Can Science Unlock the Mystery of the Human Mind?

gary dorning/philip nice

Can Science Unlock the Mystery of the Human Mind?

New initiatives are making bold advances—but some fundamental understanding remains elusive.
From the May-June 2013 Trumpet Print Edition

“As humans, we can identify galaxies light years away, we can study particles smaller than an atom, but we still haven’t unlocked the mystery of the three pounds of matter that sits between our ears.”

These words signify the reality of mankind’s efforts to understand the human brain. President Barack Obama spoke them at the White House on April 2 while spotlighting new human brain research that he compared to the Human Genome Project.

The president wants to dedicate $100 million to help scientists create a dynamic map of the human brain as it functions. The money will kick start the brain (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, a huge project incorporating advanced technologies developed over the last decade.

In labs worldwide, researchers are investing unprecedented efforts into neuroscience—in a drive to understand the intricacies of how our brain (and mind) works. From Germany to Taiwan, from Israel to Scandinavia, and many points in between, leading scientists are devoting more and more resources to brain research.

Scientists have been studying the brain for decades. Yet, as the president admitted, it remains an unanswered mystery.

Why is the human mind vastly superior to the animal brain? The two types are similar in biological composition, yet humans have scientific, communicative, social, artistic, and other capabilities that are many orders of magnitude greater than any animal. The mystery is as old as human history, and humans have spent much of that history using their advanced minds to try to unlock the secret of why their own minds are so advanced. Western philosophers have been writing and talking about the human mind since the 18th century. Modern psychology and its separate branches were brought to birth by the quest to know the human mind. Since the mid-20th century, biologists, geneticists and even mathematicians and astronomers have spent millions of dollars on scientific research to answer this seemingly simple-yet-unanswerable question. For all of this effort, the scientists themselves admit that the important questions remain unanswered.

Why can’t science unlock the mystery of the human mind?

Increased Knowledge

The struggle to understand the human mind has borne fruits. Scientific research has helped reveal that the human brain is of an incredible design.

Roboticists and software and computer engineers who have been challenged to build human-like robots have learned that functions of the human brain we take for granted are nearly impossible to duplicate. Using relatively simple technology, engineers can build an assembly-line robot to paint a car in a controlled environment or do other such routine tasks. Some very sophisticated robots can even perform surgery on the human body. However, building a robot with a humanlike brain has proven overwhelming. The hurdles are incredibly huge for giving a robot the ability to see as a human sees, to hear as a human hears or to have the common sense human beings use every day. Science fiction would like us to believe that it is possible to recreate ourselves into robots like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. But real-world scientists know that it is highly unlikely we’ll meet a Data anytime in the 21st century.

Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard, has written several popular books discussing recent research on the human brain. In one national bestseller, How the Mind Works, he writes, “The reason there are no humanlike robots is not that the very idea of a mechanical mind is misguided. It is that the engineering problems we humans solve as we see and walk and plan and make it through the day are far more challenging than landing on the moon or sequencing the human genome.” For instance, humans navigate through living spaces and around furniture without even thinking about it. Our brains make that ability automatic. But it is a major mechanical and computer software feat to build a robot to make such maneuvers.

In everyday life, we draw upon trillions of bits of information, unconsciously. “No database could list all the facts we tacitly know, and no one ever taught them to us,” Pinker continues. Why do we just seem to know these things? It is human to know so. For example, if our cat is in the yard, we know that it is not in the house. If we go to the grocery store and buy a gallon of milk and then carry it home in the car, we can instruct a helper to get the gallon of milk out of the car. Generally speaking, our helper wouldn’t even question our request. Going to the car and retrieving the gallon of milk would be a simple task. It is not simple to program a robot to know about cats, yards, houses or how to retrieve a gallon of milk out of a car.

If your brain becomes damaged by accident or through stroke, you can lose these abilities. In fact, much of our knowledge about the human brain has come about through the study of such calamities. Stroke often impairs our ability to walk, see, hear or speak. Brain injury often destroys our memories.

