• Some notes on free will, evolution and evolutionary psychology, part 1

    This will definitely be TL;DR (Too long; didn’t read), but…

    In discussing some thing on a private thread with a fellow Tippling Philosopher, I have written quite a bit on free will, evolution and evolutionary psychology which I would hat to go to waste and would love to keep for reference and posterity. None is ground-breaking or anything you wouldn’t know, but there are some good links to refer to in future conversations.

    This is in response to someone who thinks that humanity, and all the things we do, abstract and otherwise, is a phase change away from the rest of the natural world such that the difference is simply too big to be explicable in terms of evolution (by natural selection) and naturalism. In other words, the uniqueness of homo sapiens is an argument for dualism, and supernatural “magic”, as a sort of “supernaturalism of the gaps” approach.

    This all comes out of an argument about free will. My friend believes in libertarian free will, and claims he accepts evolution, but cannot show how such indeterminism can come out of a natural (and at least adequately deterministic) system.

    Anyway, here are some email exchanges which act as notes, often with links that can send you on a fascinating merry-go round of science reporting and journals. I hope some of you might find it at least vaguely interesting. It would be much more interesting to post his responses which have almost given me coronaries. Hopefully, you can understand the route of the conversation given only one side. This post is not so much about our argument, as some of the interesting things brought up. The next part gets slightly more onto evolutionary psychology than this one. Here goes…

    I am not fully old on epiphenomenalism (EP, though later in this piece it becomes Evolutionary Psychology)), but I think it explains a lot of our conscious processes. I am a big believer that our nonconscious brains are marvelous pieces of kit which do the vast majority of the work; well, in some sense, all of it.

    I think there is a feedback loop which comes into play a lot. I am presently reading a chapter by Bandura in Are We Free? Psychology and Free Will which, as luck would have it, is just going to town on EP and other related ideas.

    But whatever IS going on with consciousness, it cannot get around the principle of alternate possibilities which, apart from the utilisation of quantum in some contexts, I strongly deny on non-empirical grounds (as well as empirical grounds).

    Even on non-EP grounds, one has to defer to some sort of Kane-like approach of Self-Forming Actions (SFAs) whereby we do empirically do rather a lot on autopilot which derive back from singular important agent-driven decisions where free will is originated. It’s just unfortunate that he, as others, have no coherent model of how this works, and how those SFAs can special plead their way out of causality.

    Consciousness is a mental maze, literally and figuratively, of unknowns and theories. The vast network of neural activity leads, as most cognitive theorists would agree, to an emergent property of consciousness. I think that much is pretty solid. It also supervenes on the physical. Whether one is a reductive or non-reductive physicalist, an eliminativist, or a naturalistic dualist is another debate. There are certain things which I think are… certain, or almost so, such as supervenience and emergence, but there is room for debate on the rest. That said, I find Wegner’s illusion of conscious will and his “modular epiphenomenalism” fairly coherent and evidenced (see his 2002 book mentioned before), though not without its problems.

    Most critics of EP, like I imagine yourself, do so more on moral grounds using arguments from desire. But these say nothing about the truth or the evidence of the theories themselves. This is top down arguing from the conclusion, rather than from rationality and evidence.

    I tend towards thinking we are moral agents but that the term “moral responsibility” is a bit meaningless, due to the massive, insurmountable problems with causal responsibility, as seen here:


    Apportioning moral responsibility to one agent is like saying the green ball was responsible for knocking the red one in as it was the most proximal cause. This says nothing about the fact that it rebounded off the yellow, after the blue, being hit by the white, shot by the snooker player, involving all the causal circumstances, including all her training, the support from her parents, the evolution of man and the big bang. Without each and every necessary condition and event, the red would never have pocketed.

    So was the green ball responsible? In some small, arbitrary sense, along with all other aspect of the causal circumstance.

    Now that doesn’t easily help people organise society and suchlike, which is why we have shortcut rules of thumbs: you pulled the trigger, you’re responsible. But that’s not technically correct.

