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God and Mind: A Psychological Perspective

June 17th, 2014 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 27 views | Print this Article

By Robert DePaolo

Abstract

This article discusses the human tendency to believe in a higher power in an integrative psychodynamic/religious context. The argument is presented that, regardless of the validity of any given religious system, a psychological mandate exists which compels mankind to exert control over his world and to adapt when that imperative is frustrated.

Genesis…

Any attempt to determine just when and why mankind developed spirituality is fraught with complications. In order to draw conclusions on that topic, one would have to take into account a number of neurological, anthropological, social and experiential factors. For example, how large does a brain have to be in order to integrate the cognitive, linguistic and emotional faculties needed to make such beliefs possible? Moreover, even if a brain has that potential, what socio-political phenomena have to be in place before a need for spirituality arises? Would God have summoned Moses to Sinai if the Egyptians had not enslaved his people? Would Jesus of Nazareth have sacrificed himself if not for Roman oppression and his perception that fellow Jews had drifted from the Torah? Even beyond that, did Moses and Jesus have to be of a certain psychological disposition in order to embark on their quest? Such questions are so intertwined as to preclude clear delineations of cause and effect.

One the other hand, whether one is religious, agnostic or atheistic, there would seem to be certain prerequisites in adopting a religious belief.

One requirement, as suggested by Lee (1995) and McArthur (2007) would be a state of duress. This is based on the notion that belief in a higher power derives from a state of helplessness or oppression pervasive enough to prompt the search for a hero or savior among a significant number of people. That dynamic existed during the early development of Judaism and during the early development of Judaism (Clayton, 2006 ) Christianity (Wylen 1995) and Islam (Lapidus 1988).

The question is whether that would be sufficient. For example, religious beliefs were strong during the Davidian era, when Israel wielded considerable power in Judea. In addition, strong religious beliefs existed within Roman society, despite their widespread dominance over vast Eurasian territories.

Despite “duress theory” it is conceivable that the belief in God has little if anything to do with historical forces, and that some fundamental trait inherent in our neuro-psychological wiring lies at the root of a search for transcendence. Some have even suggested that such a belief trait might not be quintessentially human. For instance, anthropological evidence seems to indicate that the Neanderthal peoples believed in an afterlife (Vegas 2011). While evidence for a specific godhead is scant among these archaic humans, it is not unreasonable to assume that if they conceived of a life after death, they must have filled in the blanks about the nature of that spiritual life – including a supervising entity responsible for orchestrating the vicissitudes of life and natural events.

Even more interesting is the possibility that a most basic root of religious belief can be seen in primate social groups, where rank order is essential in maintaining their solidarity. Chimp alpha males and females typically regulate behavior patterns, especially males, by instilling a fear-based sexual taboo through chronic vigilance and assaults on lower ranking males who attempt coitus with females during estrus. The end result is that while lower ranking males find ways to access females in estrus, dominance determines paternity to a large extent (Newton-Fisher, Thompson et. al. 2010). In addition, lower ranking members typically bow in deference before alpha males when the behavior of the former have come into question.

In that context, one could argue that adherence to hierarchical dominance, coupled with evolutionary enhancements in human cognition and language might have made a belief in and need for God inevitable for the human species, not just as a spiritual force but somewhat ironically, as an adaptive cognitive trait for maintaining social order for primates, whose large brains create vast permutations (good and bad) in social behavior patterns.

If that argument has validity, and if the alpha male (or female) comprise primate prototypes for God, one might expect humans to blur the lines between God and man. The historical record lends support to that assumption.

For instance, dominant males were viewed as gods in ancient societies; Ramses of Egypt, Constantine of Rome and Alexander of Macedonia, being among the most prominent. Beyond that, the distinction between earthly leader and God were often blurred even in monotheistic religions.
For example both Jesus and Isaiah were born of human flesh yet were elevated beyond mortal status by virtue of the fact that, unlike most common folk and even lower prophets they ascended into heaven after death to sit beside the Father.

Still, while the hierarchical process might explain some aspects of god worship, it leaves explanatory gaps. The most obvious revolves around the question of why Homo sapiens would need a transcendent god when human gods (alpha males) would be just as functional in sustaining social order and behavioral codes. For that reason, it seems one has to go beyond the primate word to gain a more comprehensive understanding of human spirituality.

Divided Morality…

A complete assessment of the origins and human impact of religion must take into account the various functions of God in a pagan system. The Greek and Roman deities were hierarchical, but also in many ways operated within divisions of labor – an interesting parallel to their systems of republican government.

The obvious flaw in the pagan model is that having various godheads, each with specific function could lead to clash among them – as often occurred in Greek Mythology. Having moral supervisors caught up in endless conflict amongst themselves would hardly be conducive to maintaining socio-moral order. From that perspective, it is not surprising that Monotheism out-lasted paganism as a religious model over time.

