Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Each week, we take a closer look at an interesting science or science-related term to help us expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s term is:
I’m going to let my friend Og the Caveman handle the definition of this term. Og?
The process of encephalization was rather important to humans of Og’s time. The term refers specifically to the gradual, somewhat clumsy evolutionary process whereby an organism’s brain becomes larger over time. The word itself derives from the Greek word for brain, which in Greek appears to be a compound word (en+ kephale) meaning “in the head.”
My first encounter with this term was in a recent issue of Scientific American, in an article about the social behavior of whales and dolphins. According to the article, brain size can be correlated to social behavior. Animals that have evolved larger brains (relative to overall body mass) tend to have more complex social interactions with each other and also tend to live in larger social groups. This seems to be true for both primate and cetacean species.
Now it seems pretty clear to me that the word encephalization is intended only to describe the gradual process of brains growing larger over time, over the course of many, many generations of evolution. It would be totally inappropriate, therefore, to use the term as part of the origin story of some brainiac super villain… to write about an “encephalization machine” that went haywire during a top secret government experiment.
Nope. It would be woefully inappropriate to use the word in that way.
P.S.: Though if some hack of a Sci-Fi writer were to do that, don’t be surprised if the encephalized brainiac super villain teams up with that Mars rover NASA reprogrammed for science autonomy.