In modern times there has been a tendency to downplay the differences between men and women, preferring to see whatever differences have historically existed as simply social constructs. This thinking was insisted upon by many as a kind of political correctness that must be held otherwise punishment and excoriation was sure to follow.
Nevertheless, most people with common sense have always known that men and women are very different, and that these differences are not simply the result of social constructs or the way people were raised.
Now scientists have made discoveries not only affirming that men and women are different, but helping to show one of the reasons why.
At the heart of the recent studies, and discoveries, is the fact that men’s brains and women’s brains are usually wired very differently. While the pathways that set up in the brain can be influenced by the setting in which one is raised, especially at the time of puberty and before, the study shows that there is a very strong tendency for men’s brains to be wired front to back, and for women’s brains to be wired right to left.
Here are some excerpts from the article:
Researchers found that many of the connections in a typical male brain run between the front and the back of the same side of the brain, whereas in women the connections are more likely to run from side to side between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
This difference in the way the nerve connections in the brain are “hardwired” occurs during adolescence…
A special brain-scanning technique called diffusion tensor imaging, which can measure the flow of water along a nerve pathway, established the level of connectivity between nearly 100 regions of the brain, creating a neural map of the brain…
Because the female connections link the left hemisphere, which is associated with logical thinking, with the right, which is linked with intuition, this could help to explain why women tend to do better than men at intuitive tasks…
Men tend to outperform women involving spatial tasks and motor skills – such as map reading – while women tend to better in memory tests, such as remembering words and faces, and social cognition tests, which try to measure empathy and “emotional intelligence”.
“It’s quite striking how complementary the brains of women and men really are,” said Rubin Gur of Pennsylvania University, a co-author of the study.
You can read more of the study here: Study Shows Brain differences
Now of course I’m not writing a science blog here, but I would like to make a couple of comments, one of them theological/philosophical, and the other moral.
First, regarding the theological/philosophical point. While it is refreshing to see science affirming what we all basically know by ordinary sense and experience, namely, that men and women think very differently, it seems nevertheless that a certain caution is in order. For in our materialistic and reductionist times there is a tendency to reduce the human person to merely the biological and especially, to the brain.
But of course, even at the physical level, we are more than a brain on a stick. Our whole central nervous system, interacts with our brain, as does the whole of our body, forming a very mysterious mind-body, connection that contributes very strongly, and collectively to our sense of “I” as a person.
Beyond the complexities and magnificence of our physical nature, is also the mysterious and powerful presence of our soul. Surely our soul interacts with our brain, and our whole body, both influencing it and being influenced by it.
And good though this study is, and interesting besides, we cannot simply explain the differences between men and women by studying brains. Why is this?
Theology and philosophy speak of the soul is being the “form” of the body. What does it mean to speak of the “form of the body?” Well consider if you’re going to design a glove. How would you design it? Well, you would look at the form and function of the hand. The hand then, is the form of a glove. Now a hand has a certain size and four fingers with a fifth opposeable thumb. But the fingers of the hand also move along three hinges or joints.
Thus, in designing a glove, four fingers, with an opposeable thumb are required. And also required is the capacity of the glove to permit the movement of the fingers. All of these factors give rise to the design and features of the glove. Thus the the hand is the form of a glove.
And so, when we speak of the soul as being the form of the body, we are saying much the same thing. The soul has certain capacities, and the body, that God designs, reflects these capacities. And thus, our soul as a powerful intellectual capacity, and the capacity to reason, therefore we have large brains. The soul also has the capacity to express its thoughts, and so the human person has the physical capacity, using our larynx, tongue, lips etc to communicate. Our souls also have an emotional capacity and the ability to exhibit subtle cues, and thus our faces and hands and other bodily movements are very expressive of our emotional state and inner thoughts. Our soul also has the capacity to do both grand works, and very delicate and close work, and thus, our hands especially, are able to lift heavy objects, and yet also do very delicate and close work.