    We use such illusions and arbitrary lines to regulate and arbitrate society all of the time. Any law based on age does this, anything which demarcates continua does this. This is the power of the Sorites Paradox.

    Illusions are useful.


    Having just read this chapter in a book I am reading, I thought it would be well worth reading for everyone. XXX, I really think you should give this one a go.

    As good old Spinoza said:

     “men believe themselves to be free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined.”

    Interesting how we only really attribute free will to ourselves, but see it as cause and effect in others. Also when looking at our own decisions in the past they then become seen as cause and effect.

    “Have had words with JP on this rewinding sophistry. Free will resides in the moments before he won the trophy when he was still making conscious decisions about his game, not after it was over, when, of course, free will can’t operate because you can’t exert your will on a past action! It has, therefore, no relevance to the free will debate.”

    But this is incoherent. You say that at A3, the point of making a decision, free will does not operate because of all the things we have said, it resides in A2 and A1. But then this is a category error of special pleading, that A3 is somehow different to A2 and A1 in such a way that the they are not privvy to the same causality that A3 is.

    You have still not established this.

    What you fail to take into consideration is the (self-)correcting nature of the “scientific” method (in this case philosophical method). I put my theories out there to be tested and falsified and will adapt them accordingly. At the moment, with every opportunity to falsify them, you fail. So irrespective of my position, biases or whatnot, you have been unable to defeat my position, present a logically coherent model that shows that caused/uncaused is a false dichotomy and that there is an excluded middle; that all matter works to causality, but that consciousness, which supervenes on brain states (matter) is somehow so different that it escapes causality whillst still depending on it; you fail to be able to account adequately for all the empirical evidence and take a position that looks to be solely one of an argument from wishful thinking, which is itself a very obvious bias. In fact, your language on this final point has been copiously clear.

    As to what system I am using, here are some things to bear in mind.
    1) I have changed my mind on this topic, following the rational evidence in order to do so. So it makes no sense to say I am solely using one system since it cannot account for holding opposite views, ceteris paribus.
    2) I am using rational evidence
    3) this evidence is agreed upon by the vast majority of philosophers who deal with this discipline, and those who don’t are invariably theists who have an ulterior motive to do so, as according to meta-data evidence.
    4) commonsense is not a good enough reason to believe something, otherwise the world is flat, still, and the sun revolves around us, aeroplanes are too heavy to fly, boats will sink, in outer space an object would come to a rest, space isn’t curved, liquid couldn’t rise up a tube on its own accord (siphon) etc
    5) Kahneman himself has done research on showing how commonsense is often very wrong. He does this with statistical intuitions (there is a chapter dedicated to it, I believe). In fact, if you google “commonsense is wrong” Kahneman’s work pops up frequently.

    Something that I have realised at the back of my head for some time but which has hit me with clarity in discussing with XXX is something which hopefully will materialise as a submissible article at some point. It is this:

    Libertarian free will is pragmatically useless. I have expressed this before in the scenario of a psychologist/psychiatrist/psychotherapist. You would not accept this:

    Problem person lying on couch: Doc.I’ve got this problem, X. Can you help me to get over it.

    Doc: Sure, what is it.

    PP: X, etc. I would like to know what caused it.

    Doc: OK, I see. Now, did you exhibit this behaviour of your own free choice?

    PP: Er, yes?

    Doc: Well, then, unfortunately, I can’t help you, as you merely chose to, so antecedent causality is not relevant. Soz.

    As you can see, this is useless for solving problems. Psychs look to antecedent causality to understand the behaviour of subjects. The past, the brain, the biology, the genotype, the phenotype, the environment. Changing these as much as possible, where possible, is the job of such psychs such that the behaviour does not manifest itself in future similar scenarios.

    The same with any behaviour. Neurocriminality, and merely criminality (and associated probation services and social services, and education etc) look to understand why things happen.

