Tag Archives: Nonverbal communication

Sorting Reality from Ideas

We live in a culture where some segments truly believe (or at least act like) preferences and feelings have some kind of sacred status – where the more villainizing, stomping, protesting, and loudly signaling our outrage, the more legitimate our argument is. As if our personal passion were a suitable substitute for substance – as if spouting off with vein popping force somehow makes the argument more credible. Some of us apparently lack depth perception to see beyond ourselves, and as a consequence, we project our arrogant ignorance along with our fears, suspicions, hopes and emotions on to public figures, associates as well as cultural icons of every stripe, dead or alive. We live in a universe whose boundaries extend to the outskirts of our own ignorance. We then mistake our ghostly projections for reality, not knowing the vomited echo of our ignorant self indulgence blowing back on us is not an accurate picture of the social landscape. What we see as reality is actually composed of reflections from the hall of distorted mirrors in which we live and breathe.

Unless we make the investment to exit the shadowy cave of our own self importance to embrace the wider social reality , we will continue to falsely assert our sanctity and suffer the frustrated experience that is spawned from that reactionary prison. Unless we embrace a reality that recognizes we coexist and attempt to forge a climate of respect and dignity at the same time we also defend against real antagonisms that can destroy us, we will become a fountain of frustration spewing maligning scorn and incessant tantrums toward any perspective other than our own. Even worse, through the destructive force of our self importance spawning a reactionary climate, we will conjure up the very demons that consume us. We will bathe in the toxic bile we made out of this false idea that we alone have the one true bead on how we all should think and behave…

In the dim glow of our ignorance we can miss the profound hypocrisy and irony of our stance. Our ignorance will also protect us from an awareness of our powerful contribution to the disintegration of the foundation on which we all stand. This also means that when the destruction of our own making comes to fruition, we will be ignorant of its source much less its resolution or prevention. We will continue to live in a wordy world of self righteous blame and impotence like any fundamentalist – baying at the moon with the expectation that it should bow to our cries and change its course.

A cat is natively wired to be suspicious of being attacked from anything outside its very small trusted comfort zone. This is not because of how the world actually is, it is because the cat sees the world through its own self induced lens. It thinks of how it would behave and projects that motive on to the outside world, and then bathes in the experience of life that is generated from that place… And this, by the way, is the very nature of the spectrum of mental illness that spans from neurosis to psychosis.

The Two Primary Drivers of Biological and Social Order

Any coherent unit of order, no matter if it is biological or social from an organism, to a group, to organizations and communities, or nation states are established by two primary behavioral drivers. The first driver is a collection of coordinated activities that establish the integrity of the unit. A group needs a cementing bond to identify “self” from “other”. Self behaviors are aligned around the community. In biological terms, an individual organism is built on a framework of shared genetics and common epigenetics that form a cohesive bond. In the case of complex creatures like ourselves, this coordinated effort extends to specialized organs that coordinate activities to maintain integrity, and the ability to collectively obtain and metabolize nutrients that also maintain the integrity.

In social terms, integrity also has bonds, these bonds may be formed with a set of ideas. It could be the love of a sport, or the behaviors that support the commonwealth of the community. In all cases, the global principle is that there is some form of cohesive glue that establishes and maintains the integrity of the group, thus establishing a metabolism social order.

Behavioral expressions are the way a social group demonstrates and reassures itself that it is maintaining integrity as a cohesive unit. These behaviors are how a group nourishes itself. This can come in the form of ritual behaviors such social nit picking in chimpanzees, or in the case of humans, it could come in the form of uniform clothing, symbols, the wearing of hats, common language, saluting a flags, the saying of pledges, or taking of oaths either formal or informal. These things, and how they are valued determine the strength of the bonds that maintain the metabolism of the group.

The second primary driver of group cohesion is the development of a kind of “behavioral immune system” that has the capacity to reject any behaviors or contend with situations that are perceived to be potentially harmful or destructive to the integrity of the group. This social immune system that provides a defensive group cohesion engine is not unique to humans by any means. In fact, we are but one expression of this global biological driver that is threaded throughout the entire web of biological life from top to bottom. We see its expression biochemically and socially.

Here is one small example of this principle at work in the case of ravens, those that cheat are excluded from the protective network of cooperative birds. Ravens are able to cooperate when, for example, mobbing predators, but they exclude cheaters because they free ride on the assumed risks the others take. Here is more detail on this group cohesion behavior in ravens.

