Musings, news, and research about neurology, brain physiology, psychology, and behavior. Particular focus on Autism, ADHD, and depression.
“Unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”. — Klaus Conrad
3 aspects of Apophenia
- Confirmation bias – From a background of randomly distributed items; associating items that have no connection except that they fit the story you are already telling yourself.
- Rejection bias – Ignoring or denying information that DOESN’T fit the story you are telling yourself.
- Pareidolia – (less important, but related) A sensory stimulus which is interpreted by the mind as something else. For example being in the shower and the sound of the running water is interpreted as possibly your phone ringing. Or the faces seen in teapots, trucks and clouds. Or Jesus on a piece of toast.
- He has Parkinson’s
- She has epilepsy
- He’s schizophrenic
- She’s autistic
No, it’s not the setup for this years 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 the 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 taxonomy 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 neurological types are descriptions, the names for vertices of behavioral parabolas distinct enough to contrast sharply 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 home or cast out in exile. In meat-and-potatoes reality, there is no break from normality that calls for a celebration.
Throughout human existence 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.
In a few other articles I’ve made the point that random millions of people having babies with other random millions of people give birth to consistent percentages of neurological and psychological types relative to the population at large, generation after generation. Some of these groups are defined as disabilities or pathologies. Example groups ADHD, and ASD are disabilities, sociopaths are seen as pathologies…it’s the second part of the name! They are generally thought to be caused by failures of infant development to complete normally and a pretty strong genetic connection. ASD is the obvious example of a spectrum disorder. Predictable numbers of ASD people are born year after year.
Clinically ASD includes a short list of recognized levels of the disability which exist along a continuum of severity. There’s a break here between the small range of what’s accepted as proven medical science to be autism and the much broader range of people who are legitimately diagnosed as autistic even though they are much higher functioning than the accepted range. It’s tacitly understood by therapists, teachers, parents, etc to be a section of spectrum that could be positioned at the end of the current spectrum and just pick up where it leaves off and run all the way out to those who have a few touches of these traits but are otherwise completely normal. That makes sense as the autism spectrum. I’m grandfathering ADHD in on this spectrum because 80% of high functioning autistics also have ADHD. Continue reading
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
“‘Jailer, I’ll tell you an interesting fact. Everything we study, we modify by our study of it. Hence truth eternally eludes us.’
“He did not look convinced, just held out his hands for the plates.
“‘Take crabs, for example, I said ‘We poke them with a stick to see how they behave, and they behave as if poked by a stick.’
He folded his arms, the plates dangling from his fingertips.
“This is, of course, a very simple example,’ I said. Take a subtler example, such as atoms of light. Light, as you know, is one of the four great elements-in common parlance, fire. We study it by bouncing it off polished stones, or bending it in water, or squeezing it through holes. And how does it behave? It behaves as if bounced or squeezed or bent. We learn nothing, we merely cause events.’ I bent closer to him, waving my finger to keep his attention. ‘Has it occurred to you that sundials do not measure time, but create it?’ It had not, I saw. Time,’ I said,’is actually a thing, like porridge.’ I folded my arms and beamed at him, triumphant. The left side of his mouth twitched very slightly. He withdrew.”
From The Wreckage of Agathon, John Gardner – 1970
Pareidolia: A sensory stimulus which is interpreted by the mind as something else. Most famously the faces seen in teapots, trucks, garbage cans and clouds; Jesus on a piece of toast, the cloud that looks like a bunny etc, etc. But also such experiences as being in the shower and in the sound of the running water, hearing your phone or the doorbell ringing.
Besides being funny, these pictures are evidence of two things about us.
- That we all do this, at all times, using whatever sensory data is in front of us. Therefore we are screening all incoming data through a human flavored filter. The sense info here is almost aggressively packaged in human frames. None of us are objective observers, none of us ever will be.
- That it’s similar enough between the random millions of us that we see the same visual punchline almost effortlessly. This automatic consensus supports theories about inner archetypes and symbols, about universals of expression, posture, and gesture. They suggest that the architecture of these inner libraries is innate.
In computing, algorithms are an unambiguous set of instructions like:
- go in the house
- hang up your coat
- sit down
But what if I have a problem getting in the house? What if the door is locked? If/Then subroutines are context dependent algorithms allowing for variation without failure.
- find key
- use key to open door
But what if I can’t find the key? As the story plays out, deeper levels of algorithmic problem solving are exposed to rescue us from a dead end.
- search for key
- in pockets
- on the ground
- in the car
You can probably imagine further subroutines and variances to each step. And all this for something that only comes up in the rare case of being locked out of the house.
When enough such related algorithms are grouped together usefully, they can become the human version of a program or app, ready to run when needed. We all have tons of garden variety apps installed, some are innate and essential and some are highly individual choices.
The opening example of being locked out isn’t an app by itself but it shows one at work. I call this one the”What-If” app, and I consider it to be a part of the Human Operating System (or HOS) which is a very important sounding thing I made up one day to refer to the totality of our preprogrammed behavior. If the troubleshooting steps made sense as you were reading them it’s because you actually have this “What-If” program in your head and use it regularly. We never think of it in the abstract this way, as an always running background app. We never think of it at all because we rely upon this internalized application to appear with some answers the instant it is needed. The framework delivering those answers is as taken for granted as having a hand to pick up a cup. This program deconstructs any problem and triages potential solutions to create an “order of operations” that determines the most logical first step and then orders the cascade of “If-Thens” by logical position and least effort required to succeed. An example is the old tech support truism of starting with the question “Is it plugged in?” We briefly touch base with this app hundreds of time a day whenever “Uh Oh, what if ?” thoughts arise. Often these thoughts and the suggested reactions are so short-lived that we don’t even notice them happening. In stressful situations, we can sometimes better observe the process in action as we focus on a particular worry. A decision tree forms in your mind and the outcome branches order-rank themselves from likely success to likely failure. What-If is like an indefatigable Jeeves to our fretting Bertie Wooster. While the “What-If” app comes installed in every human being, the quality of the program varies with individual common sense and can be impacted by the “having a shitty day” phenomena, which is known to affect decision making. It is also a perfect amoral slave to any sort of nonsense or evil we are pursuing, the mad scientist and the selfless philanthropist rely on it equally to achieve their ends.
Mutually Dependent Apps
If a person had never used a key on a locked door or even seen another person use a key, they wouldn’t have the introductory example with its various sub-responses already in place. Decision trees need solid ground to grow. Our keyless protagonist has the WI program though, and it would fall back to a more general level of What-If. What if you arrive at your destination and you mysteriously can’t enter? When What-If hits this sort of new blank problem, conscious effort and even struggle are required to establish the baseline realities and possibilities. If you had no help, coming up with the idea of a key would be comparable to a minor scientific breakthrough. It’s a good thing we have the “What the Hell is Up with That” app, aka WHUT to tinker with mysteries, develop theories about them and update those theories as needed. WHUT creates the conceptual givens that What-If needs in order to work.
