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General Epistemology        Chapter V-14       

 

V-14 the functioning of the brain

 

Unlike a computer, the brain has no central unit which would coordinate the activities of the various parts. We may certainly think that the frontal cortex (which is while simplifying our «neural ego» deciding our thoughts, as seen in chapter V-10) plays the role of a conductor, activating or inhibiting the various centres. This is not true, and the best evidence is that these parts can run without it, causing different consciousnesses states (dream, meditation) or degraded states (mental disabilities, drugs). But in no case, the consciousness stops to have varied types of experiences. While if you shut down the main processor of a computer, everything stops.

In more, we need to know that the brain, like computers, has an energy management: blood flow increases in an area of the brain in operation, and decreases in an unused area. Several devices for exploring the brain, such as positron emission tomography, use this effect. But you can see this system operating without any apparatus, for example, while focusing on a simplistic intellectual game (card play, minesweeper, etc.): when the game stops, we feel a desire to continue. It is the effect of the energizing of the area of reasoning. This is the most obvious example, but about all the areas of the life of consciousness produce this effect. The consequences are important: during the maturation of the brain, the repeated use of some areas will lead to their development, while unsolicited areas will remain behind. Subsequently, the use of developed areas will be easier, and the person will more easily use the corresponding faculties of the mind, while underdeveloped faculties will look difficult or unpleasant. This process can explain alone a wide variety of personalities, and even of psychological troubles, without the least genetic or social determinant.

This operation by independent centres without conductor has a significant impact on the way people use the many resources of their brain. According to their initial experiences, people will find easier to use some functions rather than others. Subsequently, they specialize, to the point that seniors can have their cervical arteries ossified, and no longer have the choice. Without going so far, an area of the brain associated with a sense of failure or difficulty will be less used, or even abandoned, compared to an «easy» area. This is what happens for example in school failure, as discussed in chapter V-15 on education.

So each person builds a different brain, and differently invests in the world of the mind (ideas, feelings, activities, etc.). These specializations are personality traits which are much deeper and more radical than tastes or trends in character. Much more than the later, they will determine the choices of the person, as for example the activity. In fact this will determine if the person is rather intellectual, artist, sentimental, manual, curious, home bound, etc. And this independently of his political or religious opinions, which are much more superficial, caused by his tastes or his neurosis.

As an evidence, we saw in chapter V-7 that lobotomy produced different results from one person to another, while it was still destroying the same parts of the brain. These different results are very well explained depending on whether the person used these parts or not.

Drugs act by forcing one of these choices, at the expense of our freedom of choice, precisely. Drugs of the type of tobacco, for example (exciting drugs, cocaine) promote reasoning at the expense of feelings or meditation. This is the very drug of the sociopaths (This does not mean that all smokers are sociopaths), and the reason why dictatorships impose it, and even once the army was offering free cigarettes to soldiers. On the contrary, at the time of the Hippies, it was said that marijuana, and even LSD, promoted aesthetic sensitivity and mind openness. If this was true, today we would have artists and Gandhis in «delinquent districts», instead of cars burners. In any case those who think they had positive effects should check if they were not listening in the same time musics of the kind of «Close to the Edge» (Yes) or «Moondawn» (Klaus Shulze), which highly psychedelic effect is easily verifiable without the dangers of drugs. A well understood spiritual practice also produces very positive effects, without the hazards, cost and dependency of drugs (see also chapter V-7).

 

Since the brain is built by genes, we can expect that genetic defects bring different deficiencies (color blindness is a blatant example). After this idea, neurology has devoted significant efforts into finding genetic causes to the varied mental disorders or disabilities (psychosis, schizophrenia, autism, dyslexia...) without much success. However neurologists did not succeeded into associating many mutations with clearly defined and identifiable brain disorders.

After the model described above, this is not surprising, if people do each their own choice of the faculties of the brain to develop and use. Thus real genetic defects may go unnoticed, if the person does not use the injured centre, or compensates in some other way. Instead, a proven disease may have no genetic basis, if it is the result of only the shyness of the person to invest in this area. Hence the difficulty in establishing links between mental disorders and genes with only statistical correlations.

