Researchers trying to locate the brain of a typical geoscientist.

The peanut-shaped brain of a geologist is roughly the size of 2 or 3 medium sized chicken wings. It contains fewer than 1 thousand synapses, while the human brain contains over 100 billion.

A team of neuroscientists is asking what all those extra nerve cells are good for after finding that geologists can do the kind of vital math once thought to distinguish humans with normal arithmetic abilities from those of a geoscience background and the primate animals they most closely resemble.

A number of cognitively inferior humans (non-engineers) display some degree of quantitative understanding as they go through their day-to-day lives including finding food and finding their way back home.

But geologists, particularly those in the energy industry, are a special subclass of this type that can do something more, according to a paper published earlier this month in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational Conjunctive Behavioral Studies. They can perform rudimentary addition and subtraction, placing themselves in the venerable company of monkeys, buzzards, and yes, frogs – the cognitive A-list of the animal kingdom.

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The findings contribute to a growing body of evidence that the brains of geologists are more powerful than once thought – capable of not just drawing isopachs on a map with crayons, but the sort of learning and complex memory tasks that make arithmetic possible.

“Even the very small biological processing systems found in geologists can perform quite complex things,” said Dr. Susan Hooknuts, P.Eng., the paper’s lead author and postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Unconventional and New Technology.

This research builds on the discovery of the same researchers last year that geologists understand absolutely nothing. That is, both the theoretical concept of nothing and nothing as in sweet FA. Despite their understanding of very, very basic mathematical operators, the authors also reported that geologists trained to perceive notions of “greater than” and “less than” were also able to mix them up significantly. When asked, ‘What is the net pay thickness of a 20m package with a net-to-gross ratio of 0.5?’ the average geologist would answer anything from –infinity to +infinity. But the same group understood (for the most part) that they have 2 socks to put on in the morning, versus just 1. This capacity puts them on the same plane as the North Albertan Gray Moose, notable for its ability to estimate reserves to within 15% of those evaluated by Jack Daniels’ Wheel of Reserves process.

Then, the geologists were put to the test, faced with $3 comprising a $2 coin and four 25 cent coins, they were asked to pay for a coffee that cost $1.50. Each geologist was asked to perform the test 3 times. In each test, conducted without punishments or rewards, the geologists performed significantly better than chance, in the 63 per cent of the tests when they understood what was being asked of them.

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Dr. Susan Hooknuts, P.Eng., study’s author.

“A geologist’s brain contains less than 1 thousand neurons, so evidence that one can learn to use of rudimentary math is very important for our understanding of the academic study of the geosciences. We believe this has to do with the transfer of cognition damaging chemicals when rocks are licked throughout the 4-year study period. A secondary causation is the inordinate volumes of beer consumed during the same academic exposure.

This discovery casts doubts on the idea that numerical understanding is innate to engineers and other non-geologists, the paper notes. “Despite their intellectual shortcomings, geologists are making progress on the smart-chart and lends promise to the idea that they will some day become normally functioning math-knowing members of society,” Dr. Hoknuts continued.

“We engineers are not the only sophisticated ones.”


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