Developing the Human Superbrain

Self-aware, language-using, tool-making brains are very new in the evolutionary timeline, some 200,000-years old. Most of the neurons in the neocortex have between 1,000 and 10,000 synaptic connections with other neurons. Elsewhere in the brain, in the cerebellum, one type of neuron has 150,000 to 200,000 synaptic connections with other neurons. Even the lowest of these numbers seems hard to believe. One tiny neuron can connect to 200,000 neurons. __First Emergence

The human brain made a “first grand emergence” into greater complexity and functionality over 100,000 years ago, and continues to evolve and adapt to its surroundings. Modern humans have developed to the point that they are beginning to dream of another grand emergence, a transformation of modern human brains into “superbrains.” What will it take to accomplish that evolution?

Henry Markram's Blue Brain Project

Henry Markram’s Blue Brain Project

Image: Augmenting Cognition

Adapted from a 2011 article on the original Al Fin Next Level blog

Pharmacological enhancers of cognition promise a bright new future for humankind: more focus, more willpower, and better memory, with applications ranging from education to military combat. Underlying such promises is a linear, more-is-better vision of cognition that makes intuitive sense. This vision is at odds, however, with our understanding of cognition’s evolutionary origins. The mind has evolved under various constraints and consequently represents a delicate balance among these constraints. Evidence of the trade-offs that have shaped cognition include (a) inverted U-shaped performance curves commonly found in response to pharmacological interventions and (b) unintended side effects of enhancement on other traits. Taking an evolutionary perspective, we frame the above two sets of findings in terms of within-task (exemplified by optimal-control problems) and between-task (associated with a gain/loss asymmetry) trade-offs, respectively. With this framework, psychological science can provide much-needed guidance to enhancement development, a field that still lacks a theoretical foundation. _Thomas Hills

The above is the abstract from a recent paper published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, titled: Why Aren’t We Smarter Already: Evolutionary Trade-Offs and Cognitive Enhancements. The authors suggest that we are not likely to develop enhanced intelligence for humans anytime soon, for a variety of reasons. More:

Just as there are evolutionary tradeoffs for physical traits, Hills says, there are tradeoffs for intelligence. A baby’s brain size is thought to be limited by, among other things, the size of the mother’s pelvis; bigger brains could mean more deaths in childbirth, and the pelvis can’t change substantially without changing the way we stand and walk.

Drugs like Ritalin and amphetamines help people pay better attention. But they often only help people with lower baseline abilities; people who don’t have trouble paying attention in the first place can actually perform worse when they take attention-enhancing drugs. That suggests there is some kind of upper limit to how much people can or should pay attention. “This makes sense if you think about a focused task like driving,” Hills says, “where you have to pay attention, but to the right things—which may be changing all the time. If your attention is focused on a shiny billboard or changing the channel on the radio, you’re going to have problems.”

It may seem like a good thing to have a better memory, but people with excessively vivid memories have a difficult life. “Memory is a double-edged sword,” Hills says. In post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, a person can’t stop remembering some awful episode. “If something bad happens, you want to be able to forget it, to move on.”

Even increasing general intelligence can cause problems. Hills and Hertwig cite a study of Ashkenazi Jews, who have an average IQ much higher than the general European population. This is apparently because of evolutionary selection for intelligence in the last 2,000 years. But, at the same time, Ashkenazi Jews have been plagued by inherited diseases like Tay-Sachs disease that affect the nervous system. It may be that the increase in brain power has caused an increase in disease.

Given all of these tradeoffs that emerge when you make people better at thinking, Hills says, it’s unlikely that there will ever be a supermind. “If you have a specific task that requires more memory or more speed or more accuracy or whatever, then you could potentially take an enhancer that increases your capacity for that task,” he says. “But it would be wrong to think that this is going to improve your abilities all across the board.” _MedXpress

Very disappointing, if true. But is it possible that the authors overlooked something? After all, a few million years ago, chimpanzee psychologists and philosophers must have been thinking and saying much the same about the prospects for superior chimp brains, yes?

But in fact, a chimpanzee superbrain did develop, which we call the “human brain.”

