16

Starfleet officers and cadets seem to study and practice a wild array of subjects. Far more than I would imagine is likely for a modern day human, in our universe.

Has the human intelligence advanced further? Are Starfleet personel more driven? Or has only looking at members of the Enterprise (TNG) coloured my view, as they would be the cream of the crop?

  • 6
    Are humans of today smarter or better educated than those of 2000BC? – user8719 Apr 7 '13 at 16:09
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    Damnit @mh01, I'm a Geek not a Historian. – AncientSwordRage Apr 7 '13 at 16:17
  • The multi-talented Gentlemen philosophers of the Renaissance and Baroque periods would put most modern Humans to shame, even with the leg up we get from several centuries worth of extra knowledge. Sure the average education in that period was far worse than today, but with enough spare time and motivation humans of all eras have shown remarkable abilities that don't seem inferior to what Starfleet officers and cadets seem to display. – Bogdanovist May 31 '13 at 2:38
  • @Bogdanovist: It was easier to be a Renaissance man when so much less was known. – mu is too short May 31 '13 at 3:34
  • Sure, but I'd wager that they still knew more about maths and science than the vast majority of modern humans (even if some of that 'knowledge' is now known to be wrong, or at least incomplete). – Bogdanovist May 31 '13 at 3:56
23

While it may be all three possibilities (smarter in general, more driven and cream of the crop), I would surmise that it is probably mostly the second two.

In Star Trek First Contact when Lily asks how the Enterprise was paid for Picard remarks that the economics of the future are somewhat different:

PICARD: The economics of the future are somewhat different. ...You see, money doesn't exist in the twenty-fourth century.
LILY: No money! That means you don't get paid.
PICARD: The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. ...We work to better ourselves...and the rest of humanity. Actually we're rather like yourself and Doctor Cochrane.
[Emphasis mine]

So from the get go the people of the 24th century are, according to Picard, working to better themselves and humanity.

Then, from the TNG episode Q Who? we learn that there is likely a propensity for the department heads to request the upper crust of graduates from the academy. Granted Starfleet wouldn't be likely to send all of the best officers to one ship (indeed, look at Barclay when he first arrived), the flag ship of the Federation is likely to receive more than it's fair share.

SONYA: Oh, I do tend to have a bit of a motor mouth, especially when I'm excited. And you don't know how exciting it is to get this assignment. Everyone in class, I mean everyone, wants the Enterprise. I mean, it would have been all right to spend some time on Reiner Six doing phase work with anti-matter. That's my specialty.
LAFORGE: I know. That's why you got this assignment.

And later...

LAFORGE: I read your graduating thesis. Now, I wouldn't have requested you if you weren't the best.
SONYA: Where are we going?
LAFORGE: Ten Forward. We're going to forget about work. We are going to sit, talk, relax, look at the stars. You need to learn how to slow down.
SONYA: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I can't do.
LAFORGE: You know, you're awfully young to be so driven.
SONYA: Yes, I am. I had to be. I had to be the best because only the best get to be here. Geordi, Lieutenant.
[Emphasis mine]

Combine those two together and out of any random sampling the crew of the Enterprise would tend to look quite accomplished.

  • 1
    +1. That was going to be my answer. It's amazing how much smarter a society can seem, just because they value intelligence and education rather than whinging about having to go to school and mocking intellectuals for being "nerdy" or "bookworms." – Nerrolken Dec 5 '14 at 22:53
  • I still recall the episode where the starfleet guy was arguing with his 11-yr old in the corridor about his calculus homework... Also, Picard presents a rather rosy version of society. Capital still exists in the Federation, and it isn't all meritocratic... Wealth and power still rule... – Dúthomhas Feb 20 at 4:46
9

Artificial genetic modification is not common or normal (or legal), and there hasn't been time for much natural evolution, so I think we can rule out the hypothesis that human beings are innately smarter in the 24th century.

Although a member of the Enterprise crew will be smarter than the average bear citizen, it is revealed in "When the Bough Breaks" that Calculus is a required subject for children at roughly the age of ten. So we're looking at something that applies to human (or at least Federation) society as a whole, not just a Starfleet recruitment bias.

The simplest explanation is that cultural advances -- particularly the elimination of poverty and the rise of advanced computer technology and intellectual freedom -- have made high education the norm for human beings in general. This is a pretty obvious extrapolation from the trends of the last few centuries; first world societies today enjoy levels of popular literacy, scientific awareness and cultural depth that would have been utopian fantasy in the 17th century.

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    +1 Add to that you have a society where folks no longer need to consider the monetary rewards when choosing a career. Granted things like power, prestige can still come into play but I would also think more emphasis is placed on choosing careers that satisfy personal interests / passions. Everyone has the opportunity to be a 'Renaissance person' if they so choose. – Stan Apr 7 '13 at 18:40
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    Well, actually, we have observed a progression of human intelligence as measured by progressively harder IQ test revisions; it's called the Flynn effect. It seems to indicate that over the last 80 years the average IQ of all tested individuals has risen about 20 points by today's testing standards. Not only that, but the effect is more pronounced at the low end; the increase in the average is driven by a marked decrease in lower scores and an increase in moderately high ones, while very high outliers remain relatively stable. This means we're getting smarter, and more equally intelligent. – KeithS May 31 '13 at 1:59
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    @KeithS most explanations for the Flynn effect point to better health and environment. – congusbongus Aug 18 '14 at 4:59
3

Some individuals in Star Trek are artificially enhanced via genetic engineering to have, amongst other abilities, greater-than-normal intelligence — e.g. Doctor Bashir from Deep Space Nine.