Eventually, sufficient familiarity with the basics of the situation and frequent practice will transform the skill into an autopilot function that no longer requires conscious effort and doesn’t interrupt us to stop and think about it anymore. This silent efficiency is a trait of well-integrated apps. A frequent partner to What-If and WHUT is an essential global app I’ll call Gleaning Useful Information from Everything, obviously known as GUIE. This foundational human app is always adding to its database of potentially important knowledge and it doesn’t always require direct personal experience. I would guess that most of us have successfully dealt with at least one situation based on information gathered from television or the internet. This was GUIE handing off useful ideas to What-if, who shoots and scores. One of the most essential, always on, global apps is “Endlessly Scanning for Danger” (ESD) which often triggers the “What-If” app to generate getaway or fight back plans. Usually, these plans aren’t needed as many danger signals turn out to be false alarms. Those getaway plans evaporate instantly when we get confirmation of a false alarm but just imagine how many of these survival scenarios your brain has generated and trashed over your lifetime. Global apps like these aren’t chosen, they come pre-installed as modules of the HOS because we could not function without them.
But many human skills are chosen and often for deeply personal reasons to express our souls or achieve our goals.
We can learn a huge variety of specialty programs like driving a car, performing brain surgery, cooking a dessert or dancing ballet. Continue reading
I have a theory that the reason that many different neurological types maintain consistent percentages per capita year after year is that somehow it’s useful for constructing human communities. As an incomplete example, I’m talking about:
- High functioning sociopaths (cold-hearted leader/organizer types) 4%
- Bipolar disorder (frequently leaders or very creative) ~2.6%
- Autism Spectrum (technological and scientific innovation) 1.7%
- ADHD (novelty generators) 5% to 11%
- Schizophrenia (visionary thinking in any discipline) 1%
I’m not certain how the predictable gay and lesbian* population percentages factor into this exactly but as a guess, they have historically not been focused on raising children. As a predictable percentage of the population not absorbed in raising families and often positioned as outsiders in their own surrounding cultures, they would almost guarantee the existence of an alternative subculture where they might generate new ideas not approved of by our final group. 3.5%
Everyone else is good old standard human stock who mostly just want family and security. I think the neurotypical brain which defines this group, is every bit as much a specialized filter as the atypical types mentioned above, it is simply specialized to keep things simple and inside the comfort zone. They respond to social pressure far more seriously than atypicals which makes them a kind of cultural cement. Neurotypical breeders are the low center of gravity for every community that ensures stability. They are neither better than our atypicals, or worse, they are the dominant percentage because life wants a solid base to grow from. There are three structural divisions in this last group. ~90%
- Male and female. ( the transgender variations and shadings of male and female are very small in number compared to “standard issue” they might be classed with the gay and lesbian populations for our purposes. 0.3%) There are obvious cultural roles and practical roles determined here. One astounding but well-documented fact is that during and after wars, a higher than average number of boys are born. The mechanism driving this effect has no useful model within current science but the reason for it is easily understood: “I guess we better make a few more boys to cover losses”. Whatever the mechanism is, it perceives large events at a community level… and adjusts via individual pregnancies. Males ~51.9% Females ~49.1%
- Progressive vs conservative viewpoint, which is strongly linked to personality type metrics and as I’ve explored elsewhere in this blog their “Tension force” creates the defining zeitgeist of every culture. In a polling in June 2010, 40% of American voters identify themselves as conservatives, 36% as moderates and 22% as liberals, with a strong majority of both liberals and conservatives describing themselves as closer to the center than to the extremes (Wikipedia).
- Age-based focus and attitude within the general population. From child to teenager to young adult to middle-aged to elderly there is a predictable staged transition through age-based societal roles***: Student, soldier, young married, worker, settled parents, judgemental elders. In a way, this echoes the division of labor within bee and ant colonies. How do they decide what job to do? As the individual insect ages, it progresses through a series of preset “vocational” roles within the hive. For humans, the most basic example of the age-based behavior difference is the openness of the young to change and the resistant defensiveness of the old. This mechanism makes a cultural shift possible, then limits the amount of change.
According to my half-assed theory, being Neuro-Atypical or sexually atypical is not a random failure to create a normal person. Rather it is a structural role predictably of some benefit to the general population. That would explain why the percentages of these varied types are so reliable. Everyone from the most boring normal person to with wildest transgender bipolar radical conservative has a structural purpose in the diverse needs of the human hive. This points to a real-time reproductive algorithm affecting the population as a whole and somehow sensitive to such temporal events as war. It would be no shock if such a mechanism exists, for it to show other concerns about population balance necessary to keep the community organism in good repair. We see a similar balancing mechanism in other hive creatures. In a sense, it’s like a body generating replacement cells of the right kind as needed.
- * I’m not claiming to have discovered an atypical neurology specific to gays and lesbians. They are here because their population percentage is very consistent over time and they tend to occupy a unique reality niche.
- ** I’m not mistaking transgender folk for gay or lesbian. I’m just placing them in a sex/gender outsiders group.
- *** William Shakespear on this preset aging process:
At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms; And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
This test is the most commonly accepted accurate measure of basic personality. These metrics are used in countless psychological studies. In some of my writing, I need to refer to the Big 5 and wanted an easily found reference.
These “big five” are broad categories of personality traits. The test results show you as low or high in each area. Your basic personality type can be understood as the mix of all these traits at the high or low levels measured in the test.
These five categories are usually described as follows:
I’ve seen this before, but just thought of it again. A well intended typical interviewer chats with a housewife who has volunteered (after undergoing a battery of psychological tests) to be observed while experiencing LSD.
She quickly begins the classic, indescribable stages of the LSD journey while being asked to translate it back into the word economy. If you’ve been in her shoes, you know that this is like being asked to communicate with gravel.
She absolutely lights up and you can see her confidently and joyfully finding the ordinary world transformed with meaning and beauty. It’s lovely to see her surprised pleasure. She’s a normal nice looking person at first but she becomes radiant. The part with her takes about 5 minutes. It’s the good part. Then there’s a bit you might or might not care about.
I’m so grateful for my psychedelic experiences, I couldn’t appreciate much of anything as much as I do, if i had not had them. I find myself longing for another taste despite the fact that they can be intimidating. It’s a big place to go with information that normal me can find overwhelming. It’s a bit like if you really believed in an awesome god and you had a mechanism to hear him…you wouldn’t pull that switch lightly…or every day.
I think it’s heartbreaking that psychedelics were lumped with uppers and downers and the only access became through manufacturers outside the law. If you liked uppers and downers you could be certain someone was making enough of those for the universe of self medicators aching to go up or down.
But Psychedelics are reality medicine, the sideways elevator to the sacred hilltop in the wind…It’s not usually crowded up there.
I want to go back.
There’s a lot of important information about human happiness waiting to be learned from some molecules wrongly placed on the “Evil things” shelf long, long ago.
We know it as we speak, we handle words instinctively like tools we’ve used a thousand times. Every time we use words to make someone angry or to comfort them we are producing chemical reactions in their body. Admittedly, our physical presence plays a part in intimidating or calming, but in a low sensory telephone call, or a zero sensory letter, the disembodied words can still bring horror or joy. Naturally most words aren’t used to flood the listener with stress hormones. A great book can grow a world around the reader. A great comedian can pull happiness and relief from a crowd of thousands who share the mood like blood circulating in a body. And of course there are those who can move crowds past restraint into activity and even violence.
