TED Conversations

George Holevas

Student in Chemical Engineering, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

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Do you believe the human brain will continue to increase its capabilities?

According to neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran's TED talk, "The neurons that shaped civilization", a sudden emergence and rapid spread of a number of skills that are unique to human beings occurred 75k to 100k years ago. These defining skills include the use of tools, fire, shelter, language, and the ability to interpret a person's behavior.

He attributes the rapid development of these skills to a sudden emergence of a sophisticated mirror neuron system. Mirror nuerons are a relatively recent discovered set of neurons that fire when an animal either performs an action or observes that same action performed by another, essentially allowing us to emulate and imitate each other's actions.

Ramachandran speculates that this brain development was incredibly beneficial to the progression of mankind because it allowed an accidental discovery by one member of the group, such as use of fire or a particular kind of tool, to spread horizontally across the population and then transmit vertically down the generations. This temporarily made evolution Lamarckian instead of Darwinian, meaning that acquired traits over a lifetime could be passed down to offspring via emulation instead of relying on Darwinian evolution which could take hundreds of thousands of years.

The question I would like to pose is, might our brains (collectively as a species) soon experience such a new type of development once again? If so, what new skills could this more sophisticated neuron system facilitate our ability to perform, considering trends in globalization, collaboration etc (e.g. collaborative tasks across geographies, learning multiple languages more quickly etc )? Has the brain's full potential already been unleashed? Or will it perpetually continue to develop more complex neural permutations?


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    Mar 9 2013: The truth is that brain size plays a very significant role in the very existence of man and amongst all the species including that at microscopic level which certainly also has a driving force behind it. The question to ask is how far you would need to dissect a brain before you can claim it no longer to be a brain. Brain size can be considered to be the mother of all of our perceived realities without which all species and organisms would have been totally lost amongst a world of matter.
    As yet it is also still not clearly understood, if understood at all, why the duration for the development of brains from birth to adulthood differs so vastly amongst all the species of which humans is no exception. The complete development of a human’s brain for example takes much longer than that of animals. By Googeling on the internet you will be inundated with thousands of speculations and well conducted research as to why, but sadly none capable of solving the mystery. I can go into this much more deeply, and there are limits to brain capacity as well as we are headed to a collective change. Feel free to study my website and you will understand in a new way. Bushy

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