Unexplained Paradox

To gain a better knowledge of the human brain, researchers have studied animal brains as well. But instead of actually learning more about the human brain, scientists have hit a quagmire of uncertainty. Neuroscientists have discovered that there is no significant difference between the human brain and the animal brain that can explain the light-years of difference between the two.

Pinker admits, “Neuroscientists like to point out that all parts of the cerebral cortex look pretty much alike—not only the different parts of the human brain, but the brains of different animals.” Human and animal brains are basically made of the same material. The human brain is slightly larger in size than a chimpanzee’s, for example, but it is much smaller than an elephant’s. However, the output of the human brain is immensely superior to both a chimp’s and an elephant’s. The output of the human brain simply cannot be accounted for because of size, number of cells, or improved design. That is the unexplained riddle that scientists are racking their brains to solve.

Certain brain functions are solely human. Language is a prime example. Although animals communicate with sounds and movements, only human beings can talk and write. Only humans can build a fund of knowledge and teach it to future generations. Animals cannot grasp abstract concepts such as a developed system of mathematics or physics. Animals cannot appreciate art, music or architecture.

Human beings can think, reason and make choices. Animals can only do such things in a limited way based on either instinct or repetitive training. For example, animals cannot decide to go and visit a sick friend. But humans can choose to serve, share or cooperate—or to be jealous or hateful. These are functions exclusively bestowed upon humans and are attitudes of mind.

To date, no scientist has been able to explain why the human brain gives us these functions of mind.

Pinker states early in his book, “I will try to explain what the mind is, where it came from, and how it lets us see, think, feel, interact and pursue higher callings like art, religion and philosophy. On the way I will try to throw light on distinctively human quirks.” The most important word in these two sentences is the word try! The author spends nearly 600 pages trying, but his arguments never do explain why the human mind is so vastly different. He explains how the human mind is different, but never why!

Here is why he cannot.

Evolution vs. God

With few exceptions, scientists do not even consider the likelihood of a nonphysical part of the human brain. This is why they cannot explain the human mind. Their research on the human brain is based exclusively on what can be seen, observed, or subjected to experimentation. Current human brain research, known as cognitive science, has limited itself to evolutionary biology and genetics. They have reduced their study of man’s mind to matter alone.

Pinker is one of the leaders in cognitive science. And it’s not that he’s never heard of the idea that the human mind could contain a nonphysical element. He admits, “I want to convince you that our minds are not animated by some godly vapor ….” He states that, previous to advanced scientific research, we have been “victims of an illusion: that our psychology comes from some divine force or mysterious essence or almighty principle.” His definition of the human mind contrasts sharply against that concept: “The mind is a system of organs of computation, designed by natural selection to solve the kinds of problems our ancestors faced in their foraging way of life, in particular, understanding and outmaneuvering objects, animals, plants and other people. … The mind is organized into modules or mental organs, each with a specialized design …. The modules’ basic logic is specified by our genetic program.” Pinker doesn’t understand why the human mind is the way it is, but he insists that it is only physical, and that our thinking, our emotions, our love, our anger, our frustration and our joy are based on the evolution of our biology and genetics.

Isn’t it incredible? Mr. Pinker’s mind can recognize that humans possess an utterly fantastic, unparalleled, wonderfully designed instrument—yet at the same time he reasons that it was created by a mindless process called natural selection! Why cannot such a brilliant thinker admit that this scientifically inexplicable, incredibly designed, powerful human mind had to have been designed by a Creator?

The brightest minds in science are victims of the illusion known as evolution. The theory of evolution, the explanation of a creation without a Creator, severely limits science’s ability to honestly and logically explain the truth behind the human mind. Belief in evolution is a faith that blinds human minds to truth that only God can reveal.

