• Question: will the brain evolve over time? and if yes how will it?

    Asked by Sophie to James on 6 Mar 2019.
    • Photo: James Munro

      James Munro answered on 6 Mar 2019:

      Morning! Thanks for the question.

      Had a wee chuckle at your profile there. Hopefully we can help make science a bit more interesting for you 🙂

      I love this question because it asks me to predict human development. The human brain is a physical thing, yes, that has evolved from something to become what it is today. However the human brain also contains / creates our minds – so evolving brains means evolving minds. Interesting thought.

      Evolution works on the basis of “survival of the fittest” and “survival of the sexiest” – where the members of a species which adapt to their environments and are most sucessful at having children are more likely to pass on their traits to the next generation. So human brains must be good at adapting and reproducing because they exist today.

      Robin Dunbar, a famous Oxford Psychologist, came up with the “social brain” theory. He believed that animal brains (including humans) grew in size because they needed to process more and more complex societies. He and his team looked at the sizes of different animal brains and measured how complex their communities were. Some animals have really simple social lives (deer don’t communicate in a very complex way with other deer) while some animals have really complicated social lives (chimpanzees live in big groups, but have small groups of friends within it. They deceive each other and partner up to solve tasks, they trade and teach). The biggest brains were in the animals with the most complicated social lives – and humans have the biggest brains of all animals in relation to their body size.

      So if our brains got the way they are because of our very complex social lives, I reckon that with social media and world-wide easy communication and travel, our brains might evolve to be much better at dealing with bigger and more difficult social situations.

      Then again, technology and genetic research seems to be taking us in a very sci-fi direction. Check out this recent paper where researchers learn to control a rat’s body using a human brain…