Animals First

October 10, 2021

Articles | Collections | Newsletter

Usually, when people talk about an enthusiasm for 'neuroscience' and the 'brain', they're _really_ interested in cognition—how 'thinking' happens. There is value in a science of the brain, though. It tells us that in many ways, humans aren't special. In many ways, we're animals first.

This article's ideology: When we use the architecture of the brain to scaffold our thinking about the mind, we come to learn that humans are primarily animals first. Scroll to Summary

Usually, when people talk about an enthusiasm for 'neuroscience' and the 'brain', they're really interested in cognition—how 'thinking' happens. People want the instruction manual for this device in the head that they've been told controls their behaviour. And maybe, they want the instruction manual for other people's too. But it's not so much the device they are curious about, as the controlling of behaviour.

This common mistake is no-one's fault, really. It's accidental PR. Calling the control of human behaviour 'neuroscience' just sounds good. The fact that we perceive a 'self' perched somewhere behind our eyes doesn't help—it lends weight to the idea that the 'brain' and 'thinking' might be interchangable terms.

In reality though, a close study of human neuroanatomy will tell you very little about human behaviour. There isn't much to be learned about good driving in the internal workings of the carburetor. Similarly, there isn't a great deal to be learned about human behaviour in the nuclei of the basal ganglia.

Honestly, the best lessons in human behaviour come from cognitive science. Models of how thinking and behaving happen that don't particularly rely on the architecture of the brain at all. What people want is a science of the mind, not a science of the brain.

There is value in a science of the brain, though. The number one error that philosophy and sciences of the mind make—over and over again—is in imagining cognitive functions that simply don't exist. Models of the mind that couldn't possibly be true, because there's no way the architecture of the brain could support it. The second major error is overemphasising cognitive functions that aren't actually that important. Models of the mind that are over-complicated, or over-powered for the job we imagine them do be doing.

The reason for this is some deeply held notion that humans are special from other animals. That we are rational, superior, and 'in control' of the world in a way other animals are not.

A science of the brain helps us understand that, all things considered, this is probably not particularly true. Humans are special, but even though our specialness is one of the most obvious things about us, it might not be the most important. At least not when it comes to understanding ourselves. And our specialness is almost certainly not for the reasons we typically assume.

When we use a science of the brain to scaffold our understanding of the mind, we come to make sense of "the halt, the lame, the half-made creatures that we are". Not because we're flawed, but because before we are human, we're animals first.

This article is the introduction to Neurotypica---a guide to brain and behaviour.

This article's ideology

Ideology: When we use the architecture of the brain to scaffold our thinking about the mind, we come to learn that humans are primarily animals first.

Summary:
There is some deeply held notion that humans are special from other animals. That we are rational, superior, and 'in control' of the world in a way other animals are not. A science of the brain helps us understand that, all things considered, this is probably not particularly true. When we use a science of the brain to scaffold our understanding of the mind, we come to make sense of "the halt, the lame, the half-made creatures that we are". Not because we're flawed, but because before we are human, we're animals first.

Return to Top | Ideology... what?

Articles | Collections | Email me

Ideologies you choose at The Armchair Collective.

There are over 2000 of us. Get the newsletter.
Contribute to the site's upkeep by donating: Bitcoin | Paypal