Tag Archives: Neuroscience

Where does Intelligence Reside?

The one on the left is a wasp, the one on the right is a moth. The question is; Where, how and on what level does the intelligence by which this mimicry takes place reside?

 

If we define intelligence as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, examples of mimicry like the example detailed in this story (linked below) have always left me wondering how a biological organism would be able to perceive and respond, at whatever level it takes, to recognize and assemble this cloak of deception without some capacity to sense “other minds” as well as a capacity to carry out a morphological change in response to that recognition of what’s going on in the mind of the other species…

For this moth to drape itself in the cloak of a wasp is a remarkable event, which we seem to be able to adequately describe, but our descriptions are certainly not explanations. In terms of explaining the event, what we typically call out, (adaptation, which is a description, not really an explanation) seems inadequate on its own without some kind of recognition of a sophisticated capacity for conceptualization and response embedded in the biological framework going on at some level that produces this sophisticated expression of adaptation. Just thinking out loud here.

https://phys.org/news/2017-02-biologists-years-textbook-wisdom-explanation.html

Humans are Part of a Much Larger Biological Parliament of Relationships

We humans are part of a much larger biological parliament of relationships. It is this wide context of relationships that transcends “human” and includes the other life forms we live in the context of is what defines how we experience our life. It is the whole community, not any isolated part that defines what we call “us”. Injuries that impact this larger biological parliamentary body of relationships we are composed of can powerfully shape us over time. Minor injuries for instance can heal without any long term effects, but deeper kinds of injuries can echo for long periods. We commonly know that serious wounds to our physical body, or severe trauma experiences can reshape our brain structure and define how we respond to the world from that point forward,. What is not as commonly known is that injuries to the collection of microbes that live in and on us (called the microbiome) can also affect the way we see and respond to the world for a long time. In this case, research done in mice indicates that a mother under stress can result in injuries to the microbiome we depend on for many aspects of development. This can cause cognitive defects and anxiety in the child, and the effects of these injuries can persist all the way through adulthood.

Life is an interconnected tapestry of relationships that requires certain conditions to be cultivated in order to be able to realize it’s full potential. Recognizing these the widely dispersed cause and effect cues in this complex relationship field is the key to being able to shape them intentionally.

Click here to read further “Stress During Pregnancy Negatively Impacts Fetus, Microbiome may Explain Why

The Evolution of Behaviors

Behaviorism Will Peck For Food

In 1948, B. F. Skinner published a landmark paper illustrating how animals develop superstition. Basically, if an animal is fed at irregular intervals it associates whatever behaviors it happened to be doing right before receiving food with receiving food. After that, it thinks those behaviors are what brings the food. It develops a “superstitious connection” between the unrelated behavior and the food.

This understanding of how connections are developed has been the foundation of behavioral conditioning and behavioral psychology since its discovery. This capacity for false (or true) association based on whatever happens to coincide at a particualr time is stitched onto our perception faculties and consequently, our psychology. People given mild stimulants unbeknownst to them have been recorded associating the effects of the stimulant with the things happening in their local happenings for instance. It is also important to emphasize that while the perception faculties sometimes falsely associate correlations, sometimes these factors are actually causal, and understanding this causal connection can lead to a survival advantage. This is probably why the capacity is seated in our biological makeup to begin with.

Our biological perception tendency to weave coincidental happenings into causal connections (which may be true or untrue) has an enormous implication in terms of understanding ourselves, our culture, our history, and the level of trust we can place on our individual certainties if we apply the information appropriately. It easily explains the reason medicine was stagnated for centuries by such notions as humors. It explains the cultural prevalence and behaviors that flow from beliefs in omens, and may be the foundation for all the world’s superstitions and religions. It may also be a strong if not causal factor in some disorders such as O.C.D. and other destructive compulsive behaviors. It has strong implications on our sociality because of the underlying message of acceptance or rejection we get for adopting certain ideas or behaviors as well. This may also be the foundation of bird song and language itself. The list goes on…

Behaviorism Will Press Lever For Food

While this symbolic association built into our perception faculties has definite survival value in that it is rooted in searching for a cause in order to more intentionally choose specific behaviors that lead toward survival, it is also true that these faculties are not entirely accurate, and come with a downside. This aspect of evolutionary biology, where a benefit comes with a potential downside is not unusual in the least. Evolution in peppered with these cost/benefit aspects, and much of who and what we are is a product of those competing priorities

 

Ant Colonies have Group-Level Personalities

Antz1

This glimpse at ant life may help give us some insight into human group dynamics. As it turns out, ants have group-level personalities as well. The same way human cultures are shaped by environmental circumstances that powerfully influence their characteristics, ants and other social creatures may be influenced by these same factors.