No matter how detailed or well funded the initiative, scientists will never understand the “three pounds of matter between our ears” unless and until they recognize the Designer of the human brain, the Creator of the human mind.

What Is Man?

These plaguing questions about man, his mind and his God-ordained purpose have puzzled scientists, philosophers and even religious leaders. But these mysteries have been answered for those who are willing to listen. The answers to the most intriguing questions about our own minds are revealed in the Creator’s textbook, the Bible.

The Bible reveals what man is, why man is, and where he is going. It reveals why the human mind is so vastly superior to animal brain, and why we can’t understand it, even with the most precise multi-parallel imaging methods imaginable.

In The Incredible Human Potential, Herbert W. Armstrong simply and clearly explained what the Bible teaches about man. The book is eye-opening and satisfying. It explains why evolutionary science has never and will never unlock the secret of the human mind. “When man, in the name of science, denies—or by indifference, ignores—his Maker,” Mr. Armstrong wrote, “he blinds his mind to what he is, why he is, where he is going, and what is the way!”

From the beginning of human history, man has chosen to cut himself off from God. In the process, he has cut himself off from knowledge that only the Creator can give us. It is time we take a closer look at the Bible, the literature written by the Master Neuroscientist.

The earliest pages of the Bible clearly reveal that man is not an animal. Genesis 1 describes animals—birds, cattle, insects, reptiles and fish—each after their own “kind.” But man was different. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (verse 26). Man was made after the God kind.

God also reveals in the Bible that He created man for a great purpose. To achieve that purpose, He made man out of the dust of the ground; man is composed wholly of matter (Genesis 2:7). Just like the animals, human life depends solely on oxygen we breathe from the air, food we eat from the ground, the continuing-yet-temporary oxidation of our blood. True biblical science corroborates this similarity between the lives of human beings and those of animals.

And nowhere does the Bible say that man has an immortal soul. Herbert Armstrong wrote, “Notice carefully that man, made wholly of matter, became a living soul as soon as the breath gave him his temporary physical life. The scripture does not say ‘immortal’ soul. Man does not have an ‘immortal’ soul. He is a soul as soon as physical life enters him” (ibid). Man and animals are similar in that we share the same physiological existence. The Bible shows that man and animals die the same death (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).

The Human Spirit

But there is a spiritual component in your human brain that is not in any animal’s brain!

“But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding” (Job 32:8). Mr. Armstrong wrote, “This is a great truth, understood by but very few” (ibid). Just like the false immortal soul theory, science also rejects the knowledge of the true spirit in man. This truth is spiritual and must be revealed by the Creator of the human mind.

To return to the fundamental question: Why is the output of the human mind so vastly superior to that of the animal brain? God placed within human brains a spirit that gives us our distinctly human qualities and abilities.

“Let me make clear a few essential points about this spirit in man,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “It is spirit essence, just as in matter air is essence, and so is water. This human spirit cannot see. The physical brain sees, through the eyes. The human spirit in a person cannot hear. The brain hears through the ears. This human spirit cannot think. The brain thinks—although the spirit imparts the power to think, whereas brute animal brains without such spirit cannot, except in the most elementary manner.”

God explained the function of this human spirit in 1 Corinthians 2:11. Read it, and you’ll understand what $100 million in neuroscientific experiments will fail to reveal. This spirit in man gives us the power and ability to know the things animals cannot come to know. The human spirit empowers us to comprehend abstract concepts like philosophy and mathematics. The human spirit gives us the ability to appreciate literature, art and music. Without the human spirit, the human brain could not come to know these things! This is the fantastic truth that answers the seemingly unanswerable paradox!

This knowledge is a real breakthrough! The knowledge of the human spirit opens up new vistas of incredible possibilities for mankind. The Creator had a great purpose for putting the human spirit in man. The reason will astound you! It not only explains the quantum leap from the animal level to the human level, but explains the quantum leap from the human level to the incredible human potential!