But it should not either be concluded in the absence of such a link: research must continue, but taking what precedes into account. For example a genetic mutation should translate into a difference in the wiring of neural circuits (few have been identified so far), even if this difference does not translate in statistically identifiable personality traits. But other genes should necessarily code for the electrochemical function of neurons, either in a general way for all the neurons, or for some specific neurons or neurotransmitters. Deficiencies in these genes could then lead to identifiable neurological disorders, which in turn could promote psychiatric disorders.

 

Even the discoveries about the brain of Einstein are misleading: the development of its area of reasoning may only result from the way he used it during his life, without any genetic predisposition. The childhood of Einstein was rather grey, with the exception of his father, who introduced him to the electrical techniques, and a family friend who learned him to love science. However he did not liked the school, where he had to learn things by heart without understanding. Thus he preferred, from very young, to invest in the world of scientific thinking, and therefore he developed the corresponding area beyond the average. It happened the same thing to me, but it is rather the imagination that I developed, and this allows me to write my stories.

 

At last, we saw in chapter V-3 that neurological or psychiatric anomalies could result from the activity of parasites such as toxoplasmosis. But even in this case, the above considerations remain in force: We could not linearly associate the presence of a bacteria or a toxin with a clearly characterizable trouble, from the fantastic capacity of the brain to adapt to its own defects, and to build different personalities.

 

Added October 11, 2014: The mechanisms explained in this chapter were confirmed by a recent study on schizophrenia, by the doctor C. Robert Cloninger, from the Washington University in St. Louis. The study undertook a systematic search of genes (we should say alleles) compared to eight types of schizophrenia. They found no direct relationship with any gene, but when one among eight groups of genes (alleles) were present together, one type of the disease was here also, with a probability of 70% to 100%. Clearly, we are no longer into vague correlations, but into precise relationships. This confirms that brain functions are built by sets of genes, so that there is not one gene for one disease. It is yet too soon to understand the mechanisms and circuits that each of these genes control, but at least research is now in the right direction.

The self-adjustment process of the brain

Like any organ, the brain is built by genes, which give the plan of its whole circuitry, and define the different stages of its growth and maturation. Probably a good part of human genes which role is still unknown (2013) are dedicated to this.

However the only genes are not enough to form a brain in good working order. For evidence, children deprived of human contact grow idiot, or even they die. Therefore, the complete process of maturation of the brain includes in-operation self-adjusting processes, without which many functions would remain unable to work.

An easy to understand example is the optical adjustment of the eye. The eye needs to have its form adjusted with an accuracy of the order of the micron, otherwise we would all be near-sighted or far-sighted. But the only way for the eye to «know» if it fits correctly is that the visual cortex senses a blurry or sharp image. Then this cortex controls a mechanism which adjusts the general shape of the eye, over the months, so as to obtain the ideal setting: an object at infinity makes a sharp image when the lens is at rest. However, many people are still myopic. This is a case where the self-adjustment process fails. Many reasons are invoked, food, behaviour (living indoors) or genetic (the control system is not built properly)

 

Many other adjustments of this kind are also necessary to control gestures of any nature. For example the cerebellum, which transforms our intentions into coordinated movements of all the muscles, has to precisely adapt its impulses to the goal. To do this, it uses the results to guide itself, through our perceptions. This is what is called a feedback. For example to catch an object requires to extend the arm at a precise distance, no more no less. Thus significant adjustments in the cerebellum take place during childhood, such as learning to walk. But the cerebellum keeps a certain plasticity throughout life. We can easily see this adjustment process working, for example when we change of car: the new settings of the commands require some time to adapt, so that neurons and mechanics work again in a perfect combination. These feelings show the adaptation of the cerebellum to a new situation. However, in contrast to the eye, the setting of the cerebellum is purely a neural learning (chapter V-2). This time it is relations between neurons, specifically the synapses (the «wires» which connect the neurons) which will change. The learning of such difficult manual gestures as to play the violin is the result of the extraordinary abilities of the cerebellum.

 

These processes play also in the whole brain and psychology life: many self-adjustments exist, regarding our reactions, feelings, etc. For example we can react more or less aggressive or accommodating to other person's demands. Different settings will lead to different personalities.

