Opening the Gates

As grade 8 draws to a close, students pass through two critical gates. The objective for each student: Get those gates open as FAR as possible.

Gatekeeper 01: High School Entrance Placement Exams

Most high schools have three levels: Advanced, Regular, and Remedial. Well-known high school entrance exams correlate between 0.85 and 0.90 with the IOWA 8th grade test.

Gatekeeper 02: College Entrance Placement Exams

Very high college placement scores will open the doors of about any post-secondary experience. That first tier may not be accessible, but many state and private schools accessible here. Low-level performers will be limited to community colleges and a few specialized private schools. Well-known college placement exams correlate between 0.85 with the IOWA 8th grade test.

Both high school and college placement exams test the firmness of the foundation each student has established by eighth grade.

Must the student and parent wait for the 8th grade scores to determine how far each gate will be opened?

No! As early as grade 4, each student receives a prediction like this:

FFE-chartWithout any improvement between 4th and 8th grades:

  • High School will be: Regular level (Not advanced)
  • College: Selective Colleges (Below “Highly”)

The predictions are reliable. Does that mean these results are chiseled in stone, unchangeable? Find out in the next Foundation for Excellence post!


A New Part of the Brain

As hominids appear, how is the brain doing? That remarkable set of evolutionary events (warm-blooded, lactation, live birth) caused an ever-larger brain structure. A new part of the brain developed. Housed here are the concepts of satisfying and not satisfying behaviors as well as a variety of other emotional behaviors. For example, solid research has established that our first look at a stranger leads to a like-or-dislike decision. The thoughtful brain may later change that opinion; but the instinctive brain sets the stage. Humans make a lot of their decisions based on that quick, unconscious reaction. The quick reaction appears first in the evolutionary line; the thought response is much later — and slower.

From this new part of the brain, rarely does a signal cause a behavior to happen. Instead, it produces tendencies to respond in certain ways. The brain did NOT develop with higher brain functions separated from automatic reflexes. For example, if a person partakes in some sexual activity that is clearly career-ruining, people ask, “What was he thinking!” to which the answer is, “He was not thinking.” His response was an uncontrolled, automatic emotional response. This part of the brain contains the value judgments humans often unconsciously make. These responses made unconsciously exert a very strong influence on our behavior.

Social interactions required more brain space. Eventually, as language, imagination, beauty and abstract thought appeared, the brain needed to grow bigger by adding layers. These demanded an addition to the brain; in fact, two additions to the reptilian brain, one to the backside of the brain and the other to front part. At home here are language, abstract thinking, imagination and awareness of ourselves. In most mammals, they add just a little; in humans, they sort of cover up the original reptilian brain.

In the past few years, those studying the brain have taken issue with past beliefs that the brain was, in a sense, compartmentalized, left brain for some things, the right brain for others, sort of like LEGO blocks. Those left-brain this, right-brain that ideas have been dismissed. The two sides of the brain share a common basic structure.

Brain sections dealing with higher order thinking evolved side-by-side with the earliest layers. Communication pathways within the brain, when faced with a new issue, somehow seek out all the various areas of the brain related in some manner to that new issue. You see the word “taco.” The brain reaches for all possible connections. Neurons will zip off, searching for possible prior experiences with “taco” that are stored in your brain. Since each person has unique environmental experiences, the neuron firing will differ from person to person. One big integrated systems responds immediately to some query reaching the brain.

For a newborn, the brain’s visual circuitry only connects as needed by the newborn’s eye. If an infection distorts so seriously that infant’s eye to make it functionally blind, correction by surgery done ten years later cannot rebuild the pathways that should have been built much earlier. Those millions of potential connections available earlier, the ones that need to be activated by use, seem to have an alarm clock. After a while the alarm clock goes off; thereafter, the connections disappear, never again to be made. The number of available connections is largest at age 2; by adulthood, only about 60% of available links have been connected. The other 40% were pruned; gone.

Thus the brain of a child born in a home where only English is spoken connects some different nerves then that of a child born where only Chinese is spoken. The connections for those two will differ from a child born where only Finnish is spoken. A child born where all three are spoken will make all the connections. In a sense, then, cells that fire together wire together. Timing is critical; available nerves which are not connected within a certain time period eventually disappear. The timing of the action-potential activity is critical in determining which connections are strengthened and which are weakened and eliminated.

