Second, how does counting neurons have anything to do with the mental abilities that created civilisation? Plenty of people possess the full complement of 86 billion neurons but who lead totally ordinary lives.
It does not occur to them to exploit our almost infinite capacity for creativity. They just live their lives by working and raising families. Primitive cultures faced enormous challenges simply to do the same, leaving almost no time for art, music, invention, discovery, philosophy, religion, and the other accoutrements of civilisation. Why and how could a clump of brain cells, even a huge clump, decide to follow such a trajectory?
The earliest representations of a human figure in sculptural form date back not to early homo sapiens but to homo erectus, somewhere between 250,000 and 750,000 years ago. There is evidence that Neanderthals buried their dead in cave tombs, wore decorative jewellery, and perhaps performed religious ceremonies. If you stop to think about it, there was no pressing reason for the brain to need the wheel or pottery – Australian aborigines existed between 45,000 and 60,000 years, the longest continuous indigenous culture on earth, without either.
The problem with basing human achievements on our big brains is that at the bottom, neuroscience assumes that we are brain puppets. It sounds almost ridiculously simple, but that’s like saying that without a radio you cannot explain music. Putting the apparatus first is such an obvious mistake, you wouldn’t think a science as advanced as brain science would make it – but it has. The equation of Brain = Mind puts the apparatus first. Either the brain created the mind or they developed in some mysterious relationship.
Since science is about clearing up mysteries, the inability to decide how brain relates to mind has been too frustrating. As a short cut, why not say that the brain created the mind? It cut through all the philosophical red tape. Yet for all the convenience that it brings to brain research, there is zero proof that the brain creates the mind. At no point can anyone show how cells that are constituted from the same DNA as heart, liver, and lung cells somehow learnt to think. The very notion that the brain thinks is empty; it is like saying that a piano understands Mozart.
We will never get the brain right until we follow the second path and delve into the mystery of how the mind and brain relate to each other. It is false to assume that brain experts are also mind experts; they aren’t. By adopting the false assumption that the brain is the mind, for all practical purposes, neuroscience has left out the true nature of intelligence, creativity, love, art, compassion, spiritual experiences, and higher evolution. Those things belong to the evolution of the human mind and remain completely baffling if you only stare at neurons through a microscope.
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