"Empathy, Resilience and Consciousness"
PART I: THE TAO OF RESILIENCE
"Empathy, Resilience and Consciousness"
PART I: THE TAO OF RESILIENCE
by Peggie Southwick; Iona Miller, Editor
Asklepia Foundation, ©1998/2002
THE TAO OF RESILIENCE, Part I
Let go and fall into the river.
Let the river of life sweep you beyond all aid
from old and worn concepts.
I will support you.
As you swim from an old consciousness,
blind to higher realities beyond your physical world,
trust that I will guide you
with care and love
into a new stream of consciousness.
I will open a new world before you.
Can you trust me enough to
let go of the known
and swim in an unknown current?
Redefining Resilience in the Consciousness Restructuring Process (CRP)
Resilience helps us bounce back or recover our spirit, energy, and harmonious way of being. Psychological resilience is that factor which heals us from the traumatic stress of modern life that we are all subjected to in a variety of forms. Resilience has many facets.
In honor of the resilience process at work in all of us, the overall format of this paper represents a harmonious shuttling back and forth between the vertical logic of Logos and the more horizontally integrative experience of Eros as it weaves the fabric of its new resilience metaphor upon the loom of these pages. Resilience is an implied state of being rather than any concretely definable "thing."
Yet, this resilient "state" also seems to represent the cohesive and stabilizing elemental matrix through which a unifying life force is resonantly evolving within us. It is made up of many underlying processes, as well as a quality or state of being. In those for whom this quality is in short supply, therapy can foster first its emergence, and then its stabilization as an intrinsic quality of being, by connecting us with the source of resilience.
What reduces or facilitates the resilient nature of consciousness? Each field of inquiry has its own theories and models of psychophysical resilience. Humanistic and Transpersonal psychologies offer "missing, invisible" factors that contribute to resilience and are described with psychodynamic metaphors.
The Consciousness Restructuring Process goes a step further than Humanistic and Transpersonal psychologies by offering more than a metaphor. It provides a means of direct participation in the emergent process of creating ever-newing resilience through psychophysical healing by facilitating REM and neural restructuring.
CRP is an interdisciplinary artform. Aspects of this living process can be described, modelled or experienced through such scientific concepts as Relativity Theory, Quantum Theory, Chaos Theory, the Holographic Model, Systems Theory, Synergetics, REM Dynamics, Personal Mythology, Genetics, Neurotheology and Physiology. The practice of CRP therapy is essentially Humanistic; it is rooted in Transactional Analysis and Gestalt Dreamwork, but takes these disciplines into the Transpersonal Realms where we connect with Source, with Creativity, with Healing, with Spirituality.
CRP draws inspiration from the mythical roots of the Asklepian tradition. The ancient Asklepian dream priests never interpreted dreams, but fostered a direct epiphany of the seeker with the archetypal shamanic healer, Asklepios. CRP connects with this ancient current through the dreamhealing process and the shaman/therapist model or co-conscious mentoring proceedure.
By directly entering into and engaging our dream imagery, symptoms, and emotions we can tap that healing energy by plumbing our depths and soaring to our own heights of potential. This immersive experience produces direct conscious participation in the stream of consciousness which brings psychophysical change, feelings of renewal or rebirth, and connection with Spirit; all of which help us bounce back from the chaos and tragedies life brings our way.
For example, dreams of the 911 destruction, or nightmares of other disasters provide immediate opportunities to enter directly into the source of those fears and insecurities, into the depth of the problem or symptom. Rather than contemplating what you believe, or what you know, the process allows you to travel into the very jaws of death in the journey, to make a pilgrimage into the "underworld" to retrieve our lost and suffering souls. What we find there we know to be True...to reflect our essence.
Many people avoid thinking about death, much less volutarily undergoing a symbolic ego-death experience. But we are supposed to think about it, to contemplate our personal dissolution, for that is what highlights what is important in life. Many people near death report that the most important issues for them are, "Am I loved; and have I loved well?" We might ask ourselves, "What is it that death doesn't take?" We don't need to wait for terminal illness to ask. And one answer to that is the capacity to love.
Instead of actively trying to avoid Chaos, we embrace it and dive into its very depths for the renewal it promises. We must look at the face of insecurity; it is always there but sometimes it just explodes, personally and/or collectively. Resilience is a function or quality of our consciousness and conscious participation in the universal flow state, whose essence is pure undifferentiated chaos, (also known scientifically as vacuum potential, zero-point energy, in CRP as consciousness field or chaotic consciousness). It is more fundamental than either energy or matter, psyche or soma. It is the groundstate from which all forms, order, and self-organization arises.
In CRP, the ego and personality structure, and with it any dis-ease structure, undergoes a process of dissolution back to our most primal state, and the resurrected personality emerges holistically re-organized with a generally healtier disposition and outlook which is the optimistic hallmark of resilience.
