Monday, 15 August 2016

A Not-So-Brainy Darwinian Brain Evolution Story

“Surprisingly complex interactions”: Image courtesy of US National Institutes of Health, public domain.

Joel Kontinen

The human brain is a Darwinian enigma. Evolutionists are baffled at its size and effectiveness.

But it has also inspired just-so stories featuring things like our assumed lizard brain.

However, not all researchers have let their imagination carry them away.

In 2008 Harvard biology professor Richard Lewontin admitted that we don’t know anything about brain evolution.

Two years later, Brian J. Ford, a research biologist at the University of Cambridge, UK, said that the human brain may be a trillion times more capable than we can imagine.

Neuroscientists have tended to be puzzled at how wonderful the human brain is.

They are willing to acknowledge that surprisingly complex interactions occur between “neurotransmitter receptors and other key proteins,” enabling us to process information really fast.

This has inspired engineers to build smarter computers.

Neuroscientists have suggested that the brain may be designed to help us learn. They have described it as a vast community of microscopic computers and a well-organised library, to name a just a few suggestions.

But all this has not sounded the death knell for Darwinian brain stories that tend to be anything but brainy.

A new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports has this to say:

Humans have evolved a disproportionately large brain as a result of sizing each other up in large cooperative social groups, researchers have proposed.”

The research was based on computer modelling and had nothing to do with examining a brain.

Science Daily states:

Lead author of the study Professor Roger Whitaker, from Cardiff University's School of Computer Science and Informatics, said: ‘Our results suggest that the evolution of cooperation, which is key to a prosperous society, is intrinsically linked to the idea of social comparison -- constantly sizing each up and making decisions as to whether we want to help them or not.’ ”

Then comes the brain part:

“The research team propose that making relative judgements through helping others has been influential for human survival, and that the complexity of constantly assessing individuals has been a sufficiently difficult task to promote the expansion of the brain over many generations of human reproduction.”

So, forget things like meat eating. Sizing each other up is the new Darwinian explanation for our big brains – until they come up with a new not-so-brainy story that completely demolishes the current one.

But those who have not been numbed by Darwinian tales might well see real evidence of superb design in one of the most complex organs ever created.


Cardiff University. 2016. Large human brain evolved as a result of 'sizing each other up'. Science Daily (12 August).