From the article: “Colonies of funnel ants show group personality, which affects their success at collecting food and competing with other colonies… Some colonies are full of adventurous risk-takers, whereas others are less aggressive about foraging for food and exploring the great outdoors… these group “personality types” are linked to food-collecting strategies, and they could alter our understanding of how social insects behave.

For the full article Click here:

What if relationship, rather than genetics is the dividing line between organisms?

0147-RelationshipNotGenetics

In the video below, Gershom Zajicek M.D speaks about certain viruses as necessary (obligate) symbionts; meaning we were once infected with a virus that is now in an inseparable relationship with us. The common idea is that viruses are infections, but he argues that they span the spectrum of relationships from destructive, to beneficial and in some cases, necessary for our survival.

Some of these vital viral strings, embedded in our genome provide services such as helping forge the relationship between the uterus and the early stage embryo, the formation of the placenta and so on. Because they offer adaptive advantage they have formed an obligate relationship over time and this is how they get to ride on the wave of relationships we currently call human. One example of the fruits of this relationship is the proto-oncogene which governs cell division. It helps our cells grow and divide in specific and limited ways to form and maintain such things as cells and tissues. In fact, when this process is broken we see cancer.

Among the things Dr. Zajicek proposes is that transposable elements (TEs) and Human Endogenous Retro Viruses (HERVs) are two names for the same phenomenon. Transposable elements are snippets of DNA coding that can communicate one cell to another, or across organisms or species, and changes the way an organism operates. This means they can actively modify biological functions during the lifetime of an organism. This method of evolution may need to be added to the currently understood mechanisms which include , descent, genetic variation, mutation, genetic drift, natural selection, and coevolution.

If HERV’s and TE’s are synonymous, this would have enormous implications not only to evolution, but to many other disciplines such as medicine, ecology and so on. TE’s, for instance, may be in some cases an immune response from one creature to defend against what it perceives to be a pathogen (from its perspective). We would receive this as a disease. There may be vectors, such as bacteria that mediate this process. If we look through this lens, we see the dynamic root of many of our own diseases in the way we relate in the context of the larger biological body of which we are part, and on which we depend for nourishment.

Of course, whether this vision is an ghost due to the lens or a clear image of what is really going on remains to be seen. If we expand the notion Dr. Zajicek proposes on to the larger biological relationship landscape, this would indicate there is an active dynamic and far less than random communication flow by way of meaningful structures, not only within species, but between them. It would mean that species may not be the level at which we should define organisms, but by relationship spanning from antagonistic to obligate. (Necessary). If we were to apply a ven diagram to the biological landscape, we would see many overlaps that violate what we have traditionally considered species. In other words, defining organisms by genetics alone may have blinded us to how the larger, more revealing biological relationship landscape works. 

While we have a long way to go to unravel this Gordian knot we call biology, if this proves true, it would explain quite a bit, have enormous predictive capacity, and if applied properly would have a huge impact on our understanding of evolution on many levels beyond the scope of Mendelian (inherited) genetics.

The Coming Social Age

Luther Standing Bear

The Japanese have a word “kodokushi” that means “lonely death”. It refers to people who died so socially disconnected they got noticed as a result of unpaid bills or the stench of their decay. From a wider view, this kind of death is an expression of social stress on a cultural level. It is increasing in places like Japan, where an individual’s social identity has been strongly tied to what that person does – their status in an atmosphere of decreasing opportunity to fulfill roles of that nature. When jobs dry up in a culture that heavily associates social identity to roles such as work and status with nothing of merit to replace it, so does a person’s social life and identity.

This type of expression of social stress is also true in the context of cultures that use unspoken inferences to imply false paths to satisfaction like; monetary and or material success is the path to satisfied social standing. Or a celebrity culture,where popularity is equivocated with success and satisfaction. In these cases it sometimes leads to the opposite; isolation in the form of a prison of superficial relationships and a servile life of superficial show that looks enticing from afar, but is quietly alienating and unsatisfactory to those within its grips. The false illusion can ultimately craft a pluralistic ignorance engine in the culture where people are enchanted by the notion and spend their lives desperately chasing the empty dream – the missing piece of satisfaction that is never to be found in a social maze that is actually a prison disguised as a prize – with only the promise of fulfillment, but no actual satisfaction.

