The featured scientist on “The Life Scientific” this morning (Radio 4, 9.00am) was Nicky Clayton.
Professor of Comparative Cognition at the University of Cambridge and fellow of The Royal Society, Nicky Clayton says intelligence in birds like crows and jays developed quite separately from that of apes and humans. She says her work with birds can help illuminate young children’s activities and how their brains develop.
Questions asked by Prof Clayton include
What conditions promote the development of intelligence in species, and are we the only species to be able to empathise with others?
One of the most fascinating points to emerge from the programme is that the smartest creatures on earth – elephants, dolphins, whales, members of the crow family (magpies, jays, rooks, etc) are highly social animals whose membership of the group and success within it depend upon their powers of empathy and social intelligence – their ability to socialise, network, collaborate, cooperate, strategise, and behave politically & diplomatically.
It seems growth in these socially intelligent areas of the brain has an impact on the development and growth of other parts of the brain – creativity, problem solving ability, etc.
There are surely lessons here for how we raise and educate children, especially if we restrict, and fail to encourage, their socialisation, collaboration and cooperation in schools. After all, even the stupidest of animals find it easy and straightforward to be merely competitive and aggressive.
Also on radio 4 today –
Brain Culture: Neuroscience and Society
Programme 2 : Brain Science and Education
Matthew Taylor explores the coming ‘Brain Culture’
Matthew Taylor continues his exploration of “Brain Culture,” examining striking new research about how our brains learn, and asks if we can use it to change Britain’s education system. For many years, scientists assumed the human brain was fully formed by the age of three but that notion has been challenged by the discovery of brain “plasticity” throughout life. Matthew looks at new teaching systems being used on children in a South Wales comprehensive, designed to heighten their brains’ ability to retain facts during a history class. He looks at how a remarkable study of Romanian children adopted in Britain is challenging the idea of focussing on children’s “early years.” The idea of plastic brains has also changed the way we motivate children in class: the programme looks at the striking new research which says it’s actually negative to tell our children they are clever.
For anyone interested in spiritual intelligence, human values and human virtues, there’s a programme on BBC2 this evening – 9.00pm – Ian Hislop: When Bankers Were Good
Bloated with bonuses, top bankers have cut themselves adrift from wider society. Luckily, nice Ian Hislop has a moral compass to help guide them home. It comes in the example of their forebears, such as Samuel Gurney, a modest Quaker who was mighty suspicious of his own wealth. A documentary that traces the history of philanthropy, exposing its limitations while strongly speaking up for tithing. An interview with a pre-resignation canon of St Paul’s Cathedral Giles Fraser (“I’m happy enough to beat up the bankers …”) has particular resonance as he argues we need to help City types towards a better model. Jonathan Wright (Guardian)
“Packed with interesting anecdotes and contemporary resonance, Ian Hislop’s film celebrates a golden age of philanthropy.” – http://www.tvmole.com/2011/06/greenlit-when-bankers-were-good-bbc2/
Ian Hislop presents an entertaining and provocative film about the colourful Victorian financiers whose spectacular philanthropy shows that banking wasn’t always associated with greed or self-serving financial recklessness.
Victorian bankers achieved wealth on a scale never envisaged by previous generations, but many of them were far from comfortable about their new-found riches, which caused them intense soul-searching amidst furious national debate about the moral purpose of money and its potential to corrupt.