July 8, 2019 | Jerry Bergman

Brains by Mistake: The Darwin Poof Spoof

Your Brain: The Most Complex Object in the Known Universe

Evolution Says It Was Produced by a Massive Number of Mistakes

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

The current New Scientist magazine is a special issue on the human brain, boldly pronouncing on the cover that the human brain is “the most complex object in the known universe.”[1] The article then listed the “eight wonders of the human brain.”[2] One of the first is the fact that “it isn’t easy to explain what makes the human brain so special” compared to the brains of all other life-forms, but it clearly is very special. No animal can compete with it. One measurable factor that gives us superiority is cortical mass: human brains have more neurons in the cortex than any animal. It also takes longer for humans to reach maturity, indicating one reason our brains are more complex than any other mammal.[3] Another factor is the 16 billion cortical neurons involved in our cognitive dominance.

The new issue of Scientific American carried a story similar to the New Scientist cover story, titled “How the Mind Arises.” Evolutionary scientists try to explain the mind by natural selection of mutations, 99 percent of which are either near neutral (meaning slightly harmful) or deleterious.[4] The article’s clear materialist bias can be seen in the phrase, “how matter becomes mind.” The writers conclude that mental activity arises “from carefully orchestrated interactions among different brain areas.”[5]

What these “carefully orchestrated interactions” are, and how they are directed, is not known. It seems that the more that is learned about the brain, the more complex it gets. Concurrently, new questions come up, leading to the impression that the more we know, the more we realize what we don’t know. The Scientific American article ends by noting that there are hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is  “just a fraction of the 100 trillion connections in our brain that enable us to sense, think, and act.”[6]

With 100 billion neurons forming 100 trillion connections, the human brain is the most complex piece of matter in the known universe. This simple mapping diagram cannot even begin to portray its true complexity.

Can Evolution “Over-Design” a Brain?

Tufts University Professor Maryanne Wolf explains in a book about reading that we did not evolve to read, but rather to hunt, run and reproduce, but we can read because our brain is overdesigned. She explains that the brain has a “wider than the Sky” capacity allowing “the brain’s quasi-miraculous ability to go outside its boundaries to develop new, never before imagined functions.”[7] She adds that neuroscientist David Eagleman wrote that brain cells are “connected to one another in a network of such staggering complexity that it bankrupts human language and necessitates new strains of mathematics… there are as many connections in a single cubic centimeter of brain capacity as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy.’”[8]

Professor Wolf then adds “it is the capacity to make these mind-reeling numbers of connections that allows our brain to go beyond its original functions to form a completely new circuit for reading.”[9] And, one might add, to fly a jet plane faster than the speed of sound, or play a concerto on the violin. The brain is able to achieve these wonders due to the fact of its “‘plasticity within limits’ in the brain’s design” which enables it to “go beyond its original, biological endowed functions” to form new sets of pathways by repurposing its older, “more basic structures.”[10]

The fact is, we have very little understanding of how the brain works.[11] The main problem, according to Dr. Sebastian Seung, Professor of Computational Neuroscience and Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (his Ph.D. is in theoretical physics from Harvard), is that researching something

as complex as the brain may seem almost futile. The brain’s billions of neurons resemble trees of many species and come in many fantastic shapes. Only the most determined explorers can hope to capture a glimpse of this forest’s interior, and even they see little, and see it poorly. It’s no wonder that the brain remains an enigma.[12]

Dr. Seung adds that humans are very “curious about brains that malfunction or excel, but even the humdrum [brain activities] lacks explanation. Every day we recall the past, perceive the present, and imagine the future. How do our brains accomplish these feats? It’s safe to say that nobody really knows.”[13] Some researchers question if humans will ever completely understand how the brain functions, and conclude that it may forever remain a black box, but we will never know if this is true unless we attempt this important research task. The Human Connectome Project is one small step in this direction.

The Human Connectome Project

Professor Seung’s MIT laboratory is currently developing new technologies for mapping the trillions of connections between the brain’s neurons, which, as a set, is called the connectome. As with an orchestra, the collective product of learning, reasoning and acting is not due to individual neurons, but rather to the unique connections of the connectome. Likewise, music results from all of the active instruments in the collective. The performance results from which notes and which instruments are played separately or together, and when a specific response is activated.[14] Forming connections between neurons is the major method used by the brain to learn new ideas, new concepts, and everything else.

It’s not the skull shape that matters. It’s the connectome.

Seung’s MIT lab is also investigating evidence that humans are unique compared to all other life, including primates, because we are wired very differently than all other life forms. A major factor that distinguishes us from apes—but by far not the only one,—is our larger and far more complex connectome.[15]

Professor Seung’s end goal is to map the total human connectome: the totality of our brain’s neuronal connections, meaning specifically how it is wired together to produce all that our brains achieve. As Seung documents, mapping 100 trillion connections of the over 100 billion neurons in the human brain is an enormously daunting project. Scientists are still far from being able to achieve this task, but some progress, although still very limited, has been made. To achieve this goal, he uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This neuroimaging procedure uses MRI technology to measure brain activity by detecting microscopic changes in blood flow. The technique relies on the fact that all neuronal activation results in increased cerebral blood flow.