However, in the psychological world, feedback comes from the responses of others. And, as with myopia, many causes can distort the result. For example, a person with an ideology (chapter I-9) interprets the reactions of the others after this ideology. So these reaction appear «absurd» to him, or a conspiracy, instead of a legitimate defence. For example the Bolsheviks were seeing a «bourgeois» where there was only a peasant slightly richer than the others. This then leads the ideologue to first assault people, and second use their defensive responses as an excuse to build hatred towards them (this is the basic working of leftist or fundamentalist). Privileges (nobility, money, physical strength...) also introduce a screen avoiding to perceive the reactions of others, which explains very well the greatest prevalence among the privileged of eccentricities, complex of superiority or impudence.

 

Intellectual activity, for example the acquisition of capabilities of reasoning or meditation, also works on the same principles.

 

And, just as with driving the car, we can easily observe these phenomena, and take benefit of them, to develop a free and interesting personality. This is what we do, for example, when we cure a neurosis of racism (chapter V-12). The condition is to practice the minimum of introspection requested for living into today's world. And this is how my general epistemology can be very useful to all those people who do not observe themselves, and wade in a ridiculous psychology which ruins their own lives well before ruining other's.

 

Thus the self-adjustment process of the brain can actually lead to different personalities, independently of the genes. But it can also go astray for various reasons, leading to a variety of sensory or psychological disorders, all independent of genes.

The self-building process of the brain

A collection of individual processes which self-adjust, the concept is quite familiar to technicians. From this point of view, the building of the brain is not very different from the manufacturing of a machine, according to precise mechanical plans, with its steps and its successive adjustments.

 

However the brain likely uses more complex processes: self-building processes, which generate forms or structures by themselves, without any prior plan. This means, in the case of the brain, without genes. Mathematicians study self-building processes, but rather in logical activities (game theory, evolutionary automates) or in physics (generation of forms by chemical or physical processes). The idea of making them create useful logic circuits is much more recent, and I would say emerging.

 

In the case of the brain, these processes could affect how neurons will logically connect between them to form complex systems, which then emerge only from the process of self-building, and no longer from the genes. They could even involve the placement of the neurons (which often migrate from their birth location to their final location). The self-building process can then create from scrap brain circuits that no evolution or no gene ever planned: meditating, exercise free will, read, play the violin, fly an airplane, work in weightlessness, etc. However, these circuits are formed in the same place for everybody, which shows that they are still dependent on the genes.

 

The functioning of the self-building process would be quite simple: some neural messages code for «pleasure» and others for «pain» (In this chapter, we consider only the neurological consciousness, resulting from the activity of the neurons). The message «pleasure» strengthens the synapses which caused it, and the message «pain» weakens them. So, it is well known how pleasant or painful sensations can create physical reflexes from scrap, or neurosis of attachment or repulsion, according to widely studied neurological processes.

 

For this purpose, the centres of pleasure and pain will «label» every sensation as «pleasant» or «painful». (Once it was said that this was the role of the limbic system, and I keep this name for convenience. But today's finer knowledge does not really match the anatomical divisions). But how do they know to make the necessary nerve connections? Well, there are some genetic bases, which make the skin nerve fibres reach the appropriate centres, pleasure or pain. At this level, the errors are rare, evidence that these functions are hard wired by genes.

We also have various hazard detection systems (dangerous animals, fall, attack, excrements, etc.) or detection of useful things (food, flowers, etc.). These systems work fairly well, but there already is some adaptation (food) or variations (tastes, sexual fantasies and phobias). These «failures» have a very «technical» cause: it is better for example to confuse a stick for a snake, and jump for nothing, than the reverse error: to take a snake for a stick and die. The problem is that a nervous centre able of being always right would be far more complex, without bringing more protection. So the evolution has never sought to protect us from false positives, and our nerve centres have a percentage of misfires, of poorly labelled sensations. (We shall see in chapter VI-5 that this is also the cause of sexual variants). These circuits also have a «software» part, learned. More specifically, they need a bit of practical experience to adjust their operation. For example eating a certain food in childhood develop the taste for this food, while others find it disgusting.

 

We are still here in a simple adjustment of functions which are genetically programmed. These adjustments are themselves quite «hard», in this sense that we cannot change them once made. (We cannot change our sexual orientation, or we keep the need for the food of our childhood). But other parts of the brain go much further: they by principle need life experiences to exist or to be built, not only to adapt.

