The Human Brain: Evolving Toward Kindness? with Leonard Shlain, M.D.

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In the midst of the current turmoil of environmental degradation and intra-species violence, are we about to self-destruct? Or are we on the brink of a radical transformation as a species? Physician Leonard Shlain finds hope in his studies of the genius of Leonardo Da Vinci, and its expression in both art and science. According to Dr. Shlain, that reflects an extraordinary level of interaction between the left and right brain. It may also be indicative of a type of brain activity that makes us less prone to violence. For while it served us well to be hardwired for cold-blooded killing when we hunted mastodons on the savannahs, Dr. Shlain wonders, “Is the present arrangement of our brains an adaptation that is no longer advantageous to us? Is the extreme cruelty, the aggression that our split brains gave us now making us a creature that is endangering ourselves and all the others?” He suggests that Leonardo’s brain may have been a harbinger of where our species is headed on the evolutionary path. It’s a hopeful notion given our propensity to fight among ourselves, and dominate other species and our planet to the point of devastation. Dr. Shlain explores all possibilities, and points to a wisdom in the patterns of uniqueness among individuals—just like Leonardo’s—which suggest we may be about to shift into something much, much better. (hosted by Michael Toms)


Leonard Shlain, M.D. (1937-2009) was chairman of laparoscopic surgery at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, and Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. He has been a keynote speaker at the Smithsonian Institute, Harvard University, the Florence Academy of Art, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, among others.

His books include:

To learn more about the work of Leonard Shlain go to

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • How the brains of men and women are physiologically different
  • Why the brains of heterosexual men may predispose them to cold-blooded aggression
  • Why Da Vinci wrote some 21,000 pages but never published a book
  • Why George Bush smirks
  • Which side of your face expresses your true feelings

Host: Michael Toms       Interview Date: 10/18/2007        Program Number: 3221

Music Playlist

From Album: Adventures In Early Music
Artist: various
1997 BMG 09026-68859-2

Opening Essay: Track 01 O vis aeternitatis
Music Break 1: Track 02 Gallardas
Music Break 2: Track 04 Teleman, Allegro from Trio for Violin, Oboe and Bassoon
Music Break 3: Track 16 Monteverdi, Intonatio: Deus in adiutorium Domine ad