Consider for a moment the brain of a bee – the size of a grain of salt. It can detect the minutest changes in light, sound, smell and touch; delicately and accurately integrate the actions of many muscles; regulate the functioning of its body’s many organs so as to preserve the optimum conditions for life. Such brains learn from experience, and find ways to relate information to others of its species. The bee’s brain keeps a constant track of time and it functions as an accurate guidance system: compensating for wind direction, it correlates the rapid beating of four tiny wings, and lands the little body delicately at the centre of a waving flower.
The bee’s brain contains a mere 900 neurones. What, then, can we expect from our own brains, ten million times the size, and many billions times as complex? Where we differ most from other animals is in our highly developed use of language, our capacity to lcam not only from our own experience but from that of others, and our ability to adapt the environment to our own needs.
A human being has the faculty of self-consciousness, in the sense of being aware of his own experiences and of himself as a conscious being. With this awareness of his own conscious processes comes freedom of choice and the ability to make deliberate actions. Man is also an intelligent being: he can modify instinctive behaviour in the light of previous experience.
Intelligence and self-consciousness together, give humans the unique capacity to progress and evolve within their own lifetimes.
The smallest development in physical evolution takes many lifetimes, but mental evolution is much faster: an individual’s nervous system is continually changing, adapting to the environment, and reprogramming itself, throughout life. Our minds have become the spearhead of evolution, and the degree to which we progress depends upon the degree to which we make use of this most incredible product of nature – the degree to which we use our intelligence and our consciousness to the full.
Transforming the Mind by Peter Shepherd (PDF)