Trying times, both personal and collective, challenge our faith and existential resolve. The world can come to us in devastating and frightful ways. That is when we are especially called upon to work at faith, to find value and meaning. We need to reach deep within ourselves, listen to what emerges from inside, and find our resilience -- the ability to bounce back and press on.
One way we find this resilience is through service, the active expression of compassion. In difficult times, when troubles persist, we may come to suffer from compassion burn-out -- eventually shutting out the world with defense mechanisms. Yet, compassion is the absolute test of any spirituality.
Only our own suffering, our own journey, our own quest for healing, gives us insight into the suffering of others; empathy for the suffering of others. But suffering for its own sake, without pro-actively seeking transformation is essentially not having compassion for ourselves. Unremitting suffering leads to depression and hopelessness. However, through suffering consciously, we learn to go with the catastrophe and find the natural healing on the other side.
In "Empathy and Consciousness," (JSC, 2001), Evan Thompson makes five main points:
(1) Individual human consciousness is formed in the dynamic interrelation of self and other, and therefore is inherently intersubjective. (2) The concrete encounter of self and other fundamentally involves empathy, understood as a unique and irreducible kind of intentionality. (3) Empathy is the precondition (the condition of possibility) of the science of consciousness. (4) Human empathy is inherently developmental: open to it are pathways to non-egocentric or self-transcendent modes of intersubjectivity. (5) Real progress in the understanding of intersubjectivity requires integrating the methods and findings of cognitive science, phenomenology, and contemplative and meditative psychologies of human transformation.
We can experientially come to realize that our consciousness of ourselves as embodied individuals in the world is founded upon empathy -- on our empathic cognition of others, and others' empathic cognition or grasp of oneself. This is the antidote for the poison of mutual projection of negative traits onto others, which happens both personally and culturally. This projection of animosity lies at the root of war, which can only be weeded out individual by individual through experiential confrontation with Shadow elements.
Empathy is a basic emotional faculty. Empathy is an evolved psychobiological capacity. Empathic grasping of another, especially by sensing them as animated by their own fields of sensation, means sharing the same field of experience -- essentially a shared virtuality. According to Depraz (JSC, 2001), there are at least four possible kinds of empathy:
1) The passive association of my lived body with the lived body of the Other;
2) The imaginative transposal of myself to the place of the Other;
3) The interpretation or understanding of myself as an Other for you;
4) Ethical responsiblity in the face of the Other.
In empathy and compassion the values in question transcend personal concerns, sometimes transcending even the concern for our own continued existence and nonexistence. Compassion is not merely an expression of nonegocentric value-feeling, one that can emerge only as a result of inward meditative disembedding. It plays a guiding role in moving from one mode to another, in the expansion of the value-sensing repertoire. This is the reason that practices of compassion, benevolence, or love are emphasized so strongly right from the start in the practices of many wisdom traditions.
Empathy is not limited. The extension of empathy and compassion to the nonhuman world seems rather foreign to the Judaeo-Christian tradition (at least until recently), but is central to the Buddhist ideal of compassion for all sentient beings, and to the Neo-Confucian ideal of "forming one body with the Universe."
This understanding is the root of philosophical choices which are fundamental to continued quality of life on our planet. With empathy for the Earth we respond positively to such issues as vegetarianism, recycling, "living small" or "lightly on the land," humane treatment of animals, human rights, population control, conservation, environmental protection, deep ecology, right livlihood, health care and spiritual practice, among others.
CRP helps us identify with a myriad of forms from the inside out to experience first-hand what that is like. Compassion is the heart of interbeing, and is the superlative expression of the human capacity for empathy. The feeling of commiseration is the beginning of humanity.
We've seen this commiseration in the U.S. since '911' in a myriad of ways, sharing fears and small triumphs. Somehow this disaster has brought us closer, and it is more than a trauma bond. People seem more open and inclined to speak with strangers on the street, to help one another. The question is, "What was preventing this easier flow prior to that time?" But it is rhetorical. Suffering is universal -- resilience is not. Sharing the burdens of our suffering and finding a way through fosters resilience.
Neuroscientist Arnold Mandell (Omni, 81) reports results from his own research that suggest agreement with the foundations of CRP. He cites the Hindu sacred poem, Bhagavad Gita as saying that transcendent action is possible through detachment with empathy. He goes on to assert that,
"Maybe dragging around yesterday's messages, maintaining old order in thought forms, is a lot sicker than reality that's an existential randomness. The whole idea underlying, say Buddha's enlightenment, transcendence, "no mind," may be a return to randomness, to a lack of order. Maybe letting go, religious surrender is the feeling equivalent of a loss of order -- the order Eastern philosophers say is, was, artificial in the first place.
Is this the unconscious, the disordered part of oneself? Before Homer, it was thought to be the voice of God. It's William James's mystical experience, the Quakers' inner light, Jung's universal unconscious, Hinduism's "that," St. Theresa's ecstasy, Roger Sperry's right hemisphere. There is order in randomness.
