Category Archives: brain structures

Darwinian domain-generality

Subtitle: The role of evolutionary psychology in the modularity debate. MA thesis (2017) by Michael Lundie, Georgia State University. The abstract:

“Evolutionary Psychology (EP) tends to be associated with a Massively Modular (MM) cognitive architecture. I argue that EP favors a non-MM cognitive architecture. The main point of dispute is whether central cognition, such as abstract reasoning, exhibits domain-general properties. Partisans of EP argue that domain-specific modules govern central cognition, for it is unclear how the cognitive mind could have evolved domain-generality. In response, I defend a distinction between exogenous and endogenous selection pressures, according to which exogenous pressures tend to select for domain-specificity, whereas the latter, endogenous pressures, select in favor of domain-generality. I draw on models from brain network theory to motivate this distinction, and also to establish that a domain-general, non-MM cognitive architecture is the more parsimonious adaptive solution to endogenous pressures.”

General and specific-domain contributions to creativity

From this article in Europe’s Journal of Psychology (2016).

“The general objective of this study was to reexamine two views of creativity, one positing that there is a general creative capacity or talent and the other that creativity is domain-specific.  […] Multiple regressions uncovered particular relationships consistent with the view that creativity has both general and domain-specific contributions. Limitations, such as the focus on one domain, and future directions are discussed.”

Also see comments.

Winter 2020 discussion prompts

  • What is humanity’s situation with respect to surviving long-term with a good quality of life? (Frame the core opportunities and obstacles.)
  • What attributes of our evolved, experientially programmed brains contribute to this situation? (What are the potential leverage points for positive change within our body-brain-mind system?)
  • What courses of research and action (including currently available systems, tools, and practices and current and possible lines of R&D) have the potential to improve our (and the planetary life system’s) near- and long-term prospects?

Following is a list of (only some!) of the resources some of us have consumed and discussed online, in emails, or face-to-face in 2019. Sample a few to jog your thoughts and provoke deeper dives. Please add your own additional references in the comments below this post. For each, give a short (one line is fine) description, if possible.

More on Haidt

Continuing this previous post:

I’m looking at the section “conclusion and critique” of Haidt starting on p. 31. Gibbs appreciates that we should account for our earlier human history and more primitive brain centers in describing morality. But to limit it to these structures and history at the expense of later brain structures and evolutionary development is another thing.

“The negative skew in Haidt’s descriptive work discourages study in moral psychology of higher reaches of morality such as rational moral reflection, empathy for the plight of entire out-groups, moral courage, and the cultivation of responsible, mature moral agency —broadly, study of ‘the scope of human possibilities, of what people can do morally, if they are prepared, through development and education, to approach life’s important issues in a thoughtful way’” (34).

Several neuroscientific studies make clear which parts of the brain are emphasized in liberals and conservatives. The amygdala (indicative of fight or flight fear) is a much older evolutionary brain structure, while the anterior cingulate cortex (higher thinking functions) much newer. Hence there is neuroscientific brain evidence for the evolution of morality per Kohlberg. Haidt admits that conservative morality is rooted in these more evolutionary earlier brain structures, and liberal morality in the newer structures.

The newer neocortex then coordinates and integrates the older brain functions so that the latter do not dominate and send us backward in evolution. It’s not that liberals don’t have the conservative moral traits like Haidt claims; it’s that those earlier evolutionary traits are now modified under neocortex control. Yes, there is a value judgment involved here, but it’s supported by evolutionary science, not ideology.

The abstract from “Neural correlates or post-conventional moral reasoning”:

“Going back to Kohlberg, moral development research affirms that people progress through different stages of moral reasoning as cognitive abilities mature. Individuals at a lower level of moral reasoning judge moral issues mainly based on self-interest (personal interests schema) or based on adherence to laws and rules (maintaining norms schema), whereas individuals at the post-conventional level judge moral issues based on deeper principles and shared ideals. However, the extent to which moral development is reflected in structural brain architecture remains unknown. To investigate this question, we used voxel-based morphometry and examined the brain structure in a sample of 67 Master of Business Administration (MBA) students. Subjects completed the Defining Issues Test (DIT-2) which measures moral development in terms of cognitive schema preference. Results demonstrate that subjects at the post-conventional level of moral reasoning were characterized by increased gray matter volume in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, compared with subjects at a lower level of moral reasoning. Our findings support an important role for both cognitive and emotional processes in moral reasoning and provide first evidence for individual differences in brain structure according to the stages of moral reasoning first proposed by Kohlberg decades ago.”

From Mendez, M. (2017). “A neurology of the conservative-liberal dimension of political ideology.” The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

“Differences in political ideology are a major source of human disagreement and conflict. There is increasing evidence that neurobiological mechanisms mediate individual differences in political ideology through effects on a conservative-liberal axis. This review summarizes personality, evolutionary and genetic, cognitive, neuroimaging, and neurological studies of conservatism-liberalism and discusses how they might affect political ideology. What emerges from this highly variable literature is evidence for a normal right-sided cconservative-complex’ involving structures sensitive to negativity bias, threat, disgust, and avoidance.”

