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Lateral Inhibition, Language Deficits and Autistic Development

January 9th, 2020 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 32 views | Print this Article

by Robert DePaolo


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.


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.

Korkmaz, B. (2011) Theory of Mind and neuro-developmental disorders of childhood. Pediatric Research 69 (5) A2 101R-8R

Krista, L. Gilby,S. O’Brien. J. (2013) Autism and neuro-development; Kindling – a shared vulnerability? Science Direct Vol. 26 (3) 370-374

Lavallee, P. Deschenes,M. (2014) Dendroarchitecture and lateral inhibition in thalamic barreloids. Journal of Neuroscience 24 (27) 6098-6105

Leekam,S.R. Nieto,C. Libby,SJ. Wing, L. Gould,J. (2007) Describing the sensory abnormalities of children and adults with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders Vol. 37 (15) 894-910

Liss, M. Saulnier, C. Fein, D. Kinsbourne, M. (2006) Sensory and attention abnormalities in autistic spectrum disorders. Autism 10, 155-172

* Mental illness – animal reference…Article in Leviathan Process references observations by various field researchers and zoologists that while animal psychopathology does occur in captivity it has not been observed in the wild. and only because the animals are not able to exert natural behaviors- rather than having psychic conflicts.

Pribram, K. 1991) Brain and perception: holonomy and structure in figure processing, Hillsdale N.J. Laurence Erlbaum Associates

Spence,K.W. (1936) The nature of discrimination learning in animals Psychology Review 43 (5) 427-449

Yantis, S. (2014) Sensaton and Perception, New York.NY Worth Publishing p. 77

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From Introversion to Autism: A Speculative Model for a Diagnostic Continuum

November 26th, 2019 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 55 views | Print this Article

by Robert DePaolo


This article presents a diagnostic model to encompass not only differing functional levels of autism but also extreme introversion and psychopathology rooted in social aversion and anxiety. The model is based on the idea that specific structural, genetic and functional (i,e, neurological and neuro-chemical) research results and theories of these disorders leave certain questions of causation and remediation unanswered and that a factor underlying all of these processes – energy production orchestrated by mitochondrial functions – could be considered a root causative element. The fact that mitochondrial influence is broad and influential, affecting genetic assembly, protein synthesis and brain development gives it the advantage of being “graded”, thus capable affecting various functions differentially.

The Vagaries of Pathology…

One problem in diagnosing autism, particularly those said to be on the “spectrum” is that the variations in cognition, intelligence, language and perceptual ability can be so wide as to render the diagnosis uninformative. For example some autistic individuals lack language capacity while others travel around the world giving public speeches and writing lengthy books. Some are unable to tolerate or understand social relationships for lack of what Adolphus et al have called a “theory of mind” ( 2018 ) while others resort to introspection in describing their idiosyncratic behaviors. Some autistic persons join aerobics classes, run marathons while others lack the energy to engage in even normal daily activities (conceivably out of fear that the unmanageable arousal levels resulting from stimulus inputs will lead to catastrophic hyper-arousal).

At face value such functional discrepancies would seem to contradict the notion that all these individuals and skill levels could possibly reflect a single diagnosis.
There are similarities within this general population, however, which makes the picture rather confusing. Aversion to eye contact, tactile hyper-sensitivity, perceptual intolerance, fragmented social perception, repetitive behavior patterns and other traits seem common to those on the spectrum and also among schizophrenics, persons with social anxiety disorder, social phobias, extreme introverts (the so-called “tender-minded” groups) and even some with attention deficit disorder.

That raises obvious questions. For example, it seems apparent that a language deficit would lead to a lack of control over one’s environment. Still, if language is an experiential buffer, enabling us to categorize, marginalize and dampen the influence of input sensations and emotions, why can’t anxiety prone individuals with normal language capacities self regulate more effectively?

Language Regulation…

With respect to language/self regulation, it is often assumed that non linguistic autistic persons experience chronic anxiety and social confusion because they cannot interpret experiences or communicate with others to make their needs met and feelings acknowledged. As to why some have no language, the reason has yet to be determined. Autistic individuals have a hyoid bone (necessary for tonal and oral fine motor expression) and they do not lack the FOX 2 gene that is a factor in language acquisition. Nor do they typically have hearing impairments. That raises the question of why they can’t put all the functional packages together to enact a skill so quintessentially characteristic of the human species. We all talk, regardless of intellect, emotional disposition, in many instances irrespective of neurological impairment.

There are various explanations as to why they cannot speak. As research by Gow (2012) has shown language is not a specific function but a broad encoding system that spreads among virtually all brain areas – particularly the cerebral cortex. As such, language expression would seem to require a broadly integrative capacity, in other words a search and retrieve capability dependent on network interactions and neural cooperation. To search around a voluminous human brain requires effective coordination between inhibitory and excitatory neural circuits to avoid severe noise. To resolve that noise requires neurological work – which requires adequate energy. The fact that chronic spiking, often referred to as “kindling” occurs in the autistic brain (Gilby & O’Brien, 2012) suggests an uneven distribution of neural activity whereby: for example, when circuit A does not provide a fluid neuro-experiential check on circuit B. Lacking such neural fluidity would interfere with pan-cerebral access needed for normal language expression. If so, that would mean the autistic individual experiences pervasive noise in the CNS. Being unable to override that cacophony, while enduring an inevitable increase in brain arousal as per the word finding search would comprise an aversive experience for the autistic person – making he or she not just unable to speak but fearful of the effort as well.

With regard to the CNS noise factor, some research has shown that whereas normal brains stop expanding at some point in development, and actually shed tissue (Courchesne 2012), a process referred to as “pruning” (presumably enabling thought and cognition to be more conceptual and streamlined) the brains of many autistic individuals continue to expand beyond the pruning process. That means there are more neural circuits, thus more potential for noise within the CNS. Also, in typical brain development two systems become aligned sequentially. Vertically arranged neurons come first, possibly to allow for simple stimulus associations to ensue. This is followed by cross sectional, horizontally aligned circuits which interconnect (merge with vertical circuits and allow them to talk to each other across the brain). In a perhaps overly simplistic analogy, it seems the ability to interact with others depends on the ability for neurons to first interact with one another in a fluid, (low noise) manner. In other words, social interaction depends on rhythmically efficient inter-neuronal communication. That corresponds to what Pavlov, (Dance 2006), Alexander Luria (Kostyanaya, 2013) and Richard Lazarus (1984) described as an internal speech capability, i.e. a dual language skill that is both external/communicative and internal/self regulatory.

Some have surmised that this cross sectional connectivity is problematic in the brain development of autistic children. (Tye & Bolton 2013). That night explain why, in early development, some autistic children seem initially to have language of an associative nature only to lose it as the brain veers off course and integrative cognition is compromised.

While interesting and logical as per typical autistic features, this still leaves some questions unanswered; most notably why high functioning autistic persons are able to communicate. Is it a question of inter-connective proportion rather than an all or none process, whereby a higher percentage of fluid inter-connectivity allows the higher functioning individual to speak while the lower functioning autistic individual, with more involved cross cortical diffusion, cannot.