Despite the minute genetic differences between human brains and their primate relatives, Homo sapiens cognitive ability is significantly more advanced, enabling us to “make complicated tools, come up with complicated culture and colonize the world,” said lead author Mehmet Somel, a postdoc studying human evolutionary genomics at the University of California, Berkeley. Because humans spend more than a decade developing into adults and learning, far more than the two or three years of chimpanzee adolescence, researchers have long suspected that developmental genes are involved in human brain evolution. “And the idea that brain gene expression profiles might be different between species was proposed 40 years ago,” Somel added. _Scientist

We are just beginning to learn the genetic and epigenetic specifics which led to the divergence of the human brain from the brain of the common ape ancestor. Fascinating changes in the details of gene expression in the brain created a whole new level of cognitive functioning. Most of these changes took place over the past 200,000 yearsMore There is no reason to doubt that similar genetic and epigenetic changes could lead to even newer and higher levels of cognition. See Cochran and Harpending

The human brain has borrowed various hacks and kludges from brain and nerve evolution all the way back down the evolutionary tree. Some of these hacks and kludges are potentially limiting in terms of other, concurrent hacks and kludges that might otherwise be utilised. But there are potential hacks and kludges which might replace the limiting hacks, and some of these potential hacks might very well allow an entire train of further, enhancing hacks to follow.

That is a possibility that most mainstream psychologists and philosophers fail to understand — generally because they have adopted groupthink as their modus operandi. This is a common failure of academics from the inbred world of the university culture. Perhaps that is why so many of the world-changing visionaries and billionaires of our day have been high school and college dropouts. They escaped before their brains could be gelded.

There are a number of ways in which we might approach the human superbrain. Simple pharmacologic cognitive enhancers, such as stimulants, are not likely to provide the broad spectrum enhancement we will need. But there are a number of prosthetic enhancements for the human brain which would give us near quasi-superbrain status, over time. Certainly the things that humans can do when empowered by modern computing and telecommunications tools would astound most humans of past eras.

But what we really want, are emotionally stable superbrains that continue working even if the power goes out or the batteries run down. For that, we will need genetic and epigenetic change. So how can we go about inducing these genetic changes without running into the problems that so many highly intelligent persons and breeding groups have run into?

Improving human intelligence by reducing mutational load

Genetic screening to help enhance IQ

We remain concerned with an apparent global dysgenic trend, both in the advanced world, the developing world (BRICS etc), and in the perennially undeveloped world. That trend is likely to self-perpetuate, and probably accelerate across most of the world.

But while that unfortunate process continues, we are allowed to work out methods of human enhancement as long as we do not attract too much attention from the politically correct hive mind.

More: To show that some approaches to enhancing human brain function can have practical uses in ordinary, non-enhanced humans, consider this excerpt from the book “Augmenting Cognition“:

Tactile coactivation in the elderly . . . from "Augmenting Cognition"

Tactile coactivation in the elderly . . . from “Augmenting Cognition

Google Books preview of Augmenting Cognition

Interestingly, tactile coactivation may find an even more promising use in the early training of children — Dangerous Children included.

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4 Responses to Developing the Human Superbrain

  1. bob sykes says:

    There is some evidence, based on reaction times, that English IQ’s have declined by 15 points (one standard deviation) over the last 100 to 150 years. This would likely be true for all European populations. The suggested cause is the modern welfare state, which subsidizes breeding in low IQ populations and which provides incentives for high IQ populations to refrain from breeding. Anthropologists also have long noted the strong dysgenic effects of the first neolithic farming generations.

    If this in fact true, then you would have to undo not only the welfare state but the neolithic revolution itself–back to the paleolith.

    The only hope for an improved human brain is strong selection for high IQ and against low IQ. This means state-controlled breeding. Fat chance. Whatever evolutionary course humanity is fixed beyond our ability to change it.

    • alfin2101 says:

      More on the dysgenic trend in reaction times:

      Just as with the Lynn-Flynn effect which suggests an average increase in IQ scores in the 20th century, research suggesting an overall decline in IQ (via reaction times) must be examined closely.

      One mistake that critics of the superbrain project make, is to assume that what is true for a majority of humans is true for all humans. In other words, if most human populations are undergoing dysgenic decline, they assume that all humans are doomed to undergo this decline.

      We can easily see from population genetics that different human breeding populations undergo divergent genetic change as long as interbreeding between the populations is limited. This is particularly true when different populations are experiencing different types and levels of environmental challenges.

      In other words, multiple parallel and simultaneous contradictory changes in population fitness are taking place around the world — dependent upon both environment and diverging genetic complement.

      It is not necessary to make every human brain into a superbrain. Most humans will not make the cut.

  2. Matt Musson says:

    While it may be true that evolution will eventually lead to a human superbrain – I probably won’t live long enough to see it. So, I am hoping the process is shortcutted by the intervention of accidental ‘Cosmic Ray’ overdose, exposure to toxic waste, bite by radioactive spider, etc.

  3. Sam says:

    Simple. Clone the genes from these things.
    No I don’t believe they’re aliens.
    Before you say they’re just bound to look this way understand that these are not. They have different cranial stitching from present day humans. They have large volume.

    They also have mummified babies with the same head structure. No time for binding.
    Thing is where did they go?

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