What's the Latest Development?

Theories of evolutionary biology have a dizzying ability to explain the current state of human affairs in terms of what was necessary very early on in our species' heritage. But the power and agility of our brain was by no means necessary to hunt and kill animals, so why did the thinking organ become such an overachiever? According to Tufts University neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, our brain has what engineers call an open architecture, allowing for the development of "new connections among structures and circuits originally devoted to other more basic brain processes."

What's the Big Idea?

There are two essential capabilities that allow our brain to create new connections using basic architecture: An ability to navigate spacial terrain and to recognize familiar shapes. "The navigation module enables us to orient ourselves spatially by registering the orientation and relative distances of walls and other features of our surrounding area. With the shape-recognition module, our brain intuitively uses angles and lengths to register the shapes of small 2-D and 3-D objects." Researchers say the cost of such powerful brains is a long childhood, during which we wire together specialized brain modules as we learn to do what adults manage without effort.

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