The brain is unstable and we all live on the edge of disorganization, whether we allow ourselves to be conscious of it or not. Knowing the limits is wisdom."
So, whether we like it or not, we all live an atmosphere, both inside and out, that can be characterized as the edge of chaos. William James's preconscious stream is back in full force. It's tumbling through our minds like the weather, and we're left in a position to observe, to explore, negotiate maybe, but not control.
We are complex organisms and chaos theory best describes this. In the new paradigm, our structure of self emerges from chaos in an environment of complex interacting systems, responsive to and shaped by that environment. What else is the moment of our conception? Eventually, the structure grows brittle, doesn't respond to the ever-evolving and changing environment and disintegrates back into chaos from which emerges new structure.
At the personal level we experienece this process as a life crisis or a disease, particularly if we fight the change, when the framework of our reality changes. It is this dance of evolution that is reality and healthy, not the temporary forms and structures that we fix on, nor the chaos that we avoid. They exist only in passing as our existential perceptions. Our true health is in being, becoming, and accepting this ever-evolving self -- in a word resilience.
Fundamental to CRP is that it works in REM with sensory elements of our dreams. Healing, as are dreams, is a sensory not an intellectual process. Senses inform us when we are sick or well. Our dreams also reveal disease, often before symptoms appear. Mind and intellect only deal with symbols of reality. Dreams alone are healing, as the havoc wrought from dream deprivation shows.
The deep illness image, when experienced, spontaneously self-destructs into chaotic and unbound consciousness. The new emergent sensory self image that is found in chaotic consciousness is a new easeful structure that has replaced the disease, for example, a deep-felt sense of warmth, flow, and boundarylessness.
The CRP teaches a new way of flowing through life, philosophically and experientially. It provides the experience of doing so in a virtual reality experience of wakeful REM, and directly alters self-image and reality perception that empowers us by making us more resilient.
PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORIES OF RESILIENCE
According to most child-development experts, we are all born with no concept of "self." We construct a self-image, and our Primal Existential Self Image (PESI) is based in our earliest psychosensory experience, according to the Consciousness Restrucutring Process (CRP), (Swinney, 2001).
We construct a self-image first of our bodies and their capacities and limitations through experimentation, and then of our essential nature as we gaze into the "mirrors" of our caregivers. A child who generally receives positively reinforcing images of himself as they are reflected in the tender, loving gestures of his primary caregivers soon begins to associate these reflected subliminal messages with his own state of being in the world.
In other words, he correlates being loved with being lovable; having his needs met as being worthy of having his needs met. In troubled families, however, the mirroring process goes awry, and children are at risk of forming an inner self-representation that feels defective and unwanted. When they are psychologically "twisted" and "bent out of shape" themselves, dysfunctional caregivers can be like distorting mirrors that reflect grotesquely distorted images of reality onto their children, (Wolin & Wolin, 1993).
CRP, which incorporates the traditional re-parenting and mirroring processes of Transactional Analysis, Jacqui Schiff and Virginia Satir, helps remedy any distortions from childhood through the mentoring process. However, the spontaneous, self-organizing healing process facilitated by CRP can completely restructure the PESI at the most fundamental level, rather than simply "filling in the blanks" a child failed to receive.
The PESI is the primal experience of beingness; the primal self-image (hologram) that holds the primal dis-ease structure. It is existential in that it defines, at a very fundamental level, the nature of the self, the world and the relationship between them. Our beliefs conform to this dynamic image, and these dynamics of the PESI also limit or filter our sensosry input. It is the deepest level of consciousness dynamics in which there is still a defined self and not-self. It shapes our perceptions based on the input of our senses and nervous system.
Our earliest sense-images were experienced on the edges, or periphery of sensation and seem to go far beyond ordinary sensation. Our earliest awareness consists of these sensations, including those of conception and gestation. Dis-easful dynamic consciousness patterns can shape the more superficial levels of somatic and psychic structures. They lead to deeper state of self/not self, into which a dis-eased self disappears or dissolves, and arises transformed out of the underlying chaos. This type of renewal, restructuring, or rebirth of the deepest sense of self is precisely a demonstration of resilience.
Developmental theory maintains that occasionally a child will manage to distract himself from distorted images and will be drawn instead to more positively reinforcing image of herself in relation to her environment. For example, she might look to others outside her immediate family for emotional support (despite negative parental legacies), or might develop interests in activities which help develop a sense of personal efficacy and competence. When this happens the child transcends effects of the poor parenting skills of her caregivers by essentially learning to parent herself in order to get many of her emotional needs met, (Wilson & Gottman, 1995).
This resilient child and others like her teach us that psychopathology and neurosis are not the inevitable result of growing up in a troubled family. Children can also grow to be increasingly resilient as they encounter adversity, as the following developmental theorists will attest and attempt to further explain.
These classic developmental theorists laid the foundation upon which most subsequent psychology is based. Piaget, in particular, introduced several useful information processing concepts, and the three that this paper will look at are stimulus assimilation, accomodation, and equilibration.