Anecdotal Diagnostics…

One way to broach this question is to ask, what are the first signs of abnormality in the autistic child? Rather than referring to research and clinical findings, this writer will resort to something more basic – parental anecdotes.

While developing an autistic program with the Easter Seals foundation decades ago,this writer and the head teacher brought parents in to discuss their observations of their autistic children. When asked: “when did you first notice something was wrong,” some of the answers were fairly typical, referring to lack of language or motor skills at between 9 months and 2 years. Others noted what is called “W sitting” a sign of immature motor development along with a centralized gait – for example difficulty climbing stairs using a left-right rhythmic leg alternation. Still others referred to lack of eye contact and social interest – especially in comparison with normal siblings. Since many of these signs came well after birth, when child to child comparisons could be made, we probed deeper, by asking about the very first, subtle signs of oddness. Parents thought a bit and many came up with interesting observations. It seems all of the children appeared swept up by outside stimuli; for example their heads being swayed by the direction of the wind without an apparent muscular anchor point, or being unable to orient to stimuli for even a few seconds. They also noted that the child did not have enough strength or resilience in his or her ocular/head/neck musculature to maintain a focus on other people. While their normal infants would stare endlessly at people a department store line the autistic child did not have enough “oomph” – in the words of one parent – to maintain such a focus. It was as if the social aspect of an autistic brain (presumed to be compromised) was really peripheral to, a strength deficiency in the head, neck and eyes, that would otherwise enable the child to attend to social stimuli. The idea that what we typically refer to as social interest is to some degree a function of neuro-muscular and perceptual “strength” – or stamina provided an interesting twist on what Piaget referred to as perceptual constancy.

Each of the parents asked why their son or daughter could not resist the influence of external stimuli. One parent believed his son simply wasn’t strong enough to do so – a suspicion supported by the child’s physical therapy evaluation. Based on this discussion we surmised there might be some correlation between a problem with stimulus orientation and strength in the perceptual-motor system and, more broadly, the central nervous system

While some of the children seemed less affected than others the strength factor became a seedbed for subsequent discussion, as well as a focal point in therapy – the point being that if one could strengthen the child in various sensory, motor and auditory areas a generative effect might occur.

Some of the children made significant gains, others did not. The factor we all overlooked was encompassed in the definition of “strength”- which is ultimately a function of energy production. Energy (in all bio-functional systems) comes from one prime source – cellular mitochondria. Mitochondria are energy packets fueled by adenosine tri-phosphates situated in each cell and in the nucleus of each cell. A deficiency in mitochondrial structure or function could affect various systems and lead to the general deficiencies in language, cognition and sustaining a social focus, as seen in autism.

Some research provided a degree of verification for these assumptions. For example Tang (2014) found a correlation between autism and mitochondrial dysfunction. Many clinical studies point a strength deficits in small and gross motor skills. If a fundamental diagnostic variable is an energy deficiency that could have significance not only for autism but for related psychological disorders that, while not including all the symptoms of autism exhibit more than a few.

For that argument to make sense one has to assume the presence of a “fragility factor” in those afflicted, analogous to Eysenck’s notion of tender mindedness” (1975) that prevents the CNS from controlling noise, irrespective of any given point on the fragility continuum. It is perhaps not an outrageous assumption, particularly because it encompasses children with varying abilities and lends itself to other diagnostic categories. In that context, anxiety disorders often feature obsessiveness, self stimulation behaviors, social avoidance, withdrawal, and even mood swings ranging from extreme sadness and isolation to outbursts of rage.
While extending the energy depletion-causation/noise interference model to include not just autism but other diagnostic categories might seem overly broad there is research lending a modicum of support. For example in studies on autism Packer (2012) found that the main activation center in the brain (the reticular activating system) sends signals to the cerebral cortex and other brain sites, helping those functional centers process the relevance of inputs so as to select efficient responses to those inputs. However that study showed that the pathways are rather noisy. Many do not send direct and clear signals. Some R.A.S pathways drift off into branches with no information content comprising what one might call “junk arousal.”

It is almost as if in designing the human brain, nature selected a brain founded on mandatory neural confusion. That creates noise and the way in which the noise is reduced is by an influx of nor-epinephrine, (which through neuro-chemical “oomph” can override the noise and establish signal clarity.

This is an example of strength overcoming uncertainty, acting as a shield against input diffusion. More specifically; neuro-chemical strength as a noise buster. A deficiency in that mechanism could lead to mood instability, depression, anxiety and social phobia: all positions on a continuum of neuro-functional fragility as well as autism, depending on the level of involvement.

A look at introversive (fragility-based) pathologies points to some interesting parallels with autism. For example neuroticism- with apologies for using a very old term – has been equated with an extreme state of (high noise) uncertainty (Mineka & Kohlstrom 1998). A state of prolonged confusion, precluding closure or efficient response selection will tend to result in repetitious, vicious cycle behaviors similar to those seen in autism

Another comparison can be drawn to depression, which is viewed as a state of learned helplessness (Seligman 1975 ). In this model the client lacks a capacity or access to behavioral resolution to an impending problem or state of mind. Once again this is reflective of uncertainty, possibly an endpoint whereby psychic defenses are finally depleted and anxiety (which can be more a adaptive emotional state because it at least fosters a state of readiness and vigilance) is no longer operative.

A depressive state of mind is reflected in the inter-neuronal connectivity within the brain. That has a cognitive correlate. Continuity in neural interactions keeps the thought and emotional sequence running. which sustains hope, futuristic concerns, planning and adaptation to current stressors. When, through energy depletion that neural extension fizzles out, so too does hope and resilience-sustaining cognition. Here too the energy depletion factor could be involved.
The root of these various fragility-based pathologies can be presumed to lie in mitochondrial dysfunction, because it is the latter that fuels neural transmission, allows for the neuron-to neuron connectivity in the brain needed to sustain experience and thereby establish hope, build language concepts, sustain the attention span, facilitate mood readiness, create resistance to noise, build task-learning tolerance and in general override the uncertainty of various perceptions and experiences.

Correlations Across the Board…

Although there is some evidence of a correlation between mitochondrial dysfunction and anxiety (Filiou & Sandi 2019) this idea is speculative. Establishing a link between autism and less involved disorders in terms of a mitochondrial-based fragility would require an analysis of several correlated factors. One would be family histories. There is some evidence that depression runs in the families of autistic individuals, as do Attention deficit disorder, anxiety disorders obsessive-compulsive disorder and extreme introversion. (Akdag 2003) Could it be that these are all incremental variations of an energy-based pathology rooted in mitochondrial dysfunction? Much work would have to be done to make that determination, including genetic assessments, learning history reviews, sibling comparisons, twin studies and more. Yet since energy seems to be the ultimate source of all actions (and actually, everything in the universe) results of such inquiries might prove useful.