Expressions of stress due to cultural identity crises happen anywhere there is a false path to satisfaction, but also anywhere a former means of forming a social identity is shattered and a path for a new social identity is not clearly established. When disruptions to the social economy, and by extension our connections to each other, are stressed and or destroyed, we become displaced and exhibit stress responses. Various exhibitions of stress like kodokushi are the result in individuals or whole cultures displaced by changes in the environment for which we are ill equipped to adapt.

We have witnessed this identity problem in indigenous people’s throughout the world. Those that have been displaced by western civilization suffer in the wake of social economic stresses. The basis by which the people established their identity was destroyed, and with it, the people. Where the means to form a valuable identity in a social context is disrupted, and no clear alternative path to cultivate a solid socially valued identity is presented, much less cultivated, we see expressions of stress. These social malnourishment stresses are expressed in many forms, including kodokushi. Sometimes self destructive alienation and deterioration take the form of life ending addictions, crime, and other predatory acts such as abuse, or in the case of western technological societies; a sacrifice of quality intimate relationships for gadgets, entertainment and superficial social posturing, none of which are fitting staples of nutrition for our innate human social hungers. As a result, we elevate the most vacuous inconsequential banalities to the status of ultra importance and proceed to swarm on it as if it had real merit – a cycle of self perpetuating distractions that keep us from addressing the reality of our desperately unsatisfied state.

In the west, our fickle passion for a flurry of distracting gadgets and banalities increasingly consumes our time, but does not lead to fundamental satisfaction. As we have distanced ourselves from nature, we have distanced ourselves from ourselves, and this has led to many expressions of cultural stress. When displaced from satisfying forms of social nutrition, we become socially ravenous creatures, desperately consuming anything that remotely looks like food, including social junk food, and each other, for the sake of forging a social identity – even if that identity is an unsatisfying and self perpetuating farce.

On a larger cultural scale, these expressions of cultural stress are the pre quake tremors that precede a much larger tectonic shift laying at the threshold of our near future. One of the fundamental challenges we face as a global culture is how to establish a satisfying identity in the context of the fact that our material needs will be increasingly met through technology. As technology increasingly replaces the need for human participation in the traditional hunt-gather-perform aspects of human sociality, we face a social identity crisis of unprecedented proportions as a species. Our traditionally formed social identities were based on necessary roles which are now increasingly being displaced by automation. If we do not act preemptively to craft a a new social economy, we will face the backlash of stressed humans desperately trying to get their bearings in a world we longer understand.

As we are carried forward on the inevitable currents of time that move us toward the future, in order to succeed, we need to understand that we are primarily social creatures with material needs – not material creatures with social needs. It has always been so, although the social currency has been historically based on material, this is changing and we need to adapt, or suffer the consequences of maladaptation. Although we have historically conflated material needs with social ones out of necessity, as this base erodes we need to recast our understanding of ourselves. We need to focus in on what has always been the driver of human satisfaction all along, sociality. This is the common denominator, and of paramount importance to recognize to successfully move forward. With this in mind it is perhaps wise to recognize that we are entering the social age.

As technology increasingly fulfills our material needs, the stability of our future will need to be built on what we bring that is of social value, rather than what has been of material value. This requires some rewiring of our traditional perceptions of what is of value. We need to move from material mindset to a social one. It is not a mistake that the stone age, bronze age, iron age and the industrial age gave way to the information age. The move has been from material to non-material values. We must now recognize now that the common denominator that has always been social. The variable has been what fills our fundamental hierarchy of needs. Social is what we must now put at the forefront of our understanding of what is of value. Adding value in a social context is what we need to recognize, cultivate and strive for as humans in order to have our bearings in the social age – in order to adapt. Our attempt to fill our social needs with materials pays an ever diminishing return on our level of satisfaction. This is based on the law of supply and demand. The degree to which we make the transition to the social age economy effectively is the degree to which we harmonize with what has been at the foundation of our human nature all along – and that is social. Delivering products of constructive social value is heart the new economy.

