September 20, 2014

Nature and Nurture

Nature and Nurture

Humans evolved from primate ancestors and retained features of brain construction, mind and behavior that have been present in animals for hundreds of millions of years. Each one of us is the reincarnation of a long-lineage of ancestors. Species memory, perceptual skills, needs, drives, feelings, desires and behaviors are built into us and begin operating in utero. The human brain is most evolved organ with the most complex assemblies of old and new parts.

The first principle of bodybrainmind is that each person has a repertoire of innate programs and some choice how the programs are going to be expressed. Innate programs have been called "instincts."  The old definition of "instincts" - behaviors that arise spontaneously and are not learned – needs modification since innate programming has to be practiced and is molded by learning. The distinction between strictly innate and strictly learned behavior is artificial. Some of the systems in our brain are designed to be modified and elaborated by the experience of the individual. Bodybrainmind is to some extent an open-ended system that will evolve a unique identity in the lifetime of each individual. Humans live in a tense matrix of innate tendencies that tend to prevail forces that modify and elaborate these tendencies.

Bodybrainmind has evolved in interaction with world-events and is indistinguishable from world events. The modification of brain structure and function is "learning." Learning involves all experience and not just time spent in school. Learning is dependent on the availability of innate programs that organize the acquisition of skills and knowledgeable.  A newborn baby cannot talk in coherent sentences even if both parents prompt him 24 hours a day. The baby and the parents have to wait until the brain has grown and organized the language circuits which come on line in a predictable sequence.

Innate Tendencies

Innate tendencies are constant features of human nature, buried deeply in the human psyche. Innate tendencies are not rigid forms but are patterns of organization that collect individual, biographic content. Innate programs are the form and biographical details are the content. There are two essential principles:

1. Innate tendencies exert a persisting motivational force even though new learning may override them.

2. New learning is added to, but cannot replace old tendencies.

Recurrent patterns of behavior in human societies reveal innate tendencies. Similarities in emotional expressions in animal and humans reveal innate tendencies. Brain function has evolved conservatively so that old features of the reptilian brain remain intact in modern humans and the best new features such as detailed, declarative languages have evolved naturally by the elaboration of older communication systems shared by many animals. The more cognition is studied in other animals, the more obvious it is that most "thinking" is nonverbal and is well distributed in nature. We have to assume that at some level or other, dinosaurs were thoughtful. Other animals may not think in the same way humans do and no other animals rely on language, but all animals communicate using different strategies for encoding and decoding information. Most animals are specialized for specific environments and, if we competed on their turf, they could probably beat us in many ways. 

The mind of a Bonobo and a chimpanzee exists in our mind; we have some modifications and a few added features. Old programs include some of our most negative qualities such as predatory and territorial aggression and anger. Some of our most positive qualities are also innate such as the tendency to bond, care for infants and form cooperative social units with altruistic features. The old brain remains in control of our bodies and often controls our minds. Schools have emphasized learning reading and writing, but no school is capable of designing and installing language processors in the brain. Schools add content to and exercise the already-existing language processors. Children learn spoken language naturally and spontaneously but, left on their own, most will not read and write. Human destiny as a species still lies with the programs in the old brain. Individuals can transcend the old programs by diligent learning and practice but individual effort and learning does not change the genome. Whatever we value about civilized human existence - culture, knowledge, social justice, respect for human rights and dignity must be practiced anew and stored as modifications of each person's neocortex.

From Neuroscience Notes   by Stephen Gislason MD