For a child, good vision requires being exposed to a sharply focused visual world during this period of brain development. Without that, the child will not have normal brain development. Your author is a living example. Born with severe astigmatism — so severe the first ophthalmologist labeled it “functional blindness” – the default was not identified and corrected until age 8. Strong eye-glasses then solved the problem. But that was too late. To this day, concepts are easy (Darwinian evolution, probabilistic statistics, the entire number system) but details (remembering the spelling of words, recalling what the person who just left had been wearing, remembering a name one minute after an introduction) are all impossible. No part of my brain has a place for those. If the connections for seeing the details were never activated; before age 8, they disappeared.

This does not mean all learning ends as adulthood looms. The brains of mammals continue to respond to and learn from new experiences. The newer parts of the brain – the ones that developed after reptiles appeared – can make new connections. Brain researchers have a number of interesting theories on how that exactly works but the bottom line is: learning continues essentially until death.

The hominid level is reached. The brain and emotions have come a long way. Animals by this time had displayed a wide variety of emotional behaviors which the brain caries from one evolutionary step to another. At the fish level was seen fear, learning, memory, parenting, caring for others, and seeking one another. Earlier, cooperation, communication and what appears to be a mysterious force of attraction.

In the long transition from amphibians to reptiles, parenting appeared to have a role. Now review the role of parenting in these steps to lactation, warm blooded, placenta developed, live birth started, and the newborn needed parental help to stay alive. Elaborate mating rituals involve color, sound, body movement. Mating and sex go together; research indicates animals enjoyed sex. Darwin: “Males drive away rival males .. females excite or charm those of the opposite sex and select the most agreeable partner.” Social harmonies appeared. Some mammals stay with a mate for life, confirming once again gender attraction seen since genders appeared. Research shows the roots of empathy are embedded deeply in our evolved behaviors. Sharing and cooperation become broader. Death was understood.

Complex Emotional Behavior

The research of a respected neuroscientist, Peggy Mason of University of Chicago, clearly demonstrates that empathy existed long before homo sapiens. Her studies illustrate for those intellect-only humans that the roots of empathy are embedded deeply in our evolved behaviors.

Here are some carefully done observations that demonstrate animal emotions toward one another go farther than mating and parental care. The list below includes cooperating, caring for others, and empathy as the evolutionary lines head for humans.

Bats living together will feed their hungry. In the group is seen reciprocity, sharing, and fairness. A long time observer of wolves in packs notes that wolves paying attention to the needs of others in the group. Wolves have a keen sense of how things ought to be. Like us, some wolves are fair and others are not.

Contrary to popular belief, the animal world is not one big competition. Chimpanzees, like wolves, need cooperation for survival. A leading researcher in this area, Frans de Waal, adds, “Humans are a highly cooperative species, and we can see in our close relatives where that comes from.” He also reports that if a female chimp can barely walk, the younger chimps will pitch in to help with climbing or fetching water. Another observer reports that when a chimpanzee gave birth, her friend screamed and hugged other chimpanzees. Then the friend took care of mother and baby for weeks. Coyotes have similar behaviors. When they reunite, they run toward one another whining and smiling, with tails wagging wildly, then lick one another, roll over and flail their legs. De Waal’s new book, The Bonobo and the Atheist, shows bonobos displaying a level of group behaviors shockingly complex and developed.

Longtime observers of elephants reports on the emotional attachment to one another as well as an understanding of death. Elephants have been known to stand beside an animal’s remains for long periods of time. Joyce Poole, a Kenyan biologist, asserts that elephants have deep emotions at the loss of a family member and that they have some understanding about death. When a baby elephants was mauled and killed by a lion, nearly one hundred elephants assembled around the dead child, lightly touching the stiff body and standing for hours in respect.

Before moving on, though, a quick look at a few observations of primates, the group from which humans eventually evolved. Primates appeared very shortly after the extinction ending the dinosaur reign.

At Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo, a three-year-old boy fell more than fifteen feet into a gorilla’s living area. The gorilla scooped the child up and cradled and calmed the child before putting him on a log in the stream where the trainer could pick him up.

The famed anthropologist Jane Goodall, who spent a lifetime researching chimpanzees, speaks of chimpanzees that chase and pirouette around one another. A chimp will approach a waterfall, sway from foot to foot, swing from vines, and randomly throw rocks for as much as fifteen minutes and then quietly sit and contemplate the falling water. Goodall “…might these wild, elemental displays become ritualized into some form of animistic religion? Would they worship the falls, the deluge from the skies, the thunder and lightning …?”

Baboon society is quite competitive, which has a good deal to do with which males have access to the females. In any event, the higher-ranking ones intimidate the lower ranking ones, which causes stress for the lower-ranking ones. So purposely causing stress in others is not, unfortunately, completely new to humans. However, those big, strong male baboons have a very direct and meaningful reason which connects to protecting a satisfying feeling. “Anticipating satisfaction” does not include “satisfaction of causing others pain.” No examples of animal behaviors done just to cause pain in others appears in the evolutionary story.

This is just a sample gathered over the years from science magazines, newspaper reports, and books written about this very topic. Emotional behavior’s role in key evolutionary steps: it just has to be there.

A More Developed Brain

For about 25 million years after the extinction the north hemisphere was warm and covered with abundant trees and vegetation. Tree filled forests flourished and the grasslands of today had not yet appeared. The mammal line to us was the primates. Those first primates adaptation to life in trees was unique. Their precise jumps from tree to tree demanded a more developed brain. Primate fossils of that time show small, squirrel-like animals with grasping hands and feet.

Too many people view “primate” and “monkey” as synonyms, which they are not. The distinction: monkeys had tails; they veered off the path leading to humans about 30 million years ago. The primates leading to us had stronger arms and shoulders but no tail. After the monkey veered off, the remainder of the primate group were the apes, including orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, gibbons and us.

Climate change and specie change worked together. The earth got cooler; those many forests needing heat changed to grasslands. Common ancestors that happened to be in rainforests or locations with thick tree cover, over time, tended to develop particular skills. These skills involved such things as excellence swinging from branch to branch with jumps, at times, of up to 50 feet. They needed to be fast to survive. Better eyesight was needed for this environment; paws became hands; and a larger brain was needed to keep track of all this.

Slowly but surely, one group became so different from the common ancestor group and launched a new specie. Some called these lesser apes; mostly they are called gibbons. In their current form, gibbons live mostly in southeast Asia.

In those same tree-rich areas, another group of the original common ancestor changed in a slightly different manner. Rather than swing from tree to tree, they grew larger and, to move from tree to tree, needed to go to the ground and walk, perhaps because this much-larger group lived near a grassland. Walking upright at times was more useful than being on four legs. Soon this group, now called orangutans, was distinctly different (such as they could no longer interbreed) and became a species of their own. Remaining orangutans can be found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

The line of gorillas, the largest of this group, spun off about ten million years ago. Remaining ones are now mostly in central Africa. The next common ancestor, chimpanzees, deviated enough to be called their own species about four million years later. Millions of them use to live in tropical Africa, but habitat loss and over-hunting has left few alive. Both groups are endangered species, decimated by loss of habitat and serious overhunting by humans.

Our group was called the hominids. We were last group to leave that common ancestor. At that time, our group had upright posture, was bipedal, and had a larger brain. The time is about eight million years ago, and at that time, certainly did not look at all like humans do now.

Reptiles and fish were also evolving more developed brains. The reptilian brain was storing more than defensive instincts; animals by this time had displayed a wide variety of emotional behaviors which the brain caries from one evolutionary step to another. At the fish level was seen fear, learning, memory, parenting, caring for others, and seeking one another. Earlier, cooperation, communication and what appears to be a mysterious force of attraction.

The march from amphibian to reptile certainly appears to involve a great deal of devoted parenting. Scientists can indeed cobble together a Darwinian explanation, but the parenting behavior pursued over 60 million years must have had a strong motivator.

