Posts Tagged ‘Freud’

Is There a Biology Behind the Cultural Crisis?

September 19, 2018

The title of this post is the title of a section in an insightful book by Antonio Damaisio titled “The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures. The title of this chapter is “On the Human Condition Now.”
The answer to the title is “yes,” so if that satisfies your curiosity you can stop reading now.

The physiological rationale and primary content of basic homeostasis is the life of an individual organism within its borders. Basic homeostasis is a somewhat parochial affair, focused on the temple that human subjectivity has designed and erected—the self. It can be extended to the family and the small group. It can be extended further out to larger groups on the basis of circumstances and negotiations in which prospects of general benefits and power are well balanced. But homeostasis, as found in each of our individual organisms is not spontaneously concerned with very large groups, especially heterogeneous groups, let alone with cultures or civilizations as a whole. Conflicts and struggles for power among social groups are integral components of cultures. Sometimes the conflict may even result from the application of an affect-motivated solution to a prior problem. There are blatant exceptions to the rules that govern homeostasis of a natural, individual organism such as malignant conceit and autoimmune diseases; unchecked, they not only fight other parts of the organism to which they belong, but can actually achieve organism destruction.

In the last years of his life, Sigmund Freud saw the bestiality of Nazism as confirming his doubts that culture could ever tame the nefarious death wish that he believed was present in each of us. Earlier Freud had begun to articulate his reasons in the collection of texts known as “Civilization and Its Discontents,” but nowhere are his arguments better expressed than in his correspondence with Albert Einstein. Einstein wrote to Freud in 1932 seeking his advice on how to prevent the deadly conflagration he saw coming, following on the heels of World War I. In his reply Freud described the human forces at play. He had no good advice to offer, no help, no solution. I’m so sorry. The main reason for his pessimism, it should be noted, was the flawed condition of the human. He blamed human beings.

And Damaisio concludes, “The protracted negotiating process required for governance efforts is necessarily embedded in the biology of affect and its accommodations with reason. There is no exit from that condition.”

Here is the conclusion to this chapter. “The strategic pursuit of happiness, just like the spontaneous variety, is predicated on feelings. The motives behind the pursuit—the maladies of life and their pleasurable counterweights—could not have been envisioned without feelings. Thanks to the confrontation with pain and the recognition of desire, it came to be that feelings good and bad, focused on the intellect, gave it purpose, and helped create new ways of regulating life. Feelings and expanded intellect made a powerful alchemy. They freed humans to attempt homeostasis by cultural means, instead of remaining captive to their basic biological devices. Humans were well into this new effort when, in humble caves, they sang and invented flutes and, I imagine, seduced and consoled others as needed. Likewise when they incarnated Moses taking God’s commandments on a mountain; when, in the name of Buddha, they conceived Nirvana; when under the guise of Confucius, they came up with ethics percepts; and when in the roles of Plato and Aristotle and Epicurus, they began explaining to fellow Athenians within earshot how good life could be lived. Their job was never finished.

A life not felt would have needed no cure. A life felt but not examined would not have been curable. Feelings launched and have helped navigate a thousand intellectual ships.”

Fathoming Unconscious Depths

April 3, 2016

“Fathoming Unconscious Depths” is the second chapter in “Consciousness and the Brain Deciphering How the Brain Codes our Thoughts’” an outstanding book by the French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene who is the Chair of Experimental Psychology at the College of France.  This is the third consecutive post on this important book.

Sigmund Freud is generally credited for the discovery of the dramatic amount of mental processing occurs outside our awareness.  Dr. Dehaene has disabused me of this notion.  Hippocrates (ca. 129-200) wrote a treatise on epilepsy, “The Sacred Disease,” in which he noted that the brain constantly controls us and covertly weaves the fabric of our mental life.  Indian and Arab Scholars not only preserved some of antiquity’s medical wisdom, but made advancement’s of their own.  The Arab scientist, Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham, 965-1040) whom we have met in a previous healthymemory post (Understanding Beliefs) discovered the main principles of visual perception.  Centuries before Descartes, he understood that the eye operates as a camera, a receiver rather than an emitter of light, and he foresaw that various illusions could fool our conscious perception.  Consciousness was not always in control, Alhazen concluded.  He was the first to postulate an automatic process of unconscious inference; unknown to us, the brain jumps to conclusions beyond the available sense data, sometimes causing us to see things that are not there.

Questions crucial to delineating the  unique contributions of conscious thought are how deep can an invisible image travel into the brain?  Does it reach our higher cortical centers and influence the decisions we make?  Recent research in psychology and brain imaging have tracked the fate of unconscious pictures in the brain.  Masked images, images that have been experimentally obscured are recognized and categorized unconsciously.  We even cipher and interpret unseen words.  Subliminal pictures  trigger motivations and rewards in us, all below our level of awareness.  Complex operations linking perception to action can unfold covertly, demonstrating how frequently we rely on an unconscious automatic pilot.  Being oblivious of these unconscious processes, we constantly overestimate the power of our consciousness in making decisions.  The truth is that our capacity for conscious control is limited.

The answer to the question  as to which regions of the brain participate in conscious and unconscious processes, the answer is both simple and surprising.  Virtually all the brains regions can participate in both conscious and unconscious processing.

Our Future Brains: Forbidden Planet?

March 29, 2014

My favorite science fiction movie is Forbidden Planet. In the movie human space explorers traveled to a planet in a distant solar system 16 light years from earth. They were looking for what had happened to another expedition that had not been heard from for many years. Before they land they are warned by Dr. Morbius, a member of this previous expedition, to stay away. Nevertheless, they do land and discover Dr. Morbius, his daughter, and Robbie the Robot. Dr. Morbius tells them that this planet had previously been occupied by a highly intelligent species, the Krell. The Krell had become extinct due to some mysterious force. Shortly after the human space explorers arrive they experience attacks from an invisible force that kills them. Apparently they are defenseless. One member of the crew undergoes a brain boost using a device developed by the Krell. He comes to understand the source of this deadly force, explains what it is, and then dies from the brain boost. In turns out that this force is the same force that resulted in the extinction of the Krell.
Understanding the nature of this force requires some understanding of Freudian psychology. According to Freud, there are three mental entities, the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the source of all our primal desires and emotions. The ego is the means for dealing with reality on a rational basis. The superego works as a moral force overlooking both the id and the ego. Unfortunately for the Krell, they learned how to use their mental powers to kill and destroy. So their ids overrode their egos and superegoes resulting in their own destruction. Dr. Morbius was using this same mental force to destroy the visiting humans. Eliminating Dr. Morbius stopped the death and destruction.
So allow me a to take a new science fiction journey. This one with a species that masters the Triangle of Well-Being through mindfulness. The mind develops the brain using neuroplasticity for beneficial synaptogenesis, myleinogenesis, neurogenesis, and epigenesis to an extraordinary degree. The mind uses these enhanced capabilities of the brain to develop and grow beneficial interrelationships. Moreover, mindfulness practices have influenced executive function to include emotional regulation and the focus of attention, as well as emotional and social intelligence. Included here are the anterior and posterior cingulate , the orbitofrontal cortex, and both the medial and the ventral aspects of the preftontal region, including the insula and the limbic hippocampus. People become empowered to work for the benefit of all. Crime becomes extremely rare, and wars are no longer possible. This fantasy is Forbidden Planet with a happy ending. Let us not go the way of the Krell.

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