Breeched Wales Bloviating in the Hot Sun

Location: Long Island, New York, United States

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Newly discovered "Hobbit sapiens" counts against big brain model

When I was in high school, a science teacher had tried to explain human intelligence and consciousness as arising merely out of the sheer quantity of neurons in the brain. I was never satisfied with this answer and thought instead that there had to be some structure of (or to) the brain that was special in humans. I also believed that this structure was probably an evolved characteristic.

In reading about the recently discovered "Hobbit sapiens" at CNN a sentence caught my attention.

Flores Man was hardly formidable. His grapefruit-sized brain was about a quarter the size of the brain of our species, Homo sapiens. It is closer in size with the brains of transitional prehuman species in Africa more than 3 million years ago.

Yet evidence suggests Flores Man made stone tools, lit fires and
organized group hunts for meat.

On that last sentence my mind immediately exclaimed "They have small brains yet had enough awareness to make tools, fire, and hunt in groups. Certainly these are activities that mark both intelligence and consciousness"! I think this is because I was primed by watching a video over at Robert Wrights web site that I stumbled upon during my research for the last post. One of the videos mentioned this big brain model, perhaps it was Steven Pinker, who is against it for other reasons.

Of course this whole line of reasoning depends on where one draws the line for consciousness and how one thinks about it. The same can be said for intelligence. My own beliefs about the nature of consciousness are a little too complicated to get into tonight so I'll leave it till another day.

I'll leave you with a couple questions. Is your dog conscious or not? If consciousness evolved then do you believe there to be a sharp dividing line? Put another way was the first conscious child born of nonconscious parents?

Fake Update (I'm pretending I have readers to entertain myself):

For you sticklers out there who got upset with me using the term Hobbit sapiens, please notice the scare quotes. The correct Linnaean naming style would Homo hobbitus. I was just having fun and was afraid that if I made it too correct sounding I might lead someone astray. Besides Hobbit sapiens sounds like the title of a book Fuzzy Sapiens which is one of my son Wesley's favorite books. The correct taxonomic name is Homo floresiensis.

BTW ... my hobbit name is Todo Gamwich of the Bree Gamwiches.