10.11.15 – What Makes Us Human?

The main topic of today’s lecture was to try and answer one question:

What Makes Us Human?


I would be lying if I said that I don’t occasionally ask myself any philosophical questions and think about profound notions … Having said that, I don’t consider myself to be a massive deep thinker but tend to just accept things for what, who or how they are. So when we were faced with this question (which gives the false impression that it is a relatively easy and simple question to answer) I had absolutely no idea how to answer it and suddenly found myself feeling very confused (which is kind of my initial reaction to everything really).

Anyway, moving on.

The Triune Brain

Paul_D_MacLeanThe first thing we spoke about was the Three Brain Theory or better known as the Triune Brain. According to Paul MacLean, who formulated the Triune Brain concept, our brain is made up of three parts each structured in a way where a “newer” version of the brain is superimposed on the “older” version making the two insufficiently coordinated and thus making us humans “mad”.

So the Three Brain Theory states that our brain is made up of three parts: The Primitive Brain, The Limbic System & The Rational Brain Neocortex.


The Primitive Brain.
This part of the brain controls our instincts and “animalistic ” feelings such as self-preservation, aggression, sexual desires etc.. and is considered to be the reptilian brain which evolved from reptiles (duh).

The Limbic System.
This is the brain that is inherited from mammals, in specific lower mammals, and like the Primitive Brain it also deals with our emotions such as feelings, relationships and dreams.

The Rational Brain Neocortex.
This is in charge of the intellectual tasks we undergo everyday and the ability to be logical and is essentially what makes us human.

MacLean states that the reason humans are mad is because having all of the above contradicting brains splits us between being an “animal” and having animalistic feelings and urges whilst also being intellectual and logical humans. The result of this is what causes us to be schizophrenic.

385168380_fc8fcac1232421d0cd267875a8c37067_resized_xlargeThis theory took a while for me to grasp mainly because what MacLean was stating seemed somewhat ridiculous and impossible to me. However, after much thought, I’ve come to realize that I don’t agree with what MacLean is saying. Even if we do have three brains, which I highly doubt we do, I don’t think they contradict each other at all. Just because they each represent a different rationale and demeanour doesn’t make them contradictory and definitely does not make us mad.

ijdema-knowledge-is-powerSpeaking from my own experience, certain lessons I learnt in life were through situations where I decided to “act like an animal” in the sense that rather than thinking things through and being logical, I used my “first brain” and just acted rashly and instinctively and gave into the urges just like animals would. Then my “second brain” kicks in and through my emotions and feelings I come to realize that the outcome is not one that I want or desire, and so then I use my “third brain” to rationalize my thoughts and actions so that if something similar happens in the future I would not act the same way as before. However, if I initially I hadn’t acted upon those urges, then I would have never gained that knowledge. So in a way I “needed” to have that animalistic side of me in order to gain or improve my rational and logical skills. It’s the same with situations where the outcome is a positive one.

Am I right?…
I’m not sure I’m making sense anymore. I blame MacMEAN.


grim-reaper4When you ask people what they fear the most, very commonly their answer is death. What a lot of us seem to obsess and worry about is when our time will come and whether or not we’ll be remembered when we do finally get summoned by the Grim Reaper. Even as infants, we have an instinctive feeling of survival which shows through the way we cling to our mothers in the same way animals do, possibly because we feel as though our best chances of survival is to be with her (or the dad, let’s not discriminate).

Side note: This actually reminds me of the Roman myth of Romulus and Remus who, after being kidnapped with the intention of being killed, are thrown into the river in a basket and miraculously survive and are discovered by a she-wolf or lupa, who suckled them and brought them up as her own.

As we grow older, we strive to leave our mark on this planet and somehow prove to future generations that we truly were alive at some point. This is why us humans have a desire to reproduce and have children, so that our name and legacy prospers and lives on despite us being long gone.


This gives us a sense of immortality; not physically of course but rather through the timeless work we create and status we achieve. In class, we discussed how many of the choices we make throughout our lives are all subconsciously made in pursuit of imprinting some part of ourselves onto the world in order to be acknowledged by others and future generations.

1d84b629e36c46c5f03552cdd4598e2eSadly, being human and having a higher achievement of reasoning (aka: being clever) comes with a cost. It is because of this that we are aware of the inevitable and that someday we will die and having this burden greatly contributes towards our refusal to accept death. If you could somehow overcome and avoid death by transferring your consciousness into something that is imperishable, would you do it?

Body-Mind Duality

The video below tells the story of an amputee who became the first bilateral shoulder-level amputee to wear and simultaneously control two prosthetic limbs by using his brain.

This video proves just how much technology has advanced over the years and its quite gob-smacking but also beautiful to see how people who have been in tragic accidents are now able to slowly start building a new life and lead a moderately normal life again with the aid of this technology.

The man’s ability to move the prosthetic arm just by thinking of the movement proves that the mind and the body are one. We need both in order to perform simple and everyday tasks and actions – even something as simple as blinking! This “unlimited freedom” that the brain seems to have and its ability to project itself in different ways brings up an interesting concept – if you had to put your brain in an empty vessel, would you consider this “new” you as human? Are you still yourself? And if so at what point does man stop and the vessel (whatever it may be) starts and vice versa?

My Response

11177744Needles to say this lecture left me quite dumbfounded and I am still finding it quite hard to grasp the overall concept. Our “homework” was to think about all of the above and come to some sort of answer. Unfortunately, I still cannot come to a satisfying conclusion! If I were to transfer my brain (containing my consciousness and all the quirks that make me, me) into a mechanical body which encompasses the human body’s ability to sense, then surely I can still be considered as a human since I can think and act the same as if I were in a body made up of flesh and bone?

The fundamental thing I always believed defined us as humans and separated us from everything else is our consciousness. Although there are many debates and speculations, nobody really knows how consciousness works and how it forms and because of this lack of knowledge it is quite difficult to prove that no other living thing or object has a conciousness and that it is in fact only us human beings that possess it.

creative-mind-brain-wallpaperRegardless of this, I still think that consciousness is mainly what makes us human: being able to tell wrong from right; having needs and wanting to satisfy them; having hopes, dreams and goals which we yearn to fulfill; having ideas and the ability to be imaginative and expressive…

But that’s just my opinion.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s