Size Matters


Okay, I am confused.  I have never put much stock in what evolutionists and anthropologists say cause sometimes what they say seem less about science and more about making a creative guess.   Their latest discovery has really got me confused or ………… is it because of the small size of my squirrel brain!

The latest controversy has to do about brain sizes.  Now, I don’t know about you but I grew up with these guys pointing out how superior we (Homo sapiens)  are to all other Homo species.  As I recall, one of the evidence for this was that Homo sapiens have the largest brain capacity of the genus.  A typical explanation would be similar to the one quoted below;

In the last 3-4 million years brain volume within the hominid lineage has increased from less than 400 ml to roughly 1400 ml. The first clear increase in hominid brain size is seen in early Homo at c.2 m.y.a. in East Africa (most reliably in cranial specimen KNM-ER 1470). This is an evolutionarily significant change that cannot be simply accounted for in terms of increased body size alone. From the appearance of H. erectus at c.1.7 m.y.a. to the present, the brain increases nearly twofold: from c.800 ml to 1500 ml in Late Pleistocene H. sapiens, without any apparent change in body size.” (from http://www.massey.ac.nz/~alock/hbook/brain.htm)

This rationale is based on the presumption that a larger brain in this case was due to increased intelligence and brain sophistication.  The exception to this is in the case of the Neanderthals (who are no longer considered an ancestor of modern humans but as cousins).  Neanderthals had larger brains than humans but are not believed to be as intelligent.  It is argued that the bigger brain in this case was due to the larger overall size of the creature and the brain was needed to be larger to deal with a larger body size and to cope with the more complex (i.e. dangerous) environment in which they lived.  Based on this, humans dubbed themselves, Homo sapiens, which is Latin meaning “wise man” or “knowing man”.

With me so far?  Now, the water has gotten murky.  In a recent interview for Discovery Magazine, famous evolutionist and University of Michigan anthropologist, John Hawks revealed that studies have discovered that  the human brain has been getting smaller in the last 30,000 years.  In fact, the human brain had decreased in size by about 10% during that time.  This is equivalent to losing brain material the size of a tennis ball.

Cro-Magnon man, our ancestor from 17,000 years ago is now believed to have the largest brain.  Oh dear.  Does that mean modern humans are dumber than those guys who drew paintings in caves?  No!  Declares the scientists emphatically.  Professor Geary of University of Missouri claims that the larger size of Cro-Magnon’s brain has to due with having to deal with a dangerous environment and not that they were smarter.  Professor Geary also believes that as population and social complexity increases, the human brain became smaller but different and more sophisticated.

Okay.  If I got this right, modern man is the smartest because modern man has the largest brain with the exception of our ancestor, the Cro-Magnons and our distant relative, the Neanderthals.  But in those two cases, the larger brain is not a measure of their intelligence but about their brute size and how hard life was.  Also, the fact that human brains continue to shrink is because the brain is becoming more sophisticated.

Did you get all that?  I see one fundamental assumption above that is seriously flawed – that modern humans are smart and getting smarter. I  propose that humans are dumb and getting dumber.  As evidence please watch any reality TV show but for a good laugh I suggest American Idol (the audition episodes), Jersey Shore or “I’m Not Smarter than a Fifth Grader”.

As a squirrel of little brain, I am not surprised that smaller brains are more intelligent and sophisticated.  That implies that us squirrels are pretty intelligent and sophisticated.  I can agree to that.  On the other hand, some of my rodent brethren (see below) are very upset with the allegation that larger brains have more to do with brute size or living in a brutal world.

Brain says “Rodents are your superiors as you will learn when I have conquered the world”
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23 thoughts on “Size Matters”

  1. If brain size is the determinate factor of intelligence then we win. We will become large folk with tiny brains downsized through electronic micro manipulation. But if there are other determinant factors I am putting my money on the cockroaches.

  2. You are a wise squirrel regardless of brain size.

    The two above comments are right on!

