Brain science is flourishing, but it is yet in its adolescence, with many researchers offering wildly differing theories of the brain/mind connection. This is understandable because there is no such thing as scientific interpretation. All interpretation comes from existing worldviews projected upon data. As brain studies progress, many theories will be discarded, but at the moment there are way too many competing theories for us to cover in a post. Books have been written on this subject, and there is wide coverage on the net.
We have selected one author, Antonio Damasio, to review as an introduction to brain science. Damasio overthrows Descartes’ model of the mind as receiving sensory impressions, which then give rise to ideas. All of the leading Enlightenment thinkers shared this model of mind. Now that we understand that their mind/brain model was wrong, we can more easily understand why their political ideas were wrong. Man does not operate primarily through reason or desire to live in “rational institutions.” Romantics and occultists in the nineteenth century understood this and threw up a web of culture to counter the believers in scientific materialism as progress. Unfortunately, Romanticism ended badly, in Satanism, and the soft occultism of Mesmer also ended badly, in the false psychologies of Freud and Jung.
A line of rather obscure researchers beginning with Pavlov and extending to B.F. Skinner conducted mind experiments that resulted in the modern understanding of mind control and mass persuasion. Understanding how their techniques for persuasion work is an essential component of your self-defense against the modern manipulators, the advertisers and politicians and salesmen and con artists who have proliferated under modernism.
Let’s start with a basic mind/brain model.
Review of Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Motion, Reason, and the Human Brain, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1994.
Damasio believes that science is a series of provisional approximations. Science is neither objective nor definitive. Damsio rebuts the error of objectivity promoted by Descartes using brain studies.
Phineas Gage’s brain injury changed him from an ethical and caring person to an unethical person who did not look out for his own best interest. He became a fabricator of tales. He lost the ability to plan for the future. There was a break with the old value system; it existed as old knowledge, but it was not drawn upon for decision making. Gage’s accident calls into question issues of free will and responsibility linked to brain function. Impaired brain function can remove both free will and responsibility. Brain injuries provide brain scientists with probes into brain function related to mind.
Dissociation occurs when one or more of the elements attention, perception, memory, language, and intelligence diverges from the others to create a consistent pattern of inconsistency. Dissociation is defined as mental illness. (Many naive young people experiment with dissociative states as “pleasurable” and end up dead or addicted to something.) (Surrealism exploited this infantilism in the service of Communism.)
Brain science has concluded that there are no single brain centers for vision, language, social behavior, or reason. Brain function involves systems linking multiple specialized centers. Mind results from the operation of the multiple components as well as the systems.
Brainvox is a computer manipulation of high-resolution magnetic resonance scans. It creates an image of the brain in three dimensions.
Every neuron forms 1000 synapses or more. There are 10 billion neurons and more than 10 trillion synapses. Neurons are modestly connected. Neurons interact in local architecture called circuits, which are joined into systems.
The author’s patient Elliot had something in common with Gage, he made cold-blooded decisions without emotion due to brain injury. Making rational decisions without emotion is a mental defect, but scientists ignore this aspect of their own thinking, and really, very few people criticize scientists for their coldness and lack of humanity.
Injury to ventromedial prefrontal cortices consistently compromises reasoning and emotion.
Everything does not come together in a single site in the brain (the Cartesian theater), although we have the feeling that it does. Knowledge is recalled in the form of images at many brain sites. Explaining the “single image” feeling is a current project of brain science.
Reason requires that many sequences of knowledge be held together in a broad parallel display for an extended time. Knowledge must be in focus (attention) and held in a mind buffer (high-order working memory).
Reason is a special and difficult activity. But abstract reason operates entirely differently from how people make decisions. Damasio questions whether reason really has any survival value.
Damsio’s argument from evolution is that brain subsystems governing reason and decision making must closely interlock with biological regulation to maximize survival.
The images from vision and hearing must connect closely to motor controls or we could not respond to external stimuli effectively. However, the senses are not directly connected with each other or with motor controls. Feedforward projections from various centers travel to processing regions. Signals move both forward and backward and do not ever end at a particular point. Brain processing is continuous.
The Cartesian theater requires perfect registration from multiple brain sources. Time binding: how is the sensory perception achieved that it is all happening at once when the information is synthesized from different processing centers? (One answer is, the processing happens so rapidly.)
