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Home Forums The Science The increase in skull size resulting in consciounsess

This topic contains 25 replies, has 14 voices, and was last updated by  Susy 6 months ago.

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  • Mary Lynch
    Participant

    I was discussing these idea with a friend, who happens to be a doctor in a scientific field and she asked whether there is evidence that the increase in skull size was a result of consciousness? I couldn’t answer and so thought I’d get some help here.???


  • nomad
    Participant

    Hey Mary. Its pretty well accepted that there is a correlation between skull/brain size and consciousness/intelligence. The skull/brain size of our ancestors dramatically increased about 2 million years ago and their is evidence of increasing intelligence around that time such as more sophisticated tools and the like.
    The real question is why no other animal has developed full consciousness because it must be a huge advantage for any species. There have been all sorts of dubious attempts to explain this such as the increased energy requirement of a large brain, but intelligence is such a huge advantage, that natural selection would have overcome this this if that was the real impediment. This is the question that Jeremy answers in chapter 7 of Freedom. He explains that the reason why no other animal has developed consciousness is because any conscious animal will quickly work out that the meaning of life is to be selfless, but that is a self-eliminating trait, and so consciousness can’t normally be encouraged by natural selection. But then Jeremy explains how in our ape ancestors, where the ‘love-indoctrination’ process created a completely cooperative environment, consciousness could at last arise without self-eliminating.
    But then of course, when the conscious mind began to assert itself, the conflict between instinct and intellect that caused the human condition emerged, and that brought with it all sorts of new demands for greater intelligence, which explains the great increase in brain size about 2 million years ago.
    That’s the real question, and the real story. As I say, read chapter 7. Let us know how you go.


  • Matt
    Participant

    I am a bit of a science nut, and do find Griffith’s writing on consciousness excellent. There is a thing known as ‘the hard problem’ in the science of consciousness, and I have always thought that the ‘hard problem’ was ridiculous. Basically the ‘hard problem’ is how to explain the subjective element of consciousness. Its all very well (they say) to be able to explain how the brain can perform tasks, but how and why do we ‘experience’ that. That is apparently the ‘hard problem’. What they are really saying, is why arent we like robots; why do we have this self-awareness. So it is this self-awareness that they think is the great mystery. And it just seems to me to be such an intellectual and esoteric question that is designed to obfuscate, not illuminate the issue of consciousness.

    And then I read Griffith’s explanation of self-awareness in chapter 7 of FREEDOM, and it is so simple. He just writes, “this journey kicks off in the infancy stage, during which the conscious mind is sufficiently aware of the relationship of events that occur through time to recognise that the individual doing the thinking is at the centre of the changing array of experiences around it. It is during infancy that the conscious individual becomes aware of the concept of ‘I’ or self, which is what bonobos and, to a lesser degree, the other great apes are capable of.”
    So simple.

    • tarnz
      tarnz
      Participant

      What about other animals that we can see showing signs of reasoning.. albeit small. Like the dog. His instinct will call him to jump randomly over any fence in order to mate, but he first must question that if the fence is a noticeable barrier or harmful. Of course not every dog is able and will hurt themselves trying. But some dogs will reason this. So I’d assume when humans come to conscious reasoning than it may have been in the same way, like Adam story. Just one in a bunch.

  • Shak
    Shak
    Participant

    in light of evidence supporting this .. i would find it absurd as an evolutionary step, based on the fact the actual capacity in terms of brain utilisation to date is a fraction of the some of the whole.
    academic/experiential/creative visualisation so far in neural development…. but research in transcendental meditation…have shown complete coherence in organisational thinking…increased intellect and creativity deeper understanding/moral view. i continue to follow tis area of study and intend to start a course in the near future. to go beyond conceptual thought to non- local states of awareness i anticipate will be a test for me i live immersed in never ending questioning/thought.

    Transcending…A rapid and rigorously researched way to a better world.


  • Kunga
    Participant

    Firstly – what is the definition of consciousness, and what is the evidence that animals do not have it?