Measuring Brain Activity

When a specific area of the brain is used, blood flow to that region increases. Thus, fMRI allows determining what part of the brain is in use when, for example, a subject reads a book or looks at a picture. It is still a very crude way to measure brain activity, and is also somewhat limited in mapping the brain’s wiring, but researchers must begin somewhere if they want to reach the goal of understanding how our brains do all that they do.

Seung also is attempting to detail how memories are both impressed on, and stored in, the brain. The human brain’s complexity is currently still beyond overwhelming. Consequently, “many neuroscientists have chosen to study animals with drastically fewer neurons than humans.”[16] For this reason, researchers commonly use the roundworm, C. elegans, which actually

lacks what we’d call a brain. Its neurons are scattered throughout its body rather than centralized in a single organ. Together they form a nervous system containing a mere 300 neurons. That sounds manageable.… Every neuron in this worm has been given a unique name and has a characteristic location and shape. Worms are like precision machines.[17]

Progress in mapping the mere 300 neurons in the C. elegans roundworm, along with ongoing development in imaging technology (such as the automated ultra-microtome to obtain extremely thin tissue samples) has been critical in understanding the structure and function of the diverse neuron types in the roundworm, and how the complex interactive networks operate that result from neural connections.

The Brain’s Plasticity

One important area of research is the brain’s plasticity, meaning its ability to learn new skills or rewire after a brain injury, such as caused by a stroke or disease. Significant plasticity is well known in children, but research has indicated some plasticity also exists in adults. In spite of some promising reports, Seung concluded that, due to “our crude experimental techniques, only drastic kinds of rewiring have been detectable.”[18] The best method of plasticity detection comes from evaluating changes in behavior. Having the subject perform some specific task, for instance, and then observing any brain alterations that result, allows the researcher to make some assumptions about the subject’s brain plasticity.

We are more than our brains.

Seung is also attempting to shed light on philosophical questions that have been with us for as long as humans have existed, such as, (to put it crudely), are we nothing more than a machines run by computers made of meat? Or can we, by scientific methods, document that we have a soul – a personality that exists apart from the physical body? In this area, the authors of all of the sources referenced in this review are constrained by the Darwinian worldview. This bias inhibits their freedom to explore these issues outside of Darwinian orthodoxy.[19]

Summary: Information Overload

The numbers cited above are hard to grasp but give only a crude picture of the enormous amount of information in the human brain. Multiply 100 trillion connections in one person by the almost seven billion alive today, or the 100 billion persons estimated to have been born since Adam, to illustrate this fact. Or, to be more accurate, multiply 100 trillion times the trillions of mammals and birds that have ever lived to obtain a more complete estimate of the information in animal and human brains. Like young people exclaim, TMI! (too much information!). And yet the brain is still largely a black box, still largely unopened. But to believe that all this information is the result of evolutionary mistakes should strike people as irrational. A human brain arising from genetic damage caused by mutations? A human brain emerging blindly by natural selection? Beyond impossible.

References

[1] New Scientist. June 22-28, 2019. Cover.

[2] Sam Wong. 2019. New Scientist. June 22-28, p. 34.

[3] Sam Wong. 2019. New Scientist. June 22-28, p. 34.

[4] Scientific America cover, July 2019.

[5] Max Bertolero and Danielle Bassett. 2019. “How Matter Becomes Mind.” Scientific America.  July, p. 26.

[6] Scientific America cover, July 2019. “Decoding 100 Trillion Messages,” pp. 30-31.

[7] Maryanne Wolf. 2018. “Reader, Come Home. The Reading Brain is a Digital World.” New York, NY: HarperCollins Publisher, p. 16.

[8] Maryanne Wolf, p. 16.

[9] Maryanne Wolf, p. 16.

[10] Maryanne Wolf, pp. 16-17.

[11] Sebastian Seung. 2013. Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

[12] Sebastian Seung, 2013, p. xi.

[13] Sebastian Seung, 2013, p. xi.

[14] Max Bertolero and Danielle Bassett, 2019, p. 28.

[15] Sebastian Seung, 2013, p. 276.

[16] Sebastian Seung, 2013, p. xi.

[17] Sebastian Seung, 2013, p. xi.

[18] Sebastian Seung, 2013, p. 128.

[19] Sebastian Seung, 2013, p. 274.



Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology at several colleges and universities including for over 40 years at Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored, are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

Recommended resource: See the new series Science Uprising from Discovery Institute. Regarding the brain and the soul, see Episode 2, “No, You’re Not a Robot Made of Meat,” featuring neurosurgeon Michael Egnor.

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