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Scientists Postulate Extinct Hominid With 150 IQ 568

Hugh Pickens writes "Neuroscientists Gary Lynch and Richard Granger have an interesting article in Discover Magazine about the Boskops, an extinct hominid that had big eyes, child-like faces, and forebrains roughly 50% larger than modern man indicating they may have had an average intelligence of around 150, making them geniuses among Homo sapiens. The combination of a large cranium and immature face would look decidedly unusual to modern eyes, but not entirely unfamiliar. Such faces peer out from the covers of countless science fiction books and are often attached to 'alien abductors' in movies. Naturalist Loren Eiseley wrote: 'Back there in the past, ten thousand years ago. The man of the future, with the big brain, the small teeth. He lived in Africa. His brain was bigger than your brain.' The history of evolutionary studies has been dogged by the almost irresistible idea that evolution leads to greater complexity, to animals that are more advanced than their predecessor, yet the existence of the Boskops argues otherwise — that humans with big brains, and perhaps great intelligence, occupied a substantial piece of southern Africa in the not very distant past, and that they eventually gave way to smaller-brained, possibly less advanced Homo sapiens — that is, ourselves. 'With 30 percent larger brains than ours now, we can readily calculate that a population with a mean brain size of 1,750 cc would be expected to have an average IQ of 149,' write Lynch and Granger. But why did they go extinct? 'Maybe all that thoughtfulness was of no particular survival value in 10,000 BC. Lacking the external hard drive of a literate society, the Boskops were unable to exploit the vast potential locked up in their expanded cortex,' write Lynch and Granger. 'They were born just a few millennia too soon.'"
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Scientists Postulate Extinct Hominid With 150 IQ

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  • by rotide ( 1015173 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:01AM (#30605214)
    Does a bigger brain necessarily mean they had a higher IQ? Does it really work like that? I get there could be the _potential_ for a higher IQ, but just because someone has more gray matter doesn't necessarily mean they are smarter.
  • by Lord Lemur ( 993283 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:07AM (#30605282)

    Even with larger brain pans the discription of them as being more complex may not infact be a completely true statement. Did they have vocal cords that were sophisticated enough to produce real language? Did they all have something akin to autism spectrum disorder. Did the added brain capacity lead to any actual increase in computational, creative or otherwise survival enhancing benifit over Homo Sapien? Or, as maybe more likely, it was useless fatty tissue that wasn't utalized and became a burden. History tends to show that if you don't fit the niche some one else will supplant you that does.

    Further, being born with a huge head is hard on female. With out C-sections, how would a woman survive? Maybe they procreated with homo sapians and lost the genetic destinction.

    Or maybe they were eaten by zombies

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:10AM (#30605298) Homepage

    The smarter people will invariably be the minority overridden by the less smart masses for a variety of reasons in a variety of ways. One only has to look at the dark ages to see that in action. And every time we see politics manipulate science we see more of the same.

    If 10,000 years ago a bunch of rock throwers witnessed the "magic" of these smarter people, they too might have believed they were evil or a threat to be destroyed.

    With all that said, the premise of the discussion is completely guess-work. Big brain doesn't mean big mind.

  • by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:11AM (#30605314)
    Well, a dollar is a dollar, a pound is a pound and a euro is a euro... until you start measuring one against the other. 100 on the IQ scale for Boskops is 150 on the scale for us.
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:13AM (#30605342) Journal

    Homo Sapiens' brains are as large as they can get without being a significant disadvantage. The large cranial size causes problems in birth, reducing the number of individuals that survive the process and reduces the reproduction rate. A hominid with a larger brain size but not major other physiological changes would reproduce even more slowly and would be easy to kill off as a species, even if the adults males were harder to kill individually (the adult females would die in childbirth a lot more frequently than their smaller-skulled equivalents).

    If, on the other hand, the rest of his skeleton was proportionally larger, then this would not have been a problem. He would have been stronger, but possibly less able agile, and would have required more food. In times of relative food shortage, the smaller-skeletoned variant would have had an evolutionary advantage. He would be able to keep his muscle mass sufficient to move around quickly on a much more limited diet.

