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Humans, their brains still a grand mystery

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Everybody has a brain and nobody knows how it works, although neuroscience researchers are finding some surprising aspects about how we think.

Our own brain thinks it knows what it is doing, but it just does what it taught itself to do. It is often fooled or fools itself by making bad decisions.

For thousands of years philosophers have meditated and cogitated about how the brain works. Yet it’s not clear that the increase in logical self-consciousness that began with Aristotle nearly 2,500 years ago improved the competence and efficiency of reasoning processes for humankind.

Traditional psychology tries to understand the brain from the inside through emotions, perceptions, thought patterns and influences. Modern neuroscience goes beyond the traditional approaches to understand it physically from the outside.

In the past, people supposed that the brain stored information in certain compartments within itself. Although certain regions do have specific functions, the brain is less a sum of its parts than an interconnected web of information.

Imaging studies suggest that brain structure as well as metabolic efficiency may influence individual differences in intelligence via different neurological architectures that may underlie specific cognitive strengths and weaknesses.

Neuroscientist Richard Haier of the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine wrote, "Two people with the same IQ may solve a problem with equal speed and accuracy, each using a very different network of brain areas."

This could partly explain why IQ does not always correlate with problem solving. Sometimes smart people do dumb things, and IQ tests miss many aspects of this dysrational, real-world intelligence.

Our brains solve thousands of problems every day, most of them subconscious. Some are insignificant in the long run, such as which way to turn when getting off of the elevator, but others are more serious or significant problems that require critical thought.

Our brains do not automatically know how to think critically, which is that mode of thinking in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing and reconstructing it, according to the Foundation for Critical Thinking.

To be in control of our thoughts and beliefs, we must know what good reasoning is, be aware of the ways in which reasoning can go astray and realize when reasoning is not the best course.

Language and culture are the source of our beliefs. Culture is learned subconsciously from parents, pals, preachers, pundits, politicians and others who don’t all give us the same message.

The brain wants to do the right thing, but it can only function in the manner to which it has become accustomed and acculturated. Without training it is like a muscle that will not strengthen if no effort is exerted.

Of all the remarkable things that exist on our planet, the human brain that can not only conceive of itself, but also attempt to understand itself ranks No. 1.

Imagine a world where every individual knows when and how to think critically and does so to reduce our collective cognitive miserliness and close our collective "mind-ware" gaps.

Richard Brill is a professor of science at Honolulu Community College. E-mail questions and comments to


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