By Chet Yarbrough
Published by: The Great Courses
At times, “The Great Courses” misses targets for clarity, enlightenment, and education. However, Professor Medina hits every mark with understandable examples, utilitarian insight, and erudition. Though undoubtedly capable of mystifying layman with science jargon, Medina captures the complexity of what is presently known about consciousness and the mind with examples of well-known movies, television serials, commercials, and jokes. His self-effacing delivery makes every lecture entertaining, enlightening, and educational.
Charles Darwin is Medina’s guide for explaining ascendance of the world’s greatest predator. Brains make humans the dominant animal of life’s kingdom. Medina notes how human brains evolve to outwit other predators in this biosphere. A principal construct of that wit is homo sapiens’ ability to communicate among themselves. With communication, humankind constructs a future out of the past and present. Humans evolve beyond instinct to not only survive but dominate the animal kingdom.
Though Medina answers many questions about the mind, he acknowledges mysteries that remain about consciousness. There is no identifiable element that constitutes consciousness. He explodes myths of right brain-left brain thinking, nature vs. nurture conception, intelligence testing and its validity, and the component nature of brains and their chemical and physical interconnections. Medina goes on to explore deterioration and abatement of memory loss with age.
Medina explains how unbelievably versatile the human brain is shown to be by the experience of people who have been severely injured. Some recover many of the functions formally managed by parts of the brain that have been damaged. He notes that eyes do not see. The brain is the functional source of sight. He explains the miraculous feats of the brain that manipulate the scenes of life. Medina explains the importance of sleep in maintaining and improving memory.
One of many striking points made by Medina is the brain’s deconstruction of all visual events. The brain reconstructs events to conform to an individual’s understanding of what happens. Medina suggests every human event is taken apart and reassembled by the brain. Our brains are not movie projectors.
What brain sight and memory imply is a risk to truth and justice. It suggests a judicial recklessness in relying on eye witnesses to crime. Further, it reinforces one’s opinion about the objectivity and malleability of history. It explains how remembrance of things past are affected by tellers of tales; let alone, present day interpretations of past events.
There are many interesting vignettes about the development and validity of IQ tests, savant memories, and the mechanical and chemical functions of the brain. Medina ends with encouragement to exercise, socialize, and live in the present to maintain healthy brain function. There is much to learn from Medina’s erudite lectures.