Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Want A Better Future? Then The 'Evil Brain's' Tendencies Must Be Controlled

As we commence a new year the probability is we will see as many crimes, wars, mass murders, serial killings, political betrayals, and economic obstruction as we have seen in 2013. This brings up the issue of evil, and what can be done about it. To the Physicalist or Scientific Materialist, of course, there is no such thing as "Satan" or  "the Devil" - those are merely cartoon copouts for the unthinking.

Evil exists, but not as an infinite negative absolute, or personified in a spirit entity, but rather as a dynamic of our own brains. What most ordinary people refer to as “evil” is easily explainable by the scientific Materialist in terms of brain evolution. Thus, Homo Sapiens is fundamentally an animal species with a host of animal/primitive instincts residing in its ancient brain or paleocortex.

The paleocortex sits evolutionarily beneath the more evolved mesocortex and neocortex, the latter of which crafts concepts and language[1]. One clever person has compared this tri-partite brain structure to a car design welding a Lamborghini to a Model T Ford chassis, with a 1957 Chevy engine to power the Lamborghini. If an automotive engineer can conceive of such a hybrid beast, I'd be interested to know exactly how he thinks it would run.

Given the preceding brain structural defect, there is much evidence that human behavior will get progressively worse as the complexity inherent in technological and globalized societies increases, but brain evolution is unable to keep pace with it. Basically, we are a species with the capability of making nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles but with an R-complex imbued with reptilian tendencies[2].

Indeed, in terms of adaptability to technological society, the hybrid brain design is already theorized as one major cause of depression and mental illness in such societies[3] .

The behavior resulting from this hybrid brain is bound to be morally mixed, reflecting the fact that we literally have three brains contending for emergence in one cranium. Behavior will therefore range from the most selfless acts (not to mention creative masterpieces) to savagery, carnal lust run amuck and addictions that paralyze purpose.

The mistake of the orthodox religionist is to associate the first mode of behavior with being human and not the latter. In effect, disowning most of the possible behaviors of which humans are capable.- and hence nine tenths of what makes us what we are. Worse, not only disowning these behaviors – but ascribing them to some antagonistic dark or negative force (“Satan”) thereby making them into a religious abstraction.

The neocortex then goes into over-drive, propelled by its ability to craft words for which no correspondents may exist in reality. Suddenly, our “souls” are at risk of being “lost to Satan” who will then fry us in “Hell” if we don't grab the right afterlife insurance policy. In effect, the religionist’s higher brain centers divide reality into forces of darkness and light, just like the ancient Manicheans.

As the divide grows and persists, certain behaviorally idealistic expectations come to the fore, and a mass of negative or primitive actions is relegated to “evil”. Humans tune in to this Zeitgeist, which is soon circulated everywhere, and begin to suppress all behaviors that they regard as defective or "sinful". They don’t realize or appreciate that humans are risen apes, and not fallen angels.

Are we all sinners as assorted fundamentalists and zealots claim? No, we’re an animal species saddled with a tri-partite brain whose higher centers often become self aware of the chasm between the base, atavistic and primitive behaviors (emanating from the reptilian brain) and the ideal  behavior conceived by the neocortex. The neocortical language centers then craft the term sin to depict the gulf between one and the other.

In this context, the concept of sin makes eminent sense. Sin emerges as the label placed on specific brands and forms of evil. In reality, sin is predicated on an exaggerated importance of humans in the universe. Thus, it elevates (in a perverse way) the importance of humans in an otherwise meaningless cosmos. With sin the overly self-important and morally smug, self-righteous human has at least the potential of offending his putative deity – thereby getting its attention – as opposed to being relegated to the status of a cosmic cipher. Sin is thus an attention getter to a mentally conceived Big Cosmic Daddy.

Despite this, sin is an invariably localized and reactive behavior at the personal, individual level. Sin impinges on and affects the deity (God-concept) that so many believe in. Take away the deity, and sin loses its allure and quickly becomes redundant. How can there be sin if there is no deity to offend or to notice sin and to tote up all the little black marks in its book of future judgment?

