The following is the second in a series of three posts presenting drawings and stories behind them by LW.

The cognitive scientist explained it to me this way. “For a few thousand years, architecture had been the conscious communication of a few important ideas within a particular human community. Chief among these ideas was stability. People considered their existence as fragile within a natural world basically hostile to them. In order to survive and, beyond that, to flourish on the planet, people had to struggle against the effects of nature, one of which was their own inevitable mortality that most often came about as a result of ‘natural causes.’ The cognitive processes that produced these ideas have their roots in the emergence of the human brain and its own self-reflectivity millions of years earlier than the invention of architecture and indeed of human society and the very idea of individuality. The neural structure of the human brain evolved differently from that of the animal brain, becoming larger and more complex. The brain’s complexity led to the invention of diverse defenses against natural forces and their effects, one of which was architecture. Architecture—the conception of enclosed spaces for living—made possible a balance between human fragility and natural hostility, a stability that encouraged and assured the establishment of both human society and individuality.

The structure of the human brain is the key to understanding the evolution of the human mode of existence. It is crucial, as we learned in the 20th century, that the human brain is ‘two-tiered.’ It is, like all brains, comprised of neural nets that function according to principles of electromagnetism—neurons processing electrons. The nets are biological computers computing what we broadly call ‘thoughts.’ The human brain on the first tier computes ‘rules’ of behavior, and, on the second tier ‘rules of the rules’ that enable us to change our behavior as our changing circumstances require, making us ‘adaptable,’ our supremely and particularly human trait. This means that we can change ourselves as well as change our environment, say, through making buildings.

When the severe environmental crisis struck our planet at the end of the last century, it became urgently necessary to change not only our behavior, but also the rules by which we govern our behavior. In short, we had to engage in second-tier, or second-order, thinking.  It was only by doing this that we as individuals and as a global community were able to break out of our old, dysfunctional ways of thinking and living and invent, for example, new modes of constructing buildings. It was equally important that we also change our ways of living in them. Indeed, it would make no sense to build new kinds of buildings if we were unable to adapt ourselves to them. This had to happen on the level of individuals and not only the societal level, and within a generation or two at most.

Was it coincidence that the new way of building mirrored, in effect, the neural structure of the human brain by creating a continually regenerating network form that resembles the structures of both matter and energy? Or, could it be a sign that attitudes towards nature are less defensive than they were and more conciliatory? Debate continues on these questions up to the present moment, no doubt because the process of invention left little time for philosophical considerations. However, it seems certain that changes to the neural structure of the brain will result in a few generations. Our idea of what is human will necessarily evolve.”


Coming next: What the social scientist said.

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