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Autism and Linear Cognition: Neuro-psychological implications

November 20th, 2020 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 2 views | Print this Article

Abstract

by Robert DePaolo

This article discusses the literal, linear cognitive style typically seen in individuals with autism. Similarities between this thought process and the cognitive styles seen in obsessive compulsive disorders, anxiety disorders and clients with traumatic brain injury are considered and dismissed. Meanwhile, autistic linearity is deemed a special kind of cognitive rigidity caused in part by neuropsychological dyspraxia.

Stop and Go Neurology…

Autistic cognition is a difficult subject to wrap one’s mind around, in part because the functional levels of individuals diagnosed with autism can vary so much. While those disparities arguably make the term autistic diagnostically mystifying, if not downright untenable, it is a reality researchers, educators and writers have to deal with. Despite those vagaries, there are fairly pervasive features within the spectrum. One is cognitive rigidity, i.e. the tendency to think and act as though life consists of only ‘stop and go’ thoughts and behaviors. (D’Cruz, Raggino et.al 2013). For the most part autism precludes the ability to see nuance, gray areas of experience, to accommodate changes in routine and to alter behaviors to deal with changes in stimulus conditions and social circumstances. (Watanabe, Lawson, et al. (2019)

Patterns similar to these are seen in individuals with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as organic disorders such as traumatic brain injury. (Whiting, Deane et al. 2017)

The single track mindedness inherent in these disorders results from several sources. In schizophrenia, neurotransmitter depletion blocks the flow of neurochemical activity that under normal circumstances enables it to extend, branch off laterally and integratively and facilitate figure-ground thought and perception (Walz J.A. 2017).

Similar connectivity deficits are seen in traumatic brain injured patients. In their case damage to brain tissue and the superposition of enlarged ventricles (liquid sacks) over synaptic tissue prevents proper conductivity.(Poca, Sahuquillo,et al.2005). That leads to fragmentation, uncertainty and the need for the TBI patient to compensate through cognitive rigidity.

Cognitive rigidity and compulsiveness present differently for the individual with emotional disorders. While cognitive and behavioral tendencies within that rubric vary from person to person there are common symptomatic antecedents. One of which is anxiety.

When anxiety is intense and chronic, arousal levels create rigid fight/flight tendencies. Those high levels of arousal mobilize what Cannon called emergency reactions on such a regular basis as to block integrative thought. (1932). By analogy, rather than seeing both forest and trees the hyper-anxious individual is forced to attend to narrow stimuli he perceives as threatening.

The picture changes a bit with regard to autism. I believe this is largely because of the language factor. The typical diagnostic criteria for autism include substantial language deficits. In discussing that factor it is helpful to consider both the neurological and functional aspects of language.

As Luria and Trotsky have pointed out, language is both an external communicative faculty and an internal, regulatory faculty (Derovesne (2011). Seldom discussed is that language functions seem to extend beyond the social and interpersonal domains. They also help to maintain neural stability.

The human brain is vast, with billions of neurons and many billions of connections among and between those neurons. That provides advantages: for example enabling us to label and distinguish between and among a wide variety of phenomena, to research, combine and separate objects and conceive of relationships within the natural world. In the process we can create that marvelous thing called culture.

However, there is a drawback. With billions of neurons sending signals around the brain each experience will entail potential confusion or… “noise.” That noise must be modulated or the vastness of the brain would be highly disadvantageous.

In that context language seems function as a search light in the brain, providing focus and closure through the neuro-symbolic targeting of circuits that separate event-relevant networks from circuits that are peripheral to any given task at hand.

There are several means through which modulation is provided. One is through the binary mechanism of excitatory and inhibitory neurons. (Lakna 2018) One type halts conductivity, the other stimulates conductivity. As long as the brain can coordinate the timing of the two ( for example when certain neural clusters are activated, others inhibited) it is possible to engage in effective thought and behavior patterns.

Some timing comes from brain wave activity: the rhthmic quality of which seems to have a probative effect on learning and memory (Pribram, 1971). However, much of it comes from learning. With experience, the brain establishes fixed circuits corresponding to learned behaviors and cognitions. If circuit A stores the memory for turning on a faucet, circuit B will not. With learning circuits become functionally differentiated so that with added experience one doesn’t interfere with another. Somewhat ironically, human learning (ostensibly deriving from the vastness of the human brain) actually occurs by reducing the effective size and volume of the brain through the process of elimination. This is seen in the course of cognitive development.

In child development the first year is characterized by longitudinal connections within the brain. During that phase simple associations are accrued and the child shows a rigid cognitive style.
Around age two a branching process begins, whereby neural connections spread around the brain in multi-dimensional manner. In effect the single neural highway of year one becomes a multiple series of off-roads and bypasses in the second year. (Lenrout, Giodd 2007). Interestingly around this time the child also begins to develop a sense of self. This comes about because in being able to crawl, then walk, he finds he can move toward goals without being carried by another person. He becomes functionally, motorically separate from the caretaker. Rather than being merely a symbiotic extension of mom or dad, he becomes a distinctive “me.” From that sense of self comes what some have referred to as a “theory of mind,” (Korkmaz 2011). Being able to separate himself from others psychologically allows the child to understand that being separate means others can be studied, imitated and learned from. In a sense, they become objectified, didactic vehicles.

The motor aspect of self development is not the only determinant of self and other perception. Language development (which also occurs during the first and second years) is even stronger. With increasing language capacities the child can gain and enhance a sense of self, and develop a theory of mind.

Interestingly, language development also depends on the branching mechanism that occurs between the first and second year. With a disruption in that branching process there will tend to a deficient sense of self, and of others. The child will lack a theory of mind and will tend to think and act in terms of the first associative stage of neural development featuring chained, linear associative behavior and cognition.

Linearity is not the only factor in autism. Without the benefits of fluid neural branching the brain of an autistic individual will be prone to intensive and pervasive noise. Arousal episodes will be excruciating, which can make learning new tasks highly frustrating and produce an avoidant mindset. That has educational implications. The learning problems seen in autism often lead to high power teaching methods that can elevate arousal levels, which are the autistic child’s Achille’s heel. in that sense it is not surprising that some research has shown hat for some autistic students, attempts at new learning are often accompanied by arousal induced behavior problems and even seizure activity. (Billeci, Tonacci et al 2018), Prince, Kim et al (2016).

Because the preferred state of arousal for autistic individuals is manageably low, they will tend to resist new teaching and when prompted to cooperate will do so by use of self-regulatory behaviors such as behavioral perseveration, hand flapping, humming, rocking etc. These seem to be monotony/stability restoring behaviors to offset the noise and concomitant arousal in the brain.
Note, here the word ‘arousal’ doesn’t necessarily refer to spike activity or excessive autonomic activity. It refers more generally to unresolved neural activation, i.e. a disproportion between arousal ands closure – what Goldstein referred to as the “catastrophic reaction” (Klonoff, Lage et al 1993). It is possible that in addition to controlling arousal levels these behaviors are used as a substitute for language regulation; indeed might be a form of para-linguistic expression.

As seen in the psychiatric therapeutic process, language is a soothing mechanism, not just because it can talk us into equanimity by relabeling stressful events but because it can ameliorate noise within the brain. That suggests without language the individual will tend toward an intently avoidant mindset.
Some individuals with autism have language but it is topographically similar to their behavior patterns, perhaps featuring a lack of contextual understanding, a proneness to literal cognition and difficulty augmenting language with peripheral communicative gestures (facial and manual expressions) and body language. (Grafton (2013).

In line with the above factors it would seem a central issue in autism revolves around why they think and act in linear fashion.