    Animals such as our pet cats and dogs show significant awareness of both their environment and themselves.
    The key circuits and brain development necessary for the experience of a large range of emotions are present in most mammals.
    It is worth reviewing Rupert Sheldrake’s well conducted research on dogs who knew when their owners were coming home.That research involved using dogs that were known to exhibit this trait, setting up video cameras in the dog’s house and then using a pager to see to it that the owner came home at unpredictable times. The results of that were very clear with confidence interval of p<0.0001.
    So that is a clear proof of consciousness- as is the clearly documented footage of mammalian mothers mourning the untimely death of their offspring. So I find it hard to accept that other mammals do not have significant consciousness (The other animals probably do too, but less clear cut).

    In terms of human brain size, firstly it is interesting that it appears that both body size and brain size were larger in the Paleolithic ( I MUST get the reference for that!).

    Secondly, humans have 2 unique problems to handle- firstly the act of walking upright is tremendously demanding and the Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist Roger Sperry estimated that 90% of neural activity is devoted to the art of walking on 2 feet without falling over. Then too we have all the added challenges and opportunities associated with having fingers and thumbs.

    Now we get to an inteesting point here, if brain size peaked in the paleolithic, when we were all being hunter gatherers, I would argue that that fact could be taken as evidence that our curreent urbanised environment is essentially unhealthy for us.

    • tarnz
      tarnz
      Participant

      Concider to that autism from birth has shown larger then normal brain size , of grey mater and white.
      I’d be very upeset with someone who only spent fifty years studying something so full as this without realising there is still more to learn. No one finishes learning something. That is science . You never stop learning.


  • Kunga
    Participant

    So to reply to nomad’s comment about the expansion of the hominid brain about 2 million years ago– the very fact of coming down from the trees and adopting bipedalism is probably sufficient to explain that problem- the neurological challenges of being a biped and not falling over and getting a head injury are very substantial.

    • tarnz
      tarnz
      Participant

      It’s also a clear indication of them using thre instincts .. and I might add to a better degree than most humans. I like to think that instinct is where our brains function with things like intuition …. (gut instinct) not to mention cats and dogs still in possession of those things that improve these abilities and physical ways to. Like better olfactory and vision and hearing. I think it’s testing dogs and cats (reasoning) that is a true test of this. Like looking at two foods, seeing wich may be beneficial and which maybe harmful.. will this animal make a logical decision if hungry and avoid that which will do harm. More often than not they will eat both. It’s rare that one will use reasoning. But it does happen, I’d assume this very much like humans evolved past basic instinct.


  • Matt
    Participant

    Regarding the definition of consciousness – I like Griffith’s, which is that something is ‘conscious’ when it can understand how cause and effect are related. So for example, chimps are on the verge of consciousness, because they can work out cause and effect to the extent that they can work out how to get peanuts out of a jar, but a dog or cat isnt conscious to that extent. Certainly they are aware and no doubt have emotions or something similar, but there is a quantum leap between humans and all other animals in terms of being conscious of, or understanding of, cause and effect.


  • Nigel
    Participant

    This is an intresting question. Another way to ask it could be is the level of consciousness in an animal dependent on skull size or is conciousness an evolutionary driver of skull size? Tends to raise a lot of other questions however. For example how conscious can an entity get? Are there levels, types of consciousness that we are not and possibly will never be aware? The implication of your question is that the level of consciousness is dependent on brain size and hence intelligence, but both whales and elephants have skulls and brains many times the size of ours. Are whales and elephants more intelligent then humans, more conscious? When I see an elephant mourning their dead at an elephant grave yard, tears streaming down its face or listen to the beauty and complexity of whale song, I have to wonder.

    Science has discovered that both these animals have what can only be described as languages existing mostly in the lower registers, beyond human hearing, because this is the type of sound that travels over the longest distances. This means they are concerned about, thinking about and communicating with members of their species that they can not even see. I would argue that being aware that there is another to the extent that the being in question activly exchanges information with the other requires an awareness of self. Isn’t self awarness a type of consciousness?

    I think it is a massive assumption that humans are the only animals with high intelligence or consciousness. I think it is more usefull to look at these things as a continuum, full of diversity. I suspect that the human position on that continuum probably has more to do with our thumbs then our skull size.

    Griffith talks about genetic intelligence vs nerve intelligence but what about swarm intelligence? A bee has a very small brain but the hive operates as a single organism, capable of extrodinarly complex behaviour. Together their combined brain is much larger then ours. Who is to say that a swarm is not aware of itself? Lets step a way from the biological for a moment and get into some sci-fi. It is perfectlty logical to assume that at some point in space time their exists highly intelligent machines, far exceeding the intelligence of humans, that are not aware of what they are, what they are doing or why. Operating on a software version of instinct. If super intelligence without consciousness is possible might not the opposite be true?

