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Op-Ed: Oh, chuckle, chuckle — The human brain is shrinking, possibly with reason

The human brain should enlarge its ideas. Fair enough?

Neuroscience -Tomography. — © AFP
Neuroscience -Tomography. — © AFP

The most likely reason for the shrinkage of the human brain is lack of use. …Or maybe there’s another reason that isn’t quite so obvious.

Not everyone agrees, and there’s a lot of research on human craniums which presents a different if vastly more complicated and highly qualified picture.

According to Dartmouth College researchers, neural architectures are affected by things like writing. The development of “adaptive group responses exceeding the cognitive accuracy and speed of individual decisions and had a fitness consequence.” (sic)

Talking about writing; you could do a full academic dissertation on that sentence. Some individuals think much faster and more clearly than groups. Individuals can also make their own decisions outside the group.

Yep, collective intelligence is the key to human brain development and therefore its shrinkage. Historically, the brain started shrinking 3,000 years ago, just in time for the rise of various civilizations, most of which failed catastrophically. Talking to agonizingly stupid people may also play a role.

The analogy for brain size used by researchers is ants and their social structures. Ants have small brains, but they’re super-efficient due to collective intelligence. It’s an interesting if somewhat predictable idea.

The most efficient social animals on Earth are also obviously a perfect analogy for the indisputably least efficient. I doubt if you could get $2 for the current level of human collective intelligence in a pawn shop.

It might be right to a point, though. Obviously, social animals have different mental behaviors simply because they’re social. The brain architecture must adapt, however absurdly.

You really must admire the ability of neuroscience to get totally out of its depth on any given subject in a few words.  At a time when humanity is being devalued by the second, just add, “They’ve got smaller brains” and add a few condescending academic pretensions into the mix.

I have a somewhat different theory. Shrinkage is caused by improved neural efficiency. Efficiency is the only real issue for brain size.

Evolution is after all more about improvement than anything else. In any social species, communication is the obvious top priority evolutionary process. Ants use pheromones. Humans use a much less accurate but wider-ranging form of communication.

…So, brain evolution should show a reduction in other areas of the brain which are basically obsolete. Otherwise, we’d be following the stenches to a political party, or something equally ridiculous.

Collective intelligence isn’t exactly a new idea. The trouble with humans is that it must function at any and all levels of comprehension. An ant may have no trouble understanding “go get some sugar”. A human could have any level of difficulty understanding “go find out what you’re talking about”.

Given the dynamics of the classic communications exercises, humans have a lot of catching up to do. Ants also have a few million years of a head start on humans in evolution.

Another whimsical possibility is that the reduction in brain size means inventing fire and the wheel is now presumably impossible. It’s therefore OK that so many people can barely survive any level of inputs of new information.

I mention these trivial issues because it’s now socially compulsory to be a moron. A smaller brain would be appropriate, even if you can’t think of a use for it.

You may have a brain, but you’re a social outcast if you dare to use it. Communication is often risky and negative. Social environments can be extremely hostile and dangerous. Emotional adaption also probably takes up a lot of neural wiring, don’t you think? You need an efficient real-time system to function.

Adapting to a complex social environment doesn’t come with a rule book. Improving the brain for survival makes evolutionary sense. Turning into an ant doesn’t make sense if you’re not an ant.

The human brain should enlarge its ideas. Fair enough?


The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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