To embark on such a quest would require a new deterministic framework, with neuro-psychology borrowing from the field of physics, by seeking a central (graded) etiology of a wide range of high fragility (extreme introversive) disorders based on an apparent energy summoning deficiency which prevents the afflicted from handling social demands and set backs, attending to tasks, developing coherence between thoughts and emotions, acquiring language concepts, shielding against dissonant or intense inputs, providing motor strength and resilience and adapting to changing stimulus conditions.


Adolphus, R. Davis, L. Davis A. Autism: Theory of Mind. Current Biology. Jan. 4. 2018.
Akdag, S.J. Nestor, P.G. O’Donnell, B. Niznikiwicz, M. Shanton, M. McCarley, R.W. (2003) the startle reflex in Schizophrenia: personality correlates. Schizophrenia Research, Nov. 15 2003 64 (2-3) 165-173
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Dance, F.E.X. (2006) Speech Communications Theory and Pavlov’s second signal system. Journal of Communication Vol. 17 (1) 13-24 March 1967
Filiou, M.D. Sandi, C. (2019) Anxiety and brain mitochondria: A bidirectional crosswalk. Trends in Neurosciences. Vol 42 (9) 573-588
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Mineka, S. Kohlstrom, J.F. (1998) Unpredictable and uncontrollable events: A new perspective on experimental neurosis. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87 (2) 256-271
Packer, A. 13 March, 2012. R.A.S. pathway: a potential unifying theory of autism. Article in Spectrum.
Seligman, M.E. P. (1975) Helplessness: on Depression, Development and Death San Francisco. W.H. Freeman.
Tang, A. Mitochondrial dysfunction as a neuro-biological sub-type of Autism Spectrum Disorder from brain imaging. J.A.M.A. Psychiatry 2014 71 665-671
Tye, C. Bolton, P. (2013) Neural connectivity abnormalities in autism: Insights from Tuberous Sclerosis model. B.M.C. Med.

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The Politics of Eustress: A Synthesis of Government, Psychology and Experience

September 26th, 2019 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 30 views | Print this Article

The Politics of Eustress
A Synthesis of Government, Psychology and Experience

by Robert DePaolo


This article discusses the concept of an “ideal state” in terms of behavioral science, emphasizing the importance of a core motivational factor known as eustress. The point is made that while the Utopia ideal seems at odds with the functions of the human mind (which is a closure-seeking, noise reducing mechanism requiring ongoing conflict as a learning prompt)), there might be an optimal, culturally imparted state of mind that can produce the closest thing to a human-consonant social system.

A Brief History of Utopia…

For all its blissful connotations the idea of a Utopian state is hard to define. Some of the Utopian ideas and ideals of the past have revolved around on the whims of writers railing against the political systems of their time. Marx and Engels wrote in opposition to rampant capitalism. They sought to rescue workers from exploitation by property owners, noting (not inaccurately) that without labor there could be no production, profit or general wealth.

In trying to extend this idea -which Engels termed “scientific socialism” – to create a vast governmental system their theory exhibited a number of significant flaws. For example, they presented scientific socialism in a moral context based on a vague notion of pan-equality, the idea being that is wasn’t fair for workers to be paid substantially less than capitalists and that advantages afforded the wealthy such as inherited family resources and wealth could be naively construed as “unfair.” That would imply that even if status was earned by the first generation, coming from a well-to-do family would have to be deemed somehow immoral. That in turn would mean parents trying to do right by their children were actually doing wrong.

Still another flaw was reflected in their historical ignorance. The inequity argument had been addressed more rationally in Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”, written more than half a century before Das Capital. Smith deftly provided a moral and functional regulation by which to level the playing field. While his tome was voluminous, his resolution rested on a single word – competition. He felt if govenment disallowed monopolistic business practices (pervasive in the times and places in which Marx and Engels lived) consumers could choose where to shop (thus lowering prices) and where to work (thus raising wages and improving working conditions). Though not in a straight line trajectory, Smith’s vision turned out to be more prescient. In effect with the advent of competition capitalism evolved into neo-capitalism. That rendered scientific socialism (aka.communism) at best unnecessary and at worst rather pointless.

Neo-capitalism tends to work better than socialism for two reasons. First it allows for aggressive product improvement and distribution (making more goods available to more people). Second, because of its breadth, it rewards businesses for being consumer and worker-friendly. In somewhat paradoxical, yet very real terms it both restrains and frees up companies; like democracy itself functioning within a populist, consumer-controlled context.

Another aspect of Marxism is even more questionable because it is based on Hegel’s speculative notion of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. (North 2006). This Hegelian triad proposed that a kind of social algorithm orchestrates all of human history. More specifically that an existing social system would always encounter its antithesis (often via revolution), then would be replaced by a new synthesis, or social system. Ironically, Hegel saw this as a spiritual inevitability; as though God, or some transcendent entity was behind the transformations. Marx and Engels were hard core atheists, so it is difficult to discern what transcendent agent they had in mind. Perhaps they were also referencing Immanuel Kant’s notion of a ‘categorical imperative,’ which was highly abstract, involved a built-in inevitability but was not quite deistic. It does appear Marx and Engels held Kant in high regard as well.

Other versions of Utopia revolved around religious themes. Most involved some form of socialism. The Labadist movement in Maryland and in prior locations around Europe espoused a communal society with relative deemphasis on the core family. While their community attracted some very bright clerics and intellectuals its rejection of notoriety and individuality led to its dissandonment in 1730. (Saxby, 1987).

Other systems were similarly communal, thus deviating from the notion that individuality matters and that mom and dad were crucial to the moral, intellectual and educational development of sons and daughters whose behaviors and dispositions would, generation after generation determine whether any given society would sink or swim. Among the most notable was Robert Owen, an English textile merchant who came to America to found a socialist community in New Harmony, Indiana. His societal foundation was also religious (though he was a deist – believed in a world loosely created by a deity but left to run on its own rather through periodic divine intervention. Owen espoused many humanitarian ideas. Much of his writing had an egalitarian tinge, with allusions to “human nature being the most basic and necessary constituent in an evolving society”…and references to a “New Moral World” (Claeys 2011). On the other hand his theories, despite advocating for a society designed around human nature had the same flaws as all socialist systems. Among the most prominent being his refusal to accept that human beings have and require a sense of self – of individuation, not just to attain wealth and status but to use as a reference point in all experiential endeavors. Owen’s ideas fizzled out by 1846.

The historical failure of socialism seems to continually repeat itself. It can last for as long as emotionally galvanized believers can overcome their primate/hierarchical instincts with threat and persuasion but can never settle comfortably into the every day life of identity-driven mankind.
Thomas Moore was probably the first to try so systematize a theory of Utopia. While he was influenced by the Christian/humanism movement his egalitarian concepts took things to a different level. His ideas, spawned in the context of rather inequitable 16th century English society (which issued the death penalty to thieves, placed all wealth in the hands of a monarch and contained many long-debunked tyrannical policies) have been obviated by the advent of purer forms of democracy and populist rule, (Sullivan 1983). In other words his complaints have been addressed and to an extent resolved through simple socio-political evolution.