Mate Selection Expressed on a Molecular Scale

The level of detail through which behaviors are expressed that are aligned with ensuring adaptive advantage extends to the microscopic. In this case a strategy for sexual selection involves the production of some kind of protein or chemical in the ovarian fluid of ocellated wrasses which helps define the acceptance or rejection of sperm based on whether the male that emitted it will be more inclined to tend the nest or not. The idea being that those males more fit to carry on the species will be more likely to breed, enabling the species a better chance to continue forward.

From the article: “Female ocellated wrasses prefer males that build nests and take care of the fertilized eggs as they develop. But there are other types of males that do not provide parental care and compete to fertilize the eggs a female lays in the nest prepared by a nesting male. Small “sneaker” males hang out around the nest and dart in to release large amounts of sperm when a female is spawning. The females, however, seem to have found a way to thwart the sneaker males by giving an advantage to the nesting male’s sperm.”

Among the questions that might ride in the undercurrents of such a fantastically coordinated biological process if we anthropomorphize the situation a bit is; How does the female know that the chemical signature of “sneaker” males is different than the nesters? How was she able to translate this information into a coordinated process to produce a chemical in response that is able to  differentiate between sneakers and nesters and select based on criteria that is advantageous to the female? Regardless of whether or not these are legitimate lines of questioning, the behavioral dynamics expressed through the relational field we call biology certainly is intricate, and whether or not these are the right questions is not as important as recognizing that there is room for questions – plenty of food to feed a passionate curiosity.

To read the full article in Science Daily Click Here

Cancer Is a Biological Outlaw

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Cancer is a biological outlaw. It begins its career as a cell triggered by a set of circumstances that cause it to diverge from participating in a contributory role in the community it draws nourishment from. Instead of a vested stake in the biological community that sustains it, cancer turns to a life characterized by parasitic behaviors that turn predatory over time.

Cancer turns against the cooperative unity on which biological systems depend and becomes an expression of destructive greed and consumption without a community aligned purpose. Its implied purpose narrows to its own interests, to the immediate gratification, to right now, to more and more, to domination over cultivation – to itself at the expense of the community. Through its behaviors, cancer becomes a biological outlaw.

If cancer was assigned the attributes of a self aware being, it would be defined as either failing to recognize its detrimental behavior toward its own future, or identified as someone that doesn’t care. Either way, it’s devoid of participating in the implied social contract that all sustainable living systems depend on; that of working in the limited context of the environment and contributing nourishing value back to the biological community it depends on for life, so that community is stronger than it ever could be as isolated parts.

There are many kinds of cancer with many different causes, but the common thread is a lack of regard to translate the taking from the community with corresponding activities to give back something of value to it. In the case of Pancreatic cancer, once the cancer takes root and steals the resources it needs to establish a foothold, it begins to use that theft to hijack the production machinery of nearby cells to feed itself even more. It uses this fuel to grow stronger and demand more. With increased strength, it now causes the enslaved cells working at a frenzied pace to serve its demands to sacrifice their lives in order to make more room for it, and for it to selectively feed on the dying remains to strengthen the cancerous process still more…

Cancer can enjoy a burst of extravagant artificial wealth by predatorily consuming great quantities of the genuine wealth produced by the nourishing relational acts of the biological community from which it feeds. As it increasingly consumes without regard for renewal, it crosses a terminal threshold where its demands exceed the capacity of the system to compensate for the collective theft, murder and interference of nourishing biological commerce. It is at this point where the biological system cancer depends on to fuel its excesses collapses in on itself.

Why does cancer behave this way? Why does this myopic collection of predatory behaviors consume without an eye for the sustainability of the system on which it depends? Cancer dominates, but if its strategy is successful, it becomes a victim of its own success. It ends up dominating itself out of existence. It is destroyed itself in a bonfire of its own greed and ignorance.

Upon seeing this cancerous behavioral agenda clearly exposed we might recognize that cancer comes in many forms. We might be inclined to see the parallels between cellular cancer and social behavioral cancer on other scales. Upon seeing this parallel and coupling it with some of the behavioral dynamics coursing through our human behavioral veins, we might be compelled to wonder if there is such a thing as “Mancreatic Cancer”. We might also ask whether we ourselves are engaged in aligning our individual and collective activities toward cultivating that which sustains us – that which we need.