The answer is not clear, at least neurologically. It is obvious that cross connections that in the normal brain allow for the multi-access among neurons and provide for conceptual thought and contextual cognition. But just why those interconnections are blocked in autism is unknown. Possible causes could be neuro-chemical, related to tissue damage or as some have suggested caused by a hyper-volume of neurons in the brain resulting from interruption of the “pruning” process in childhood, whereby deletion of neurons occurs to streamline the brain and facilitate access among various brain sites. (Pederson, 2018).

Still, another possibility is that since navigating fluidly among billions of neural connections requires extraordinary coordination among expiatory and inhibitory neurons, there is some something highly dysrhythmic about the autistic brain.

What creates the rhythm and orchestration in the brain? While language serves that purpose (all languages, including human language have cadence and sequential, orderly grammatical features) even that would require a governing mechanism. Might it be found in aberrant brain wave activity, or perhaps in a tendency toward double firing in the sensory motor domains so that feedback is not registered properly?

The idea of redundant or skewed feedback in autism has been discussed in the past. (Mosconi Mohanty et al 2015). In fact sensory instruments with delayed feedback have been used with autistic populations with some but certainly not overwhelming success. Such double, redundant or diffuse neuronal firing would be consistent with excessive-neural volume in the brain since neural systems would tend to collide and replicate rather then parse efficiently in the course of learning.

Another question revolves around whether linear cognition is a built-in feature of the autistic brain, forcing them both structurally and functionally to think and act that way, or whether linearity is a compensatory cognitive style used by the autistic individual to control extreme arousal diffusion as the brain addresses the normal figure/ground, conceptual features of the environment.

I tend to believe much of autistic behavior and cognition is an attempt at adaptation by a fragile central nervous system that lacks the inhibitory/excitatory neural orchestration to address the world in normal terms. Once again, this suggests autism is primarily a severe form of psycho-neural dyspraxia.
In a previous article I referred to a prime cause of autism through the idea of the “Bad Maestro.” I still believe autism is a most fundamentally a profound type of dyspraxia. Whether this has any validity can only be determined by research on the coordination among impulses in the brain following stimulus presentations. Whether this is valid there is no structural reason why autistic people would lack language ability. Their hyoid bones are present, their larynx is situated normally, and they do not typically display hearing loss (Beers, McBoyle et. al. 2014). Absent such deficits a significant factor could be a deficient orchestration mechanism that can juggle some 25 billion neural connections efficiently enough to produce flexible cognition, contextual emotions and normal language.

REFERENCES

Beers, A. McBoyle, M. Kakande, E. Santos, R.C. Kozak, K. (Jan. 2014) Autism and peripheral hearing loss: A systemic review. International Journal of Pediatrics 78 (1) 96-101

Bellici, L. Tonacci, A. Narzisi, A. (May 2018) Heart rate variability during a joint attention task in toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Frontiers in Physiology 9: 467

Cannon, W. (1932) Wisdom of the Body. U.S. W.W. Norton & Co.

D’Cruz, A.M. Ragging, M.E. Mosconi, W. Shrestha, S. Cook, E. Sweeney, J.A. (2013) Reduced behavioral flexibility in autism spectrum disorders. Neuropsychology 21 (2) 152-160

Derovesne, C. (Sept 9 2011) Speech and regulation of behaviors: The works of LS Trotsky and AR Luria. Geriatric Psychological, Neuropsychiatry. (3) 355-362

Grafton, A. (April 23, 2013) Study reveals linguistic deficits behind autism children’s difficulties understanding other people. Article in Autistic Spectrum Ret. April 23, 2013.

Klonoff, PS. Lage, GA. Chiapello, DA. (1993) Varieties of the catastrophic reaction to brain injury: a self psychology perspective. National Library of Medicine 57 (2) 227- 241

Korkmaz, b. (2011) Theory of Mind and neurodevelopmental disorders in childhood. Pediatric Research. 69 (5) Pt. 2 101R-8 R

Lakna, A. (Sept 11, 2018) Differences between excitatory and inhibitory neurons. Article in PED IIA.

Lenrout, R.K. Giodd, J.N. (2007) The structural development of the human brain as measured longitudinally with magnetic resonance images. In Loch. D. Fischer, K.W. Dawson, G. (eds) Human Behavior, learning in the human brain; typical development. Guilford Press.

Mosconi, M. Mohanty, S. Greene, R. Cook, E. Vaillancourt, D. Sweeney, J. (2015) Feedforward and feedback motor control anomalies implicate cerebellar dysfunction in Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Pederson, T. (2018) in Autism poor “pruning” of neurons leads to excess synapses. Psych Central

Poca, M. Sahuquilla, J.Mataro, B. Bentham, B. Arikan, F. Baquena, M. (2005) Ventricular enlargement after moderate or severe head injury: a frequent and neglected problem. Neurotrauma Nov. 22. 1303-1310

Pribram. K. 1971 Language of the Brain: Experimental Paradoxes and Principles in Neuropsychology. Englewood NJ Prentice Hall

Prince, B. Kim, E. Wall, C.A. (2016) The relationship between autistic symptoms and arousal level in toddlers with Autism Spectrum Disorder as measured by electrodermal activity. SAGE Journals

Walz, J.A. (2017) The neural underpinnings of cognitive flexibility and their disruption in psychotic illness. Neuroscience March, 14 34 203-217

Watanabe,T. Lawson, R. Walden, Y. Rees, G. (2019) A neuroanatomical substrate linking perceptual stability to cognitive rigidity in autism. Journal of Neuroscience 39 (33) 6540-6534

Whiting, D.L. Deane, F. Simpson, G. Ciarochi, J. (2017) Cognitive and psychological flexibility after a traumatic brain injury and the implications for treatment in acceptance-based therapies: A conceptual review. Research Online – Faculty of Social science – Papers

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Essay: Quantum Neuro-psychology: Brain Function and the Photo electric Effect

October 25th, 2020 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 1 views | Print this Article

by Robert DePaolo

Abstract

This article discusses a possible relationship between the photo electric effect (which deals with the influence of particle wave frequencies on the release of electrons through energy infusion) and the way neutrons are coalesced in fixed circuits to facilitate learning and memory.

As a central theme it is useful to point out that certain features of the natural world attributable to the laws of physics also guide brain function. One such feature is energy transfer. While often difficult to define – because it is something that creates effects rather than being an effect, energy drives everything in nature. Given Einstein’s ideas on the reciprocal relationship between mass (matter) and energy one could argue that it is the sine qua non of existence. One of the more interesting aspects of Einstein’s work derived from the previous work of Maxwell on what came to be known as the photo electric effect. In sense this introduced the world to quantum physics

The Quantum World…

A discussion of Quantum physics can be rather complex, since the topic extends to everything from the measurement of particle momentum and location to the nature of reality itself. As a result, for the purposes of this paper, I will narrow discussion to the ways in which particles and waves interact to produce energy.

There is a long-standing debate in the field of physics regarding the nature of matter at the subatomic level. The prevailing question is whether all elements within the real world are made up of discrete particles (things with distinct parameters – like a enclosed circle or disc with shape and border) or whether the world is most fundamentally comprised of more fluid, less stationary entities called waves.
The argument has persisted over time because when trying to measure/trace both the location and path of particles – as one would with a large scale object moving through space, it has been impossible to determine both where they begin and where they end up. It is as if nature played a trick on her most observant species by creating one set of laws for law-abiding large objects and another for the recalcitrant microcosmic word. A comparison between the large scale and particle world is indicative. For example:

A batter hits a baseball. It travels at a certain speed through the air. It’s mass determines how much gravitational drag will be exerted on it and from that and other factors (such as its exit velocity and wind resistance) its ultimate location can easily be determined. Any decent outfielder can do so without a calculator. The baseball is a discrete object. However in dealing with particles that predictability breaks down. Rather than beginning in one place and ending up in another, particles seem to spread – as though they aren’t really singular entities

Making things even more curious is that as soon as we determine the location of a particle we lose track of its path. One can’t tell where it has gone or if it will end up at a particular destination. By the same token if we are able to determine its path we are unable to determine what was its initial location. It doesn’t seem to “travel” so much as radiate. Experiments involving this phenomenon have come to exemplify what is known as Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty. The inability to trace the path of light with any exactitude has led many physicists to conclude that light is a wave, that the concrete, particle-like assumption of photons (and perhaps all matter) is an illusion.

