Child Prodigies Disprove Brain Size as Intelligence Driver
It’s not the size; it’s the wiring. Don’t we know that for electronics? Why are evolutionists still obsessed with brain size?
Measuring skull capacity as a proxy for intelligence has a long history. In his book The Mismeasure of Man (1981), Stephen Jay Gould recounted how Victorian evolutionists were obsessed with skull measurements (craniometry) in their determination to prove Europeans were superior to other races. As he shows, their a priori bias influenced what they “saw” in their measurements as they preferred only the measurements that supported their expectations.
In his book The Darwin Effect, Jerry Bergman documents how biological racism really took off after Darwin. Evolutionary theory demanded differences between groups to establish superiority in fitness. Since Europeans had shoes with buckles and Africans did not, it was obvious to Victorians that they were the fittest, and so they rigged their data to prove it. As Bergman shows, biological racism was embraced by leading Darwinists for over a century. It was even blatant in the very textbook at issue in the Scopes Trial, for instance. Racism was tied in with eugenics – that blotch on human history that gave Hitler and other racists a pseudo-scientific justification for their evil deeds. A linchpin of “biological racism” was skull capacity.
Today’s anthropologists know better than to argue for “biological racism” based on skull size. And yet craniometry still crops up in paleoanthropology, where it forms what might be called “paleo-biological racism.” Most anthropologists will avoid acting racist with any members of Homo sapiens today, but they still need differences in fitness between us and our “hominin” ancestors to support the notion that we evolved from apes. For that reason, evolutionary anthropologists continue to be fascinated with skull capacity. A paper this week in Current Biology, for instance, begins with an acknowledgement of former sins:
Traditional views of human brain evolution focus on increases in brain size. However, the brain endocast of Homo naledi adds evidence that brain re-organisation played a significant role in hominin evolution.
Compared to the brains of our primate cousins, human brains are undeniably large. Although brains do not fossilize well, skulls do, which makes it possible to measure brain volume in our extinct relatives and to chart the evolutionary trajectory of hominin brain size. A naïve but still widely popularised representation of these data implies an unwavering trend towards progressive brain expansion; a ‘hockey stick graph’ for human evolution (Figure 1A). While no anthropologist would accept such a simple series of transitions between extinct hominins, recent discoveries also suggest that this trend captures only one dimension of hominin brain evolution. A new analysis by Holloway and colleagues adds to our picture of hominin brain evolution in two ways: it adds weight to the idea that brain expansion was not a universal trend in hominin evolution, and provides evidence that brain re-organisation occurred independently of brain expansion and may have, in fact, preceded it.
This is all well and good, but it still relies on skull capacity as “one dimension of hominin brain evolution.” Author Stephen Montgomery’s only figure in his “Dispatch” article, “Hominin brain evolution: Which way is up?” continues the tradition of mapping skull size over time. “Brain size is often taken as a naïve proxy for cognitive ability,” he admits, “with the trend towards progressive brain expansion providing a simple way of tying evidence of behavioural or cultural transitions in the fossil record to the evolution of cognition.” All he does in the end, though, is show a “revised” hockey stick graph with some outliers, like Homo naledi and Homo floresiensis, that buck the trend of increasing skull capacity. He proposes an explanation that those outliers suffered “allometric reduction” (reduction in both body and skull sizes). This shows that the assumption of evolution from apes that originally gave fodder to biological racism has not disappeared entirely. For evolutionary theory, why must skull sizes increase at all for a creature to be intelligent? Aren’t honeybees, ants and crows remarkably smart for their small brains?
Child Prodigies Defy Evolutionary Measurements
It should have been obvious to Victorians that brain size cannot be all that important. Child prodigies have been known since antiquity. Let’s look at two alive today that astonish us with their pre-adolescent abilities. In their not-yet-full-grown skulls, look what the brains in these two child prodigies have already accomplished:
William Maillis, age 11
This boy has graduated from college at age 11. “Before he was 2 years old, William Maillis was adding and subtracting,” Joe Kovacs reports in WND with a photo of him holding his diploma. “As a 3-year-old, he knew the alphabet in six languages.” That’s just the beginning.
By age 4, he was an algebra whiz. At 5 years old, a psychologist at Ohio State University said the boy was a genius.
Now at the ripe young age of 11, Maillis has officially become a college graduate, receiving an associate’s degree Saturday from St. Petersburg College in Florida.
But his education is not finished yet, as he begins classes next month at the University of South Florida to earn a bachelor’s degree, as he’s looking upward toward the heavens.
Little William wants to become an astrophysicist. And to the consternation of Twitter evolutionists who call creationists ignoramuses and nincompoops (21 July), William is a Bible-believer who wants to use science to turn people to God.
Alma Deutscher, age 13
This young girl astounds everyone who hears her music. She was featured on 60 Minutes earlier this year, where she astonished host Scott Pelley by composing and performing an impromptu minuet based on 4 notes he drew at random from a hat (see a completely different musical ‘hat trick’ here with another host on YouTube). A child prodigy since at least age 6, Alma says she hears melodies in her head almost all the time, but that is only the beginning of her amazing prowess. At the tender age of 13 she is a Mozart-class composer, a virtuoso violinist, a virtuoso pianist, and a singer with a beautiful voice. She has composed and performed her own piano concerto (hear the 2nd Movement on YouTube), an opera, and a violin concerto, among many other pieces – and this includes composing and arranging all the orchestra parts, too.
