Cities, Human Brains Evolved in Similar Ways

TROY – Cities and human brains have evolved in strikingly similar ways, says a new study.

Just as advanced mammalian brains require a robust neural network to achieve richer and more complex thought, large cities require advanced highways and transportation systems to allow larger and more productive population.

The new study by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) unearthed a striking similarity in how larger brains and cities deal with the difficult problem of maintaining sufficient interconnectedness.

“Natural selection has passively guided the evolution of mammalian brains throughout time, just as politicians and entrepreneurs have indirectly shaped the organisation of cities large and small,” neurobiology expert Mark Changizi, who led the study, said.

“It seems both of these invisible hands have arrived at a similar conclusion: brains and cities, as they grow larger, have to be similarly densely interconnected to function optimally,” adds Changizi, RPI assistant professor in cognitive science.

As brains grow more complex from one species to the next, they change in structure and organisation in order to achieve the right level of interconnectedness.

One couldn’t simply grow a double-sized dog brain, for example, and expect it to have the same capabilities as a human brain, said an RPI release.

This is because, among other things, a human brain doesn’t merely have more “dog neurons” but, instead, has neurons with a greater number of synapses than that of a dog — something crucial in helping to keep the human brain well connected.

As with brains, interconnectedness is also a critical component of the overall function of cities, said Changizi, who co-authored the paper with Marc Destefano, clinical assistant professor at Rensselaer.