Big Brain: The Origins and Future of Human Intelligence


Our big brains, our language ability, and our intelligence make us uniquely human. 

But barely 10,000 years ago (a mere blip in evolutionary time) human-like creatures called "Boskops" flourished in South Africa. They possessed extraordinary features: forebrains roughly 50% larger than ours, and estimated IQs to match—far surpassing our own. Many of these huge fossil skulls have been discovered over the last century, but most of ...

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Big Brain: The Origins and Future of Human Intelligence

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Our big brains, our language ability, and our intelligence make us uniquely human. 

But barely 10,000 years ago (a mere blip in evolutionary time) human-like creatures called "Boskops" flourished in South Africa. They possessed extraordinary features: forebrains roughly 50% larger than ours, and estimated IQs to match—far surpassing our own. Many of these huge fossil skulls have been discovered over the last century, but most of us have never heard of this scientific marvel.

Prominent neuroscientists Gary Lynch and Richard Granger compare the contents of the Boskop brain and our own brains today, and arrive at startling conclusions about our intelligence and creativity. Connecting cutting-edge theories of genetics, evolution, language, memory, learning, and intelligence, Lynch and Granger show the implications of large brains for a broad array of fields, from the current state of the art in Alzheimer's and other brain disorders, to new advances in brain-based robots that see and converse with us, and the means by which neural prosthetics— replacement parts for the brain—are being designed and tested. The authors demystify the complexities of our brains in this fascinating and accessible book, and give us tantalizing insights into our humanity—its past, and its future.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Boskop Man flourished 10,000 years ago in southern Africa. Now extinct and preserved only in fossil remains, these odd-looking creatures are important to us for one astonishing reason: They were super geniuses. Boskops (not to be confused with the German punk band of the same name) had forebrains half again as large as our own, with projected IQs to match. In Big Brain, neuroscientists Richard Granger and Gary Lynch explain the implications for our own future of these ancient creatures' cranial capacity.
From the Publisher
"An excellent book...very well written and informative." —CHOICE

"[A] fascinating and provocative account of the human brain's recent past."—Joseph LeDoux, author of The Emotional Brain

"A much needed book on big brains… Big Brain is a popular account of how brains enlarge, in both evolutionary and developmental terms. The strength of the book lies in the neuroscience, especially its treatment of neural plasticity and the "association areas" of the brain… "—William H Calvin, New Scientist

"The Lynch and Granger combination is like mixing gas with fire. In this book there are big, explosive ideas by two ingenious brain scientists."—Michael Gazzaniga, author of The Ethical Brain

"On a planet in which everything seems to be getting bigger (the internet), hotter (our climate), or more numerous (the world's population), Gary Lynch and Rick Granger reveal the intriguing possibility that people with larger brains than us may have been around a few thousand years ago. Their account of the mysteries of the brain and intelligence challenges conventional views in a scholarly yet wonderfully accessible manner."—Richard Morris, Director of the Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems, University of Edinburgh, and President, Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, and Former Chair, Brain Research Association of the United Kingdom

"Riveting…the book tracks the evolutionary development of the human brain…" –Anthony Doerr, Boston Globe

"...A riveting account of how the human brain evolved." —Nicole Branan, Scienticfic American

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781403979780
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/4/2008
  • Series: MacSci Series
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.76 (w) x 9.16 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Lynch is a professor at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of more than 550 scientific publications that are among the most cited in the field of neuroscience. He is the co-inventor of a novel family of cognition-enhancing drugs called “ampakines”, is co-founder of three technology companies (Cortex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: COR), Synaptics (NASDAQ: SYNA), and Thuris Corporation), has served as advisor to multiple professional entities including the Society for Neuroscience and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and has been featured in major television networks, newspapers, and magazines ranging from the Los Angeles Times to Popular Science


Richard Granger is W.H. Neukom Distinguished Professor of Computational Science and of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth. He has been the principal architect of a series of advanced computational systems for military, commercial and medical applications, and co-inventor of FDA-approved devices and drugs. He is a consultant, co-founder, and board member of numerous technology corporations such as Thuris Corporation and Cortex Pharmaceuticals, and government research agencies including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research. His work has been highlighted in numerous popular press and television features, including recent stories in Forbes, Wired, and on CNN.

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Table of Contents

1 Big Brains, Bigger Brains 1

Introduction 1

Biggest Brain 3

Are Bigger Brains Better? 5

Brain and Language 7

Were Boskops Smarter? 8

Why Haven't We All Heard of Boskops? 10

Outline of the Book 11

2 The Mind in the Machine 17

Learning Network Codes 18

Brain Circuits vs. Computer Circuits 23

The Brain of John Von Neumann 25

3 Genes Build Brains 33

How Much Variation Can Occur? 36

Blueprint Systems 38

Bundling Genes 40

Variation Is Random, but It Is Constrained 44

4 Brains Arrive 51

First Brains 52

Brain Expansion 58

5 The Brains of Mammals 63

Neurons and Networks 65

Learning 70

6 From Olfaction to Cognition 73

From Cortex to Behavior 80

Neocortex 84

7 The Thinking Brain 89

Extending Thinking over Time 93

The Cortex Takes Charge 96

8 The Tools of Thought 99

Feedback and Hierarchies of Cortical Circuits 99

Sequences 106

What One Brain Area Tells Another Brain Area 107

What's in an Image? 108

Putting It Together: From Generalists to Specialists 109

Memory Construction 110

Building High-level Cognition 113

Libraries and Labyrinths 114

Grammars of the Brain 116

9 From Brain Differences to Individual Differences 119

Brain Paths 122

Brain Tracts and Differential Abilities 125

Nature and Nurture 127

10 What's in a Species? 129

Definitions 131

Fallacies of the Notion of Race 132

Races Versus Gene Pools 135

11 The Origins of Big Brains 139

Brain Size in the Primates 141

Brain Size in the Family of Man 145

Big Babies 154

On Intelligence 157

12 Giant Brains 161

The Man of the Future 162

How Giant Brains Were Forgotten 165

Inside the Giant Brain 171

Giant Brains and Intelligence 175

13All but Human 179

On Science 179

Differences 182

From Quantity to Quality 189

From Brain Advances to Cognitive Advances 191

From Cognition to Language 193

Learning Curve 195

From Speaking to Writing 197

14 More than Human 201

Brain and Superbrain 201

New Paths, New Humans 204

The Final Path to Humans 205

Inconstant Brain 209

Next Steps 211

Code 214

Appendix 217

Acknowledgments 233

Bibliography 235

Index 255

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