Paterfamilias…

Another theory on the origin of religious worship was that of Sigmund Freud. He wrote that God is symbolic of the father figure, whose presence is necessary to restrain man’s violent impulses and maintain social order. (Armstrong, 1993) In some ways this is similar to the primate argument and has similar flaws. For instance it does not explain the existence and historical importance of female deities such as Shiva, Hera, Isis and Duttur – the mother of Tammuz, the Babylonian god of fertility. Nor does it address the fact that males are more prone to aggressive behavior. Having male Gods regulating morals through violent retribution – a trend seen in every religious text, including the Old Testament, (Acts 1:9-12), (Nahum 1:2) wouldn’t necessarily serve as a model of restraint. Clearly the laws and punishments of worshippers would be derived from the behavior patterns of the Supreme Being; as the stoning of adulterers, cutting off the hands of thieves in Mesopotamian cultures point out clearly. In fact, violent retribution was so much the norm in the early agricultural settlements that one has to wonder what modern society would be like today if not for revolutionary thinkers like Jesus, who reached back into doctrinal antiquity to resuscitate the idea of compassion and forgiveness, and Siddhartha Gautama who created a new spiritual template based on a presumed unity among all living things and a life style of simplicity.

Since theories of alpha dominance, father-symbolism, republican-paganism and hero-seeking would seem incomplete in explaining man’s penchant for religious belief, it might be interesting to discuss a more basic, psychological root of spirituality.

A God of Persistence…

As an introductory comment; the following discussion does not preclude the existence of an actual God, especially as a force of nature, not necessarily corporeal or personified but woven into the actual physical universe and certainly into the neuro-functional structure of the human mind.

For purposes of discussion, one can assume that on some level the idea of God is existential. That is, in order for God to exist and impart moral codes to mortals requires communications between himself and his audience (mankind). In other words if God had selected a chimp to climb Mt. Sinai, things might not have worked out so well (please pardon the reductio ad absurdum premise). Therefore one precondition of faith is the potential for a meeting of minds between mortals and God.

The “mortal” side of such reciprocity is a bit easier to explain because it can be found in the makeup of the human mind. Our brains are wired to control our environment. With fronto-parietal circuits in the cerebral cortex devoted to fine motor controls and speech precision, we are not only capable of prompting, categorizing and manipulating our world with language but also of extending such controls from mouth to hands along the motor strip so that we can make tools to actualize those categorical possibilities.

However it isn’t just the doing and talking. It is also a psychic mindset (a kind of internal metric) creating an expectation of control; a notion discussed eloquently by Bronowski (1973) One suspects that in the course of human brain evolution emotional circuits in the limbic brain networked with the control centers in the fronto-parietal catch-area so that feelings of satisfaction or frustration could result from successful or unsuccessful attempts at controlling tasks and circumstances. Lending support to this argument is the work of Mansell (2010) who demonstrated that feelings of pleasure and the onset of psychopathology are very much related to the perception of control or lack thereof.

In that context, there are certain elements of the control dynamic that play out in human psychological functioning. One instance occurs when control is attained and positive feedback signals prompt a pleasurable emotional response. Another occurs when attempts to exert control are frustrated, at which point anger and other negative emotional reactions occur in accord with the classic frustration/aggression mechanism (Berkowitz 1993). A third occurs when continuous attempts at control fail, the actor abandons his behavioral strategy and reverts to repetitious behaviors as a means of overriding goal frustration. The repetition pattern, often referred to in clinical circles as vicious circle behavior, typifies many types of psychopathology (Melvin 1979).

Obviously neither anger nor mere (neurotic) repetition is adaptive since a prolonged state of anger is both emotionally taxing and socially inappropriate. While creating the temporary illusion of control mere repetition seldom leads to response satisfaction.

That is where a fourth and more adaptive response tactic comes into play. It occurs when, after unsuccessful attempts at control, the actor is able to reverse the relationship between actor and object; by in effect resetting an internal gauge. At that point he becomes a function of the original target rather than vice versa. In so doing he relinquishes his status as controller and puts himself at the mercy of external circumstances.

The cognitive transition from the controller to the controlled alleviates tension and is thus negatively reinforced. That is because the feeling of relief resulting from relinquishing control feels good and will be repeated when similar circumstances arise again.

But the process does not end there. Despite relinquishing control the person still needs closure, i.e. some sense that the task will have an endpoint. In order to be deemed a controller, he must be deemed an actor and thus be assigned an identity. For example, the uncontrolled predator who took his son might over time be viewed as a god. The uncontrollable climate pattern would after an extended cold spell, become personified and deified. Perhaps the sun would be deemed a benevolent god, the wind a vengeful god via this conversion process.

In that context, the person would defer to and personify things he could not control, leading to attributions and the search for a hero or entity more powerful than he whose powers could help or harm him.

Still, the idea of faith fueled by psycho-adaptive submissiveness in a creature whose neuro-behavioral features emphasize control does not answer the question of how religious beliefs became so entrenched through the ages despite technological advancements that enables us to increasingly control more aspects of our environment.

One reason might be because science cannot ameliorate the need to exert control in most aspects of life, including relationships, personal feelings and concerns about things that have yet to happen. In other words, science can never keep up with the totality of human experience.