Assimilation refers to the ways in which people transform incoming information so that it fits within their existing frames of reference. Accomodation, the reciprocal of assimilation, refers to the way in which people adapt their frames of reference in order to process and store new information. Equilibration encompasses both of the above terms. It refers to the overall balancing-act that occurs between existing frames of reference and novel experiences, ideally leading to a sense of coherent equilibrium between the child's subjective inner and objective outer world. This developmental concept, key to Piaget's "stages"-theory of child development, would predict resilient life coping skills from a child possessing an innately adaptive, harmoniously balanced internal frame of reference, (Siegler, 1991).
From THE RESILIENT SELF (1993) came "the seven resiliencies" that the authors claim are often developed by the more adaptive survivors of troubled families: insight, independence, relationship skills, initiative, creativity, humor, and morality. One can imagine Piaget explaining these traits as by-products of the children's "equilibration" processes.
Others describe these kinds of traits as evidence of an "internal locus of control", also known as "learned optimism," (Seligman, 1968, 1995); the result of innate, "positive personality characteristics," (Garmezey, 1983); or evidence of evolved "ego strength," as referenced by the following theorists.
Based on his work in creativity and with gifted children, John Curtis Gowan developed a model of development which bootstrapped off Piaget and Erikson, but included adult development beyond the ordinary or "normal" adult successes of career and family building, extending into the emergence and stabilization of extraordinary development and mystical states of consciousness. He described the entire spectrum of available states in his classic Trance, Art, & Creativity (1975), with its different modalities of spiritual and aesthetic expression. He devised a test for Self-Actualization, called the Northridge Developmental Scale.
Gowan outlines a developmental theory whereby we may tap our latent creative potential and self-actualization, organically growing toward the psychedelic or soul-revealing and illuminative states. He describes these states most fully in Development of the Psychedelic Individual (1974) and in Operations of Increasing Order. His use of the term 'psychedelic' does not connote drug use; quite the contrary he is strongly opposed to the developmental forcing and disintegration drug-use brings.
He describes how dyplasias between cognitive and affective growth can bleed off developmental energies, resulting in dysphoria and displacements, leaving us feeling unintegrated, blocked or stuck. He carries developmental theory past the concept of a strong coping ego. Fearing the loss-of-control by our egos, we may be reluctant to enter the soul-revealing stage of psychedelia and remain content to re-experience successes at our familiar or comfortable level of experience--usually expressed by the metaphor of "the American Dream,"--a cultural myth.
Gowan considers plateauing out before these upper stages to be akin to lack of sexual maturation in an adolescent. Clearly, resilience as the ability to continually redefine oneself and experience are fundamental to this life-long process of connecting with Source and Spirit.
Although it was Kohut (Rowe & MacIsaac, 1995) who authored the self-mirroring theory discussed above by Wolins, it was Wilson & Gottman (1995), among others, who investigated the concept of self-distraction, or attention shuttling as a positive coping mechanism in resilient children. Their work focuses around the idea that
"attentional processes play executive roles in organizing both cognition and emotion...provide a "shuttle" between the cognitive and the emotional realms, and that the abilities involved in being able to attend and to shift attentional focus are fundamental to emotion regulatory processes. Furthermore, we suggest that attentional processes not only organize both cognitive and emotional processes, but that there is a dual physiological basis for this organization, parasympathetic tone and the ability to self-soothe from sympathetic activation." (p.1)
The coalesced line of reasoning might go something like this: Since the parents did not fit the child's grandiose-mirroring-needs frame of reference, she did not identify with them as appropriate, dependable self-objects and their skewed reflections of her were not assimilated and accommodated into her psyche. Instead, she equilibrated, or "self-soothed" her imbalanced (possibly anxious) cognitive-emotional internal state by examining other available options for ones that might better meet her needs.
The related concept of objective-subjective self-reference as an adaptive "shuttle" mechanism was originally expounded upon by Vygotsky (1962) as he disagreed with Piaget's theory that children's self-talk was just so much egocentric babble whose usefulness dissipated with maturity. Vygotsky spoke of this "inner speech" as an important tool for children's and adults' problem-solving as it provides them with their own objective frame of reference from which to evaluate their subjective states.
Mary Watkins (1986) says that, "Far from revealing themselves as a primitive form of thought, these dialogues reveal the complexity of thought as it struggles between different perspectives, refusing to be simplified to a single standpoint," (p. 174). Blachowicz (1997) calls this healthy form of talking to oneself "The Dialogue of the Soul with Itself" (pp. 485-508). And Jung (Campbell, 1971) says that "The capacity for inner dialogue is a touchstone for outer objectivity" because, to the extent that one acknowledges the "other" within himself, he will be able to acknowledge it in the outer world (p. 297).