Sort of an interesting if off-topic fact: As the little mammals began some critical changes, ants evolved. In ant societies, worker ants give up their reproductive capability to care for the queen bee’s offspring. Research done at the University of Arizona shows any worker bee that cheats, and tries to reproduce, will be attacked by the other ants. The article’s author writes, “The idea that social harmony is dependent on strict systems to prevent and punish cheating individuals seems to apply to most successful societies.” Social harmony. In ants.

On the way from reptiles to the homo-group, emotional development made advances that will surprise many people. Warm-blooded birds stayed with the same mate for life, elaborately kept eggs warm and safe, and carried for helpless chicks. Birds display self-recognition (looking in a mirror and knowing who it is), which was previously thought to be only a human-only.

Now those emotions expand beyond just parenting into group perspectives, of animals living and interacting with other animals. When a bird’s own brood is destroyed, it may transfer its attention to the young of others; observations of birds feeding the young of other parents of the same species, and even of other species, are quite common. When Bekoff, a leader in the animal emotion field, was asked if animals enjoy sex, he responded, “Mosquitoes, I don’t know,” he hedged, “but across mammals, they enjoy sex.”   There is clearly more to genders seeking one another than a desire to create children.

Mammals Step Up to the Plate

Somewhere around 150 million years ago everything in order. Lactation already existed and the secretion had the ingredients of milk. The pre-mammal was warm-blooded; the placenta had developed. Live birth began. Lactation, which started developing a hundred million years ago, was available to those toothless newborns. The baby’s source of food was not very far away.

A critical element in the process is that the pre-mammals were prey, not predators, small, not big. Generation after generation, the parents must have stayed with the eggs and then the babies, providing warmth and moisture while all these critical transitions developed.

Using the information which can be found, a Darwinian explanation can be cobbled together. The closeness of the parents first to eggs and then to a new-born baby may have been pre-determined by the instinct to just stay alive. However, if “just surviving” were dominant, the female could have laid the eggs and sought the safest place to hide all day – these were still reptiles so the parents did not necessarily have to be with the eggs. Parenting has been seen earlier in the evolutionary line; should it not be a key element in the Darwinian interpretation?

This is a little bit off-topic, but it is sort of interesting that about the same time mammals experienced live birth, birds also evolved from reptiles. Like mammals, birds became warm-blooded, and, relative to their size, birds have quite a large brain. They display a good deal of intelligence, communicate with complex songs and signals better than any other animal.

This complex transition from reptile to mammal when the mammal was the prey, not the predator. Reptiles ruled. The animals stayed small, as out-of-sight as they could be.

Take just a couple minutes to review the role of parenting in these steps to lactation, warm blooded, placenta developed, live birth started, and the newborn needed parental help to stay alive. The process leading to lactation relied heavily on parental effort. .

As those the eggs were held longer and longer, the body temperature was turned up, demanding more energy. Is there a chance holding the baby inside was in some manner satisfying to the female, thereby allowing internal development to continue? Remember, the parents had to eat, too. They could easily concentrate on finding food, letting the eggs die in the process. In a dog-eat-dog world, who cares? Obviously they did care. Was there no time when leaving the eggs was more attractive to the parents, in terms of personal survival, than staying with eggs? Live birth followed, demanding attendant parenting. Every step of the way, across 130 million years, the female was holding the embryo inside her further and further into the birth process. And, across that same time span, the female – and apparently the male also – stayed quite close to the entire birth process, from beginning to end.

Again and again since the beginning, origin of change seems to include more than mutation followed by natural selection. A factor seems to have existed from the beginning which always seems to be connected to words like “feeling” or “reward” or “expectation of satisfaction.” The consistent picture shows gender seeking one another; genders together taking steps included under the heading “parenting.”

The earth now contained mammals. The mammals had little opportunity to branch out – they were just little animals in a world of really big animals. But 65 million years ago, mammals got their chance. The dinosaurs’ reign came to a sudden death, not from an internal but an external threat.

A comet or asteroid, moving at a speed 40 times faster than the speed of sound, hit Earth. On impact, when its bottom touched Earth, the top was still five miles high in the sky. The crater caused by the impact, nearly 60 miles across, is located on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. More than 75% of animal and plant species on Earth, including all dinosaurs, were eliminated by this event. At this time, general agreement, based on accumulating evidence, is that the extinction was caused by an asteroid or comet collision.

