In Part 1 I talked about the development of the brain in animals and in humans, and noted that while differences between human brains and the brains of the great apes are clear, they’re not as drastic as one might expect given the huge leap in intelligence that human consciousness represents. Research shows that the difference between our brains and the brains of the Great Apes have more to do with inner connectivity and higher efficiency in processing in human brains than ape brains are capable of.
For example a recently published paper on Albert Einstein’s brain showed that the corpus collosum, the pathway between the brain’s two hemispheres, was better developed than most. The same was true of the frontal cortex and particularly the prefrontal cortex, the front part of the frontal cortex, which is an area most associated with uniquely human cognitive abilities like imagination, problem-solving, complex planning, and other aspects of human intelligence. Einstein may have had an advantage over other humans in this regard, but the point is that the brains of our closest ape relatives don’t have some of this functionality at all, or if they do it is nowhere near as well developed as it is in human brains. Our mental processing power is comparable to a computer running on integrated circuits rather than on vacuum tubes or mechanical mechanisms.
This unique quality of intelligence gives humans the ability to think about what we think about. We can examine our own thoughts, we can follow chains of speculative ideas that we ourselves are creating entirely within our own minds. We can examine the patterns of our thoughts and actions as if we were operating in two or more levels of consciousness simultaneously. One level is reading these words, another is thinking about them or reacting to them, a third might be a barely perceived thread off in the corner somewhere figuring out how or where or even if such an idea fits in to the way you see things.
In this post I want to edge a little closer to the question of how this capacity gives us a doorway to Spirit. For that I’ll need to return to Jean Piajet, whose work on childhood development included the concept of the schema as a functional product of the developing conscious mind.
A schema is a mental map that we have of the world. It represents our conception of what the world is composed of, how the pieces fit together, what makes them go, and how they affect us personally. The sense of what the world means to us is a product of our internal schemas. Our minds begin constructing the schema in our earliest infancy, and as we mature the schema grows more and more complex as we incorporate knowledge.
As adults, this schema reflects the core of who we are as individual human beings.