It would seem that although many children enter the world without adequate self-objects through which their emotional needs can be met, some of them somehow fail to internalize or identify with the neglect and/or abuse to which they are subjected. Instead, through adaptive attention-shuttling mechanisms such as self-dialogue, then later, self-reflection, they resourcefully learn to somewhat objectively parent and thus subjectively soothe themselves, and grow up to be emotionally strong and healthy adults. What is it that gives these children their resiliently resourceful, attention-shuttling edge?
Cognitive science has revealed many means by which individuals can develop more resilient ways of processing information. Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence are gaining equal respect as essential for our individuation. They are fundamental to our relationships to self, others and universe.
Daniel Goleman's (1996) best-seller, Emotional Intelligence broke ground for Zohar & Marshall's (2000) Connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence. Goleman tagged emotional intelligence as an "invisible third" phenomenon at work in our psyches. He explained how some of the brain's parts combine their energies in order to synergistically give rise to this new facet of resilience, which can be briefly summarized.
When incoming stimuli are of sufficient salience and/or novelty to alter the body's arousal mechanism, the brain signals the adrenal glands to secrete hormones which then prepare the body for "fight or flight" via the vagus nerve, which in turn increases the heart rate and triggers a cascade of other physiological events.
Feedback from all of these events, comprising information about the current state of the body at any moment in time, is sent to the amygdal portion of the brain's limbic system. There, it is associately connected with similar kinds of information already stored there as "emotional memories" in order to assess the intensity of emotional valence. Meanwhile the factual content of this incoming information from the amygdala is associately sorted, evaluated and stored within the nearby hippocampus.
Since the September attacks, many of our systems are signaling us that we are in a perpetual state of emergency, and the body is kept in a continual state to respond to this perception. Thus, we suffer the legitimate and self-inflicted results of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We may become subject to the symptoms of that disorder, including a sense of loss of control, unresolved fears, nervousness, anxiety, sleeplessness or hypervigiliance.
Much of the basis of how we are reacting to this change in world order and disorder comes from our childhoods and those traumas we sustained then and afterwards, as well as how we learned to grow beyond them. Our experiential associations condition our present and future responses. They condition the rationality with which we assess the amount of fear we feel and its relative proportion regarding the risks we are exposed to in our lifestyle choices. It conditions how we respond to chaos.
Based on feedback received from the body, these two aspects of associative memory work in tandem to provide both the emotional tone and the perceptual distinctions which define and categorize human experiences.
If incoming information is interpreted as an emergency by these two limbic partners, an "automatic" stress response is triggered which causes the body to respond in preset patterns of behavior before the rational functions of the neocortex have been allowed input into the situation.
Emotional intelligence is demonstrated by the individual who is able to interrupt the emotional feedback loop as needed in order to allow the brain's logical functions to assess the situation. The techniques by which this is adaptively and intelligently accomplished are what psychology calls "positive coping mechanisms." Maladaptive coping mechanisms include those which succeed in circumventing emotional over-reactions at a cost of psychophysiological health to the individual, (Goleman, 1995).
Goleman's expanded model of intelligence thus presents a compelling argument that it is actually intelligent emotions rather than intelligence alone which forms the core of human coping skills and thus makes it a "master aptitude," (p. 80). One reason some humans seem to possess more of this aptitude from birth, he explained, is because of genetic variance within the neural circuitry which controls arousal thresholds. These thresholds in turn determine limbic-cortical and left-right-hemispheric attention-shuttling capacities which regulate emotions.
However, these variances play only a part in the overall development of dispositional traits which, like the coping mechanisms to which they give rise, can be either adaptively or maladaptively shaped. So, what is it that controls the neurophysiology of emotional resilience and how can we make it work for us rather than against us?
We have two distinct hemispheres of our brains, termed Left and Right Brain, connected by a dense network called the corpus callosum. Springer & Deutsch (1993) have devoted themselves to studying the physiological mechanisms which underlie psychological processes by researching the specific effects that brain injuries have on mental processes.
Data is gathered through the use of split-brain experiments which test the cognitive skills of those who have had a part of one of their hemispheres removed or damaged or the tissue connecting them severed. Their extensive research dealing with left or right cerbral dominance effects has led to some fascinating findings about the hemispheric lateralization functions of the brain. For example,
Left hemisphere-injured patients have been reported to display feelings of despair, hopelessness, or anger (often referred to as a catastrophic-dysphoric reaction), whereas right-hemisphere damage produces what is known as an indifference-euphoric reaction, in which minimization of symptoms, emotional placidity, and elation are common...ordinarily the two halves of the brain exert inhibitory effects on each other in the area of emotional expression, thereby resulting in a normal balance that is free of uncontrollable outbursts of any kind. In the event of damage to one side, however, this mutual inhibition is disrupted and the damaged side no longer exerts the same degree of inhibition on its partner; hence, the other hemisphere is disinhibited, (pp. 194-196).