When it comes to the micro decisions that lead to the macro effects of our life, not only reflected back on itself, but echoing outward to the community at large, we may want to be careful to define success before we engage in it, because in our frenzy to accomplish a false success, we could find out too late that as soon as somebody wins at monopoly, the game is over for everyone.

For more information about the way Pancreatic Cancer works: Click Here

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

 

We are Social By Nature

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 We are be social creatures. The elements we’re made of hunger for specific kinds of relationships in specific contexts. This relationship economy, built on the need for the satisfaction of specific hungers within specific ranges defines our nature. Every atom with which we are constructed has specific hungers for specific relationship. Our nature is social to the core, our biological structure reveals this at many levels. Every cell and organ depends on the others. It is the community of social relationships that defines us.

 

Elements_of_the_Human_Body-01

When we cultivate the availability of, and tend to servicing a certain nourishing order of things, we can be satisfied; conversely, if we violate this necessary order we suffer from instability – and if a critical nourishing relational pathway on which we depend is throttled or destroyed we can lose the integrity on which we depend to exist as a biological being.

Our brains are built on the same social principle. In terms of perception, contrary to some beliefs, we are not primarily logical creatures that are also social and emotional. Even though we appear to use logic as the currency of social influence, our peculiar use of logic as a method to persuade is a polite fiction at best. The evidence does not suggest logic is an effective tool, except in social circles where logic is valued highly or some corresponding social-emotional connection is associated with the logic – and this is the point: “Social-Emotional Bonds” are the key.

The fact that our emotional and social traits trump logic is born out by the evidence in many ways. One example is the way we sincerely and passionately disagree with out-groups in ways that conveniently agree with and support the validity of our in-group. This difference is despite the similarity of our basic biological sensory and processing equipment. This suggests something other than biological differences as the cause. Of far greater weight than our brain’s capacity for logic is the emotional-social aspect of this fatty organ sloshing around our skull. When our social hungers are either wounded of starved, particularly at critical developmental periods, all kinds of pathologies can result.

Addiction may be one of those pathologies. Here is an interesting TED talk by Johann Hari about the potential causes of addiction.

 

Further related articles:

 

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/morals-not-memories-define-who-we-are/

 

The Wisdom of the Tree

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A tree simultaneously stretches itself downward into the soil to draw the water and nutrients as it stretches up and outward toward the sky to capture the glow of sunlight and drink from the atmospheric delights that waft past its swaying branches. In so doing, the tree stitches the elements at its disposal together and if they are sufficient, it uses them as a vehicle to propel itself toward its full potential. A tree breaks the prior symmetries of certain structures, not for the sake of destruction, but to reassemble them into its own likeness – in its own form.

At its crest, the wave of self assembled organization that is the tree matures to relate with other trees and the creatures that call it home, and to cast its offspring to the wind in the hopes of making even more like itself. Like the tree, we need draw from places of nourishment to realize our potential. Like the tree, if we do not stretch ourselves to reach those nourishing places, we are destined live beneath the threshold of our full potential.

We have some measure of choice in where we stretch ourselves. Let’s make sure these places we cultivate our own assemblies are also those that nourish our potential – that contribute substance and strength to the canopy we all live beneath – this community of life we both live in and depend on.

The Map Is Not The Journey

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The words we have at our disposal are quite often beneath the task to sufficiently capture who we are. Not only do they strain under the weight of using them to try and convey our nature one to another; we struggle to fully grasp the depth and breadth of our own being even with self reflection. Sometimes our words are worse than inadequate, they can serve as an outright delusion – a ghost that appears real, but has no substance. Once the ghosts made of words are made real on a wave of belief, they can trap us in a prison of false reality. Though our nature is such that we hunger to share ourselves intimately one to another; that which we are able to share is throttled by the delusions embedded in the symbols we use as fuel for the vehicle we use to journey to that place of intimacy.

We do things for reasons we do not understand. We then perform posthumous verbal autopsies on those behavioral expressions – as if these verbal arrows we sling at our past behaviors explains their causes – they do not. Our words are a map, but often to an unreal place, and we easily confuse the map with the journey – the symbol for the reality.