 

Here is an article related to kodokushi http://nautil.us/blog/alienation-is-killing-americans-and-japanese

The Social Side of Science

Michal Schwartz in her office at the Weizmann Institute, in the city of Rehovot. (Photograph by Kobi Wolf )

Some of us have a range of perception that rides imperceptibly on the polite fiction that the scientific community, as a whole, adopts new evidence with open arms. We sometimes ignore the fact that this community, like all communities,  is also a social organ populated with people whose careers and reputations are hinged on the validity of certain ideas. Social acceptance is validity when it comes to social organs, not whether or not an idea is well grounded in evidence. For science, this presents a real problem because the social aspet and the goal of science can be at odds with each other.

The line is sometimes blurred between acceptance and validity and sometimes it is outright deliberately violated for motives other than the advancement of evidence based knowledge. To focus in on motives that beyond ego and social standing there are also some real world implications. Funding channels are greased by the reputations of the respected and this makes respect as much, or more, a currency in the scientific community as evidence. At times this social structural aspect of science is counter to the emergence of evidence as the spear tip of what the scientific community is ostensibly about. Although scientific convention is hard to break, especially in some areas, here is one story of a tenacious person, Michal Schwartz,  who followed the evidence despite the adversity. From my perspective, people like these are worthy of celebration. They probably already have their fill of scorn.

Michal Schwartz, a professor of neuroimmunology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, established the role of the immune system in brain health and repair. She is also author of the book, Neuroimmunity: A New Science That Will Revolutionize How We Keep our Brains Healthy and Young. Among the things this book addresses are potential improvements in the treatment for Alzheimer’s, dementia, spinal cord injuries, depression and glaucoma.

Read more about her in Anne Kingston’s article in Maclean’s

The vital link between your immune system and brain health

Where Does Meaning Come From?

0073-Meaning

The definition of language is typically confined to human behaviors that use structured sounds, symbols and/or gestures to communicate meaning.[1] Academic titans in the field of linguistics and cognition have done battle over whether language is behaviorally motivated by cause and effect through stimulus and response, a product of neuronal behaviors in the brain, or perhaps a hardwired human trait.[2] Brain scientists have embarked on quests for such things as “the grandmother neuron” in the search for the means by which we get our state of awareness.[3] Some daring warriors of exploration have pondered that language may be part of the broader animal kingdom. Some definitions expand the language bracket to include non-verbal elements of relationship such as visual communications like architectural design and art. Posture, tone and inflection are woven into the fabric of some theories or even such distant things as the signaling processes that goes on within and between biological cells[4] and organisms. With all of this squishy chatter about the definition of language we could easily miss the common thread that ties them all together; meaning. While there are many conflicts over the nature of language, the idea that language is a structured communication of meaning is not typically in dispute.

Language communicates meaning, and the origin of meaning is relationship. In fact; if we use the idea that “relationship is the origin of meaning” as our lens, it opens up a whole new world beyond the narrow definitions that confine meaning to traditional ideas of language. To illustrate the connection between relationship and meaning we can start by looking at a familiar word; “water”. “Water” is a group of symbols that stands in for the actual substance water. Although the word water and the actual substance are separate entities, these symbols and the substance are connected in relationship. It is this relationship connection by which meaning is conveyed.[5] When a relationship connection is a shared value between two or more entities, this is the root of communication. When two or more people understand this relationship with a shared value between the symbol and the substance, communication is possible, but the point that meaning is conveyed through relationship is the key.

The English word communication comes from a Latin word “communis”, which means “to share”. With meanings built on relationships as the currency of every language and shared values as the means of communicating that meaning we cannot assume that every meaning conveyed through relationships is understood. Communication requires this shared system relationship values in order to both encode and decode the same meaning. Language is the method by which meanings are encoded but communication requires encoding and accurately decoding by way of shared values. If shared values do not exist between both sender and receiver, communication can be distorted or destroyed even though the currency of meaning based on relationships still exists.

With these definitions of language and communication we can explore the meaning expressed through relationships that lay beyond symbolic languages. We are no longer bound to the limits of abstract symbols as the sole means by which meaning is conveyed. We can also see how a narrow definition of language can limit our vision of meaning by cutting off communication from all the relationships that exist outside our traditional ideas of language. With a limiting lens we could also be conjuring up unreal ghosts by distorting meaning through a lens that distorts or obscures the intended meaning – in other words; losing the real meaning in translation.

With the idea that meaning comes from relationships and communication from shared values, we can know that because substance water is built on relationships that it also conveys meaning. We can know that if relationships are the origin of meaning, and we deny this, that we would not understand the message conveyed through water because our lens is not properly tuned to decode the meaning. To the contrary, our abstract lens could by definition be tuned to block the real nature of the communication of water. With relationship as the origin of meaning we can look at the whole of reality as an expression of meaning instead of as a mere process devoid of meaning except perhaps within the domain of what we call human consciousness or biology. We can then use this lens to explore the meaning expressed through the relationship matrix of reality to better understand ourselves and what fulfills us.

