Brains are for Controlling Muscles, Muscles are for Movement

[W]hy do we and other animals have brains. Not all species on our planet have brains, so if we want to know what the brain is for, let's think about why we evolved one. Now you may reason that we have one to perceive the world or to think, and that's completely wrong. If you think about this question for any length of time, it's blindingly obvious why we have a brain. We have a brain for one reason and one reason only, and that's to produce adaptable and complex movements. There is no other reason to have a brain. Think about it. Movement is the only way you have of affecting the world around you. Now that's not quite true. There's one other way, and that's through sweating. But apart from that, everything else goes through contractions of muscles.

So think about communication -- speech, gestures, writing, sign language -- they're all mediated through contractions of your muscles. So it's really important to remember that sensory, memory and cognitive processes are all important, but they're only important to either drive or suppress future movements. There can be no evolutionary advantage to laying down memories of childhood or perceiving the color of a rose if it doesn't affect the way you're going to move later in life.

Now for those who don't believe this argument, we have trees and grass on our planet without the brain, but the clinching evidence is this animal here -- the humble sea squirt. Rudimentary animal, has a nervous system, swims around in the ocean in its juvenile life. And at some point of its life, it implants on a rock. And the first thing it does in implanting on that rock, which it never leaves, is to digest its own brain and nervous system for food. So once you don't need to move, you don't need the luxury of that brain.

-- Daniel Wolpert

from "Daniel Wolpert: The real reason for brains"

Quoted on Mon Nov 12th, 2012