    LFW doesn’t. The agent did it because… the agent. AXIOM. You need to understand, XXX, that this is where you are at. Your refusal to grant antecedent causality its rightful potency means that you are throwing your hands up and saying, “just because”.

    So in fact LFW becomes fatalistic, whereas determinism becomes empowering. Whilst under strict determinism, there is no such thing as a change in the course of actions, apparent change authored by people who have a sense of causal circumstance is what it is all about. Understanding causality allows people to “harness” it for the betterment of themselves and society.

    As ever, fatalism is the biggest threat to determinism, and occasionally makes me feel nauseous thinking about its intricacies. But the truth of the matter seems to be that LFW gives such understanding of the world and agents an impotence which lends it some large degree of irony. We end up imploring people to change their behaviour which was uncaused with a “just because” so that they do something goof “just because”. You’re not allowed to plump for antecedent causality… Remember, it is called “contra-causal” free will for a reason.

    Further to that, XXX, you must deal with the idea that the mind supervenes on the physical and that the physical operates to cause and effect (unless you can show me otherwise).

    There are several ways to show this:

    1)The evolution of species demonstrates that development of brain correlates to mental development

    eg  “We find that the greater the size of the brain and its cerebral cortex in relation to the animal body and the greater their complexity, the higher and more versatile the form of life” (Lamont 63). Lamont, Corliss. The Illusion of Immortality. 5th ed. New York: Unger/Continuum, 1990.

    2) Brain growth in individual organisms:

    “Secondly, the developmental evidence for mind-brain dependence is that mental abilities emerge with the development of the brain; failure in brain development prevents mental development (Beyerstein 45). Beyerstein, Barry L. “The Brain and Consciousness: Implications for Psi Phenomena.” In The Hundredth Monkey. Edited Kendrick Frazier. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1991: 43-53.

    3) Brain damage destroys mental capacities:

    “Third, clinical evidence consists of cases of brain damage that result from accidents, toxins, diseases, and malnutrition that often result in irreversible losses of mental functioning (45). If the mind could exist independently of the brain, why couldn’t the mind compensate for lost faculties when brain cells die after brain damage? (46).” Ibid

    4) EEG and similar mechanisms used in experiments and measurements on the brain indicate a correspondence between brain activity and mental activity:

    “Fourth, the strongest empirical evidence for mind-brain dependence is derived from experiments in neuroscience. Mental states are correlated with brain states; electrical or chemical stimulation of the human brain invokes perceptions, memories, desires, and other mental states (45).”

    5) The effects of drugs have clear physical >>> mental causation

    Again, reading into Phineas Gage should open your eyes.

    It is really important that you do not just wave away evidence like this. It exists and absolutely must be answered and explained on your worldview. At the moment, it seems there is no answer for these points.

    As Dennett superbly opines (and this quote is very relevant to your position, XXX):

    It continues to amaze me how attractive this position still is to many people. I would have thought a historical perspective alone would make this view seem ludicrous: over the centuries, every other phenomenon of initially “supernatural” mysteriousness has succumbed to an uncontroversial explanation within the commodious folds of physical science… The “miracles” of life itself, and of reproduction, are now analyzed into the well-known intricacies of molecular biology. Why should consciousness be any exception? Why should the brain be the only complex physical object in the universe to have an interface with another realm of being? Besides, the notorious problems with the supposed transactions at that dualistic interface are as good as a reductio ad absurdum of the view. The phenomena of consciousness are an admittedly dazzling lot, but I suspect that dualism would never be seriously considered if there weren’t such a strong undercurrent of desire to protect the mind from science, by supposing it composed of a stuff that is in principle uninvestigatable by the methods of the physical sciences. (Original italics)

    Daniel C. Dennett, “Consciousness in Human and Robot Minds,” (<URL:http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/concrobt.htm)

    Again, as the great Michael Tooley puts it:

    (1) When an individual’s brain is directly stimulated and put into a certain physical state, this causes the person to have a corresponding experience.

