Posts Tagged ‘Gorillas’

Book on the Evolution of the Human Brain

December 30, 2017

The Human Brain Evolving: Paleoneurological Studies in Honor of Ralph L. Holloway, edited by Douglas Broadfield, Michael Yuan, Kathy Schick and Nicholas Toth. Stone Age Institute Press, Gosport Indiana and Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. 2010.

This is another book I got much cheaper than the cover prise through Oxbow Books’ bargain catalogue. The book is a collection of papers from a two day conference by the Stone Age Institute in April 2007 to celebrate the life and work of Ralph Holloway, one of the great founders of the field. Holloway as he explains in the first paper in which he gives his personal perspective, started out studying metallurgy at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia in the 1950s. He then moved to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he took courses in anthropology and geology. After this, he enrolled in the Ph.D. programme in anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. There he became interested in exploring how evolution had shaped the development of primate brains. His interest in this area led him to do research in the brain casts from australopithecine skulls in South Africa, where his mentor was professor Phillip V. Tobias. In 1969 he settled down to study paleoneurology fulltime. His decision was partly made by the testicular trauma he suffered the previous year by the cops while in a student demonstration in New York. This gave him considerable with Prof. Tobias as the struggles he was having against apartheid and the fuzz in South Africa.

As Holloway himself explains, any study of the evolutionary development of the specialised structure of the human brain was very strongly discouraged when he was a student. The simple assumption was that humans got more intelligent as their brains got bigger. There was no investigation about how the particular areas of the brain, in which specific brain functions are located, developed. Indeed this was actively and vehemently discouraged. He says that his first mentor at Berkeley was Professor Sherwood Washburn, who kindly suggested that he take various courses in anatomy. When Holloway told him that he wanted to take the course in neuroanatomy, however, Washburn was horrified, and said that he would no longer be Holloway’s mentor if he did so, fearing that it would make him too specialised to be a physical anthropologist, an argument Holloway found unconvincing. He goes on to point out the paucity of material in physical anthropological textbooks from the 1950s to the present, pointing out that only one, published in 2008 actually does because its co-author, John Allen, is a neurologist.

The book’s contents include the following papers.

Chapter 1: The Human Brain Evolving: A Personal Retrospective, Ralph L. Holloway.

Chapter 2: The Maternal Energy Hypothesis of Brain Evolution: An Update, Robert D. Martin and Karen Isler.

Chapter 3: The Meaning of Brain Size: The Evolution of Conceptual Complexity, P. Tom Schoeneman.

Chapter 4: Human Brain Endocasts and the LB1 Hobbit Brain, Ralph L. Holloway.

Chapter 5: The Fossil Hominid Brains of Dmanisi: D 2280 and D2282, Dominique Grimaud-Herve and David Lordkipandze.

Chapter 6: The Evolution of the Parietal Cortical Areas in the Human Genus: Between Structure and Cognition, by Emiliano Bruner.

Chapter 8: Study of Human Brain Evolution at the Genetic Level, by Eric J. Vallender and Bruce T. Lahn.

Chapter 9: Brain Reorganisation in Humans and Apes, by Katerina Semendeferi, Nicole Barger and Natalie Schenker.

Chapter 10: Searching for Human Brain Specializations with Structural and Functional Neuroimaging, by James K. Rilling.

Chapter 11: Structural and Diffusion MRI of a Gorilla Brain Performed Ex Vivo at 9.4 Tesla, by Jason A. Kaufman, J. Michael Tyszka, Francine “Penny” Patterson, Joseph M. Erwin, Patrick R. Hof, and John M. Allman.

Chapter 12: The role of Vertical Organisation in the Encephalisation and Reorganisation of the Primate Cortex, Daniel P. Buxhoeveden.

Chapter 13: The Evolution of Cortical Neurotransmitter Systems Among Primates and their Relevance to Cognition, Mary Ann Raghanti, Patrick R. Hof, and Chet C. Sherwood.

Chapter 14: Sex Differences in the Corpus Callosum of Macaca fascicularis and Pan troglodytes, by Douglas C. Broadfield.

Chapter 15: Dental Maturation, Middle Childhood and the Pattern of Growth and Development in Earlier Hominins, by Janet Monge and Alan Mann.

Chapter 16: Perikymata Counts in Two Modern Human Sample Populations, by Michael Sheng-Tien Yuan.

Chapter 17: Mosaic Cognitive Evolution: The case of Imitation Learning, by Francys Subiaul.

Chapter 18: The Foundations of Primate Intelligence and Language Skills, by Duane M. Rumbaugh, E. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, ,James E. King and Jared P. Taglialatella.

Chapter 19: Hominid Brain Reorganisation, Technological Change, and Cognitive Complexity, Nicholas Toth and Kathy Schick.

Clearly this is a written at an advanced, technical level for a specialist academic audience. I’ve done little but skim through it so far, but have found some fascinating facts. For example, Holloway’s paper on the brain of the Flores Hobbit recognises that it does share some features of modern microcephalics, but also others that are very different. This could mean that the creature could have been an archaic hominid suffering from a peculiar form of neurological defects that now no longer exists.

