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What makes man human: thirty-ninth James Arthur lecture on the evolution of the human brain, 1970

Karl H Pribram

Author Affiliations

Professor and head, Neuropsychology laboratories, Stanford University, USA

Journal of Biomedical Discovery and Collaboration 2006, 1:13  doi:10.1186/1747-5333-1-13

Published: 29 November 2006


What makes man human is his brain. This brain is obviously different from those of nonhuman primates. It is larger, shows hemispheric dominance and specialization, and is cytoarchitecturally somewhat more generalized. But are these the essential characteristics that determine the humanness of man? This paper cannot give an answer to this question for the answer is not known. But the problem can be stated more specifically, alternatives spelled out on the basis of available research results, and directions given for further inquiry. My theme will be that the human brain is so constructed that man, and only man, feels the thrust to make meaningful all his experiences and encounters. Development of this theme demands an analysis of the brain mechanisms that make meaning–and an attempt to define biologically the process of meaning. In this pursuit of meaning a fascinating variety of topics comes into focus: the coding and recoding operations of the brain; how it engenders and processes information and redundancy; and, how it makes possible signs and symbols and prepositional utterances. Of these, current research results indicate that only in the making of propositions is man unique–so here perhaps are to be found the keynotes that compose the theme.