The idea of Utopia is considered passe’ in modern times, simply because a perfect society could not exist without absolute uniformity of opinion, need and sentiment backed by cultural consensus. Getting a democrat from New York and a republican from Texas to agree on policy is hard enough. Asking 300 million people to do so would be inconceivable.

Still it seems thinkers cannot scrap the idea. Philosophers, candidates and theorists speak constantly about “ideals”, that is, policies and actions universally sanctioned by some alpha-entity to make sure that authority will not derive from mere, flawed humans. The framers, rather brilliantly, put this in God’s hands which made final authority both eternal and unattainable by tyrants.

The fact that true Utopia cannot exist even as humans are inclined to seek it out creates an ongoing problem. Since protests, complaints and revolutions abound in every society on earth that problem would seem difficult to solve. It raises the question of whether the quest for ideals and a perfect society should even be broached; or whether mankind would be better off letting society evolve of its own momentum as a function of stresses, strains and moment to moment problem solving.

The obvious counter-argument would be that without the drawing power of an ideal the quest to improve society would lack direction. It would be a bit like hippies in the sixties protesting against the “system” without offering alternative solutions (other than, ironically, donning Mao jackets). Interestingly, Jefferson’s belief in the need for constant vigilance – which seems to derive loosely from the idealistic teleology of the Greeks seems to have fostered a kind of Utopian-developmental mindset. Yet frustration resulting from conflict between the desirable and the possible seems to have persisted throughout history.


One way to address that problem might be to view society not in purely philosophical or political terms but like Owen (albeit in a different context) in terms of human nature; more specifically from knowledge accrued in the field of behavioral science.

Some might argue that such a task would be pointless. This author would disagree, for two reasons. First what we call “sociopolitics” is nothing more than a broad, conceptual view of human individual and group behavior patterns. These patterns have been studied with some rigor over the past century by behavioral scientists and clinicians. Second, to reiterate, abandoning the quest for a homo-consonant society could mean abandoning any hope of finding one. Clearly human society is not yet perfected. While only a handful of socio-political theories have emerged over time the study of human behavior is rich with ideas and proven facts regarding habits, attitudes, motivations and temperament. In that context perhaps theorizing is worth a shot.

The Political Psyche…

Many theories on human behavior and the personality exist, and there is no point in discussing them here. However one element common to all is the idea of the self. With a substantial brain, and exceptional linguistic ability humans can and will label things (including themselves). It is not a whim, or happenstance acquisition from experience but a mandate. Labeling invariably leads to drawing distinctions between and among things. To label the color “blue” is to automatically know that another color is not blue. This is to due to the unavoidable process of perceptual differentiation that characterizes our species. This rule is responsible for everything from unity to discrimination, from discovery to ignorance. In a political context that means n pan-eqalitarian society that disregards differences in terms of traits, assets, accomplishments, status, and skills etc runs contrary to human nature. We are, after all genetically close in makeup to primates whose social groups are typically hierarchical. They engage in social differentiation – so do we.

In that context an egalitarian society would be difficult to sustain. That brings to mind two essential tasks of human society. On one hand it is necessary to enlist the efforts and commitment of the many in common cause, based on a vague notion of equality. On the other we must enable and support individuality, including differentials in skill, status and wealth in what amounts to an ideological co-existence. Groups use products. Individuals create and invent them. Interestingly, while such modulation might seem a lofty pursuit Jefferson discussed this eloquently in a letter to John Adams on natural aristocracy (2018).
Where does that leave us? In addressing the question of a human-consonant society the first question to ask is whether there exists an ideal state of mind which if imparted culturally through experience and (incentive-driven) policy, would produce the greatest degree of pro-social contentment. In other words is there a scientific premise by which to fulfill the vague promise of pursuit of happiness. As a corollary, is there something about western democracy that is quintessentially rooted in human psychology?

Eustress in the Lab…

The obvious place to begin looking for an ideal mental state is of course the human brain with its vast and complex neural connections. Just how it orchestrates holistically all the functions of mind has yet to be determined but one of its most essential functions is ongoing noise reduction. Once aroused the brain tends toward mass action (Lashley 1930) rather than immediately summoning only the stimulus-relevant circuits. That is a benefit in terms of associative accessibility. It can also be a detriment because it can draw in all kinds of peripheral distractions, moods and demons. To sift through that complexity to find memories and ressponses it must operate as a closure-seeking machine. In other words like a homeostat that reacts to uncertainty by seeking restoration of stability.

There are two facets to brain activity. One is in the realm of experience which causes us to “feel good” post-closure. The other is a systemic process that while reflected in experience is concerned with resetting the inter-neural guage, much as a thermostat restores a pre-set home temperature. That dual dynamic is responsible for everything from the discovery of Relativity Theory to paranoid delusions.

In that context any socio-political system that provides opportunities for as many individuals as possible to engage in closure seeking (meaning a reasonable chance to convert uncertainty to closure across circumstances (i.e. poly-control) could arguably contain one crucial element of a human-consonant society.

However it doesn’t end there. Closure requires a prior state of uncertainty, because in terms of information dynamics there is no point in finding an answer unless a question is first posed. In the field of behavioral psychology this controllable transition from uncertainty to closure is often referred to as a state of “eustress” – which is a combination of the words ‘euphoria’ and ‘stress.’ It refers to the fact that no individual or group can be in a psycho-socially optimal state without experiencing stress as a prelude to closure (i.e. successful completion of tasks and/or confirmation of anticipations. Just as closure is preceded necessarily by uncertainty so is closure preceded necessarily by work and duress according to the eustress model.

The research in this area has yielded interesting results. If the stress/impetus is too harsh and prohibitive, closure unattainable, individuals will tend to incur a state of learned helplessness which often leads to lethargy and depression as well as fostering anti-social attitudes. It is as if the conflicted individual has declared the social contract null and void, reverted back into a state of nature and no longer feels bound by social norms. An internalization of that anti-social attitude outcome can lead to inner turmoil and psychopathology (Ackerman 2018).

The interesting flip side of that process is that when there is reward/closure without exertion – in other words there is “eu” but no preliminary “stress” i.e. reward without work, a similar outcome occurs. Receiving reward without exertion deemed proportionate to the reward can also lead to depression and an anti-social mindset. That is because with no behavior to equate with the outcome no associative or emotional bond is established between effort and reward,. In that case, behavior, mood and motivation become inconsequential Thus a soft socio-political climate (where everything comes easy can actually lead to a dys-national mindset. In effect giving people what they want does not work. Enabling them to earn what they want does work.

In that sense a psychologically ideal (homo-consonant) society would be one with a close ratio between effort and reward, i.e. stress and closure spread among the populace. Some research suggests values, policies and/or customs making life neither too easy nor too hard, could produce a broad contentment leading to a creative, pro-social, environment (Nelson,Cooper 2005). That could produce enormous benefits that resonate throughout the culture.

Implications, Questions…

While that idea might have validity, four problems come to mind. First, the tendency is for societies to modernize constantly in order to make things easier and more convenient. Over time that could skew the stress/closure ratio. By virtue of our neural software and its effect on experience, closure must be “earned” to take effect. In that sense the quest for convenience can be counterproductive over the long run no matter how much it boosts an economy or expands leisure time.

