Friday, November 10, 2017

Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala - 5

The Brain's Amygdala Pair
I. Some Background

This series began on the Toxins of Power Blog (Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala, 2, 3, 4).

But I can't write as much as I used to, so that blog and Ecocosmology Blog posts that once would have been placed on those blogs are now placed here on Dredd Blog.

The basic hypothesis of this series is that human culture (our social environment), including my culture, your culture, our culture, which is to say our society, our group, our family, and yes our social environment, contains functions that in principle and metaphorically have components resembling the functionality of our physical Amygdala in our physical brain.

Previous posts in this series have argued that our culture, our social environment, literally changes our brains physically.

This is supported by research going back some years:
Probably 98 percent of your reasoning is unconscious - what your brain is doing behind the scenes. Reason is inherently emotional. You can't even choose a goal, much less form a plan and carry it out, without a sense that it will satisfy you, not dis­gust you. Fear and anxiety will affect your plans and your ac­tions. You act differently, and plan differently, out of hope and joy than out of fear and anxiety.

Thought is physical. Learning requires a physical brain change: Receptors for neurotransmitters change at the synapses, which changes neural circuitry. Since thinking is the activation of such circuitry, somewhat different thinking re­quires a somewhat different brain. Brains change as you use them-even unconsciously. It's as if your car changed as you drove it, say from a stick shift gradually to an automatic.
(What Orwell Didn't Know, by Dr. G. Lakoff). That would, once upon a time in the past, have been incredulous to more people than it is now.

As I will show, recent revolutionary scientific discoveries concerning neuron cells in the brain confirm with solid physical evidence that this is the rule of brain genetics, brain epigenetics, and normal brain growth, all of which support and confirm The Cultural Amygdala hypothesis.

II. Some New Scientific Discoveries

With that in mind, here are some quotes (from the November, 2017 issue of The Scientist) for your perusal:
"Beyond such internal mechanisms of variation, environment-driven plasticity lends yet another layer of complexity to the brain. The brain is capable of remarkable remodeling in response to experience. Signals originating from the environment can cause both widespread and localized adaptations. At the level of individual cells, structure and function are continually changing with the environment in a dance of lifelong brain plasticity, and some experiences, such as stress or physical exercise, affect the growth, survival, and fate of newborn neurons in neurogenic regions of the brain.
Traditionally, cells are defined by the tissue to which they belong as well as their particular functional role or morphology. This classification represents a developmental trajectory that begins early in embryogenesis and is hardwired into each cell. But other differences among cells are more subtle. Multi-dimensional analyses of gene expression and other metrics have revealed remarkable heterogeneity among cells of the same traditional “type.” Cells exist in different degrees of maturation, activation,plasticity, and morphology. Once we begin to consider all of the subtle cell-to-cell variations, it becomes clear that the number of cell types is much greater than ever imagined. In fact, it may be more appropriate to place some cells along a continuum rather than into categories at all.
Brain cells in particular may be as unique as the people to which they belong. This genetic, molecular, and morphological diversity of the brain leads to functional variation that is likely necessary for the higher-order cognitive processes that are unique to humans. Such mosaicism may have a dark side, however. Although neuronal diversification is normal, it is possible that there is an optimal extent of diversity for brain function and that anything outside those bounds—too low or too high—may be pathological. For example, if neurons fail to function optimally in their particular role or environment, deficits could arise. Similarly, if neurons diversify and become too specialized to a given role, they may lose the plasticity required to change and function normally within a larger circuit. As researchers continue to probe the enormous complexity of the brain at the single-cell level, they will likely begin to uncover the answers to these questions—as well as those we haven’t even thought to ask yet."
(Advancing Techniques Reveal the Brain’s Impressive Diversity, emphasis added). Our human brains are constantly being physically molded and modified by the external cultural environment around us.

While we are at it, let's not forget, that our conscious and unconscious resistances and concurrences to those cultural influences can protect us or harm us accordingly.

III. The Historical Fingerprints Supporting
These Brain-Science Discoveries
Should Also Be Part of The Subject Matter

There are a couple of historical studies of civilizations and cognitive activity that mirror the evidence presented in the The Scientist article quoted above.