Many words cause changes in our minds and bodies but the context generally defines our reaction. There are words that build up enough charge from the way they are generally used that they often elicit an emotional bump. Please don’t be offended at the following content, it’s only here for demonstration purposes, you filthy fucking whore! Sorry, but I wanted you to pull up short. Did you feel that? It’s easy to find these words, just ask yourself what you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying. Feel what happens in your stomach and in your nerves as you read: Cunt, Nigger, Slut, Kike, Slant Eyes. Was it stress, fear, shame? Probably it was. These words are obvious hooks that make it hard not to react. The connection between words and chemicals is right there, requiring no further test.
Even though it sounds mystical this is why I believe that humans of our state of development could not have been functionally mute, ever. We couldn’t have been ourselves and slowly developed language. Language is innate because it must be. That is circular thinking on the face of it, but I don’t mean it as a place to sit contentedly. I mean that it’s tangled up with something about the evolution of species that we have developed no foundation for. The reason I can feel so certain is that humans, but without language makes as much sense as a fully functioning car, but without an engine.
Words are the catalytic enzymes of the human domain.
This is so obvious as to be invisible. Words (and language) are the answer to the question “How will these complicated primates get their complicated business done?.” Language points to the human foundation of society. Language is about humans as a group, and about the group as organism. Innate language ability is the “human genome” of thinking and relating.
And species wide, our many languages speak to the same issues. That is, no language is alone able to discuss some angle on reality that others are not. No one language holds a surprising- one of a kind function that others can’t touch. If it’s difficult to imagine what that kind of exception would even be, that may point to why it doesn’t exist. It’s not in our presets for communication. The fact of innate language with a common range points to some underlying structures: A library of recombinant symbols and memes the we use both to interpret and explain.
And that’s up next in this category.
“The Human Memeome”.
“I am a man, nothing human is alien to me.”
A while back I wrote an article here about understanding the autism spectrum. I wanted people to understand that the classic expressions of autism like sensitivity to sound and not liking eye contact weren’t alien and weird. Those are expressions of normal humanity just with a different threshold for discomfort. If the”slider control” of sensory sensitivity is set for most people at 20 to 30 (on this completely arbitrary scale I’m making up) then Asperger’s might be at 50 and profound Autism at 80. It helps to clarify our relationship to ASD people. They are ourselves in extremity.
But that’s also a limited way to look at it. The spectrum of human neurology isn’t a little train track with stations scattered along it. In the current diagnostic map, there are a set of boxes available to bean-bag toss people into. But many people are profoundly affected by different kinds of “out of tolerance” brain quirks and kinks and they don’t meet the 4 out of 6 diagnostic criteria for this or that disorder. Therefore, whatever is up with them is bundled into the set of things that don’t officially exist and therefore can’t be recognized and treated within the current therapeutic sphere. The same people may be treated anyway by being placed in one of the existing boxes. Without wanting to pathologize everything, or unduly blame the caregivers, this is a bit like being treated for one illness because it sort of reminds your doctor of a different illness she’s more familiar with.
Asperger’s Syndrome, which officially doesn’t exist anymore, had a very distinct behavior profile. It’s understandable that Hans Asperger could recognize this signature in the boys he studied. As his model gained acceptance, more and more people were noticed by their similarity to the profile. More and more people appeared as outliers. In a sense, it’s like looking at a very busy wallpaper full varied shapes and configurations and only noticing one.
Understand me, I’m not suggesting that the world will be a better place if we invent a syndrome for every complaint or complexity. A diagnosis is only a blessing if it helps to make you whole. My son, like me, is a complicated piece of work. Earlier in his school experience, we struggled very hard to create a really good IEP for him with his teachers. This is basically a guide to how the school will understand this kid and deal with his issues. He had a provisional diagnosis of Asperger’s but he might as well have been given an XXX-Large cowboy hat for how well it fit him. At one point I found online what sounded like a remarkable match for his constellation of issues. It was in the European version of the DSM but it wasn’t in the American version. The result was that it couldn’t even be considered because, for all practical purposes, that syndrome existed only in Europe and not in the United States. Imagine if you had diabetes and sought help and were told: “Diabetes isn’t a real thing, at least not in this county”.
As I understand it it’s better to have ADHD in at least some areas of the United States than in most of Europe. Apparently over there they still hear a lot of: “That’s not a real thing.” Over here a surprising number of people with some sort of processing issues are equally likely to be placed in the ADHD box OR the high functioning autism box. Because even at the state of the art level of diagnosis this stuff isn’t crystal clear. We don’t have truly differential diagnostic tests and subjective impressions and biases play a large and rather random role.
Maybe the most important thing to consider though is that the level of the supporting science is very different for this and say cardiopulmonary disorders. Sometimes one gets the idea that medical science is a big vehicle carrying everyone forward at the same rate. We also tend to fall into the mistaken thought that just because there’s a treatment assigned to all things recognized as an illness that that treatment is basically successful. There are plenty of medical issues where the recognized best practices are really not very effective but are still treated as if hand delivered by Moses rather than probationary best practices that should be constantly studied for efficacy.
When it comes to Autism, knowledge has increased impressively since Hans Asperger. But there is a huge crowd of us weirdos sitting in the waiting room hoping to have our problems recognized as real not so we can wear the special cumberbund of victimhood but so we can stand a chance of improving our lot. Right now, even if your processing issue is recognized, the most that is likely to happen is the creation of a small list of best practices and some medication suggestions based on early, provisional research. The results of these at best are generally teeny, tiny incremental improvements in quality of life. Let me tell you, the communities of neuro-atypicals are all out there on the web appealing to each other for hope with the intensity of a family member looking for a lost child. The medical communities that treat them tend toward a kind placidity because they embrace the idea that having a treatment on the books is good enough. I’m not blasting caregivers for not dropping everything to research our crabby and confusing brains but what would help is recognition that what we know now is far from successful and sufficient.
For now, it would be useful to take the spectrum and give it height and width and depth as well as length, to give it some range and subtlety. And let’s not start by recognizing a single pattern and trimming the real human beings to fit. Let us take excellent measures of our many variables and begin to map an overall system of ourselves and our range of possibilities. Let us map atypical neurology like a range of islands and discover their proximity and relationship to each other. Patterns WILL emerge and we will all find our place together in a broad and subtle map of human nature.
Step back and look at this from an unfamiliar angle.
Your relationships with family, friends, and workmates become codified after a while, don’t they? They develop a pattern which eventually becomes impossible to alter. If you pay close attention you can feel yourself in these different contexts morphing into a person with a well-understood way of greeting, a style of listening and a way of holding yourself. Buried in the same file are your ways of seeking information, making jokes, expressing camaraderie, or concern, etc. etc. You probably have different versions of these things prepared for specific people. You don’t think about it. You didn’t plan these things… they arose from your chemistry and relationship as the two of you worked out how to be with each other.