Data suggest fast-moving debris from the impact caused anything flammable to burst into flames. No place existed for the bigger animals to hide or escape as their environments burned to the ground. Fires of that intensity and breadth are killing events. Although the demise of dinosaurs and others was fairly sudden after the extinction event, the debris flew around for a long time. As you can imagine, the world was dark and, with the sunlight obscured, cold as well.

Recovery took some time. Pretty soon, the climate was generally warm as those little mammals stepped in where dinosaurs were no more. At that time, temperatures were high but some plate movement led to a global cooling event about ten million years later. Interestingly, those lower temperatures caused the body sizes of mammals to increase.

Mammals released from jail. Mammals got their chance to take over; and they did!

Three kinds of mammals appear – actually, they had appeared before the big extinction. One had hair, produced milk, but still laid eggs. That group’s only remaining examples are in Australia and New Guinea; the most common survivor is the duck-billed platypus. The second group, marsupials, include kangaroos, koalas, and opossums   Marsupials have a maternal pouch and, in reproduction, were sort of half way between egg layers and live birth. Their newborns spend a while in a maternal pouch before being on their own.

The third evolutionary line is ours, called the placentas. Fortunately, far from the impact site, surviving species includes placentas. Flowering plants, which had expanded across the land masses, survived, as did many amphibian and reptile groups. The burst of flowering plant groups coincided with their partners, the bees and wasps as well as ants and beetles. Those little bugs provided the fertilization plants need.

Just about the first line to spin off after the extinction were the insects. Right behind them, less than five million years after the extinction, came the flying lemurs, bats, and the line that led to us, the primates. About the same time, another evolution line led to carnivores or meat eaters, like bears, dogs, lions.

Just a little later, in the water, came the whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Next, along the same line, came elephants, manatees, and sea cows. How quickly the mammal took over. All these new species happened less than five million years after the extinction. Mammals stepped right up to the plate.

The Great Dying

Around 300 million years ago, a good part of a supercontinent covered the South Pole. Ice built up, draining the seas. A lot of earth’s oceans froze to the bottom causing an extinction for about 60% of living things. The period had sort of a bad start.

Amphibians and reptiles both got big and strong, the biggest guys on the block, and a lot of them survived. As life fought back, two important new reptile blood lines appeared. One line led to huge dinosaurs. The other eventually led to mammals. Shortly after they appeared, though, they faced a pretty serious threat.

By about 250 million years ago, a too-warm Earth released ocean gases poisonous to all living things. Estimates say 96% of life in the oceans and 70% of the vertebrates on land were wiped out by this extinction, called The Great Dying.   Life on Earth finally did recover but it may have taken ten MILLION more years for this to happen. No complete agreement exists on the cause of that massive catastrophe. Most now agree continent collisions caused massive volcanoes. Repeated and continuous volcanic eruptions kept so much soot in the air that the Earth’s surface got very little sunshine. The soot-filled air made breathing very, very difficult.

Enough of the two new lines – to dinosaurs and mammals – survived to avoid extinction. Dinosaurs are considered to be reptiles; they not in our direct evolutionary line. But those big, mean-looking scary animal cannot just be skipped!

Just for fun, before going back to that pre-mammal line evolution line being followed, take a break to follow those big, scary dinosaurs through their relatively short existence. After the Great Dying, dinosaurs spread out. They filled the extinction gaps. Although the first fossil remains were found in Tanzania, now on the east coast of Africa, dinosaur fossils have been found on every continent.

The word “dinosaur” means “terrible lizard” but they were not lizards. Dinosaurs make up a separate group of reptiles who generally, but not always, walked in an upright position. Fossils indicate a length of up to ten feet; those huge dinosaurs that seemed so dominating in movies did not show up until later. At this point, they were just another animal group trying to scratch out a living. Reproduction involved the male fertilized the eggs inside the female’s body.

