Brains evolved in some kind of upward progression

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A note for The Half-Lesson, "Your Brain Is Not for Thinking," in Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context from page 2‌‌‌ is:

It’s common to assume that brains evolved in some kind of upward progression—say, from lower animals to higher animals, with the most sophisticated, thinking brain of all, the human brain, at the top.

The mistaken idea that brains evolved in some kind of upward progression from simple to complex, or in so-called "lower" to "higher" animals, is as old as brain science itself. To read about why this idea is wrong, see these references.[1][2][3]

Scientists have long assumed that the closer a brain is to a human brain, the more evolved it is. Aristotle was the first scientist to order plants and animals along a line, or linear scale, from "lower" to "higher," with humans at the top. This is called a scale of nature, or scala naturae.


  1. Gee, Henry. 2013. The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  2. Striedter, Georg. 2005. Principles of Brain Evolution. Sunderland, Massachusetts: Sinauer Associates.
  3. Striedter, Georg F., and R. Glenn Northcutt. 2020. Brains Through Time: A Natural History of Vertebrates. New York: Oxford University Press.