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Are We Unique?

Are We Unique?

How does the human mind compare? Are human beings, by virtue of their intelligence, unique? James Trefil, noted science author and physics professor at George Mason University, explores these and other questions in his 1997 book.

Neuroscience is not for the timid. To consider the complex questions of human intelligence, hard thinking is required. Of course, that hard thinking is exactly the point.

Use these resources, selected for their simplicity, to explore the world of neuroscience. You may not find the big answer, but the little ones along the way will make the journey worthwhile.

What exactly is intelligence? Is it the brain? The mind? A combination? Or is it something else? Trefil begins his exploration by seeking a working definition. The vocabulary needs to be clear in order to make comparisons.

First, understand the science of the human mind. The anatomy and chemistry can help us to define the boundaries. Trefil's working metaphor is that of a city. If you are in the city, down at street level, a good way to define the boundaries of the city is to drive out of the city along each of the major roadways until you reach the sign that shows the city limit. Then, go back and try another roadway. Eventually, you'll have a pretty good image of the city limits. In neuroscience, the city limits metaphor works to help define the boundaries of intelligence.

The dustjacket offers a synopsis.
The dustjacket offers a brief bio of the author. After identifying the boundaries of the human mind, try using the city limits metaphor to identify the limits of other animals. Compare the human mind to the animal mind. Consider vertebrates and invertebrates. Of course, primates are the first comparison. But how does the human mind compare to crustaceans?

Finally, use the city limits metaphor to consider intelligent machines. Can a computer approach human intelligence? Some stunning research results suggests that it can, and, perhaps, will.

Understand The Science of The Human Mind

Okay, so kids can't get their hands on the brain. With this website, though, they'll come close. To learn about the brain, this is the best place to start.
Neuroscience for Kids

Brain research doesn't have to be mysterious. Jay shares brain investigations, and the experiments are designed for you to participate.
Jay's Brain

What happens if you lose part of your brain? In a tragic accident, a metal rod pierced the head and brain of Phineas Gage, leaving him with a hole in his brain. The amazing part, though, is that he lived, and that the only noticeable difference in his behavior was a lack of emotion.
Phineas Gage Information Page

After learning about Phineas, read more about the brain's amazing ability to change.
Changing Your Mind

The infant brain has much to do. Genetics and environment are thought to have a significant impact on the young, developing brain. Listen to Ira Flatow, of National Public Radio's Science Friday, report on the issue.
Brain Development

Need a roadmap for the brain? Check the atlas.
The Whole Brain Atlas

Imagine you're a brain surgeon. You stand over the exposed brain of a patient. You poke. How will the patient respond? This interactive website lets you try your own poking.
Brain Poke

The Brain Exchange Electronic Mentorship Network connects elementary school classes with real neuroscientists. The general idea is to help young students appreciate the brain.

How does the mind develop?
The Mind

Compare The Human Mind to The Animal Mind

Compare the anatomy of the human brain to the anatomy of other mammals with these amazing images.
A Gallery of Mammalian Brains

Now imagine you're a brain surgeon and you're dissecting a sheep brain. This interactive website lets you try the real thing, but only if your web browser can handle frames.
Interactive Sheep Brain Dissection

The field of crustacean neuroscience continues to reveal amazing reference points for human brain research.
Sea Anemones
National Resource Center for Cephalopods

Of course, the field of primate neuroscience also continues to reveal important reference points for human brain research.
Chimpanzee and Human Communication
Chimp Talk Debate: Is It Really Language?
Bonobo Fact Sheet
A Living Link
Chimpanzee Fact Sheet

Can a Computer Approach Human Intelligence?

Begin with binary, the birthplace of the computer.
Binary Arithmetic

To consider the future of artificial intelligence, it's important to reflect upon the origin of the computer.
The History of Computing
Obsolete Computer Museum
Who Invented the Computer?

When we consider the evolution of computers and silicon- based intelligence, we have to start with the work of Alan Turing.
The Alan Turing Homepage
The Turing Machine
Turing Machines in Java
The Turing Test

When does computer intelligence become equal to human intelligence? It's a subject which requires great thought and reflection. These websites offer some neuroscience food for your brain to digest.
The Emergence of Intelligence

Humans use their intelligence to play chess. Computers play chess. Do computers have intelligence? Can it be as simple as that?
Kasparov vs. Deep Blue The Rematch

Some Other Resources

Don't forget that the brain isn't in isolation. Take a look at the entire human body and consider the relationship between the brain and the rest of the anatomy.
Human Anatomy Online

What are the benefits of brain research? The Dana Alliance tries to answer this question.
The Dana Alliance for Brain Research

This outstanding bibliography offers annotated connections to thousands of resources relating to the human mind.
Contemporary Philosophy of Mind: An Annotated Bibliography

All of these websites offer useful, user-friendly resources for understanding the brain.
Newton's Apple - The Brain
Brain Quotes
Brain Awareness Week
On Becoming a Neuroscientist
The BrainWeb
Traumatic Brain Injury

This feature story was prepared with permission of the publisher.
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Professional, Reference and Trade Group

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New York, New York 10158-0012


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