A summary of some of these relevant findings shows that individuals with right-hemispheric dominance (in the past, usually females) are more skilled at perceiving and conceptualizing spatial relationships, and are more attuned to their subcortical systems which are involved in arousal and attention, thus are more receptive to emotionally-charged stimuli. On the other hand, those with left-hemispheric dominance (previously, usually males) have deficits in these areas, but seem superior in perceiving and categorizing sequential, emotionally neutral stimuli.
Further research showed "an association between right hemisphere pathology (thus, left-hemispheric dominance) and abnormal heart rate response and skin conductance changes, both autonomic nervous system components," (p. 200).
Later in their book, Springer & Deutsch (1993) discussed recent data gathered demonstrating left and right directional biases ("spin") predominant in the life-generating activities of molecules and atoms. They quote French biologist Louis Pasteur as speculating that "Life is dominated by asymmetrical actions. I can even imagine that all living species are primordially, in their, structure, in their external forms, functions of cosmic asymmetry," (p. 320).
They cite evidence that DNA's asymmetrical qualities might be a significant factor in genetically influencing other asymmetrical aspects of the human body, such as hemispheric differentiations, organ placement, and so on. Their rationale is as follows:
"The double strands of each DNA molecule encode genetic information in terms of the sequencing of component amino acids. The two long strands are wound around each other in a clockwise spiral; thus, the DNA molecule cannot be superimposed upon its mirror reflection," (p. 321).
In other words, its mirrored reflection represents a reversed image of the original DNA molecule rather than an image that could be placed identically onto its original; its right helix would be on the left, and its left helix would be on the right and its genetic codes would be read backwards. The laws of physics claim to work the same for any phenomenon's identically mirrored image as they do for the original phenomenon. Only sequencing information, such as written information--like the DNA codes--do not reflect symmetrically, and thus introduce asymmetry into the application of natural laws.
The authors cite evidence of other research that there is an "underlying cytoplasmic gradient operating during embryonic development that favors the left side of the body." They conclude that systematic asymmetries of morphology, molecular biology, and sub-atomic interactions are ultimately linked, and that there is, after all, an absolute, universal distinction between left and right, (p. 323). So, our question becomes, "can we use this information about our brains' asymmetrically functioning "parts" to become more resilient?"
The "triune brain" concept posits that we have three functional brains, not just--or two halves of one. The most primitive reptile-brain appeared in birds and retiles a hunred million years ago. It is the vicious, repetetive, instinctive territorial brain, that Pavlov and Skinner learned to condition. The mammalian brain, or limbic system was deposited over it, and originally tied in with olfaction. The neocortex is the third brain of higher primates and has produced human culture.
De Beauport (1996) divides "behavioral intelligences" into three categories: basic intelligence, pattern intelligence, and parameter intelligence. Later on in evolution, as creatures evolved from reptiles into mammals, the limbic brain as center of emotional intelligences came into being: affectional, mood and motivational intelligences. With development of the neocortex came a consciousness-generating partnership from which our rational, associative, spatial-visual and intuitiveintelligences were derived.
She speaks of the cerebral cortex as "having a split personality"--her way of pointing to the hemispheric asymmetries through which the functions of the other two parts of the brain usually filter their incoming sensory stimuli. Throughout her book, she describes a highly variable path of "learned" life experiences, from basic brain to limbic brain, to left and/or right cerebral hemispheres and then back out into the body, all of which, she implies, is designed to guarantee that information processing would be a highly variable and personalized phenomenon, not necessarily one that fits within the norms of someone's arbitrary IQ bell curve. The point is that engaging the emotions facilitates the learning process as alternative areas of intelligence come online.
Cogitive neuroscience speaks of Mirror Neurons asthe driving force behind "the great leap forward" in human evolution. V.S. Ramachandran claims that the discovery of mirror neurons in the frontal lobes of monkeys, and their potential relevance to human brain evolution is the single most important "unreported" (or at least, unpublicized) story of the decade. He predicts that mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA did for biology: they will provide a unifying framework and help explain a host of mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments.
According to Ramachandran, there are many puzzling questions about the evolution of the human mind and brain:
1) The hominid brain reached almost its present size — and perhaps even its present intellectual capacity about 250,000 years ago . Yet many of the attributes we regard as uniquely human appeared only much later. Why? What was the brain doing during the long "incubation "period? Why did it have all this latent potential for tool use, fire, art music and perhaps even language- that blossomed only considerably later? How did these latent abilities emerge, given that natural selection can only select expressed abilities, not latent ones?
2) Crude "Oldawan" tools — made by just a few blows to a core stone to create an irregular edge — emerged 2.4 million ago and were probably made by Homo Habilis whose brain size was half way (700cc) between modern humans (1300) and chimps (400). After another million years of evolutionary stasis aesthetically pleasing "symmetrical" tools began to appear associated with a standardization of production technique and artifact form; a smooth rather than jagged, irregular edge. And lastly, the invention of stereotyped "assembly line" tools (sophisticated symmetrical bifacial tools) that were hafted to a handle, took place only 200,000 years ago. Why was the evolution of the human mind "punctuated" by these relatively sudden upheavals of technological change?
