A Brain We Can Believe In; A World Without War

Sally - Marshalltown, Iowa
Entered on March 20, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I am a pacifist. All my life I have heard people scoff at peace-making. I hear things like there has always been war and there always will be. Nature is red in tooth and claw. Survival of the fittest you know. I am also an evolutionary biologist and human anatomy instructor with almost 30 years of teaching experience. Here’s what I believe. Human beings share a brainstem, a primitive brain, with all vertebrates. It drives us to eat, sleep and reproduce. But we also have evolved a cerebrum, especially a pre-frontal cortex, to match no other species on the planet. We barely tap its capacity. Frankly, I think we are still not quite used to it. The more science informs us about the brain, the more I am convinced that we have the capacity to reason with our brain stem, we have the ability to override our drives. We have the ability to learn, to change our behaviors, to love, to be altruistic and to plan for the future. Therefore, I believe, now more than ever we have the ability and the obligation to make peace, to live sustainably, to override our urges to be greedy, or fearful or lustful. If we are to survive as a species on a shrinking planet with a growing population I believe we have to learn to get along better. Simply competing in a cutthroat manner for scarce resources doesn’t cut it anymore. Our evolutionary advantage is now to rise above our biology. If we hold each other up instead of tearing one another down humanity can reach unimaginable heights. Whether you believe in God, or Darwin, or both or neither you have this capacity, you have the cerebral equipment to transcend the urges of your brainstem. We can live very well without war, without poverty, without famine, but it requires us living without greed, without fear and without lust as well. I believe we can transcend our biology and I hope and pray we do before it is too late.