Big brain evolution (Evolution)

by dhw, Friday, January 05, 2018, 17:50 (12 days ago)

This is the second post I found while searching for the dualism/materialism one, and it seems to me to sum up a great deal of what we have been discussing under "learning new tasks". It clearly followed on from an article proposing that random mutations caused brain expansion, but my concern was to develop a far more purposeful hypothesis, and I still think its logic is convincing. I posted it under "Different in degree or kind: big brain evolution" 18 December 2016 at 14:03".


These researchers use mutations in Darwin’s sense of random changes, but if we go back to my hypothesis reconciling dualism and materialism, perhaps there could be an ongoing feedback here. Something triggered a new awareness. Perhaps a forced descent from the trees. One can imagine an isolated group of tree-dwelling apes whose habitat is destroyed by disease. Tree-climbing is a vertical exercise. Maybe verticality proved to be an advantage down on the ground, and the change itself sparked new awareness. (I realize this is pure speculation, but I am not satisfied with serendipity, or with divine preprogramming, or with divine, step-by-step dabbling – if David’s God wanted sapiens, he could have produced sapiens.) The adjustment to permanent life on the ground would have required experimentation. We know that chimps, for instance, use tools, but perhaps with this particular group of our chimp-like ancestors, the intelligence needed to use tools was supplemented by other factors, such as the need to find new ways of protecting themselves against predators, since their trees had disappeared. What I am looking for is the spark that would have enhanced awareness.

Once the spark is lit, the next step is the effect of thought on matter: the brain responds to exercise; new activities demand new connections between brain and muscles, and new forms of communication between members of the group. One thing leads to another in a perfectly logical chain of developments. The brain engenders thought, and thought in turn develops the brain. This ties in with the researchers’ observation that our intelligence is bigger than our brain, and also with the theory of emergence, that the sum is greater than its parts. Add the theory of convergence, and you have similar patterns emerging elsewhere, to explain how different “species” of hominin may have arisen and with migration may even have interbred (as it is now believed that Neanderthals and Sapiens did). Once we have that extra degree of awareness, the whole process is self-advancing, as one observation leads to another, and each observation engenders new needs and actions and physiological adjustments. In brief, the brain engenders thought, and the extraordinary levels of consciousness that distinguish us from our fellow animals are the result of new needs engendering new thoughts which, in turn, engender physiological adaptations, including the expansion of the brain. (PRESENT COMMENT: to this we must add the complexification that took over once the brain had stopped expanding.)

What we do not know is the spark that lit the fuse for this chain reaction. That, however, would be the only instance of “serendipity” – productive good luck, in contrast to the bad luck that has left 99% of species extinct. Variability within species is enough to explain why some groups of primates remained the same while others advanced. And there is no exclusion of the God theory, since this is a very late chapter in life’s history, and deals only with the origin of humans, and not with that of life and consciousness.

Big brain evolution

by David Turell @, Monday, January 08, 2018, 21:14 (9 days ago) @ dhw

dhw: What we do not know is the spark that lit the fuse for this chain reaction. That, however, would be the only instance of “serendipity” – productive good luck, in contrast to the bad luck that has left 99% of species extinct. Variability within species is enough to explain why some groups of primates remained the same while others advanced. And there is no exclusion of the God theory, since this is a very late chapter in life’s his

I have read through this reasoning and still disagree. I'm convinced God wanted sapiens and took his time doing it through a delilberate process of evolution in which he proveided the advances. A smaller cortex cannot know what it cannot think of until its brain is larger and more complex.

Big brain evolution

by dhw, Wednesday, January 10, 2018, 11:07 (7 days ago) @ David Turell

dhw: What we do not know is the spark that lit the fuse for this chain reaction. That, however, would be the only instance of “serendipity” – productive good luck, in contrast to the bad luck that has left 99% of species extinct. Variability within species is enough to explain why some groups of primates remained the same while others advanced. And there is no exclusion of the God theory, since this is a very late chapter in life’s history.

DAVID: I have read through this reasoning and still disagree. I'm convinced God wanted sapiens and took his time doing it through a delilberate process of evolution in which he proveided the advances. A smaller cortex cannot know what it cannot think of until its brain is larger and more complex.