Aquinas’ Conundrum…

Since no single idea on religious origin is likely to be complete, it seems fair to ask what this conversion/submission theory implies about the existence and nature of God? For example, is God real or imaginary? Ethereal or man-made? A human-like figure (with muscles, bones and blood modeled in his image) or an amorphous entity with some sort of mysterious plan mankind might never come to understand?

Such questions are abstract and will probably never be answered definitively. On the other hand, that is what makes speculation so inviting – thus the following.

A Concept…

To begin with, while the word God will be used here for convenience sake, the term God is presumed to be a force, potentially discoverable through physical laws) that regulates the natural world but as an existential entity operates primarily through the operations of the human mind.

Now, with respect to the questions raised above, some answers are ponderable; especially if, as mentioned above, one views God as a driver of human cognition.
In that context, one can assume God was not created by man because man did not create his own mind, or its capacity to reset the neuro-cognitive gauge in reversing the natural tendency to exert control. (One could argue that was the true intended message in Genesis). As for God’s plan, and as a corollary, whether He is inherently benevolent or vindictive, it seems by granting humans a capacity to convert their penchant for control through submission He has revealed both His plan and modus operandi. It is to provide us with the gift of persistence. In accord with that notion, one could presume (for example) that He does not take lives – that’s out of his control. Instead He provides a capacity for mourners to persist in the aftermath of a loss. Nor does He punish transgressors. Instead He provides them with a capacity to adopt a more humble and submissive mind-set in deferring to laws and moral codes. Whether or not they take advantage of that capacity will determine their fate, and is ultimately up to them. (That is where the lines between free will (which most religions accept as a given) and the implied ultra-deterministic governance of a deity intersect.

This speculative account argues that God goads us on, implores humans to maintain their individual and collective momentum. He is more than a mere psychotherapist, yet perhaps his purpose is similar to a process described by Carl Jung, who wrote that life unfolds in alternating patterns of growth and stagnation – laughter and sadness served up like a day to night transition. Those who learn to accept temporary stagnation, indeed use it as a rest period in restoring energy will once again be able to regain control, at which point good deeds and human creativity can once again emerge.

The arguments rendered above are, of course, merely philosophical. They do not address the many questions about the nature of God pondered by theologians over time. For that matter the notion that faith’s origin lies in a coping strategy could be deemed reductionist. On the other hand something within the laws of nature gave us a brain with which to control our world in ways not possible for other organisms.

Such a thrust-forward cognitive style can be both advantageous and detrimental. The same need to create, explore and resolve can also destroy us. For every sky scraper we construct, for every poem we write, awaits a stress reaction in circumstances where control is thwarted. If having the ability to persist and survive by altering our internal dispositions was the only gift from God, it would be not only spiritual but all in all, a pretty good deal.

REFERENCES

Armstrong, K. (1993) A History of God. New York Ballantine Books

Berkowitz, l.. (1993) Aggression; Its Causes, Consequences and Control. New York McGraw Hill

Bronowski, J. (1973) The Ascent of Man. Boston and Toronto, Little Brown & Co.

Clayton, P. (2006) Chronicle of the Pharaohs Thames and Hudson.

Lapidus, I.M. (1988) A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge University Press

Lee, R. (1995) The Superstress Solution. Random House

Mansell, W. (2010) Control Theory and Psychopathology: An Integrative Approach. Psychology and Psychopathology; Theory, Research and Practice Vol. 78 (2) 141-178

McArthur, H. (2007) Faith Can Help People Cope with Stress. Article retrieved April 8, Tuscaloosa News

Melvin, K. Irving, T.K. Prentice-Dunn, S. (1979) Fear-Motivated Vicious Circle Order Behavior Maintained Through Secondary Punishment. Animal Learning and Behavior Vol 7 (2) 185-190

Newton-Fisher, NE, Thompson, NE, Reynolds, C. Boesch, C. Vigilant, G (2010) Paternity and Social Rank in Wild Chimpanzees (Pantroglodytes) From the Budango Forest, Uganda. American Journal of Physiological Anthropology, July 142 (3) 417-28.

Notes: In Nahum 1:2 In the Old Testament refers to an Unchanging God and in the New Testament Acts 1:9-12 there is reference to… A Jealous and Avenging God who would is filled with wrath.

Treanor, M. Erisman, S. Salters –Pedneault, K. Roemer, L. and Orsillo, S. (2011) An Acceptance-Based Behavioral Therapy for GAD: Effect on Outcomes from Three Treatment Models. Depression & Anxiety 28 (2) 127-136

Vegas, J. Did Neanderthal Believe in an Afterlife? Article in Archeology. April 8, 2011

Wylen, S.M. (1995) Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction. Paulist Press

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The Neurology of the Ego: Implications for Diagnosis and Treatment

February 21st, 2014 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 66 views | Print this Article

By Robert DePaolo

Abstract

This article discusses a neo-Freudian view of ego function, as a mechanism not dependent on a specific element of a triadic psyche but as a checks and balances process modulating extreme, unilateral thoughts, emotions and behavior rising quite naturally from multi-access to cognitive templates widely scattered in memory throughout the brain. The argument is presented that self-regulation and impulse modulation (two functions of the ego) require both storage of and access to varied thoughts. attitudes and behavior patterns which by their very diversity, preclude the emergence of extreme, linear non-contextual emotions, thoughts and behaviors. The argument is presented that compulsivity (linearity) rather than anxiety comprises the essential psycho-pathogen and potential focus in psychotherapy.