    So while I agree with most things that were said in Freedom, the idea that humans are the only highly conscious animals is not one of them. If that were true why do whales beach them selves to rescue a pod member and why do elephants mourn their dead? Not to mention that it could be argued that a ‘love inoctrination environment’ is present in the societies of both of these animals.

    One last thing I would like to point out is that there are tribes of men that live a similar life style to whales and elephants to this very day. The only real difference is the ability of man to alter his environment.


  • nomad
    Participant

    As you say Nigel, a very interesting question. I would agree that there are other animals that are self-aware. For example, science uses the so called ‘mirror test’, whereby they anaesthetise an animal, put a mark on it on its back or somewhere that it can’t see, and then put the animal in front of a mirror so that it can now see the mark, and they note whether the animal then reaches around on its body where the mark is. I don’t know how conclusive that is of self-awareness, but it is certainly suggestive of self-awareness, and only a few species pass it, most of them great apes, but also dolphin and orcas.
    Regarding consciousness, I think the key here is Jeremy’s definition (from par 638 of F), which is that it “is the ability to understand the relationship of events sufficiently well to effectively manage and manipulate those events”. So while I agree that there is a continuum of intelligence, and that whales and elephants in particular are relatively conscious (and amazingly sensitive), I don’t think they are conscious enough of how events are related to begin managing them to the extent that humans can, and even as bonobos are beginning to. And its that level of consciousness that is then in a position to begin challenging the instincts for the day to day management of our lives, which as we now know, is what caused the whole ‘human condition’ to arise. If other animals were ‘conscious’ to the same extent we are, then it is unavoidable that they would all be suffering their own version of the human condition, because we know the nerve based learning system and gene based one have to come into conflict when the intellect starts to exert itself because the gene based system is ignorant of the nerves need to understand. That logic is pretty inescapable.
    The whole discussion in chapter 7 of FREEDOM about why other animals haven’t become conscious (of how events are related to be able to manipulate those events), which is because their circumstances haven’t allowed nurturing to develop in order to liberate consciousness, is obviously very on-point, not to mention incredibly interesting.

    • tarnz
      tarnz
      Participant

      Whales and elephants do have large skulls but that is relitive to there size. In comparison they are still smaller than humans. Humans have gigantic craniums for there bodies!
      Remembering to this would have happened slowly but surly.


  • Conrad
    Participant

    there’s a couple of good quotes in FREEDOM about the whole issue of animals and their level of consciousness compared to humans:

    One is Aldous Huxley from The Perennial Philosophy, quoted in paragraph 250 of FREEDOM: ‘Non-rational creatures do not look before or after, but live in the animal eternity of a perpetual present; instinct is their animal grace and constant inspiration; and they are never tempted to live otherwise than in accord with their own…immanent law. Thanks to his reasoning powers and to the instrument of reason, language, man (in his merely human condition) lives nostalgically, apprehensively and hopefully in the past and future as well as in the present’.

    Another good one is Arthur Koestler from ‘Janus: A Summing Up’, quoted in paragraph 223 of FREEDOM: ‘‘symptoms of the mental disorder which appears to be endemic in our species…are speci cally and uniquely human, and not found in any other species. Thus it seems only logical that our search for explanations [of human behaviour] should also concentrate primarily on those attributes of homo sapiens which are exclusively human and not shared by the rest of the animal kingdom. But however obvious this conclusion may seem, it runs counter to the prevailing reductionist trend. “Reductionism” is the philosophical belief that all human activities can be “reduced” to – i.e., explained by – the [non-psychosis involved] behavioural responses of lower animals – Pavlov’s dogs, Skinner’s rats and pigeons, Lorenz’s greylag geese, Morris’s hairless apes…That is why the scientific establishment has so pitifully failed to define the predicament of man’.

    One of the many remarkable achievements of FREEDOM is that it does explain what happens when an animal species, i.e. humans, had to live “otherwise than in accord with their own…immanent law”, i.e. our ape ancestors necessarily defied their instincts in order to search for understanding, specifically self understanding. The result: becoming upset (angry, egocentric & alienated) and the emergence of the human condition…which has now been explained!

    It’s an incredible story.


