IRL neuroscience: human brainwaves and societal reaction to comparing kids to animals.
MindLab’s first working prototype “Neurosonic” is a cyberdelic neurofeedback application that turns EEG data into music and visuals. We showcased at tech-events and had specific designs for both children and grown-ups.
During these occasions, I often get to explore some basics of neurology with participants, beside the always-pleasant reflections upon meditation and awareness.
I start by drawing a scheme with the basic brainwaves type divisions and I write on top of the list: “Human Brainwaves”.
Most humans react to seeing the word “human” on the whiteboard, which I find quite amusing. We somehow always take our perspective for granted and forget ourselves.
Brain waves of frequencies above 15Hz are seldom recorded in other species, I explain. A gift/curse ability that humans exemplars seem to acquire around the age of eleven.
Framing this as a species-specific ability rather than a proof for intellectual superiority occurred naturally to me.
Once, I happened to (perhaps-too-clearly) state that, from a neurological perspective, there are no differences among human children and non-human animals. To my surprise, I felt the audience stiffening in discomfort somehow.
Was I discriminating children while barely stating facts? Or was I humanising creatures we usually want to think of as unanimated objects?
Since then refrained from bringing up comparisons between dogs, cows and young kids’ neurological development unless the audience expresses a high degree of confidence with the topic.
Perhaps I am more comfortable discussing these topics because of my practical anti-specisism: years of veganism have reprogrammed the way I evaluate the life of other creatures. I can happily talk about the physiological differences and similarities among species because I know that, in my actions, I do not support a discrimination among the two.
This might sound wrong to the listener caught off-guard:
I do not disproportionally prefer to safeguard the life of human infants over the lives of non-human infants. More accurately, I choose not to part-take in the systematic enslavement and torture of non-human creatures.
This said, I acknowledge that I experience a different magnitude of empathy for different types of animals: mammals are easier to relate to than reptiles, birds and fish and so up the taxonomic tree. Somehow kingdoms elude this pattern: I feel a great degree of sympathy for plantae and fungi.
That neuroscience would offer a nice conversation-starter on many topics was clear to me since I finished the last page of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by O. Sacks.
That some of these conversations would end up encompassing speciesism is surely a pleasant surprise!