Divided brain, divided world

I was reminded of the video below, and this longer examination of the ideas therein. Here’s the blurb from the latter:

“Divided Brain, Divided World explores the significance of the scientific fact that the two hemispheres of our brains have radically different ‘world views’. It argues that our failure to learn lessons from the crash, our continuing neglect of climate change, and the increase in mental health conditions may stem from a loss of perspective that we urgently need to regain. 

“Divided Brain, Divided World examines how related issues are illuminated by the ideas developed in author and psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist’s critically acclaimed work: The Master and his Emissary. It features a dialogue between McGilchrist and Director of RSA’s Social Brain Centre, Dr Jonathan Rowson, which informed a workshop with policymakers, journalists and academics.

“This workshop led to a range of written reflections on the strength and significance of the ideas, including critique, clarification and illustrations of relevance in particular domains, including economics, behavioural economics, climate change, NGO campaigning, patent law, ethics, and art.”

The neuroscience of creativity

Since this came up in our book discussion or Range yesterday,  something relevant from this article. It’s interesting how the salience network mediates between and integrates two normally one on, one off networks.  And how it is the connections between networks that seems to do the trick akin to the book’s description of how those with range make analogous connections between ideas and domains.

“Three of these distinct brain networks — the default mode, the executive control network and the salience network — have been identified by Dr Beaty and colleagues as being associated with creativity.

“The default mode network is activated when people are relaxed and their mind is wandering to different topics or experiences, associated with remembering past experiences, thinking about possible future experience and daydreaming.

“The executive control network comes into play when you need to pay close attention and focus on something in the environment. It comes online when we have to focus our attention and cognitive resources on more demanding tasks that require us to hone our attention and manage multiple things in our mind at one time, directing the content of our thoughts.

“The salience network plays a significant role in detecting and filtering important — or salient — information. It’s called salience because it helps us to pick up on salient information in the environment or internally. Interestingly, the default mode and the executive control networks don’t typically work together — when one network is activated, the other tends to be deactivated. One thing that we think the salience network might be doing is switching between an idea-generation mode, which is more of a default process, and the idea-evaluation mode, which is more of a control way of thinking. […] More creative people tended to have more network connections.”

‘Neurosexism’ debated

Neuroscientist Larry Cahill takes issue with a Feb 2019 Nature favorable book review of Gina Rippon’s The Gendered Brain: The New Neuroscience That Shatters The Myth Of The Female Brain.

Cahill’s response prompted an interview by Medium Neuroscience writer Meghan Daum.

Scientific findings have a way of upsetting apple carts, especially when we consider our oft-demonstrated human capacity to bend science to advantage some power-coveting groups over others.

Valid research amply shows there are real differences in male and female neuroanatomy and functions. Honest science must follow the evidence where it leads. Clearly, any discovered differences cannot be allowed to justify unequal social or economic opportunities or treatment. Cahill compares the situation to genetics. That people differ genetically in a vast number of ways cannot be taken as cause to misstate scientific findings or preclude further learning about genetics.

There are times and circumstances in which certain research approaches must be blocked for humane or other reasons but that is a different argument than denying the findings of a body of research because they are uncomfortable or inconvenient.


The info processing (IP) metaphor of the brain is wrong

Psychologist Robert Epstein, the former editor of Psychology Today, challenges anyone to show the brain processing information or data. The IP metaphor, he says, is so deeply embedded in thinking about thinking it prevents us from learning how the brain really works. Epstein also takes on popular luminaries including Ray Kurzweil and Henry Markram, seeing both exemplifying the extremes of wrongness we get into with the IP metaphor and the notion mental experience could persist outside the organic body.

The Empty Brain (Aeon article with audio)

From ecology to brain development

The above is the title to a new, free Frontiers book subtitled “Bridging separate evolutionary paradigms.” I thought it would be of interest to this group. I can be found here, then scrolling down. From the Introduction:

“The nervous system is the product of biological evolution and is shaped by the interplay between extrinsic factors determining the ecology of animals, and by intrinsic processes that dictate the developmental rules that give rise to adult functional structures. This special topic is oriented to develop an integrative view from behavior and ecology to neurodevelopmental processes. We address questions such as how do sensory systems evolve according to ecological conditions? How do neural networks organize to generate adaptive behavior? How does cognition and brain connectivity evolve? What are the developmental mechanisms that give rise to functional adaptation? Accordingly, the book is divided in three sections, (i) Evolution of sensorimotor systems; (ii) Cognitive computations and neural circuits, and (iii) Development and brain evolution. We hope that this initiative will support an interdisciplinary program that addresses the nervous system as a unified organ, subject to both functional and developmental constraints, where the final outcome results of a compromise between different parameters rather than being the result of several single variables acting independently of each other.”