 So deep is our tendency some of us buzz around like a bee, pollinating the human flowers on our social landscape with words – impregnating them with our position. We then falsely using that belief we have cultivated as sufficient evidence that what we have said is real. In effect, our deceit has turned on us. Our true self is a vast sea of behaviors – the totality of which cannot be carried on the winds of words. It is possible the vision of our full nature is out of reach through our verbal lens.

Some of us ride glistening waves of words as if they are literal stand ins for reality, but they more often bear a resemblance to emotional steam venting from the much deeper super-heated undercurrents that move a thin skin of tectonic plates on the surface of our being. We bow to the polite fiction that our identity can be encapsulated in this thin skin of behaviors we project to the world, when in reality what we show is an extruded crusty distortion of the vastness that lies beneath the surface.

In light of the fact that we so easily conflate the superficial artifacts we adorn ourselves with for the whole picture, we should recognize that understanding ourselves is no easy task. The broken relationship with our personal identity we so commonly grow in verbal soils laced with assumption can render us a blind navigator and a spectator in our own lives. It has been said the unexamined life is not worth living. It is quite possible the unexamined life is not able to be lived at all. How can we have lived if we have never encountered our self, much less anyone else? Have we lived if we have only encountered the false gods we conjured up as a band aid over our loneliness? – A cold comforter in an otherwise unbearable world.

Our words can conjure a false reality that cripples our capacity to engage in the authentic intimate relationships we need for a fulfilled life. This visionary strangulation, fostered on a wave of words, chokes off the vital social nourishment we need. We sink beneath the waves and drown in our own delusion, starving for intimacy, gasping for air with the only tool at our disposal, the same words we drown in.

Those of us taken by the undertow of abstractions fade to the shadowy depths of a life of passionate distraction rather than genuine substance. We may still pretend to search for and move toward a purpose in life, but we have in reality settled for lies that consume our time and never render the nourishing fruit of clarity.

A few of us that get the brief opportunity to recognize the gods to whom we have genuflected our whole lives. From that perch of clarity we realize how false they are and try to warn those who have yet to waste their lives in service of them. This effort typically comes at a time when we have little more opportunity to cease the day and cultivate something meaningful. We spill this wise counsel of experience on those yet in the midst of the storm and they cannot heed our wisdom because they cannot hear it over the din of their own delusion.

One of the most important goals we can set in life is to discover our self – to become aware of the steering mechanisms that drive our experience – and from this awareness – to forge a rudder to point our vessel toward a place of fulfillment. If we are not diligent we will have passed from cradle to grave having never participated in our own lives except perhaps as a commentator, because we were lost in a storm of our own little words.

The Origin of Success

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The most profound forms of intimacy are based on relationships where the participants do their best to identify each others needs, and give each other their best. Wealth and strength emerges from the elements of giving that strengthen community. If we consider the fact that a thing as simple as a pencil could not exist unless many persons with many skill sets combined their gifts and shared we begin to get a picture for how wealth emerges from this community principle.[1]

From an economic perspective, we do ourselves no favors by clogging up the flow of values that cultivate each other’s success. If segments of our culture are aligned around exploitation the result is poverty. A diseased body is imbalanced, as is a diseased culture. Our values are the currency that drives these behaviors.

There is great value in the mutual stake in each other’s success. This need for a mutual stake in each other’s success does not negate the unpleasant fact that this organic flow can get ruined by one wayward greedy relational element the same way a forest can burn down on the power of a single spark. Community is strong, but it can be fragile as well. On a personal level trust and confidence grows from mutual trust born of actions that serve our collective needs. We must stand together and act in the interests of the whole biological community we are both in and of in order to realize our fullest, most satisfied state. In this sense, we are game players, not rule makers.

[1] For more information on this community principle read “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves” by Matt Ridley or “I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E.”

Why We Believe and Do What We Do

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Over the millennia we humans have developed a number of adaptive techniques in our arsenal of perceptions and responses that have aided our survival. Along with things like opposable thumbs is the ability of our perception equipment to rapidly fill in the blanks with limited information. Because careful deliberation of all options at the rate our senses absorb and process things fully would often result in death, the assumption shortcut is a handy survival skill at times.

We are tuned to recognize patterns and rapidly fill in the blanks using our existing experience as putty. Our brains sacrifice accuracy for speed. Recognizing danger or finding food was sometimes built on the smallest of queues. In historical settings, filling in the blanks was highly necessary and often a matter of life or death. As a consequence we have keen sense of anticipation.

