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Hive mind: Why human brains shrank

Brainpower allowed humans to go from being just another primate to reshaping the planet. Brains quadrupled in size after the species split from the last ancestral line it shared with today’s chimpanzees. But fossils show that since the Ice Age human brains have shrunk. According to research published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, a journal, brain size decreased 3,000 years ago, much more recently than previously thought.

People today are no dimmer than their Iron Age forebears. Rather, humans have become more like ants. Both species benefit from living in social groups where many minds contribute to a collective intelligence. In some ant groups, this shared knowledge has allowed selection for smaller brains (since more grey matter costs energy). Similarly, as human societies grew, group decision-making relieved the need for bigger brains. Despite the tendency to celebrate individual genius, humans’ true intellectual might is collective.

Oct 23rd 2021