A second problem is that in order to foster a eustress-driven culture would require some kind of regulatory process. To an extent this happens now – for example programs moving people from welfare to work. But on a larger scale this would require a super-meritocratic philosophy translated into the language of law or at least prompted within the education system, emphasizing the important relationship between effort and reward.

Because democratic systems tend not to impose life style changes on the public this would be difficult – though anti-smoking ad campaigns have been successful. Once upon a time it wasn’t so difficult because family was the core. Can this influence be re-established? If so, such a goal could be reached and eventually translate, child by child, family by family into a broadly accepted custom.
The third problem (and undoubtedly the most difficult) revolves around the question of individual talents. Despite its negative connotations, there is such a thing as the normal curve, that is, a dispersion of skills and traits. This has little to do with intelligence per se – simply because most people hover around the average to high average range (if not, society could not possibly rely on the reasonable person standard to render verdicts, vote or abide by laws. Rather it has to do with the highs and lows of skills and interests.

For example some people are mechanically inclined, but not terribly interested or gifted in abstract, philosophical areas. The opposite is true as well. Some people are highly social, others introverted, some abstract and artistic, others practical and concrete. For the eustress dynamic to work society would have to emphasize vocational and educational skill diversity to match the normal curve. Rather than advocating that all students should go to college (a preposterous idea since it would ultimately render college graduates less valuable via the supply/demand dynamic), it would involve an advocative (if not legislative) policy by government and education systems to facilitate a skill-diverse system.

One main barrier? The prideful assumption that lack of a college degree diminishes one’s worth. Such a change in the American weltanschaung would require a shift in attitudes, not only in terms of the worth of laborers (perhaps beginning with an overview of human evolution, which was enhanced and sustained primarily by the efforts of toolmakers – not poets (Stout 2011) but by challenging the worshipful attitude toward “intellectuals.”

How to re-value the worker, inventor and mechanic? One way is via simple capitalism. It is well known that many types of laborers, mechanics and hands-on workers make more money and are often more functionally necessary than students with a B.A. in liberal arts. Attention paid to that by high school guidance counselors and other advisers would help foster vocational diversity. Of even greater assistance would be greater diversity in school programs, including high schools and post secondary programs.

The net effect of such skill diversity could be greater control of rewards and in terms of the eustress dynamic, a closer correlation between efforts and closure/reward for a larger segment of the general population. That is because a round peg-round hole vocational topography not only ameliorates fervent competition for jobs (which does happen when students all go into one field or another based on trend or fad) but also makes it more likely that workers will be successful.

A still greater challenge results from a pervasive idea entrenched in the American ethic – the idea of pan-equality. The USA is unique because of its promise of upward mobility. Ours is a nation nurtured by the framers but born in the womb of an idea fostered by John Locke – the notion of tabula rasa…or “blank slate.” (Walker 1996) It proposes that all talents and skills are a function of experience. In that context, thinkers following the framers interpreted their writings to mean that anyone can accomplish whatever they set their mind to once the playing field was leveled -that anyone could be an Einstein or a Picasso. That is a mis-perception (Turkheimer 2000). We are not all equal- which does not mean some are superior. others deficient. It means that success in any endeavor has to do with so many variables such as temperament, intelligence, motivation, and attitudes as well as simple experience. One person’s strength is another’s weakness. That’s life, and if we built a culture based on a model espousing “good fit among the many” rather than valuing more highly those with higher abstract, verbal ability the resulting social stability could ameliorate the anti-social behavior and some of the psychopathology that too often occurs in social systems lacking proportion in terms of the eustress dynamic.

Does that mean we cease to talk about equality, and if so, what do we replace it with? First of all, despite Locke’s tabula rasa concept, the term equality initially meant equal before the law. In other words, all people were to be granted the rights and privileges inherent in the judicial process. With that in mind, one can imagine adding to the words…”We live in a free society where all men are created equal” with “before the law” further adding…we hold that ‘all people are different, with varying interests, abilities and motivations and we aspire, not to render everyone the same but to foster the growth of a society by creating opportunities for as many of human traits and abilities as possible.

While much of the history of human politics can be described as an attempt to override our primal urges and traits such a congruence-based socio-political model would, like human evolution itself, end up favoring trait variety over trait uniformity in the quest for survival and adaptation. Rather than two straight lines rubbing against each other in a high-friction interaction, the eustress society would be analogous to an inverted and external angle fitting together to create a whole, congruent and complimentary structure.


Ackerman, C. 2018;Learned Helplessness; Seligman’s Theory of Depression (+ Cure) Positive

G. Claeys (ed) (1993) The Selected Works of Robert Owen London, Pickering and Chatto. Routledge.

Lashley, K. 1930 Basic Neural Mechanisms in Behavior. Psychological Review

On Natural Aristocracy: (2018) – Article in The Imaginative Conservative: derived from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to John Adams Oct 28

Nelson, D , Cooper, G. (2005) Stress and Health: A Positive Direction. Stress and Health 21 (2) 73-75

North, D. (2006) Hegel, Marx and the Origins of Marxism World Socialist Website. Mehring Books

Saxby, T.J. (1987) “Chapter 6” Quest for the New Jerusalem. Jean de Labadie and the Labadists 1610-1744, Dordrecht-Boston-Lancaster

Stout, D. (2011), Stone Toolmaking and the Evolution of Human Culture and Cognition. Philosophical Transactions B Royal Society Publishing.

Sullivan, EDS (ed) (1983) The Utopian Vision: Seven Essays on The Quincentennial of Sir Thomas More. San Diego State University Press, San Diego Calif.

Turkheimer,, E. (2000) Three Laws of Behavior Genetics and What They Mean. Current Directions in Psychological Science 9 (5) 160-164

Walker. K. (1996). (ed) Essay Concerning Human Understanding 1813 p xix and 33-36 Book II Chapter 1, 1-9 Hackett Publishing Com. Indianapolis, IN 1996

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Essay on Time; A Contrarian Viewpoint

June 12th, 2019 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 37 views | Print this Article

by Robert DePaolo

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, despite depicting an orderly, quantifiable and predictable universe actually led to some rather odd predictions regarding the relationships among matter,space and time.

The inter-dependency between space and time is particularly fascinating, not just because it leads to a topsy-turvy alteration of human experience but because some of its premises must be considered impossible if one accepts that there is such a thing as existence.


Relativity Theory is considered fact in the field of modern physics and experimentation has consistently supported its premises. In some instances however, misinterpretations of what Einstein said have become just as entrenched in the field as the valid components of the theory. One of these is the oft-repeated theme that matter and energy are interchangeable; that each derives from the other. Certainly matter at rest contains latent energy which can be converted to kinetic energy. But energy does not equate with matter so the relationship is not reciprocal or isomorphic.

