Why are Humans So Unique?

Why did we get these incredibly complex brains with both the hardware and software for language? And where did consciousness and acts of heroism come from? Is there any evolutionary explanation for these uniquely human qualities?

THREE POUNDS OF LUMPY GRAY AMAZEMENT

So, what are we to make of the human brain? We generally associate complexity with intelligence. The more complex a building or machine, the more intelligence is required to engineer it. The human brain, for starters, contains 12 billion neuron cells intertwined with 100 trillion connections. To illustrate a number as large as 100 trillion, molecular biologist Michael Denton suggests visualizing a solid forest of trees covering half the United States. If each tree contains one hundred thousand leaves, the connections in a human brain would equal the total number of leaves in the entire forest.

Yet the brain’s connections are not mere intersections like those in a highway system, but rather are a highly organized network far exceeding the complexity of all the communication networks on planet Earth.¹

Our memories (one billion trillion bits of them) are not isolated in one section of the brain but instead are intertwined throughout the network. “Each junction has the potential to be part of a memory. So the memory capacity of a human brain is effectively infinite.”² Inside that three pounds of gray matter of yours is enough information to fill 20 million books (19 million if you aren’t that bright).

As we examine our universe, nothing else in it even remotely approaches the complexity of the human brain. Stephen Hawking compares the complexity of the human brain with most present-day computers and reveals the overwhelming superiority of our brains: “In comparison with most computers which have one central processing unit, the brain has millions of processing units … all working at the same time.”³

Even if communication engineers could apply the most sophisticated engineering techniques known to humanity, the assembly of an object remotely resembling the human brain would require an eternity of time. Even then, they still wouldn’t know where to begin.4 The overwhelming processing power takes place within an area of our brains called the cerebral cortex, and it is here where the human enigma is most apparent.

 

THE MYSTERY OF CONSCIOUSNESS

The cerebral cortex is the area of our brains where, mysteriously, “matter is transformed into consciousness.”5 The cerebral cortex distinguishes human beings from all other animals. “Though the difference between the human genome and that of a chimp is estimated to be less than 1 percent, our cerebral cortex has ten times more neurons.”6 But that is not the total story. Mayr reveals, “The unique character of our brain seems to lie in the existence of many (perhaps as many as forty) different types of neurons….”7 And in spite of the DNA similarities, between humans and chimpanzees, there are still some 40 million differences.8

Additionally, recent studies have shown that chimpanzees lack awareness of their own thoughts, a trait that appears to be uniquely human.9

Awareness of thoughts is something that is beyond our ability to create, even in the most sophisticated software programs. When chess Grandmaster Gary Kasparov was defeated by the IBM supercomputer, Deep Blue, the computer didn’t even realize it had won. Deep Blue lacked this self-awareness we take for granted. It is called consciousness, a mystery that has baffled philosophers and scientists for centuries.

Our awareness, with its manipulation of ideas, actually takes place in the prefrontal cortex.10 It is here that we reason, ponder, imagine, fantasize, and seek answers to why we exist. This prefrontal cortex area in a human makes up a far larger proportion of the cerebral cortex than in any animal, and it is the most complex arrangement of matter in the universe.11

If we could shrink in size and become spectators to the incredible activity in the innermost portion of the cerebral cortex, we might see something resembling a kaleidoscope of fireworks networking in all directions. Yet these electrical impulses are billions of organized patterns that result in our thoughts and imaginations. All of these thoughts intersect with our self-awareness.

While consciousness is at rest during sleep, the brain is still in action. “Even in sleep, the brain is pulsing, throbbing and flashing with the complex business of human life—dreaming, remembering, figuring things out. Our thoughts, visions and fantasies have a physical reality.”12

Nobody really understands consciousness or how we got it. Sir John Maddox, former editor-in-chief of the journal Nature, addresses the puzzle of consciousness: “Nobody understands how decisions are made or how imagination is set free. What consciousness consists of, or how it should be defined, is equally puzzling. … We seem as far from understanding cognitive processes as we were a century ago.”13

For years materialists have tried to reduce humans to nothing more than a series of drives and instincts.

