The Amazing Human Brain and Human Development

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Lesson 1: Beginning with the Human Brain
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Beginning with the Human Brain

Think about the following phenomena in the animal kingdom. What single explanation can account for these amazing animal abilities?

  • Sharks sense blood in water miles away.
  • Dogs hear very high-pitched sounds.
  • Geese navigate thousand-mile migrations, somehow sensing magnetic fields of the earth.
  • Hawks see the movement of prey from hundreds of feet in the air.
  • Bears detect scents from miles away.
  • Snakes sense body heat.

You guessed it! Each one of these unique capabilities is mediated by the animal's brain. Their brains' capacities to sense, process, and act are designed to help them survive -- to find food, to avoid threat, to procreate, and to ensure the future of the species.

The human brain is programmed similarly. Without the unique properties of the brain, humankind would have become extinct long ago. Our brain helps us survive and thrive while we develop. Once mature, our brain allows us to create, protect, nurture, and teach the next generation. Like the animal brains we just considered, the human brain is designed to help us survive, procreate, and become caregivers.

Evolution Takes Time

Species evolve slowly. Human evolution is no exception. The structural and functional capabilities of the human brain were selected to promote survival tens of thousands of years ago. When the human brain was evolving, there were no computers, electricity, cars, books, or even language, as we know it.

When the human brain was evolving into its current form, humans lived in "primitive" hunter-gatherer bands of about 40 people. For 99 percent of the time that we have been Homo sapiens, our ancestors lived in these very small groups. Nomadic migration, cooperative hunting, and foraging for non-cultivated fruits and grains characterized human lives. It is in these historical roots that the brain's key capabilities evolved and became modified and refined in order to ensure the survival of the species.

Think of how human life has changed in the last 10-thousand years or so. The social structures, economies, communications, technologies, and manifestations of abstract creativity that now characterize human life were obviously not present when the human brain was evolving. In many ways, the complexities of the modern world pose tremendous and unfamiliar challenges to a human brain designed for a different world.


The Brain's Prime Directives

Our brain's design makes it possible for us to survive, procreate, and become caregivers. These three prime directives have ensured the continuation of our species.

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