That would seem to make sense, because while light has been described as wave and particle over time the wave definition would seem to offer a better fit with the uncertainty principle – for the following reason

Waves disperse – they are not discrete. They do not really begin or end anywhere in particular. There is no way to determine the ‘location” of a wave when one tosses a rock into the water. There is just an immediate radiation outward, A wave has only movement, peaks and frequencies. The peak refers to the height of a wave, the frequency pertains to its speed or momentum. Typically, the faster a wave moves the lower its peaks. Because it takes more time for a high peaked wave to rise up and return to a flatter state it is unusual for it to be both extraordinarily high and fast. That is why powerful tidal waves need not be high, in fact are often fairly low. It is their momentum that generates the power that is so destructive. Waves with a lower crest, have that low peak because the speed of momentum mitigates against time-consuming high peak rises and falls.

While confusing, there could be a potential solution to the wave/particle question – even if one assumes light consists of particles (photons)

As Einstein asserted, photons act like particles and as such can also be in compliance with the uncertainty principle. They have no mass and always travel at light speed. At light speed no time elapses in accord with Special Relativity. While the student of physics it taught that light travels at a specific speed (186,00 miles per second) that is our measurement of its speed not the time lapse of the photon itself. The photon does not experience time, which is one reason it does not decay.

Since time does not lapse, neither can space be traversed. With no true sense of space, there cannot be any sense of distance, which means light (photons) can be anywhere at any time. Because it can travel along multiple paths simultaneously measurement by time-bound human tools and the human mind are an uncomfortable scientific juxtaposition of apples and oranges It would seem to be an instance in which the evolution of the human brain adapted to the large scale world simply was not tested and honed by the microscopic elements of nature.

Those explanations would seem reasonable if not for the fact that particles with mass such as electrons also obey the uncertainty principle. That is in part why the particle-wave debate has been so fervent over time. While the wave argument makes sense with respect to massless photons it seems incongruent with the behavior of particles with mass. That has led to various explanations of the particle/ wave conundrum.

Some, such as De Broglie have suggested everything in nature consists of particles and waves in a tandem. In his pilot wave theory he asserted the reason larger bodies have definite locations and do not “super-wander” or radiate is because their mass results in gravity pulling in their wave functions to create location and movement specificity. In other words, gravity (which increases with mass) centralizes…or collapses the wave function. Because more massive objects exert more gravitational force their wave function is shorter – like a very tiny tail rather than a long bushy one. Others, such as Roger Pen rose have suggested everything consists of waves only and that solidity/particularization only occurs when at some point in the wave activity gravity creates a pinpoint of the wave – possibly the crest, giving the illusion of mass, locality and specific movement.

Beyond the peculiar characteristic inherent in uncertainty principle is another feature having to do with how particles interact to produce energy and movement. The classic example of this is seen in the effect of photons on the movement of electrons. As referenced above, Einstein and Maxwell worked on this (the former influenced by the latter). In trying to determine whether matter consists of waves or particles they studied the photon, which, as discussed above has been alternately viewed as a wave and a particle. Einstein proved that it had particle qualities by the following method.

Speed and Bounce Dynamics…

Electrons typically bind to metal. In one experiment designed to release electrons, Einstein flashed photons at a metal sheet and discovered that bombardment of the photons provided energy that enabled the electrons to escape from their “metallic captivity” However this (photo-electric) effect only occurred under specific circumstances. Einstein found that bombarding the metal sheet with photons at a low frequency did not release electrons. Indeed, no matter what volume of low frequency photons was cast on the metal sheet no energy transfer occurred and no electrons were liberated.

That was significant because volume of force does produce cumulative energy in all other aspects of nature. If a baseball is tossed slowly at an aluminum screen it will put some degree of dent in the sheet. While tossing the baseballs with greater force will incur more damage to the screen, some damage will continue to occur even with slower tosses, through an additive affect. If one keeps tossing baseballs at the aluminum sheet damage will add up. It is analogous to the process of erosion.

Einstein discovered that the particle world does not work like that. While endless amounts of photons at low frequencies could not produce the energy required for electron release, even one photon sent to the metal sheet at a high frequency did release electrons.

This signified that the speed of transmission was the real energy producer, that it could create, pinpoint, release and stir up the entire cluster of electrons to create an effect. That process seems to have relevance, either in an analogous or real, functional manner to how the brain operates. One way to discuss such parallels is the following.

Webb’s Reverberating Circuits…

Neuro-psychologist Donald Webb offered an idea of how learning and memory are consolidated. His model was based on the idea of ‘reverberating circuits’. His assumption was that in the learning process neural connections that eventually give rise to fixed associative loops are initially loosely formed with few or no circuit parameters. With time and repetition however certain neural loops become increasingly isolated and distinguished from the surrounding neuronal configurations. In effect, during the learning process, there is electrical energy impingement which stirs things up until particular circuits become fixed and differentiated from surrounding neuronal fields.

This is consistent with information theory tenets (which govern all information systems, including the brain) whereby information attainment always involves the extraction of information from a state of noise – or uncertainty.

One parallel between how neutrons, electrons and photons interact can be seen in the speed/frequency factor. Enhanced speed of the photon produces the energy that releases electrons from metal sheets. Similarly, the enhanced speed of neuronal electrical activity leads to the release-distinction of certain circuits from general brain mass. This is governed by rapid brain waves which occur during the establishment of learning and memory. The comparison is not without substance.

In the the photo-electric effect, the high frequency bombardment on metal is in the blue spectrum (the red is slow) With regard to the brain, the highest frequency wave bombardment on neuronal circuits derives from gamma and beta waves (theta and alpha being slower). Gamma waves are the most rapid and are involved in extremely fast-paced, intense mental activity. Beta waves are a bit slower but high frequency enough to facilitate and enhance focus, attention span and memory. In effect, gamma and beta waves facilitate the “trapping” of neuronal circuits into learning sets and memories

Most relevant to this paper is that, with regard to the photo-electric effect, the high frequency photon bombardment could only release electrons by creating a focal impact. Just as the baseball toss could only make a dent in the metal sheet by impacting at specific sites, so must the photon produce impact locally to release specific electrons from the metal surface. In that sense the word “bombardment” might be less descriptive than the word “circumscribed impact.” In simple terms, energy has to be localized to have an effect, that is, target areas differentially to exert an impact. In many ways that ties the photo-electric effect to the ways in which neuronal clusters are formed in the course of learning and the establishment of memories.

In a neurological context, the establishment of memories is also a narrowing process, where cellular localization must occur. There are several reasons for this. First, if not for a localizing process the noise factor resulting from myriad circuits blending in would make retrieval difficult if not impossible. Second, it would be difficult or impossible for incoming perceptions and associations to gravitate toward relevant neural memory packets (categorical associations) to build on the knowledge base.

So far parallels have been drawn between the photo electric effect and the process of learning and memory consolidation. The question is whether both phenomena derive from the same process. That is, do learning and memory involve particle interactions dependent on speed of transmission, localization and the physical separation of relevant brain circuits from the surround?

