In the news recently:
University scientists say they have found strong proof that the human brain is still evolving.
By comparing modern man with our ancestors of 37,000 years ago, the Chicago team discovered big changes in two genes linked to brain size.
One of the new variants emerged only 5,800 years ago yet is present in 30% of today's humans, they believe.
This is very short in evolutionary terms, suggesting intense selection pressures, they told Science.
Each gene variant emerged around the same time as the advent of so called "cultural" behaviours.
The microcephalin variant appeared along with the emergence of traits such as art and music, religious practices and sophisticated tool-making techniques, which date back to about 50,000 years ago.
It is now present in about 70% of humans alive today.
The other, called the ASPM variant, originated at a time that coincides with the spread of agriculture, settled cities and the first record of written language.
Researcher Dr Bruce Lahn said the big question was whether the genetic evolution seen had actually caused the cultural evolution of humans or was merely chance.
Their hunch is that it might have something to do with the important role that these genes play in brain size, but stressed that did not necessarily mean better intelligence.
"Just because these genes are still evolving doesn't necessarily mean they make you any smarter," said Dr Lahn.
It would be interesting to know if these are some of the same genes associated with the neoteny theory, which holds that our expanded cerebral cortex and greater learning/creative capacity are the results of being stuck in a kind of "juvenile retention" state.
It would certainly explain why many today seem to be increasingly stuck in a state of arrested development. :)
Interesting to note as well, that one of the new "variants" emerged at approximately the same time as the spread of agriculture. This possibly lends credence to the idea that humans have been domesticating themselves, since "arrested development" also factors into the process of domestication. More on that subject later.
(Just some ideas for your next cocktail party.)