Emiliano Bruner’s paper argues from the study of Neanderthal and Early Modern Humans that modern humans’ parietal lobes are actually larger than would have been predicted by evolutionary theory for hominids of our size.

Anne Weaver’s paper argues that, in contrast to the standard view that this area of the brain has not evolved in the course of the development of modern humans, 30,000 years ago the size of the Cerebellum increased relative to the Cerebrum. The cerebellum is the part of the human brain dedicated to motor coordination and related tasks.

Douglas Broadfield’s paper on sex difference in chimp brains takes further Holloway’s and Kitty Lacoste’s 1982 paper, which controversially showed that that the corpus callosum in women was larger than those of men. His study of this part of the brain in chimps shows that this development is unique to humans.

Paleoneurology is still controversial, and Holloway holds some very controversial opinions. He’s an evolutionary reductionist, who considers culture to be the sole product of evolution, and religion and politics to be intrinsically evil. It’s an opinion he recognises is not held by the vast majority of people.

He also laments how the anthropology course at Columbia has abandoned physical anthropology, and been taken over completely by social anthropology, stating that the majority appear ‘postmodern, post colonialist, feminist and political’. This led to him being marginalised and isolated at the faculty.

He also states that it is stupid, for reasons of ‘political correctness’ not to consider that the same evolutionary processes that have shaped the different physical forms of the various human races, have not also affected their mental capacities and evolution too. He describes this research as intensely political and near-suicidal, and describes how he was accused of being a Nazi because of his investigation into it. He states that one critic described it as the kind of research that got his relatives put into concentration camps.

Professor Holloway is clearly a decent, humane man, who has in his day stood up for liberal values and protested against institutional racism. However, while he states that the neurological differences between male and female brains are ‘more or less accepted’ today, there are still women neurologists, who argue against them. More recently they’ve argued that sex difference in the brain are a continuum between the extremely male and extremely female, with most people lumped somewhere in between. In fact, the sex differences in the brain are so small that you simply can’t tell by looking whether a brain is male or female.

Furthermore, anthropological science was used in the period of full-blown European colonialism to justify White rule over their non-White subject peoples, and certainly has been used by Nazis and Fascists to justify their persecution of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and other ‘subhumans’. After the War, the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley cited scientific papers on the differences in intelligence between the races to argue for a form of apartheid that would lead to the complete separation of Blacks and Jews from White, gentile Brits. This would affect only those, who were allowed to remain in Britain, because their culture was compatible with White, gentile British civilisation. See the section 13, ‘The Colour Question in Britain, Immigration, the Racial Question’ in his wretched book, Mosley – Right or Wrong, published by Lion Books in 1961. And of course, like all Fascist after the War, Mosley denied that he was actually racist!

Holloway knows from personal experience just how touchy this subject is, and is aware that the lower IQ scores made by Black Americans is still a subject of intense and acrimonious debate. But he thinks it silly to rule out the question of racial differences in human brain structure because of current political dogma.

This is too complacent. My impression here is Prof. Holloway has this rather more tolerant view of the acceptability of this direction of neurological investigation, because he is a White man from a privileged background. After all, in the 1950s very few working or lower middle class Americans could afford to do a university or college degree. It simply has not affected him personally, although he has stood on the barricades to denounce racism and support other liberal causes during the student unrest of the late ’60s. The same applies to women. In the second edition of the BBC popular science programme QED in the ’80s, a female scientist presented a programme on how male scientists down the centuries had tried to argue that women were biologically inferior, before concluding that ‘the tables are turning’.

Racial neurology and the neurology of gender differences is particularly dangerous now with the rise of the Alt Right and real White supremacists and Nazis surrounding Donald Trump, and the whole milieu of the Republican party and Libertarians in America. These are intensely racist, despising Blacks, Asians and Latinos, and using scientific evidence like the highly controversial ‘Bell Curve’ to argue that Blacks are intellectually inferior to Whites. I’ve also seen the islamophobes argue that Muslims also shouldn’t be allowed into Britain from the Middle East and Pakistan, as the average intelligence of the people from those regions is 75! Which to my mind is just ridiculous.

I’ve also heard from a friend, who keeps up with the latest neurological research by talking to some of the scientists involved, that recent studies of neuroplasticity have cast doubt on the amount of specialisation of brain function in specific brain regions. Moreover, everyone’s brain, male and female, is weird up differently. We may in fact know far less about the nature of the human brain, a point made by the neurologist and Humanist Professor Raymond Tallis in his book, Aping Mankind, written against precisely this kind of reductionism, which tries to reduce human cognition and culture by viewing it solely in terms of Darwinian theory in which humans are simply another species of ape.

This is a fascinating book, and offers many insights into the evolution of the human brain. But this is an area that is still developing, and intensely controversial. As such, other scientific opinions are available and should be read as well.

Advertisements

Delingpole, Jack Aspinall, the Conservatives and Eco-Fascism

April 11, 2014

Commend him for announcing the Savile investigation

Michael Gove: Believes Global Warming is another piece of ideology dreamed up by academics. This time their ‘activists’ not ‘Left-wing’, but same anti-intellectual drivel.