    (2) Certain injuries to the brain make it impossible for a person to have any mental states at all.

    (3) Other injuries to the brain destroy various mental capacities. Which capacity is destroyed is tied directly to the particular region of the brain that was damaged.

    (4) When we examine the mental capacities of animals, they become more complex as their brains become more complex.

    (5) Within any given species, the development of mental capacities is correlated with the development of neurons in the brain

    Michael Tooley, “Opening Statement” in William Lane Craig and Michael Tooley debate, “Does God Exist?” (<URL:http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-tooley2.html>, 1994).

    “If you accept evolution, you need to concede we once WERE animals, in fact we were once single celled organisms. If you’ll concede that, you need to work out where in the process ‘magic’ happened and we were elevated to something that deserves the special pleading you insist on trying. I rather suspect you’d rather let go of evolution!”

    This is a very important argument which does need unpicking. At the very least (and as many philosophers and neuroscientists argue) consciousness is an emergent property from such.

    On emergentism: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/properties-emergent/

    ” Evolution does not explain, however, the gulf in quality between our consciousness and that of our closest rivals. Back to my argument about horse don’t have libraries, stock exchanges, lingerie etc The “evolution of consciousness is not smooth, gradual and continuous amongst the species. It toddles along and then leaps over several tower blocks with mankind.”


    Do you know it doesn’t? How many books on evolution have you ever read? On the maind? On the evolution of the mind?

    I’ve read a few and your comment is simply not true.

    Neuroscientist Gazzaniga has an interesting article here (he has also written on free will):


    Scientists this year released new research into a single gene, which only humans have, which had fundamental impact on brain development, and which when injected into mouse brains causes huge brain development:

    While we share 99 per cent of our genes with chimpanzees, our brains are still three times as big.

    Scientists believe that during evolution our genome must have changed in order to trigger such a massive brain growth.

    Now, for the first time, researchers in Germany have identified a gene that is only present in humans, making our minds far more complex than other species.

    Scientists in Dresden have found a single single gene that may be responsible for the large number of neurons found uniquely in the human brain. When this gene was inserted in the brain of a mouse embryo (pictured), it caused the formation of many more neurons (stained red). Scientists believe the gene arose in humans after our ancient ancestors and those of chimps split from the same evolutionary path more than five million years ago.

    Known as ARHGAP11B, the gene contributes to the reproduction of basal brain stem cells, triggeringThis is a brain region that is central to reasoning, language and sensory perception.

    The researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics isolated different subpopulations of human brain stem cells and identified, which genes are active in which cell type.

    Scientists believe the gene arose on the humans after our ancient ancestors and those of chimps split from the same evolutionary path more than five million years ago.

    Known as ARHGAP11B, the gene contributes to the reproduction of basal brain stem cells, triggering an increase in the number of neurons in the neocortex.

    Scientists believe the gene arose on the humans after our ancient ancestors and those of chimps split from the same evolutionary path more than five million years ago.

    Known as ARHGAP11B, the gene contributes to the reproduction of basal brain stem cells, triggering an increase in the number of neurons in the neocortex.

    They noticed the gene ARHGAP11B, which is also found in our closest relatives, the Neanderthals and Denisova-Humans, but not in chimpanzees.


    Around 3.8 million ago, our ancestors Australopithecus afarensis, had a brain that was 30 cubic inches (500 cubic centimeters) in volume.

    About 1.8 million years ago, Homo erectus had a brain twice the size of Australopithecus afarensis.When Neanderthals and Denisovans arrived, the brain had grown to 85 cubic inches (1.4 litres) in volume.

    Despite this increase in size, scientists believe human’s intelligence may have more to do with how brain cells form that how large the brain grows.

    Tests on mouse embryos revealed that the gene can have a huge impact on brain development.

    Embryos injected with the gene grew larger brain regions and some developed the wrinkled surface characteristic of the human brain, allowing more tissue to fit into the skull.