As to the impact of these dynamics on past civilizations, notice:
"In the Study Toynbee examined the rise and fall of 26 civilizations in the course of human history, and he concluded that they rose by responding successfully to challenges under the leadership of creative minorities composed of elite leaders. Civilizations declined when their leaders stopped responding creatively, and the civilizations then sank owing to the sins of nationalism, militarism, and the tyranny of a despotic minority. Unlike Spengler in his The Decline of the West, Toynbee did not regard the death of a civilization as inevitable, for it may or may not continue to respond to successive challenges. Unlike Karl Marx, he saw history as shaped by spiritual, not economic forces" ...
(Encyclopedia Britannica, emphasis added). This ties in with the quote from The Scientist article (in Section II above), which pointed out that these brain changes can be problematic:
Such mosaicism may have a dark side, however. Although neuronal diversification is normal, it is possible that there is an optimal extent of diversity for brain function and that anything outside those bounds—too low or too high—may be pathological.
(ibid). It is our personal, our group, and our cultural responses that render the changes progressively sane or progressively insane (About Toxins Of Power).

As to the fingerprints of psychological dynamics, the "father of psychoanalysis" recognized the need to keep an eye on groups because they can and do go crazy (even if they are not as large as a civilization):
"If the evolution of civilization has such a far reaching similarity with the development of an individual, and if the same methods are employed in both, would not the diagnosis be justified that many systems of civilization——or epochs of it——possibly even the whole of humanity——have become neurotic under the pressure of the civilizing trends? To analytic dissection of these neuroses, therapeutic recommendations might follow which could claim a great practical interest. I would not say that such an attempt to apply psychoanalysis to civilized society would be fanciful or doomed to fruitlessness. But it behooves us to be very careful, not to forget that after all we are dealing only with analogies, and that it is dangerous, not only with men but also with concepts, to drag them out of the region where they originated and have matured. The diagnosis of collective neuroses, moreover, will be confronted by a special difficulty. In the neurosis of an individual we can use as a starting point the contrast presented to us between the patient and his environment which we assume to be normal. No such background as this would be available for any society similarly affected; it would have to be supplied in some other way. And with regard to any therapeutic application of our knowledge, what would be the use of the most acute analysis of social neuroses, since no one possesses power to compel the community to adopt the therapy? In spite of all these difficulties, we may expect that one day someone will venture upon this research into the pathology of civilized communities." [p. 39]
"Men have brought their powers of subduing the forces of nature
to such a pitch that by using them they could now very easily exterminate one another to the last man. They know this——hence arises a great part of their current unrest, their dejection, their mood of apprehension." [p. 40]"
(Civilization and Its Discontents, S. Freud, 1929, emphasis added). The fingerprints of the toxins of power have been placed where they can be detected and analyzed all along the way of the history of human civilizations.

IV. Conclusion

Our struggles today are the same ones that those who came before us faced but failed to master, in terms of remedies at the group level.

We have come to the place Freud described long ago (and many observers today also have described) which goes something like this:
"Men have brought their powers of subduing the forces of nature
to such a pitch that by using them they could now very easily exterminate one another to the last man."
(Freud quote @ Section III above). These fingerprints of history were known to those who formed the embryo of the U.S. government as they attempted to spread power thin among three branches of government (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial).

For example, the author of the Bill of Rights who was the 4th President, was a Cabinet Member, and was a congressman, warned against one of these "sins of nationalism, militarism, and the tyranny of a despotic minority" (Section III above).

He warned against the "most to be dreaded," which he knew had brought down previous civilizations, and would bring down our own:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied: and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals, engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare. Those truths are well established.
(James Madison, emphasis added). Since the military is the most trusted group (over 70%) in the U.S. (congress 9%, etc.), it does not look like our brains are growing sane, even though they are growing (The Skulls They Are A Changin').

Growing just to get bigger, in many cases (e.g. economy, population) is not always wise.

The previous post in this series is here.

The brains they are a changin' ...

1 comment:

  1. Culture induced brain morph: "I was also undergoing a political transformation at the time, from Democrat to Republican—which, I believe, played an unfortunate role in my thought processes for years to come." - (link)