Looking through the politics section of Waterstone’s the other day, I found James Delingpole’s Ecofascism. I didn’t buy it, because its author’s name pretty much told me what I could expect. Delingpole is a columnist for the Telegraph and Spectator, who specialises in pieces describing at length how disgusting and depraved the underclass are. I am not remotely surprised Delingpole has also decided to produce a lengthy diatribe against the Green Movement. Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have a bitter hatred of the Green movement. they dislike the way it seeks to limit the activities of industry in order to stop humanity fouling the planet even further. They also resent the Green tariffs levied on polluting industries, like the notorious ‘carbon tax’ to limit carbon dioxide emissions, as a form of Socialist redistributive taxation by stealth. Hence the attacks on anthropogenic global warming by the former Tory chancellor, Nigel Lawson, and Michael Gove’s attack on it being taught in the class room. The Conservatives have also tried to block Green initiatives through the foundation of fake grass-roots, ‘astroturf’ pressure groups, like Wise Use in America.

As with the Right’s attempt to link Socialism with Fascism, because of the latter’s inclusion of some Socialist or anti-capitalist policies, so Conservatives also link the Green movement with Fascism because Hitler also favoured certain Green policies. In his Table Talk, for example, Hitler discusses the need to protect the German natural environment and develop renewable energy supplies. Of course, simply because Hitler shared these ideas does not automatically mean they are in any sense Fascistic. Much of the Green movement is left-wing in political orientation. A large part of the Anarchist movement is very Green. There was a Green Anarchist group and magazine in Britain in the 1990s. The German Green party had, amongst its leaders, the Baader-Meinhof Gang’s former lawyer.

There is, however, a problem in that some parts of the Fascist extreme Right is also Green, or presents itself as environmentally concerned, because of Hitler’s own Green inclinations. Neo-Nazis have attempted to infiltrate the Green movement. A little while ago the Anarchist publishers, A.K. press, produced a small book describing the way various Nazi groups and organisations were attempting to do this. Murray Bookchin, one of the leading ideologues of modern, post-scarcity Anarchism, walked out of one conference after a former East German dissident declared that we needed a ‘Green Adolf’. Unfortunately, some parts of the Green movement also echo the genocidal rhetoric of Nazism in their desire to limit the growth of the human population. David Attenborough, who is very definitely not a Nazi, was criticised by a Tory local councillor a year or so ago after he made an appalling comment about the West sending aid and food to the Developing World. Attenborough had said that we must be mad to send food to Starving Africans, when the lack of resources meant that there was no food to support them and the local wildlife in their overpopulated area. He later apologised for his statement and said that he was more concerned with the survival of human children than with animals.

Such sentiments, however, are not limited Nazis, Left-wing or ‘Deep’ Greens or ecologically-concerned scientists and television presenters. They can be also be found amongst figures, whose politics is probably best described as extremely reactionary Conservative, like the millionaire zoo-keeper, Jack Aspinall. Aspinall runs a number of private zoos around the planet. He has one in Australia, which appeared on one of the animal programmes on ITV several years ago. The programme showed the late Australian zoologist and TV presenter, entering the gorillas’ enclosure so he could enjoy some quality with these majestic apes. It was great television, with some fascinating and delightful shots of Irvine being accepted by and playing with these animals, just as David Attenborough himself did all those decades ago in Life On Earth. It’s definitely not safe for everyone, however. When the late Johnny Morris entered a cage with some aggressively boisterous young males, they ran at him several time, knocking him over and leaving him with several broken ribs.

Aspinall himself is extremely Right-wing, and definitely seems to prefer animals to people. He was in the news several times in the 1990s after his animals killed two or three of their keepers, and a tiger badly mauled a model’s arm. Brian Masters, in his biography, The Passion of John Aspinall, quotes him as saying that the world, including Britain, was vastly overpopulated. Here in Blighty we needed to cut our population down from about 60 million to eight. He also declared that we need a Right-wing counter-revolution, ‘Francoist in spirit and determination’. Franco was indeed a Fascist dictator, but his regime also included other groups in order to counterbalance the Phalange’s radicalism. His regime has therefore been described as essentially palaeo-conservative, using the trappings of Fascism to give it a more modern guise. Aspinall’s own political beliefs appear to be the same – extreme Right-wing, illiberal anti-democratic Conservative, rather than Fascist. Nevertheless, he clearly identified with that part of Fascism.

This doesn’t affect Green politics as a whole, however. There is still an ecological crisis of immense proportions facing the planet, and whatever Gove or Lawson say to the contrary, by far the vast majority of scientists are convinced of the reality of anthropogenic global warming. It is the Green movement’s Conservative detractors, who are ideologically driven, not the Greens themselves. And regardless of ‘Green’ varieties of Nazism and Fascism that appeared during the 1990s, at least one of those, who could be described as Eco-Fascist, Jack Aspinally, was an arch-Conservative. But somehow I doubt that’s something Delingpole or Gove would really like to admit in their campaigns against the ecologically conscious and Left-wing academics and intellectuals.