Brain Power: An Excerpt from The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity
Dim-wittedness is the one thing that unites nature’s most durable creatures, from sea turtles to jellyfish to paddlefish to nematodes. Short-lived prolific bugs tend to weather crises, as do some deepwater creatures, well insulated from events above, for instance, but there is little correlation between brain size and a species’ long-term survival.
Nature is loath to tamper with success, and it is loath to lay on brains where they are not needed. How and why brains develop in some animals and not in others is a mystery. The random mutations that increase brain size are probably ubiquitous, meaning that it is reasonable to expect that virtually every animal alive today has ancestors that produced brainier offspring which in turn had the chance to be fruitful and multiply. But the evidence is that with very few exceptions, evolutionary experiments to increase brain power have not taken. During the march of evolution, many animals have gotten smarter in the way we define it, but not much smarter. The likelihood is that nature has had more failures than successes when it comes to increasing brain size (and in evolutionary terms, the jury is still out on whether the human experiment will ultimately be a success or failure, but more about that later).
From The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity
Check out our most recent podcast: How You Can Better Communicate Your Science - science author and journalist Dennis Meredith discusses some of the ways he’s found to help scientists become more effective communicators.
Click the Title to view all of our Pizza Lunch Podcasts!
A free daily summary of the latest news in scientific research. Each story is summarized concisely and linked directly to the original source for further reading.
An early peek at each new issue, with descriptions of feature articles, columns,
and more. Every other issue contains links to everything in the latest issue's table of contents.
News of book reviews published in
and around the web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.
To sign up for automatic emails of the
Update and Scientists' Nightstand issues, create an
online profile, then sign up in the
My AmSci area.