Critical Minds is an enrichment series with professors and adjunct faculty members. This series was introduced in May 2020 by the American Humanist Association.

Our human mind has evolved from an ape mind over the past six million years. How have our brains and genes changed to bring this about? We are very similar to apes in some ways, in which scientists previously thought humans stood out, but quite different in other ways, such as our capacity for engagement with other people. This course will present genetic, anatomical, behavioral evidence bearing on the changes to the brain that supported the emergence of the human mind.

Mark Reimers is an associate professor in the neuroscience program at Michigan State University where he integrates statistical analysis with neuroscience theory in order to interpret the very large data sets now being generated in neuroscience, especially from the technologies developed by the BRAIN initiative. He graduated from the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia and previously held appointments at the National Institutes of Health, Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Course content

The Big Picture

Brain basics. Why does size matter? How and why human brains got bigger. Are there any new brain regions? The gene changes that did this and their mixed consequences for our lives.
August 25th, 6:30 to 8:00 pm ET

Connections & Plasticity

What connections have been strengthened in the human brain? Are there any new connections? How human beings became so impressionable. The drastic and rather crude changes to our genes that made this possible.
September 1st, 6:30 to 8:00 pm ET

Consciousness and Recent Evolution

How your brain keeps itself busier than an ape brain. Self-generated brain activity, mental illness, and human consciousness. How human brain genes have evolved over the past 10,000 years. How human brain-related genes seem to be evolving today.
September 8th, 6:30 to 8:00 pm ET