Actually I am just playing around here; I do not think the above equation is ever correct, but I am exercising my brain by pretending so. Though, now that I think more about it, sometimes we do take one idea and combine it with another and so develop a third that is greater than the sum of its parts. Let’s try it and see.
Georg Streidter in his text Principles of Brain Evolutionwrites that, though the idea is too general to offer much guidance for research, it is true the larger the brain, the more capable the species is in adapting to other niches, and that the larger the brain, the more the species engages in play. General yes, but also intriguing. Playful behavior speaks to a flexibility of behavior and indicates that the animal has greater degrees of freedom in developing actions that exploit opportunities and ameliorate exigencies, and that helps in adapting to the changing contingencies of the world. Plus, Jaak Panksepp in his book, Affective Neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions, writes that rough and tumble play, e.g., mixing it up with conspecifics in various ways, promotes joyful feeling.
So we have the ideas that a larger brain relative to body size increases behavioral degrees of freedom, enables greater adaptation in the face of environmental challenges, and leads to greater play and that helps to generate joyful interactions with conspecifics. Now consider my idea about our lateralization, i.e., that the right hemisphere generally focuses on the current situation, especially the activity in the social domain, and the left hemisphere generally focuses on information displaced in time and space, especially information controlled through linguistic symbols. One observation neuroscientists have made is that, again generally, the emotional valence of right sided processes is somber, maybe sad but at least seriously practical, while the emotional valence of left sided processes seems lighter, even happy. I think this might be because right sided considerations concern the current activity where the situation is delimited and possible actions are proscribed, i.e., behavioral degrees of freedom are fewer because of the practicalities involved. Left sided considerations, concerned with some abstracted and symbolically constructed situation, involves many more degrees of freedom because the situation is fluid and possible actions open to creative solutions.
Going a bit further, this difference seems to reflect the distinction between serious, practical engagement, e.g., work, and light-hearted speculative engagement, e.g., play. Now consider the famous masks of drama, tragedy and comedy, and how the plays end.
A tragedy usually involves a final action with little possibility for further development; the play ends with virtually no behavioral degrees of freedom for the characters. A comedy is the opposite; the characters leave the field of play, i.e., stage, to live happily ever after—the future is wide open with many degrees of behavioral freedom. Classical dramas followed this convention fairly closely. When we approach modern times, drama begins to reflect the curious muddle of our lives today. Just how does Waiting for Godot end for these characters of limited repertoire?
One more idea seems relevant here, at least to me. I am reading The Embodied Mind: Cognitive science and human experienceby Francisco Varela, Evan Thonpson, and Eleanor Rosch, a fascinating book in which they seek to bridge the quite recent positivistic efforts of cognitive scientists and the understanding of human subjective experience as understood by long-standing Buddhist traditions (a slow, deep read for many reasons). Deep into their analysis they assert that analysis of the visual and other neural systems shows that the bottom up flow of information, e.g., from the retina through the lateral geniculate nuclei to the visual cortex, which we think is decisive in determining our perceptions is actually exceeded by the top down flow of information from higher neural centers. These processes from above contribute to determining perceptual forms, figure-ground, attention and focus, and more we have yet to understand.
Let me imagine just a bit further that the bigger the brain, the more top down processing flow there is (because that is where the enlargement is) and that is what helps to develop greater degrees of freedom, increase adaptive flexibility and empower playful action. Now consider the idea I have promoted here about how to define sentience and consciousness. The general orthodox definitions show that the terms are conflated, i.e., used as synonyms, but for a variety of reasons I have given before (e.g. see post on 4/21/16, or 11/30/17), I think they are better distinguished as follows. Sentience grows as the basic function of an organism in apprehending its ambient; this is based upon perceptual organs and is what Susanne Langer called impactive activity, i.e., neural action engendered by energies and material impacting on the soma from without. Neurologically this is what Varela and colleagues call the bottom up processes. In my heterodoxical view consciousness is autogenic (Langer’s word for the autonomous and independent activity of the brain); it is the top down processes cited by Verala et. al. Consciousness is what we bring to sentient processing that is not engendered by the current perceptual processes but by our own shaping of our sentient domain and even more for humans by the displaced information remembered, imagined, and controlled through symbolic processes.
So our bigger brains have allowed us to bring more to the current social situation, what I have characterized as heightened empathy leading to deeper intimacy, and more to our interaction with the world at large through our symbolic control of information that we apply to our experiences of the world around us and ourselves. Take a couple of ideas, add them together, and get something more, eh? Time to travel on, playfully.