I’m sure most readers would agree with me that brains are important, and not just because they allow us to think that we’re smarter than we are. Brains take up nearly half the volume of our heads, so without them our heads would be only half the size they are now and we would look ridiculous. But as important as it is to look good, we would also be certain to lose our bragging rights to first place in the animal intelligence rankings and have to drop down with the sponges, clams, jellyfish, and those humans who don’t have the brains they were born with. Higher order animals would be sure to notice the change and not hesitate to get revenge by pushing us out of the habitats we’ve taken from them. This is mere speculation however. Leeches have 32 brains and where has it gotten them?
So brains are complicated. In humans, the senses take in information about the world and feed it to the brain, which then either stores it in the form of memories, processes it in intelligent, creative, or emotional ways, or blames a politician. These latter brains possibly have more of a kinship with the leeches than has been studied. One thing that’s clear however is that not all brains work the same. Some work far beyond the 40 hour work week and accomplish great things, while others should be arrested for vagrancy, impersonating a brain, or outright treason. Some unfortunate ones are forced to spend too much time in the repair shop, or even in prison. Still others may find themselves at a Journey concert. These at least have a choice, and they should probably choose to think about early retirement before some of the senses make the decision for them.
Most of the working brains understand that our planet is in peril. But now, just when our planet needs us to put our brains together and show it what they’re made of, the truth comes out. They’re made of 80 percent water, and they appear to be leaking. The truth is that our brains shrink as we age when our neurons start making their way to the exits well before the game is over. That they start doing this at age 20 should give both us and our planet plenty of cause to worry. It means that as the average age of our population has steadily increased, the average brain is often left to wonder what game they’re even playing.
It’s the Game of Life, the scientists remind us with their own shrinking brains, and there may be more cause for worry. They say they have recently discovered that human brains shrank 3,000 years ago, and they have been scrambling like there’s no tomorrow to figure out why, if they’re still shrinking, and if it’s affecting our intelligence. Given that tomorrows are already on the endangered list, I figure they better hurry while they still have something left to work with themselves. If our brains shrink much further not even the insanity defense will be able to save us.
So far the leading theory seems to suggest that it’s all because our brains wanted more than our hunter-gatherer ancestors could give them. Once we started creating civilizations, we began domesticating ourselves, and you know as well as I do what happens to domesticated animals. They get bored and complacent, and stand around a lot trying to remember the difference between nature and the slaughterhouse, or freedom and subservience.
It’s a fact that all domestic animals have smaller brains than their wild ancestral kin. It is thought that domestication results in smaller brains over time because they don’t have much to do besides recognizing the dinner bell, the electric fence, and its own neutered mating urges. Big brains were an energy drain and were no longer needed. In humans, searching for food in the refrigerator kept getting easier, as did avoiding predators in the home and finding mates at the bar. The upshot is that shared cultures and labor divisions mean that we now rely on collective intelligence, so individually we too don’t have to think as much for ourselves.
Now I’m sure there are those who think that my brain has been on a permanent vacation, but let me assure you that it came back to work upon hearing this news. The ever increasing influence of automation, social media, and autocrats means that our brains have less and less to do, which means that relying on our collective intelligence is like relying on glaciers to grow as our planet heats up. Whether we’re relying on one or a bunch of shrinking brains to help doesn’t improve the view of the glaciers. They’re still disappearing.
Slow down, say some scientists. There is only a weak correlation between brain size and intelligence. It’s still a correlation, say other scientists, pointing not only to the persistent Journey fan base, but also to the continued steep decline in IQ test results over the past thirty years.
I have never seen my brain this worried before. Everywhere you look brains and intelligence are shrinking. Almost as much as our memories of a stable climate or a stable democracy. My brain, in fact, is telling me that if they shrink any further they may be forced to become wards of the State.
(Note: I apologize for the depressing nature of this piece. It’s not at all how I figured it would go. I think it started OK, but then Ukraine happened, and things don’t seem so funny now.)