For example, Einstein said that the mass of an object increases as it approaches light speed, that its mass is enhanced but not created. An example that brings home this distinction is the Higgs field, which is made up of force conveying particles (bosons). These particles are not material, rather interact with (in a sense “bathe”) other particles that then attain mass to create matter (fermions). Still another example can be found in the photon, which has no mass, does have energy but never converts to matter unless it interacts with electrons or other particles. In that sense, the relationship between mass and energy actually plays out as a material/ergonomic duality rather than as two sides of a singe coin.

Einstein’s concept of time is even more mysterious and to an extent has also been embellished over the years. He viewed light speed as an anchor point in the universe – a governing entity that regulated space, time and existence. To understand why Einstein brought space and time together into a single dimension, consider the following example.

Say you are about to toss a baseball against a wall as a kind of experiment. The wall is exactly 60 feet across. You make sure the force of your toss is exactly the same each time (the ball travels to the wall at the same speed with each toss). The ball reaches the wall in half a second. Now, say the wall is moved forward to 50 feet across. Once again, you toss the ball with the same force and speed. Of course the ball takes less time to reach the wall. Nothing unusual about that. Now, say the wall is pushed back to 60 feet but as you begin to toss the ball the entire room starts moving forward. The ball will arrive at the wall in less than half a second, even though you tossed it at the same exact force and speed and even though the wall was still 60 feet away.

That illustrates how acceleration can alter time. The logical endpoint of this process is that if something travels fast enough the amount of time from one site to another would be so compressed that no time will lapse at all. That time-dilation barrier is the speed of light or ”c”.

Einstein refused to take this to the levels espoused by some modern physicists, who presume it is possible to travel back in time by exceeding light speed. That makes perfect sense if time and space are so intertwined. On the other hand such extrapolations haunted Einstein. He had no taste for the insertion of quasi-mystical ideas into what he considered the forward moving, measurable hardware of the universe.

In the Beginning…?
One of the most far reaching extrapolations from the time dilation idea has to do with the time line for the origin of the universe. Stephen Hawking, Roger Penrose and others have addressed this question, which is a profoundly difficult one. In doing so they have refuted the need not only for a creative deity but for the necessity of a beginning at all. Theirs is a non-temporal theory, holding that there was no chronological beginning. At face value this might seem absurd – doesn’t everything have a beginning? Yet the way in which Hawking and others conceptualize the problem is roughly as follows.

1. After billions of years the force from the big bang will undergo entropy and its expansion will slow down.
2. When this occurs gravity will take over and compress all cosmic matter into a tiny spec of unimaginable mass and energy.
3. At this point there will be nothing outside the “cosmic egg” – no space or surround phenomena at all. Because there is no space there can be no time or movement, only intense heat and energy. The entire proto-cosmos would be analogous to the ultimate singularity.
4. Therefore, since time could not exist without space, there can be no temporal “before.” or beginning.
Hawking’s brilliant career and courage are well documented but one wonders if this model holds true because while it agrees with relativity it stands in stark contrast with core elements of information theory. Essentially, Hawking and others have described the proto-universe as existing in what could be called a simultaneous epoch. Simultaneity means everything happens at once,which precludes any sort of sequential/cause-effect process. Most theoretical physicists believe the universe had to cool (i.e. its symmetry broken) before matter, forces, space and time evolved into their present forms. Yet for cooling to occur particles had to separate to reduce friction-induced heat. To go from compression to separation required a force, which involved inexorably a sequence of events. That is because one element had to interact with another to enact or produce the force (even quantum theory would require that). That entails an exchange of information, which by definition and orchestration requires a sender and receiver. That is an unavoidable mandate of Information theory. Simultaneity precludes that possibility and while it is interesting to consider that time did not exist prior to the Big Bang, such a scenario would also remove both information content and transmission from the process. In that case no event could have occurred because there cannot be information without time.

Beyond that, in the pre-expansion cosmic egg heat could only be generated via the rapid bombardment of particles; ostensibly in a plasma containing mostly hydrogen and helium. Heat is a form of information requiring senders and receivers since it is created by, for instance, particle A crashing into particle B. If all matter in the cosmic egg was a singularity, with no distinctions, just an entity of infinite noise (the opposite of information) no event could have led to cooling, expansion or any other event. In other words a simultaneous epoch could have prevented any universe, multi-verse, “brane” or string from coming into existence.
Other features of a non-temporal cosmic egg also run contrary to information dynamics. Perhaps the most obvious is seen in the law of conservation, which holds that energy will always be conserved – never run out, though it can change form. Burn a log of wood and ash will replace the solidity of the log. Yet the chemicals and energy of either form will always remain the same. That poses a problem for the idea of simultaneity. The universe of now must have exactly the same amount of energy it had in the beginning. Without time it could have had no energy then, consequently no energy now. By the same token, energy and the components and forces that drive and reshape it are a form of information. That means if there was no information in the cosmic egg there cannot be any information in our present day universe. That would preclude any semblance of cause-effect, time, force, matter, distinctions or symmetry breaking. To put it crudely, there would be nothing – we would have ourselves a negative universe.
Without invoking a deity the idea of an non-temporal cosmic egg seems unlikely. While modern theoretical physics has drifted into at times Byzantine descriptions of mass, time, space, energy and causation it could be that there was a beginning – that time never originated but was (necessarily) there from the outset. Perhaps there were infinitely narrow time passages at work, for example an unsurpassed Planck time that would not be measurable or even comprehensible to us now. That aside, it seems the notion of a pre-expansion, simultaneous epoch can be called into question.


Hawking, S. Mlodinow, L. (2012) The Grand Design Bantam Books,

Hawking, S. Penrose (2015) The Nature of Space and Time, Princeton University Press
Hawking, S. Penrose, (2005) A Brief History of Time. Bantam Books.

On Information Theory and Cosmology: Kamani, M. Paakkonen, K. Annila, A. (2009) The Physical Character of Information, Proc. R. Soc. A 465 (2107) pp. 2155-75

Reference to bosons (force particles) and fermions (mass particles) Lederman, L. Hill, C. (2013) Beyond the God Particle, Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY.

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Essay on Time: A Contrarian Viewpoint

June 12th, 2019 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 22 views | Print this Article

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The Bimodal Personality: A Socio-sexual Model of Human Motivates and Behavior

December 13th, 2018 by Robert DePaolo | Posted in Psychology | No Comments » | 62 views | Print this Article

by Robert DePaolo


This article discusses two core aspects of personality that have broad impact on multiple behavior patterns; including creativity, politics, sexuality and antisocial behavior. The model is derived from human/primate evolutionary origins which include the quest for social hierarchical status and the drive to reproduce. The two factors are presented as inextricably linked as an integrated, bimodal motive to a wide range of emotions and behaviors.

The Master…

Freud’s tripartite theory of the psyche emphasized the relationship between reason, impulse, the conscience and their interactive relevance to normalcy and pathology. If one were to include all the other components of his theory, for example the unconscious, dreams, complexes and stages of development, gaining a concise understanding of what makes Homo sapiens tick would be very difficult indeed.

