Why Did Your Brain Expand? (And How To Make Your Brain Grow Even Larger Using Evolutionary Wisdom And Nootropics!)
What feature of the brain supplements you with your unique human qualities?
Any alien species observing our beloved little planet for a while would notice that humans are distinct from other animals; our cognitive processing, consciousness and reasoning ability allows for all the great undertakings and pitfalls achieved by mankind.
Yet what is it that makes us humans so special? Is there an area in the brain unique to humans? In the course of our colorful history, many attempts have been made to establish which particular features of the brain supplement you and me with our unique qualities.
It is tempting to guess that you simply have a bigger brain than other animals, but a small glimpse at the evidence quickly rules this possibility out; elephants have brain four times the size of our own, yet it is you that goes to the zoo the check out the elephants instead of the other way around.
The next step would be to compare the relative size of brains among mammals (i.e. the ratio of brain mass to body mass). But even in this category we are outclassed by small monkeys such as the mouse lemur, leaving us roughly on par with bats and squirrels.
If you want some assurance for your special status as human being, then it is found in the phenomenon of allometry, which indicates the expected brain size from an organism’s body size. From this perspective, your brain is about five times larger than expected for mammal of our size and about three times larger than expected for a primate of our size. So no need to worry that the squirrels in your backyard are organizing an attempt to attain total global domination; you’re probably still quite a bit more capable than those little critters.
The origin of your increased brain
But where did your intelligence come from in the first place? Is there a particular reason for the fact that you are in possession of a fairly big brain? Quite a few interesting theories try to answer these questions, let’s have a look at a few of the more interesting ones:
One of the theories states that your large brain is a product of the social world in which your ancestors evolved. Surely, all that chatting, deceiving, and partying with other cavemen required quite a bit of cognitive capacity and thus a larger brain.
The core of the theory is that primate intelligence allowed a caveman to serve his or her own interest by interacting with others by either cooperation or manipulation but without disturbing the social balance of the group, something which increased his reproductive fitness and thus the spreading of his bigger-brain genes.
This almost looks a bit like politics: the successful and cynical politician uses his position for his own ends while appearing to serve the people, all without disrupting the elective system.
The increase in intelligence enjoyed by those socially active cavemen could then act as a positive feedback loop, as competitors would gain the same increase in intelligence, thereby raising the level of intelligence to be reached for further advantages.
Quite a different theory simply suggests that the throwing of rocks must have stimulated your incredible brain growth. Imagine throwing a stone at a moving object, to hit it successfully requires the solution to a series of complex calculations and very fine motor tuning.
Variables that need to be factored into deciding the velocity, angle and direction of aim include the mass and size of the stone, the direction of movement of the target, and the distance to the target. Almost sounds like rocket-science, but still (most) humans are quite skilled in throwing things with some accuracy, at least compared to other animals. Several researchers have suggested that the advantages to be gained from accurate throwing may have stimulated brain growth.
Might sound a bit odd, but sometimes you gotta think outside of the box!
Brain enhancement & nootropics – brought to you by evolution since 3.000.000 BC
Another interesting theory also tries to explain the fact that your brain tripled in size in three million years, a very rapid process by evolutionary standards and something which left the other primates walking on all fours. One force that has the potential to bring about such rapid change could be sexual selection.
It is suggested that humans would picked potential partners not only by observing their health, age and fertility, but also by their cognitive skills. Just like those beautiful peacocks peacocking their peacockish tail to attract the ladies, so males displayed their intellectual and cognitive skills through artful displays and complex storytelling, something maintained in today’s world as performances in art, science and literature for example.
Presumably, females could be rather picky in choosing males, selecting those that were the most amusing, inventive and had creative brains (among various other criteria).
Although increasing brain size was thus a process driven by female choice, fortunately both sexes gradually increased their brain size, since large brains are needed to recognize and appreciate inventive male displays, which resulted in the (arguably, according to some) equal distribution in intelligence observed in both males and females nowadays.
Now besides above theories there are several other possible evolutionary stimuli which could have propelled the growth of the human brain, including the demands of a varied diet as those cavemen enjoyed back in the old days, the advantages of language and the increase in brain size that this required, and the complex genetic processes related to genomic imprinting.
For all these explanations, there is at least some level of evidence to found which supports them. It is therefore probably a combination of different factors that has caused you to become so distinct from other life forms and gave rise to your great reasoning faculty.
New brain evolution with nootropics & brain supplements?
Yet how can you use this knowledge to enhance your brain? Well for one thing, evolution acts over millions of years, making it rather hard to actively increase the size of your brain. But don’t despair, as noted before, the brain is incredibly flexible organ, which allows you to improve it in various ways.
One thing we have derived from this evolutionary analysis of brain growth is that social interaction has probably been rather important for your brain, and in order to maintain a healthy brain, you have to use it for which it was designed. In other words, make sure your life is not depraved of any social contacts, as your brain won’t like it.
Now how about throwing rocks? Well I’m not suggesting that everyone should practice rock-throwing for hours per day to maintain healthy brains, but it is a fact that practicing some hand-eye coordinating activities increases your cognitive abilities and the number of synapses in the brain. Try some juggling during work breaks for example, quite fun and not that tricky to learn. For old cavemen times sake!
Other methods to improve brain functioning include brain supplements & nootropics (check out the very popular BrainEffect for example), exercise, nutrition and various neurotechnological-related tricks (such as enhancing your sleep with a zeo).
What are the limits of brain evolution?