    I read somewhere that the bird populations at Chernobyl have smaller brain sizes …..

    I do not have much to add to this matter ….. I guess I do not have enough brain matter at this hour of the morning …. I am hoping my AM Coffee will swell my brain size enough to cope with the day …..

  3. Regardless of the size it is how you use it! In regards to animals does the word “INSTINCT” mean something?
    I sometimes wish instinct and not intelligence would rule my day.

  4. I believe the Brontosaurus had a very small brain. Electronic devices get smaller and more sophisticated all the time, but I believe there is still a firm line between artificial intelligence and that of humans. And I totally agree that we are getting more stupid as a species, devolving at what seems a shocking rate just in my lifetime. But on the bright side, your Year of the Rabbit sidebars are wonderful!

  5. You’re dead on Squirrel, people are dumber than ever. Has to do with natural selection. These days far too many dumbasses survive who wouldn’t have made it as little as a couple of hundred years ago.

    Your use of reality tv as proof is unassailable, followed closely by tabloid journalism

  6. I am totally dumbfounded yet fascinated too at the things people consider talent at those Idol auditions.
    I think with our tendency to think bigger is better, as in MacDonald’s burgers for example, we will soon be trading places with the Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals…

  7. Welll … I am Franconian and I am sure Cro Magnon is my direct forefather, at least in my pocket of the zoo.

    Basically I doubt the connection between what we can find – that is empty skulls – and “intelligence” of a race or an individual. It is difficult to define intelligence. And I had, have and will have to deal with individuals who are – for what ever reason – of lower than avarage intelligence (no arrogance, just teaching people with deficits) and I met some of very high intelligence (but sometimes lacking other (social) skills): The question is how the gray matter is wired.
    The pre-historians and anthropologists simply do not know how the real surroundings of those early humans were, to what they had to respond, and finally: what answers they found. I take this all cum grano salis.
    BTW what about this dwarf-species that was found in Indonesia – last year? How do they fit in?

  8. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/01/science/01angier.html?_r=1
    Nurturing Nests Lift These Birds to a Higher Perch

    ………
    nature+nurture+society all are factors as wel as relative size

    ……….

    Also! Think on this. It is profound!

    “…..silken cocoons…….Not a shred of intelligence is needed to make it, nor to make it work. It is strange to me that life itself doesn’t strike the average person as all that impressive, but for some reason ‘intelligent’ life does. When you consider life as a whole, intelligence is a mere bristle on the hog.”
    – Bernd Heinrich

    In my less elegant prose, in my words: “Intelligence? So what!”

    All life forms are magnificent. All their attributes!

    Intelligence is not the pinnacle of life on Earth, not the Apex of Life. The more we think in those terms the more we denigrate other life forms as less than worthy, deserving less respect and less consideration.

  9. geewits,
    I guess you are right. We now know that Super-sizing isn’t such a good idea.

    Mark,
    A classical Science fiction concept is the evolution of man until we have huge brains with vestigial bodies but perhaps the opposite is happening.

  10. kat,
    I agree with you that we have made too much about intelligence when nature is inherently so wonderful that we will never fully understand it with our “intelligence”. The elevation of intelligence merely reflects our human arrogance.

    Laura,
    Well said. Doing that well is wisdom.

  11. Joyce,
    I agree. As I replied to kat, our promotion of intelligence is our arrogant self-praise without recognising that nature is beyond our intellectual capacity to comprehend fully.

    hearts,
    Haha. Having agreed that we humans are rapidly devolving and face a bleak future, only you could find the silver lining in my Year of Rabbit background. But thank you. I’m glad you like it. Think “bunnies” and let the world be. Say…..that could be the tenant of a new religion. 🙂

  12. Mr. Charleston,
    Your comment reminds me of the lyrics from the song “Flagpole sitta” which is as follows;

    “Been around the world and found
    That only stupid people are breeding
    The cretins cloning and feeding
    And I don’t even own a TV”

    Janice,
    We all need to re-learn the message of “goldilocks and the 3 Bears” which is somethings can be too small or too big and that we should select things which are “just right”.