Eventually, dinosaurs ruled, but dinosaurs were just one nightmare-maker. Even scarier were the flying reptiles, the first flying vertebrates. Some were as small as sparrows but some had a thirty-foot wingspan. Think of a flying reptile the size of a small airplane attacking you from the heavens. Clearly, they had no natural enemies, so these flying reptiles ruled the skies beginning about 200 million years ago. Interestingly enough, neither birds nor dinosaurs evolved from them. Dinosaurs had no natural enemies but, thank goodness, one did come from the sky. That meteorite impact 65 million years ago ended the reign of the dinosaur.

Now back to that led from reptiles to mammals. Like the first dinosaurs, these little animals were small, in all likelihood, they living in the ground, not on the ground. Before the Great Dying appeared, those little pre-mammals developed a remarkable trait: lactation. Lactation will be necessary for mammals to appear; the development of lactation at this time preceded the first mammals by at least 100,000 years.

The Story of Lactation

How scientists see lactation happening is a good story.

The little pre-mammals were no match for the bigger reptiles and amphibians so those terrified little animals probably sought shelter. They still laid eggs, eggs that did not have hard shells like chicken eggs but were rather a thin parchment. A problem with such thin parchment is drying out. Marsupials solve this with a pouch; the pouch may have been an intermediate step for mammals. The lactation secretion probably came from former hair glands on the female chest.

The secretion was not exactly like mother’s milk of today but did contain chemical precursors of lactose. In a Darwinian interpretation, then, the pre-mammals that provided the moisture and warmth and, eventually, the chemicals most useful in fighting disease were the ones who produced the most successful offspring. Those offspring produced offspring who would behave similarly. Eventually, warmth and moisture providers become dominant. So while those little pre-mammals snuck around for food (and avoid being food for bigger animals), they tried to keep their eggs warm, then moist, then healthy. And the fluid the fluid used to keep the eggs healthy would eventually become mothers’ milk. And, lactation and all, these little pre-mammals lived through the Great Dying.

Picture mammal; what do you see? Probably dogs, cats, humans or maybe elephants or tigers. Those first pre-mammals did not look like any of those; they were sort of an insignificant little blurb in the animal world. Our little ancestors played the role of a reptile’s snack.

So, on the journey from pre-mammal to mammal, lactation is already in place even though using it with a newborn will not happen for a while. Another major change in this transition: warm-blooded from cold-blooded. These first pre-mammals were, like reptiles, cold-blooded.

Cold-blooded animals generally spend a lot of time basking in the sun, not to get a tan but to warm the body. Hunting for food followed warming the body. So what are those little burrowing pre-mammals to do? During the day, they would be a likely target for dinner by the bigger reptiles. No time for a suntan.

That scary existence connects to the transition from cold to warm-blooded. Since showing up in daylight was suicidal, slowly but surely, generation after generation, their bodies invested energy into maintaining a constant temperature. Slowly their bodies developed more thermal insulation and a mechanism for temperature control. Both of these required a larger brain.

The environment of that time was not particularly helpful. Around 210 million years ago, that big Pangaea supercontinent begins to split. Changes were happening, not all for the good. Carbon dioxide levels were rising, much higher than they are now. The forests near the equator spread well northward, almost to the two poles. The oceans were becoming very warm.

Around 200 million years ago, an extinction raised havoc. The earth got too warm – much as it is doing today. Recent research indicates as much as 12,000 gigatons (a gigaton is one billion tons; each ton is 2000 pounds) of methane drifted up from the sea floor to the atmosphere. Too much heat did cause the extinction – and that is what is happening right now.

But the march from pre-mammal to mammal marched on to one final, giant transition step: live birth.

For animals still laying eggs, the very last layer surrounding the baby developing in the egg is a soft bag which will eventually become a shell. Remember, the eggs are getting smaller. For those eggs, that “sort of bag” allows for gas exchange to and from the egg, which is how the secretions got there.

The live birth step began with that special amniote egg that allowed the transition from amphibian to reptile. In the egg, the embryo lived in life-maintaining fluids surrounded by a tough tissue. Around that was more fluid and then the egg shell. That tough tissue transitioned into a unique organ, a different sort of a bag. The bag was called the placenta, and communication between the mother’s body and that bag was by way of the umbilical cord. This placenta belongs to the baby not the mother.

