extinction Intelligent Design

At Mind Matters News: Did small brains doom the mammoth and the giant armadillo?

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A recent study showed that survivors had brains that were 53% larger, which was perhaps useful in avoiding predators. The problem is, it is genuinely unclear what role brain size plays in intelligence:

According to one study, lemurs, with brains 1/200th the size of chimps’ brains, passed the same IQ test.

Sometimes a small brain is actually an advantage. This is especially true of flighted life forms like birds and insects. Consider the gnat ogre fly, with a brain “smaller than the period at the end of this sentence”: “The researchers attribute the fly’s ability to adjust its trajectory so rapidly to its small size, which allows signals to travel rapidly from eye to brain to flight muscles.”

Small brains can be highly organized for survival: “ … researchers say, fly brains may be organized so as to make predictions based on universal design aspects of animal nervous systems, to avoid the swat.” Thus, the fact that the fly has only 100,000 to a million neurons depending on species, and you have 86 billion doesn’t improve your chances of a successful swat because the fly’s neurons are organized with only a few goals (like anti-swat), not thousands of them (as you have).

Of course, it is possible that the Quaternary megafaunas’ brains were not particularly well organized but that would be a challenge to study with the materials we currently have.

News, “Did small brains doom the mammoth and the giant armadillo?” at Mind Matters News (May 20, 2022)

Takehome: Before we decide, let us hear a word in defense of small brains. The topic is not as simple as many think.


You may also wish to read: Can largely rearranged genomes explain why octopuses are smart? Even compared to each other, the genomes of three cephalopods studied had been broken up and extensively reorganized. The relationship between massive genome rearrangement and very high intelligence in an invertebrate remains unclear but it is a promising research avenue.

3 Replies to “At Mind Matters News: Did small brains doom the mammoth and the giant armadillo?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    AI can figure out these things better than humans. A site called CookingFlavr.com answers a wide variety of questions, and gets all of them perfectly right (by AI standards.) As you follow the thread, more wondrous facts emerge, most of which have never been seen in textbooks.

    https://cookingflavr.com/did-vertebrates-colonize-land/

  2. 2
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Small brains can be highly organized for survival: “ … researchers say, fly brains may be organized so as to make predictions based on universal design aspects of animal nervous systems, to avoid the swat.” Thus, the fact that the fly has only 100,000 to a million neurons depending on species, and you have 86 billion doesn’t improve your chances of a successful swat because the fly’s neurons are organized with only a few goals (like anti-swat), not thousands of them (as you have).

    Evolution gave us thousands of goals other than survival and reproduction which it gave to the lowly fly. That’s why evolution gave us a bigger brain – obviously.

  3. 3
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Eventually, the first humans started to move onto the water. This is because the water was easier to find and there was more food in it than in the land. The first humans were probably able to survive on the water for about 10,000 years.

    Then, something happened that made life on the water much harder. The earth started to heat up and the water started to freeze over. This means that things like boats and ships couldn’t exist because the water would be too hot to touch.

    Eventually, the first humans started to move onto the land again. This is because the land was easier to find and there was more food in it than in the water. The first humans were probably able to survive on the land for about 50,000 years.

    Then, something happened that made life on the land much harder. The earth started to cool off and the wind started to blow. This means that things like trees and animals couldn’t survive because they would have to find other ways to get food.

    Ok, truly wondrous facts that answered all of my questions!!

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