At least not only engineers. Require them to learn a companion, so-called “right brain” discipline, simultaneously. Make them also be dancers, actors, or artists or musicians, martial artists or yogis. Why? Because over-development of the left brain tends to cause problems. We all know people dead from the neck down, good people cut off from feelings, people who demonstrate the emotional intelligence of a polar ice cap. If kids feel more affinity for machines and software code than they do for humans, that’s not good for peonies and peacocks, or people as this analysis recently published in the NY Times, listing a number of terrorists as engineers, underscores.
This over-focus from the head up, frequently results in a lack of integrated neural balance, one that leaves our mirror neuron system in a state of really piss-poor integration. In Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others, UCLA neuroscientist, Marco Iacoboni asserts that a clamshell-like structure in the brain called the insula serves as a connecting hub, a kind of neural Grand Central Station connecting the emotional centers in the limbic areas to the mirror neuron system in the brain. It is this mirror neuron system which allows us to easily empathize with others. The more neural fibers and connections we have passing through this central hub, the greater our capacity for feeling, for empathizing with the plight of others. The greater our capacity for empathy, the less likely we are to engineer a bomb, secret it into our shoes or underwear, and board a commercial airline hell bent on mass destruction. We will no longer so easily fall prey to the “Cortical Bias” and the Empathy Gap it frequently produces.
Will Engineer Terror for Food
While it’s true that most kids who do grow up to be engineers will very likely find work other than terrorism, this imbalance in left brain development, which engineering frequently tends to produce, often results in a lot of clueless behavior, not necessarily globally terroristic in nature. As a result of such neural deficiencies, a lot of unconscious acting out happens in the workplace and in the privacy of our own homes. We become workplace and parenting tyrants, favoring spanking two to one as we already do here in America. What few of us realize is that with more and better neural balance and better brain integration, many of the things that we end up spanking kids for, will simply no longer disturb us emotionally. We’ll have increased our bandwidth to more easily process things that previously upset us.
I’m not surprised that unconscious process, housed primarily in the emotional centers of the right brain, undoes so many terrorist attempts. They aren’t engineering failures, they’re emotional intelligence failures. Unconscious process is often at work as well in criminals like these clowns who unsurprisingly ended up being easily identified and derailed by law enforcement. What they apparently lack, is the ability to think about their thinking. This inability is not uncommon in most children and in many adults in my experience, myself included. Except for sometimes. Sometimes I am able to pause and reflect. I am able to take stock, initiate a mental pause and wonder: “What the hell am I thinking?”
The Body Orchestrates the Neural Symphony
Finally, we know from many studies like this one performed by University of Illinois professor Art Kramer, that physically fit children demonstrate significantly greater capacity for learning and memory, and very likely emotional intelligence as well. But additionally, another reason to balance mental disciplines like engineering or economics with physical disciplines like dance or yoga, according to Tobias Loetscher at the University of Melbourne, is that the human body is intimately involved in the production of abstract thought. Unless we are adults reasonably in tune with and aware of our bodies, it becomes difficult, if not impossible to think through the consequences of our actions: for example, how the home loans we sell to millions of people who can’t afford them might cause the global economy to come crashing down and cause great suffering the whole world over. These are dots few banks and mortgage brokers apparently had enough processing power to connect most recently.
To increase our processing power, physical disciplines that support introspection are often more effective strategies than retrospection. Don’t believe me? Well, how about believing these esteemed scientists at University College London then? None of whom majored in engineering.