The Freudian Ego Function…

While Sigmund Freud is presumed to have broken new ground via psychoanalytic theory, his model of the psyche was somewhat derivative. As a young intellectual he was influenced by new and provocative ideas; one of which was Darwin’s theory of natural selection. In ‘Origin’ Darwin wrote about the evolution of various organisms and implicitly about the descent of man. He also painted a less than benevolent view of the natural world in which competition, sexual opportunism, aggression and cunning were essential criteria in determining fitness.

Freud’s theory of personality revolved around this concept but whereas Darwin was concerned primarily with the broader functions of the biotic world and stopped short of trying to explain how humans can be at once competitive, aggressive, sexually opportunistic and altruistic, compassionate and cooperative, Freud, blessed with a psychiatrist’s more comprehensive take on human nature, felt addressing such polarities was necessary in defining the functions of the human psyche.

Darwin wasn’t the only influence on Freud. Other revolutionary ideas were emanating from the field of science at the time as well. One in particular was Helmholtz’s notion of energy constancy – the idea that energy cannot be canceled out, but can only change from one form to another (Cahan, 1993)

In addition to Freud’s sheer genius it was the juxtaposition of those two ideas – energy dynamics and natural selection that provided a framework for the development of psychoanalysis.

This is not to diminish his massive contributions to modern clinical practice because as is suggested in cultural-ecological theory, genius has less to do with the creation of new ideas than with the creating a new synthesis out of old ones.

In developing his model of mind Freud began with two postulates. First, he believed that the mind must be viewed as an energy system that can change form as a result of outside influence – as water changes to ice when frozen and vice versa.

Implicit in his thinking was that the capacity of energy to flow from one source to another (in accord with the third law of thermodynamics) enabled it to move around the psyche depending on need and be drive by experiential mandates, including changes in social norms. It meant that at times, mind could focus on atavistic needs, but then be transferred to other functions as society became more populous, sedentary, agricultural and rule-governed – thus requiring greater behavioral restraint.

It was a brilliantly conceived idea, and one that despite criticism by modern thinkers is hard to refute in both biological and ergonomic terms. That is because the underlying premise of psychoanalysis was that man is part of the natural and physical world and therefore must operate within its parameters.

The Problem – From “What” to “Where” and “How”…

Freud never really attempted to define the psyche in neurological terms – largely because other than Pavlov’s loosely constructed model of the brain (1941) and isolated experiments by Lord Sherrington (1932) not enough was known about the brain at the time. Since he believed there were physiological correlates of the id, ego and superego Freud no doubt would have addressed this problem.

To a large extent that barrier no longer exists, Given current knowledge about brain development and function there is enough information to speculate about how the ego originates, develops within the brain and how enhancement of its adaptive functions can be accomplished in a therapeutic format. The following discussion is concerned primarily with those issues.

The Psychic Grid…

The brain of a child undergoes a number of changes in development. One has to do with a process known as meshing. Between the ages of 6-12 months neural fibers are connected primarily in vertical fashion. During this period the child accrues piecemeal associations in auditory, linguistic, motor and perceptual systems at a rapid rate but these associations are not highly integrated. One reason a child becomes upset over loud noises is because the noise has a singular impact on the brain. Once the child develops more enhanced, integrative cognitive and perceptual capacities it can use attribution to modulate the effect of loud noise; for example recognizing it as the sound of a playful adult or a toy. In that sense associative breadth not only serves as a language reference point but also as a stimulus buffer, potentially ameliorating the impact of what might otherwise be overwhelming inputs.

As brain development proceeds, a meshing process occurs, whereby horizontal fibers cross over vertical pathways, thus creating a grid-like structural and functional system. The grid format creates greater multi-accessibility. It represents a vast cognitive improvement on the previously vertical and experientially raw and narrow processing capacities of the toddler.
As meshing occurs, cross references become more voluminous and at that point what we call experience takes on a whole new meaning. In some ways that is a bad thing, because pure experience becomes swayed and distorted by interfering cross circuits – like a party line in the old telephone systems. Because of the meshing process pleasure, irritation, love and hate are subject to qualifications and confusion. This can blur one’s view of the world, of social relationships and ultimately of self-definition.

In other ways it is a marvelous thing because meshing provides three significant psychological benefits. First, as discussed earlier, it serves as an experiential buffer, taking the sting out of aversive experiences by broadening and diluting them into tolerable perspectives. Due to meshing, funerals can be sad but also mark a celebration of one’s life. Defeat can be disheartening but then become a stimulus to future success. Tragedy can be debilitating, that is until one decides it is God’s will. Then calmness ensues. Thus the neural cross-grid mechanism enables humans to convert experience into more tolerable forms, allowing us to move forward despite setbacks.

