Tag Archives: Neuroscience

How Smell Shapes Our Lives

There is no thing that we do on a macro scale that is not echoed on many other scales, including micro. Like ripples in a pond the relationships that define biological systems and subsystem are characterized by recurring echoes of self similarity and a blend of dissonance. This blend of tradition and flexibility – of dedication to ritual and diversity – is what composes the adaptive range of behaviors we must express in proportion to the opportunities and challenges presented by way of a variable environment – and this is also what characterizes this magnificent symphony of structure we call biology. The capacity to use smell as a means of communicating and understanding that environment as well as negotiating it effectively is no exception to this rule. Here’s a closer look:

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How our Personality is Wired

Today’s wake up word is Myelin: It is a fatty insulator that surrounds the axon of some kinds of nerve cells allowing signals to pass through preferentially over those channels. When we learn motor skills like an instrument, our body responds by mylenating certain channels to make that happen easier over time. This is why we become competent at tasks. Myelin is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Myelin is the reason habits form (including what we call our identity and character in many respects) and why patterns of behavior are harder to break once established whether in an individual or a culture, and why these rituals may serve us or imprison us depending on how they are wired and how that wiring serves to help us navigate the variables of our environment.

The Relationship Economy that Defines a Coherent Body of Life

The article link below describes how a single species of gut bacteria can reverse autism-related social behavior in mice.

The fact that a single organism can have so much influence on mouse behavior and experience is also a glimpse not only into the powerful biological drivers that result in what all organisms experience as life, but indeed what life experience is founded on. Our behaviors and experience, including whether and how much we are social, as well as whether or not we remain a coherent part of the biological economy over time and so on are based on the relational climate that forms as a result of a parliament of organisms and environmental conditions which together operate as a coherent body which influence behaviors and experience on multiple scales.

The notion that we are an individual species, defined by our local genetics and completely separate entities from other species is dissolving as a useful means to clearly define biology. A lens that sees biology as a relational economy that transcends our notions of individual species – one that renders the image that a coherent biological body consisting of organisms of many different genetic makeups networked together in diverse ways, forming a meta body, complete with a coherent integrated metabolism and the defense mechanisms to defend that integrity in the face of antagonists – is a more appropriate lens.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/06/160616140723.htm

On Free Will, Awareness and the Nature of Being

Many of us think we have agency – the capacity as individuals to perceive a certain portion of the local landscape of reality and use that as the basis to act independently, making our own free will choices. It comes as a surprise to some of us to discover that while an element of that perception of reality and corresponding response using a component of agency may be a piece of the puzzle, it is a small piece, if a piece at all.

Most of what we perceive and experience can be more accurately characterized as being “along for the ride” on a wave of relationship dynamics that occur on many scales, including molecular scales which are driven by the trillions of microbial life forms that live in and on us. In other words, we do not experience things due to what’s going on solely in our head, we experience things that stem from any number of sources known and unknown for which we manufacture what is in our mind a plausible explanation for those experiences.

Our capacity to produce plausible explanations is the real talent of our brain – producing things that are useful, but not necessarily things that are accurate. These explanations are inaccurate at best and often miss the mark completely, yet they produce a convincing picture, leaving us embraced in the comforting delusional cocoon of beliefs that may serve us, but do not correspond to the reality of the situation. Here is a small glimpse at the real world we so rarely get a glimpse of with our minds:

http://neurosciencenews.com/gut-bacteria-emotion-7013/

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