Musings, news, and research about neurology, brain physiology, psychology, and behavior. Particular focus on Autism, ADHD, and depression.
Knowing Things We Never Learned:
Nearly all of us must struggle diligently to acquire even modest talent in Mathematics, Music, and Art. We encounter genius as rare people who display an amazing gift. Below them are random individuals of great talent and below them, the rest of us in a bell curve spread from mediocre to hopeless. Yet an effortless, genius-level mastery of these areas appears to be latent in our brains. How to back up such a claim? We can learn much about ourselves through the exceptions of pathology and extreme variation. A break in the pattern is what reveals the pattern.
There are three kinds of savants that reveal these “genius modules”. Continue reading
I began meditating a few months back and it feels very positive, even transformative. That feeling is backed up empirically.
There are a number of interesting published studies on the effects of meditation but these two are amazing! Both have high strength of evidence. The titles below link to the full articles. Here’s the nutshell summary:
- Long term meditation alters brain anatomy in positive ways, such as larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter
- Meditation and yoga can rewrite our DNA and alter the gene expression of enduring trauma and stress correlates
“The Brain tunes itself to criticality, maximizing information processing”
Our brains are clearly amazing at processing the “blooming, buzzing1” world around us. A recent experiment supports the theory that when neurons work together they actively cooperate to achieve their maximum processing capacity. They seek the urgent, intense edge of their ability. Picture them as the human runners in an Amazon “fulfillment center” except happy in their work.
The entire brain appears to seek this set point or default working state at the maximum of its abilities: “Where it is as excitable as it can be, without tipping into disorder, similar to a phase transition.” A phase transition is where matter transitions from one state, liquid, solid, or gaseous, to a different state.
In other words, our brains are balanced about one millimeter from chaos and disorder. That’s all of us, all the time. Returning from sleep or other off duty moments the brain tunes and retunes itself seeking this point.
While the study neither reveals nor claims anything else about our neurology, I think it points a bright red arrow at possible organic causes of ADHD (as well as ASD, schizophrenia, etc). If the default human phenome, the standard, mass-produced person has this edge-of-chaos set-point, then genetic variation (known to be the prime cause of ADHD) could easily generate a different set point. This variation might generate the quirky, out of step processing that makes us so valuable in the modern workforce, wait, strike that…
It also seems logical that anything that alters this point results in behavioral instability.
More and other interesting details in the reports:
1 William James, writing about sensory processing. : “The baby, assailèd by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion; “
I pray this is the beginning of reducing anxiety for real. Imagine the liberated potential and freedom from fear.
Study of nonhuman primates lays the groundwork for new strategies in treating anxiety
Boosting a single molecule in the brain can change ‘dispositional anxiety,’ the tendency to perceive
many situations as threatening, in nonhuman primates, researchers have found. The molecule,
neurotrophin-3, stimulates neurons to grow and make new connections.
in European countries per 100.000 inhabitants (2016). (Phone users the info-graphic is at the bottom, in case it’s hard to see on your phone, the male numbers are to the left and females on the right.) I knew male suicide rates were higher but I had no idea the difference was this stark. The male suicide rate is at least double and often triple the female rate. In Russia, it’s 6X higher! We live in an absurd time where every opinion that could POSSIBLY have a political ax to grind is assumed to have one.
I want to turn that assumption around and ask questions:
- Why do I feel vaguely self-conscious and a need to clarify my motives when posting this? Is showing concern specifically for men seen as rejecting concerns about women? Has discussion of male-female issues grown to resemble the charged atmosphere surrounding discussion of Israel? I refer to the fear of being called anti-semitic that comes with any criticism of Israeli policy or show of concern for Palestinians. If so, how have relations between the sexes sunk low enough to mirror the most vicious and entrenched argument in the world?
- In general, why isn’t the cause of this situation (male suicide numbers) a bigger, more pressing public health question? If the numbers were reversed do you think would there be a higher level of concern and more discussion about what is happening to girls and women?
But outside of politics or any kind of moralizing, just pondering the composition of the human race, I think one of the most revealing questions we could ask to understand our species is simply:
Why is this so?
Where does this technique reside within this one spider? Where does it reside within the species?
What triggers the processing of this knowledge?
How does the spider understand (or at least experience) the need and the solution?
How does the spider brain process this knowledge without a sort of visualizing?
If spiders can visualize physics concepts
and the parts they’ll need… and collect them…
and assemble them properly…
How should we visualize the minds of spiders?