It is clear that the electrical activity in the neural transmission process is guided by electrons. The process by which this works appear to be roughly as follows. The initial speed of neural transmission is slow – nerve impulses travel much more (slowly) than do particles in different circumstances. However that is in part due to the volume of cells in brains. Even the brain of a fruit fly has a hundred thousand neurons. In humans, it is more than a million times that. With the initial impingement of neurons into receptor cell bodies transmission is slow due to the noise factor inherent in having to negotiate among many neural circuits prior to memory consolidation. With repetition, however the registration of specific circuits becomes clearer. The pathways between stimulus and response encounter gradually less resistance and become more streamlined. That results in the increased speed of transmission as learning begins to solidify. Once the circuits for a particular learning set or memory are established the transmission is faster and more direct. At that point, the energy focus is intense enough to facilitate retrieval efficiently. In effect, noise is almost completely (but not totally) eliminated.

This gradual reduction of interference/resistance is analogous to what occurs with the flow of particles, and with the premises of the various pilot wave theories, with one exception. In the pilot wave model it is assumed the conversion of a wave into a particle results from the collapse of the wave due to gravity. In other words gravity pulls the variable motion of the waves into a more central location, i.e. gravity provides stability and systemization – as it does for all of the universe.

In the neurological example, it is not gravity per se (though that would have to be involved to some extent) that brings focus to the memory circuit but the enhanced energy that results from an increase in speed of transmission as learning sets become streamlined, and in effect, interference-free.

One obvious flaw in this idea is that photons do not appear to play a role in neural transmission. However electrons have a substantial wave function and behave in ways similar to photons. Moreover, the root of this concept seems intact; because ultimately it attributes both electron release and the development of neural circuit specificity to energy dynamics.

Indeed, it is arguable that the neural model of a photo-electric-like effect is more consonant with the basic laws of physics. For example, consider that photons have no mass. Because of that they exert no force per se. They can bounce off metal sheets all they want without damaging or in any way changing the structure of the surface. If their influence is so vacuous, why the photo-electric effect? Perhaps it is because photons are constantly in motion and movement is the sine qua non of energy. Indeed, one definition of energy has to do with the capacity of any entity to produce work – which requires motion.
In that sense, the distinction between photon and electron dynamics might be less consequential. Both move, both provide energy. Since learning and memory both require a change in energy dynamics in the brain, a narrowing down of impact from the general to the specific (i.e. localization) the comparison between the photo-electric effect and neural activity that produces memory circuits might be valid. All of this is of course, speculation, but if the brain can be considered a component of nature, it is possible that at the most basic level it adheres to the same laws.

REFERENCES

Afshar, S.S. (2007) Paradox in Wave-Particle Duality. Foundations of Physics. 37 (2) 295

Cover, T.M. (2006) Information Theory. Wiley-Inter-science 2nd Edition

DeBroglie, Louis (1970) The Reinterpretation of wave mechanics. Foundations of Physics 1 (1) 5-15

DeBroglie, Louis de. (1929) The wave nature of the electron Nobel Lecture

Hebb. D.O. (1961) Brain Mechanics and Learning. London. Oxford University Press

Hilgevoord, Jan. (1996) The Uncertainty Principle for energy and time. American Journal of Physics 64 (12) 1451-1456

Kumar, M. (2011) Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate about the nature of reality. W.W. Norton & Co. p 242

Penrose, R. (1996). On Gravity’s role in quantum state collapse. General Relativity and Gravitation. 28 (5) 581-600\

Towler, M. (2009): DeBroglie-Bohm in Pilot Wave Theory and the foundations of quantum mechanics. Universitty of Cambridge Press.

Veisdal, J. Einstein’s paper 1905 on the photo-electric effect. Einstein Essays. August 2019

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The Benefits of Anxiety Counseling

June 21st, 2020 by admin | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 37 views | Print this Article

Anxiety is an issue that troubles millions of people all over the world. There are many different types of anxiety disorders and some people are more affected by them than others. However, no matter what kind of anxiety you’re dealing with, or the severity, your goal is likely to lessen it. One of the main ways you can do this is through anxiety counseling.

What is Anxiety Counseling?

Anxiety counseling is when you talk to a trained professional about your anxiety issues. Because anxiety is a mental condition, it is often helpful to discuss your issues with a neutral third-party. Just like you would go to a doctor for a physical problem, like a headache or broken bone, going to a counselor is often one of the best things you can do for anxiety.

According to Dr. Piper Walsh, a provider of anxiety counseling in Orange County, California, “Professional counseling offers a safe environment that allows us to explore our thoughts, feelings, and hopes with the advice, guidance, and insight of a professional.”

But what are the specific, concrete benefits you can expect to get from anxiety counseling? Below are just a few of the most common benefits.

Stress Relief

The first major benefit of anxiety counseling is stress relief. When we are dealing with difficult emotions, it can all become bottled up inside us. If you don’t have a healthy way of dealing with your stress, it can quickly take a heavy toll on you. Anxiety counseling gives you someone to talk to and air out everything that is stressing you. Many people find that after a counseling session, it feels like a large weight has been lifted off of their shoulders.

Confidence Building

For some people, their anxiety keeps them from doing things they would like. This avoidance leads to a feeling that they wouldn’t be good in a particular situation. For example, someone suffering from social anxiety may avoid going to parties with their friends. Their anxiety tells them that there is something to be afraid of at this party, and as a result, they don’t go.

Anxiety counseling can help individuals analyze these fears, then build up the confidence to overcome them. The anxiety counselor may give the client some exercises designed to build up their own self-confidence. After a few therapy sessions, they may feel better about themselves, and be able to attend that party.

Having confidence is an important part of progressing through life. You need it whenever you are looking to try something new, like get a promotion, start a new relationship, or begin a new project. Through anxiety counseling, you can slowly build up your confidence in key areas, so that you can finally start doing those things you’ve been wanting to do.

Improved Health

We often don’t realize it, but stress and anxiety, while mental conditions, can have a large impact on our physical health. It’s not uncommon for someone suffering from anxiety and stress to feel tired or sluggish throughout the day. Anxiety can also cause bad habits, such as smoking or over-eating unhealthy foods. By addressing the root cause of these problems, you can start to live a healthier lifestyle.

Develop Healthy Habits

To really deal with anxiety, it’s often about taking the next step, rather than just the first one. Many people are able to get a handle on things, only to slide back into bad habits a few weeks or months later. Keeping up with anxiety counseling sessions can help you to establish healthy habits so that you don’t find yourself in the same place somewhere down the line.

An anxiety counselor will give you the tools you need to establish these healthy habits, then check in with you to ensure you’re practicing. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’ve reverted back into bad habits and it takes a therapist to point it out to you. By taking the time to develop these healthy habits, you can set yourself up for long-term success.

Potentially Avoid Medications

Finally, anxiety counseling may prevent you from needing medications. While anxiety medications are helpful in some situations, they can also cause some side effects. If you are able to manage your anxiety without medications, this is usually preferred. Regularly attending anxiety counseling sessions is a great way to get to the heart of the problem, so that you can work on yourself without having to rely on medication. Then, if you’re still having trouble, you and your counselor can discuss medication options that work in conjunction with your therapy.

Get the Help You Need

If you’ve been struggling with anxiety, you owe it to yourself to consider anxiety counseling. There are numerous benefits that can change your life for the better. We all deserve to be happy, so if you think a counselor may help you, find one in your local area and set up an appointment.