There’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just pointing out how much of your life of is evoked and context driven behavior. It’s something observable that we all do, I think it’s safe to say it’s global, it’s innate human behavior. We subconsciously monitor our environment for a sense of what it’s proper to be doing right now. We react quickly to signals during social interaction and run instantly through appropriate poses and expressions to answer those signals. Shame is never more than a stupid comment or a fart away, and shame burns. It burns more than seems reasonable or proportionate. Shame hurts because in spite of ourselves there is human machinery in us that cares a whole lot about what people think.
The biggest challenge to closely observing human social behavior is the seamless matrix of the stuff inside us making it all but invisible. Anything you notice has to stand out against a contrasting background and human behavior IS our background. Your entire life in proximity to others is shaped by automatic animal rules of engagement.
This video is from Candid Camera long ago but it’s amazing. Watch these people completely mess with the minds of innocent strangers.
This really makes us look like puppets, doesn’t it? And you have to wonder what weird behaviors have us turning in circles and taking our hats off and putting them right back on again except that nobody is pretending in order to prank us. Famous old-school psychological tests showed that most people would deny the evidence of their own senses if others claimed to see something different and that many “decent people” would willingly torture an innocent person if simply pressured to by an authority figure. This is what Arthur Koestler meant when he said that more of mankind’s horrors come from self-negating behaviors than self-asserting behaviors. Being cooperative is a certain number of steps from just following orders.
Ex. 20:5 – “I,(…) am a jealous God, punishing the children for the father’s sin, to the third and fourth generations …”
(As usual, I am publishing a rough draft to force myself to keep writing.) The first two links are scientific papers and the third is a popular article from Discover magazine. They are all quite readable though and worth a look. If you search epigenetics in this blog you’ll find a number of related articles.
Scientists taught white mice to fear the smell of cherry blossoms. (“So Bob, what do you do for a living?” “I frighten mice.”)
The offspring of these frightened mice were never subjected to this cherry blossom trauma but mysteriously, they also feared the smell. More amazing still, the grandchild generation of the original trauma mice, also never subjected to the treatment, reacted with fear. Now further studies are not only confirming these results but showing that deprivation and stress alters inheritance multi-generationally. It affects both physiology and neurology.
The evidence is in. Pain and suffering flows across time. Cruelty keeps jumping forward like a skipped stone. We don’t know authoritatively how many generations forward these effects can travel but 3 and 4 generations are documented using an animal model. And rather than just imagining separate generations of inherited fear, and the many influences on the phenotype of those people, imagine how many poor choices their inheritance initiated. Imagine the effects flowing into the places they live in and their families and friends. Consider the implications for large communities who have suffered trauma almost collectively. In some places and times that could mean whole generations where virtually everyone is bent and twisted by the suffering of their parents and grandparents. How often will behavior born of trauma result in fresh trauma to another?
There is nothing parents love more than their children, and every parent I think has some fears of passing along something bad to their children. Our new knowledge means that anyone suffering a serious trauma, or having survived desperate, stressful times, can be certain that some effects will be passed to their children from the moment of conception.
It makes an act of profound cruelty almost unimaginably important and scales up the guilt accordingly. In the form of random violent crimes for example the effects are stark enough: One innocent victim becomes how many? 3? 6? Don’t forget the 3rd generation…perhaps 18 people? And the 4th generation as well; let’s say 35 people affected by that injury. They don’t even know, they can’t know who they might have been instead, because that crime made them what they are. They might be more fearful, or angry, or just less hopeful than the hypothetical person without the trauma. We don’t know, but it’s safe to say they are bent AWAY from their strength and happiness.
- Soldiers returning with PTSD
- Black America
- Poor America
- Syrian survivors
When a child grows up shaped by a parent with trauma and then lives in poverty and anxiety, we have lost a citizen 20 years in the future. And we’ve lost their offspring 40 years in the future. Epigenetics makes a simple, compelling case for the auto-perpetuation of misery and poverty and violence. It makes a case that democracy builds failure into its future by doing too little to alleviate it. A starving, fearful child is a crime against the future and her community and in a sense, the whole world but we are awfully good at feeling peaceful about that crime.
20% of American children grow up in poverty. It’s certain that many of them are second and third generation poverty. Poverty is Hydrochloric acid for optimism and aspiration. How is this not a self perpetuating sinkhole of damaged and downgraded people?
“Those people are just like that.” is the kind of statement you might hear people say related to race or culture or class. The poor have been viewed forever as inherently flawed, undeserving and unfit. But scientifically it’s probably not so. It’s probably more accurate to say people can be that way when they and their parents have been ground into emotional hamburger and left to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. There’s a chance that we are living out a dystopian science fiction story where in all cultures, regardless of race, a whole class of people, less happy, strong and confident is being bred through societal neglect. Any limitations to the number of generations the damage is “paid forward” is irrelevant because the suffering of each new generation is likely enough to paint over the hopes of foreseeable future. Big social programs have been deemed failures when they didn’t produce results in “Political time” but perhaps bringing generational trauma to an end is the work of a couple of generations and therefore almost impossible to convince taxpayers to support. And perhaps our famously cheap and nasty social programs wouldn’t soften the blow enough anyway.
Yet the knowledge places responsibility on our shoulders once we know.
“It darkles, (tinct, tint) all this our funnaminal world.” ― James Joyce, Finnegans Wake
In 1994 three researchers wandered the Ardèche valley in southern France beside the river of the same name. Their work would look odd and delicate to us. They were hoping to discover hidden caves and their method was to feel for small drafts of air rising through piles of rock. Some explorers do this by literally sniffing about, hoping to scent the smell of a cave. That day, these three discovered a near miracle. It was a huge cave full of ancient human art perfectly sealed by a landslide for around 20 thousand years. This is the Chauvet cave, named for the lead explorer.
Abundant charcoal on the site allowed good carbon dating. The primary use of the cave by humans dated from 32 thousand years ago. This placed the art at 10 thousand years older than the oldest art we knew of. I want to write that age as a number.
32,000 years ago. 30,000 BCE. This time is the upper paleolithic or “old stone age”. Something strange happened in the neolithic. About 9000 years ago an emergent rush of lifestyle change transformed humanity from small tribes of wandering hunters to villages of farmers. As a group we abandoned what we had always done for something new.
The long paleolithic period in southern Europe leaves little to tell us who we were, but what we do find is vivid and strange. The paintings in Chauvet cave are amazing. Like most cave paintings they are of animals rendered with smooth confident lines and subtle shading. What isn’t so obvious is what the paintings meant to the artists. When it was in use, Chauvet cave had a large opening that would have allowed sunlight into the first chamber. There are no paintings in the first chamber. Well, only one… just at the point the sunlight could not reach.
Paintings are for darkness.
The painters used all the features of the cave as part of the art. A horse appears to be running out of an alcove. Bumpy cave walls become 3d anatomy; a bison shoulder, a lion’s hip. Looked at from different angles things transform and shift identity. This part of a horse turns into that part of a wolf. Some animals might be a group standing together, or a single animal moving through space, as if we paused an animation with multiple frames visible at once.