  • juzzie
    Participant

    Isn’t love indoctrination the precursor to consciousness? For example, the more you love your pets, the more “human” they become (we say)’ that dog is human. Nurturing leads to love indoctrination, leads to consciousness? it is the fact that science has dismissed love and nurturing as being of any real significance, that has led to the mystery of consciousness not being solved until now. So from the understanding I have developed, if the living conditions are right, the nurturing is there as a priority and love indoctrination occurs then the consciousness of any animal living in that environment will increase?

    • tarnz
      tarnz
      Participant

      I don’t know… imagine if you will dogs are developing reason. In this that could mean a dog will question your order. That many strays still in the infancy of consciousness could team up and take over your house and kill you so they can eat your food and sit on your couch. If another animal does decide to eveolve cosious behaviour will the human race help this along or will they be conciderably worried about it 😂


  • serento
    Participant

    An interesting topic! As you say juzzie, love indoctrination is the precursor to consciousness. There were blocks against consciousness that only love indoctrination could breach. But that would have taken a long long time. As I understand it the love-indoctrination process started around 12 million years ago, slowly reigning in competitive and selfish behaviour over millions of years, and during that time very slowly liberating consciousness, and it took until about 4 million years ago for our ancestors to reach the consciousness of a 3 year old (I’m having to look at chapters 7 and 8 of FREEDOM as I write this!). With respect to our pets, I don’t think that loving them makes them more conscious, but no doubt they will be more secure and confident, and not preoccupied and messed up like abused or unloved pets are, but that is different to becoming more conscious I think.
    But that has made me think, because nurturing does have a profound affect on any species of infant, and I remembered the work of Harry Harlow (who is mentioned in Griffith’s work). Harlow did experiments on rhesus monkeys in order to prove the importance of nurturing, and he separated some of the babies from their mothers and replaced the mother with wire models of a mother (which sounds very cruel, but Harlow was actually a scientist that believed in the importance of love), but the point is that those monkeys were very messed up, and would self-abuse and all sorts of things. So the difference between an animal brought up in a good environment and a bad environement will be huge.


  • nomad
    Participant

    Interesting character this Harry Harlow, and he did some really important studies. The impetus for his work with rhesus marques was a desire to see what affect institutionalisation was having on children – and so he developed his experiments with the rhesus marques where he would replace their mother with an inanimate mother made of wire. Not surprisingly, what he found was that the deprived infants had all sorts of psychological issues. And also not surprisingly, he was not like by the mechanistic science mainstream. Jeremy includes in FREEDOM the follow anecdote about Harlow: ‘For some scientists it was hard to accept that monkeys may have feelings. In [the 1979 book] The Human Model…​[authors Harry F.] Harlow and [Clara E.] Mears describe the following strained meeting: “Harlow used the term ‘love’, at which the psychiatrist present countered with the word ‘proximity’. Harlow then shifted to the word ‘affection’, with the psychiatrist again countering with ‘proximity’. Harlow started to simmer, but relented when he realized that the closest the psychiatrist had probably ever come to love was proximity”’
    The best place to read about the effects of depriving children of nurturing is 8:16C of FREEDOM. They are not easy truths, but they are ones we can now face with the full defence of the human condition.


  • RJ
    Participant

    Having just read WTM Email 23 on Consciousness (https://www.humancondition.com/wtm-emails/how-did-consciousness-emerge-in-humans/) I had to go on and read again the suggested Chapter 7 in Freedom, it is such a simple but equally astonishing explanation. I related very much to this part of paragraph 650:

    “Viewed superficially, it is incredible that the mental state, where we have our own personal feelings and particular sense of self, can arise from a bunch of nerves, but really it is simply a consequence of there having been sufficient development of nerves’ ability to understand cause and effect. In the same light, it is amazing that 92 elements operating under the law of Negative Entropy could give rise to the amazing variety and complexity of life that we see around us, or that the simple combustion engine could give rise to the amazing phenomenon that is a Ferrari sports car, but they have. We can try to argue that knowing how the combustion engine works doesn’t explain the mystique that surrounds a Ferrari, but, in fact, it does. Consciousness is amazing but it is simply a result of memory which allows us to understand cause and effect. So while the claim that it was beyond our current powers to explain the phenomenon of consciousness no doubt helped upset humans avoid the issue of the human condition, the argument was in truth nothing more than intellectual bluff.”


