Human and Animal Brains: Uniquenesses and Similarities
Several recent science articles explore what we have in common with animals, and what is unique about the human mind.
Grammar test: A Science Daily entry tells the upshot in the headline: “Young Children Have Grammar and Chimpanzees Don’t.” Scientists at University of Pennsylvania believe they have shown that “children as young as 2 understand basic grammar rules when they first learn to speak and are not simply imitating adults.” For instance, children tend to get the definite article “the” and the indefinite article “a” correct every time when referring to objects. They also exhibit more extensive diversity of abstract grammatical concepts. Chimpanzees, by contrast, just don’t get it. The famous 1970’s ape Nim Chimpsky “never grasped rules like those in a 2-year-old’s grammar.” To the researchers, “This suggests that true language learning is — so far — a uniquely human trait, and that it is present very early in development.” An article on PhysOrg, though, claimed that chimpanzees have “metacognition,” the ability to think about thinking. This was based on how they responded to a touch screen to find a hidden reward. None of them, however, were found mumbling, “I think, therefore I am.”
Math test: Another headline tells all, this time from Medical Xpress: “Despite what you may think, your brain is a mathematical genius.” Researchers at the Salk Institute were impressed that the brain appears to run an algorithm called the Gabor Transform when confronting a change of environment. The brain picks out the salient signals in both time and space, and learns to ignore others, in order to extract the maximum amount of useful information. Confronted with precision on the time channel and not the location channel, or vice versa, how does an information theorist decide the best compromise? Nobelist Dennis Gabor, who invented holography in 1971, came up with a mathematical theorem, known as a “Gabor Filter” that “helps obtain the most precise measurements possible for both qualities.” A Salk researcher said that our brains employ a similar strategy.
Music test: Several science sites reported on Canadian research that identified how the brain learns to “like” (in the Facebook sense) a new piece of music and file it in the “favorites” folder. A part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens lights up on fMRI scans when tested on various human subjects. Science Now, Live Science and Medical Xpress discussed how this shows that different human brains appear to have the same responses to a new music experience. Another Live Science article explained how this shows music is a universal language for humans. That article quoted a neuroscientist opining, without evidence, “Evolutionarily, music is something people came together to do.” None of the articles mentioned if animals have a similar response.
Your brain’s janitors: Some things go on in your brain without your knowledge, and good thing: Science Daily described how your brain does “spring cleaning.” All brains have stem cells lying in wait to be called on, ready to become nerve cells or brain cells “whenever and wherever you need them most.” To keep them in readiness, a process in the brain “clears out garbage within the cells, and keeps them in their stem-cell state,” researchers at University of Michigan Medical School found. Even stem cells can generate waste. Through a well-known process called autophagy (eat myself), stem cells periodically clean house to maintain their readiness. The study was conducted on mice.
The fly, the mouse, the human: Another article on Medical Xpress claims that human, mouse and fruit fly brains have some “strikingly similar” characteristics. Al Hirth, a psychologist at King’s Colloge London deduced this from studies of what happens when analogous parts of the brains are disrupted. A photo of the three brains side by side shows dramatic differences in size, like between a pinhead and a cantelope. The researchers found, “despite the major differences between species, their respective constitutions and specifications derive from similar genetic programmes.” Hirth believes this shows common ancestry, but he was just speculating:
Dr Hirth from King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry says: “Flies, crabs, mice, humans: all experience hunger, need sleep and have a preference for a comfortable temperature so we speculated there must be a similar mechanism regulating these behaviours. We were amazed to find just how deep the similarities go, despite the differences in size and appearance of these species and their brains.”
Dr. Hirth did not, however, find mice or fruit flies doing research to figure out how the human brain works. Furthermore, “no fossil remains of the common ancestor exist,” the article admitted.
When you see a sentence start with “Evolutionarily,…” prepare for a myth. Evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists err when they use similarity as evidence for evolution. They fail to consider the evidence for common design. The Creator knew that a fruit fly, a mouse, and a human all need to eat, sleep, and maintain body temperature; that’s why they have similar mechanisms. Animals showcase intelligent causes in their origin; humans, uniquely, use their own intelligence to research other animals to try to understand them. We don’t see monkeys or mice building functional MRI machines and microscopes for the purpose of research. We don’t see chimpanzees using grammar or creating music libraries of favorites.
There’s enough similarity between humans and animals to show a common Creator. There’s enough uniqueness in humans to show we alone are capable of using intelligence for abstract reasoning, the enjoyment of music, the creation of music, reasoning about reality, and thinking about “thinking about thinking.” These abilities require a tool – a brain – yet reach beyond the tools into intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual realms. These traits are common to all humans. The simplest explanation for this is that first human pair was endowed with these abilities from the beginning. The simplest account for it is the Genesis account, at which time humans were impressed with the image of God. Is there anything about the scientific articles in this entry that contradicts that account? No. Are there findings that support it? “Think” about it, and thereby help establish the point.