Yet again, according to your dualism the cortex does NOT do the thinking, which is done by the s/s/c. But if it does do the thinking, it is still not the concept that depends on brain changes, but the IMPLEMENTATION of the concept: expansion for pre-sapiens, complexification for sapiens. The illiterate women’s brains changed through the effort to write. They did not change beforehand.

Big brain evolution

by David Turell @, Wednesday, January 10, 2018, 15:23 (7 days ago) @ dhw

dhw: What we do not know is the spark that lit the fuse for this chain reaction. That, however, would be the only instance of “serendipity” – productive good luck, in contrast to the bad luck that has left 99% of species extinct. Variability within species is enough to explain why some groups of primates remained the same while others advanced. And there is no exclusion of the God theory, since this is a very late chapter in life’s history.

DAVID: I have read through this reasoning and still disagree. I'm convinced God wanted sapiens and took his time doing it through a delilberate process of evolution in which he proveided the advances. A smaller cortex cannot know what it cannot think of until its brain is larger and more complex.

dhw: Yet again, according to your dualism the cortex does NOT do the thinking, which is done by the s/s/c. But if it does do the thinking, it is still not the concept that depends on brain changes, but the IMPLEMENTATION of the concept: expansion for pre-sapiens, complexification for sapiens. The illiterate women’s brains changed through the effort to write. They did not change beforehand.

Covered elsewhere. The learning to read further compleixified a very complex cortex, and shrunk the brain. No enlargement seen.

Big brain evolution

by dhw, Tuesday, January 16, 2018, 12:38 (1 day, 5 hours, 44 min. ago) @ dhw

As the discussion on what caused brain expansion has been between David – a dualist – and myself, I’ve been forced to approach it from the dualist’s viewpoint in order to point out what I consider to be major contradictions in his argument. In the first article on this thread, however, I took the materialist line that the brain engenders thought, and at first sight my proposal that expansion was caused by the implementation of new concepts may seem to run contrary to the materialist approach. Most hypotheses I know of seem to take it for granted that the larger brain has caused greater levels of consciousness, as opposed to its being the result. Hence speculation that random mutations, or cooked food and improved diet were the cause of expansion. I would like to offer a different approach.

If all thought processes stem from the brain or from the brain equivalent (I prefer to include single-celled organisms), it is difficult to see any way in which this can happen without cellular intelligence. Scientists actually pinpoint specific cell communities within the human brain that are responsible for our different faculties and abilities. David himself makes great play of the cognitive functions of the cortex, though he never refers to it as a cell community. However, in view of the fact that some brain-damaged people are still able to think normally, I’d prefer not to discuss particular areas. The self-repairing brain fits perfectly into my hypothesis that the whole community of communities cooperates, and in some cases can do so in a manner that will even overcome brain damage.

If you can accept the basic premise of cellular intelligence, as promulgated by such prominent scientists as Barbara McClintock, Lynn Margulis, James Shapiro et al, then the rest seems to me to follow on quite logically. We are all individuals – i.e. even if the fundamental structures are the same, no two brains are alike. The materialist equivalent of the dualist’s “soul” is those cell communities that are the source of our thinking. And the source of our thinking is what gives instructions to the rest of the brain and body. The materialist process of expansion will therefore be precisely the same as the dualist process: the individual "genius" cell community comes up with the new idea, and the rest of the brain must implement it, as will the rest of the social community. In our ancestors, the rest of the brain did not have the necessary capacity, and so there was a need for more cells and more connections to perform the required actions. Concept first, then implementation resulting in expansion. Eventually,expansion reached its physical limit in sapiens, and so the cell communities had to find a different mode of implementation: namely, complexification.

NB (1) I am not taking sides. I am simply trying to demonstrate that for both the materialist and the dualist, it makes perfect sense to attribute brain expansion to the implementation of concepts rather than attributing concepts to the expansion of the brain. Fortunately, we have a clue to the feasibility of this hypothesis: we know that in modern humans, it is the implementation of concepts that changes the brain. The brain does not change in anticipation of the concepts it is asked to implement, regardless of whether the source of the concepts is a soul or a community of cells.