    There is quite a bit of evidence that skull sizes have been shrinking over the last few thousand years, but there's no evidence that this correlates with reduced mental ability. Humans are far from having the largest brains of any modern mammals (whales win that one by a long way). You can't jump straight from brain size to IQ, you need to also look at how the brain is divided. Dogs, for example, have a huge amount of their brain devoted to controlling their noses. Dolphins have about as much brain tissue just devoted to turning sonar returns into a coherent picture of their environment as humans have in total. It's possible that a hominid with a 50% larger brain had an average IQ of 150, but it's also possible that it had an average IQ of 200 or of 50. It's impossible to tell just from the skull.

  • by ta bu shi da yu ( 687699 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:13AM (#30605348) Homepage

    Yes, I'm sure they found it easy to create a standardized and unbiased IQ test for an extinct family based solely on their postulated brain size. *snicker*

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:14AM (#30605354)

    A dolphin, the mammal with one of the largest brains out there, is NOT smarter then a human.

    By what measure? As far as can be told, Dolphin's apply their brains to different types of activities and problems to humans. I can imagine having tests that compare dolphin intelligence levels relative to other dolphins, and of course there are tests that purport to measure human intelligence levels relative to other humans, but I doubt you could create any meaningful unified scale for comparing humans to dolphins. Where would you start?

  • by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:14AM (#30605360) Homepage Journal

    While you are correct that it's a relative scale, they are comparing it to the current population (i.e. 100% homo sapiens sapiens) to arrive at the above average IQ figure. It may be disingenuous since we know so little about the rest of their physiology, but it's a fair guess that compared to us they were a lot smarter (since intelligence is almost entirely derived from the upper region of the brain)

    What I want to know is, can we clone them (vis-a-vis the de-extinction process discussed a few days ago) and create a clone army of super-brainiacs to do our bidding? This could be the just the solution to outsourcing that the US has been hoping for.

  • Re:One problem ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:15AM (#30605374)
    If evolution only favored big complex beings like ourselves, all the millions of other life forms which inhabit the earth, totaling a far greater mass than us, wouldn't be around. The bacteria and viruses of today are more evolved than us, having been doing it for far longer.
  • by qbzzt ( 11136 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:23AM (#30605466)

    Intelligence is always useful.

    Not if it costs something. For example, IIRC the human brain takes 20% of a human's energy budget. If these hominids had bigger brains, they needed more food to keep them fed. More intelligence, in return for requiring more food to survive, may not be a good tradeoff.

  • by damburger ( 981828 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:30AM (#30605556)

    Take a peek... []

    The brain seems larger, but seeing as the pre-frontal cortex isn't marked its relative size is difficult to guess. It is also worth bearing in mind that elephants are pretty intelligent animals.

  • Re:One problem ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:31AM (#30605570)

    If evolution only favored big complex beings like ourselves, all the millions of other life forms which inhabit the earth, totaling a far greater mass than us, wouldn't be around.

    We aren't in competition with most bacteria (or viruses), so it doesn't really make sense to say that evolution favours one over other.

    The bacteria and viruses of today are more evolved than us, having been doing it for far longer.

    The bacteria and viruses of today have exactly as long evolutionary history than us.

    And the concept of "more evolved" doesn't really make sense. "Better adapted" does, as does "more complex", but "more evolved" doesn't mean anything because, all together now, "evolution doesn't have a goal, so there's no way to say which entity is more and which less evolved".

  • by SchroedingersCat ( 583063 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:39AM (#30605662)
    It ain't size of brains that matters for evolution purposes...
  • by WCguru42 ( 1268530 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:55AM (#30605814)

    If that's the case, then Darwinism is wrong.

