Star Trek: The Cage - NBC 1965Jack

Big Brain Aliens

Aliens have big heads. Big heads mean big brains. Makes sense, right? Or does it?

With the increase in understanding of our ancestral roots, we have gone the other way and wondered about the extrapolation of what humankind might look like after millions of years. From our cavemen ancestors we have evolved. What will the course of evolution bring us in the future? Science fiction’s answer usually seems to be big brains.

Let’s run with that thought, shall we… evolution, that is. If our ancestors had small brains and we have larger ones, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that our descendents will have even larger brains. A child could deduce that. By extension, then, if aliens are so much more advanced then us, they must be further along the evolutionary scale than we are. It makes sense, then, that they would have big heads, right?

Therefore aliens have big heads. Bigger brains mean bigger heads. Makes sense.

So, let’s look at some big brain aliens.

In Literature

Examples from early pulp magazines are few and far between. Aliens as depicted by early science fiction illustrators were somewhat lacking in the cranium department, which is kind of surprising. After all, the granddaddy of alien invaders was H. G. Wells’ Martians from The War of the Worlds (1898). They were all head and feeble tentacles. Massive intelligences from across the gulf of space who had regarded our earth with envious eyes and came to conquer. Too bad they didn’t bring any immunologists with them. That pesky common cold did them in.

After Wells, the premiere example of this idea of the massive brained, super-evolved creature, comes from Space Opera writer, Edmond Hamilton. In the April 1931 issue of Wonder Stories, Hamilton presented the quintessential version of this idea in “The Man Who Evolved”. Doctor John Pollard creates a machine that will progress his evolution in jumps. Obsessed with discovering the ultimate end of humankind, he evolves again and again until he is the typical massive big-brained alien, remorseless, conquering and evil. Unfortunately for Pollard, he goes one step too far and returns to the beginning, a mere living slime.

At the Movies and on TV

Big brain aliens, rare on the covers of science fiction magazines, are plentiful in film and television, which is odd, considering that the mediums are considered by some to be somewhat lowbrow. Maybe big brains are more frightening to people who don’t have an abundance of them,

Aliens invade in a lot of old science fiction movies. Those crazy big-headed bug-eyed monsters find their way to our little blue marble with astonishing regularity. Clearly we have something that they want bad enough to travel millions of miles for. Is it the water? Is it our women? Is it slaves to build their pyramids for them? Whatever it is, their big brains have not been able to manufacture it at home so they have to go out to get it.

But it’s not always aliens. Remember that classic Outer Limits episode The Sixth Finger where David McCallum plays a simple Welsh coal miner who has his evolution speeded up until he becomes an big headed, arrogant snob who is made “…ill and angry.” by common human ignorance. Instead of just starting his own software company, McCallum’s character goes on a rampage of petulant destruction in a tantrum that rivals that of a teenager who can’t access the wi-fi.

But why would we assume that our brains, or indeed, that aliens’ brains would get better as they got bigger? Look at the aliens from This Island Earth. If they are so smart, why are the denizens of Metaluna all such big-headed pricks? And why do their muu-tants, the designer servants specifically made to have the intellectual capacity of an ant, have such big brains that they are threatening to spill right out of their skulls?

Why do the big-brained aliens from the Star Trek episode “The Cage” not understand that they can’t tempt Christopher Pike with women, either beautiful, intelligent, or youthful? Did it not occur to them to try making the unfortunate Vina resemble a strapping young Enterprise crewman?

What? Don’t tell me you didn’t think that too! There’s only one reason that I could think of that Pike passed on the green Orion girl, and it had nothing to do with the moral dilemma of trading in slaves.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Brains and Sex

Well look at that. I started talking about brains and somehow ended up on the topic of sex. I guess evolution hasn’t really brought us all that far, has it? We still have those animal urges lurking beneath our cerebrums, the unreasoning desire for pleasure, that chemical carrot on a stick that prods our primitive brains to do what’s good for the continuation of the species, the barely controlled ape-part of our brains that has unreasoning wants from copulation to chocolate cake.

Can increasing our cerebrum take us further away from those basic instincts? Will having bigger brains make us more able to resist the temptations that our animal instincts spur us to? If so, then why do bigger brained species always look to conquer? Why do their desires seem to be completely consistent with a species who is not all that far removed from the man in the cave?

Does our imagination let us down? Or are we just not interested in a villain who listens to soft jazz and discusses Proust? We want a villain who marches in lockstep, rants, raves, hits, folds, spindles, mutilates and eats us so we can justify the nuclear missile we will inevitably stuff up their spaceship’s tailpipe.

I have seen the science fiction enemy, and, underneath those big brains, the enemy is us.

Well, that’s enough ruminating for me. I think I’ll go to a museum and talk knowledgably about art. Maybe while I’m listening to some soft jazz or reading some Proust.

Or maybe I’ll just go hunting for some… chocolate cake.

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