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The Forum > General Discussion > Enlarge you baby's brain

Enlarge you baby's brain

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From the ABC

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Now when you think about the human condition, the human brain is basically as large as it can be. This is a baby inside the womb, you'll see its head's relatively tightly packed. We've reached the maximum cranial size and brain size that humans can have and be delivered through normal vaginal delivery. There's no reason in principle why you couldn't today give children soon after birth nerve growth factors that would radically increase the size of the human brain, and it's cognitive capacity. So this is not radical scie

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Grow a harder working labour force

There's interesting research coming out of other animal experiments that shows just how powerful biology can be. In one recently reported study, researchers took genetic material from the brains of a group of characteristically hard-working monkeys and introduced it to another species of lazy monkeys, and the lazy monkeys became hard-working.

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Abort a foetuses with a sub-optimal genome

We have now the opportunity to intervene in the natural lottery in various ways. Firstly the most reliable way at the moment is through genetic selection. We've employed this as human beings by mating, when we seek out a mate who sends signals of reproductive fitness. We've more recently been able to do this by using prenatal diagnosis tests of foetuses, and even more recently by using genetic diagnosis of embryos, called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Now this tests for single gene disorders and it's been used for a range of diseases but also for sex selection. More recently there's been an advance in this technique, known as preimplantation genetic haplar typing, which multiplies the genetic component from the cells of the embryo. So you can test not just for a few conditions, a few chromosomal or genetic abnormalities, but for thousands of genes. So this opens the door to testing embryos for a whole range of conditions, not just whether they have Down Syndrome or Cystic Fibrosis.

See this transcript on the Background Briefing website:

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/backgroundbriefing/stories/2008/2122476.htm

Any comments?
Posted by stevenlmeyer, Wednesday, 2 January 2008 10:47:52 PM
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My general attitude is that once the knowledge how to do something is obtained, someone somewhere will eventually try it, so it's better to have it tried in a carefully controlled, legal sanctioned (but regulated) manner, than in an illegal, unregulated manner.

That is, the danger of banning such activities almost certainly outweighs the danger of allowing them.

If your first reaction to hearing any such proposal is "that's abhorrent, we must never let that happen", then remember that plenty of the things we take for granted today were once viewed in that light (can you imagine the Victorian response to a proposal that women should be allowed to sunbathe topless?).

My biggest concern is that procedures such as injecting growth hormones into brains will only be available to those who can afford it, and it will confer such a competitive advantage on such children, that it will only further entrench existing social/economic inequalities. Of course much the same argument can be made about, e.g., private schooling, but while better schooling definitely helps in life, it's not going to double your IQ, which is the sort of thing that advanced biotechnology might be capable of.
Posted by wizofaus, Thursday, 3 January 2008 6:28:06 AM
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I donít think increasing the size of the human brain has much to do with intelligence after all the male brain is 10% larger then the female brain. So if brain size reflected intelligence men on average would be 10% smarter then women. This is not the case so the idea that brain size makes people smart is not a very creditable one.

Besides I read somewhere that we only use a small part of our brain with most of it not being used at all or hardly ever.

Its not how big it is its how you use it!
Posted by EasyTimes, Thursday, 3 January 2008 11:32:39 AM
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I agree with Easy Times - it's not the size of the brain, it's how you use it that matters.

So no, I would not be for increasing the size...

The only thing that I would be grateful in knowing, is to be told if the baby I was carrying was normal or not. I think all parents would appreciate having this information available to them.

Still, it's probably not going to make much difference as to what we think. Science has a way of progressing despite public opinion.
Posted by Foxy, Thursday, 3 January 2008 12:24:19 PM
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Brain size is at least partly correleated with "intelligence" (which I don't accept is a single factor that can be measured adequately on a linear scale anyway). Male brains function differently to female ones (i.e. males are "differently intelligent" to females), and it may simply be that functions that male brains specialise in require more brain tissue than the those that female brains are more adept at.

However, the principle still applies - once we develop the technology to vastly boost intelligence capabilities, how do we prevent those who can afford such technology from taking advantage of it at the expense of the everyone else?

The 10% of the brain myth is exactly that - a myth.
Posted by wizofaus, Thursday, 3 January 2008 12:56:55 PM
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OK folks let's get away from the well-worn platitudes.

Wizofaus is correct.

We do not use just 10% of our brain. fMRI scans indicate that we use most of our brains most of the time.

Brain size and intelligence are linked. Humans have, on average, a brain six times the volume of other mammals of comparative size. It's one thing that distinguishes us from, say, chimps, and from our ancestors. If you look at the fossil record, cranial capacity and tool using ability, for example, appear to be linked.

Of course this is difference in brain size between species. There does appear to be a link between brain size and intelligence among humans but it is very weak. However bear in mind that brain sizes among most healthy humans, taking into account different body mass, does not vary much. Women are on average smaller than men. Relative to body size there's not much difference between the 2 sexes.

Nevertheless there are however indications, as Wiz points out, that the brains of men and women functions differently. That may be the reason why engineering remains a mostly male profession while the law is attracting increasing numbers of women.

Suppose we could actually double the size of our brains. Would that in effect be a new species with additional capabilities? I donít know but I think it's a possibility. We might actually create an artificial species that bears the same relationship to us that we bear to, say, A Robustus who had roughly half our brain mass.

However this background briefing does not only deal with increasing brain size. What about "gene transplants" to make people harder working or enhance their happiness.

Wiz,

It's not only a case of what the rich will do. There is an international dimension to this. Mass free education was introduced in England to meet competition from Germany.

If one advanced country makes brain-enhancing technology available to its citizens the rest will have to follow suit or be reduced to third world status.
Posted by stevenlmeyer, Thursday, 3 January 2008 1:13:16 PM
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