NB (2) Neither dualism nor materialism explains consciousness. They are both beliefs relating to the source of consciousness. And although the materialist belief is usually coupled with atheism, there is no reason why one should not believe in a God who has done precisely what humans are now attempting to do with their work on artificial intelligence – namely to create conscious beings out of materials. If humans succeed in doing so, this will not prove that conscious beings can be the product of chance.

Big brain evolution

by David Turell @, Tuesday, January 16, 2018, 17:53 (1 day, 0 hours, 28 min. ago) @ dhw

dhw: Eventually,expansion reached its physical limit in sapiens, and so the cell communities had to find a different mode of implementation: namely, complexification.

You have no way of knowing if previous smaller brains had no ability to complexify. Based on our knowledge that evolution makes advances and builds on them, it is much more logical to assume that earlier brains did a bit of complexification while implementation occurred. I agree that the sapiens brain is smaller than originally sized and that supports the idea that evolution for humans is over, but there may be another step coming with a slightly larger or more complex brain in a subsequent human species. We can't know. Your point about a physical limit agrees with my point that current sapiens are/were God's goal all along.


dhw: NB (1) I am not taking sides. I am simply trying to demonstrate that for both the materialist and the dualist, it makes perfect sense to attribute brain expansion to the implementation of concepts rather than attributing concepts to the expansion of the brain. Fortunately, we have a clue to the feasibility of this hypothesis: we know that in modern humans, it is the implementation of concepts that changes the brain. The brain does not change in anticipation of the concepts it is asked to implement, regardless of whether the source of the concepts is a soul or a community of cells.

The false thought here is that future concepts desired in a smaller less complex brain forces expansion to a larger more complex brain. Do cell committees drive their own evolution? I don't believe it.


dhw: NB (2) Neither dualism nor materialism explains consciousness. They are both beliefs relating to the source of consciousness. And although the materialist belief is usually coupled with atheism, there is no reason why one should not believe in a God who has done precisely what humans are now attempting to do with their work on artificial intelligence – namely to create conscious beings out of materials. If humans succeed in doing so, this will not prove that conscious beings can be the product of chance.

I'll agree God at work drives evolution.

Big brain evolution

by dhw, Wednesday, January 17, 2018, 13:45 (4 hours, 36 minutes ago) @ David Turell

The two posts under “sticks and stones” and “big brain evolution” overlap, and David’s responses are so full of misunderstandings that I will summarize my hypothesis and then deal with any points not directly covered by the summary. For this purpose, I’ll adopt David’s dualistic approach – the materialist version was described in my previous post on this thread.

Soul thinks of new concepts; brain provides information and is used by soul to implement concepts. Soul of small-brained hominin has idea. Implementation of idea requires new abilities/greater capacity, and brain expands. Soul of new larger-brained hominin may come up with new concepts which can be implemented by complexification, but eventually once again new concepts require new abilities/greater capacity, and once again brain expands in order to implement them. Repeat until new concepts require "final" expansion, i.e. now that new concepts of sapiens' immediate predecessor have been implemented, we have sapiens’ brain which can no longer expand without nasty anatomical consequences. For 270,000 years (David’s figure) soul of sapiens does not come up with major new concepts, but whatever it does come up with is dealt with by complexification. Then "geniuses" arrive, and so – because expansion is no longer possible – complexification becomes sole means of implementation.

There is no “‘logically' the new brain should have had the ideas right away.” The new brain came about because of ideas produced by the pre-sapiens soul and implemented by expansion to sapiens brain. Once each enlarged brain exists, including sapiens, it can hang around for hundreds of thousands of years without any major innovations.

Each new bigger size may well enable implementation through complexification for limited time, but “allow the soul to use it to come up with more advanced concepts” is not clear: the soul uses the brain to gain information and to IMPLEMENT its concepts, not to do its thinking for it. (But new concepts may well arise from the soul’s thoughts about existing implementations of its concepts. We progress by building on earlier concepts and their implementations.) There is no preconceived agenda. Expansion and complexification take place in response to whatever new ideas are provided by “genius” souls.

DAVID: The false thought here is that future concepts desired in a smaller less complex brain forces expansion to a larger more complex brain.