On her YouTube channel this week, Alma posted a complete performance of her entire 35-minute Violin Concerto in G that she performed last year in Europe with orchestra, all from memory. If you can watch her virtuosity and sensitivity and creativity without shaking your head in utter disbelief that this is even possible at age 13, someone might have to check if you have a pulse. Hundreds of comments at this performance express delight at watching and hearing her amazing ability, thinking back to what it must have been like to hear Mozart as a child. One writes,
It is so easy to forget that we listen to a concerto composed by a young girl, it truly sounds at the same level of the greatest classical music composers of all time. We need to be grateful for being alive at this time, as rarely any generation on Earth gets to witness such extraordinary talent of someone this age.
Is Alma Deutscher able to do this because her brain is larger than those of the grown musicians in the orchestra? Is William Maillis a college graduate at age 11 because his skull is larger than his professors? Certainly not! You can tell by looking at them that their heads probably have a ways to grow before adulthood. Neither child resembles those space aliens that are often drawn with huge heads and diminutive bodies to indicate that they are smarter than humans, having had millions more years to evolve. The myth of brain size as a measure of intelligence is tossed into the trash bin of history by these two child prodigies, and by all the others who have preceded them. This should have been obvious to the Victorian biological racists who certainly would have known of prodigies in their day. And in our modern day of electronic gadgets, we have seen the trend toward more capacity in smaller space (example: an advance at the University of Alberta may increase computer memory a thousand-fold, reports Science Daily). In hindsight, evolutionists could well have predicted human skulls would get smaller over time, not larger. It’s the wiring, not the size. Compactness is a feature, not a bug. The human brain still remains the most complex known object in the universe, with more ability than all the world’s computers combined.
Back to Stephen Montgomery at Current Biology. What does he do with this realization? You can feel the tension in his writing, as he discounts brain size yet clings to evolutionary theory’s expectation that something about skull size or shape might still be able inform us about human progress from the apes:
Even without a definitive phylogenetic hypothesis, the description of the H. naledi endocast provides a major lesson in thinking about brain evolution. First, both evolutionary scenarios described above involve reorganisation of brain structure without correlated changes in brain size; implying the morphological changes observed in later Homo are not a result of allometric scaling, and may be somewhat functionally independent from size increases. The evolutionary independence of these two modes of brain evolution implies that a narrow focus on brain size will likely ignore behaviourally important features of brain architecture. This conclusion should not be surprising, as comparative analyses across a range of vertebrates demonstrate similar patterns of mosaic brain evolution, and a complex relationship between brain size and behaviours used as proxies for cognition. Indeed, recent work on brain morphology within anatomically modern humans also provides evidence for a dissociation between brain size and structure. A geometric morphometric analysis of 20 H. sapiens digital endocasts, dated between 300,000 to 10,000 years ago, revealed that early and late H. sapiens brains were similar in size, but not shape. In more recent specimens, the brains appear more ‘globular’, with changes in the relative shape of several cortical features, most notably the parietal lobe, and a bulging of the cerebellum. These shape differences may reflect changes in the development of particular brain components, and coincide with the emergence of behavioural modernity.
That’s a recipe for more biological racism. He has just exchanged shape for size. Can you see some Darwinian measuring shapes now, ranking people on that basis? Montgomery seems to sense the danger in that route. He gives up.
These studies suggest changes in brain organization played a major role in the emergence of both our genus and our species. What then is the relative significance of the apparent trend towards brain expansion? Could brain size be less important than we thought? Several lines of evidence suggest brain size is still a big part of our story. For example, modelling the genetic covariance between brain and body size provides evidence for selection acting directly on brain size during hominin evolution, rather than body size. Similarly, molecular genetics continues to uncover evidence of adaptive evolution of genes affecting brain development, including the recent identification of the latest ‘human-specific’ gene, NOTCH2NL, which may have played a major role in prolonging cortical neurogenesis. However, brain size is merely a reflection of internal changes in brain composition and structure, including increases in neuron number and changes in connectivity. The challenge is therefore to understand the behavioural relevance of the kind of structural changes that do, or don’t, necessitate changes in overall brain volume. Until we have a good grasp of the functional effects of these different patterns of brain evolution, a sound understanding of the multiple dimensions of the hominin fossil record will remain elusive.
Question, class: How much has Darwinian evolution helped us understand ourselves?
Update 8/05/18: Here’s an eye-catching headline on Live Science: “Part of This Boy’s Brain Was Removed. The Rest of His Brain Made Sure He Wouldn’t Notice.” A boy nicknamed U.D. had a third of his brain removed to treat seizures. Now the seizures are gone, and the rest of his brain has compensated for most functions that were performed by the missing mass. “Aside from U.D. not being able to see the left side of his world, the team found that he functions just as well as others his age in cognition and vision processing.”
We grieve at the evils done by evolutionists who promulgated biological racism based on Charles Darwin’s evil theory. Oh, that they were alive today for us to chastise with these facts and to show them what their fake science led to. We can’t do that, but we can warn the living to learn from history, and never again to rank people on an evolutionary basis.
Now, go watch Alma Deutscher play her violin concerto and celebrate the gift of God in music.