Notes Psychology

Rule 2: The Human Brain Evolved, Too (Brain Rules)

Adapt or Die

The odds that our ancestors survived were very small. We were a tribe of 2000 people that managed to overcome our physical weaknesses through intelligence. Nature selected for those who learned from their mistakes, not necessarily those who had the sharpest fangs.

Climate constantly changed, which forced us to improvise when dealing with shortages in food supply.

Variable Selection Theory attempts to explain why our ancestors became allergic to stupidity and inflexibility. The theory predicts that the brain has a database to store knowledge and the ability to improvise off that database. One lets us know we’ve made mistakes, the other allows us to learn from them. Both teach us under rapidly changing conditions, and both are relevant to how classrooms are designed.

If a learning environment only deals with database instinct or improvisatory instincts, it ignores half of our ability. It is like a jazz musician who knows music theory but has never improvised on stage. Schools focus on rote-learned databases, there is little improvisation – the instinct that has been drilled into us for millions of years.

Creativity suffers. Other schools emphasize creativity, but without enough knowledge. This ignores the need for deep understanding. You get great improvisors without depth – a jazz musician who appears to be jamming, but they don’t know anything – they are playing intellectual air guitar.

Bigger Brains

Using two legs instead of four freed us enough energy to develop more complex brains.

There is a scorpion sculpture sitting atop your brain, carrying a puckered egg on its back. The Paleomammalian brain exists in many mammals – this is also known as the cat’s brain. Its functions are involved with the four F’s. Fighting, feeding, fleeing, and fucking.

But we don’t have one brain in our heads; we have three. Our lizard brain helps us breathe, we then added a brain like a cat’s and finally the cortex – the powerful “human” brain.

As our brains evolved, our heads got bigger. The pelvis and birth canal were not wide enough to contain larger heads. Many mothers and babies died as a result. Human pregnancies are still very risky without proper medical intervention. The solution was to give birth to a baby with a small enough head. The drawback was a baby unfit for survival on its own. But it was worth it. This creature was still capable of learning in the first few years, but not doing much else. This created not only learners, but teachers. It is in our best interest to teach well; our genetic survival depends on it.

But having babies was a useless endeavor if the adults risked death before they could parent their children. So, we got along with each other.

If you want to become the biggest person on the block and you have thousands of years to do so, you increase your physical size. But another way is creating allies. That’s how we could defeat woolly mammoths.

Brain Rules (Updated and Expanded): 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and SchoolRule 2: The Human Brain Evolved, Too (Brain Rules) 1

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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