    ‘It is so cool that one tiny gene alone may suffice to affect the phenotype of the stem cells, which contributed the most to the expansion of the neocortex,’ study lead author Marta Florio at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics told LiveScience.

    But it is likely this gene is just one of a large number of genetic changes that make human intelligence unique, she added.Around 3.8 million ago, our ancestors Australopithecus afarensis, had a brain that was less than 30 cubic inches (500 cubic centimeters) in volume.About 1.8 million years ago, Homo erectus had a brain twice the size of Australopithecus afarensis.

    When Neanderthals and Denisovans arrived, the brain had grown to 85 cubic inches (1.4 litres) in volume.

    Despite this increase in size, scientists believe human’s intelligence may have more to do with how brain cells form that how large the brain grows.

    The team now wants the mice to grow into adults while carrying the gene to see if it improves their intelligence.

    This very interesting TED talk is also pertinent, with the concluding remarks:


    In which she concludes that cooking food led to the brain we have today, and no other animal cooks food.

    And so on and so forth.

    XXX: My worldview is this. The brain is an apparatus which we depend upon for mental activity. No question. And it can be damaged, compromised disabled in many ways. For me it is like a complex church organ on which the organist plays a tune. The church organ can be damaged and rendered useless by vandalism, flooding etc. The organist represents the person who plays the organ and chooses (as in free will choices) the tunes he plays. This does imply an interfase between the organist (a metaphor for the non-physical person) and the organ (the physical body). i.e. his fingers have to touch the keys. I don’t claim to know how this is effected but I don’t see why it shouldn’t be. In a model where the physical universe depends on something in the non-physical why should’t the non-physical be able to impinge thus? My model does imply some kind of dependence of the physical universe on the non-physical as in my image from Julian of Norwich – the bearded man and the walnut if you recall. It does imply some idea of the physical creation being held in existence by something underlying that creation. Hope I’ve been clear enough here….
    XXX: Damage to the church organ could make it impossible for the organist to play a tune. A human being can be disabled mentally.”
    I analysed this approach in my post/email on WLC on how he thinks he gets free will and how it is incoherent.


    You seem to claim A >>> B >>> A

    such that the will causes the brain to fire which causes mental phenomena.

    But the will, as you see it, is a mental phenomena.

    As far as I can see it, and as I keep asking you to establish, you cannot get out of this bind.

    Please, XXX, can you stop saying things like this:

    “evolution does not explain the step change in our consciousness over the consciousnesses of other creatures. “

    when you appear not to have researched it at all. I have sent you an email already with loads of extracts and links which show this to be an erroneous opinion.

    By making a conclusion in your head and refusing to even look at evidence to the contrary you are blinding yourself with bias.

    I would suggest reading about this.

    not only do we see emergence within evolution of species, but also within human development of a single organism.

    It might also be worth looking at things like pain asymbolia and synaesthesia which cause headaches for dualists. These are physically caused issues which have direct effects on qualia and the subjective experience of pain or other things (colour, sound, smell etc).

    Human consciousness is most probably vastly superior to other animals, but then so is our brain, and our genes, with certain genes unique to humans being responsible for brain development.

    Look, geniuses often produce things which are so far above the rest of us laymen in terms of complexity, artistic nuance or skill.

    That doesn’t mean those geniuses are not human, or are some category difference to the rest of us.

    Holy crap, there are some corkers here:

    Tipping point from what? We seem to emerge whole into this state in our adulthood.


     There is, if you like, no continuous fossil record of the advent of our extraordinary consciousness emerging from that of other primates.

    OK, we do not emerge whole, we develop over time. There are measurements of self awareness and this develops in humans over the first few years. A blastocyst, embryo, foetus, newborn, baby, toddler etc all have developmental differences which correlate and are caused by brain development which itself works in tandem with stimuli.