The world surrounding this canvas is worth considering. Europe was in an ice age, there were glaciers 9000 feet thick. It was cold, but dry and sunny. The people would have dressed as traditional inuit indians do, with reindeer leather and furs. They carved bone flutes on the pentatonic scale. The sea level was 3oo feet lower and a determined hunter could have walked from Paris to London (or you know, those geographical locations). The world was crammed with animals familiar and strange: Cave bears, lions, hyenas, mammoths, hairy rhinoceros, horses, bison, leopards, wolves, ibex, reindeer. In the same area lived a distinctly separate species of humanity; Neanderthals. Neanderthals left no paintings. Why did we paint and why didn’t neanderthals paint?
Humans didn’t live in the cave. They went down into the dark with their torches to conduct some kind of passionate business they had with this wild world they lived in. Continue reading
Mapping Perceptions and Thoughts
First of all, would you please take a peaceful moment to imagine two elephants walking across the savannah.
This remarkable story has been out for a while, but it deserves a little consideration. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology can precisely track neurological activity throughout
the brain down to volumes as small as a peppercorn.
- A volunteer is shown a movie of two of two elephants walking on the savannah. A certain series of areas display activity.
- Other volunteers watch the movie. The same areas show the same engagement.
- Volunteers are told to imagine two elephants walking across the savannah and the same areas light up.
- No matter what language the volunteers understand, the same areas show the same engagement.
This is where humanity keeps their wandering elephants. What can it mean that the human brain has an exact particular spot for an elephant wandering or an হাতির বিচরণ or an elefante alderraiaren, or an слон блуждающих or an 大象漫遊 ?
I don’t get migraine headaches but I get migraine auras. Some people describe them as a pretty light show but they are much weirder than that. It’s impossible to create an exact image of what it’s like but these two pictures show some of the effect. The view through the windshield shows the jagged scintillating rainbow effect. It isn’t static, it flows and changes size. The other picture, the one of the guy, shows a bit of the creepy empty blind spot that accompanies the first effect. My effect is always to the right side of my visual field. |
Here is what is creepy. The blind spot isn’t an obstructed blind spot…it’s a place where nothing exists. It makes visual gibberish out of the things it passes over. This is Oliver Sacks type material. Perhaps a quarter of my visual field isn’t just unworkable, it’s a negative which makes things not exist as my eyes change position.
Watching a movie, that actor has only half a face…convincingly. He walks away in a universe where people get along with half a body and one leg. At times, even knowing what’s happening it is scary…because it’s as if not only sight but long established neurological common sense has vanished or been proved wrong.
Another example. I scan words on a page and it isn’t that the right half of the page is gone, the second half of each word is gone! The other half flickers in and out of existence. I try to transcribe the words and I know that each one is really longer but it’s very hard to remember how the second half of the word can exist. As I type, half of the word seems like the correct amount and adding to it seems peculiar.
Not just my eyes but part of my brain is tuned in to empty static. I find it distressing and I lay low and wait it out. It has happened when driving and I don’t trust my processing enough to keep going. I pull over and wait it out.
I have one right now, it inspired me to try to explain it. I’m not at all sure how effective my proof reading is, but I’m going to publish and come back later without the aura to see how well it worked.
1. Self Asserting
Like the articles on Tension Force and the balance of Progressive to Conservative, this is about the population pattern spread of personality types that defines the way a group behaves. Although it might seem like I’m simply being pro-self-transcendence, this isn’t a moralistic issue and there are unexpected outcomes. And while it clearly overlaps a teensy bit on the subject of right and left wing politics it only has a solid connection to that out at the edges where the saints and sociopaths hang out. It’s hard to talk about this without paying the most attention to the extremes but the wide middle of this spectrum is in “normal” range. A healthy happy person probably has a good balance, but there’s more than one kind of happy.
There are satisfactions that come from looking out for number 1, and the kind of people who make a point of only looking out for number 1 assume that these are the ultimate satisfactions. Coincidentally, Donald Trump is an exaggerated archetype of this point of view. There are obviously rewards for self assertion but self transcendence for something you love can be a full time high filling you with renewed energy. Only in people who are cartoonishly on one side of the spectrum or the other are these traits expressed as absolutes. Trump is cartoonishly self asserting. But self assertion also powers any serious goals and ambitions. It’s the oomph of aspiration. Gandhi and M.L.K. would have gotten nowhere without it. Any poor, hardworking kid who made something of themselves, has used this power.
In fact, consider this: Have more of the horrors and tragedies of the human race come through self asserting behavior or self transcending behavior? Self transcending can be beautiful and saintly but it also drove the selfless nazi and it drives the true believer ISIL volunteer. Giving yourself wholly to a powerful cause is amoral. In MLK it was moral, but only because of the framework of that transcendence. Passionately pursuing a personal goal is amoral. The internal values of the goal determine the good or ill.
The strongly self asserting are often cruelly disinterested in what happens to anyone they don’t personally know and love. Dick Cheney for example only giving a damn about gay and lesbian rights because his daughter came out. If she hadn’t, he never would have seen any point in supporting that position, after all what was in it for him? Strong self asserters aren’t necessarily aggressive or intense but the only important question for them is “How does this affect me?”
Extreme self assertion might rob banks, or investors. But for true horror and cruelty, self transcendence is the big winner. There is no genocide without people who give up everything to kill whoever the great plan points to.
Trees in a forest have a network of communications through their roots and a web of fungus. The trees share information and nutrients. They nurture young trees and even direct toxins at plants they “want” to suppress.
Years ago, when he was little I was explaining the word sentient to my son as “being aware of being aware”. I asked him if dogs were sentient. “Yes” he said. “Are rocks sentient?” I asked “No” he replied. “How about trees?” I said. He paused, then: “I’m not sure about that.”
Honestly, I’m not either.
Some trees exude that strange feeling of presence, but that’s a soulful, poetic way of thinking. There isn’t anywhere to go with that idea scientifically. The behaviors described above are so complex that to say that no mind is involved highlights a gap in our understanding of biology and evolution and minds. If not a gap, at least an area stretched to the breaking point. Evolutionary biology would say that the trees are mechanically behaving as their fit ancestors did, said ancestors being lucky recipients of random chance mutations. Yet the trees in the stories I put at the top are aware, somehow of each other, which implies also aware of themselves. They assist some, basically the young and the needy (charity or care or generosity?) and attack others meaning they have friends and enemies? Preferences at least? Even a sort of strategy. And the “Wood wide web” connecting them is obviously a complex symbiotic partnership.
You could take the reductionist point of view that the way I described this was too human-centric. They are helping those they share genes with and suppressing invaders. Perhaps they help “needy” trees because diseased trees represent a health threat to the whole forest. But as cold as we may say it, these trees are active participants and they are AWARE of those young relatives, sick neighbors and enemies. There is a communicating, receiving, evaluating and responding going on here and that if does not require a mind, it then requires some alternative to mind that we do not have a scientific model for.
Giant stands of Broccoli they are not. But the “mind” here is what exactly? Aware of conditions and correct responses but not aware of itself? Is it an individual, or a kind of community mind? A swarm entity?
Around us and in us are living systems by the millions handling virtually everything without the benefit of a conscious mind. In fact a number of studies have shown that our conscious mind is given prompts about what to do, being informed milliseconds before becoming aware of the impulse or decision. Who is this shadowy internal decider, this Dick Cheney within? And how does it not make consciousness itself a subsystem of larger, unconscious system? Does it not force us to imagine how the hell an unconscious actor truly operates, prioritizes and decides?
