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No Engineer Would Have Designed the Human Brain the Way It Is

November 27, 2013, 12:00 AM

"What a piece of work is a man!" remarks Hamlet. "How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!" And yet man, this "paragon of animals," is no source of delight to Shakespeare's contemplative prince. 

One can hardly blame him. 

Consider what a "freaking mess" the human brain is, after all. David Linden, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, peers into the hardware that man has been given, and finds the most primitive operating system:

We have two visual systems in our brain, a subconscious one and a conscious one. We have two auditory systems in our brain, a subconscious one and a conscious one. No engineer ever would have designed it like this.

No wonder that Hamlet, plagued as he is by visions of ghosts and thoughts of suicide, has such a difficult time sorting things out. He has to take in information from two different streams and fuse them together. That's what creates our behavior. 

And so if God designed our brain, you could call him a really bad engineer. Or, to put it another way, as François Jacob famously said, evolution is a tinkerer and not an engineer. When you're a tinkerer, David Linden explains, "you throw things together to solve the problem at hand.  You don’t build elegantly and you don’t build the way an engineer would build to try to consider all the possible contingencies.  You’re just solving the one problem that circumstances have dealt you at this moment."

That is why we should avoid falling into the trap of believing that just because something evolved means that it is useful to us today. Our brains are impressive, Linden says. But the engineering behind the brain "is completely insane."

Watch the video here:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock



No Engineer Would Have Desi...

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