Pattern recognition comes in handy in a number of ways. Knowing that animals walk a certain path at a certain time of day in rhythms is extremely valuable over using our feeble nose and claws to scratch out a meal. We have shaped our capacity for pattern recognition over the years into such things as the making spears and hooks, tents and fire. We have the advantage of predictive foreknowledge that we now use to service a variety of our needs. It also offers a number of other perks as well like air conditioning and plastic choo choo trains.

Language itself may be an outcropping of pattern recognition. We associate a certain sounds with objects or events and over time; voila!! Blah blah… As with all the features of adaptive biology, pattern recognition does come with a cost. Two main points on this front: First; we see patterns where they are which is helpful, but we also see patterns where they are not which can be disastrous. Second; because patterns are what we use as a basic survival tool and they are the foundation of our identity, they also motivate us to obsessively defend and preserve them as our comfort zone whether or not they’re toxic, nourishing and/or neutral.

Pattern recognition has been a sort of superhero in human adaptation. We have good reason to consider it our friend, but our friend has some baggage. We associate familiar patterns with comfort. Our tribal affinity is built on pattern recognition. This survival skill extends into where and what to eat, who is a friend or foe, but it can also be a trap. As children we learn to negotiate our world with pattern recognition as the divider between danger and safety, self and other. As a result, we tend to weigh what we have been exposed to in these early days as a “safe zone”, a familiar area. As a consequence, if we’re exposed to a toxic maladaptive relationship climate coupled with shallow thought stopping ideas, we tend to hold on to that as our safe zone throughout life, even though it objectively poisons our potential. In other words; we can be sincere and wrong at the same time. We can be patterned to cycle destruction in our lives and we can be unaware that we are the warden of our own prison.

Our pattern recognition wetware leaves us very prone to confirmation bias. People who are brought up in certain cultures have a tendency to see their culture as the one true, correct, right, wonderful culture from whom all blessings flow, and all other cultures as strange, wrong, unworthy of serious consideration or abominable. Unless we learn to transcend our personal prejudices, they will shape what we see to fit inside their limiting lens and falsely confirm what we already think is true.

Certain assumptions about people the world and events are installed on the surface of our eyes and ears, etc. by our experience, particularly early childhood experience. Whatever happens to go by our senses in the future is shaped by those experiences. Before we render a picture of what we see in our minds, it is reformed to fit our preconceived patterns. We can end up seeing nothing more than a reflection of our early developmental environment, not the real world. Plato described our awareness as a cave[1] we must emerge from. A womb in which some of us float as a stillborn carcass never to emerge and see the light of day.

Our clinginess to the familiar without respect to whether or not it’s nourishing also affects what we pay more or less attention to. In the social sciences there is something called a breaching experiment that examine our reactions to violations of commonly accepted social rules or norms. We get upset when things do not go as we expect them to even if that violation is not harmful at all. Our love affair with the familiar can be fun to watch.

Another cost of pattern recognition is that we also pay more attention to strange things because our sensory equipment is tuned to identify and place new experience in the context of the familiar – the pattern. We get stuck on the unusual because we struggle more to frame it in our personal context. That’s the reason we generally see the likelihood of a plane crash as more frightening than the likelihood of a car crash even though planes are much safer statistically. Our perception is warped by our obsession with the familiar and our need to grapple with the unfamiliar.

In summary, pattern recognition provides us with comfort in the familiar, but it comes with downsides. It leads those of us who have a toxic or myopic familiar environment to be more comfortable reinforcing that toxic swill. Some of us have to collect so many negative social stamps per week in order to fill up their stamp book. Some of us cycle through broken relationships with substances or behaviors. Some of us think our values are what we decided when the truth is they are more often a reflection of what we were exposed to. This doesn’t mean we’re hopelessly locked in a prison of happenstance. It means coasting toward full self-awareness is not an option. We have to work at it because we are geared to project our prejudices on our social landscape and use that projection as a stand in for reality.

Our relationship with the familiar is of course necessary, but the point is, if we don’t get both the strengths and the limitations of any of our human faculties, we’re prone to suffer an inability to use clear vision as the means by which we navigate.

[1] Appeared in Plato’s “The Republic” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_Cave