The brain’s secret powerhouse that makes us who we are | Innovation Tech
Once regarded as having only a bit-part role in mental operations, the cerebellum could actually be the crowning achievement of our brain’s evolution
TUCKED away beneath the rest of the brain and only a tenth of its size, the cerebellum is typically seen as a trusty neural sidekick. Like Watson trailing behind Sherlock Holmes, it was useful enough, but not nearly as interesting. The cortex was where the good stuff happened, the stuff that makes us human.
Recently, though, it has become clear that the cerebellum is far from a bit player in the story of humankind. Neuroscientists are starting to suspect that this little cauliflower-shaped orb at the back of our head, which is packed with more neurons than all the other brain regions put together and home to a superfast wiring system, is doing the kinds of complex calculations that allow for our most Sherlock-worthy feats. In fact, it could be the crowning achievement of our brain’s evolution.
This upgrade in status has been a long time coming. In the 19th century, phrenologists, who looked at the shape of the skull to determine a person’s character, declared the cerebellum, with its wrinkly lobes that hang from the bottom of the brain, the root of sexual desire. The larger the cerebellum, the greater the likelihood of sexual deviance.
The evidence soon began to suggest otherwise, however. During the first world war, the British neurologist Gordon Holmes noticed that the main problems for men whose cerebellums had been damaged by gunshot wounds had nothing to do with their sex lives and everything to do with the fine control of their movements, ranging from a lack of balance to difficulties with walking, speech and eye movements. From …