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Evolution and Information; A Theory of Origination

June 18th, 2020 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 22 views | Print this Article

Evolution and Information:
A Theory of Origination

by Robert DePaolo

Darwin’s theory of natural selection comprises the most widely accepted scientific explanation of how organisms originated and evolved over time. While aspects of his theories in Origin of the Species were more complex than some modern characterizations suggest the idea can be whittled down to a kind of reverse causation. While science typically emphasizes the deterministic model – the notion that causes precede effects, natural selection holds that there is no cause, or central theme (biological or otherwise) in the origin and development of species. Instead the process unfolds as follows. First, comes the mutation – which is a function of probability-based errors in traits arising from genetic shuffling with each generation. Then comes the environment – both in terms of its existing state at the time of any give trait/mutation and in terms of its changes over time and impact on the future survival or organisms.
The term ‘environment’ was defined in a broad context by Darwin to include both inter species competition and what he called sexual selection; which refers to females’ preference for males with advantageous traits which they hope will be transmitted to offspring.
There have always been several problems with this theory. One has to do with the competition factor. It is very rare for one species to drive another to the point of extinction. Lionesses will never cause the extinction of zebras – indeed only succeed on a hunt one out of ten times. Arguably, rather than threaten the zebras’ existence, selecting the weakest zebras as prey actually enhances the species, making it more robust and attractive to one another, thus enhancing propagation. In that sense the hunt can ultimately increase the prey population.
Competition can be for resources but this results in extinction only in extraordinary circumstances. Lions, hyenas and vultures compete for the same food sources but the intelligence of each species enables it to obtain meat without directly competing. Vultures wait for scraps or move in when lions have left the vicinity unaware that there is a carcass on which to feed. Hyenas confront lionesses but much of this ends up in a standoff. If hyenas have the advantage of numbers they will feed first. If not, and if the male of the pride is in the area the lions will dominate. But as long as there are still prey in the hunting grounds each will find a way.
A similar caveat applies to sexual selection. No female on earth is prescient enough to determine what traits will prove adaptive in the future. They do not mate in terms of environmental vicissitudes. Rather they mate in terms of what they view as species norms for fitness. In that sense sexual selection is based more on present sense stagnation than future adaptability. While human females can and do change their preferences for males with changing times (in the fifties it was either large pecs or a college degree, in the sixties, a puerile “cute”look and the trappings of “social consciousness”) no other females have such attitudinal malleability. Those factors offer a challenge to natural selection as a prime model of evolution, particularly the basic components of random mutation and environmental selection.
That model assumes there is enough coordination between trait mutations and environmental shifts to keep the phenomenal volume of life on earth flowing. While it makes sense to assume mutations will either be A. irrelevant to survival B. advantageous to survival as juxtaposed on the environment, or C detrimental to the organism’s survival. Yet that hardly comprises a systematic process.
Considering the enormous disparity in timelines within which organisms mutate and the environment changes it seems possible that natural selection has little net effect on organic evolution – that genetics and the ecology are for the most part two ships passing in the night. In other words, like the lioness and the zebra, genetic change probably misses the environmental target most of the time. In that case even the reverse determinism inherent in Darwin’s theory seems hard to defend.
There is another possible explanation, based more on information dynamics than biology and perhaps coincides more closely, and systemically with the origin of life forms.

Systems and complexity…

An information system is one in which there are stabilizing codes to go along with some degree of variability. For example the letter sequence…. ffffff-g-ffffff-g-ffffff-g… has some repetition (the sequence of f’s) and some variability (seen in the letter ‘g’). If the ‘g’ occurred randomly it would not comprise a code, but since it occurs each time after 6 f’s it has variability that falls within the context of the overall information system. In other words variability within structure is the formula for any intact information system including a life form
For any information system to last it must have a central, versatile base of stability so that whatever variations occur will, while causing a slight drift from the main trend, not dissemble the system. When a system has variability it can more effectively deal with change. That is because it’s integrity does not depend on the sustenance of any one element. Thus the more complex the system (that is, the more its capacity to vary without unraveling into entropy) the more resilient it will be. With that in mind a different view of comes into play

In the Beginning…

The first task of life forms was molecular. While protein synthesis, DNA and RNA replication were necessary components of life, it is likely that macro-molecules similar to or the same as those were probably floating around in the methane-based environment of early earth. Back then the days were hot, the nights extremely cold and such drastic changes in temperature would have broken up molecular bindings rather frequently. That means life did not simply appear with the advent of amino acids, proteins and DNA but instead came and went for millions of years without actually forming anything resembling a life system.
If that is true, it seems the crucial factor in the advent and evolution of life might have been the makeup and resilience of the internal organic components (featuring a “threshold stability/variance” information system) that gave the macro molecules via increasing complexity and made them more resilient. With more molecular (integrated) diversity the organic information system could more effectively resist environmental vagaries. This means instead of evolution depending on adaptation to the external environment, it could have arisen in the first instance from a proto-organic insulation capacity: in other words, by developing increasingly separate but interdependent cells and organs that could share and support each other and dilute the effect of environmental intrusions. As the proliferation of cells continued the cellular structures developed a resistance capability and became more “environmentally immune.”
One aspect of this model that seems plausible is that while adherents to natural selection typically think in terms of traits such as coat color, size, strength, the length of fangs, the position of the eyes or tensile grip they seldom consider the complexity of cellular interactions and increased redundancy of organ systems as comprising the prime survival mechanism.
Perhaps having multiple systems work cooperatively to provide nutrition to the cells and keep the organic entity intact – in a way similar to the brain losing cells via post adolescent tissue loss without loss of memory or general intelligence post is the prime physiological function.
In that context the cells of the heart, lungs, digestive system, muscle system, kidneys etc. really are sub components of a general physiological information system, that is, more than “organs’ also encoding mechanisms serving to prevent environmental factors from undoing the information content and systemic integrity of the body. The question is, why such a complex – arguably abstract process exist in the concrete world of biology?
One possible answer lies in the most frequent and insidious cause of extinction for all organisms – disease. Lions won’t extinguish zebras and great white sharks will never drive seals to the brink. But bacteria and viruses can kill millions at once and perhaps that has always been the driving factor in evolution. To the extent that integrated cellular variability deflects the impact on any foreign agent among numerous cells and organs the impact will be less. The target that is moving is hardest to hit and the more information any one entity contains the more resistant to harmful impact it will be. Indeed that very cellular diversity/integrity does something extraordinary for the health and survival of any organism. By redirecting the target of disease it gives the immune system more time to engulf and destroy the intruder.
Because of its ties to information dynamics i will refer to this concept of evolution as a theory of ‘progressive encoding.’ In the course of time the internal organ and bodily transport systems became more diverse, also functionally redundant. Cells with some variety gathered and something held them together – most likely carbon which has the capacity to meld together a variety of molecules. That led to the first step in organic evolution – integrity; so that temperature changes and other factors could not dissemble the original molecular conglomerates. That resiliency/internal protective factor led to a proliferation of complexity (increased information content”worked”) so that while death by predation, earthquake or famine were still possibilities, the real competitor (the bacteria and viruses) were coming under increasing control. This is a speculative notion but perhaps offers a less random alternative to natural selection.

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The Cybernetic Personality; A Gauge Conception of Human Behavior

April 17th, 2020 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 12 views | Print this Article

The Cybernetic Personality:
A Gauge Conception of Human Behavior

Abstract

This article discusses a model of the personality that functions in a way that is similar to a feedback system. It is a synthesis of personality elements as described by psychoanalysts. client-centered, behavioral and existential theorists in a way that coincides with physical laws, specifically systems that are regulated by feedback information.

The Coherent System…

While nature is obviously complex. a fairly narrow and specific process can be used to describe its functions, including the behavior of organisms. It is the cybernetic system – the word ‘cybernetic’ meaning capable of error correction (Ashby 1957). Whether in reference to climate, the earth’s atmosphere or the behavior of organisms, the process involves three main components.