Over time the sheer complexity of psychoanalytic theory put it somewhat on the sidelines as a conceptual and therapeutic methodology. In addition its long term parameters created a bottleneck for insurance carriers who began to gravitate toward more economical methods such as cognitive-behavior therapy and behavior modification. Whether the newer, briefer methods are more effective than psychoanalysis is open to question, particularly since the ways in which therapeutic improvement is determined can be subjective and ultimately existential. Still the elegance of Freud’s theory remain appealing, in part because it dovetails with some irrefutable facts about human nature. For example his unification of the libido and the principle of energy conservation (borrowed from Maxwell and Einstein) was elegant. Much of what we do has some sort of relationship to the drive to seek pleasure (sexual and otherwise); particularly in an evolutionary context. Archaic Homo was only modestly encephalized, could neither run very fast nor climb as well as his quadrupedal cousins. Over time our forebears were evolving into a more slender, gracile creature. Despite potential advantages emanating from that, including enhanced fine motor dexterity and greater heat tolerance for long distance traveling, having less muscle mass was also a physical liability. In addition, archaic females, in typical primate fashion gave birth to one child at a time in most instances and the infant’s development extended beyond the usual primate norms. Faced with such long odds and predatory vulnerability nature had to bestow on the creature a fervent, compensatory sex drive.

Ladies to the Rescue…

Fortunately, females in at least one of the Archaic Homo groups changed in their morphology (by a quirk of nature or something more neo-Lemarckian?) Protruding breasts and pelvises, which in other primates only emerge during estrus, became more permanent. It looked to males as though these females were in permanent estrus. Good fortune prompted a physically weak, not yet brainy species to develop an intense interest in mating, which helped to ensure species continuity.

Primate courtships…

The final result was a complex human psycho-sexual dialectic. On one hand having such a lustful orientation favored much-needed propagation. On the other hand, since the infants’ development began to take longer, females had to balance their sexual interest with their maternal/protective instincts. They did so by selecting males with a helping, cooperative orientation, that is, males whose behavioral traits signaled commitment and stability. To the prospective mothers, it was clear that while having males around to help in child rearing was beneficial, it also meant males would have more contact with the infants. Males are not as typically gentle with infants so the females offered themselves up as a laboratory. An empathic strategy evolved in which females used the males’ behavior toward them as an indication of how the males would react to off spring in what amounted to a fusion between courtship and paternal fitness. As a result of this complex process a distinctly new primate mating pattern emerged which was both revolutionary and evolutionary.

One might ask; why use the term “revolutionary”? For example, don’t most animals treat each other gently during mating season? For example, even the lion in the throes of sexual fervor makes sure none of his sexual reactions will hurt or frighten off the lioness – pleasure, not pain being the whole point of the interaction.

The problem is that this is not necessarily true of primates. Chimps (our closest evolutionary relatives) have a fairly random mating process, whereby deception, opportunism and aggression are a bit more common (Crystal, 2018). Because they tend to live in large social groups sexual competition is more intense. Indeed alpha males attempt to hog all the action and lesser ranked members have to persuade or cajole females into clandestine rendezvous. If caught by alpha males the consequences can be dire – which makes one wonder if this is the original/primal source of sexual guilt (fear of getting caught in a non-approved sexual encounter by an authority figure).

That, of course, is mere conjecture. Less speculative is that sexual opportunity in primates has a direct correlation with social status. Thus a more comprehensive view of the human psyche would suggest one fundamental catalyst of human behavior, the libido, must be integrated with another, the drive for social status. In that context “rank and arousal” would be coupled in the same way that Einstein coupled mass and energy.
While this proposal is theoretical there is ample research lending support. For example Muehlenbein, Watts, et. al. showed that as social status was enhanced not only did chimp males experience an increase in testosterone levels but also became more attractive to females-who apparently sensed both the status and fertility of the higher ranking male. (2003 ).

Such a neo-Freudian modification might entail not just a unification of two prominent (previously separate) personality factors; social need and sexual need but would also include the inferiority/superiority complex and derivative compensatory mechanisms discussed by Alfred Adler, (Orgler 1976).

A (Psychic) Theory of Everything?

Ever since Einstein put forth his special and general theories of relativity, theoretical physicists have argued about what a unified field theory would look like, i.e. one describing a common source for the electromagnetic, weak, strong and gravitational forces and whether such a mechanism exists. Whether it be Neils Bohr challenging Einstein on the orderliness vs. uncertain nature of the cosmos, Richard Feynman depicting the universe as having no more of a cause-effect history than a fluctuating random particle, the central question has been the same: Which model/argument has enough teeth to resolve all issues related to the functions of the large and subatomic aspects of the universe?

A similar question could be asked regarding this bimodal socio-sexual theory, to wit: does it explain a significantly wide range of human behaviors and motives?

In addressing that question, obviously one must wax subjective, since there seems to be a dearth of research on this topic. Yet one can begin on fairly solid anecdotal ground by pointing out that almost every human motive has either a sexual or social source. From the moment of early human art, depictions of large breasted females and otherwise voluptuous characterizations were prevalent. The influence of sexual themes on language, morality, literature, art, filmmaking and music remains pre-eminent in human affairs.

So does social concern. Modern technology has shown us that our need to know about what every person does, what they achieve, what they say, how they act, how they sin and how sincerely they apologize has turned social media into a trillion dollar enterprise. Clearly Homo sapiens is by nature a bit snoopy, gossipy and competitive – traits that are thankfully (occasionally) balanced by altruistic concerns.

If sex and social interest are in themselves powerful drives, one could argue that the unification of those drives into a psychological mosaic would be powerful enough to be at the root of other motives. That is precisely the argument here.

The Particulars…

Freud’s theory of the personality was by far the broadest and possibly the most ingenious ever devised; not just because of its clinical, physical and biological breadth but also because Freud was bold enough to apply his theory to a wide variety of behavior patterns – even some of the most mundane. He discussed history, dreams, humor, smoking (his own personal vice), art, politics, child development, as well as psychopathology through the prism of psychoanalysis. While it is difficult to aspire to that level of intellectual prowess, it might be worthwhile to apply this socio-sexual model to various aspects of human behavior to see if a theoretical unification is possible.


The drive to create has many possible antecedents. For example, the curiosity drive forces us to seek new stimuli. Humans not only have a tendency to invent new and useful or entertaining concepts and tools but often invent new fears and worries because we need to not only adapt to our environment but also to anticipate its perks and dangers. (One cannot come up with solutions unless there are problems to solve in the first place and creativity initially requires an irritating vacuum). Yet art is also a social phenomenon. Painting, music, sculpting, literature, architectural design – all pass through the filter of social approval. While not experimentally validated, but demonstrable, artists usually have no dearth of mating opportunities. That does not mean artists employ their skills merely to attract sexual partners but the effect is the same. The fact that their social rank (through reputation, notoriety and financial success) is enhanced by artistic endeavors offers further support of the inextricable link between status and the libido. As an interesting side note, paleo-anthropologists have long wondered what motivated early man to paint in the caves at Lascaux and Altamira. Some believe the paintings were spiritual (Greene 2007). Others believe the drawings were the inevitable byproduct of a cognitive leap in brain evolution (Waldman, 2012). These theories, and others, are interesting and possibly valid. One question seldom asked is whether the ancient artists drew these pictures to among other things, obtain higher rank and sexual access.


