January 8, 2013

WHY AREN’T BRAINS BIGGER? Because big brains are expensive. “Brains are exceedingly useful organs; more brain cells allows for more behavioral flexibility, better control of larger bodies, and, of course, intelligence. But if bigger brains were always better, every animal would have them. Thus, scientists reasoned, there must be a downside. The hypothesis suggests that while brains are great and all, their extreme energetic cost limits their size and tempers their growth. When it comes to humans, for example, though our brains are only 2% of our bodies, they take up a whopping 20% of our energy requirements. And you have to wonder: with all that energy being used by our brains, what body parts have paid the price?”

Plus, an experiment with guppies: “Gut size was 20% smaller in large-brained males and 8% smaller in large-brained females. The shrunken digestive system seemed to have serious consequences reproductively, as the smarter fish produced 19% fewer offspring in their first clutch, even though they started breeding at the same age as their dumber counterparts. And, the authors noted, this was in an idealized tank setting with an plenty of food—what about in the wild, where resources are harder to come by? How much of a cost does a reduced gut have when meals aren’t guaranteed?”

More intelligence and fewer offspring? Perhaps Idiocracy was stating a more general rule. . . .