The Devil or Satan is simply the mental projection of the most primitive brain imperatives onto the external world. And yes, this imperative  is capable of  rape, economic exploitation and mass murder as well as genocide. A supernatural Satan need not be invoked, only the ancient brain residue of reptiles – acting collectively – aided and abetted by a language -obsessed neocortex, which finds it as easy to create neologisms to represent non-existent phantasms as to think. It thereby does the reptile brain’s bidding, manufacturing sins, as opposed to attempting to halt it.

If we know all this, how might we bring the "evil brain" as it were, under control to at least mitigate its sudden explosions of violence? Those manifested in terrorist bombings such as we've seen in Russia, or in mass killings such as Newtown last year, or in the mass slaughter now going on in Southern Sudan or the Central African Republic.

F0rtunately, we may well be on the cusp of controlling and regulating (at minimum) these atavistic brain tendencies which have produced everything from the Inquisition, to the Crusades, and even genocides. No human in his or her right mind could possibly dispute the fact that our species would be much better, operate more compassionately and perhaps even effectively in the social arena, if the brain could at least be subject to more regulation. At least the brains of those who need it. This has been exposed in the further development of quantum dot technology (see, e.g. 'The Quantum Dot: A Journey Into the Future of Microelectronics') .

The beauty of quantum dots is they can be specifically located in the exact brain regions where the most control is needed. If a feasible neural network mapping can be applied first, say to select input-output processing of hate and intolerance (as transmitted electro-chemical signals) in the brain's amygdala, is it not also possible to "disinfect" this tendency by altering the neural pathways and responses? Could the electro-chemical transfers effectively be cut off? Consider the most elemental input and output situation given by:

O o----------(e1)------(e2)------O (Z)

where e1 and e2 are two components by which an input at O yields a current (throughput)transferred to Z with information. The structure function of this would be: f(x1, x2) = x1 x2. But now suppose the component (e2) is negated or co-opted with another device. Then e2 = 0 and f(x1,x2) = 0. In other words the normal output one would expect is nullified.

We already know electro-chemical signals (via action potentials) are conveyed to  receptor neurons in the region of the amygdala. We note that when an axon is in its resting state it maintains a constant potential difference, or ‘resting membrane potential’ of –70 mV. When it is excited, it rises to a peak voltage of around 40 mV.  The latter basically arises from an uneven distribution of K+ (potassium) and Na+ (sodium) ions across the axon cell membrane relative to a collection of negatively charged protein molecules inside the cells.

Now, if neurons are stimulated – say by an electric shock from implants -  an electronic monitoring device will show the 40 mV ‘action potentials’ on the traces. An interesting phenomenon associated with this, is that no matter the size of the stimulus applied, the action potential peak remains the same. What this shows is that even an appliance, device or artificial neural network (to "train the brain's receptors") placed in the immediate pathway will not stop the signal propagation. Like solar x-rays that can incept total communication blackouts, a way or mode must be found to short circuit the whole transfer process.

Note further that each pulse peak for the action potential coincides with a polarization change in the axon. Thus, as the pulse moves to a given site on the axon, Na+ ions move into the axon. Though technically both potassium and sodium ions are involved, there is actually a preferential bias. This bias is what we'll need to exploit in creating an adequate neural network to regulate the reception of impulses. This particular bias inheres in a preferential transferal of Na+ ions through the axon membrane by a ratio that varies from 3:1 to 3:2 relative to K+ ions.

Thus, one way to engender a short circuit would be to alter the bias by altering the ion concentration at the axon membrane, say to 1:1. The synapses also have a role, of course, specifically the synaptic cleft. As I noted above, action potentials are constantly generated in an ‘all or nothing’ kind of way, and their endpoint is the synaptic cleft of the neuron. But here is where the ‘buck’ or rather the pulse, stops. Because as the axon has no choice in propagating the action potential, the neuron on the opposite side of the synapse (the post-synaptic cell) does have a choice of whether to fire or not fire when the potential arrives. If post synaptic neurons fired predictably with arrival of each and every action potential they’d be totally deterministic.

And boring. The fact that they need not fire, indicates a high degree of probability factored into the process. This process is depicted in the diagram (Fig. 2)  below in simplified view, based on treating the axons as simple electrical ‘cables’ and the ends as ‘terminals’. This is perhaps the essential modus operandi for the brain acting as self-programmable von Neumann machine, particularly since quantum mechanics can easily be factored in.

