It is undeniable that among living things today we observe a gigantic gap between the human kind and any animal. In Populations, Species and
, Professor Ernst Mayr of Harvard University, a prominent evolutionist, states:
“No more tragic mistake could be made than to consider man ‘merely an animal.’ Man is unique; he differs from all other animals in many
properties, such as speech, tradition, culture, and an enormously extended period of growth and parental care.”
What sets man apart from all other creatures on earth is his brain. Of all creatures on earth, only humans are capable of abstract reasoning, using
complex languages, accumulating and building on knowledge and transmitting the improvement to their children. Only humans invent and improve on tools.
Only they appreciate beauty, compose music and paint pictures. The power of abstract thought and of speech sets man far apart from any animal, and the
ability to record accumulating knowledge is one of man’s most remarkable characteristics. Use of this knowledge has enabled him to surpass all other
living kinds on earth—even to the point of going to the moon and back. Truly, as one scientist said, man’s brain “is different and
immeasurably more complicated than anything else in the known universe.” (The Brain: The Last Frontier
, by Richard M. Restak, 1979, p.
Animals have functioning brains. Still, the human brain is in a class by itself, making us undeniably unique. For years man’s brain has been likened
to a computer, yet recent discoveries show that the comparison falls far short. “How does one begin to comprehend the functioning of an organ with
somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 billion neurons with a million billion synapses (connections), and with an overall firing rate of perhaps 10
million billion times per second?” asked Dr. Richard M. Restak. His answer? “The performance of even the most advanced of the neural-network
computers . . . has about one ten-thousandth the mental capacity of a housefly.” Consider, then, how much a computer fails to measure up to a human
brain, which is so remarkably superior.
What man-made computer can repair itself, rewrite its program, or improve over the years? When a computer system needs to be adjusted, a programmer
must write and enter new coded instructions. Our brain does such work automatically, both in the early years of life and in old age. You would not be
exaggerating to say that the most advanced computers are very primitive compared to the brain. Scientists have called it “the most complicated
structure known” and “the most complex object in the universe.” Consider some discoveries that have led many to conclude that the human brain is
the product of a caring Creator.
Use It or Lose It
Useful inventions such as cars and jet planes are basically limited by the fixed
mechanisms and electrical systems that men design and install.
By contrast, our brain is, at the very least, a highly flexible
biological mechanism or system. It can keep changing according to the way it is
used—or abused. Two main factors seem responsible for how our brain develops throughout our lifetime—what we allow to enter it through our senses
and what we choose to think about.
Although hereditary factors may have a role in mental performance, modern research shows that our brain is not fixed by our genes at the time of
conception. “No one suspected that the brain was as changeable as science now knows it to be,” writes Pulitzer prize-winning author Ronald
Kotulak. After interviewing more than 300 researchers, he concluded: “The brain is not a static organ; it is a constantly changing mass of cell
connections that are deeply affected by experience.”—Inside the Brain
Still, our experiences are not the only means of shaping our brain. It is affected also by our thinking. Scientists find that the brains of people who
remain mentally active have up to 40 percent more connections (synapses) between nerve cells (neurons) than do the brains of the mentally lazy.
Neuroscientists conclude: You have to use it or you lose it. What, though, of the elderly? There seems to be some loss of brain cells as a person
ages, and advanced age can bring memory loss. Yet the difference is much less than was once believed. A National Geographic
report on the human
brain said: “Older people . . . retain capacity to generate new connections and to keep old ones via mental activity.”
Recent findings about our brain’s flexibility accord with advice found in the Bible. That book of wisdom urges readers to be ‘transformed by
making their mind over’ or to be “made new” through “accurate knowledge” taken into the mind. (Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:10) It also
says that “solid [mental] food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their powers of discernment* [Or “their perceptive
powers.”] trained to distinguish both right and wrong.” (Hebrews 5:14)
I personally have seen this happen as people study the Bible
and apply its counsel. Many thousands—from the whole spectrum of social and educational backgrounds—have done so. They remain distinct
individuals, but they have become happier and more balanced, displaying what a first-century writer called “soundness of mind.” (Acts 26:24, 25)
Improvements like these result largely from one’s making good use of a part of the cerebral cortex located in the front of the head.
Your Frontal Lobe
Most neurons in the outer layer of the brain, the cerebral cortex, are not linked directly to muscles and sensory organs. For example, consider the
billions of neurons that make up the frontal lobe. Brain scans prove that the frontal lobe becomes active when you think of a word or call up
memories. The front part of the brain plays a special role in your being you.
