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Brains shape culture

People create their culture
Consulting Educational and Communications Expert
Trends in Education

Learning changes the brain

"Pensar es servir"


Every mind is creative
For individuals in a cultural group, culture is the internal representation of the world, and it is expressed through worldviews, patterns of thought, behaviour and social interactions that are shared within the group. These cultural patterns and structures are self-maintaining. We identify with people who share our worldviews, and the collective expressions of our culture reinforce it.

Cultures produce the symbols and ideas, tools and artifacts, traditions and technologies through which they are identified, maintained, and transmitted from one generation to another. In our modernized societies, social scientists consider values, symbols, interpretations, and perspectives to be the essential differences between cultures. In other words, "the essence of a culture is not its artifacts, tools, and other tangible cultural elements but how the members of the group interpret, use, and perceive them" (CARLA).

Our neurons are "basically identical" to the neurons of other animals

Scientific evidence confirms that our neurons are "basically identical" to the neurons of other animals, including marine snails as well as chimpanzees, all of which have plastic brains.

This similarity between our brains and those of other animals has allowed scientists to study the human brain using animal models.

It has also enabled the discovery of the distinguishing gene that allows humans to grow roughly 100 billion neurons, compared to chimpanzees, whose brains are roughly one-third the size of ours.

The number of synaptic connections made possible by 100 billion neurons far outnumbers the particles of the known universe. These astronomical numbers help to explain the vast potential for creativity, contemplation, adaptation, and change enabled by the vast number of neurons we have, the massive number possible synaptic connections between neurons, and by neuroplasticity.

Our brains are different from our ancestors' brains

In Appendix 1 of The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge informs us that "the hunter-gatherer brain was as plastic as our own and . . . was able to reorganize its structure and functions in order to respond to changing conditions." That doesn't mean that the brains of hunter-gatherers were identical to ours.

Basic brain mudules are specific nuclei or processing areas in the brain, developed during the early stages of our evolution to accomplish specific tasks, including language.

Brain modules have undergone dramatic changes since our early dawn. New and different brain functions and processes were developed and strengthened in the ongoing process of human creativity and adaptation to changing environments.

Early forms of expression and communication, such as cave drawings and hieroglyphics, formed and strengthened links between visual and motor functions.

Cave drawings and hieroglyphics were followed by phonetic alphabets, reading and writing. These later forms of expression and communication created and strengthened new synaptic connections to "process the images of letters, their sound, and their meanng, as well as motor functions that move the eye across the page." In the case of writing, they also involved the hand.

Researchers have shown that "different brain areas are involved in hearing speech and reading it, and different comprehension centers in hearing words and reading them. . . each medium creates a different sensory and semantic experience . . . and develops different circuits in the brain."
The brain that creates culture is altered by it

The progressive development of dramatically different signature activities and systems of communication restructured and reorganized our basic brain modules.

These activities and systems have
  • formed new pathways,
  • created new synapses,
  • developed new process, and
  • replaced older specializations with those required by the signature activities of new or changed environments.
This process has altered our brains.

Oral traditions and memory

Oral traditions appear to support the view that the human brain has a limitless memory capacity.

With literacy and the consequent reduced reliance on memory, one result has been a decrease in memory capacity ("Use it or lose it").

Memory capacity has been further reduced by the prevalence today of technology and electronic media.

To increase the memory capacity of our brain and the speed of recall today, we have to be motivated.


Brains today are different structurally and functionally

Continual adjustments to the cost-benefit scale, even before the advent of modern technology, has meant that brains today are substantially different, structurally and functionally, from the brains of our ancestors.