AIF Blog

The Runaway Species

Oct 12, 2017
CATEGORY: Science, Technology
Co-authors of the book "The Runaway Species," David Eagleman and Anthony Brandt speak at Aspen Ideas.
Why don’t cows choreograph dances? Why don’t squirrels design elevators? And, why don’t alligators invent speedboats to catch their prey? What makes humans so special? “The answer has a little bit to do with opposable thumbs,” says neuroscientist David Eagleman, “but it has a lot more to do with what’s going on in the human brain.” 
Eagleman was onstage at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June with composer Anthony Brandt. They co-wrote the book The Runaway Species. It delves into how our drive to create makes us unique among living things. 
Our functionality is different in part because of the structure of a human brain. The distance in the brain between sensory input and motor output has vastly increased in humans. “Between sensing and doing we have a lot more real estate to generate possibilities,” says Eagleman. In addition, humans have a larger prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain behind our forehead, then other animals. “What that allows us to do,” says Eagleman, “is simulate possible futures to evaluate what could be.” The human ingenuity that we see all around us is thanks to these two subtle changes in the brain anatomy. “These changes are always causing us to lean into the future, generating hypotheses and evaluating them.”
Anthony Brandt explains how these brain changes show up in everyday life.

While our brains are capable of coming up with creative ideas, they’re not 100 percent original. These ideas are based on what’s already been done. “Innovations that define this generation like the iPhone seem to be a bolt out of the blue,” says Brandt, “but they’re not.” Two decades before, IBM introduced Simon, a touch-screen cell phone that eventually led to today’s smartphone. “All creativity is based on prior experience. All new ideas have a history.”
Since new ideas have a history, Brandt wonders if it’s possible to describe how they evolve. In the clip below, he explains a method for doing this.

The Runaway Species, which examines human creativity, was released October 10. In the book, Eagleman and Brandt view creative acts through the lens of cutting-edge neuroscience, and explore what these acts have in common. It’s a deep-dive into the creative mind and a celebration of the human spirit, reads the Amazon book review.


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