The human brain can only be understood in light of evolution.

“The human brain can only be understood in light of evolution. Discuss”

“In writing this essay, consider the structure and function of the brain. Remember too that brains have been evolving for over 500 million years.”

That is my undergraduate Biological Psychology essay title.

After writing half an essay and realising that my main premises were logically flawed and perhaps even irrelevant to the title, i can’t help but think this is a very poor question.

Is it simply asking me to list and explain why certain structural/functional characteristics do or do not need an understanding of evolution to be understood themselves? This is what i took it to mean but it just seems like such an inconsequential question and more of a philosophical one than would be asked in Biological Psychology (in first year UG, anyway).

Can someone please help me and tell me what the question is actually asking?

TL;DR Please tell me what this title is asking me to write about. Assume i do not understand it in those terms at all. Thanks.

Sounds like a riff on Dobzhansky’s essay on religion and evolution.

If I were giving that question (not saying I would, but I have taught what is probably the same class), I would probably intend to be open ended and be looking for how thorough you were. You might be overthinking things, but you’d have to ask the professor. Consider what the class previously covered on the brain. As it’s Biological/Physiological Psychology, you probably learned about all that.

WAG: talk about resemblances to other species, and how our brains resemble our close relatives more than reptiles, but you can still see similarities in distance species, especially in the “lower” brain regions.

ETA: or Julian Huxley said it first I guess.
ETA2: Dammit maybe I should read farther. Teilhard.

The whys and hows of the brain can’t be explained only through its function. You need to take into account the way it evolved.

Sounds like a great question for your teacher.

Thank you for your replies, thelurkinghorror and naita - especially the effort in yours thelurkinghorror, it has been of some help.

I’ve read Dhobsansky’s essay and will research more Huxley and Teilhard. But i doubt it will make this seem any more interesting to write about.

I’ll just do what i usually do when an essay topic is of no interest to me; I’ll turn it into a philosophy debate that the professor didn’t want but is more interesting to write. As i am first year then all that matters is i pass anyway.

Here’s what I would understand the statement to be: “If one set out to create a logical efficient design for a brain from scratch, the result would be far different from an actual human brain. The human brain’s design is not always logical or efficient; the only way to understand these inefficiencies is by understanding the evolutionary path of brains”.

Does that help you?

The purpose of our behavior as well as the anatomy of the brain were shaped by evolutionary forces.
Fwiw despite the brain taking 500 million years to evolve, much of its evolution occurred in the last 2 million years, possibly due to climate fluctuations.

This is excellent. Exactly what i was looking for - i will be sure to take my essay in this direction. Thank you very much, Quercus.

I appreciate all other constructive input also, but this comment probably ends the thread.

Through high school, my teachers tried time and again to explain what a “thesis” was, and always overcomplicated it, such that it wasn’t until I had already graduated that I figured it out.

Basically, it just means that you’ve got a position that you’re going to argue.

So, someone has said that the brain and how it operates can only be explained by looking to evolution. Do you agree with him or disagree? If you agree, prove it. If you disagree, prove it. If you have no opinion, then you need to do some reading so that you can form one.

Nothing in biology makes any sense outside the context of evolution.

Let me just point out that you cannot refute intelligent design, no matter what. So the premise is incorrect. Is there another alternative that you can contrast with evolution by natural selection. I can’t think of any.

You’re a funny one, Hari.

Actually, if we were designed, it would be a case of stupid design, not intelligent design.
Thus I refute.

No it’s not. Intelligent design can be used to ACCOUNT FOR the brain, but not to UNDERSTAND it. ID gives a simple, useless answer to any question you ask. (“The designer wanted it to be that way.”) If you want to understand brain function in a way that provides useful functional explanations for structures and processes, then evolution is the only game in town.

Depending on the contents of this class, I think it is a fair bet that the instructor is looking for you to describe the parts of the brain and their evolutionary history. Around here we spend a lot of time debating evolution so we may be giving the question too much of a philosophical slant.

Those of us who have graded essay questions know that it goes much faster if you have a list of items that are supposed to be covered. The more you cover, the higher the score. If you want to get philosophical, make sure you also get the brain components in.

Is it still possible to talk about the triune brain in 2015, and draw a parallel with evolution? Reptilian < paleomammalian < neomammalian?