“The prefrontal cortex . . . is most involved with elaboration of thought, intelligence, motivation, and personality. It associates experiences
necessary for the production of abstract ideas, judgment, persistence, planning, concern for others, and conscience. . . . It is the elaboration of
this region that sets human beings apart from other animals.” (Marieb’s Human Anatomy and Physiology
) We certainly see evidence of this
distinction in what humans have accomplished in fields such as mathematics, philosophy, and justice, which primarily involve the prefrontal cortex.
Why do humans have a large, flexible prefrontal cortex, which contributes to higher mental functions, whereas in animals this area is rudimentary or
nonexistent? The contrast is so great that biologists who claim that we evolved speak of the “mysterious explosion in brain size.” Professor of
Biology Richard F. Thompson, noting the extraordinary expansion of our cerebral cortex, admits: “As yet we have no very clear understanding of why
this happened.” Could the reason lie in man’s having been created
with this peerless brain capacity?
Unequaled Communication Skills
Other parts of the brain also contribute to our uniqueness. Behind our prefrontal cortex is a strip stretching across the head—the motor cortex. It
contains billions of neurons that connect with our muscles. It too has features that contribute to our being far different from apes or other animals.
The primary motor cortex gives us “(1) an exceptional capability to use the hand, the fingers, and the thumb to perform highly dexterous manual
tasks, and (2) use of the mouth, lips, tongue, and facial muscles to talk.”—Guyton’s Textbook of Medical Physiology
Consider briefly how the motor cortex affects your ability to speak. Over half of it is devoted to the organs of communication. This helps to
explain the unparalleled communication skills of humans. Though our hands play a role in communication (in writing, normal gestures, or sign
language), the mouth usually plays the major part. Human speech—from a baby’s first word to the voice of an elderly person—is unquestionably a
marvel. Some 100 muscles in the tongue, lips, jaw, throat, and chest cooperate to produce countless sounds. Note this contrast: One brain cell can
direct 2,000 fibers of an athlete’s calf muscle, but brain cells for the voice box may concentrate on only 2 or 3 muscle fibers. Does that not
suggest that our brain is specially equipped for communication?
Each short phrase that you utter requires a specific pattern of muscular movements. The meaning of a single expression can change depending
upon the degree of movement and split-second timing of scores of different muscles. “At a comfortable rate,” explains speech expert Dr. William H.
Perkins, “we utter about 14 sounds per second. That’s twice as fast as we can control our tongue, lips, jaw or any other parts of our speech
mechanism when we move them separately. But put them all together for speech and they work the way fingers of expert typists and concert pianists do.
Their movements overlap in a symphony of exquisite timing.”
The actual information needed to ask the simple question, “How are you today?” is stored in a part of your brain’s frontal lobe called
Broca’s area, which some consider to be your speech center. Nobel laureate neuroscientist Sir John Eccles wrote: “No area corresponding to the . .
. speech area of Broca has been recognized in apes.” Even if some similar areas are found in animals, the fact is that scientists cannot get apes to
produce more than a few crude speech sounds. You, though, can produce complicated language. To do so, you put words together according to the grammar
of your language. Broca’s area helps you do that, both in speaking and in writing.
Of course, you cannot exercise the miracle of speech unless you know at least one language and understand what its words mean. This involves
another special part of your brain, known as Wernicke’s area. Here, billions of neurons discern the meaning of spoken or written words. Wernicke’s
area helps you to make sense of statements and to comprehend what you hear or read; thus you can learn information and can respond sensibly.
There is even more to your fluent speech. To illustrate: A verbal “Hello” can convey a host of meanings. Your tone of voice reflects
whether you are happy, excited, bored, rushed, annoyed, sad, or frightened, and it may even reveal degrees of those emotional states. Another area of
your brain supplies information for the emotional part of speech. So, various parts of your brain come into play when you communicate.
Chimpanzees have been taught some limited sign language, but their use of it is essentially limited to simple requests for food or other
basics. Having worked to teach chimps simple nonverbal communication, Dr. David Premack concluded: “Human language is an embarrassment for
evolutionary theory because it is vastly more powerful than one can account for.”
We might ponder: ‘Why do humans have this marvelous skill to communicate thoughts and feelings, to inquire and to respond?’ The
Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics states that “[human] speech is special” and admits that “the search for precursors in animal
communication does not help much in bridging the enormous gap that separates language and speech from nonhuman behaviors.” Professor Ludwig Koehler
summarized the difference: “Human speech is a secret; it is a divine gift, a miracle.”
What a difference there is between an ape’s use of signs and the complex language ability of children! Sir John Eccles referred to what most
of us have also observed, an ability “exhibited even by 3-year-old children with their torrent of questions in their desire to understand their
world.” He added: “By contrast, apes do not ask questions.” Yes, only humans form questions, including questions about the meaning of
edit on 29-2-2020 by whereislogic because: (no reason given)