A second benefit is that a cross grid brain mechanism forces deliberation. All inputs are, under normal circumstances, cross-referenced. They are in effect gobbled up by the breadth of the grid. That slows down the thought process, makes it more likely that emotion will be accompanied by cognition, gives us time to plan, rehearse our actions, and thereby render them more effective. Postponement of gratification – especially with some expectation of even greater gratification down the road – become possible.

A third benefit has to do with what might seem a drawback to the meshing process – uncertainty. Cross-referenced experience is by definition no longer pure and unadulterated. It is, in a sense, muffled by peripheral inputs. Some byproducts of that integrative tendency are uncertainty, and a substantial expenditure of psychic energy to attain closure on experience.

The temporary irresolution arising from meshed brain interference patterns leads to something called creativity. That is because (perhaps unbeknownst to some modern educators) the human brain is more a conflict-resolving organ than a fact finding machine. It prefers questions to answers and abhors dogma. That is why, a certain trend holds true in the classroom; one of which is that the more the teacher asks, the greater student investment. Conversely, more dictating and pre-resolution tends to diminish student investment.

That mesh-driven tendency to create neural checks and balances, modify experience and foster uncertainty enables us to create not just ideas and skills but to create self-images as well.

All things considered. that should lead to the development of a healthy and functional ego, and people should end up patient, self-aware, confident, organized in thought and behavior, with perspective sufficient to override impulse and ego-centricity. Unfortunately things don’t always turn out that way and that is where a re-definition of the ego becomes relevant.

Neurological correlates – the integrative mechanism…

Research led by Courchet, Polleux et al (2013) offers a more in-depth description of how meshing occurs and why in some instances it does not. He discovered that, particularly in the cerebral cortex, an enzyme known as kinase LKBI transmits a signal to a second enzyme (Kinase NUAKI) which in turn mobilizes mitochondria in immature brain cells. The motility and transference of mitochondria provides the chemical energy needed to produce extension of dendrites across the brain and thereby create the cross-grid effect. Absent that mechanism brain cells remain disconnected or at best meagerly interconnected. As a result, sensory integration is compromised (as are the other benefits of meshing alluded to above). As a side comment; the Courchet-Polleux study noted that a disruption in this process has been observed in autistic and Alzheimer’s patients.

To infer from this that the neural substrates of the ego is genetically, and biochemically driven might seem a bit simplistic; especially since many clients with poor ego development exhibit no apparent neuro-pathologies. On the other hand meshing can be subject no non-genetic influence.

The cross grid connections between brain pathways can also be effected by experience. This can be seen in a triadic interaction within the brain during maturation.

Pruning…

There seems to be a temporal coordination between meshing, frontal lobe development and a restructuring of the brain in general. Frontal development has spurts and lags in child development, beginning in the first 6-12 months and then off and on until just before adolescence, when the largest growth spurt occurs. During these growth stages, there is a concomitant discarding of brain tissue via a process called pruning (Chechik, MeliIjsm et al (1999), (Low & Cheng (2006). Discarding of excessive brain tissue runs parallel to frontal expansion. Under ideal circumstances this should not pose a problem either emotionally, cognitively or in the capacity to integrate experience. That is because meshing and frontal expansion facilitate integrative thought, which makes detail memory less important and allows the brain to be less specific in its analysis of the outside world. For example once a child learns the integrative term fruit, he can, from that conceptual vantage point reference any number of specific details. As a result he no longer needs to establish specific, isolated pathways devoted to memorization of apple, orange, peer, etc. In simpler terms, integrative, conceptual thought, ameliorates a reliance on details in memory retrieval.

The problem with pruning, however is that it is subject to experience and falls under the rubric of use it or lose it. In childhood discarded neuronal cellular pathways are typically those used least frequently. In effect, the brain decides what pathways are essential on a probabilistic basis. Those most often used are retained, those seldom used are discarded. Interestingly, some research has shown that the pruning process is carried out though phagocytosis (Smith 2011 ) – as if seldom used neurons are somehow “viral” and by inference physiologically harmful by their presence on the brain. If this proves accurate it would provide significant insight on the relationship between cognition and neurobiology.

Thus it is possible for the brain of a child who seldom experiences, observes or uses empathic behavior patterns to shed pathways infrequently employed for that purpose. That doesn’t necessarily mean the child will be incapable or empathy as he matures, because the human brain is malleable enough for some pathways to compensate for others. However, it does mean, that like the young stroke victim who regains speech after a head trauma, re-learning empathy will be difficult process. Meanwhile the higher probability pathways are meshed together in development to form new non-empathic neuronal templates.