Consider the following facts: Since we are real, everything we are is, by definition, a product of reality. Because we are alive and aware, reality is alive and aware, at least to the extent that we are. Because we plan, act with intention and arguably some measure of choice, these are also factors that govern at least a portion of relationships in reality. Since we generate and perceive meaning, this is a property in reality as well. Because we use language and shared values as the means by which we express meaning and communicate; language and communication are also products of reality. The real question is not whether meaning exists, but to what extent meaning exists and is communicated. Is the communication and perception of meaning confined to our own particular biological form of existence, or is it part of the fundamental properties of relationship that define reality itself.

If we embrace the possibility that meaning is a fundamental part of reality we must also embrace the notion that reality is making a statement that we may be unaware of because we artificially limited the notion of language to the sole domain of an infinitesimal fragment of specific human biology-in an unremarkable corner of the cosmos. This narrow idea is perhaps comparable to the once held view that earth was the center of the universe. We have since discovered with the aid of telescopes that the earth centric, human centric perspective was built on arbitrary and narrow assumptions that limited our understanding. It is to our benefit that this self-limiting idea did not weather the storm of empirical discovery as our lenses improved. With the aid of better telescopes, the microscope and other tools we have discovered that earth is not even the center of the solar system much less the universe and humans are a non-essential part of a much greater web of relationships that includes many forms of biology, the planet, fundamental forces, space-time and so on.

As creatures that are dependent on specific relationships for biological coherence we are inseparably dependent on a much larger system of relationships. This relationship matrix is a statement of meaning. It says something about us and what fulfills us. If the relationships that define our existence are stressed beyond their capacity to render the sustained environment of nourishment on which our existence depends, we cannot exist in our current form. This means something. The lion’s relationship to the zebra and the heart’s relationship to the kidney are also statements of meaning. The fact that plants inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen while we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide means something. A whole new world of meaning opens up when we expand our vision to include ourselves as part of nature, rather than mere observers of it, and that means everything.


[1] For a perspective on this narrow definition of language (not being used here), look up the terms; “biolinguistics”, “Noam Chompsky”, and “Minimalist program”.

[2] For more information on language as a hardwired human trait look up the term; “universal grammar” and “foxp2 gene”

[3] This search for the grandmother has been largely disproved over the years and the brain is currently thought to be built on a vast network structure of connections rather than specific neurons that contain single memories.

[4] For examples of communication between cells look up the term “cell signaling” and “quorum sensing”.

[5] For more information on the structure of verbal/symbolic language in general look up the terms “linguistics” and “semiotics”.

Playing Our Best Hand at Life

2012 Behaviour Matrix copy

(Photo credit: Robin Hutton)

Each of us is dealt a blended hand of biology and circumstance. It comes through a combination of heredity and the influence of a complex conspiracy of environmental factors. These environmental factors range from hormonal signals communicating to us in our mother’s womb, to caretaker behaviors, local climate and culture. This blend of natural and “nurtural” elements shapes the lens we are launched from the womb of childhood with to navigate our world. Our lens may or may not be tuned to reveal the way to a satisfying experience of life, much less motivate us to cultivate all the relationships necessary to support one. On the contrary, some of us are dealt a hand with a mud speckled lens and the destructive momentum of exaggerated stress, abuse, abandonment, cruelty and exploitation. With this malicious hand shaping the tools with which we navigate, many of us are inclined to live out our fate as a mere reflection of the caustic droplets of relationship poverty we were exposed to – never knowing how to cultivate choice – never knowing how to play a better hand than the one we were dealt.

Our developmental environment sets the tone for the way we see and behave in the world. Our lens inclines us to see what we were taught to see. The behaviors we were exposed to incline us to behave as an ambassador representing the interest of recreating the same environment we are familiar with, even if that environment is destructive. Children raised in abusive environments seek out and cultivate abusive relationships as adults. This is not because they rubbed their hands together as children dreaming of one day graduating from “abuse school” and launching a career in the exciting field of abuse; it is because the abusive emotional brew that they were exposed to inclined them to think and behave in ways that perpetuate that same relational dynamic. Because the signals we pick up to navigate relationships with are both subtle and complex, many people do not understand their own role in perpetuating them. Fortunately, and sometimes unfortunately, perpetuating the behavioral hand we are dealt are what we biological creatures do best.

