Human in the Brain
By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education.
July 7, 2014 — Adam Kieper wrote a review of Michael Gazzanig’s book, Human titled, The Synapse and the Soul. It appeared in The Wall Street Journal (July 8, 2008). He begins, interestingly, with philosophical questions:
What is it that makes us human – that sets us apart from other animals? What drives us to act altruistically? Why do we gossip and flirt and empathize? How do we judge beauty, and why are we impelled to create works of art?
We may detect here a historical movement of focus on those we look to for answers to these questions. First, it was the priests and saints who answered these questions for us. Then, it was the philosophers, then, the physicists, and lately it seems, the task has fallen to those who study the undiscovered frontiers of the brain-mind: the neurologists, neuro-psychologists and their ilk.
There is no doubt that the current flurry of brain research is fascinating, useful, and important. Its impact in the field of education alone has been significant, although some may argue that the rush to apply untested implications of studies and experiments is not wise. The field of education has always been prone toward the faddish. Much of the material I read about brain and learning seems able to explain why and how people learn in more exact ways—referencing molecular and chemical dynamics. But some attempts to interpret these explanations into “new ways of learning” seem unwarranted.
Kieper notes that “To the extent that Mr. Gazzaniga provides any guidance about the future, it is that he believes the evolution of our brains isn’t over yet.” To think about what the brain—and the human—will become at the next evolutionary leap is exciting and daunting. But until that happens I suspect the philosophical Perennialists will win the day. Until the next evolutionary leap humans will continue to learn, think, and feel the way the species always has. Or, to put it differently, “Everybody learns the same everywhere.”