Consciousness itself, unwitting and bordered by shadows needs to be reimagined as well. Consciousness is like a balloon with a story in it. This fretful, monologuing self seems like it’s stuck with the job of rationalizing our actions and representing a human social unit to all the other human social units. It may be that consciousness, which we tend to think of as the highest evolution of nature is more like a jail cell where each of us keep our separated, parceled out selves. It may be that something extraordinary is going on right outside but we can’t hear it, because we are sealed in.
It might be the voice of the forest.
In comparison to the mental states and accomplishments that normal folks take for granted: Remembering, initiating and persevering.
ADHD is the Cerebral Palsy of executive function. Having ADHD is like living in a world where the gravity increases and decreases randomly, but it only affects you. One day you are bouncing along with everyone else, carrying school books and groceries and the next day your arms and legs are unresponsive. You crawl. If you don’t keep up, your grades will suffer, or you may not keep that job. Too bad. You look flakey, lazy and self indulgent. Your story about gravity changes nothing, it means nothing to anyone. People tell you to try harder but you don’t know how. You can’t establish any traction between you and the problem.
Deciding to act and beginning to act are neurological functions. They require a chain of cellular transactions and feedback just like any other biological process. In healthy people these are as natural and unconsidered as reaching out to pick something up. When the ADHD person says “I don’t know why, but I can ‘t do this… ” It’s mystifying to most people – because they don’t recognize this mental function as a distinct process that can have a kink in it. What they generally say is: “Of course you can! ” Having ADHD is like living in a world where time speeds up and slows down in crazy ways ways but it only affects you. Deadlines hover lazily in the distance and then slam forward in a disjointed way that doesn’t make any sense and you scramble awkwardly to complete the work, buy the present, or pay the bill. Even though this has happened to you all your life you won’t understand the next deadline any better than the last one. We are time blind. We are driving through fog and can see about 20 feet in front of the car. Every neurology has a view of time. The common sense of how long a month or an hour is, describes the neurological norm for this function. ADHD people have an unpredictable function in this area which is comparable to incorrectly gauging how near or far objects are and crashing into them over and over. Normal brains look at this behavior and understandably ask: “What is WRONG with you?” Continue reading
I believe many of the answers to the questions that sort of enslave us are available one or two floors above where we do our thinking. And I don’t mean it in a “spiritual” way but in a biological way. We are so overwhelmed by our individual experience of the world that we don’t see that every single one of us is a member of a species and a component in a larger hive style meta-organism. Often several overlapping ones.
You literally cannot ask or answer any question that isn’t shaped by your hardwired domesticated primate brain. You have free will, but only inside a box of rules.
Listen to us, every fucking thing we say about politics and philosophy is about who is good and who is bad.
It never includes a higher insight into why things like racism and war are clockwork for us. These are species quandaries. Well known and poorly understood “fine messes” we are perpetually getting ourselves into. Until we see how they really work and why they truly happen, nothing we say about them helps to change anything.
Imagine if dogs had competing societies. They would totally relate to the idea”I’ll build a wall!”. Some would say “We need to do a lot more barking!” & some would say “We should all just roll in fish TOGETHER”. They would glamorize alphas and make fun of betas and deltas. They would make inappropriate “racist” statements about cats. And all of their damn Facebook comments would be about how “somedoggy” was or was not a good boy.
Autistic characters in drama have become almost stereotypical stock roles.
Asperger’s was added to the character of Sherlock Holmes in the recent BBC version with Benedict Cumberbatch and in many ways it’s a good fit. We find a form of it in earlier shows like Star Trek with Spock and Commander Data. “Rain Man” has become a phrase that instantly summons up a farther range of the spectrum, even less socially competent, more obsessive and rigid. These characters are often given an awesome savant talent, further increasing pressure on autistic people to entertain us with magical-weirdo-brain-tricks like playing any song after hearing it once or lightning calculation. Further out still are the lost children (you almost never see an adult) spinning plates and squealing.
What people often fail to realize is that this spectrum has them on it too! We are all on this spectrum even if we are sitting in the comfortable normal box.
Consider the classic issues that come up for people on the right hand side of this image.
- Overwhelmed by social intensity. (attention, crowds, eye contact)
- Sensitive to noise
- Sensitive to little somatic distractions like a scratchy tag in their shirt.
The difference between you and some poor soul melting down from these isn’t one of kind but of degree. It’s just a question of the amplitude it requires to send your needle into the red. Have you ever heard of police trying to drive people out of a house by blasting music at it day after day? Or similar techniques focused on someone under interrogation? This is a conscious attempt to push people into the breakdown zone that ASD people reach with far less intensity.
We all have these same vulnerabilities but ASD people have less insulation on their wires.
Imagine yourself wearing a shirt of spun fiberglass. In a 12 hour death metal battle of the bands. Surrounded tightly by a crowd of strangers who keep staring at you and touching you.
Welcome, you have arrived at weekdays for autistic folks. Have a seat and pay attention. Don’t act up.
Continuing my theme of the hybrid SELF that forms when people interact: The third mind. I’m not trying to create the idea of some kind of mystical entity. The third mind is simply a lens or filter for understanding ourselves.
There really is no “You”.
“Um, But I’m right here.”
Friendship: Every person you know and love has a bond with you like a chemical signature. You think you visit them but you don’t. You visit US. You are a different you with Tom and Petra and Janine. When you visit Janine you think you are seeing her, but you are seeing US.
You know that great way you have fun with her, cooking together and joking around? It isn’t exactly like that with anyone else. That isn’t you and it isn’t her. That’s the third mind. The US. The thing is, your friendship isn’t you and her. It’s what she brings out in you and what you bring out in her. Your friendship is the magic spot where those unique things overlap. This is really reminiscent of the Observer Effect in physics. You can’t study the thing without influencing and effecting it. There is no abstract, pure Janine. You can only know her the way she is when you are looking at her. She can only know you the way you are when she looks at you.
You get together with Janine and your mutual friend Petra. You don’t really know the way Janine is with Petra. You know how Janine is with YOU and Petra. You are standing there with Janine before Petra comes inside. You make a funny literary reference and she laughs and reminds you to keep thinking about that thing you talked about earlier. Why? Because when Petra is part of this molecule the sense of humor is different, maybe earthier, and you’d never really bring up that sort of serious thing for discussion because it would be the wrong kind of discussion. You guys LOVE Petra, you love being together. It’s wonderful, but it’s wonderful in a different way. So you tidied up business with the You and Janine molecule before the well understood transition into the 3 of you molecule.
The personality “You” was evoked in a unique way with one other person and then in another unique way only possible with that exact combination of the three of you. And if you leave, Petra and Janine have a different relationship. If you let yourself ride this idea it’s a hoot because there is no real you, there’s just what can be brought out of you by different people. And since the same is true for them there’s no real anybody anywhere. There are only the unique creations of relationships. In “The Four Loves” C.S. Lewis wrote a beautiful thought on our subject which I have to paraphrase here. Talking about the death of a friend: “If Jim dies I don’t just lose my unique friendship with Jim, I lose the way Jim used to laugh at Robert’s jokes.”