A dye that glows brighter in the presence of calcium ions is loaded into the neurons. Neurotransmitters released by an upstream neuron in a network lead to rapid calcium influx in downstream neurons, seen here as a sudden burst of green. The influx triggers an electrochemical propagation of a signal down the length of the neuron, called the axon, and causes the subsequent release of more neurotransmitters, which signals the next neurons in the same network to fire.
Winners interpret good luck as merit-based, even when the rules overtly favor them and no skill is involved.
When I notice evidence-based research relating to my articles I am adding them.
“At the end of their game, people were asked if it had been fair. Regardless of the conditions, winners were more likely to say yes than losers. Even when the winners benefited from receiving either one or two strong cards from their opponent, they were twice as likely to judge it a fair game as the losers. What’s more, in most versions of the game winners were more likely than losers to attribute success in the game to talent – even though the game required very little.”
Growing disparities of income and wealth have prompted extensive survey research to measure the effects on public beliefs about the causes and fairness of economic inequality. However, observational data confound responses to unequal outcomes with highly correlated inequality of opportunity. This study uses a novel experiment to disentangle the effects of unequal outcomes and unequal opportunities on cognitive, normative, and affective responses. Participants were randomly assigned to positions with unequal opportunities for success. Results showed that both winners and losers were less likely to view the outcomes as fair or attributable to skill as the level of redistribution increased, but this effect of redistribution was stronger for winners. Moreover, winners were generally more likely to believe that the game was fair, even when the playing field was most heavily tilted in their favor. In short, it’s not just how the game is played, it’s also whether you win or lose.
- He has Parkinson’s
- She has epilepsy
- He’s schizophrenic
- She’s autistic
No, it’s not the setup for this year’s wackiest RomCom.
It seems one might possess Parkinson’s like a teacup chihuahua or a classic mustang whereas autism is who you are. You could make the case that autism or schizophrenia dramatically shape your personality in a way that defines you, while the other two do not…but you’d be wrong. The communities of caregivers surrounding them commonly describe what they know as Parkinsonian and epileptic personalities. What decides this automatic and unnoticed distinction between Being a disorder and Having a disorder?
How can you be a diagnosis? The taxonomies of neurological types used to label people aren’t real things that people can “be”. They are checklists where we matched the diagnostic criteria enough to call the result positive. “Enough” might be 4 out 7 matches, for example. Diagnostic criteria are simply a collection of behaviors and bio-metrics accepted by the medical community. It’s rather like asking hunters (the hunting community?) the 7 most distinct characteristics of deer. That might be kind of fun but the heuristic is: “I know one when I see one”.
Different neurologies are utterly real but named neurological types are descriptions, the names for vertices and ranges of behavioral parabolas distinct enough to contrast clearly against normal.
Normal is the smooth melted butter river of behaviors we mostly can’t even notice because of how overwhelmingly common they are. Normal isn’t a thing either, it is a thing that’s going on. Normal is a strange state, only seen clearly when it is held next to things that are not… a bit like a black light held over a motel bed. Normal isn’t a cool matter-of-fact background to things. Normal is the thing we fear when we make a terrible impression. Normal is the cop we all feel oddly guilty in front of. Normal is being welcomed home or cast out in exile. In meat-and-potatoes reality, there is no break from normality that calls for a celebration.
Throughout human history, Normal functioned as an immorality finder. Where immorality was uncovered, normal was declared missing…even for commonplace behaviors that simply got on the wrong side of something socially cherished. The other side of Normal’s coin is perversion of course. So Normal is tainted and muddled by being a measuring device cum moral cudgel. If you trace it back far enough you’ll find Normal describing primate pro-social behaviors that maximize pregnancies and group survival.
There is a rather famous story about moths that you might well have encountered as a student. The class would have been discussing evolutionary theory.
The common form of peppered moth had a pale coloration suited to hiding on the bark of light-colored tree trunks. This camouflage apparently enabled it to avoid being eaten by birds. Then, in 1848 a specimen with black wings turned up, in the industrial city of Manchester, England. By the end of the 19th century, the dark peppered moth was everywhere, and the paler, mottled version had vanished, becoming virtually extinct.
This was perhaps the first clear instance of human behavior increasing environmental pressure on local species and observers noting and following it. The industrial revolution roared up to speed and the universal use of coal for heating and industrial production had blackened skies and forests. An editorial in an issue of Nature quotes an 1851 railroad guide to the English industrial midlands: “The pleasant green of pastures is almost unknown, the streams, in which no fishes swim, are black and unwholesome…the few trees are stunted and blasted.” Continue reading