They are not “future” concepts.”Genius” pre-sapiens’ small brain has concept of spear, and implementation of concept forces expansion – just as concept of reading and writing forces new complexifications in brains of illiterate women. Once more: concept formed by soul with current brain; implementation changes brain – precisely as described so vividly in your post of 2 December under “learning new tasks”.

DAVID: “Your point about a physical limit agrees with my point that current sapiens are/were God's goal all along.”

Physical limit has nothing whatsoever to do with your God’s goal. All species reach a certain size, with limbs, head etc. in proportion to the rest of the body. We may assume that the dimensions are optimum under current conditions. Maybe in a billion years, there will be new conditions, with elephant-sized ants, ant-sized elephants, and humans...well, who knows?

Big brain evolution

by David Turell @, Wednesday, January 17, 2018, 17:24 (57 minutes ago) @ dhw


dhw: Soul thinks of new concepts; brain provides information and is used by soul to implement concepts. Soul of small-brained hominin has idea. Implementation of idea requires new abilities/greater capacity, and brain expands.

As miraculous as my God doing it. I don't believe the small brain has an idea before expansion. The bigger brain has the new idea and implements it, per artifacts appearing with it. DHW's idea is discontinuous with the earlier brain having the idea which then can't happen until he new brain appears.

dhw: Soul of new larger-brained hominin may come up with new concepts which can be implemented by complexification, but eventually once again new concepts require new abilities/greater capacity, and once again brain expands in order to implement them. Repeat until new concepts require "final" expansion, i.e. now that new concepts of sapiens' immediate predecessor have been implemented, we have sapiens’ brain which can no longer expand without nasty anatomical consequences.

There is no reason why the brain could not expand more. It was 150 cc bigger earlier in sapiens existence. If there is no reason for it to expand it supports my contention that this is God's goal/endpoint for evolution.

For 270,000 years (David’s figure) soul of sapiens does not come up with major new concepts, but whatever it does come up with is dealt with by complexification.

If the erectus brain forced the appearance of the sapiens brain size, why did it take 270,000 years for the implementations to start? Each stage of brain size is disconnected by time.

dhw: There is no “‘logically' the new brain should have had the ideas right away.” The new brain came about because of ideas produced by the pre-sapiens soul and implemented by expansion to sapiens brain. Once each enlarged brain exists, including sapiens, it can hang around for hundreds of thousands of years without any major innovations.

Does not explain the gaps in usage, if the new brain size is driven by a previous idea.


dhw: Each new bigger size may well enable implementation through complexification for limited time, but “allow the soul to use it to come up with more advanced concepts” is not clear: the soul uses the brain to gain information and to IMPLEMENT its concepts, not to do its thinking for it.

The soul uses the brain to think!

dhw: (But new concepts may well arise from the soul’s thoughts about existing implementations of its concepts. We progress by building on earlier concepts and their implementations.) There is no preconceived agenda. Expansion and complexification take place in response to whatever new ideas are provided by “genius” souls.

Fallacy: the thoughts are in a previous brain to create the new size! Only survival mode ideas existed until 30,000 years ago. Then the concepts came fast and furious


DAVID: The false thought here is that future concepts desired in a smaller less complex brain forces expansion to a larger more complex brain.

dhw They are not “future” concepts.”Genius” pre-sapiens’ small brain has concept of spear, and implementation of concept forces expansion – just as concept of reading and writing forces new complexifications in brains of illiterate women.

That is not expansion, but shrinkage!

dhw: Once more: concept formed by soul with current brain; implementation changes brain – precisely as described so vividly in your post of 2 December under “learning new tasks”.

Stop. I've told you a previous size increase in brain was implied, but not clear the way I wrote it.


DAVID: “Your point about a physical limit agrees with my point that current sapiens are/were God's goal all along.”

dhw: Physical limit has nothing whatsoever to do with your God’s goal. All species reach a certain size, with limbs, head etc. in proportion to the rest of the body. We may assume that the dimensions are optimum under current conditions. Maybe in a billion years, there will be new conditions, with elephant-sized ants, ant-sized elephants, and humans...well, who knows?

Of course it is God's goal. We survived well with it until 30,000 years ago when concepts and implementation exploded. Proof that our current brain is not needed for survival, but despite Darwin's theory about survivability as a major driving force, it is here.

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