    Darwin claimed the notion of survival of the fittest in evolution. He never claimed that more intelligence lead to being more fit. Now, the fact that homo sapiens have intelligence has proven to be very beneficial in our survival but if increased intelligence lead to a deficiency in physical ability then the "less intelligent" homo sapiens might have been just smart enough and more physically able to supplant those big brained people.

    But this all hinges on a tenuous thread of these creatures being smarter than homo sapiens.

  • by pnewhook ( 788591 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:58AM (#30605850)

    And Einsteins prefontal cortex was much smaller than average. However he is arguably among the smartest humans to have ever lived.

  • by mhelander ( 1307061 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @11:59AM (#30605860)

    Huh? The brain is the most costly organ for the body to run, any opportunity to reduce that cost will be aggressively pursued by evolution. The size of the brain matters *drastically* for evolution purposes...

  • by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:11PM (#30606040)
    I like how you say "diagnosed" with a 150 IQ, like some sort of ironic tip of the hat to the curse of intelligence ;-)
  • by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:14PM (#30606084) Homepage

    Thank you for sharing your uninformed scientific opinion with us.

    In fact, humans with larger brains tend to have higher IQs. Whales have a different brain structure, so your comparison of whale to human intelligence based on brain size alone is absurd.

  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:21PM (#30606164) Homepage

    And today's evolutionary advantage is tomorrow's evolutionary disadvantage. As another poster said, bigger brains need bigger skulls which increases the odds that the mother will die during childbirth. And if the entire body is bigger, you need more food to feed said bigger body. So a hypothetical super-intelligent cousin of Homo Sapiens* could have evolved and still have gone extinct. Perhaps we're the Goldilocks of Hominids. Some were too dumb, some were too smart, we're just right.... for now (cue menacing music).

    *Hypothetical because 1) the skull the article references has already been discredited as belonging to an entire species/sub-species and 2) big skulls/brains doesn't always equal smarter.

  • by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:22PM (#30606196)

    The smarter people will invariably be the minority overridden by the less smart masses for a variety of reasons in a variety of ways.

    Persecution complex much? Just about everything you just whined about is utter bullshit. The smart have always ruled. The smart generals have triumphed from the less gifted leaders, helped by the inventions of the smart engineers, enabled by the discoveries of the smart scientists. Don't let your historical shortsightedness and your obsession with modern day American conservatives or even your movie-watching make you think otherwise.

  • by aurispector ( 530273 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:25PM (#30606228)

    Einstein's brain had an unusually large number or glial cells which support neuronal function. It's the brain equivalent of cardiovascular conditioning due to aerobic exercise although it's not clear if they facilitated or resulted from complex intellectual pursuits.

    The idea that hominids got dumber is kind of charming but isn't supported by measuring cranial volume. If these early hominids with large brains are postulated to be ancestors of modern humans, it's possible the larger brains were evolutionarily pared down. An analogy might be an early creature with very large wings that was an ancestor of one with smaller, more efficient wings that enabled faster, more agile flight.

  • by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:41PM (#30606374)

    Why would you say that?

    Because he's seeking validation through the attention he gets by saying it?

  • by COMON$ ( 806135 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:51PM (#30606522) Journal
    Incorrect. You have to look at evolution like a ruler, there is no de-evolution or unanimously superior trait. You simply have favorable traits for a given environment. By favorable you just mean that they were able to breed more successfully and survive the environment than their competitors. However, if a species were able to get around the concept of traditional breeding such as by cloning or some method that doesnt require both parents you would see a different mechanism for success. IT would also shift if we figured out how to stop aging. But your point is somewhat correct, viewpoints that encourage breeding will have an advantage. However if those more successful breeders keep killing themselves off due to being unable to integrate into their environment, they will not succeed as well as their more adaptable brethren.

    But I am not a biologist so what do I know. I do know in the US the Conservatives will kick the crap out of Liberals unless the liberals start breeding better.

  • by jameskojiro ( 705701 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:54PM (#30606592) Journal

    Giant Panda, Eats nothing but Bamboo, Herbivore, Helpless tiny young.

    Though Giant Pandas are too dumb to live...

