October 01, 2006

An Abundance of Evidence

Over at The Panda's Thumb, Nick Matzke has been showing us some interesting results by working with a database he developed from the appendix to a paper by De Miguel and Henneberg. That paper contained some 602 measurements and metadata on "Variation in hominid brain size." Here is one of Nick's Excel charts,

Hominin cranial capacity chart

Notice that he gives the ranges of modern human cranial capacities to the right of the main dataset. These ranges are not a prediction of the future despite the legend at the bottom. This is a limitation of Excel when it comes to charting.

Those of us who have and like having big brains may be tempted to give this data a teleological interpretation. This of course would be wrong. That nature conferred some advantage or sets of advantages on hominins with increasingly larger brains is obvious. That this was somehow inevitable would be a misinterpretation of the data.

Three things are vary obvious.

First, there are a large number of data points.

Second, the data points are close enough together to sees a gradual change along a continuum.

Third, while each species has its own more or less consistent range of variation, the cranial capacity increases from species to species.

What does all this mean? Evolution; just as we were taught. And of course, data like this exists for most other hominin skeletal remains. And similar data can be charted for the evolutionary history of a large number of animals and plants, extant and extinct. When someone tells you there are only a few disconnected fossil remains, just say, "No. That's wrong."

For those of you who prefer video with music to Excel based charts, here is a YouTube video I posted a couple of months ago.

Posted by DuaneSmith at October 1, 2006 07:56 PM | Read more on Paleoanthropology |

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Comments

Duane

Nick Matzke paper on cranial capacity vs time reminds me of your comments in the Rockwell age about the correlation between throwing skills, language development, and the shape of the skull. But that is an abnormal interest.

With the disclaimer about the extrapolation into the future duly noted, how about your comments on extrapolating the curve? The rate of growth is increasing rapidly. The combination of gene tinkering coming our way (ready or not), and synthetic neuron growth curve, are going to make for some exciting times. There may be many different causes of punctuated evolution, but I suspect there is a punctuation mark coming.

Picogram was a start up a couple of years ago where we built a ram like chip to synthesize short DNA alleles. There are some big companies out there able to create and amplify DNA. Our solution did not get into production, but the process is here to program DNA. strands can be spliced, modified, or created. The scale is growing, and the growth curve will steepen. As has been said many times before AI is coming soon. But this time it is true. Once AI is smarter than us, and cheap enough for mass production, is it going to spend as many cycles as humanity has pondering the divine? God help us, if you know what I mean.

Sandy

Posted by: Sandy Taylor at October 6, 2006 05:00 PM

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