Animal biology and behavior is magnificently tailored to nurture successive generations to carry on the species. If a species is predatory or parasitic, this is what they both express and preserve. If a species is built on a symbiotic foundation of mutually nourishing relationships, this is what they express and preserve. If a species contains a blend of predatory, parasitic and symbiotic behaviors, that is what they express and preserve as well. There is a fantastic preservation insight that churns underneath the outward behavioral expressions of biological creatures. Biology demonstrates a depth perception and an astounding awareness of how to preserve a particular behavioral climate over time that is far deeper than most creatures are capable of recognizing in terms of conscious self-awareness. This lack of awareness includes most of the human population at this point in time.[1] Even more than this, conscious self-awareness is not sufficient by itself to manifest choice. It can be an accurate map, but it is not the whole journey.

The monarch butterfly cannot explain its migration strategy. It cannot explain why it eats what it eats or breeds successive generations with specialized roles, each geared to migrate on a partial leg of a journey that spans a number of monarch lifetimes. It cannot explain the depths of its own genius to collectively act as singular cohesive unit that preserves the species as a whole. Collectively they are a profound unity of behavioral relationships that preserves the status quo in ways it does not understand.

The leafcutter ant cannot say how it learned to cultivate a fungus on a bed of leaves to feed the young ants that help continue the colony. It cannot say how it farms a specific bacterium that secretes chemicals that serve to protect the fungus from pests and molds. It cannot say how it learned to cooperatively build and ventilate a massive intricate lair that is optimized for the colony’s survival – or how it divides tasks among its citizens by producing specific amounts of specialized ants that support a sustainable equilibrium. The next generation of queens cannot say how they learned to save a portion of the fungus, or how they learned to fly in search of a mate to start a new colony when the time comes. They cannot say how they know to build a new nest to bring another colony from one individual to a community of millions cooperating as a whole to continue the cycle over time.

The wild dog cannot say how it how it learned to feed its various hungers for air food and reproduction, or how those particular hungers were established. It cannot say how it learned to sense its order inside the pack or with other creatures in the natural world. The vast conspiracy of signals that shaped its state of being flowed out unnoticed from the darkened depths of nature and nurture. Many biological creatures cannot describe the strategies through which their complex behavior patterns are arranged and preserved, neither are they aware of the depth perception with which they view and interact with such a broad swath of nature. “Blind genius” is perhaps an accurate way to describe it.

The intricate behavioral patterns that emerge from environmental influences in the crucible of time which preserve the status quo are largely unknown to the very creatures that express them. Even humans, with our capacity for abstract thought are far more able to report on what happened than we are to craft an intentional happening from a slightly enhanced state of awareness. From an outward perspective looking in we can observe a vast collection of relationships that are aligned with the intention of carrying a species forward in time. We can also see how human culture follows this same form by conspiring to preserve ideas based on what has already been established without respect to whether they service something fulfilling or destructive. If we are influenced so heavily by accidents of circumstance, is it possible to play a better hand than the one we were dealt?

Our heredity, coupled with our upbringing, can be like the sting of the Jewell Wasp which immobilizes a cockroach into a zombie state. Unable to move of its own volition, the cockroach is led to be slowly eaten from the inside out by the wasp’s offspring. Some of us can become like the zombie cockroach, stung by circumstance, unaware that what we think and do is not a matter of choice toward fulfillment, but a complacent slave to our own destruction. Like so many other biological creatures, we can be complex expressions of blind intention that act to preserve a destructive behavioral norm and yet; we can be simultaneously unable to exercise a choice that effectively changes the outcome.

In the game of poker players are dealt a five card hand which they keep hidden until everyone takes turns putting bets on how likely they think their hand will win against their peers. The betting continues until someone matches rather than raises the previous players bet. On the surface the game would fall prey to the person with the best hand on average over time, if it were not for the bluff. Someone can behave differently with their bets than what would make sense if only the strength or weakness of the hand was the factor. Placing a bet that implies a better hand can bluff others into “folding” leaving their money on the card table to protect them from losing even more than they have before the betting pool went up. This element of bluff changes the entire dynamic of the game. It is also a metaphor we can use to point to the real location of choice in our lives.

