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Researcher asks, if ecology caused the human brain to grow so large, what about the role of language?

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Further to the claim that ecology, not social challenges drove the huge increase in human brain size, Ashley Yeager offers some alternative views at The Scientist:

“González-Forero and Gardner are on the right track,” David Geary of the University of Missouri in Columbia tells New Scientist. But he questions whether the model accurately calculated just how challenging it is to live in groups. “Their conclusion that human brain evolution was largely driven by ecological pressures, and only minimally by social pressures, is surprising and likely premature.”

Language is another missing link in the model, Dean Falk, a brain-evolution expert at Florida State University, tells The Washington Post. González-Forero admits that the model falls short in addressing the influence cultural factors, such as language, had on expansion of brain size, but he and Gardner plan to incorporate those human traits in future work. More.

Put another way, no one has any better theories.

See also: Human evolution researchers: Social challenges decreased brain size Mathematical models are probably the closest thing to literary fiction that science offers. Ferrero tells us, “[o]ur approach offers a new way to understand brain evolution using little more than some maths.” It is good that no more resources were wasted on a thesis so inconclusive.

Can we talk? Language as the business end of consciousness

and

The Science Fictions series at your fingertips: Human evolution

4 Replies to “Researcher asks, if ecology caused the human brain to grow so large, what about the role of language?

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    All of these discussions of brain size are missing one super-basic connection. They assume that the cerebrum grew to minimize or maximize energy usage (or whatever)… but fail to show how the skull would allow a larger brain. Under these scenarios the brain would have to expand beyond the skull, or reach a point of overpressure inside the skull, and then over the next million years the skull would expand to accommodate the overpressure. How would we survive during the million years of hydrocephalus?

    In TEDX scenarios it would make more sense to assume that the skull expanded first, because we needed bigger jaws to chew bigger Sabertooth Steaks, and then the brain simply filled the available volume.

  2. 2
    Bob O'H says:

    polistra – the fossil record shows that skull sizes can also increase, so I don’t see that as an issue for this model.

    Your tedx scenario ignores the problem that the parts of the skull that expanded with brain capacity are not those involved in jaw musculature, and in fact the jaws got smaller.

  3. 3
    ScuzzaMan says:

    polistra

    all of these arguments assume the truth of the underlying proposition, that humans evolved from other species with smaller brains.

    Give up that assumption and there is no problem to be solved.

  4. 4
    Nonlin.org says:

    Human “evolution” just doesn’t work, no matter how you look at it – http://nonlin.org/human-evolution/

    2. Is there a credible developmental path from ape to human? Many triggers have been hypothesized: “bipedalism due to climate change”, “aquatic ape hair loss”, “killer ape”, “increased brain size due to better nutrition or fire or language”, etc. However, none of this stands up to scrutiny. Bipedalism is common in animals including all birds, many lizards, rodents and more, yet none of these shows human-comparable intelligence. Venturing into new habitats due or not to climate change is very common for most animal families, yet despite dramatically different lifestyles, members of the same family are more or less equally endowed. The naturally hairless and the language-rich species are not known for superior intelligence. Finally, better nutrition leads invariably to larger populations and sometimes to larger body sizes (within limits), but never to human-level intelligence. And while larger body size generally comes with increased cranial capacity (used as a proxy for intelligence of the fossilized) the relationship between cranial capacity and actual intelligence is tentative at best, especially when comparing across animal families.

    Bob O’H@2
    Fossil record shows nothing:
    5. The fossil record lends no support for human evolution for several reasons: it is sketchy at best inviting proponents to make whatever desired of it via artistic license, is static hence one must presume evolution to see evolutionary links (the animation movie), and fossils are not positively linked to one another hence likely part of other animation movies altogether. Along the years, we have seen an inflation of hominid “species” as everyone that found a bone or two claimed they discovered a new species. And even after some cleanup, we’re still left with Neanderthals and Denisovans that successfully mated (fertile off-springs) with Sapiens despite being labeled “separate species”.

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