However, it’s illegal (see Khan Noonien Singh and Doctor Bashir, I Presume) and risky for the individual being engineered (see Statistical Probabilities), so it’s rare.

2

Compare your own education to what the average citizen of the United States or its territories would have received pre-Civil War; the three Rs (readin', writin', 'rithmetic). Unless you came from money, and were male, that's about all you'd ever get, apart from practical knowledge of a trade, and things every boy should learn like horsemanship and marksmanship. In more civilized regions there was a "secondary school", which for men taught more advanced "ciphering" (math) and what was the current standard in science (remember that in 1850, most of what we now take for granted about light, sound, chemical reactions and the nature of matter hadn't even been discovered yet). For women, that was "finishing school", which was one or two years of etiquette, protocol and social skills (homemaking skills such as cooking, sewing etc were taught at home by their mothers). Only the elite men (both in wealth and intelligence) moved on to college, where they would learn the 50-year-old theory that all matter was made of atoms, and that when chemical reactions occurred the matter was neither created nor destroyed, it just changed form.

I can't speak for your age, but if you've graduated high school, your own education, if typical, would have included algebra, geometry, trigonometry, biology, chemistry, and if you were on more advanced science or math tracks, 2-dimensional calculus, projectile and electromagnetic physics. You take for granted the idea that light is made of photons (first theorized by a young Einstein in the early 1900s), that matter is composed of atoms, which we now know are in turn composed of protons, electrons and neutrons in a centralized structure, and that the movement of electrons causes electricity. The periodic table, the initial forms of which were brand-new in 1850, is now in such a refined form that you don't miss much even if your classroom had a 40-year-old copy of it. None of these things (hopefully) are mysteries to you after receiving a standard government-supplied education.

Now project this another 250 years into the future, to the 2270s (roughly the time of the TOS era). A nuclear war notwithstanding, humans have gained probably another 150 years' worth of development in the sciences, and that might well have represented the same exponential curve we've seen in the last 150 years. Our knowledge also made a quantum leap forward with Zefram Cochrane's theories and subsequent proof of the possibility of FTL travel, which just happened to garner the attention of an alien race passing through the neighborhood. They showed up to welcome us to the space-faring world, and the simple realization that we weren't alone, coupled with knowledge shared by our new extraterrestrial friends, caused a second Renaissance on Earth.

In Kirk's time, things we currently don't even know exist are taught to high-schoolers. Things that are currently the cutting edge of quantum physics being discovered today by post-docs are covered in the equivalent of a freshman science class. Some of what we currently think we know is regarded 150 years from now with the same level of derision as we now view the concept of the four classical elements. Kids win science fairs by building working warp coils (antigravity generators are a relatively poor second place for high school competitions; you learn how to build those by helping your dad tear down his hoverbike).

The pace of education must necessarily match the pace of technology in order for technology to continue to advance. We as humans have to learn what we already know in order to progress toward discovering what we don't. Humans must also adapt, in order to learn more faster. The "Flynn Effect" (the continual, long-standing rise in IQ observed in IQ test scores since the 1930s) has been observed since the formation of the first standardized intelligence tests.

Since we've seen in the Star Trek series a level of technology far surpassing our current knowledge much less our applied capabilities, it stands to reason that the people we see in the series are a combination of all three of your postulates; they're naturally more intelligent, they're better educated, and at least the officers' corps represents the cream of the crop in intellect. Much like in our current educational system, in the future we may identify areas of aptitude and interest in our children and steer them toward more specific areas of study even earlier than we do now (where a "major" of a college Bachelors' degree represents only about the last 2 and a half years of targeted study, out of 15+ years of "general curriculum"). In such cases, those with high aptitude in "STEM" subjects may be groomed for work at Starfleet, which is less like our current military in terms of the average member, and more like a combination of NASA, Microsoft and Lockheed; in short, you want to work there, but you have to be damn good to get the chance.

And just like in our world, the guys who goofed off in Physics will manage the physicists and get all the glory (you think I'm joking, but if I'm wrong, why isn't Sulu captain? He's just as good as Kirk in just about everything we've seen them both do, and without a blemish on his record, but he's second officer at best).

1

Really late to the game but we have yet to see humans who have had both the benefits of proper diet while at the same time not being exposed to things like leaded gasoline and mercury in fish. I doubt whether this is what the writers had in mind but I suspect there may be observed increases in intelligence due to a combination of the above in the next century or so. But a principle of Star Trek seems to me to be that it is about humans not so different than ourselves -- we notice that AI also has been deliberately restricted so that such humans have a reason to explore and even participate in dangerous space battles that we know based on a very plausible extrapolation of today's technology would likely be fought by either remote-controlled drones or even independent, AI-driven robots.

0

What you see in the movies and TV episodes is the cream of the crop, the elite of the elite. Of course they're smarter than your average Joe, and better educated.
Think of earth today, the bridge officers of a scientific exploration vessel tend to be rather higher educated and of higher intelligence than say the stoker of a tramp steamer, aren't they? Same would be true in the Star Trek universe.
And as it's well into the future, a lot of the things will appear highly advanced to us, and those knowing it very smart, just as people from the middle ages would look towards our knowing things about computers and chemistry as magical, not for normal men to know.
Combine the two and you get the observed effect.

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