Some pretty careful studies have shown that the process which led to the internal placenta drew upon some ancient genes—changes, remember, are always based on something that happened in the evolutionary line earlier. The reptiles had provided that tough tissue surrounding the fertilized egg. With those ancient genes, particularly genes involving growth and metabolism as a starting place, a pathway into the membrane developed. The pathway allowed for the nutrients formerly provided inside the egg to be provided instead inside the mother, via an umbilical cord. By a combination of copying and merging those ancient genes in different manners, the transition was made. The placenta for all species is not the same, although they all seem to start under the control of the same gene structure.

A Review of Brain Development

Reaching back almost to the beginning, our brain uses a communication system found in jellyfish, first appearing 600 million years ago. Their nerves and the manner they send signals are similar to ours. Your brain relies heavily on structures found in the animals that preceded us. The first known animal, sponges, appear just before jellyfish. They basically had a more primitive form of the communication system found in jellyfish BUT our brain still uses part of their communication system. How that process evolved between the first multicellular organism and sponges is unknown since fossils are not available.

Worms are the simplest organisms to have a central nervous system, allowing them to exhibit more complex forms of behavior. Insects have a small but remarkable brain which can, for example, permit the cockroach to dart away as soon as it senses the moving air preceding a quickly descending human foot. The insect brain controls crawling, hopping, swimming, flying, burrowing, mating, and you-name-it.

An animal’s information system runs up the spine to the brain. Vertebrates, with that stiff spine, improve the protection of the information system. In early vertebrates, one part of the brain controlled behaviors that had happened again and again. Those automatic responses are sort of like cruise control on a car. A bird flies straight at your head. You do not stop and ponder, “Hmm. Should I duck?” No. Your conscious brain is too slow; a reflex established in antiquity makes you duck.

Science quarrels when the first brain appears, but the more important question is “What does the brain do?” Basically, it signals; it communicates; it directs traffic.

Without using the term “brain,” signaling began with life. From the beginning, cells had a communication system. Without one, how else could the DNA of the first bacteria direct the organism to make a copy of itself and then reproduce by splitting that copy off? Each of those steps, from no-life to life, from bacteria to eukaryotes, eukaryotes to multicellular, multicellular to jellyfish, required cells signaling one another. For sure, the brain was more organized when vertebrates had it at the end of a central nervous system. But communication among cells had to begin with life itself.

The amphibian transition from water to land made a big impact on the brain’s development. By this time, the brain had a midbrain and forebrain where brain functions for hearing and seeing in a higher and drier world sharpened. One part of the brain included responses like dominance and submission. Sudden movements, intimidating objects and brighter light changed visions centers. A possibly threatening or sight or sound causes us to instinctively turn our face and eyes in that direction.

As the finished reptile appears, the brain controls vital functions like heart rate, temperature, breathing, and balance. The brain, at that point, has a brain stem connected to two spheres (called the cerebellum.) This section helps with learning new motor behaviors, such as swinging a golf club.

In addition, most of science agrees that emotional centers also existed in the reptilian brain. Likely members include the instinct to fight or run which might also be called terror or anger. Instincts regarding sexual drives as well as parenting can be found here.

Dinosaurs, birds and mammals all followed reptiles. Each of those began with the same brain structure – the same brain structure as the reptiles. The human brain contains that section (often called reptilian) which still controls involuntary and instinctive behavior. Contrary to the arrogant beliefs of too many humans, the brain did not start over when homo sapiens arrived.

Parental Care in Ancient Species

Contrary to the position of some scientists, amphibians did exhibit parental care. Many amphibian species carefully select or build a nest in a safe, egg-protected location. Some protect the eggs by disturbing the water such that predators cannot see the eggs; for others the male watches and defends the eggs from predators. Some species have already taken the reptile-like step of hatching the developed juvenile, thereby skipping the tadpole stage. Some species (both male and female) behave somewhat like birds, using their bodies to keep the eggs warm; others get close to internal development, carrying the eggs attached to the body in various ways and even inside the body for some species.

