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Can We “Re-Wire” Humans to Survive?

“The brain is the great factory of thought. To it are directed all the forces of nature, forces which, for thousands of years, have been expending themselves upon it and impressing on it a slow and continuous motion of evolution.” ~Leonardo Bianchi (from The Mechanism of the Brain and the Function of the Frontal Lobes, 1922)

“There are billions of neurons in our brains, but what are neurons? Just cells. The brain has no knowledge until connections are made between neurons. All that we know, all that we are, comes from the way our neurons are connected.” ~Tim Berners-Lee (from Weaving The Web: the original design and ultimate destiny of the world wide web by its inventor, 1999)

We like to think that we control our own minds. However, an increasing volume of research indicates the great extent the collective weight of evolution—embodied in a few pounds of gray matter—drives human behavior much like the proverbial tail wags the dog.

While many of the questions regarding how much free will we exercise over our own brain remain academic, there is one question that is of paramount importance to the human race: Are we wired to survive? We are forced to ask this question because—as is becoming painfully evident—many of the evolutionary tactics that once facilitated our survival as a species no longer serve that function. Indeed, we appear to have a substantial amount of wiring that, in our present environment, powers self-destructive behaviors that actually endanger our survival as a species.

Case in point: Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). AGW is not only real—as its name implies, humans are the driving force behind it. The fact that, in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence for AGW, we have to refer to it by the kinder, gentler term “climate change” in order to facilitate any political discourse at all on the subject is evidence of human brain wiring gone wrong. Then there are large segments of the population who remain steadfast in their beliefs that AGW is a myth at best and a global conspiracy at worst. For some of these true (dis)believers, no amount of scientific evidence will ever convince them otherwise.

The problem lies in the same brain wiring that once helped us survive as a species. We are wired to respond to threats that are:

  • Intentional
  • Immoral
  • Imminent
  • Instantaneous

The problem with AGW is that it is none of these things. We have created a global threat far worse than terrorism, yet because it does not wear a foreign, bearded face we don’t recognize it. AGW is trapping the heat equivalent to one million Hiroshima bombs a day in our atmosphere; yet because it is not threatening to detonate a single conventional bomb on an airplane we ignore its global threat.

With a nod to Pogo’s wisdom, we have met the enemy, and he is us. The question is not will we negotiate peaceful terms to end the war on ourselves; the question is will we even realize that we are at war in time. The daily global opinion coverage that passes for “news” and the political grandstanding/foot-dragging at prestigious international conferences don’t appear to lend much hope for meaningful action on AGW. However, I teach a college course in critical thinking. I have personally witnessed (and hopefully helped facilitate) brain rewiring. Let us all become teachers of critical thinking, and let us use all the technological tools our species has crafted to our best advantage. I remain optimistic that the species that built a global communications network can rewire enough of our own brains to ensure the survival of our species and planet.

“Brain: an apparatus with which we think that we think.” ~Ambrose Bierce

Many thanks to http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/quotes.html for the quotes used herein!

Kyle Crider is Manager – Environmental Operations at Ecotech Institute and Education Corporation of America. He holds a Master of Public Administration degree with a double-emphasis in Urban Planning & Policy Analysis. He is also a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Neighborhood Development (LEED AP ND). He is currently in the Interdisciplinary Engineering Ph.D. Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Ecotech Institute or Education Corporation of America. Email Kyle at kyle.crider@ecotechinstitute.com