    This article should give you a very good synopsis:


    On to your other comment which is actually blatantly false. It is these sorts of statements which go to show why you continue making these statements. It is a vicious cycle whereby you believe X because you fail to ever look into evidence which supports ~X, which then leads you to a conclusion of X.

    We have some very good fossil evidence of hominid evolution considering such fossils are extremely rare due to the conditions necessary for such fossils, both in chemistry and bio-geographical distribution and environmental conditions.

    We know that brain size has correlated with intelligence development, which also coincided with a diet of heavy meat-eating:


    Brain size took some pretty big leaps in relatively short periods:

    The expansion of the hominid brain appears to have only really begun with the genus Homo. The brain of the earlier hominid genus Australopithecus had a volume of about 400 cubic centimetres, not much larger than that of the great apes. But between 2 million and 700 000 years ago, the size of the brain of Homo erectus actually doubled.

    The other major increase in brain volume occurred between 500 000 and 100 000 years ago, in Homo sapiens, and the human brain today has a volume of 1 350 cubic centimetres. In less than 4 million years, a relatively short time in evolutionary terms, the hominid brain thus grew to three times the size it had achieved in 60 million years of primate evolution.

    What is interesting is that the fossil record also shows tool use and musical instrument usage coinciding with brain development.

    There are three things, in my mind, which are important for the development of consciousness and complexity: opposable thumbs, vocal chord development and language, and meat-eating. These allow for the devlopment of ideas. Without speech ideas simply cannot develop. I wrote about this in my free will book, mentioning the coextensive theories:

    Language certainly plays a pivotal role within the realms of consciousness, with some arguing that only humans are conscious and only recently so, as a result of the evolution of complex linguistics. I would probably not go so far, but I certainly herald the importance of language both to consciousness and to humanity as a whole. It is very difficult to investigate consciousness and the mind due to the entirely personal and subjective nature of the beast, and our complete inability to access the consciousness of others. However, I would agree with most that the consciousness of animals is far less complex than that of humans, with the main reason being their comparative inability to communicate in such a complex manner. If an elephant was hungry and wanted to eat, I imagine its thought processes would be, internally, primarily pictorial and ‘urge-like’. On the other hand, a human has a consciousness full of internal dialogue and nuance, which can only be expressed with complex linguistics. “Ooh, I could murder a an ice cream, maybe with a chocolate flake and raspberry sauce, although it plays havoc with my sensitive teeth, so maybe I’m better off settling for a large frothy latté (even though they’re extortionate and it’s weeks from payday).”  As we can see with this conscious thought, the complexity of the nuances, constructions, the weighing up of the pros and cons and the mental images are a world apart from what an elephant must experience. Our conscious experience is intrinsically linked to our linguistic ability, which also reflects the complexity of our society. In fact, our opposable thumbs and our ability to communicate are the most important factors, to my mind, of our success as a species, allowing us to handle tools and work co-operatively, as well as weighing up choices and decisions, opportunities and costs. Our language allows us to empathise and conceptualise to a degree almost infinitely higher than any other organism.

    A further debate often arises here about what comes first, thought or language, and many philosophers and linguistic experts have proposed different theories. I am attracted to the belief that the two are coextensive – that one cannot exist without the other. In other words, a human could not understand the concept of unrequited love, or philosophy of the mind, without having the language to support these concepts, and more basic language builds itself on more basic concepts so that over the millennia, humans have built brick by brick, a complex understanding of the world around them. With each new concept comes new language – new words – and these enable the person to investigate the concepts that exist higher in order above the last learned concepts. This sort of theory is borne out when considering feral children. Research into feral children has shed light on this area and the “Critical Period Hypothesis” has been put forward to explain that after a certain age, if a child has not learned to speak, then it becomes incredibly hard, if not impossible to learn language thereafter (somewhere between the ages of 5 and puberty). For example, a feral child is one that has been brought up by animals or suchlike that has not had the opportunity to learn and neurally develop the organisation of language. If they are reintroduced to society post-puberty, they will find it almost impossible to then learn language and effective human communication. With this, they can also not comprehend the higher order concepts that many humans live with, and are inspired by. The subject of this book, for example, would be way beyond the comprehension of such a person, and an internalisation of language seems very much to be the golden key. From this, we can deduce that such a child would have a much less nuanced, more animalistic life; they would be much less party to the world of choice and free will that most normal humans are used to. The influence of language has a huge impact upon the lives and society of modern humans, and the way we create intentions, desires, plans and actions.

