Human BrainSocial Issues

Too Much to Know, Too Much to Unravel

Halfway into my second year of university, I made the somewhat rash decision to pursue a dual degree. I convinced myself that psychology was far more compatible with my interests and career aspirations than English Literature. I should note, however, that at the time, my knowledge of psychology consisted of snippets from popular culture, common sense “facts” and one course from high school that was devoted to learning the parts of the brain. It seems safe to assert that my conceptions of psychology were not accurate or complete. Nevertheless, even as I corrected my many misbeliefs, one initial assumption lingered, namely the crucial importance of the brain with regards to understanding human behaviour. 

Too Much to Know, Too Much to Unravel

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And because that one belief proved accurate, I feel progressively more concerned that I am still not well-versed in the human brain even after two years of study. This may be due to the stream that I am in — social psychology — which places greater emphasis on practical solutions and implications. But it may also be that students, including myself, are generally wary of the topic. I have had professors who assured the class from the outset that we would only cover what was strictly necessary for comprehending certain studies and nothing more. I have also had professors who omitted large sections of the textbook on the brain in order to focus on “more engaging matters”. While part of me is grateful that I do not need to familiarize myself with the many intricacies of the human brain, I cannot help but feel that I have done myself a disservice. You might ask “How so?” Well, I can think of several reasons.

First, the gaps in my knowledge prevent me from understanding and appreciating the ways in which the brain shapes our actions and experiences. When prompted, I can name the functions of specific parts of the brain — the amygdala, the hypothalamus, the cortices, and so on. But this information alone often proves to be of little use. After all, the brain is a cohesive system, as opposed to a collection of disjointed parts. Second, the consequences of everyday occurrences — injuries, illnesses, accidents — and their effect on subsequent functioning are largely lost on me. Moreover, I am unable to make any meaningful contributions to the existing literature on the human brain. In fact, as of right now, I don’t have the slightest clue about where to even begin. Why wasn’t I more proactive with my learning? Why did I rely so heavily on my professors? Why was I complacent with not knowing? If I were being truly honest, I do not have very good answers to any of the above-mentioned questions.

Too Much to Know, Too Much to Unravel

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It may be needless to say that the brain is a profoundly multi-faceted topic. Though I am not by any means an expert about its mysteries and idiosyncrasies, I am endlessly grateful that others are investigating new theories, ideas and hypotheses. And when I finally find the diligence to pursue my own inquiries, I know I will have much to explore.

Author

Too Much to Know, Too Much to Unravel
Frances Chen is a fourth-year Honours English and Psychology student from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.