Ann Gauger: Did the Human Brain Evolve?

Let’s discuss.

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I can’t comment on her science yet, but it bears emphasizing that this among the grand questions that resist simplistic answers. Even the atheists here, that accept fully naturalistic evolution, we should all be wondering about the rise of the human mind. For all our commonalities with the Great Apes, something different took place with us, that is far from inevitable. The human, at the moment, appears to be a singular event. Before diving into @Agauger’s work, I’d point everyone to this dialogue with Ajit Varki, a leading scientists in this space:


Worth recognizing at this point is the equal co-discoverer of evolution with Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace:

He was puzzled also by the human mind:

a man who fiercely defended Darwin’s theory but believed it couldn’t account for the human mind, and so posited supernatural intervention in natural history; a man, in short, who occasionally struck colleagues as a crackpot; and yet, in the end, a man who was in some ways more admirable than the much-admired Darwin.


The Homo Erectus brain of 1.5 million years age was the most cognitively advanced brain on the planet at that time. H. Erectus had language, tool making, and culture. Homo Sapiens, from around 300,000 years ago had brains with even more advanced cognitive abilities. When agrarian culture took off about 12,000 years ago, cognitive advance were due more to the advance of culture than evolution. That is true today as our cognitive abilities continue to advance.

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One of the grand puzzles of human origins is the rise of civilization. This totally alters everything, but we already have the biological ability to enter civilization perhaps at 50kya or earlier. That means that all the innate ability to do classical music, read and write novels and poems, to do mathematics, physics and even science, all this exists long before it arises.

We do not yet have a good account of how and why civilization arises when it did, and not earlier, and why we all are able to enter into it when it finally does arise.

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How about that we no longer needed to forage for our food. We lived in ever growing groups, where specialization took over. I could would on one thing and you can work on another thing and then we could trade with the greatest invention of mankind -money. :rofl:

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Human intelligence is the essence of humans. animals are different from each other in smarts by only tiny degrees or none. We are more different to all/any critter then all critters toward each other.
this because we are made in Gods image. We are smart like him.
Apes are no smarter then cats, dogs, mice, or birds.
Remember we only look like them because we need a body type within the blueprint equation of biology.
Don’t think likeness means a common descent. thats premature and sloppy investigation.

Likeness certainly does not mean common descent, but it is not incompatible with common descent.

It is a paradox. We are continuous with other creatures, but also very different. Both things are true at the same time.

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Environmental factors played a role also. Civilization seems to be a result of agriculture. If the environment isn’t right for agriculture there isn’t going to be civilization. The end of the last age coincides pretty well with the rise of agriculture

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Except agriculture arises several times before civilization, and is lost. It might be necessary for culture, but it certainly is not sufficient.


This is mostly personal opinion.

In my view, the main difference from apes (or other apes), is that we are a eusocial species. I see the larger brain, language abilities, etc as adaptations for social living. Our social brain allows us to interact with social constructs – such things as football games, mathematics, law, art.

I doubt that anthropologists and paleontologists will ever be able to fully trace our past, so we might never get beyond guessing.


Well, yeah. I never argued it is sufficient. You’ll notice where I said, “Played a role ALSO.”. It’s just hard to imagine civilization arising without it. Agriculture requires you stay in the same area for long periods of time, and more complex interactions and communication. And what we know about the climate and environment during the Pleistocene makes agriculture (atleast sustained) early in our history unlikely. There is never an easy or straightforward answer in human biological or cultural evolution. We are the most complex species to ever live on earth, so it only makes sense that our evolution, both biologically and culturally, are very complex.
I’m also not arguing agriculture will necessarily lead to civilization. So I’m a little unsure of the point you’re trying to make. There are number of events, some that can show up in the archaeological record, that can prevent agriculture from becoming civilization. Internal conflicts, disease, etc. Finding human remains and studying their pathology after the disappearance of these agricultures would be very informative.


The question to ask is why did something like the human brain evolve only once…

It obviously helps improve fitness… It doesn’t take much time to emerge (a few million years at most, perhaps even a few hundred thousand years)…
Can’t need too many mutations… because we share so much of our DNA with chimps… or even mice…

I guess evolution is inevitable when it is inevitable… and impossible when it is impossible… its all contingency…
We are viewing a world in which the miracles of life are a fait accompli.

Yes, agree that human cognitive ability is much strong than other primates. (I define all genus Homo as humans) H.Erectus 2 million years ago was much advanced over other primates and for every species after H. Erectus the cognitive abilities of humans continued to increase to this very day.

It is not a paradox, cognitive abilities evolved over time resulting in more cognitively advanced humans.

Did you read the article? I can’t speak as to the facts as presented, but the premise of the article is that the mind of the human cannot be explained as you have stated.

I’m not sure @Agauger is correct on that. Even if she isn’t, the human mind is still a puzzle.

I’m not sure on that either… I just wanted to know if @Patrick read the article. It seems like discussions take place such that, far too often, people articulate their philosophies as evidence for their suppositions. When @NLENTS complained that a scientist dressed down his book on a podcast, it was learned that the book was never even read. I spoke up against that because it is wrong. It is always wrong, because it is tantamount to lying.

If @Agauger is wrong, then state where she’s wrong. Don’t suggest that she may not be right. How in the world are we, who are not trained in the way that you brilliant folks are, supposed to learn more about this incredible field if you make open statements based upon opinion? The mind is fantastic, and clearly orders of magnitude more superior than any animal brain. What about the article is wrong? That’s what we all want to know. Not pointless opinion statements like “it is not a paradox” or “I’m not sure she’s right on that one.”

It is purposeless to continue this disgusting war of words in this way. Can’t you all see what is happening? Everyone is so incredibly polarized that they have programmed themselves to dismiss anything that the other side says. Joshua, to be fair, you do make a point now and again of conceding to the opposition that they’ve said something of substance. Beyond that, though, this supposed dialog is a train wreck. Not just here, but everywhere.

It is not possible that every one of the brilliant people in each of these disparate camps are 100% incorrect and lying all of the time. The world simply does not work this way! For the sake of those of us who do not know enough about the subject matter, talk it out and get to the bottom of it. Don’t sit around and make yourselves feel better by commiserating with one another.


Well, I’m speechless. Congratulations on that, we millennials are rarely left speechless.


It is not that complex @Michael_Callen. She just has not made her case. We are getting new knowledge about human brain evolution all the time, and it is not at all clear what is “not possible” versus "not known. So, I’m not just not sure yet.

To be clear, I did not say she was lying and she is certainly not 100% incorrect. Maybe she is even correct on this on this one. I just do not know yet, and I have not picked apart the scientific details of this specific article yet.

I’m just not sure what provoked the response from you @Michael_Callen.