Rewilding the Brain, Part 2 (Summer Series) | Thom Markham | 5 Min Read

August 22, 2023

Is a new version of the brain coming?

The theme of regeneration appears commonly in Intrepid Ed News, particularly in articles written by my colleague Benjamin Freud. I mention this because the term rewilding the brain slipped out in a conversation about biocentrism with Benjamin, the idea that humans live within the circle of Nature, not as outside manipulators, but as active participants in rewilding the planet.

This led me to think about the boundaries of Nature itself. Typically, that’s Earth and its troposphere. But no longer. The natural world has been extended nearly to infinity by the discovery of 100 billion galaxies and 5000 exoplanets (with thousands more to come). To complicate matters, Nature is suddenly much older than expected. Last year the age of the universe was 13.7 billion years; the latest estimate, as of a month ago, is 25 billion years. (Double your age over the next 30 days and see how that feels.)

I apologize for the big numbers, but here’s one more: The human brain contains an estimated 69 billion neurons. In Part 1 of Rewilding the Brain, I pointed out the obvious rise in ADHD and autism diagnoses globally, as well as the repeated stories of prodigies whose accomplishments at very young ages defy explanation. Those 69 billion neurons are acting in ways we don’t understand, though those strange behaviors turn out in many instances to be quite helpful, including in the unlikely category of national security.

The big numbers coming back from the universe leave us feeling insignificant, and the neurodiverse patterns confuse us. But what if the brain is acting deliberately? What if neurodivergence—the proliferation of different ways of thinking, flashes of unusual genius, and the liberation of unknown talents—is similar to rewilding our planet and exactly what society needs to evolve? And what if the future leads to a new version of the brain?

Reimagining the brain seems odd but it’s happened before. The metaphors of current culture, including the hydraulic theories of Descartes or Aristotle’s belief that the brain existed to cool the heart, have always driven our interpretation of the brain. Our present model is deeply rooted in the modern familiarity with machines and computers, in which biochemical interactions activate synapses and convey electrical impulses called ‘thought’. This is the foundation for the ‘truths’ of the cognitive neuroscientific view.


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Thom Markham

Thom Markham is an educator, regenerative psychologist, and global entrepreneur. Thom pioneered the worldwide buildout of project-based learning and human development programs for youth and is the author of Redefining Smart: Awakening Students’ Power to Reimagine Their World. Currently, his work is focused on turning schools green through deep sustainability. He shares his ideas in Rx for the Planet, with Dr. Thom, a newsletter designed to prod human thinking beyond convention and assumption.