5 Things We Learned About The Brain In 2014

5 Things We Learned About The Brain In 2014 – http://huff.to/1tly9qx

The first thing is, to get rid of the overarching theory theory.

The first idea to dispense with is that there is something wrong with what we know about the brain being a collection of facts.

We as humans like overarching theories but that does not in itself confer a superiority on grand theories.

Evolution is incremental and the basis for a specific advance at a specific time can be itself quite specific and situational.

So for example the sickle cell gene gives a huge advantage in areas infested by malaria and a huge disadvantage elsewhere.

There aren’t too many true paradigm shifts in genetics and when they happen it tends to be rather sudden.

A good illustration is with flightless birds. 

Most or all flightless birds tend to have evolved to lose flight.

Evolution and natural selection aren’t about having functions that look cool, or about being happy, they are about an edge for survival.

Flightless birds reflect an asymetrical evolution issue.  While becoming flightless the benefits of being slightly less fit for flight win over time.  Maybe the denser bones and other more solid things help compete for mates for example. 

Maybe if flight confers no advantage escaping from predators, it is a high energy investment.

If like the Kiwi the food sources are on the ground, having big wings dragging around or adding weight may be counterproductive.

However, flightless birds have a tendency to go extinct. 

Once they face say an invasive predator, those incremental changes to shorter and shorter wings are hard to reverse in one go.

Having wings get broader again in the short run gives an incremental disadvantage, increased weight and drag.  Unless wings give flight there is no particular benefit and potentially serious disadvantages.

Similarly with the brain we should be looking more for base hits than homeruns, because that’s how natural selection tends to work. We should be expecing most of what drives the brain structure to be an aggregate of benefits rather than some overarching grand design.

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