Big old brains:
I keep finding myself bouncing back and forth on the issue of brain size.  Now head size is easy: there is a condition called hydrocephalus in which the fluid containing spaces (or should I say spaces containing fluid?) in the brain are abnormally large.  The head can be large but the condition offers no particular advantage. 

Then there is the Neanderthal brain.  It was bigger than ours, but when you look at it the enlargement seems to be in back; super refined image interpretation or something.  But what we pride ourselves on is what goes on up front; the association areas, the things that guide action in subtle ways, abstract reasoning maybe, although that last is most problematic.  So I have long thought that I didn’t want to be surrounded by Neanderthals, although they may have been in fact quite pleasant folk. 

Then there were our earliest known direct ancestors after we divided from the Neanderthals.  No, I don’t know if it was before or after there was a degree of mixing Neanderthal genes back in.  We used to call these people Cr0-Magnon.  We now say they were “anatomically modern humans.”  They were a bit more robust and had slightly larger brains than we.  Ok.  Go figure.  If they were anatomically different from moderns why do we say they were anatomically modern?  We already had a word for them.

Every time I run into an irresponsible change in scientific terminology I have one of a number of thoughts.  1) Each time you do that, you drive a little wedge between normal people and the past.  2) When a new concept emerges, a new word is appropriate.  In the absence of a new concept, a new word only fakes there being a new concept. 3) Somebody is on a power trip.  4) Somebody is being paid entirely too much.  5) Somebody has too much time on their hands.  6) It’s a plot to make us more and more ignorant just a little bit at a time so we become docile and easily controlled.  7)  It’s offensive.  8) You do that and then pretend to be surprised when there is hostility to science across the board? 9) I had thought scientists were different from politicians, business owners, advertisers and internet trolls; maybe not.  On some days I can think several of those things at the same time. 

Anyway, our dear old forgotten cavemen had bigger brains.  Ah, it’s the fault of those … (insert political persuasion that you do not have) … They should never have been given access to peoples’ minds.

But now there is a new cloud. (Heather Hazlett et al. Early Brain Development in Infants at High Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder
NATURE vol. 542 no. 6741 February 16, 2017 page 348) You see there is a condition called autism, or for our purposes autism spectrum disorder.  In modern societies it can cause problems. 

So was the Cro-Magnon smarter than we or was he or she autistic? 

I imagine there will be more twists and turns to the story.

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