The Future of the Mind looks at our current understanding of the human brain, as well as the varied research that is currently being conducted to expand the potential of the mind to areas which sound like science fiction, but could soon be reality.
Scientists have long been fascinated by the human brain and the precise function of each part. Before the advent of modern methods, they used fairly crude approaches to gain knowledge about the brain. For instance, they would dissect the brains of deceased people with brain damage and, based on the symptoms the patients had exhibited while alive, guess what the damaged part of the brain was responsible for.
Despite these primitive methods, scientists were eventually able to understand how the brain had evolved into its current state.
Basically, they found out that, because species on earth evolved from reptiles into mammals and then into humans, new brain structures were added on top of the old ones.
This means that our brain was built on the following three clear stages of evolution visible even today:
First, there is the reptilian brain, located at the back and center of the brain, and so named because it is almost identical to the brain of reptiles. This 500 million-year-old structure controls the most elementary mental functions necessary for survival, like breathing and the heartbeat, as well as basic behaviors like fighting and mating.
Second, on top of this ancient part is the mammalian brain consisting of the limbic system and the cerebral cortex, i.e., the outer layer of the brain. All mammals have developed these systems, which allow for higher-order thinking skills and more complex social interactions.
Third, our human brain is most clearly separated from other mammals due to the fact that our prefrontal cortex, the outer layer of the brain located directly behind our foreheads, is so big and complex. This is where rational thought is processed and grandiose human plans for the future are made. It is like the CEO of the brain.
As you can see, the human brain is, in fact, a bit like a museum of evolution, comprising remnants from the species that came before us.