With regard to the advent of psychopathology, herein lies a problem. Just because neurons that might be devoted to social interest and empathic development, including:
1. An ability to recognize emotional features reflected in facial expressions and voice tone.
2. Expectation of receiving nurturance from others.
3. A history of being reciprocally reinforced for responding empathically to others…
are discarded due to infrequent usage does not mean the non-empathic person operates in a superego-depleted void. More likely is that an intra-personal conceptualization will develop which revolves around the self.

In such circumstance, the frontal lobes might function in a neurologically intact manner but be primed to conceptualize experience in an egocentric fashion – thereby justifying the psychopaths anti-social acts based on his perception of being slighted or victimized. For diagnostic purposes it would signify that ego-centric psychopathologies are not the result of a neuro-experiential deficiency but of a re-synthesis around the self. In other words the superego of the socially detached individual would be presumed intact but internally governed –with conscience and self-preservation/ gratification being two sides of a single coin.

Brass Tacks and Re-definitions…

The pruning process, as it relates to frontal maturation coincides with Freud’s view that the ego is learned through social experience. The difference between his definition of the ego and the one offered here is that this version is ostensibly broader in scope. It is presumed to develop not just to compromise between conscience and impulse but as a facilitator of creative thought, as insulator against aversive experiences and as an uncertainty inducing precursor to cognitive resolution. That has significance with respect to the human evolution model espoused by Freud.

Tools for Survival…

Freud believed the human psyche had its roots in the advent of agricultural civilization. In the sedentary confines of urban settings, families remained intact to satisfy work requirements. Since agricultural production could feed larger groups of people, heavily populated towns rose up which entailed greater para-familial alienation, social conflict and sexual competition. Freud’s assumption was that during this time psychic energy had its first migration from the id to the superego and ultimately the ego.

The neurologically-based ego model here harks back a bit further in time, specifically to the epoch in which homo sapiens – with his fully developed brain of some 1500 centimeters – arrived on the scene. It was during an Ice Age and survival came hard. Fortunately the large brains of our ancestors provided two significant tools enabling them to persist. One was the finely honed circuits around the fronto-parietal lobes supporting enhanced manual dexterity, spatial perception and the oral-motor precision that gave rise to a broader phonetic vocabulary leading to improvements in the crafting of tools, the use of communicative signals for hunting, cooking, making clothes and for the use of fire.

A second tool was equally important. It was a neurologically-driven capacity to distort experience – via the meshing of vast networks, so that pain, discomfort, tragedy, hunger, cold and hopelessness could be diverted. That ego – that capacity for intra-cerebral consultation and experiential modification enabled the inhabitants to press on in circumstances to which their hairless, slender, bipedal anatomies were not inherently suite. In that context, the first function of the ego, according to this model was the creation of hope and futuristic cognition. Such musings are not typical fare in discussions on human evolution but it’s hard to imagine humans coping in the Ice Age without such psychological resources.

Human Nature and the Moral Conundrum…

As mentioned earlier, in addition to its benefits the meshing process serves to distort pure experience. Life per se is edited constantly due to the obligatory intra-consultations that occur in the integrative mind of man. That somewhat curious feature is something of a paradox when it comes to the brain’s structural and functional impact on human civilization.

The paradox is this. The same distortion that leads us to generalize experience –which can take the form of racial stereotyping and hyper-emotional labeling (what Albert Ellis referred to as “catastrophizing” (2001) also enables us to create concepts known as rules, which in the final analysis enhances our ability to get along with one another. Thus human brain development, like everything else, involves a cost vs. gain trade-off.

In that context this model of the ego can be considered both psycho-socially adaptive and potentially problematic since it is forced to compromise within itself rather than acting as detached arbiter.

Theoretical Comparisons…

The question could be asked as to whether the neurologizing of the ego still coincides with Freud’s tripartite model of mind, i.e. as a modulating function amid id and superego. In one essential way it does not.

For Freud the primary psycho-pathogen was un-channeled anxiety. Here it is something else. For example, while an ego that derives from meshing and pruning would have an integrative capacity, both the id and superego would be viewed as non-integrative processes; – not separate elements of mind but a manifestation of networks operating outside the parameters of broad neuro-experiential consultation. In the case of the id, atavistic impulses, including sexual urges, aggression, a-moral opportunism could be described as a reflection of narrowly-driven, piecemeal acts and emotions. Meanwhile, the singularly moral, guilt-laden impact of the superego would be similarly defined as narrowly driven. Both would be typified by psychic tunnel vision.

According to this model, many forms of psychopathology would result from limited access to broad neural consultation and would therefore be described most fundamentally as a form of compulsion. By the same token the treatment of psychological disorders falling under this category would involve a search by client and counselor for broader thoughts, experiences and memories to create a psychic check and balance system and be used as both a here-and-now curative agent and preventative strategy against future breakdowns.

Implications for Diagnosis and Treatment…

While much of the modern literature on psychopathology is veering toward biological root causes, one can apply this model to treatment of the less obviously biological syndromes. The key to such an approach would be two-fold. One component would be to label and confront the narrow interpretations of experience that sustain the pathology. Once the “maladaptive tunnel vision” is discussed in counseling, use of broader labels and attribution can be broached, enabling the client to develop a more broadly consultative psychic system. Increasing neuro-experiential breadth and frame of reference in this phase of counseling could involve traditional sessions, discussions, reading materials, group sessions, or conceivably any other information-gathering mechanism.

