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brain1Let’s kick off the Physicists & a Parson Parley series with a look at the lead article in New Scientist (1 March 2014) – “Your Million Year Mind.” (I keep catching myself reading it as “your million dollar mind” – how conditioned am I by the prevailing culture of economic rationalism?)

In summary, the piece explores how the measurable development of stone tools enables us to “look inside the heads” of those who made them. Drawing on research from Bruce Bradley’s Learning to be Human Project, the article tracks the progression of neural pathways that control basic dexterity and motor control through to advanced language, visual imagination, hierarchical thinking and improved memory. In short, it is a fascinating story exploring our cognitive evolution.

As a poetic parson, my mind naturally wanders to other tangents, looking for points of connection (apparently I’ve been able to do this since the days of Homo heidelbergensis or 600,000 years). The emergence of a capacity for visualisation and symbolism must have given rise to the first apprehensions of gods and the forces, visible and invisible, behind the universe. In western traditions, these emerge in a sophisticated form in creation stories like the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh Epic, refined  by the Hebrew post-exilic reflective correction that we know as the first chapter of Genesis. It is the difference between experiencing existence as chaotic and meaningless or ordered and purposeful – an ongoing discussion for our own times.

The documented order of the evolution of the neural pathways of the human brain in this project are not inconsistent with the ordered purpose of the Genesis creation story, which remains open-ended, with humanity, male and female, climaxing the narrative as co-creators and stewards with God.

One wonders what the next 600,000 years will bring.