Friendship can be a lovely, lifetime thing in many cases because there is this enjoyable facet of you that you only get be in their company and they evidently have their own version of that joy. One note and another note being played at the same time are not those notes. They are a chord. And the easy, warm cruising of friendships across time is helped by its episodic nature, you don’t ALWAYS have to be that expression of yourself but you can return to it…like an old friend.
You might argue that the real you is when you are alone but you are wrong, and stop being so argumentative!
That is the you evoked by being alone. By being in relationship to no other. And it’s actually rather limited. You can’t be that warm, loving guy or the funny guy or the good listening guy. In some ways being alone is all the things you can’t be. Now for creative types (and introverts) there can be a special and productive relationship to being alone but it’s still a selective filter that isn’t real in any other situation.
The principles of the third mind are laid out simply above and they don’t change with strangers or those closest to us. What changes is the impact or “side effects”.
Romantic love adds an element that only happens in its domain. Limerence. That dazzling infatuation which when reciprocated turns the third mind into a nearly visible glittering ball between the two people. This is where the third mind transforms into a different entity, almost literally an entity pulling intense emotions and hormones to the surface from the couple. It grows larger and practically seals the lovers inside. Of course this is the human mating dance. This is the REAL honeymoon, a time of being swept up in something huge and electric and magical. When people look back on this phase, the third mind can seem like anything from a horrible deception to a lost golden age. If it does the job nature intends, a family follows.
Family: With family relationships we are playing with forces that help to define us. Mom and Dad are together in a tight pair bond, founded in romantic love. When baby makes three there’s a deep change in the orientation of the parents. Very much a team but a team that doesn’t have a lot of hot sex anymore and a team embarked on a shakedown cruise with a new person. Before the baby is old enough to a political player in the family there’s this period of adjustment to the altered definition of the pair bond. “We are now people who discuss what poop looked like.” This can also be a time where new facets of self come up in Mom and Dad because parenting builds a new floor onto the edifice of YOU. Your way of relating to the kid becomes a bit of new wild card. It’s natural and fine for Mom and Dad to be on somewhat different pages about parenting. But what it does here can be an alteration of the third mind in a way that adds stressors and subtly distances them. It only deepens when the child is a distinct personality, becoming triangulated and heating up any of those parenting issues. At times each feel parent will feel double teamed or manipulated and new kinks in the flow develop. Whatever the couple’s third mind started as it has morphed and tilted. Not necessarily in a terrible way, but forever. There is no going back. And something strange starts to happen here. It can feel like the power of this mind exerts such pressure that you begin to actually possess the characteristics projected onto you. As if the third begins to alter and edit you often in ways that are not pleasant. If people have a common complaint about family it’s probably this: The weird way you can’t help either becoming a certain person around them or putting all your energy into resisting it.
Children grow up with the family mind, a sort of interactive group sense of self: A growth medium made up of ourselves and a variety of subjective, overlapping reactions to us.
Marriage: God knows there are lovely, happy and vital marriages out there. And where they exist they probably have a rare relationship where the couple feels a great ongoing enjoyment with what gets brought out of them into the world by the other. This mutual bringing forth: “I love her and I love who I am when I’m with her.”
It’s easy to imagine the reasons things that can become stultifying and even miserable in some marriages. First, unlike friendship, this relationship has no easy come and go. It is your default and almost fulltime existence So it’s more serious from the start but also, people change. Especially as they grow up through their 20s and 30s and 40s. You could hardly help and nor should you, being different after all that. But that means that the unique signature of your personalities as they evoked each other when you married is gone. Perhaps not wholly but substantially. Even without inner change over time, the signature shifts as people reveal their more intransigent sides, as issues become wearisome and people become resigned.
But finally there’s this: It becomes deadening when you only get to be one version of you year after year. Especially if that version of you is largely defined by a long history of ups and downs, tensions and compromises. Inside ourselves we know we are a 360 degree personality and this arrangement lets you express only a familiar, comforting, reliable constellation of all the possible YOUs for the sake of another person’s security and happiness.
It’s no wonder people struggle. There’s this tremendous investment in a situation that feels gradually less like home because you aren’t really getting to be yourself there or at least the version of you that you’d like to be. And fixing a marriage that feels very stuck is so challenging because even the medium for discussion can only be within the petrified and weary third mind.
There is no one real YOU, there are thousands.
“A colony of honeybees is, then, far more than an aggregation of individuals, it is a composite being that functions as an integrated whole. Indeed, one can accurately think of a honeybee colony as a single living entity, weighing as much as 5 kilograms (10 pounds) and performing all of the basic physiological processes that support life: ingesting and digesting food, maintaining nutritional balance, circulating resources, exchanging respiratory gases, regulating water content, controlling body temperature, sensing the environment, deciding how to behave, and achieving locomotion.”
There is an idea gaining credibility that just as hives behave as individuals made up of the independently moving “cells”, that primate brains are almost like hives unto themselves…vast collectives of caste system individuals handling tasks that cumulatively produce the neurological reality experienced by the individual. This can’t be described as a final proven fact, but the model holds up, right down to the notion of specific cells that are needed being produced. algorithmically to changing needs. This extends to decision-making, which is the main subject of Honeybee Democracy. The bees exercise a collective intelligence that mimics not just small-group decision-making but the cognitive deliberations of our own brains:
“We will see that the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of bees in a honeybee swarm, just like the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of neurons in a human brain, achieve their collective wisdom by organizing themselves in such a way that even though each individual has limited information and limited intelligence, the group as a whole makes first-rate collective.”
Like many biologists, Seeley sees a bee colony as not just a collection of individuals but as a sort of super-organism. He continues:
In this post I’m bringing together some diverse psychological research. The idea I want to support is that human beings have strong and predictable reactions to power and weakness. Each of these videos alone makes an interesting (and often disturbing) point but together they show what happens to people given “the upper hand” and some of what happens to the people they hold it over. It’s important to me as a foundation for some of the next ideas I’m going to be laying out. This is difficult collection. They are worse together than alone. It feels like a damning indictment of the human race but I’m not looking to scold so much as to understand . The important thing is establishing a clear picture of our native relationship to power and privilege. I think of this post a bit like evidence before the court. I’m going to cite this post in later articles.
There are fascinating and dark things here, but many of these videos are too long for casual viewing. The exception might be the last one, “Money on the mind” which is also very interesting and much cheerier than the rest.
Stanford prison experiment
Blue eyes brown eyes
Every human blends a wide range of psychological variables. Each variable in this list is a spectrum and everyone is somewhere on each spectrum in this list. I don’t think this is some complete list, just some that I was mulling over. And they don’t follow some meaningful rule concerning their position to the left or right. I mean for example that “daring” and “submissive” are not in any sense related because they are both on the right. There may be some overlap between some of these characteristics that could justify a connection but it’s imperfect and I’m not intending that meaning. I also don’t think that good is on one side and bad on the other.
It seems human groups naturally create a spread of these traits because I can’t think of any culture outside of science fiction where there is a real uniformity of these characteristics.