In the diagram, we focus on Axon 1 and note that when the action potential arrives at the terminal it’s depolarized. This depolarization enables Calcium ions (Ca+2) already within the terminal to diffuse out into the mediating space. These ions follow a concentration gradient, unlike the case of the Na+ ions in the sodium pump. As the ions migrate, then diffuse to the post-synaptic cell (at Axon 2), they leave a channel in their wake that allows quantal releases of neurotransmitter (shown as a solid dot). These, like the Ca+2 ions diffuse across to the post-synaptic cell(s).

One neurotransmitter is acetylcholine. If the transmission of this or any similar chemical is rapid firing will occur, if not it won’t. Note also that Axon 2 must have a way of eliminating neurotransmitters almost as soon as they arrive. For acetylcholine, the enzyme cholinesterase acts to break it down into choline and acetate. In these inactive forms the neuron is spared being in a state of maximal and continuous excitation that would otherwise destroy it.

Generalizing the electrical cable analogy, the synapses act as switches in the system, the ‘on’ or ‘off’ positions denoted by information, in the form of chemical messages, to cross the synaptic cleft and trigger firing of the post-synaptic neuron(s) or not. Most probably there are bundles of similar neurons linked together by their respective connections, to perform critical functions. One might refer to the neuronal super-assembly or 'super-circuit’ within which considerations such as networks, and optimization of paths as well as 'adjacency and order' take precedence.  Again, this is almost absurdly oversimplified since there really are no neurons that have only one connection to another. Indeed, we expect the typical neuron to have something like 10,000 connections to others.

But a start to how we might proceed is depicted  in the Kohonen SOM (Self-Organizing Map) in Fig. 3.  below. Again, I reiterate, I'm keeping this at the most basic level. To reinforce this, trials performed quickly disclose Kohonen SOM  is too oversimplified. For example, it's applicable only to a single layer but the brain region under scrutiny is multi-layered. In addition, each "grid" neuron is an output neuron only. In real life, one must have both input and output neurons.Technically, we would need to examine and use the Multi-Layer Perceptron Network.

Anyway, as the Kohonen (SOM) is implemented, each input pattern gives rise to a localized region of activity in the feature map against a background of lower activity.For example, the activity may be registered as relative voltages, and these in turn may signify the ratio of Na+ ions to K+ ions. Once the Kohonen SOM is entrained, the aggregation of the input pattern should cause a localized group of neurons to be active.

However, the activity will almost surely not be what is desirable, because the simplicity of the map doesn't allow us to make drastic changes to the configuration of action potential thresholds.  In this case, using quantum dot implants - say for a religious zealot's or Islamic terrorist's brain - might well send him/her into convulsions, or worse. We certainly don't wish to have happen to the religious extremist what transpired with the main character in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' (i.e. after he was lobotomized at the end) we merely want to see his most reactive behavior tempered, so that he's tolerable, and more tolerant to others!  At the lowest threshold this would mean not doing harm to others, i.e. the evangelical grandma in Colorado who immersed her grandson in a tub of boiling water to "cure" him of Satan some years ago, or Islamic terrorists using suicide bombers to blow up trains in Russia- because they regard the Sochi Winter Olympics as "Satanic".

We ought to note here that already amazing steps have been made in terms of electronic implants, to control everything from over -eating to alcoholism. If these aberrant behaviors are within our purview, it is only a matter of time before excessive, meme (mind-virus) -driven zealous religiosity and its hate-driven actions derived from it are controlled.

See the following for information on the progress in electronic brain implants thus far:



If progress in this area succeeds then perhaps we might expect looking forward to at least one new year in which rampant mayhem no longer dominates.

[1] Author Arthur Koestler, to the best of my knowledge, first coined these terms in the 1967 edition of his book, The Ghost in the Machine. Since then they’ve been revived in other books but with differing nomenclature. For example, Carl Sagan in The Dragons of Eden, incorporates the paleocortex –limbic system into what he calls “the R-complex”.  Robert Ornstein in his 1991 work, The Evolution of Consciousness, incorporates the haphazard neurologic expression of one or more of these regions as “simpletons”.

[2] R-complex is the term used by Carl Sagan to denote the brain region with the most primitive tendencies, i.e. “performing dinosaur functions”. See, Sagan: The Dragons of Eden, 60.

[3] Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, 401.

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