1. The presence of a gauge. This is essentially the normal state of the system. It is not a fixed state, rather a range within which the state can vary without losing its internal stability. While it has tolerable levels of variability it can only deviate so far beyond point zero (the point of absolute normalcy before instability (disequilibrium) sets in.

2. A corrective function; meaning a capacity to recognize errors and deviations that exceed the normal range of variability and utilize corrective action to restore stability.

3. A feedback/recognition system that can register a return to stability through some type of signal system..

4. A series of strategies and actions that can be effectively used to make the corrections

5. An ergonomic gauge that can determine whether the energy expended in the corrections process has exceeded the system’s energy reserves in the course of the corrective action.

The Personality as a System…

Many of the classic personality theories contain references to systemic phenomena. Indeed almost all describe the personality as a dynamic consisting of many components, with multiple interactive influences that can either contribute to or threaten the overall stability of the system. Freud viewed his triadic model of the psyche in those terms; specifically regarding the apportioning of libidinal-derived energy to the ego and superego (Siegfried 2010 ). He was heavily influenced by the field of physics in developing this dynamism. Physics, of course, addresses almost all aspects of nature in terms of fields and systems.
Adler’s notion of the compensatory actions modulating the polarities of inferiority and superiority also entails systemic elements: his ultimate point of stability being centralized social interest. By this scenario the individual restores balances to his psychic equilibrium by becoming altruistic – thus ameliorating the tension between feelings of failure and feelings of grandiosity. (Hoffman 1994 )

Harry Stack Sullivan also wrote about the ‘self-system’ in dynamic terms, (Levenson 1992) as did Carl Rogers, who put at the center of his model, the conflict between the ideal self and the real self (Thomas, Sanders 201). All of these (and most other) models of the personality pivot around the idea that imbalance….or some form of instability, produces tension that can only be resolved through systemic adjustments or corrections that bring the system back to within normal ranges.

The word ‘cybernetic’ refers to any system that can remain intact by utilizing a capacity to self-correct. Because that model applies clearly to bodily functions like the immune system, discussing the personality in that context places it in the category of a medical model.

While that comparison gives the personality a familiar ring – and would presumably lead to a more fluid interplay between mind and body, it is not without snags. One of which is that while the lungs, heart and immune system are structurally and functionally delineated, the personality is not. It is a bit more interwoven, and frankly, an ambiguous concept in both its structure and function. Therefore, in order to discuss its parameters; that is, its ranges of tolerable variation – one first has to define exactly what it is. Once that is done – and it’s not an easy undertaking – it becomes possible to describe the personality as a coherent, definable system by which to make diagnostic and therapeutic determinations.
In order to define the personality requires some way to encompass all its features, including temperament,(for example extroversion, introversion), social orientation, language style, attitudes, interests and motivations in one prime entity, so that the aforementioned traits and attributes can be seen as tethered extensions of what amounts to a ‘personality singularity.’

A possible solution to that problem might be found in an element that is distinct from, yet inclusive of all those features, and could give rise to those derivative traits. That solution can perhaps be found by considering all behaviors, feelings and conceptions as fundamental reflections of the self.

Why begin with that premise? For two main reasons. First, in early childhood a sense of self runs parallel to the accumulation and interpretation of experience (Miller, Church et.al), thus serves as a general frame of reference. If a child is scolded, he or she will interpret that as having to do with “my behavior.” He cannot completely externalize the experience as though looking at bacteria under a microscope. Second, since each experience registers on the person’s sensorium it would necessarily be registered in memory. and since memories (and almost all inputs) are internally manipulated to become assimilated into prior conceptions those inputs will, over time, be reshaped to become congruous with the ‘self’ that filed them away in the first place.

In that sense, one can view the self as a kind of a psychic holograph. Turned in one direction it looks like a feeling, or perhaps a fervent belief in helping others. Turned toward another angle, it looks like a political belief, maybe leaning conservative. From still another angle, it looks like a favorite football team or rock band Then again, perhaps a specific goal or motivation. However, despite the various angular variations, the governing view is the self.

Rise of the Self…

The Self might well develop in a way that parallels brain development in an infant. The first year of childhood features a fundamental neurological process in which vertically arranged fibers devoted to basic sensory and motor capacities line up. This is followed by brachiation, i.e. neural branching off in peripheral, interconnected arrangements. (Webb, Monk, et.al 2001) The latter mechanism facilitates experiential comparisons, which in turn potentiate integrative cognition and enable the child to see both figure and ground of sensory and social experience. The interconnectedness arising from that second stage of cross circuitry is largely a function of learning.

A similar process seems to occur during the development of the self. In the first months of life the infant has no sense of self. He cannot distinguish between himself and his mother, in what amounts to a carryover from the womb. Then, as sensori-motor skills develop, the child comes to realize he can respond in a way separate from anyone or anything else. It is a phase of development when control begins. Movement, initiated by the child begins to secure feedback; for example crawling to places in the home where he covets some object or person’s attention.
The satisfaction derived from self-initiated behavior becomes a stimulus (and gradual understanding) leading to a psychological separation of self from the environment. That onset of physical freedom becomes a first step toward a psychological sense of self.

As the child gets older, this separation experience becomes more prominent in his thinking and behavior. From a capacity for movement and independent goal attainment he moves on to linguistic, cognitive and emotional independence. He is now becoming a self-advocate – one who can tax the patience of his parents due to his newly formed oppositional tendencies.
Once that sense of self takes hold, it will serve as a frame of reference (a personalistic holograph) by which to, not only evaluate various experiences but also synthesize them into a whole. At this point, the self is not yet fully developed and won’t be until early adulthood. Along the way, the child will receive input from parents that shapes his feelings, attitudes and beliefs. However, because self- development unfolds as a function of time and maturation, the influence of external input will wane as the child grows older.

By the time the child reaches young adulthood he will be anchored down by a self-system. (Incidentally, this is also the period in his life when the frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex reach maximal growth), While he can still be influenced by external events, his general take on experience will pass through an internal filter.

That is the point (roughly speaking) where self-systemic regulation becomes most important as a psychological function. While the adolescent might feel rebellious, and purport to cast aside the “old values” he is actually an unwitting conduit of those values. His rebellious behavior merely represents variations on a theme. That will become clear when he enters the period of adulthood. (Daniel, Benest-Weisman, M 2018 ) At that point, he will tend to operate like a mirror of eccentricity.

While many clinicians view egocentricity as a pathological state, here it is seen as a psychological constant that can be manifest in various ways, but continues as an interpretive mechanism throughout life. As a result, all experience will be evaluated and felt in terms of how it coincides with his self-system.
There will be parameters involved. The most efficient, long-lasting cybernetic systems in nature have flexibility, and a capacity to accommodate deviations while still remaining intact. But there are limits to this process. For example, the question becomes, how much ‘deviance,’ in terms of cultural input, others’ behavior or his own behavior can be accommodated before his self-system is rendered unstable.

The person with a flexible, but intact (elastic) self-system will tend to enjoy better mental health than the person who has an extraordinarily rigid self-system. That obviously has implications for childrearing and indeed for self-development. That process was a cornerstone of Carl Rogers’ notion of the flexible self-concept.
This notion has implications for both normalcy and pathology. With regard to the latter, all pathology that is not due to endogenous factors, i.e. neurochemical, or organically caused disorders, would be viewed in the context of how experiences affect the self-system. In that context, the core of all pathologies could be whittled down to either self-rigidity, or self-disintegration – the pathognomic self being either too rigid or too loose.