3) Why the sudden explosionin technological sophistication, widespread cave art, clothes, stereotyped dwellings, etc. around 40 thousand years ago, even though the brain had achieved its present "modern" size almost a million years earlier?
4) Did language appear completely out of the blue as suggested by Chomsky? Or did it evolve from a more primitive gestural language that was already in place?
5) Humans are often called the "Machiavellian Primate" referring to our ability to "read minds" in order to predict other peoples' behavior and outsmart them. Why are apes and humans so good at reading other individuals' intentions? Do higher primates have a specialized brain center or module for generating a "theory of other minds" as proposed by Nick Humphrey and Simon Baron-Cohen? If so, where is this circuit and how and when did it evolve?
The solution to many of these riddles comes from an unlikely source... the study of single neurons in the brains of monkeys. Rama suggests that the questions become less puzzling when you consider Giaccamo Rizzollati's recent discovery of "mirror neurons' in the ventral premotor area of monkeys. This cluster of neurons, holds the key to understanding many enigmatic aspects of human evolution. Rizzollati and Arbib have already pointed out the relevance of their discovery to language evolution . But the significance of their findings for understanding other equally important aspects of human evolution has been largely overlooked.
Commenting on the emergence of language, Ramachandran says:
Unlike many other human traits such as humor, art, dancing or music the survival value of language is obvious — it helps us communicate our thoughts and intentions. But the question of how such an extraordinary ability might have actually evolved has puzzled biologists, psychologists and philosophers at least since the time of Charles Darwin. The problem is that the human vocal apparatus is vastly more sophisticated than that of any ape but without the correspondingly sophisticated language areas in the brain the vocal equipment alone would be useless. So how did these two mechanisms with so many sophisticated interlocking parts evolve in tandem? Following Darwin's lead I suggest that our vocal equipment and our remarkable ability to modulate voice evolved mainly for producing emotional calls and musical sounds during courtship ("croonin a toon."). Once that evolved then the brain — especially the left hemisphere — could evolve language.
But a bigger puzzle remains. Is language mediated by a sophisticated and highly specialized "language organ" that is unique to humans and emerged completely out of the blue as suggested by Chomsky? Or was there a more primitive gestural communication system already in place that provided a scaffolding for the emergence of vocal language?
Rizzolatti recorded from the ventral premotor area of the frontal lobes of monkeys and found that certain cells will fire when a monkey performs a single, highly specific action with its hand: pulling, pushing, tugging, grasping, picking up and putting a peanut in the mouth etc. different neurons fire in response to different actions. One might be tempted to think that these are motor "command" neurons, making muscles do certain things; however, the astonishing truth is that any given mirror neuron will also fire when the monkey in question observes another monkey (or even the experimenter) performing the same action, e.g. tasting a peanut!
With knowledge of these neurons, you have the basis for understanding a host of very enigmatic aspects of the human mind: "mind reading" empathy, imitation learning, and even the evolution of language. Anytime you watch someone else doing something (or even starting to do something), the corresponding mirror neuron might fire in your brain, thereby allowing you to "read" and understand another's intentions, and thus to develop a sophisticated "theory of other minds."
Mirror neurons can also enable you to imitate the movements of others thereby setting the stage for the complex Lamarckian or cultural inheritance that characterizes our species and liberates us from the constraints of a purely gene based evolution. Moreover, as Rizzolati has noted, these neurons may also enable you to mime — and possibly understand — the lip and tongue movements of others which, in turn, could provide the opportunity for language to evolve. (This is why, when you stick your tongue out at a new born baby it will reciprocate! How ironic and poignant that this little gesture encapsulates a half a million years of primate brain evolution.) Once you have these two abilities in place the ability to read someone's intentions and the ability to mime their vocalizations then you have set in motion the evolution of language. You need no longer speak of a unique language organ and the problem doesn't seem quite so mysterious any more.
Mirror neurons were discovered in monkeys but how do we know they exist in the human brain? To find out we studied patients with a strange disorder called anosognosia. Most patients with a right hemisphere stroke have complete paralysis of the left side of their body and will complain about it, as expected. But about 5% of them will vehemently deny their paralysis even though they are mentally otherwise lucid and intelligent. This is the so called "denial" syndrome or anosognosia. To our amazement, we found that some of these patients not only denied their own paralysis, but also denied the paralysis of another patient whose inability to move his arm was clearly visible to them and to others. We suggest that this bizarre observation is best understood in terms of damage to Rizzolatti's mirror neurons. It's as if anytime you want to make a judgement about someone else's movements you have to run a VR (virtual reality) simulation of the corresponding movements in your own brain and without mirror neurons you cannot do this .
