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CRITICAL BRAIN SIZE AND LANGUAGE JOHN C. LILLY, M.D.* In the latter part ofthe last and early part ofthis century there was some interest in neurological circles about the relation between the size and structure ofbrains and the degree of "accomplishment" or "intelligence" ofthe individual concerned [i]. This interest was continued in anthropological comparative research [2, 3]. Some ofthe results ofsuch investigations are rather unsatisfactory. Measurement ofsuch variablesas totalbrain weight, weights ofvarious parts ofthe brain, the height ofthe individual, body weight, various measures of cranial capacity, cephalic indexes, etc. were done in greatprofusion. The data are unsatisfactory on the behavioral and on the mental side. Donaldson [1] attempted to correlate, as did others, "accomplishment" with a given set ofbiological dimensions. He showed that accomplishment as measured in diat day did correlate in a general statistical sort ofa way with total brain size and body height. Today we are still seeking valid significant nonbiological measures to correlate with the biological data. We are still trying to find some measure of some of the variables subsumed under the words "intelligence," "accomplishment ," and similar areas ofevery-day, clinical, and scientific experience . The early biological researches culminated in a series ofmodern studies, exemplified by von Bonln [4], E. W. Count [5], and Tower [6]. As a result of such studies definite correlations were found between brain size and some measure of body size within given orders of similar animals. For example, for the primates there is a definite law relating brain size to * Director, Communication Research Institute, Miami, Florida. This paper is based on a talk given March 15, 10Ö1, to the Cincinnati Society ofNeurology and Psychiatry. Support for this work is from theNational Institute ofMental Health and theNational Institutes ofNeurological Diseasesand Blindness ; the Coyle Foundation; the Office of Naval Research; Air Force Office of Scientific Research, U.S. Air Force; and from private gifts and contributions to the Communication Research Institute. 246 John C Lilly · Critical Brain Size and Language Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Winter 1963 body weight: there is in the data a definite uniform trend for the brain size to increasewith the body size, weight, and length. In the cetacea a similar relation has been found. Such regular correlations among the mammalia merely say diat as the body (ofindividuals and ofa comparative series ofadults ofdiffèrent species ) grows larger, the brain grows larger in some regular fashion. Such biological laws say nothing at all about the performance—behaviorally, intellectually , mentally, or emotionally—ofany ofthese animals. Such biological laws are self-consistent and inherently make no reference whatsoever to behavioral or to mental variablesandtheir measurement. However, it is ofinterest to obtain correlations between brain size, brain complexity, body size, and measures of "intelligence" and neurophysiologic and psychologic variables of interest. In order to find appropriate measures, one must eliminate many expectations and presuppositions about what will be found and what will not be found.1 Let us examine one example—language itself. Primarily we are interested in human language. Can any correlation be found between brain weight, brain-weight to body-weight ratio (or any of the other biological measurements), and the acquisition of a complex language? Several lines ofevidence suggest the possibility that at least in the mammalia there may be a critical absolute brain size below which language, as we know it, is impossible and above which language, aswe know it, is possible and even probable [7]. In saying "language as we know it," I am referring not to a literal slavish view of the human languages currently extant; I am referring rather to the ability ofdiese languages to transmit, to store, and to carry from one mind to another mind certain kinds ofand degrees ofcomplexity ofinformation. This information can contain data related to the past, the present, and the future and expresses to the mind ofthe receiver (however imperfectly) the state ofmind ofthe sender, his plans, his actions, his problems. Hypothetically, a nonhuman language may use a logic which is totally strange, an apparent external form which may be bizarre to humans, and contain ways oflooking at information which are totally unfamiliar. Thus, when I say "language as we know it," I am referring more to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 246-255
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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