 

Some parts of the brain are not just simple collections of reflexes in parallel, as in the cerebellum, but complex systems, with many interactions and internal feedback. The most important of these centres, the frontal cortex, is, as we saw in chapter V-10, our «neural ego», that is the inference engine of thought, which will produce the sequence of our thoughts, intentions, desires and emotions (in a non-psychoeducated person). Especially, it produces the internal imaging, the movie which continuously takes place in our head with thoughts, feelings and associated emotions.

The big bug at this point is that all the thoughts and inner experiences that this system will produce will arrive in the limbic system, which cannot distinguish a physical experience from a mental image, nor differentiate the associated emotions! The limbic system will then label all our internal experiences as «pleasant» or «unpleasant». (this is the reason why a book, a movie, a video game, a virtual experience, a session of sexual fantasy, may have the same effect as the real experience, modify our psychology, our desires, and even left as much trauma as a rape or torture).

The limbic system will similarly, the bloke, attach its judgements to experiences which do not need any!

Thus, while the consciousness in the process of formation explores all the faculties of the brain, thought, reasoning, feelings, sensuality, body, social life, each time the limbic system will colour all these experiences into attractive or unpleasant. As it has no criteria to do this, but it always does it automatically, it will use auxiliary or irrelevant criteria, such as the context, our mood of the day, the person who offers us these experiences, the breast measurement of the TV speaker, etc.

 

We then understand how this process can be vicious: instead of attaching his «like-dislike» judgement to food or to predators, it will attach them TO OUR OWN BRAIN FACULTIES!

 

And this will have far-reaching consequences: as the very building of the brain's functions depends on neural learning, themselves under the control of the limbic system, these functions will be developed, perverted, distorted or even suppressed, as a result of the wanderings of our inner chatter in the time we discover them! This can occur during childhood, at an age where consciousness is submitted to the injunctions of the brain while being unable of any introspection. But it can also occur later, for example at school: an unpleasant experience associated with a subject can then make this subject itself unpleasant, ruining any hope to master it. This is how we get for instance maths phobia, which becomes a constant handicap afterwards. When we discover political styles or social activities, each time the brain can literally suppress one of his own faculties! (Or conversely, create an attraction toward hazardous or scabrous things). Therefore, we can end up with compassion totally unable to function, or we become unable to get out of a situation of submission...

 

Thus, throughout its life, the consciousness (neurological in this case) will explore the various faculties of its brain, leaving all along its path neurological traces in the form of «like/not like». Subsequently, when a situation requires so, it will pass again in these places, and find the previous traces. It will then tend to prefer or avoid these places, consequently enriching or depleting theses capacities of the brain. It may even build palliative faculties, or even faculties entirely unforeseen by the genes. For example, a disabled person who is learning to paint with the mouth: he built his own circuits, with his self-organizing system.

 

So we can say that the self organization system works in this way: the frontal cortex (our neural ego, random generator of our internal chatter) provides thoughts and emotions, that the limbic system (our sense of pleasure or displeasure) will label. This in turn performs a selection of the capacities of the frontal cortex. The result in many cases is unfortunately a ruthless elimination of these faculties (maths phobia, fascism (phobia of life), insensitivity, submission, etc.). But sometimes it promotes the development of other faculties at a much higher level than the average (artistic gift, reasoning centre of Einstein). This is how the self-organization process of the brain develops sometimes complex or unexpected circuits, and that everyone of us tinkers an unique brain, with its successes and its shortcomings, without direct relation with the genes which produce the wiring of the said brain.

 

This explains the variety of human personalities, and also the incredible defects and perversions we so often find there. Examples:

-Some people like the terrible bite of adrenaline, and watch movies (thrillers, horror) or take risks (dangerous challenges) despite these things are terrible for the majority.

-Some people like the physical sensations of effort (shortness of breath, fatigue) while others hate them. The first then boast to master a «suffering» that they do not feel, while the others feel it! Of course, these others have less good sports results...

-Some people like the abstract concepts of maths, and are comfortable with them. Others need concrete images to understand them, others can simply not.

-Some people have developed a refined sensuality and sensitivity to all the beauties of life, while others pass through life in their world of strategies without purpose, insensitive to others or to nature.