A third phase of counseling would be didactic, and it would involve practice in session at re-labeling experiences so as to broaden the intra-consultative capabilities of the client. Once consultative skills improved, not only would the client be able to resolve presenting problems. He could also provide himself with a buffer against subsequent duress for post-therapeutic experiences.

Snags – the Counselor’s Moral Responsibility…

The obvious drawback of such a method would be that clients could learn to intra-consult their way past the socio-moral codes by which most of us live. One of the elegant aspects of Freud’s ego model is that it is both internal (anxiety-reducing) and external (used to accommodate social norms). In that context, it would be up to the counselor to guide the client toward reasonable, rational consultative resolutions that buffer experience, foster creativity but remain consonant with social mores.

Another drawback to this method is that being able to juggle social norms and consultative breadth to facilitate functioning and ameliorate compulsive, narrow percepts, behaviors and emotions would require adequate cognitive and language abilities. In that sense it suffers from the same limitations as most talk-therapies which modern clinicians have yet to overcome.

REFERENCES

Cahan, D. (1993) Hermann Helmholtz and the Foundations of Nineteenth Century Science. University of California Press.

Chechik, G. Merlisjm, I. Ruppin, E (1999) Neuronal Regulation: A Mechanism for Synaptic Pruning During Brain Maturation. Neural Computation: 11(8) 2061-80

Courchet, J. Lewis, T. Sohyon, L. Courchet, V. Liou, D-Y. Atawa,S. Polleux, F. (2013) The LKB1-NUAK1 Kinase Pathway vis Postsynaptic Mitochondrial Capture. Cell 153(7) 1510

Ellis, A. (2001) Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings and Behaviors: New Directions for Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy. Prometheus Books.

Freud, S. (1929) Civilization and its Discontents. London, Penguin

Low, LK. Cheng, H-J (2001) Axon Pruning: An Essential Step Underlying The Developmental Plasticity of Neuronal Connections. Philos. Trans. Biological Science of London 361, 1531-1544.

Note: Regarding Freud and Darwin. As a young medical student on Trieste Freud spent time dissecting organisms under the supervision on Carl Claus, a Darwinist. Later Freud used many of Darwin’s writings in developing the theory of psychoanalysis.

Pavlov, I. (1941) Physiology of the Higher Nervous Activity. Lectures on Conditioned Reflexes. Vol. 2 New York, International Publishers.

Sherrington, C. Histology Demonstration Slides. History of Medical Sciences. University of Oxford Press. Retrieved 2/22/13.

Smith, D. (2011) Brain Devlopment and Decay: More Cannibal Neurons. On line Article in Brain Study: Archives of Neuroscience

Strachey, J. (2001) The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud Vol XXI (1927-1931. London, Vintage

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The Cognitive Singularity: Pleasure, Agreement and the Nature of Mind

January 16th, 2014 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 84 views | Print this Article

By Robert DePaolo

Abstract

This article discusses cognition as a broad phenomenon, not restricted to brain function or organic complexity but rather as a process that is pervasive throughout nature. The argument is put forth that traditional definitions of cognition might be anthropocentric, that cognition and decision making occur even in the simplest biological configurations and that a more fundamental description of cognition can be developed by examining the roles of informational agreement and pleasure in the pre-cephalic natural world.

Cogito Ergo Sum…

Belief in the idea that cognition emanates from a specific organ (the brain) and can only result from a higher consciousness (the mind of homo sapiens representing the apex of such a capacity) has been passed down through the generations. While this discussion will ultimately attempt to refute that notion, it is not without face validity. Of course we are able to think, make decisions, predict and to an extent control our environment. Some have said that is what makes us human, and in some sense, biologically transcendent, (Bronowski 1973).

On the other hand, human cognition is a funny thing. The same capacity enabling us to think about ourselves, or own immortality, strengths and flaws also leads us to internalize experience and funnel it back into an egocentric mode beyond the concrete world. That can lead to flawed ideas on how nature really works. The trick to understanding nature is to divorce ourselves from that mindset, and in order to do that requires an operational as well as linguistic definition of knowledge.