The male frog usually returns to his hatching site and croaks loudly, establishing his territory. When the female gets near, the male puffs his throat to make a special sound and call. The females chooses a male. The female than allows the male to climb on her back and, as the females lays the eggs, the male produces the milky sperm substance to fertilize them. Is that not a sort of a heart-warming story? Denying that this involves some satisfying feeling or expectation of satisfaction seems improbable.

The unfriendly sounding strawberry poison frog female, to keep the eggs wet, lays them in a plant with leaves that collect water, a location which also keep the eggs out of the sight-line of water-based predators. The fertilizing male stays around to defend the nest. The female will return every few days to feed the developing tadpoles. In a rainforest specie, the male guards the eggs for a couple weeks. Once the tadpoles appear, for six to eight weeks, the female is entirely responsible for feeding until the frogs appears. For these amphibians, parenting is not forgotten, and for those eggheads who declare parenting began with mammals, think again!

At the fish level was seen fear, learning, memory, parenting, caring for others, and seeking one another. The time seems to have come to acknowledge that the motivation for these behaviors is connected to something that either feels good or provides the anticipation of something satisfying.   Behaviors seen in fish have carried through to the amphibians – as well they should, because the brain just keeps evolving, not starting over.

Science explains the transition for amphibians to reptiles as a fully Darwinian event. The arguments are strong; but the transition certainly could have gone in another direction if entirely Darwinian. Parenting is clearly in place and has been through more than one previous evolutionary step. Some attention made to the emotional side of this transition would certainly match up better with the eventual result.

As the transition begins, amphibian female laid eggs which are sometimes fertilized in the water and sometimes internally. Either way, both species were usually together when fertilization happened. However, as climate eliminated a lot of water habitats, finding water to lay the eggs became difficult. As an amphibian, the female grew eggs and laid them. Over time, fertilization happened internally; the tadpole step amphibians used also developed internally. Does science think the female could not feel that? The female amphibian could have just laid the eggs on land, where they would die. Think parenting. Emotional development just seems to seems to fit the remarkable events that happened. Think of how many generations are in the 60 million years of the transition. Whatever kept the process going was a strong motivator.

Reptile parenting behavior differs from the amphibians. This may be because, unlike the amphibians, the young reptile has the same structure as the parents, leading to the expectation that the young could care for themselves. Exceptions exist: a few lizards and snakes guard the eggs, and pythons incubate their eggs for a while. Among reptiles only crocodiles and their relatives tend both eggs and hatchlings. In contrast, nearly all birds (believed to have evolved from reptiles) provide extended care for their offspring.

Fossils of a true sea monster called plesiosaur (a female) in 2011 provide an interesting contradiction.  The female was carrying a baby, not an egg, demonstrating that this reptile had reached the live birth stage. The scientist believe this fetus, when born, will not be quite ready to care for itself and, to compensate, the plesiosaur lived in social groups for extended parenting, just as whales and dolphins so.

So that is how the evolution of emotions is doing. How about the brain, a remarkable story of its own. First life required chemicals from those earliest oceans to be used to build a DNA structure. Not just a new chemical; a DNA structure that would reproduce and survive. As more complexity is added, DNA can change another way. Sometimes a section of existing DNA is quiet, but then becomes active. In a sense, this involves assembling existing information in a new manner.

A little stretch of the animal’s DNA contains the instructions for making the genes. Those proteins form the inner machinery of the brain as well as the connections among them. The brain’s function and development to move, think, and behave are influenced by the genes.

An Objectives-Driven Program

What is an “objectives-driven” program? The goal of an objectives-driven program is to set students on a course for success beginning at a young age.


Foundation-building starts early in elementary school.

At grade 6, the academic foundation-building expands with a search to connect personal likes and dislikes to the world of work.

classHighest possible performance level is critical at grade 8 graduation. Well-known tests monitor gate-opening for:

  • High school placement test.
  • Access to post secondary school of choice.

Highest possible performance level is critical at grade 8 graduation to monitor gate-opening later on.

High school coursework reflects both academic performance and search for world-of-work connection.

band computer





Long-range planning leads to a post-secondary experience to maximize performance.

When all is said and done, the Foundation for Excellence student will be not only be well-trained for their employment—they will enjoy it!