ICC student symposium 2013 at the Amsterdam University Colleg...
How whole is the world?
During the last few lectures about the neuro-based view on the brain, on question arose to my mind: How universal is the brain? As we can more accurately measure the cognitive process taking place in the brain, e can model it more accurately. According to these observations, conclusions are drawn and theories are proven or falsified. However, what is lacking is in my view the assumption that your brain is the same as mine.
Luckily, experimentation is not based on just a single subject, but on double blind testing groups of a genera of randomized subjects. Through these measures biases are eliminated in order for the theories or laws to make any reliable predictions. Theoretically, this leaves open the possibility of my brain being nothing like any other. This might not even be improbable from a genetic viewpoint "Any two unrelated human beings differ by about 3 million distinct DNA variants." Of course, the probability of this would be 0, but in a vacuum, it might be possible. Don't forget that an event with a probability of 0 doesnt exlude that event from actually happening, and vice versa; a probability of 1 or 100% doesn't guarantee the event from actually taking place. It is good example of the everpresent entropy in science. And, as Victor Lamme argued in his lecture, the plasticity of our brains allows them to be influenced by our experience. So, in the end, we all have slightly different brains, partially because of our different genetical makeup, partially beacause of our unique experiences. Making universal statements about the brain therefore remains a tricky business.
Now, this whole question was still quarantained in the relative relatedness of a nation where a research takes place, or even perhaps an institute where subjects are found, gathered, data is collected and conclusions held against hypotheses. A flaw here would be to impose the bias on for example, a genetical factor as race. A formulation on genetics could be that, for arguments sake, 'one cannot make a universal statement about the human brain if not enough different parts of the human population are included'. Now we suddenly need to study not just dutch, white people, but also south-african, american, chinese, etc. people. Although this might seem an easy solution, in a population actually about 85% of the genetical variance is within the population; only 8-10% between them.(Confusions About Human Races) So, why are people not so different here while they seem to be very different in China?
Before this blog is ended, lets make this more clear with an example: "As the psychologist Richard Nisbett writes in his book The Geography of Thought, 'Modern Westerners see a world of objects—discrete and unconnected things. Modern Asians are inclined to see a world of substances—continuous masses of matter.'" (Brain Flashes). Now, the genetical difference between these two populations are only 8-10% (Confusions About Human Races); how can we explain this difference in cognition?
To return to Victor Lamme's argument; it is in the different experiences we had that shape our brain. And ,in the end, the prime factor we share is culture with each other is culture. The hard part about forming universal statements about the human brain is not that we don't have the same brain; it is that they are molded differently according to the culture we were raised with.
"Confusions About Human Races"