The question of how complex human abilities evolved, such as language or face recognition, has been pursued by means of multiple strategies. Highly specialized non-human species have been examined analytically for formal similarities, close phylogenetic relatives have been examined for continuity, and simpler species have been analyzed for the broadest view of functional organization. All these strategies require empirical evidence of what is variable and predictable in both the modeled and the model species. Turning to humans, allometric analyses of the evolution of brain mass and brain components often return the interesting, but disappointing answer that volumetric organization of the human brain is highly predictable seen in its phylogenetic context. Reconciling this insight with unique human behavior, or any species-typical behavior, represents a serious challenge. Allometric analyses of the order and duration of mammalian neural development show that, while basic neural development in humans is allometrically predictable, conforming to adult neural architecture, some life history features deviate, notably that weaning is unusually early. Finally, unusual deviations in the retina and central auditory system in the laboratory mouse, which is widely assumed to be “generic,” as well as severe deviations from expected brain allometry in some mouse strains, underline the need for a deeper understanding of phylogenetic variability even in those systems believed to be best understood.