The old sci-fi tradition often portrayed a trait as a species. Remember Star Trek? Vulcans, Klingons and Romulans, Ferengi? Each of these takes all the variables for a self and mashes them through a single psychological template.
Imagine how profound (and awful) the effect would be on a culture if they exclusively doubled down on the most extreme range of the traits above. In theory, you could have an entire population very unbalanced in a certain direction. But it never seems to work out that way, does it? Perhaps the whole thing is absolutely random but there could be within us a sort of community algorithm to keep a healthy range of steady but flexible groups. Some flexibility in the system would allow different tribes to investigate the effects of leaning more this way or more that way as a group. I don’t mean the tribe would look at it that way, just that cultural differences would naturally emphasize different traits and there could be an impact on survival as a result.
There are also structural, age-based ranges for a number of important psychological factors concerning the community’s ability to preserve it’s form but also change if it needs to.
- The very young imprint the culture, taking it at face value.
- The young adult/teenager range is the most progressive, the most likely to question things being this way. It’s a cultural version of questioning your own parents.
- Families, mated and settled are the meat in the sandwich. They essentially express and live the culture in a moderate conservative way. Naturally, they tend to embrace it but the cracks and stressors show up here too. In worrying about their own children they worry about all children and what world they will live in. Again, this tends toward conservatism but enough worry can turn this.
- The old of course tend to be convinced that everything is going terribly wrong and we ought to back the hell up. They are the paragons of cultural retention.
These behaviors are emergent from the developmental moment of each but across a culture the impact is factorial.
I think this is rather like the age-based division of labor in insect hives. We have a non-random, predictable political range (“tension force” if you read my other stuff on conservative/progressive). I suspect evolution is a little bottom heavy with more people in the conservative mode but always with enough wild-ass adventurous and rebellious types to keep stirring the pot.
I have a half-assed thought that neuro-atypicals such as Autism spectrum and ADHD people may figure in population dynamics as a necessary element. Autistic people famously helping to advance technology with their obsessive interests and keen observations and ADHD people (I like to think) because their restless love of novelty may contribute in its own way.
I also believe that high functioning psychopaths and narcissists have a place. Their utter lack of concern with others and cold desire to get all the goodies CAN act as an organizing mechanism creating political or religious movements or starting big businesses, etc. Someone sufficiently convinced of their right to rule over others can collect followers like a magnet collects iron filings.
- If a doctor (say, on a desert island) had no real medicine left, just some sugar pills, wouldn’t it logically be ethical for him to hide this fact from his patients and even do his best to play up the theatrical side to deliver the strongest “dosage” possible?
- Doesn’t it mean that tribal style shamanic healers were actually doing what they could for their patients? And at least to a degree succeeding?
- When drug trials get to the human testing level, do the experimenters take the effect into account? When judging results do they allow a sort of fudge factor both for the control group and the test group? Because they would both be affected. How do they “zero out” the effect?
- How to understand the impact of things like size and shape and color (and communicated expectations) on the prescriptions we use daily?
- Would it ever be medically unethical to tell someone experiencing a benefit that it was only a placebo?
- If we know it helps the effect for the pill to have some “show biz” should real prescription pills be designed also to impress? Are they already?
Mental health is an area where the suffering is frequently increased by shame. Many people who struggle with anxiety or depression or ADHD develop a sort of secret life where they “pass for normal” daily while feeling like simply maintaining is a struggle. In many cases this fear of exposure is founded in reality, whether the fear is about social acceptance or maintaining employment. There’s a lot at stake for people who are already facing big challenges and announcing to the world that you might be a little weak and vulnerable is risking much for very nebulous gain.
There has a been a thaw over the last few decades in public acceptance where it has truly become less of a stigma and better understood. But these improvements are far from universal and I think it’s deep in the human character to want to appear strong. Perhaps it’s even a need to feel strong. Psychologically it’s easy to imagine that “coming out” to others, especially when feeling overwhelmed would be a terrible humiliation. The worst thing would be to have the external world completely reflect your inner struggle and support the idea that you are “damaged goods”. In this light, not telling others could be in a sense, healthy. The problem is that this denial and hiding is very isolating and it often extends to family and friends. The person who can afford it least, is sunk into a very lonely secret struggle.
It’s not that I think my writing or perspective is essential to anyone but I would like to raise my hand as one more person daylighting the reality of the struggle. I have ADHD and anxiety and exist somewhere on the gray zone of the autism spectrum. In my youth I suffered from periodic crippling depression. I’ve learned some hard lessons about it and have managed to stay out of its grip for over 20 years. But it is a permanent vulnerability, I have to be watchful and proactive. I am not a mental health professional and I am not claiming universal accuracy in my characterization of depression, but for the kind I had and for the kind I have seen in many friends over the years I think I have something to say worth hearing.
(Warning: Spitballing ahead. Sometimes I pose myself a problem and publish my half assed thoughts about it because the pressure of having it up where someone might see it inspires me to develop my thinking about it.)
The “binding problem” is how our various senses blend and synthesize. Nobody knows how right now. Francis Crick came up with the 40 hertz synchronization theory to explain the biological causes of consciousness but it seems very empty and thin. And unlikely.
All neurons process. So at some level each neuron is an experience and in a tiny way, an experiencer. We know different areas of the brain specialize in areas of processing but those areas are not simple lumps of processing material, they are massed armies of neurons …gigantic rock concert crowds talking to each other and responding to the show on stage in front of them. When the band yells out “Hello Cleveland!” and the crowd roars back…it has become like a single entity.
The mistake we make in imagining neurons is seeing them as essentially passive wiring that signals are flowing along like an old telegraph or telephone system with a caller at one end and a receiver at the other. In reality that level of transmission doesn’t require anything like the amount neuronal population and activity we have going on. The information coming into the system has to be batch processed, blended with information from other “departments” to derive the basic picture/sound/smell combination and this has to be “redrawn” at a rate that feels instantaneous and flowing to the observer. But that’s just organizing the core feed into coherent sensory information. That raw feed has to be examined for context, meaning and nuance constantly while not flooding and overwhelming the human thinking their thoughts, doing their chores, socializing and planning. This is an astounding feat and lets not forget that the same brain is also the one thinking those thoughts, doing those chores, planning and socializing. Continue reading
I believe attribution should go to Business Insider for these but I’m not certain if they generated them or just republished them. I think this is a nice summary of how and why human decision making sucks elephant butt. If you can remember these and filter your own thoughts for signs of them when they pop up you’ll develop better arguments and be a little more honest with yourself too. It’s not easy. From one angle it’s like a list things politicians do consciously and otherwise, often successfully.
I also find them interesting as a sociobiological thing, this is a list of mind behaviors that evolved with us and have stood the test of time. Somehow or other they may have held some survival or success value. Many feel like something I can see being either advantageous to the individual getting what they want or as socially unifying (and possibly dumb) behaviors. The rest are mostly stubbornness and wishful thinking.
This is a half-baked theory. It doesn’t suggest any particular role for neurons or other physical aspects of the brain. It is about the workings of the mind. It is primarily concerned with the things we learn how to do.