  • Michael
    Participant

    It seems to me that the increase in scullsize would be a natural adaptation to an increase of the brain’s size, and this increasing brainsize would in turn be a natural consequence of it’s inherent increase in activity…whether this activity consists mainly of an increased awareness or mainly of an increase of it’s conscious activity or of a combination of the two is a question which IMO brings the whole topic of consciousness down to at least the separation of warmblooded mammals from the coldblooded reptiles…because that’s when dreaming started to occurr… how a human being could experience this internal separation between the state of inarticulate awareness and communicable consciousness is vividly described by Jill Bolte Taylor in a “Ted Talks” video…

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by  Michael.

  • Moonraker
    Participant

    We have actually seen a reduction in cranial capacity. Neanderthals had an average cranial capacity of 2000cc compared to modern Homo sapiens sapiens’ 1760cc.

    • tarnz
      tarnz
      Participant

      That cold bloodied instinct base of our brains is what some councilors sugg st is to blame for erratic instinctual behaviour .. to yell and get angry.
      This because we need cooperation between that and our reasoning to come to an executive decision about a situation. Some are still not able to get past those feelings of instant reward, because to jump around or hit still feels like an instant reward and the whole thinking about this is actually a lot more energy and time consuming. there you have a prime example of the war still raging between conscious thought and instinct. It’s fair to say that the ease of which rational conscious behavior comes to us is the measure of how far along in this evolutionary tale we are.


  • nomad
    Participant

    True. But worth bearing in mind that cranial capacity is only an indication of intelligence – albeit a pretty good one. There are other factors such as body size and brain refinement and efficiency, as well as which parts of the brain were actually taking up the space. For example a lot of the Neanderthal brain was devoted to sight and movement, whereas the homo sapien brain has a far larger frontal lobe, which is where the real smarts are.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by  nomad.

  • Kunga
    Participant

    You really should have a look at the African Grey Parrot.


  • Michael
    Participant

    It seems to me that there are a lot of examples of how a seemingly smart brain many times can be overrun by primitive emotions, and the combination therof, the body or the human itself stands perplex if and when it have to look back at its own actions which might be difficult to understand without admitting to personal stupidity and/or lack of maturity… the human tendencies to get caught up in religions and/or scientific paradigms and/or addictions of various kinds and severities are also wellknown IMO…
    Anyway, as I have come to understand it at present, Ian Tattersall among others argues that the increase in human brain- and scullsize came about as a consequence of early humans regular consumption of seafood with lots of brainbuilding Arachidonic acid and Docosahexaenoic acid in it, and that our capacity for symbolic thought came about as an EXAPTATION thereof… this explanation for the evolutionary increase in human scull-and brainsize can also explain the modern decrease of our brainsize relative the neanderthals, since modern agriculturally civilized humans consume less and less of brainbuilding seafoods… (I like these new words…exaptation…:))

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by  Michael. Reason: misspelling

  • Susy
    Participant

    I’ve just re-read this section of Freedom and this image is always helpful for me, I actually always find it a very emotive one, as it just reminds me of how long and courageous our journey as a species has been to find understanding of ourselves. We’ve all done our bit at each particular moment in time. I love how Jeremy starts this Chapeter, ‘We begin this most amazing story of humanity’s journey from ignorance to enlightenment by meeting with our ancestors through the wonderfully fortuitous fossilised remains we have of them’.
    https://www.humancondition.com/images/Skulls_TxtCo_WEB_960x434.jpg
    Also Jeremy says in para 707
    “In examining this sequence it is apparent that a sudden increase in the size of the brain case, and by inference the brain’s volume, occurred around 2 million years ago. A larger brain case was needed to house a larger ‘association cortex’. As explained in pars 633-639, the ability to ‘associate’ information is what made it possible to reason how experiences are related, learn to understand and become conscious of, or aware of, or intelligent about, the relationship between events that occur through time. It follows that the development of a larger association cortex meant that a greatly increased need for understanding had emerged, which we are now able to explain would have resulted from the emergence of the dilemma of the human condition, where only self-understanding could bring an end to all the psychological upset that condition has produced and which has been so crippling of our species’ development and that of our own lives. The inference we can take from this evidence is that the human condition became a full-blown problem some 2 million years ago with the emergence of Homo.”