One way to address this aspect of human endeavor is to conjure up a kind of thought experiment, whereby one group of well-trained athletes are asked to run as fast or jump as high as they can with no one watching, the second group to do so with people observing. This is not the same as asking whether some athletes perform better or worse under pressure of scrutiny – clearly that varies with the individual. Rather it is to ask whether non-social performance would differ significantly from social performance. The same question could be asked of musicians, lecturers and actors. Research on this is sparse but one suspects the presence of observers would more often than not enhance performance; for various reasons having to do with social status, heightened adrenal output and the performance enhancing reinforcement (or fear of rejection) from the crowd.


The role of socio-sexual elements in politics is obvious; not only in light of the sexual exploits of various leaders over time (and not just in the USA – which begs the question of why we are so surprised by revelations about the sex lives of powerful politicians) but also because politics is not only about policy but also about appeal, attractiveness, and abstractions such as…”connecting with the people” “being charismatic” and “having a following.” Under the most horrendous circumstances we have seen this tendency utilized by figures like Caligula, Jim Jones and Charles Manson to manipulate the social and sexual/political instincts of their followers. Yet even benevolent figures have fished in those waters. Henry Kissinger’s famous quote about power being an aphrodisiac comes to mind.


Humor can also be said to derive from socio-sexual roots. It is of course social, since much of it pertains to one person’s observations of others; for example George Carlin’s comments on the flat rear ends of white folks and Richard Prior’s epiphany at seeing predominantly black folks in his travels to Africa. Yet while it is social it is also, interestingly, devoted to social rank. In fact when this writer was a young man a joke-fest among peers was often called a “ranking party.” Freud maintained that inherent in humor is an aggressive or taboo component, that allows us to say or imply things that have hurtful, demeaning tones but are masked as sarcasm and irony. Hennie Youngman’s “take my wife… please”, Jeff Foxworthy’s…”You could be a redneck if” are just two of many examples of the hierarchical underpinnings of humor. Since social rank has bearing on sexual access it can be said to fit into the bimodal personality paradigm as well.


In recent times there has been an emphasis on analyzing the psychological motives of criminals – particularly terrorists and serial killers through the prisms of religious fervor, symbolism, maternal relationships, child abuse etc. While each of these elements no doubt plays a role one has to wonder if the hyper-analysis of criminal behavior misses the point and if the roots of such behavior also derive primarily from a socio-sexual dynamic. For purposes of discussion let us review some crimes of note.

Ted Bundy’s horrific dynamics…

For all the analysis in books, commentary and documentaries on the motives of serial killer Ted Bundy the dynamics of his horrendous acts might have been fairly uncomplicated. He was spoiled as a child – perhaps due to guilt over the deception that his mother was really his mother. His eventual discovery that he was illegitimate and that his sister was really his mother created a dissonance-fomenting demotion from status of favorite son to gullible, unwanted bastard. He was later rejected by his fiance’, a slender woman with long dark hair who broke their engagement abruptly. This was no doubt interpreted by Bundy as a further demotion in status. He then found another girlfriend whom he tied up regularly as part of a sexual control ritual (possibly in a feverishly compulsive act of self restoration: “If I prevent you from moving and exert maximal physical control you can’t leave or demote me”) and subsequently went about murdering numerous look-a-likes to his fiance’. Did his need to kill, then rape his victims posthumously occur because he was never able to reestablish his hopeful, self perceived social rank as “bright, charming law student”; his female-directed nihilism a bizarre way of re-promoting himself and during the process, raising his testosterone levels through the safety valve of ultra control ?

Similar dynamics seem to be involved with many mass murderers and Islamic terrorists – the latter of whom had been promised not only legendary heroic status in death but also access to 72 virgins in paradise.
Meanwhile, Charles Manson was a rejected musician who neatly divided up the world into “injured have-nots” (his narcissistically inspired group) and the “haves.” For all his rants about “helter skelter” his actions might have been designed for rank restoration and to establish sexual and physical dominance.


Freud’s main emphasis was of course on psychopathology. In recent times many syndromes have been found to derive from biochemical processes in the brain. At face value this would seem to mitigate against a bimodal, evolutionary model of causation; that is, unless correlations can be found between the neurochemical and socio-sexual systems.
Perhaps there are. For example a causative feature of many depressive disorders is a depletion of pleasure-enhancing neurotransmitters such as the catecholamine group. This and other transmitters are also related to social-hierarchical experiences, including an uptake following successful experiences and increased social status (Cheng, Kormenko, et al. 2015). Thus many of the same chemical agents involved in psychopathologies are functional in the socio-sexual dynamic. In addition, the cognitive themes of psychotics, dissociative as they might be, often pertain to social themes. For example a sense of being programmed or spied on by the paranoid schizophrenic, social anxiety at being in a room full of people, compensatory (status enhancing) rage at authority figures by an individual with an anti-social personality, status enhancing acts of sexual dominance by a low ranking individual who engages in rape or child molestation and the status seeking hysteria of the spotlight-seeking borderline personality.
Whether one can, as per this model, simplify the psyche via the integration of two indistinguishable drives is, of course, speculative. To do so would probably require proof that on a basic neurobehavioral level the human brain is co-wired in this way. It might also mean conjuring up an evolutionary link between social and sexual need (perhaps even extending to the origin and primal functions of human language).

It is clear that studies of the comparative cognitive abilities of young children and chimps showed that (brain mass notwithstanding) the advantage human infants had was a greater capacity to learn by observing and copying others (Hirschon, 2017). It suggests enhanced social perception might have been the evolutionary ratchet leading to our higher intelligence and unique capacity to pass information down through generations in building a cumulative culture. If the sex drive fuels us and social concern drives us, perhaps it can be assumed that in some way there would be a level of cooperation and mutual influence between the two in virtually all aspects of the personality.


Cheng, T. Kormenko, O. Granger, D.A. (2015) Prestige in a large scale group predicts longitudinal changes in testosterone. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Cherry,K. Freud, Ego and Superego. Article on Internet on Very/Well/ 11/6/2018

Crystal, M. (2018) Chimpanzee mating habits; Home, Science, Nature, Animals. Science Web site

Greene. F.J. (2007) Lecture at N.Y. Museum of Biblical Art. Religious Awareness in Art from prehistoric to today; A Course in Art Appreciation.

Hirschon, B. Apes vs. Toddlers: Although equivalent in many intellectual tasks human toddlers are much better than apes in social thinking. Science Net Links. Science Update Nov. 2017

Muehlenbein, M. Watts, D. Whitten, P. (Dec, 2003) Dominance, Rank and Fecal Testosterone Levels in Adult Male Chimpanzees at Ngogo,Kibale National Park,Uganda. American Journal of Primatology

Orgler, H. (1976) Alfred Adler; International Journal of Social Psychiatry 22 (1) 67-68

Waldman. K. Lascaux’s Picassos; What prehistoric art tells us about the evolution of the human brain. Health & Science Oct. 18, 2012

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