For example, it was a human who conjured up Special Relativity Theory and made it available through literary communication. Yet birds seem capable of adapting to and operating on the principles inherent in it. Thus they can be said to have non-linguistic knowledge about this phenomenon. Similarly, while the architectural designs of Frank Lloyd Wright and Christopher Wren are of human origin, a spider could also lay claim to a non-symbolized but similarly operative capacity. And, while paleoanthropologists have long believed that human civilization resulted from the discovery of agriculture, leaf cutter ants figured out long ago how to plant fungi, wait for it to ferment, then consume it. Furthermore, well before man, insects developed highly complex societies, with fixed roles, social hierarchies and threat-negating group cohesion (anyone who has been attacked by a swarm of wasps after disturbing a nest can attest to that). And while

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The Underlying Dynamics of Psychopathy with Focus on Early Childhood and Adolescence

November 14th, 2013 by Maximilian M. Bolejko | Posted in Disorders and Pathologies | No Comments » | 284 views | Print this Article

Abstract

Integrated in this review are most of the social aspects from past environmental research to more current trends from within the field of neuropsychology, personality, clinical and forensic psychology, biology and psychiatry in order to create a holistic understanding of the underlying dynamics of psychopathy. In despite of its ethical weight, focus was put on childhood and adolescence, even though these areas still remain as relatively uncharted territory because of the notion that children can change. Although it is especially difficult to measure personality traits in children, research seem to be suggesting that several traits connected to psychopathy can be recognized even from one to three years of age. Several case studies, including attempts to disentangle the confusion of DSM-IV classifications and the wide array of diagnostic tools for the condition will also be presented.

The Underlying Dynamics of Psychopathy with Focus on Early Childhood and Adolescence

Acts of violence and deceit are generally appalling to most people, even more so when such acts are of a deliberate nature. Furthermore, most of the conduct connected with psychopathy, often goes unnoticed in our society (Babiak & Hare, 2006). It is only recently that scientists have begun to properly understand the importance of further research on a condition, with a following psychological make-up, that is clearly different to that of the general population (Cleckley, 1941; Hare, 1993). The issue of psychopathy can be traced back to the first large-scale civilized societies, such as the ancient Roman Empire. Possibly the most well-known example would be the conniving nature of Emperor Nero and his alleged attempt of burning down the capital of Rome (Collins, 2010). Today, most of the layman’s intuitive understanding of the condition is mostly contrived out of cinematic or literary fiction, such as the portrayal of cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Harris, 1989). More contemporary examples include such real-life serial killers as Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer. Most people would not hesitate in drawing a parallel between psychopathy and criminal behaviour, yet a large majority of psychopaths are neither violent nor are they incarcerated.

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Neurology and Semantics

October 24th, 2013 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 50 views | Print this Article

by Robert DePaolo

Abstract

A previous article by this writer on brain function involved a discussion of how learning occurs in the acquisition phase, i.e. by a parallel, neural signaling, imitative mechanism. Here the discussion revolves around access to and retrieval of memories and responses, with an emphasis on language functions. More specifically, the assumption is made that the connectivity and relationships among sounds, words and grammar can provide indicators on how the brain processes information and consolidates memory. It is proposed that language skills such as retrieval, cognition and comprehension operate in a way analogous to the flow of energy from high to low resistance, i.e. along a psychophysical “path of least resistance” both between cortex and limbic system and within various neural circuits in the brain.

Signals among the Living…

While researchers and theoreticians such as Chomsky (1998) Pinker (1994) Luria (1966) and Whorf (1942) have written eloquently about the origin and nature of human language, settling in on a neurologically-based description has been difficult. That is due in part to a lack of technology that would enable us to trace the interaction among pathways as language responses are being formulated. It is also due in part to anthropocentric ideas on the distinction between human language and the communicative behaviors of other creatures.

Some distinctions are obvious. The human brain is more complex and therefore so is our language. The chimp, with a brain of roughly 14 ounces has about 15 distinct vocalizations, (i.e a phonetic vocabulary) that it uses to communicate with fellow troop members. The human brain weighs between 35-65 ounces so it stands to reason that our cortically-driven, enhanced capacity to parse and inter-connect sounds would be much greater. The ability to differentiate between and among sounds is every bit as important as being able to produce them through the fortuitously situated human larynx and hyoid bone.

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Autism and the Closure Response: A Discussion of Brain Evolution and Future Treatments

October 3rd, 2013 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 79 views | Print this Article

By Robert DePaolo

Abstract

This article discusses the phenomenon of closure seeking as a mechanism for modulating brain arousal, superimposing structure on the aversive, chaotic dispersion of brain activity and how that process might have influenced the evolution of human language and of mind itself. This concept of mind is used to explain certain behavioral and developmental features of autism.

Internal/External Evolution

One ostensible drawback of Darwin’s theory of natural selection is that it focuses almost exclusively on the interaction between organisms and the environment. That is clearly an important aspect of evolution, particularly in a biological sense, since all creatures must adapt to the climate, terrain, food resources and the competition arising within its ecology.

Yet there is another side to evolution, which is perhaps more in the domain of physics than biology; specifically that all organisms are also systems that can only remain functional and intact through internal biochemical, intra-cellular and intercellular regulatory configurations and interactions. The second law of thermodynamics mandates that all system will ultimately be prone to entropy, but also that the duration of their existence depends in large part on the capacity of their sub-parts to operate in integrative, complementary fashion so that each organ system and each component of singular organ systems are in sync. In simple terms, the organism must have an effective noise-reducing capacity, i.e. a functional means of assuring that messages sent between brain and heart, brain and lungs, hormones and various muscles and bones are not blurred – irrespective of what’s going on in the outside world.

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