims do not fit into either evolutionary or theistic explanations of origins, and I believe that they are equally likely to reveal the limitation of the research (e.g. X-Rays reveal that humans don't have skin!) as something true about humans.

It is known that people can do amazing things under pressure, but there is a reason that we aren't this strong all the time: you incur long-term damage when you do this. (Wikipedia, Mayo Clinic) This isn't an example of un-tapped potential.

I think that the achievements of past civilizations, including Greece, Rome, the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire, are quite comparable to ours in terms of scale and intelligence considering the world population at the time; therefore I am not aware of any compelling reason to think that humans today are either smarter or dumber, stronger or weaker, than we were in prehistoric times.

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Technology has and always will be just a tool. What it does and how it affects things will always be due to the user. Technology doesn't degrade people, people degrade themselves WITH technology. e.g. Watching TV for 6 hours a day or never walking anywhere. The problem stems from within us, not from what we have built.

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  • Watching TV is not the universal statement. People do not hunt with spears and thus are worse in physical activities is better statement. – rus9384 Mar 27 '18 at 10:58
  • I generally agree with user189728 that technology is largely a tool. However, I think it's worth keeping in mind that technology is such a huge part of our lives that most of us can't just turn it on or off, like a TV. If I want to pay my bills, I have to work, and that means I have to rely on vehicles powered by fossil fuels to get to work. (On the positive side, I threw my TV out the window years ago. ;)) – David Blomstrom Mar 27 '18 at 19:13

The word 'humanity' has got two different meanings.

1. human beings collectively.

In this this sense, the answer to your question is 'No'.

Many technological progress have saved as well as destroyed many human lives. C.f.: Invention of vaccines and invention of weapons of mass destruction. So we cannot say 'Yes' if its meaning is 'human beings'.

2. the quality of being humane; benevolence.

In this sense, the answer to your question is 'Yes'.

When technology progressed, our wishes also increased. Now the number of things for enjoyment/entertainment have also multiplied. E.g.: Years ago an ordinary mobile phone could satisfy people. But now things have completely changed.

When technology progressed, the chances for business/trade have also increased. Where there is business mentality there is only little hope for humanitarian values (humanity). So in this sense we can say 'Yes' to this question.

In the case of ability:

As you mentioned in your question some abilities are disappearing from humans. E.g.: Weather forecasting that is done now with the help of so many equipment were easily done by keen observation in the changes in the environment.

But in some cases when people lost some abilities they acquired some other abilities that our ancestors didn't have. E.g.: Now many youngsters have the ability to type very fast with two thumbs/fingers (on mobile phones). Our ancestors didn't have such ability.

So, your question has to be treated in two different ways.

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  • I have added a few more examples. – SonOfThought Mar 28 '18 at 10:26

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