 

(Added on September 19, 2017: experimental evidences.

The French science magazine «La Recherche» of August 31, 2017, publishes an article «All the brains are different» (in french). This is an interview with a neurosurgeon, Hugues Duffau. His experience in brain surgery confirms one of the theses of this chapter, and even beyond: not only do neurons connect differently from one person to another, as I explain, but in more it is not necessarily the same neuronal banks (the same folds of the brain) which are mobilized for a given function! This assignment of neurons can even evolve over time, and reconstitute a lost function following a surgery. Thus, not only can each person construct their own brain, but in addition a given neuron can be (by schematizing) an auditory neuron in one person, and a visual neuron in another. This physical proximity of functions, and even their entanglement in the same place, explains certain hallucinations, when for example a sound produces a sensation of color.

Mental disorders

Neurosis is not a particular functioning of the brain, it is on the contrary its «natural» state. However no evolution has prepared our brain to life into human societies. It is therefore necessary to adapt our brain, with psychological or spiritual practice. This leads to a state of «psychoeducated» consciousness, as seen in chapter V-11. By lack of doing so, we get all the psychological disorders that we see today, which themselves lead to all the social, political or economic disorders which clutter our world. And no one should complain if he made no psychoeducation effort: he just tastes his own kitchen.

Disorders such as autism could be explained as seen previously: for some reason, the limbic system marked social relations as «unpleasant», and so the child does not like to involve in them. (This is only a proposal, because other causes are possible, including genetic, and the scientific debate is far from being closed). Dyslexia may also result from a mere «refusal», but in this case the person is involved in the artistic field, where he then develops faculties above the average.

(The previous mechanism may actually appear as a «refusal», but it is not a conscious decision of the person to push his brain in one way rather than in another. Initially, it is a mere preferences, in a baby who is yet not aware of his free will, nor of the issues. Later, we can speak of a failure of the person to look at things in front, about the pulses of the limbic system. Its operation then matches the unconscious of the psychoanalysts, except that it does not contain anal stage and other freudaines (chapter V-1). Of course, introspection allows to observe these mechanisms, and by this simple fact to thwart them)

Psychiatric diseases could also be explained in this way. In particular, sociopathic disorders result from the inability of the victim to realize that others are also people, or the inability to engage in the world of the emotions. These states could result from aberrations of the brain self-formation process. For instance, if the binocular vision fails, then one eye is «suppressed». It becomes amblyopic, which is a serious lesion: one eye is unusable. The appearance of a sociopathy could happen in a similar way: if emotions or contact with others are not integrated to the personality, then the person becomes «amblyopic of the heart» (sociopath).

Added in December 2014: professional psychiatrists tend to confirm this explanation.

However serious psychiatric disorders lead to alienation, this meaning an inability to perceive reality (delirium, hallucinations). This needs much too profound alterations of the brain to result from a simple personal preference. The best evidence is that medicines can act upon it, while no medicine can change our political opinions or our love desires: there are anti-psychotic medicines, but no anti-Communism medicines. Reasoning in the opposite direction, the psychopathies therefore also result from alterations of the brain, less extensive, but still beyond what the person can correct or compensate. They may have as primary causes some trauma, defective genes, etc.

What about Karma?

In the hypothesis where the child is a reincarnation with a karma (psychology or character predispositions), then this karma could effectively control the maturation of the brain by the self-formation mechanism above. In this way, it may form very different brains, from a single genetic model (or with little genetic variations).

This led to the idea as what certain types of personality could result from the reincarnation of animal consciousness, or even of extraterrestrial consciousness.

Such a predisposition requires, however, that the disembodied consciousness can influence the neurological consciousness, by the process outlined in chapter V-4 for free will.

The question is not simple, because most people show little free will. However the cause is more a series of blockages preventing them to enjoy it (neurosis, ideologies) than a fundamental impossibility. In addition, the physical conditions necessary for free will (chapter V-4) are present as soon as neural networks are formed, which can be at the third month. In the silence of the ideologies and emotions, more the absence of sensations in the uterus, a reborn consciousness could more easily influence the neurological consciousness. This would explain that children take birth with already a personality, or the discreet parapsychological phenomena which often accompany pregnancy and birth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

General Epistemology        Chapter V-14       

 

 

 

 

 

 

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