While we are bound in many ways to circumstance by virtue of the hand we are dealt, we also have some wiggle room if we learn to act with intention. The profoundly dark genius on which our behavioral strategies are executed to preserve and propagate more of themselves are largely hidden from many of us. As a result, some of us flow on the currents of circumstance without much in the way of capacity for choice. Unless we first learn to recognize the behavioral momentum on which we ride we cannot become self-aware, and unless we behave contrary to any destructive elements in the midst of that momentum we cannot move toward a greater state of fulfillment. We must become more aware, and use that as a springboard to make intentional choices.

Some of us think we make choices and navigate life when in fact we are only blindly echoing the characteristic smells, tastes, and urges of our particular brand of biological stew. We experience a brew of motivating factors in the form of such things as hormones and neurotransmitters and the like. Along with our physiological structure, these biological factors drive our behaviors and set the tone for the relationships we develop – and collectively, what we experience as life. We can be equipped to execute with precision skill, maneuvers that cultivate a depleted and impoverished state of being. We can also effectively act as agents that infect and carry a disastrous collection of behavioral practices outward to multiply across more biological territory. In other words; we can easily pass our poison on to our family and community the same way we pass our genes on to our children. The same way rabies takes over a mammalian host and destroys it as the means by which it preserves and replicates more of itself, we can blindly carry out and propagate our own destructive state of being by virtue of the biological circumstantial hand we are dealt.

It is critical to understand how the biological motivation machine we are equipped to navigate with works if we are to move with intention in any other direction than the one we came equipped with. If we are diminished by the behavioral momentum of destructive circumstance we can sink below the surface of our own capacity for self-awareness and blindly participate in the dark genius of relational cultivation that leads to our own dissatisfaction.

Many of us mistakenly think that we make choices when we don’t. When we recognize a biological signal like thirst and respond by getting a drink. We might think; “I’m thirsty, I will get a glass of water”. This is not a choice. What we have done in this case is reported what our biology has spoken to us after dutifully following what it has instructed us to do. Mistaking our words as the driver of our behaviors when they are actually a byproduct of what our biology compels us to do hides the true nature of choice. Just because we wrap some words around an experience doesn’t mean we made anything near a choice.

If the relational climate we grew up in was peppered with cycles of betrayal and stress, we will continue to preserve and cultivate this selfsame experience throughout life because our biology will be tuned to move us in that direction. Our state of awareness can become a whiney reporter and explainer of the painful events that are driven by our own biological queues. We can blindly cultivate powerful destructive influences that shape complex social environments without recognizing our participation in the painful consequences that follow. We can do this with the same blind and amazing depth perception with which an ant colony interacts with the social environment based on its biological queues.

Our biology tells us what we are thirsty for and how to act to satisfy that thirst, but our thirsts can be hijacked to be aligned around a diminished experience of life. Depending on what we experienced in our developmental environment, our biology could be thirsty for unfulfilling destructive relationships. We too can become the cockroach that received the signals that lead it to willingly participate in being devoured to feed the next generation of parasitic wasps. We reflect the natural and “nurtural” aspects of the environment we grew up in unless we learn to cultivate choice, and choice is not as easy as it might look on the surface.

Understanding the mechanics of real choice is much like understanding the game of poker. We have to first understand what our biology is inclined to do. We must also recognize that our biological momentum cannot be altered without some disciplined effort to deviate from the message it sends. In other words; to choose something other than what we are already inclined to do, we must do what we don’t feel like! If we are inclined to cultivate a destructive climate, it means we need to act contrary to our feeling as the sole driver of our behaviors.

If we make an honest assessment of what we are inclined to do based on the expressed behaviors of our current and prior generations we can see our culture in general has all three of the behavioral dynamics of nature; parasitic, predatory and symbiotic mutually nourishing ones. Of a certainty mankind currently has parasitic and predatory elements clearly expressed through our macro behavioral climate. Some governments war over resources or turn a blind eye to injustice rather than find the best equilibrium of sharing that maximizes shared wealth, some businesses drain multitudes for the aggrandizement of a few. The parasitic and predatory cultural memes we express are often perpetuated through a process of hijacking the emotional mechanics of the masses the same way a Jewell Wasp hijacks the biology of a roach to turn it into a willing zombie or rabies spreads in a mammalian population so that it participates in its own destruction to preserve the destructive element.