    A good review of brain evolution, fossils, hominids and functional areas can be found here, though is a few years old:

    http://www.indiana.edu/~brainevo/publications/annurev.anthro.35.pdf – Evolution of the Size and Functional Areas of the Human Brain

    Furthermore, a good one is here: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/367/1599/2130 – Hominin cognitive evolution: identifying patterns and processes in the fossil and archaeological record

    I could go on, XXX, but I think it is fairly obvious that massive amounts of research has been done across many different disciplines to show that your bare assertions are simply wrong.

    Yes, human brains ARE the most complex and amazing. But some organisms have to be the best. You won’t simply have every organism operating at an imaginary and arbitrary middle value!

    Also, who’s to say our brains are THAT amazing? Are you putting a conceptual ceiling on our brains as they are now? What benchmark are you comparing it to? Are there other animals who have features of their brains and consciousness that we DON’T have? (yes)

    In other words, make sure you research a little before making big, big claims. The hallmarks of a good skeptic…

    With all due respect, XXX, I am wondering how much you know about evolution, especially ideas like punctuated equilibrium (a la Stephen Jay Gould) as opposed to phyletic gradualism, such that evolution is never uniformly gradual, but punctuated by big, rapid changes. This might be from evolutionary changes, or from migration etc (since evolution is often a response to the organism to their environment).

    The Cambrian Explosion is the most famous example of punctuated equilibrium that most people are aware of. This is more startling than the rapid expansion of the human brain, yet only Creationists get their knickers in a twist about that!

    On Gazzaniga and the step change from other primates to humans and their brains: He is not proposing magic, but very natural things to account for our superior complexity. He seems to have many questions, but is still positing things like positive selection as accounting for some of the difference:

    Scientists compared the genetic sequences of ethnically and geographically diverse people from around the world and found that the genes which code for the nervous systems, had some sequence differences (known as polymorphisms) among individuals. By analyzing human and chimpanzee polymorphism patterns, genetic probabilities and various other genetic tools, and geographical distributions, they found evidence that some of these genes are experiencing ongoing positive selection in humans. They calculated that one genetic variant of microcephalin arose approximately 37,000 years ago, which coincides with the emergence of culturally modern humans, and it increased in frequency too rapidly to be compatible with random genetic drift or population migration. This suggests that it underwent positive selection.[xxi] An ASPM variant arose about 5800 years ago, coincident with the spread of agriculture, cities and the first record of written language. It too is found in such high frequencies in the population, that it indicates strong positive selection.[xxii]

    It is probably the case that our brain is remarkable, but not extraordinary in terms of size etc (relative size is the important thing), and we certainly have the highest number of neurons in a mammalian brain:


    Again, it looks like cooking and eating meat has a lot to answer for.

    “Could one not equally conclude that we cook food because we have the big brain? This is a nice example of choosing the end of the telescope to look down to suit the narrative you want to impose.”

    No. Not according to research which involves a lot more than just brains evolving, but teeth and guts too. You simply CANNOT develop a bigger brain without the cost. In order to get the big brain, you have to eat meat and, cooked meat increases that.

    A good synopsis:


    and more recently:


    …new studies demonstrate, respectively, that it would have been biologically implausible for humans to evolve such a large brain on a raw, vegan diet, and that meat-eating was a crucial element of human evolution at least 1 million years before the dawn of humankind…

    At the core of this research is the understanding that the modern human brain consumes 20 percent of the body’s energy at rest, twice that of other primates. Meat and cooked foods were needed to provide the necessary calorie boost to feed a growing brain. [10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Human Brain]

    One study, published last month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined the brain sizes of several primates. For the most part, larger bodies have larger brains across species. Yet human have exceptionally large, neuron-rich brains for our body size, while gorillas — three times more massive than humans — have smaller brains and three times fewer neurons. Why?

