Nowadays, it became a common assumption among social scientists that, after having developed the capacity to indulge in abstract cognition, the representatives of the Homo Sapiens species have effectively ceased being subjected to the Darwinian laws of natural selection. When thoroughly scrutinized, however, such a point of view will emerge utterly erroneous. The validity of this suggestion is best illustrated with respect to the scientifically proven fact that, as time goes on, the human brain continues to evolve, in the sense of becoming ever more adapted to the workings of the surrounding social environment – the process that appears to have a strong “negative” quality to it. After all, whereas the average size of the brain in Cro-Magnons (early Homo Sapiens) and Neanderthals used to account for about 1500-1600 cc, the contemporary representatives of the human race have the average brain-size of 1350 cc (Holloway, 2014). Nevertheless, there is a good evolutionary rationale behind the process in question. Before we get to discuss it at length, it is important to mention the following:
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- While accounting for about one-fiftieth of one’s bodily mass, the brain consumes up to 25% of metabolic energy, generated by the person’s body (Magistretti & Allaman, 2015). What this means is that the brain cannot function in the full “switched on” mode for too long.
- The brain’s functionality is strongly utilitarian. That is, it serves the purpose of helping an individual to succeed in achieving his or her foremost biological objective – to ensure the intergenerational survival of its genome. And, there are three activities that directly lead to reaching such an objective, on just about anyone’s part – sexual mating, securing access to nutrients, and aspiring for domination (Hodgson, 2013).
In light of the above-mentioned considerations, there can be very little doubt that the ongoing “shrinkage” of the human brain is evolutionary predetermined. The logic behind this suggestion is quite apparent. The reason why our early ancestors (Cro-Magnons) were able to develop an enormously large (by today’s standards) neocortex is that, having been deprived of the atavistic survival-ensuring “assets” (such as protruding fangs, strong muscles, sharp eyesight, etc.), it allowed them to successfully compete with even the most vicious predators within the same environmental niche. This simply could not be otherwise – the primates’ endowment with the enlarged neocortex increases their ability to react adequately to the externally induced stimuli, which is a huge survivalist advantage. However, there was a point back in history (about 100.000 years ago) when our ancestors have switched to leading a fully socialized lifestyle – something that amplified the extent of their evolutionary fitness even further (Dielenberg, 2013).
This development had a very strong effect on the sub-sequential evolution of the human brain, in the sense of rendering certain parts of the neocortex (responsible for the cause-effect types of cognitive reasoning) rather “redundant”. After all, the actual price of one’s admittance into the society is the person’s willingness to suppress its biological instincts and delegate some of its hunter-gathering functions to the third party. Consequentially, this resulted in creating the situation when most people are no longer required to exhibit any extraordinary cranial capacity, as the main precondition that guarantees the spatial proliferation of their genotypes. Quite to the contrary – as practice indicates, it is specifically the measure of a person’s cognitive conformism/intellectual mediocrity that positively relates to his or her chances to attain a social prominence. The society does not tolerate those who stand out because their very existence poses much threat to the stability of the former (Moffett, 2013). The socially constructed “natural selection of brains” begins at school – it is namely the smartest and most misbehaving/violent kids who end up being ostracised by their peers (Gentry & Whitley, 2014).
Once assessed from the evolutionary standpoint, the described situation will appear to make a perfectly good sense, as the continual socialisation of “hairless primates” allows them to increase the energetic cost-effectiveness of how their brains address different existential challenges. As a result, more and more people are being encouraged to think “algorithmically”, without having to “activate” their brains, within the context of how they go about trying to take possession of a particular resource. This, of course, naturally induces the size-wise reduction of the human brain, which in turn helps to increase the extent of people’s evolutionary specialisation (Rospars, 2013).
For example, there are now millions of citizens in the West who “specialise” in receiving welfare payments from the government, without having to apply any cognitive/physical effort, whatsoever. Evidently enough, there is nothing incidental about the fact that the very same peoples exhibit a certain tendency to prioritise “baby-making” as their foremost pursuit in life – all in full accordance with the most fundamental Darwinian principles (Hofmann & Hohmeyer, 2013). As practice indicates, however, just about any fully specialized species represent the “dead end” of evolution. Hence, the actual significance of the evolutionary predetermined “shrinking” of the human brain – the process that defines the essence of social dynamics in today’s West more than anywhere else in the world.
In light of what has been mentioned, it will be appropriate to conclude this paper by stressing out once again that: a) the human brain continues to evolve as we speak, b) the concerned process is “blind” (it does not serve any “higher” purpose) – the suggestion that correlates well with the atheist outlook on what the term “evolution” stands for. Consequently, this can be interpreted indicating the fact that the continuing evolution of the human brain should assessed with respect to both the surrounding social environment and the main operational principles of organic life. I believe that this conclusion is fully consistent with the line of reasoning, deployed throughout the paper.
Dielenberg, R. A. (2013). The speculative neuroscience of the future human brain. Humanities, 2(2), 209-252.
Gentry, R., & Whitley, E. (2014). Bulling in graduate school: Its nature and effects. The Qualitative Report, 19(36), 1-18.
Hodgson, D. (2013). The consequences of human behaviour. Humanities, 1(3), 205- 228.
Hofmann, B., & Hohmeyer, K. (2013). Perceived economic uncertainty and fertility: Evidence from a labour market reform. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75(2), 503-521.
Holloway, A. (2014). Scientists are alarmed by shrinking of the human brain. Web.
Magistretti, P., & Allaman, I. (2015). A cellular perspective on brain energy metabolism and functional imaging. Neuron, 86(4), 883-901.
Moffett, M. W. (2013). Human identity and the evolution of societies. Human Nature: An Interdisciplinary Biosocial Perspective, 24(3), 219-67.
Rospars, J. (2013). Trends in the evolution of life, brains and intelligence. International Journal of Astrobiology, 12(3), 186-207.