To believe the macro behavior of our collective culture is not built on the collective tide of micro cultural environments is delusional. In this same respect, to think that any of us are immune to the effects of the dark genius of biological inclinations is also delusional. The solution must be grassroots because the problem is also grassroots in nature. Individually we have to begin to grasp what drives us and make effective disciplined choices to steer our behaviors in directions that are more built on a mutually nourishing symbiotic center, otherwise we will continue to experience the backhanded poverty of parasitic and predatory behaviors. We also need to join together in mass to collectively address the larger manifestations of destructive behaviors on larger social scales. To behave contrary to what we feel is necessary if those feelings incline us to move in destructive directions. If we are not centered on cultivating a network of nourishing symbiotic relationships we will continue to be agents of the preservation of our own diminished experience of life. This is the only way we can establish real choices that lead to fulfillment in the midst of a cultural climate that is partly poisoned with poverty generating elements.

The discipline to do this is not a passive activity. We cannot expect to somehow be rescued from the devices of our own biological momentum without effort. Our persistence must be greater than the resistance until we have firmly established a more nourishing center of biological momentum. Based on an honest assessment of where we currently are, we need to step beyond ourselves in the same way that the well placed bluff of a poker player is the only way to steer the game toward a more positive outcome. This is also the only way to play our best hand as a species and a planet sized body of life.


[1] 2013

The Value of Understanding the Whole Context

Dan Ariely speaking at TED

Dan Ariely speaking at TED

The meaning expressed through a musical composition cannot be fully understood by ever more detailed examinations of the nature and character of individual notes or segments of time within the whole composition. While a greater understanding complex systems can be extracted by this method, ever greater focus also has limitations and understanding can actually reach a point of negative return. Detailed examination of systems crosses a boundary where the greater detail with which the system is examined, the less the system as a whole is understood. A fact that often goes unnoticed among us; the more detailed our focus, greater role assumption plays in filling in the gaps of understanding the whole context of which that focused part resides.

If we use a translator such as translate.google.com, the English sentence “Meaning can quite easily get lost in translation.” becomes “Significado bastante fácil perderse en la traducción” in Spanish. If the Spanish is then translated to Arabic it becomes يعني من السهل جدا أن تضيع في الترجمة, and if this is translated back to English it becomes “Means very easy to get lost in translation.” An important point is that the loss of meaning, which is not too severe in this case, happens whenever things are translated. If we were to hear someone without a full command of English speaking the sentence “Means very easy to get lost in translation.” we might not be able to fill in the correct gaps to accurately get back to the original meaning.

Although we tend to believe what we see, if we begin to honestly examine all the places where we fill in the gaps to form our perceptions, we can begin get a better grasp on how much humility is appropriate on the certainty with which we carry our beliefs. One example of how this works is in vision. In crude terms, our eyes are stimulated by various frequencies of light. This stimulation is translated by special cells and specialized proteins into signals that are carried through the optic nerve and pathways to the occipital lobe portion of our brain. This portion of our brain translates the signal into what we perceive as vision, but this process also involves many translation steps where missing pieces are filled in along the way. For instance; our peripheral vision is color blind, there are specific blind spots in our eyes, and our brain essentially bridges one scene to the next when we move our eyes by filling in the blurry gaps. We experience a continuous color image, but that is because of a “filling in the gaps” translation effect, not because of accuracy.

If we were to place the inherent inadequacies of the means by which our method of perceiving the world exists, we can also see why some people hold ideas that appear irrational to others. We can see how tribal “in group”, “out group” divisions emerge in social environments. In fact, we can also see how culture and division emerges throughout the world, each division thinking it sees things clearly and all other views are false. We can also see how it is possible to be removed from the context of the whole in such ways that our individual positions could easily be irrational at the same time they look completely normal and correct to us.

To illustrate this more clearly, let’s ask the question; “Why are so many of us more concerned about such things as a new TV, taxes, or the stress of traffic in the context of a world where 16,000 children die of starvation every day?” The answer is not as simple as “we don’t care”. A starving child crawling on a sidewalk next to a vehicle stuck in traffic would probably prompt most of us to get out immediately and do something about it. Why? Because there is much less lost in the translation due to its proximity. To understand this effect better we can look at the work of the Behavioral economist Dan Ariely. He studies the bugs in our moral code that arise due to the way we translate information. He applies it to better understand the often hidden ways we think it’s OK to cheat or steal, but it also applies to all aspects of our perception, culture and our experience of life. He calls the concept “predictable irrationality”.

Think of a person; lose sight of people, think of people; lose sight of a person.