Well, you get the point, the design of our body is reflective of the capacities of our soul, the soul is a form of the body. Now dogs, for example, do not talk, not simply because they lack a larynx, but chiefly because they have little or nothing to say. Human beings on the other hand have a lot to say, and our body has many faculties to accomplish that fact.
Therefore, in an article such as this, science is doing what science does best, namely looking at the physical aspects of the human person. I do not ask more of science than this, and appreciate the insight of an article like this.
But as a theologian and a philosopher I want to insist that men and women are different, not simply because their brains tend to be wired differently, but also because their souls have different capacities and gifts. I am not male simply because my body is male, my soul is also male.
We live in an age the things that thinks a “sex change” operation can change our sexual identification. It cannot. Our bodies manifest our soul, for the soul is the form of the body. Mutilating the body, does not change the soul. In a fallen world, there are occasional situations which set up where, due to genetic damage etc. some are born with ambiguous bodily features. But this is an anomaly, and anomalies do not deny the nature of things, but on account of their rarity, affirm the nature of things.
In no way do I write this reflection on the soul, as a denial of what science shows. I only write to remind those of us who believe to remember that we are more than brains and bodies. And this is especially important to remember in reductionist times such as these. In this case, science affirms the clear differences men and women generally show. I wish only to add that these differences are explained by more than brain chemistry; they reach also the soul.
The second principle I wish to speak to, is more in the moral realm. For, as the study shows, it would seem clearer than ever, that not only are men and women different, but that they complement each other.
The study says that men are more spatial and analytical, less and less empathic whereas women are better at tasks requiring memory, intuition, and the navigating of complex relationships.
It is strongly evident, that all these qualities are important, even essential to properly navigate life and therefore, men and women need one another both socially, but also in marriage, and especially in the important and critical task of rearing and forming children.
It is commonly held today that it does not matter if a child has only one mother, or one father or two fathers or two mothers. But of course common sense tells us that it does matter.
Those of us were blessed to be raise by a father and mother know that our mother witnessed to and taught us many things that our father could not. Likewise our father witnessed to and taught us many things that our mother could not.
Masculinity and femininity have important things to contribute to the raising of every child. To intentionally deprive children of this complementary relationship of a father and a mother is to impoverish that child.
The study shows that the wiring of the brain tends to take place especially at the critical moment of puberty. And thus, it seems that for a child to be lacking masculine and feminine examples close at hand, we may find that the wiring and pathways of their brain are quite literally affected, surely also their soul.
Of course this insight is affirmed by our experience of the last 40 years where increasing numbers of children are not raised by their father and mother, but are raised in all sorts of other abnormal situations. It is quite obvious that many social ills come from this abnormal situation ranging from lower test scores and graduation rates, all the way through more serious social problems such as teenage pregnancy immaturity, poverty, sexual confusion and even suicide. The study even hints at the rise in autism as being tied to how the brain is formed in the critical puberty and pre-puberty years.
If it is true that there is more to our thinking patterns than social convention etc. and that our thinking patterns are quite literally hardwired into our body in our critical formative years, then we can see the moral imperative of ensuring that children are in the proper environment with a father and a mother, a male and female influence, and help ensure proper brain development. And I would add at the soul be properly formed.
A young boy, without his father, without a male influence may find many conflicts set up as his brain which is meant to be wired from front to back does not receive the proper example for this to more properly take place. Likewise for young women.
I can hear some of the rebuttals now: “Where’s your data, where are all the studies?” And to this I would simply say “Where are yours?” Studies ought to be made. But in the meantime, we have no business experimenting on children if there is reason to doubt the children are effectively raised in single-parent settings or single-sex settings. And common sense tells us there is reason to doubt it. I should think that the burden of proof would be on those who want to engage in social experimentation with children.
If anything, this study tends to reaffirm that the formation especially at the time of puberty, is important to get right. Nature, and nature’s God supply a father and a mother. We are foolish to set aside this model, as we largely have culturally speaking. We may literally be messing with our children’s brains and futures.