"They say the Highbrow clade started out as a joke. If that's true then it’s a gag that's been running for almost 6,000 years."
Legend has it that early in the Diaspora a group of 'A list' personalities were attending a party and that the host of this party screened some twentieth century Sci-Fi vids obtained while data mining. The bulk of the vids shown dealt with baseline humans confronting evolved humans or advanced aliens, both with huge heads to signify their superior intelligence. The vids were reportedly crude and childish but enjoyed by all. This might have been the end of the story if one of the partygoers had not been an unrepentant prankster. At the next party he showed up with a shaved head and a scalp full of sim-fat injections. The legend states the result was "riotous laughter" and when the next party occurred his stunt had been copied. This led to a game of 'one-upmanship' and sim-fat injections were soon replaced with skull reconstructions and wetwear implants. These people boot strapped themselves into 'superbrights' as the result of a joke.
Even in this early era intelligence augmentation was a mature science and there was no need for an anyone to disfigure themselves with a grossly enlarged head but these people had chanced upon an aesthetic that appealed to them. Others may have gone before them in intelligence augmentation before them but they could now do it in a unique way. They quickly realized they would need to guide their development in much the same way many 'Superior' colonies and races had. They also realized the game may have become secondary to the goal expanding their intellect but their competitive natures would not be easy to set aside.
The legend further claims a small group of these proto-Highbrows sat down one evening after dinner and used their already augmented intelligence to carefully map out their future development. And the first thing they would need was a genome for the future generations. It wasn't enough to simply use technology to continuously extend their minds, they wanted their aesthetic to be inheritable. They wanted it to be passed down through the centuries and generations to come and after sixty-nine years of effort they had the genome they needed.
At first glance Highbrows appear to be baseline humans having a head with a very large cranium. In truth their whole bodies have been gengineered to support a mass of functional grey matter ten times larger than found in a modosophont hu of either nearbaseline or su lineage. Of course putting a brain weighing fourteen kilos into the skull would have caused many problems, not the least of which was the risk of injury to a seemingly baseline neck.
In a Highbrow the bones of the skull and vertebral column have been fused into a single unit with the additional feature that the bodies of the vertebrae form a hollow tube that widens as it descends into the torso. Because these bones are fused there is no movement in the back and neck, instead the bottom of the vertebral column has a convex shape that sits in a concavity in the pelvis. This acts as a ball and socket joint that allows the whole upper body to turn and tilt as one. Because the neck does not bend it has no need for muscles and nearly the whole of its cross section can be filled with an enlarged vertebral column for greater strength and more volume in the hollow of the tube. This is important because of the structure of the Highbrow brain.
At its core the Highbrow brain has the same basic structure of a human brain, although one with all the neurological rewiring of the advanced intelligence augmentation. What the Highbrows have done which is different is they have created an additional massive layer of the cerebral cortex. In the development of a foetal Highbrow an outgrowth of the frontal lobes folds back over the brain, continues to grow past the parietal lobes and then down the back and sides of the brain until they collect under the temporal lobes. From there it further grows down into the hollow tube of the vertebral column. This enlarged neural network needs an expanded capacity for data traffic control and to do this an extension of the cerebellum has wrapped itself around the spinal cord and continued to grow down the enlarged vertebral canal. From there it can link up with and manage the workings of the grey matter in the vertebral tube.
Feeding and cooling such a large brain was a major problem to solve. Even something as small as a normal human's uubrain takes about a third of that being's calorie intake to run. Various 'superiors' before them solved these problems just by increasing the efficiency of their bodies but the Highbrows would have to use more extreme measures. While 'superiors' are also generally superior, in both mind and body and have the flexibility to adapt to whatever environment they find themselves in. The Highbrows gave up these non-mental advantages in favour of just maintaining and augmenting their brains.
These are some of the Highbrow physical traits and genemods:
Slightly larger size
Highbrows are about 15cm taller than humans but you wouldn't know it if you looked directly into their eyes. Highbrows have the same eyelevel and proprotions as the average human . All of their additional height comes entirely from their higher crown.
