People who know that Yogi Berra was a catcher for many years on the New York Yankees baseball team might wonder if he had sustained one too many foul balls caroming off his helmet. However, after further contemplation, perhaps he was playfully alluding to one of the greatest mysteries in human evolution and conjured up images of events described in the “O-T” book of Genesis. Whether the Creation Story is real, imaginary or symbolic, it clearly makes the case for the human gift of free will.
The term “gift’ was used because Nobel Laureate/ brain specialist, Dr. Roger Sperry wrote:
“Consciousness, free will and values: three long-standing thorns in the hide of science. They are in direct conflict with the basic models. Science has had to deny their existence.”
The mystery appears to have begun circa 50,000 years ago with the emergence of Homo sapiens (wise person). In addition to upright walking and reduced dimorphism, Homo sapiens’ brain tripled in size making it three times larger than chimpanzees (our nearest primate relative). Charles Darwin angrily admitted to Alfred Wallace that he had no explanation for the extraordinary enigma. Anthropologist Loren Eiseley described the rapid growth as, “like a mushroom growing in the night.” The greatest growth occurred in the cerebral cortex, including the cerebral hemispheres. The left brain is associated with language, mathematical and logic functions and right brain associated with artistic, spatial and creative functions. Significant growth also occurred in the limbic system which involves emotional regulation, memory formation and recall, sexual behavior regulation and learning.
The frontal lobe also increased dramatically, which is the center for consciousness, complex decision making and social behavior. One of the quintessential brain functions involves gender dimorphism which is essential for sexual reproduction which is necessary for species survival and ongoing evolution.
The result of the rapid brain evolution marked the beginning of man being able to discern light from darkness, good from evil and that he had the freedom to choose his pathways. The enlargement of the cerebral cortex also marked the decline of instinct as a controlling factor in human behavior. With decreased instinctive control, humans incurred a greater responsibility for determining the best pathways for their survival: Ergo; “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Robert Frost broached the issue with his delightful poem, The Road Not Taken and Dr. Scott Peck wrote his hugely successful, The Road Less Travelled.
“Perhaps no book in this generation has had a more profound impact on our intellectual and spiritual lives than The Road Less Traveled. With sales of more than seven million copies in the United States and Canada, and translations into more than twenty-three languages, it has made publishing history, with more than ten years on the New York Times bestseller list.” (Yahoo Search).
However, according to William James, widely regarded as the father of American psychology, James Allen’s book, As A Man Thinketh, represents one of the greatest discoveries in the 19th century.
“James Allen’s philosophy became possible when liberal Protestantism discarded the stern dogma that man is sinful by nature. It substituted for that dogma an optimistic belief in man’s innate goodness and divine rationality.” (Hallmark Editions)
His philosophy was based on a blend of Christian and Buddhist beliefs:
The Buddha teaches, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought” and the Biblical proverb, “For as a man thinketh in his heart, so he is.” (Proverbs 23:7)
He summarized his beliefs in a terse, yet powerful poem:
Evidently Charles Darwin agreed with Allen when he wrote in, The Descent Of Man:”
Perhaps it should not be surprising that, along with the creation of the universe, the origin of Homo sapiens’ brain remains shrouded in “the cloud of unknowing.” Meanwhile, every day we are presented with 1000s yes/no, right/wrong, good/evil and life/death decisions and the quality and direction of our life will depend on the choices we make as we address each “fork in the road.”
Note: The average length of English words is five letters. Therefore, the 770 words in this text contain about 4,000 letters. Writing this essay required at least five revisions to correct spelling, grammar and syntax. This means that approximately 20,000 literary forks had to be addressed in order to complete this blog.