  • by pnewhook ( 788591 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:56PM (#30606624)

    I agree - you cannot point to any one thing to say this is what makes someone smart. Genetic factors, upbringing, education, opportunity all play major roles.

    Oh,and universal health care is Socialist.

    No it is not socialist. Unless you also consider publics schools, the court system, police and military to also be socialist. Just because it is a social program, or publicly funded does not automatically make it socialist.

  • by jbezorg ( 1263978 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @12:59PM (#30606662)

    I wonder what he did to piss her off.

    I guess it didn't involve screwing ... she wouldn't have noticed. Or maybe it did, and that was the problem.

    Where's the "WTF?!" mod when you need it?

  • by pnewhook ( 788591 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @01:00PM (#30606674)

    Islam does repress women.

    People who interpret Islam incorrectly repress women. Just like some Christian fundamentalists insist the women should stay home and look after the children (and not use birth control cause thats killing babies). Same thing.

    I agree with the last two statements, but that is independent of religion.

  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @01:48PM (#30607490) Homepage

    Yep, the article is total nonsense.

    If you compare across species, there is some correlation between brain size and intelligence, but not much. For instance, a whale's brain is a lot bigger than a human's, but there's no evidence that whales are all that much smarter than humans. Hamsters' brains are a lot smaller than horses', but they aren't dramatically dumber. The correlation gets somewhat stronger if you rate each species in terms of the ratio of brain size to body size. But in any case, the correlation is fairly weak, and is only a cross-species correlation. If you compare humans, there is no correlation between brain size and intelligence. Women have smaller heads than men on the average, but they're not less intelligent. The scientific consensus is that Boskop is not a separate species from H. Sapiens. Even if it was, the cross-species correlation is extremely loose, so you can't infer anything about one specific species. By the way, neanderthals also had bigger brains than humans, but the evidence is that they weren't any more intelligent. For example, there are areas where neanderthals and humans lived side by side for thousands of years, using identical types of tools. If the neanderthals were that much smarter than the humans, you'd think they'd have had fancier tools. Later on, humans started using more sophisticated tools (e.g., fish hooks and needles carved from bone), but IIRC the big-brained neanderthals never did.

    Human intelligence depends a lot on specific genes, such as FOXP2. These genes have dramatic effects on intellectual ability, e.g., verbal ability. Families with abnormal FOXP2 have problems with language, but their brains are normal in size, and you wouldn't be able to tell them from normal humans based on their skulls. When you splice FOXP2 into mice, the baby mice vocalize differently than normal mice. But again, you wouldn't be able to tell the mice were abnormal based on their skulls. FOXP2 has been sequenced from DNA from Neanderthal fossils at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and the result is that neanderthals have the same FOXP2 as modern humans. Note that they had to use molecular biology to find this out, though; you can't detect it by any amount of staring at the fossilized skulls.

  • by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @01:53PM (#30607568) Homepage Journal

    Do we? Do we really? Not that this is the forum for such discussion, but I defy you to demonstrate that our world today truly values intelligence any more than it does luck, perseverance, or aggression. Sure there are some areas where more intelligence would be a great benefit, but I would argue that most of the world competes in struggle that has little to do with basic intelligence.

  • by pablo_max ( 626328 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @03:19PM (#30608660)

    From what I have seen, and I have lived in several states, the less educated and clever folks are, the more kids they tend to produce.
    Conversely, the majority of my well educated and intelligent friends tend to have 1 child at most.

    It would seem that a less advanced race of morons (i.e. Humans) could very quickly run these Uber-smarties to extinction just by our numbers alone.

  • by pnewhook ( 788591 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @03:52PM (#30609044)

    Yes, but you have to remember that Christianity was used to stop slavery and persecution of gays as well. Christianity is a two edged sword, and the edge of Christ the redeemer usually wins out in the long run.

    Basically no matter what religion you believe in, it can be twisted to support any point of view. Thats the problem with trying to interpret and do what God wants when God isn't actually telling anyone to do anything.