Enhanced respiratory system:
Highbrow lungs have been redesigned to operate in a manner similar to the lungs of Terran birds, utilizing a counter-current exchange system for greater transfer of O2 and CO2. They also include a third lung-like structure of cooling. This "lung" is not involved in gas exchange, it acts solely as an air pump, pumping air up and around the brain housing for cooling. Because this third "lung" is not involved in gas exchange the air entering it does not need to be moistened but the lining of this lung can be wetted if cooling needs require it. Highbrow blood is extremely efficient in capturing oxygen but they don't operate very well in low pressure or high altitude environments and cannot hold their breath for any great length of time.
Cold weather preference
With their greater need for cooling Highbrows actually prefer lower temperature environments but they do not have the extreme condition adaptations of individual Stardwellers, or minor civilizations. They cannot enter cryogenic stasis any more easily than normal humans, and do not have the anti-freeze blood proteins. Nor can they easily slow their metabolic rate and enter a hibernation trance. Nanostasis is still possible for long trips in space.
Digestion and metabolism
The early proto-Highbrows never intended their decendants to be far from the comforts and supporting infrastructure of home and because the brain now takes up a significant portion of the chest and abdomen the digestive system could be, and in fact had to be, greatly simplified. Highbrows do not have a flexible diet. They must consume easily digestible liquid foodstuffs with an optimum amount of nutrients, proteins, amino acids, and minerals to meet the demands of their body. They much prefer a form of variously flavored manufactured syrups, but they can live on such things as mother's milk, blood and honey. Their body fat ratio is minimal, for cooling reasons, so their small stomachs act as reservoirs for their between meals needs. Highbrows cannot go for long periods without eating and do not travel without access to either replicator or a stockpile of their liquid food.
Highbrows usually have the following the mental and sensory enhancements:
- Minimal sleep needs
- Multi-tasking capabilities
- Enhanced focus
- Superior memory
- Pattern recognition
Highbrows have had to resort to external foetal development. This is because not only do infant Highbrows have a head/vertebral column structure that only a gengineered mother could pass (with difficulty), but also because the housing for the brain in their abdomens leaves no room for a foetus to grow there. Highbrow females are capable of 'carrying' their baby but not in any way that evolved on old Earth. Highbrow babies are only carried internally for eight weeks, to the end of the thembryonic stage. After this the foetus is pre-birthed.
In pre-birthing the foetus is delivered while still inside the thembryonic membrane, which by this time has thickened into leathery egg-sack. This egg-sack, which grows with the foetus, remains connected to the mother by way a placenta and an umbilical cord that passes into the female’s body through her vagina. After pre-birth a temporary cleft forms in the wall of her vagina, which the umbilical cord seats itself in. The vagina wall then encloses around the umbilical cord for the remainder of the foetus's development. The egg-sack has two long tentacle-like projections about the top that can be used to hang the egg-sack around the mother's waist, neck (over the shoulder) or any convenient limb. Highbrow fathers are noted for carrying the weight of the egg-sack whenever they walk with their mates. This external pregnancy is actually about twice as long as a full term baseline pregnancy, the foetus needs this additional time for the growth of its enlarged brain. However during the last three months the egg-sack thins and the baby can observe the world it will be born into.
Most Highbrow mothers prefer to carry their babies themselves but their external pregnancy makes a transfer to an exo-womb or other such thing a very easy process. The egg-sack even has a yolk-sack to keep the foetus fed if blood flow through the umbilical cord should be temporarily interrupted.
Society and Culture
Highbrows adapt quite well to whatever civilization will have them, but a majority live among the Stardwellers. However there is one cultural aspect that sets them apart wherever they go, the Test. The competitive natures that created their clade have been focused into the Test, a contest that was deliberately patterned like a higher education entrance exam. Once a year each Highbrow enters a small room sealed off from all electronic aids or communications and sits at a simple desk. The desk has only three things upon it; a small stack of papers with a long list of random problems and questions typed on them, an old fashion pencil and a tall stack of blank paper to write the answers upon. The problems and questions are supplied by other Highbrows, and even sometimes by AI's and are meant to challenge both the knowledge and problem solving abilities of the testee. Rewards are given for high scores and the overall goal of the Test is to force their culture towards and beyond the current limits of biology and cognitechnology.
Requirements: To be a Highbrow, your character is going to need a Biotech score of 4 and a Cognitech score of 6.
Benefits: They may exceed their Civilization's maximum Cognitech score by two without reducing Import.
Core Value: Intellect! The Highbrows are convinced that mentation is the ultimate solution to most porblems and as such bend themselves to that.