  13. Mago,
    Thanks for raising the issue of the dwarf species. Here too there is confusion. There is a thinking that species that are isolated tend to be smaller due to the stress of living in a limited size ecosystem. Hence the pygmy elephants of Borneo and smaller size of humans and other species. But then, how is it that the komodo dragons are giants. Oh, in that case, the small island situation causes the absence of competition and therefore the dragon gets bigger. So really, we can’t predict if animals will be bigger or smaller cause there are reasons it could be either. Or perhaps its all just random.

  14. My ex and I were evenly matched on IQ (we’d both had been told our results), but he has a much bigger head. He used to say he was smart because he had a large brain and I was smart because my brain is much better organized. I think the moral of the story may be that every time we think we’ve found a simple rule to explain something, we’re over-simplifying.

  15. Think this has already been said, but obviously the scientists are influenced by the incredible shrinking computers! It is amazing to think that today’s hand held devices have more computing power than the machines that filled rooms years ago.

    Yet, how can we claim to be smarter? We continue to pour out unnatural chemicals (and consume them) that are never found without being created by a lab. We are poisoning our world at a rapid rate. How smart is that?

    I have a great deal of respect for the Sciuridae brain, particularly handsome squirrels. 🙂

  16. Wow, what is this? Happenstance, I think they call it. I come back to blogging, decide to go fresh and start it at WordPress. Then I come to look for you and HERE YOU ARE!

    I am done trying to maintain aliases. I had a good reason in the begining, but now, I think enough time has passed. Maybe Mr. Stalker fell off a cliff some time ago and I never got the memo. I am older and stronger now.

    I look forward to reading posts and comments from you again!

    Melanie (aka Nimh, aka Proxima)

  17. Secret agent,
    I do believe in the concept of a better organised brain. Or at least one in which there is more synapses even if it is smaller. There are cases of individuals who function perfectly and have normal IQ even after they have lost half their brain mass from some form of hydro-encephalopathy when they were young. The remaining brain somehow rewires. But I think in assigning brain size to intelligence is arrogant when we have no real means of determining the intelligence of our so called predecessors.

    Kathryn,
    What is intelligence? I think wisdom and knowledge is better than “intelligence”, don’t ya think? And thanks for your kind remarks about the squirrel brain……I am quite attached to it.

  18. Melanie,
    Melanie? ?!?!? Melanie? Oh, Proxima! Hey, great to hear from you and to meet you so to speak sans aliases. Looking forward to interacting on our respective blogs. Oh, and welcome to WordPress. Both Mago and I have migrated over from blogger.

  19. Hey Friend, I neglected to tell you my great news! that I am well … healed … no more ulcer …..
    and I hope to keep such from happening again:-)
    but how 😦
    lol

    It was a Silent Ulcer so I never knew …. but I was bleeding internally (unknownst to me as well) until I was so weak
    (and finally sick with gastric upset as well) that I had to go to Emergency….
    (I already had ‘retired’ from my job…. cause I was just not myself… I quit….) … and that was why you did not see me blog for most of 2010 also- I had retired from that too….. I had nothing to post.

    The Kat Is Back

    what I’ll do for money later, I’ll worry about later
    (but not worry myself into another ulcer, count on that)

  20. Dear Kat,
    I am glad that your health problems are behind you. Ulcers can be really nasty but they are also a symptom that there is too much stress. I resigned in June last year too. So both of us are now unemployed but isn’t it great to be free of that unhealthy stress?

  21. wow LGS! Congratulations! I so well remember our mutual correspondence about the hurt and consternation of it all, the stress, the lack of justice ….. I appreciated your understanding and support then (as you have always given).
    I have faith and hopes in our mutual triumphs in the now and on into the future!
    Squirrels and Kats rule!

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