Nature has concocted a rich variety of structures to develop intelligence. Here, I discuss two of them, centralized and distributed neural architectures, and the behaviors emerging from them. These behaviors lack language, but they show complexity and adaptability.

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The archetype for distributed intelligence. Drawing by Anastasia Lavdaniti

Language represents the sharpest divide between humans and animals. With it, we can produce an infinite variety of sound combinations from which we express and communicate our thoughts. No other species has anything remotely similar to this faculty. As far as we know, animal calls are limited and always referring to external events. A monkey’s particular cry can only signify a handful of things: a potential threat, hunger, a challenge to the hierarchy.

At some point in our evolutionary history, possibly even before we could speak, language was internalized. This gave us the capacity to better organize our thoughts and…

A recounting of our quest for the mechanisms that create life, from the religious to the scientific explanations

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The rules of nature beget complexity. Drawing by Anastasia Lavdaniti

The evolution of the human brain, its growth and rewiring, brought to our ancestors a capacity for abstraction and a sense of wonder. Gathered around the campfire under a starry night sky, the first communities of Homo species reflected on their existence and their relationship with the elements surrounding them. Ever since, a part of us has been driven by the need for lucidity. We thus ask, ‘How did life start?’

There is no story that is not true

Chinua Achebe <Things Fall Apart>

Religious Explanations

Historically, this need for lucidity has foundered in metaphor with civilizations offering almost exclusively religious and…

What pushed our ancestral line from marginal hominids with small brains, to beings who in their reflection see the image of God.

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Cogito, ergo sum. I think therefore I am <René Descartes>. Drawing by Anastasia Lavdaniti

The mind of man is capable of anything-because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.

Joseph Conrad <Heart of Darkness>

We, the last survivors of the genus Homo, are different. From generation to generation, we build edifices of extragenetic information, brick by brick to fulfill our myths and alleviate our fears. Embodiments of these constructs of human intelligence, such as the domestication of animals and plants, the internal combustion engine, the transistor, and genetic engineering have pushed us to reshape earth’s fauna and flora in unprecedented ways. We developed science and engineering to understand…

Does morality develop from innate templates in our brain or is it a social construct? Like a fiddler on the roof, can we balance the disparate takes on the development of morality to form a coherent story? Ideas from Michel Foucault, Friedrich Nietzsche, Noam Chomsky, and Peter Kropotkin

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Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault in 1971 arguing about human nature. Drawing by Anastasia Lavdaniti

As you walk down a street, brooding on ways to make ends meet, you notice someone dropping a 100 dollar bill; you pick it up and return it.

While hurrying to an important meeting, you cross an elderly person staggering while carrying a bag; you turn back and offer to help.

After the Nazi occupation in Poland, Maximilian Kobe, a Franciscan friar, was put to the Auschwitz concentration camp for refusing to become a mouthpiece for the German forces. There, he offered to sacrifice himself, in exchange for the life of a man, unknown to him. …

A discussion on the evolution of the brain and the human psyche. Linking the triune brain theory to the ideas of Plato, Freud, and Jung

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Different Views of the Human Brain. Drawing by Anastasia Lavdaniti

Fear of wild animals-that has been bred into the human being for the longest time, including the animal that he harbors within and fears.

Friedrich Nietzsche <Thus spoke Zarathustra>

Changes on living matter filtered through natural selection has brought about a rich variety of species; the differences in their morphology and behavior point to the forks in their evolutionary paths, the similarities to their common ancestry. By the same token, organ systems with divergent functionalities, but some remote semblance, have descended, via a series of transformations, from a common structure.

From Fins to Hands

Take for instance the upper limbs of various primates. Placing…

Ilias Rentzeperis

PhD in Neuroscience in Zurich, Postdoc wanderings in Tokyo, Stanford, Leuven. Interested in science, art, & fairy tales <>

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