“What would you do with a brain if you had one?” Dorothy’s question to the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz elicited one of the movie’s most delightful songs, in which her straw-filled friend assured her that, among other things, he could “think of things I’d never thunk before.” But the Scarecrow seemed to do quite well without one, thus avoiding the high energy costs of fueling and cooling a human brain—which, with an average volume of about 1,400 cubic centimeters, is humongous relative to our body size.

How did our brains get so big? Researchers have put forward a number of possible explanations over the years, but the one with the most staying power is an idea known as the social brain hypothesis. Its chief proponent, psychologist Robin Dunbar of Oxford University, has argued for the past two decades that the evolution of the human brain was driven by our increasingly complex social relationships. We required greater neural processing power so that we could keep track of who was doing what to whom.

Read more at Slate.

Published On: October 30, 2012

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