Re: Is your brain really necessry?

Glenn R. Morton (
Sat, 13 Jun 1998 21:50:12 -0500

At 05:57 PM 6/13/98 -0400, Dick Fischer wrote:
>Glenn, this just isn't true. There is a direct correlation between
>intelligence and brain size. Humans are born with soft skulls which
>allow for bigger and more complex brains than are found in our primate
>cousins born with hard skull casings.
>You are using individual examples to make a general conclusion.

First, every example is true. Secondly, I am not talking about 'primate
cousins' I am talking about Homo erectus a member of our own genus. And
while I agree that there is a trend, that smaller brain size more often
means less intelligence, this is not a hard and fast rule. What I am doing
is showing that the categorical denial of intelligence to small brained
individuals (which is what Bob Dehaan and now you are doing) is erroneous.
You and Bob appear to be making the argument 'Since small brains are
associated with low intelligence, therefore small brained hominids can't be
intelligent and therefore cant be human. This is false for two reasons
First, you cannot deny that some small brained individuals are very smart
and because of them, you cannot make the categorical denial you want to
make. Shoot, even Lubenow, the young-earth creationist knows that. (see
Marvin Lubenow, Bones of Contention, p. 83). He points out that mankind's
normal brain can range from 700 to about 2200 cc, a factor of 3. This is
a wider variation for normality than most species have.

>I am
>five feet eleven inches high, and can't dunk a basketball. Yet I have
>seen basketballs dunked by players only five feet seven. Can I conclude
>there is no relationship between physical height and the ability to
>dunk a basketball?

As I said, there is a trend, but it is not a barrier to being human. What
you can't do is equate intelligence and theological humanness. So the
second reason your chain of logic is wrong is due to the humanness of
small-brained and unintelligent individuals. My wife has a seriously
retarded Uncle who is now 62 years old. He has a small head (so I presume
a small brain. He speaks English well enough to meet his needs, but he
isn't very intelligent. His sentences can be complex (and thus difficult to
understand given his poor vocalization) He can't discuss the finer points
of geophysics with me. But he is quite human being one of the most loving
individuals I have ever met. His vocabulary is limited but sufficient. So
this raises a question in my mind. How many words does it take to make a
human? or How smart must one be to be human?

Chimpanzees are not human. They are not very intelligent. While some have
claimed language ability for them they never learn more than 150 'words'
and never advance beyond the 2-word sentence. They have no syntax either.
This is so far below the capabilities of my wife's uncle that it isn't even
in the same ball park.

The average 6 year old knows 13,000 words, uses syntax and multiword
sentences. The average high school graduate knows 45-60,000 words.(Steven
Pinker, The Language Instinct, (New York: Harper/Perennial, 1994), p.
150-151). So, somewhere between the chimp and the 13,000 word
six-year-old, one must define a human level of language and intelligence.
But then we get into a fascinating area.

The entire vocabulary of some primitive societies of anatomically modern
humans have no more than 5,000 words. Corbalis wrote of Sigismund Diamond's

"He records an increase in the total vocabularies of these different
peoples, from an average of about 5000 words in the Food Gatherers to the
63,000 represented in a modern English dictionary. More important, the
proportion of verbs decreases from about 50 percent to 14 percent. Diamond
takes this as evidence that language evolved from single verb forms to
increasingly include nouns, and then adjectives and other parts of speech."
~ Michael C. Corballis, The Lopsided Ape, (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1991), p. 153-154

Their languages have fewer nouns than western languages. This is not
unexpected since theirs is a materially poor culture with few things to
name. So, are these peoples, with fewer words than a six-year-old, human?
Of course they are. They have language, they use multiword sentences and
they have syntax. They pray to their gods etc. Their small vocabulary
would not be conducive to inventiveness on the scale to which industrial
societies have become accustomed. This is not to say that they don't have
the innate ability of any other modern human on the planet. They do. So,
this brings us to another question, how many words does it take to make a

When we consider that modern primitive peoples have limited vocabularies
there is no expectation that the first anatomically modern humans (120,000
years ago) had a significantly larger vocabulary. They had even fewer
things to name. Yet most Christians will grant them status as human. But
in the case of Homo erectus, many chose to rule him out of the family in
spite of much evidence that he spoke.

If Homo erectus had only 4,000 words, is he subhuman? I would say no based
upon the behavioral evidence there is for speech among the erecti. The
manufacture of Acheulian hand axes were so complex that they may have
required a language with which to teach the skill. Modern graduate students
(a relatively bright group of people) were unable to learn the skills by
observation. Corballis states,

"In any event, the Californian graduate students introduced earlier, who
were able to copy the manufacture of Oldowan tools from mere observation,
were evidently unable to learn Acheulean technique in this way." ~ Michael
C. Corballis, The Lopsided Ape, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991),
p. 63

Other behavioral evidences for language include (references available upon

H. erectus was the first to use fire.
H. erectus was the first to occupy the entire Old World
H. erectus was the first to work with animal hides
H. erectus was the first to live where clothing would be required
H. erectus was the first to make a wooden plank
H. erectus was the first to make a javelin(balanced exactly as modern ones
H. erectus was the first to make a religious altar
H. erectus was the first to make primitive huts as modern people do.
H. erectus was the first to cross the ocean
H. erectus was the first to carve a picture of an animal
H. erectus was the first to collect minerals (quartz crystals at Beijing)
H. erectus was the first to tame the wolf
H. erectus was the first to show evidence of counting
H. erectus was the first to make a wooden boomerang
H. erectus was the first to make a carved human face

I don't know about you but I think these guys were at least as smart or
smarter than my wife's uncle. And their brains were probably about the same
size or even smaller.

Adam, Apes and Anthropology
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