Did physical geography, including terrain and biogeography, influence early human brain development? New research suggests that yes, it did:
"'The basic idea is that open spaces—open grassland, flat plains—are just speed games, favoring the predator, since they are larger," [Northwestern University neuroscientist and engineer Malcolm] MacIver told Ars. 'Closed spaces—dense forests or jungles—favor simple strategies of running for cover. Using a complexity measure, we show both of these habitats have low complexity.' ... The complexity 'sweet spot,' according to MacIver, is a landscape like the one featured in The Hobbit chase scene, or like Botswana'a Okavango Delta, both of which feature an open grassland and moss zones dotted with clumps of trees and similar foliage. 'In this zone, neither speed games nor running for cover maximizes survival rate,' said MacIver. 'But planning—by which I mean imagining future paths and picking the best based on what you think your adversary will do—gives you a considerable advantage.' And that planning requires the kind of advanced neural circuitry typical of the human brain. MacIver and his Northwestern colleague and co-author, Ugurcan Mugan, performed numerous supercomputer simulations, which revealed that while seeing farther (MacIver's original theory) is needed for advance planning to emerge evolutionarily, it is not sufficient by itself. Rather, it requires a combination of long-range vision and complex landscapes. This, in turn, may have led to the development of one of the most difficult cognitive operations: envisioning the future. ... [I]n the simple water and land simulations, the prey showed low survival rates regardless of which strategy it employed, demonstrating that there was no evolutionary benefit to being able to plan in environments that are very open or too densely packed. In the former, the best bet is to try and outrun the predator; in the latter, there are too few clearly available paths, and the densely packed environment hinders how far the prey can see. But a patchy landscape in the Goldilocks zone of complexity showed a huge increase in survival rates for prey that relied on the planning strategy, compared to the habit-based approach."
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