The second piece of evidence comes from studying brain waves (EEG) in humans. When people move their hands a brain wave called the MU wave gets blocked and disappears completely. Eric Altschuller, Jamie Pineda, and I suggested at the Society for Neurosciences in 1998 that this suppression was caused by Rizzolati's mirror neuron system. Consistent with this theory we found that such a suppression also occurs when a person watches someone else moving his hand but not if he watches a similar movement by an inanimate object.
Ramachandran points out two major bifurcations in our evolutionary history:
The hominid brain grew at an accelerating pace until it reached its present size of 1500cc about 200,000 years ago. Yet uniquely human abilities such the invention of highly sophisticated "standardized" multi- part tools, tailored clothes, art, religious belief and perhaps even language are thought to have emerged quite rapidly around 40,000 years ago — a sudden explosion of human mental abilities and culture that is sometimes called the "big bang."
If the brain reached its full human potential — or at least size — 200,000 years ago why did it remain idle for 150,000 years? I suggest that the so-called big bang occurred because certain critical environmental triggers acted on a brain that had already become big for some other reason and was therefore "pre-adapted" for those cultural innovations that make us uniquely human. (One of the key pre-adaptations being mirror neurons.)
Inventions like tool use, art, math and even aspects of language may have been invented "accidentally" in one place and then spread very quickly given the human brain's amazing capacity for imitation learning and mind reading using mirror neurons. Perhaps ANY major "innovation" happens because of a fortuitous coincidence of environmental circumstances — usually at a single place and time. But given our species' remarkable propensity for miming, such an invention would tend to spread very quickly through the population — once it emerged.
Once you have a certain minimum amount of "imitation learning" and "culture" in place, this culture can, in turn, exert the selection pressure for developing those additional mental traits that make us human. And once this starts happening you have set in motion the auto-catalytic process that culminated in modern human consciousness.
If its simply a matter of chance discoveries spreading rapidly, why would all of them have occurred at the same time? There are three answers to this objection. First,the evidence that it all took place at the same time is tenuous. The invention of music, shelters, hafted tools, tailored clothing, writing, speech, etc. may have been spread out between 100K and 5k and the so-called great leap may be a sampling artifact of archeological excavation. Second, any given innovation (e.g. speech or writing or tools) may have served as a catalyst for the others and may have therefore accelerated the pace of culture as a whole. And third, there may indeed have been a genetic change, but it may not have been an increase in the ability to innovate but an increase in the sophistication of the mirror neuron system and therefore in "learnability."
The resulting increase in ability to imitate and learn (and teach) would then explain the explosion of cultural change that we call the "great leap forward" or the "big bang" in human evolution. This argument implies that the whole "nature-nurture debate" is largely meaningless as far as human are concerned. Withthe genetically specified learnability that characterizes the human brain and culture that can take advantage of this learnability, human culture and human brain have co-evolved into obligatory mutual parasites — without either the result would not be a human being. (No more than you can have a cell without its parasitic mitochondria).
THE SECOND BIG BANG
My suggestion that these neurons provided the initial impetus for "runaway" brain/ culture co-evolution in humans, isn't quite as bizarre as it sounds. Imagine a martian anthropologist was studying human evolution a million years from now. He would be puzzled by the relatively sudden emergence of certain mental traits like sophisticated tool use, use of fire, art and "culture" and would try to correlate them (as many anthropologists now do) with purported changes in brain size and anatomy caused by mutations. But unlike them he would also be puzzled by the enormous upheavals and changes that occurred after (say) 19th century — what we call the scientific/industrial revolution. This revolution is, in many ways, much more dramatic (e.g. the sudden emergence of nuclear power, automobiles, air travel, and space travel) than the "great leap forward" that happened 40,000 years ago!!
He might be tempted to argue that there must have been a genetic change and corresponding change in brain anatomy and behavior to account for this second leap forward. (Just as many anthropologists today seek a genetic explanation for the first one.) Yet we know that present one occurred exclusively because of fortuitous environmental circumstances, because Galileo invented the "experimental method," that, together with royal patronage and the invention of the printing press, kicked off the scientific revolution. His experiments and the earlier invention of a sophisticated new language called mathematics in India in the first millennium AD (based on place value notation, zero and the decimal system), set the stage for Newtonian mechanics and the calculus and "the rest is history" as we say.
It certainly did not happen because of a genetic change in the human brains during the renaissance. It happened at least partly because of imitation learning and rapid "cultural" transmission of knowledge. (Indeed one could almost argue that there was a greater behavioral/cognitive difference between pre-18th century and post 20th century humans than between Homo Erectus and archaic Homo Sapiens. Unless he knew better our Martian ethologist may conclude that there was a bigger genetic difference between the first two groups than the latter two species!)
Based on this analogy I suggest, further, that even the first great leap forward was made possible largely by imitation and emulation. This system of cells, once it became sophisticated enough to be harnessed for "training" in tool use and for reading other hominids minds, may have played the same pivotal role in the emergence of human consciousness (and replacement of Neandertals by Homo Sapiens) as the asteroid impact did in the triumph of mammals over reptiles.