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In more modern media, elves are typically depicted as slender humans with pointy ears. However, in some settings like DnD the appearance of the elves is much more distinct from that of regular Human.

enter image description here

Asides from a more angular and extended mandible, the eyes of the elf are much larger than that of typical human. This of course bring up the question of whether or not the eye could actually fit in the skull without compromising the intelligence of the elf.

Thus, can a elf with eyes as large as depicted still be as intelligent as human?

Assumptions:

  • The eyes of the elf are round like that of a humans
  • The overall dimensions of the face are similar enough to a humans that we can roughly use our craniums as a reference point.
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    $\begingroup$ I could have voted VTC:Needs More Focus because the title question and post question aren't the same, but instead... VTC:Opinion-Based. You're asking us if some aspect of your entirely fictional creation can be, what, considered actually intelligent by evolution's standards? Why do you believe that your fictional creature can't be intelligent? Are you expecting someone to judge your fictional creature as incapable of actually existing based on today's understanding of science and therefore of no worth? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 3 at 0:07
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    $\begingroup$ In stead of showing us a picture of the external face, can you address the underlying bone structures, bits of fat and muscle that actually determine the issue you're facing with Elf eyes --- i.e., what leads you to believe Elf eyes are "larger" in the first place? Eye slant is a function of skin and underlying tissues, not bone or muscle per se. Plastic / cosmetic surgery can cure that! (cont) $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 3 at 4:28
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    $\begingroup$ (cont) Just from looking at the sketches, I a) don't really understand the nature of the problem and b) don't find any of the Elves to be sufficiently "different" to warrant a question like this. Dudes in the middle row look they've got some mandibular issues though: angry dude on the left could use some mandibular contouring and the lad on the right might need a LeFort to work on that weak chin. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jan 3 at 4:35
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    $\begingroup$ If by "In more modern media", you mean "in live-action films where elves are portrayed by human actors", then it shouldn't be too surprising that elves look similar to humans in those media. $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Jan 3 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ I'll just leave this here $\endgroup$ Jan 3 at 20:53

2 Answers 2

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The brain is fine.

the eyes of humans sit mostly in front of the brain. If they are wider they really only compete with the sinus for space, so they wont effect the brain much at all but the sinuses would be smaller. With smaller sinus elves might have a hard time in the dry desert or the cold artic which would explain why they stick to forests and jungles.

If you make them deeper front to back then they start to compete with the brain but this could be offset by making the skull just a little taller, because it is mostly the top of the eye competing with the bottom of the frontal lobe. Which would also give the almond shaped skull. Keep in mind in the image you give the eyes are not necessarily bigger they might just be farther forward.

enter image description here

Here is a bunch of sections to make it easier to visualize.

https://www.vonhagens-plastination.com/pages/medical-teaching-specimens/von-hagens-plastination.php/anatomy-glass-sub-brain-and-head-slice-overview

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  • $\begingroup$ They would have to be deeper front to back as well, though, unless your elves are incapable of rotating their eyes independently of their heads--that requires spherical (or very nearly spherical) eyes. $\endgroup$
    – Hearth
    Jan 5 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Hearth not really human eyes are not that spherical, nor are most animals. and the fit to the back of the orbit is not very tight. We are not talking about owls where the eye takes up half the skull. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 5 at 21:02
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John's answer addresses cranial capacity well, but the question is about intelligence. The idea that brain size maps significantly to intelligence has been thoroughly debunked since the era of phrenology. Scientific American notes that "brain size accounts for between 9 and 16 percent of the overall variability in general intelligence" in humans, and digging into the studies shows that this measure of brain volume has stronger correlations with potential pathological factors than it does to innate volume-- many forms of brain trauma or developmental issues incidentally also reduce the volume of brain matter, but two healthy individuals with similar backgrounds but different brain volumes have even less difference in measured intelligence. In other words, I'll make better guesses about my friends' IQ if I know their childhood nutrition and adult drinking patterns than if I know their hat size. I should also keep such speculations to myself if I want to continue calling them "friends".

These studies are also using only human participants, for obvious reasons. The same article discusses how structural differences allow other species to have highly developed cognition in particular realms regardless of their brain size. This is to say that brains which develop differently will think differently. So depending on the origin of your elves, I'd expect them to do badly on human IQ tests, but humans to also do badly on theirs. Again, social factors have an enormous impact on efforts to quantify the huge messy collection of traits we loosely clump together as "intelligence", and that's within the same species. CJ Cherry's "Foreigner" books are all about how apparently human-like aliens have fundamentally alien cognition, and the traps that come from attempting to map their abilities and motivations onto a simple spectrum defined by human perspective.

Of course, this all assumes we're landing on the material side of the Cartesian duality debate. Tolkien's elves (and humans as well) explicitly have a non-physical self, the "fëa", which exists independently of their body. If gods are tethering thinking and feeling souls to ambulatory meat, then all bets are off in terms of brain size and intelligence. Perhaps the brain in that case merely functions as the interface between the meat and the astral self, and merely needs to be large enough to send and receive signals.

TL;DR: No, big eyes don't mean less intelligent-- and also that's probably not the right question to ask about how a different species thinks, and why.

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    $\begingroup$ Variation of brain size within humans accounts for 9-16% of variation of general intelligence within humans. Mistaking within humans results for within species results is a massive error. $\endgroup$ Jan 3 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ I would be thrilled beyond words to see studies about non-human sapient IQ/brain ratios to see if the correlations were similar, but alas those are mysteriously absent from most journals. My first paragraph addresses the common "elves as basically exactly humans except" scenario, and the next two explain why assuming a linear relationship across species lines would also fail. Help me see the error? $\endgroup$
    – Jay McEh
    Jan 3 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ IQ is, of course, only measurable in humans. There is too much research into animal research and brain size to cover in a comment but, wildly simplifying: brain size is a poor indicator of intelligence because brain size tracks body size better than it tracks intelligence, but for animals of similar body size, higher brain sizes track with higher intelligence. $\endgroup$ Jan 3 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, you meant BETWEEN species, not within? That makes more sense. Yes of course I know about brain/body ratio (or even better, the encephalization quotient), but that's a rough trend line measuring a very different definition of "intelligence" and is generally only coherent across very broad morphological differences. Can't say I see the direct applicability, but I do appreciate the response. $\endgroup$
    – Jay McEh
    Jan 3 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I do mean between species. My bad; it's been a long day. The relevance is that elves and humans are generally considered closer to different species than variations of the same species, depending on seeing, of course. $\endgroup$ Jan 3 at 20:55

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