However, those two elements can actually be combined into one That is because, rather than simply enduring frequent episodes of self-instability the individual will typically convert the input into a state of extreme certainty (rigidity) through a compensation process. Just as the body’s immune system recognizes and engulfs foreign bodies in the organ systems. so too would information foreign to the self- system be engulfed and redirected into rigidity and impulsiveness.

That also has clinical implications. Specifically, if one view the personality as a cybernetic phenomenon, it would have to be assumed internal regulation is an ongoing process, rather than, as Freud suggested, a process employed only in times of psychological duress.

If that argument has merit one very important factor in psychotherapy would involve helping clients maximize the effective use of defense mechanisms as part of an ongoing, regulatory mechanism, rather than trying to get them to a point where they no longer need them.

Another clinical implication arises from this model which puts the central focus in the cognitive realm. Concepts like the self and the personality are somewhat abstract and would seem to exclude some of the concrete behavioral aspects of diagnosis and treatment. For example, practitioners of cognitive behavior therapy encourage clients to modify their habits as well as their interpretations of experience in the course of therapy.

However, while there are some distinctions to be made between cognition (and its derivative, the personality) and overt behavior, there are also significant commonalities. Indeed the two elements arguably derive from the same source – the self-system. The reason for this assertion is that behavior must coincide with the self-system in order for the individual to avoid the pitfalls of cognitive dissonance (Cooper 2007). For example, coaching a client to become more assertive as a means of alleviating social anxiety and more effectively meeting his needs will only work if the self-system of that individual can accommodate the change in behavior.

One of the drawbacks to behavior therapy is that giving clients homework assignments and behavioral prescriptions without evaluating whether the prescribed actions fit in with the client’s personality structure will not always be successful. In such instances the client might come to feel the therapist’s advice actually creates instability, requiring a “correction” by the client that ends up sabotaging the therapeutic process. If the self is the fulcrum of the personality and if the personality can be viewed as a cybernetic system it would mean the self-system would have to be factored into any treatment modality for counseling to be effective.

REFERENCES

Ashby, W.R (1957) Introduction to Cybernetics Chapman and Hall, London

Cooper, J. (2007) Cognitive Dissonance: 50 Years of a Classic Theory, London SAGE Publications

Daniel, E. Benest-Weisman, M. (2018) Value Development during Adolescence; Dimensions of Change and Stability,Journal of Personality 87 (1)

Hoffman, E ( 1994) The Drive for Self; Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology. Reading,Mass. Welsey.

Levenson, E.A. MD. (1992) Harry Stack Sullivan: From Interpersonal Psychiatrist to Interpersonal Psychoanalyst..Contemporary Psychoanalysis Vol. 28 (2)

Miller, S. Church, E.B Poole, C. (2016) Ages and Stages; How Children Develop Self Concept, Scholastic Teacher

Siegfried, Z. MD. (2010) The Libido and Psychic Energy – Freud’s concept revisited. International Forum of Psychoanalysis Vol.19 p. 3-14

Thomas, B. Sanders, P.(2002) Carl Rogers. SAGE Publications 3rd Ed. p 119-120

Webb, S.J. Monk, C.S. Nelson, C.A. (2001) Mechanisms of post-natal neurobiological development and implications for human development. Developmental Neuropsychiatry (2) 147-171.

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Lateral Inhibition, Language Deficits and Autistic Development

January 9th, 2020 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 17 views | Print this Article

by Robert DePaolo

Abstract

This article discusses a pervasive brain function that has implications for language development, arousal modulation and autistic symptomatology. It revolves around the phenomenon known as the Mach band – which is a hypothetical description of an actual neural process known as lateral inhibition. It is this process that facilitates perceptual accuracy, prevents noise/uncertainty build up in the brain and prevents random uncontrollable excitation.

A Distinction Machine…

it is generally assumed that the evolution of a large brain was a watershed event in man’s ascendancy in nature. A large brain does provide obvious advantages. For example, vast neural connections allow for more associations, expansive memory and greater cognitive flexibility, all of which have enabled homo sapiens to adapt to more varied environments and circumstances than any other creature.

However there is an equally obvious disadvantage to having a large brain. It is a drawback that pertains to any highly complex, vast information system; a greater probability of noise interference. The more neurons and interconnections, the greater the potential for info-chaos and uncertainty. Perhaps that is why, despite our pan-adaptability humans seem to be the only animals with substantial degrees of mental illness and cognitive dysfunction . *

Fortunately, in most instances, there is a built-in mechanism that operates as a noise buster and enables humans to negotiate around a highly complex brain. It is called lateral or “surround” inhibition and it allows us to distinguish relevant inputs from irrelevant, peripheral inputs that would otherwise create interference patterns, prevent efficient response selection and accurate perception (Yantis, 2014). Without this mechanism a large brain would actually prove disadvantageous since the search for adaptive perceptions and behaviors would involve an excruciating needle in the haystack scenario.

Beyond preventing mass interference (noise) lateral inhibition provides the benefit of emotional equanimity, because it also modulates arousal levels. Just as an influx of visual and auditory stimuli are chaperoned by this mechanism for perceptual and behavioral clarity so too does it facilitate emotional control and specification. In both instances the impact of lateral inhibition on perception, behavior and emotional arousal levels is profound.

The Autistic Conundrum…

Questions have arisen as to why,some autistic individuals have exceptional (if somewhat narrow) skill levels in certain areas while others have more severe limitations. Lack of diagnostic accuracy might be one reason; bearing in mind that the autistic spectrum encompasses both those with fine motor deficits so profound as to render the use of eating utensils problematic and those whose fine motor and cognitive skills are intact enough to enable them to write lengthy auto-biographies.

However there are other possible explanations for what might be termed ‘autistic narrowness.’ It would appear both higher and lower functioning autistic individuals operate in an experiential tunnel and that deviation from this narrow vantage point comprises an aversive experience. This has relevance with regard to the question of why autistic individuals engage in self stimulatory behaviors, rely so heavily on routine and demonstrate task avoidance tendencies.

It is well established that one facet of autism is the “kindling” process – the tendency for neural activity to spike fairly chronically (Krista, Gilby et al 2013 ). One can assume the jolt resulting from spiking is aversive to the autistic individual, Since he or she is easily overwhelmed by spreading, unmodulated inputs and since all learning, particularly involving motor skills is accompanied by heightened arousal levels autistic learning deficits are not solely due to cognitive limitations but also in large part to arousal intolerance and task avoidance (Iverson 2015), (Liss, Saulnier et al 2006).

No one sits still with the impingement of aversive stimuli. Instead one responds adaptively to terminate or override the aversion. If true, it follows that self stimulatory behaviors (rocking, humming, finger play) are not awkward manifestations of neuro-pathology or lack of cognitive ability per se but arousal modulating, adaptive behaviors that conceivably substitute for defective lateral inhibition functions. In that context the narrow skill learning style of the higher functioning autistic individual could be considered a compromise learning style pitting personal tolerance vs. environmental vagaries.

Nuts and Bolts…

Lateral inhibition entails the capacity of excitatory nerve cells to suppress surrounding nerve cells. One of its purposes is to create contrast in facilitating sensory perception so that edges in the visual domain and details in other sensory areas can be accurately detected. Most of this process originates in the higher center of the brain – the cerebral cortex (Coppola, Parisi et al (2013) but extends to a mid brain structure called the thalamus (Lavallee, Deschenes 2014). It is an encoding mechanism that, as mentioned above prevents noise from overwhelming the brain and has parallels to the “slow potential wave micro-structure” regulatory, memory-encoding process referenced by Karl Pribram (1991).