All knowledge used in reasoning forms in images. Recalled images vs perceptual images, there is an interplay of memory and perception.
The self is not a little person but a perpetually re-created neurobiological state. Basically, the brain is recording knowledge of the body as background with sensory information as foreground.
Evidence indicates that the brain does not act as a storage system, like a library. Memory is recreated, not exactly reproduced. Frederic Bartlett was the pioneer who proved this.
Moreover, the brain draws from multiple representations to reconstruct memory.
(The fact that memory is consistently altered leaves us in a less solid position with regard to our past. The past is still “open” to us because past information can be processed differently in the present.)
Thought includes symbols, words, and inductions and deductions, but all thought relies on images. Images are the primary mode of knowledge. The production of images is the true unconscious function of the mind. Attention must be selective, but perception is greater than attention, and so one can recall and revisit what one overlooked in a complex experience. Einstein believed that words do not play a role in thought. And he recognized that there was an emotional component in logic, a desire to arrive at logically connected concepts based on analysis of images. Einstein believed that the translation of images into words was the hard labor of the secondary stage of thought.
The human genome does not specify the structure of the brain as there are not enough genes available to determine the precise structure of everything in an organism. We have about 100,000 genes but 10 trillion synapses in our brains. The brain and the whole organism are constantly changing during the lifespan.
(The implication is that we must constantly monitor and care for ourselves because times of neglect or stress have big consequences for our future. An industry devoted to healthy brain is now developing.)
Drives and instincts generate particular behaviors directly. These cannot change much or the life of the organism and the species is in danger.
The basic biological regulatory activity of the brain is probably not knowable, but mechanisms that cause instinctive behavior can be known “from the inside” as they give rise to actions without thought. They are pretty much preprogrammed in, though there can be some different learned responses to different environments.
Good, bad, and other simple value orientations come from the operation of the instincts. This categorization continues indefinitely and is extended to just about everything one encounters.
Strong chemical reactions in the brain may overpower the will and lead to love, death, addiction, and other states that appear fated or magical.
Instincts are checked by culture, which is a kind of codified thought to prevent feeding frenzies, sexual assaults, murders, and other unchecked instincts.
Descartes in Passions of the Soul said that this check is what makes us human. Freud said it was the superego in tune with social norms. Culture and society do not arise from individuals but from social collectives and hence are not primarily biological or instinctive. There is no legitimate reduction of culture or society to biology. There is a genuine social realm and cultural realm where group norms play out.
(Inserting themselves into the cultural and social authority structure is the subversive agenda of Marxism and Cultural Marxism.)
Damasio believes lower animal forms do not reflect but act on instinctual decision making that is subconscious, thus animals do not have a self. But rational decision making is not a function of a “high brain” system as opposed to an evolutionarily older “low brain.” The two brain areas interact in rational decision making.
William James proposed a definition of emotion that involved the body, which helped to develop scientific psychology based on neurobiology, but he did not pay enough attention to the stimulus, and he did not talk about the role of emotion in cognition. There is not a direct relation from perceptual stimulus to emotion but a wide individual variety of responses. There are a few, very few, innately wired emotions, mainly, fear of predators. Beyond these few instinctual emotions are the secondary emotions, which are constructed from a variety of images. These are called “dispositional representations,” and they link with previous experience linking emotion with image. These dispositional representations are individual, but because groups have relatively common experiences, many or most of these emotion/image links are shared by groups.
Feeling is the knowledge of the body state caused by an emotion. An emotion is felt by the body in terms of the mental images that give rise to body changes. There is a big difference between negative and positive emotions in terms of the rapidity of processing and the quality of reasoning. Emotions depend on body states linked with images.
There is a constant background feeling stemming from the present overall image of the body. Damasio believes this background feeling is the self. This knowledge is separate from knowledge of facts expressed in language about the particulars of age, marital status, address, occupation, and other components of identity. (Subjective self versus social self.)
Having an overall image of the body always present in background is efficient as it allows us to bypass the necessity of accessing particular information coming from various body parts and organs.
The body changes in response to emotions, but these body changes may not be the cause of the emotion. The cause is the signaling system in the brain that tells the body parts how to change.