However, in reality human consciousness chooses between the instincts, and it is as different and separate from them as the pianist is from the keys he chooses to play on the piano. The consciousness sits over and above our instincts, drives, and desires, and it chooses which it will act upon.14

Thus, man can choose to disregard his own desire to survive for a higher purpose. Such an act of heroism works counter to Darwin’s survival of the fittest, and is unexplainable by materialists. There seems to be something about consciousness that transcends self-preservation.

Another example of consciousness is the objectivity of the self—you distinguish yourself from your experiences. When stimulated, you distinctly feel that pain or pleasure is happening to you and that you are distinct from the experience causing the pain or pleasure. It is this objective awareness of our own thoughts that appears to be unique to human beings.

So difficult is the problem posed by our consciousness that Laurence C. Wood said, “Many brain scientists have been compelled to postulate the existence of an immaterial mind, even though they might not embrace a belief in life after death.”15

What process in natural selection could have led to human consciousness? Although evolutionists have taken a stab at it, no one really knows. Neither do scientists have an explanation for human imagination or creativity.

In human beings, the ability to simulate alternative future events appears to take place within our subjective consciousness. Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins admits that nothing in Darwinian evolution accounts for it. Although Dawkins remains an ardent materialist, he writes, “Why this should have happened is to me, the most profound mystery facing modern biology.”16

Even leading evolutionist Stephen J. Gould recognized the inability of natural selection to explain the human brain. Gould admitted, “I don’t know why the brain got large in the first place. It certainly wasn’t so that we could paint pictures or write symbols.”17

 

DIFFERENT BY DESIGN?

Why did we get these incredibly complex brains with both the hardware and software for language? And according to evolutionists, our brains have remained unchanged. Mayr writes, “What is perhaps most astonishing is the fact that the human brain seems not to have changed one single bit since the first appearance of Homo sapiens….”18 And where did consciousness and acts of heroism come from? There seems to be no evolutionary explanation for any of these unique human qualities.

In his book What Evolution Is, Ernst Mayr argues that our species is the only one of over a billion species that resulted in exceptional intelligence.19

So what are we to make of us? We create music and art. We dream and imagine. We endeavor to reach the stars, launching space shuttles and peering at the universe through powerful telescopes. And we wonder why we are here on this tiny speck called Earth. The enigma of man seems to point to something or someone beyond ourselves.

 

The above post has been excerpted from THE HUMAN ENIGMA: Are Humans the Result of Evolution? at Y-Origins.com.

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¹ Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory In Crisis (Chevy Chase MD: Adler & Adler, 1986), 330-331.

² Denton, 331.

³ Stephen Hawking, The Universe in a Nutshell (London: Bantam, 2001), 169.

4 Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Ballantine, 1985), 229.

5 Gerald L. Schroeder, The Hidden Face of God (New York: Touchstone, 2001), 112.

6 Ibid.

7 Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is (New York: Basic Books, 2001), 252.

8 Nicholas Wade, “In Chimpanzee DNA, Signs of Y Chromosome’s Evolution,” New York Times, Sept. 1, 2005, A13.

9 C. D. L. Wynne, “The Soul of the Ape”, American Scientist, 89 (2001), 120-122.

10 John Maynard Smith, “The Importance of Gossip,” article in Rita Carter, Mapping the Mind (London: Phoenix Books, 2002), 312.

11 Ibid., 298.

12 Sagan, Ibid.

13 Sir John Maddox, “The Genesis Code by Numbers,” Scientific American, December 1999, 62–67.

14 C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1947), 45–49.

15 Laurence W. Wood, Asbury Theological Journal 41, no.1 (1986).

16 Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 59.

17 Stephen Jay Gould, quoted in Wim Kayzer, ‘A Glorious Accident’ (New York: W. H. Freeman & Co., 1997), 93.

18 Mayr, Ibid.

19 Mayr, Ibid.