Lateral inhibition is usually associated with sensory systems such as touch, vision and hearing but since this mechanism is permeates the cortex and thalamus (the latter of which acts as a relay station transmitting neural signals to a variety of brain sites) it can be presumed to be widespread around the brain. As discussed above, since it dampens surrounding interference patterns, making sure that relevant inputs are highlighted, it must operate reciprocally with memory. That is because deciding on relevant vs. irrelevant inputs involves learning in the first place. While some sensory phenomena are built in to the central nervous system – for example perception of angles, edges and perhaps the human face,(Cowen, Chun et al. 2014 ) there can be said to be a reciprocal interaction between memory and the “noise busting” aspect of lateral inhibition. That has implications for autism.

For many autistic individuals anxiety is a central problem; not just because of specific fears but, also because they have difficulty consolidating memory and anchoring experiences to the point of comfortable familiarity, either for lack of adequate lateral inhibition, or because they do not have the perceptual and/or emotional clarity to readily establish memories in the first place. While they can certainly memorize information. memory entails two processes; consolidation and retrieval. Problematic lateral inhibition could create noise within neural interactions and prevent memory from functioning smoothly – thus the need for repetition and routine as adaptive/compensatory measures.

Expression, Comprehension and Cadence…

Deficient lateral inhibition could also have implications for language development. Language is a vast encoding process that might well be dependent on lateral inhibition. It is not just a social-communicative skill. It also allows us to separate one experience, event or object from another. The minute we label a color “red” it automatically creates a distinction between “red” and “blue.” In that context superior human social perception might ultimately derive from what Spence called discrimination learning (1936). As an aside, this implies a connection between language and the hyper-social nature of our species. For example, to be as social as we are requires a greater capacity to distinguish one person or group from another categorically.

While lateral inhibition is a natural byproduct of neural development it can only function effectively by being able to sift through neural interference patterns at variable rates in the course of child development. In child development vertically arranged pathways are followed by horizontally arranged pathways resulting in a cross grid morass of vast interconnections. As inter-connectivity expands noise levels increase in the child’s brain with age (which might explain why, prior to decline around the age of two some autistic children appear normal). As a result, in the course of child development, lateral inhibition would have to keep pace. Just how this occurs is unknown but one key might lie in the regulatory functions of a site often referred to as the brain’s central computer.

Posterior Stability…

The cerebellum is an interesting brain structure located above the hind brain with a unique cellular topography. It has extensive connections to various other parts of the brain, which speaks to its functional influence. it is also the most uniform of the major brain sites, with only two types of cells – Pyramidal and Purkinje cells – which has led some to liken it to a computer (Ito 1979). That comparison is based on the fact that its smooth, uniform structure has a programmed, regulatory topography apparently designed to anchor other parts of the brain – particularly with regard to motor and cognitive memories. It appears to be a low noise structure, providing the luxury of automatic responding. In other words, once stored in the cerebellum, a behavior or cognitive memory no longer requires sifting and retrieval – an enormously helpful function, not only because it enhances stability but because by ameliorating the search for memories it conserves energy in the brain.

There seems to be evidence of dysfunctional development in the pathways of the cerebellum of autistic individuals, specifically fairly consistent signs of cerebellar hypoplasia (lack of cellular maturation) (Hampsom,Blatt 2015).

Developmental deficiency in the cerebellum would mitigate against automaticity. which coincides with the autistic child’s tendency to behave as though each experience is new and in many instances threatening. In not being able to store experiences in automatic memory the autistic individual would appear to be subject to an excruciating, chronic level of hyper-vigilance and anxiety.

The Pleasure of Specificity…

With regard to questions on language development, and in a larger context, the evolutionary origins of human language no clear answers have been provided. Numerous theories abound but the closest thing to an empirical sense of human language development has typically been derived from infant/toddler observations. One typical observation noted by parents and linguists is that children tend to develop simultaneously the skills of pointing and speaking. Some have surmised that this indicates a primarily social aspect to language development; more specifically a ‘theory of mind’ capability that allows toddlers to approximate what others might be thinking. In other words, the child purportedly seeks to know if: “What I see is what you see” as a sort of interpersonal confirmation ( Korkmaz 2011).

Certainly that is an important aspect of language development but perhaps not the core factor. For example one could just as readily assume the child points and speaks not because he is wondering what another might be seeing or thinking but because he has so many neurons in his brain (most of which are not quite interconnected – an infant’s brain has as many neurons as an adults but early on the wiring is not meshed) that the act of identifying an object is a noise busting, information attaining experience that gives him great joy- just as closure and resolution might please an adult at the climax of a who-done-it movie. In this scenario the child is not asking for confirmation of his observations but instead communicating his joy over neuro-experiential resolution (closure) as a kind of aha experience.

If “closure theory” has any merit than it would tie in with the importance of lateral inhibition in the developing brain and In part resolve the conflict between the nature and nurture theories of language acquisition – particularly regarding the question of why children can learn language so quickly (a phenomenon that tends to favor nature theorists).

If, built into the brain is a noise busting mechanism, reinforced by a persistent closure/pleasure experience (internal feedback) then both the nature and nurture theories of language acquisition could be accommodated. In that sense instinct and learning might be seen as two sides of the same coin because for lateral inhibition to operate effectively, the process must rely on learned memories in determining what are relevant vs. peripheral pathways – lateral inhibition being bio-natural while specific words, dialects etc. are learned.

On the other hand if noise busting was not fluid due to defective lateral inhibition then instead of being pleasurable, language reception and expression would be aversive. That would mean that part of the reason autistic individuals have trouble speaking is because they find both listening and speaking too overwhelming, the search for phonics, words and phrases too difficult. That would mean language and learning deficits are caused in part by an emotional (noise) avoidance reaction.

Observations of autistic individuals would seem to indicate that the auditory channel in particular is effected by this deficit (Leekam, Nieto et al 2007 ). Not being able to effectively parse (laterally inhibit) various sounds would make learning of language and other skills difficult. By the same token the auditory stimulus of music – which is synthesized by melody and cadence (both can to an extent compensate for deficient lateral inhibition via rhythmic encoding) might be more tolerable, even enjoyable.

It all suggests autism is largely a stimulus avoidance disorder, requiring chronic, adaptive (albeit limiting) noise remedial behaviors, including extreme adherence to routine, over reliance on specific learning styles, use of stimulus control behaviors to override chronic CNS exhaustion (because of the endless sifting and sensory contrast demands placed on the brain) a need for brain/body rest due to that exhaustion and opportunities to control their sensorium by being able to terminate tasks prior at the point of intolerable arousal (analogous to what Goldstein called the “catastrophic reaction”(2012 ). It is a life style characterized by a ‘less is more’ paradigm that necessarily sacrifices integrative/conceptual volume learning for neuro-functional equanimity.

REFERENCES

Coppola, G. Parisi, V. Di Lorenzo, C. Magis, D, Schoenen, J. Pierelli, F. (2013) Lateral inhibition in visual cortex of migraine patients between attacks. Journal of Headache and Pain: 14 ( 1) 20

Cowen, A.S. Chun, M.M. Kuhl, B.A. (2014) Neural portraits of perception; reconstructing face images from evoked brain activity. Neural Image 94 12-22

Goldstein catastrophic reaction reference… (2012) Medical Eponyms – retrieved from Medical Dictionary – The Free Dictionary

Hampsom, D. Blatt, G. (2015) Autism spectrum disorders and neuropathology of the cerebellum. Frontiers in Neuro-science 9: 420

Ito, M. (1979) Is the cerebellum really a computer? Trends in Neuroscience Vol. 2 122-126

Iverson, P. (2015) The sensory impact of arousal levels on attention in autistic children. Children’s Disability and Special Needs. On line article www.come unity. com.

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