    The world will be a lot better place to live when everyone realizes that different religions are just various interpretations of the SAME THING, and the only thing people are fighting about are their own human-based ideals.

    So yeah, the muslims are pissed off about the Crusades, but what about the part that the Levant was actually CHRISTIAN LAND FIRST

    How could the lands possibly be Christian when the land and its people PREDATE Christianity? That whole area was under Egyptian Pharaoh rile 1500 years before Christ. And the Egyptian people were in that area as far back as 3000BC. Wouldn't it then rightfully belong to them?

  • by pnewhook ( 788591 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @04:39PM (#30609500)

    Einstein did not have some intimate insight on how the universe worked, he made mistakes on even basic principles (heat capacity comes to mind).

    Really? In what way. Wiki states:

    But experiments at low temperatures showed that the heat capacity changes, going to zero at absolute zero. As the temperature goes up, the specific heat goes up until it approaches the Dulong and Petit prediction at high temperature. By employing Planck's quantization assumption, Einstein's theory accounted for the observed experimental trend for the first time. Together with the photoelectric effect, this became one of the most important evidence for the need of quantization. Einstein used the levels of the quantum mechanical oscillator many years before the advent of modern quantum mechanics.

    Seems like it was mostly correct to me.

    He made some great discoveries, but also had a wasteland of failed ideas.

    Thats a bold statement. Back this up please.

  • by osu-neko ( 2604 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @04:45PM (#30609568)

    Those big brains would not have evolved without an evolutionary advantage of some sort...

    You're right, what you posted is "typical evolutionary muddle". It's a common misconception that traits evolve because they pose some sort of advantage. In fact, all traits, both advantageous and disadvantageous, evolve at random. Traits don't necessarily persist because they're advantageous, either. They do often disappear when a species is placed under stress if they are maladaptive, but only if they aren't paired with some other more adaptive trait (often completely randomly), and this is only if the species is stressed in such a way as to make the trait a significant disadvantage. In short:

    The fact that a trait evolved does not indicate that it was in any way an evolutionary advantage.

    The fact that a trait persisted does not necessarily indicate that it was in any way advantageous.

    The fact that a trait persisted does not necessarily indicate that it was not in any way disadvantageous.

    The fact that a species persisted when others failed indicates that its entire package of traits was, considered as a whole, likely better for it that the competition, but this does not mean every single trait was advantageous, or that no traits were disadvantageous, even under the specific stressed they were subjected to.

    During times when a species is not under stress, what traits evolve, and which increase or decrease in frequency, is essentially random and indicates nothing at all beyond population dynamics.

  • by pnewhook ( 788591 ) on Thursday December 31, 2009 @09:59PM (#30611778)

    But Einstein's model was not wrong - before him, there was no model at all. The Debye model is a minor correction in that there are multiple frequencies instead of just one. The Debye model corrects for extremely low temperatures - it is inaccurate at intermediate temperatures.

    assuming the universe was not changing until Hubble's discovery

    What do you mean? Hubble's expanding universe theory is consistent with Einstein's general relativity.

    his flawed challenges to QM in the Bohr-Einstein debates

    QM is bases on Einsteins discoveries, but QM is flawed, especially the uncertainty principle which is the part Einstein had a problem with. Here's an example of the problem with uncertainty: Uncertainty states you cannot know both an objects position and velocity at the same time. This also extends to the complete absence of particles, so if you know there is quantity zero of something, you then know the position but by definition you can then not know how fast that nothing is going.

    error in clock synchronization for Special Relativity

    Clock synchronization is a thought experiment. Those that claim the clock synchonization are wrong are using it to (incorrectly) show that the speed of light is not a constant. Einstein was not wrong here - the speed of light is constant.

    a number of failures in proofs including E=mc^2

    Not failures - mistakes. He always admitted he was poor in math. I'd like to see you do better.

    Even what he considered his greatest mistake - the cosmological constant - new research shows that this constant my be necessary after all.

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