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Forty Years with Birds and Dogs 

The Brain Is Most Complex

The human brain has been called the most complex object in the universe. It deserves that title because its neurons have so many connections to each other. Suns and galaxies are relatively simple, with billions of objects interacting with fewer nonlinear options. The many types of neurons are not alone in the brain. They are enmeshed in a complicated arrangement of fine connective tissue and fed by a vast network of blood vessels and hormones. Recently we have discovered that they can grow and invent needed pathways. In the 1990's my daughter did her master's thesis showing that the neuronal growth hormone in rats spiked after nights of running on its exercise wheel.

Very interesting, but the point here is that brains, even small ones, are not simple. And they are not all the same. Birds, at least scrub jays, have a special lump of brain tissue that remembers where thousands of peanuts are hidden by our front porch. An entertaining read is Colin Tudge's The Bird .

Another case in point: though my Khaki Campbell ducks can't remember to go around the fence to exit the pen if the opening is not visible, they never forget that I'm the person who digs red worms for them. I suspect that evolution—selection working with the complex phenomenon of self-organization in the brain—has provided living creatures with a genius for finding and selecting good food.

Temple Grandin, in her new book The Autistic Brain , emphasizes that every autistic child is an unique case to be treated with specific care and directions. Behavior patterns labeled autism present a continuum of abilities and unique talents. Labels that categorize symptoms limit the imagination and endanger the treatment by those responsible for the care of individual lives.

We humans are addicted to simplifying. We lazily shelve ideas and concepts whenever we can, applying oversimplified definitions and questions to living beings, like when life begins. Every aspect of life is a continuum, a hierarchy of ongoing complex systems at many levels. Nature doesn't do categories. Though useful for organizing our thinking, they do not serve us well when we confront reality.

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