    The answer, it seems, is the gorillas’ raw, vegan diet (devoid of animal protein), which requires hours upon hours of eating only plants to provide enough calories to support their mass.

    Researchers from Brazil, led by Suzana Herculano-Houzel, a neuroscientist at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, calculated that adding neurons to the primate brain comes at a fixed cost of approximately six calories per billion neurons.

    For gorillas to evolve a humanlike brain, they would need an additional 733 calories a day, which would require another two hours of feeding, the authors wrote. A gorilla already spends as much as 80 percent of the tropic’s 12 hours of daylight eating.

    Similarly, early humans eating only raw vegetation would have needed to munch for more than nine hours a day to consume enough calories, the researchers calculated. Thus, a raw, vegan diet would have been unlikely given the danger and other difficulties of gathering so much food.

    Cooking makes more foods edible year-round and releases more nutrients and calories from both vegetables and meat, Herculano-Houzel said.

    etc etc

    I love the way you jump on scientists who you think support your views really easily.

    You might be interested in his views on free will, which he has written a book on (Who’s In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain):


    “Neuroscience reveals that the concept of free will is without meaning, just as John Locke suggested in the 17th century. Do robots have free will? Do ants have free will? Do chimps have free will? Is there really something in all of these machines that needs to be free, and if so, from what? Alas, just as we have learned that the world is not flat, neuroscience, with its ever-increasing mechanistic understanding of how the brain enables mind, suggests that there is no one thing in us pulling the levers and in charge. It’s time to get over the idea of free will and move on.

    Understanding the mechanisms of mind is both daunting and thrilling, as well as a central part of modern knowledge and life. We humans are about becoming less dumb, and making better decisions to cope and adapt to the world we live in. That is what our brain is for and what it does. It makes decisions based on experience, innate biases, and mostly without our conscious knowledge. It is beautiful to understand how that happens.

    But brain determinism has no relevance to the concept of personal responsibility.

    The exquisite machine that generates our mental life also lives in a social world and develops rules for living within a social network. For the social network to function, each person assigns each other person responsibility for his or her actions. There are rules for traffic that exist and are only understood and adopted when cars interact. It is the same for human interactions. Just as we would not try to understand traffic by studying the mechanics of cars, we should not try to understand brains to understand the idea of responsibility. Responsibility exists at a different level of organization: the social level, not in our determined brains.”

    XXX, I would rather you did not make massive sweeping claims without at least partly looking into what you are claiming. Loads of people have done loads of research on this. You just need to read it. Start with your best mate Steven Pinker’s How The Mind Works…

    Interestingly, chimps can beat us in certain strategy games because they have retained parts of the brain we gave up in favour of other developmental paths:


    Finally, to understand the rapid evolution of language and mind, I suggest researching the Baldwin Effect which has been around for a hundred years or so.

    Category: EvolutionFree Will and DeterminismNaturalismPsychologyScience


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • Jeff Pinner

      Just a small thought to feed into your cogitations, sir.

      Could what psychologists call a sociopath be nothing more than a development which reflects true “free will”? Think of it as abnormal for current human psychology, which a further evolution of intelligence would be. If a sociopath chooses to obey the norms of society, it isn’t because she believes they are correct, it is because she wishes to stay out of jail, possibly in order to effect changes in the norms.

      From a self-judged sociopath who has remained free for 60 years… (evil grin)

    • ronmurp

      A great talk from Jerry Coyne that hits most of the important points of free will:


      Including, the distinction between ‘responsibility’ (the location of causal events within an agent entity, and moral responsibility, which tries to make more human responsibility than is warranted).