Your Outsize Cranium

I believe the usual theory about why humans are so different goes to this outsize brain, isn’t that right? I’m going to talk about that although David Suzuki made a point in the Nature documentary about the latest Tyrannosaurus data that bird brains are very dense with neurons compared to ours and that the amount of real estate your brain occupies may not be as indicative of processing power as we think. He said birds are very smart, and the apparently small-brained dinosaurs, especially predators, were likely also quick on the draw. But we aren’t suggesting we outsmarted birds or lizards, just the other ancient chimps, so the volume of sand your cranium can hold is probably meaningful. I guess.

The theory of that, as I understand it, at least in our current, rather male and war-centric origin story is that the selective pressure for that brain to grow so was nothing other than us, other people, or other groups of people, and our conflicts with one another. A Red Queen’s game to be sure, all of us driving up our hat sizes to stay competitive, just to stay in the race, running in place.

So what comes next is a dualism.

On the one hand, our conflicts are sort of boundless, everything is in play, so to speak, and so these expensive organs have adapted to use everything, meaning, as Steven Pinker points out (within his job description, I think) that we have a sort of any purpose processor, we can plug many sorts of problems into it and work on them – in theory, even if said problems are not specifically evolved for, like all the new things we have brought into the world, for better and worse. It ain’t universal, of course, but somewhere on the path to that. Perhaps all the real estate is for that module, as Pinker put it, but I don’t think he said so specifically, I don’t think we know that. Do we assume it? I guess.

On the other hand, fighting is fighting. On the other hand, if conflict grew this thing, then maybe that’s all the damned thing does. That’s what selected it, that’s what grew it, fine, that’s all in the past, we say, Pinker says, maybe.

But surely that’s not what the bloody thing is for! Is it?

What I’m saying, what I’m always trying to say is, if it is, if that’s what it’s for, then we need to know that and factor that awful setup into our thinking. Conflict isn’t what is going to get us out of the present mess and it’s never going to get us to a better way of life, not the first tiny step towards the utopia if we just keep letting it do what it was made to do, if that’s what it was made to do. Plus –

What if, and this does seem the most likely, what if they’re both true?

What if all that real estate is the free-floating, general purpose processor, and it’s just us choosing to use it for almost nothing but our fights?

Wouldn’t that be a sad state of affairs. Well, wouldn’t that have been a sad state of affairs, I mean. But what if we had the choice?



Sept. 15th., 2019


If that were what it was for, or if we believed that, if that was all we used it for, then I suppose intelligence and fighting skills would all look the same to us, aggression might appear intelligent, duplicity might, treachery might – anything that wins a fight would be “smart.” Of course anything that didn’t would be “stupid.”

I get it. Letting yourself be killed probably counts as stupid.

Problem is, all peace is in that category. Peace is going to require some surgery, we have to separate your libido from your amygdala – and your aggression from your intelligence.



3 thoughts on “Your Outsize Cranium

  1. Scarlett September 18, 2019 / 3:18 pm

    My best friend at uni is a biologist and she will lol at you if you say something like we are the most evolved predator, spend any time in the ocean and you realise very quickly that if anything over 30 cm wants to menace you in the water then your time is done. The thinking is – and I’m remembering not quoting – that we are the right kind of generalised to exploit our ecosystem, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of ‘better’ between us and a number of now extinct hominids.

    It looks pretty damn obvious to me that I there dinosaurs around now there would not be any large mammals – though maybe the colder climate, more sparse 02 and all that – lets forget the asteroid…

    Evolution isn’t about cranial space I think that’s just the bias to humans that seems to be an inheritance of relgion claiming we are other than an animal. There’s a condition where humans are born with a hollow brain and apparently it has no effect on intelligence. So from my pop science reading and half listening to her and her husband drone on about biology yeah seems legit, the once pea brained dinosaurs may have been a far more dangerous prospect than a football hooligan.

    It’s more the fast and regular fertility of humans, the adaptability, tool making, mob mentality, xenophobia and our love of killing everything and anything in our way for lolz even.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff/neighsayer September 18, 2019 / 3:34 pm

      yes, I keep hearing more and more animals complimented by humans as smart – monitor lizards, up to the Kimodo dragons, chickens, apparently, birds of all sorts, Skinner used pigeons for their smarts – I bet the pigeon’s fearlessness made it easy to use, too, fish, sharks. When it’s a predator being smart, we do better at recognizing that, something occupying my train of thought these days a lot, mean is smart for humans, THAT’s how the lying swine could say Trump was smart. If you’re aggressive, the morons think you’re smart. Like, my last fifty blogs, right there.

      Liked by 1 person

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