femme Neuroscience Notes

Some Topics

Innate Tendencies

Innate tendencies are constant features, 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 are a persistent motivational force even when new learning overrides 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, chimpanzee and gorilla 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.

Primate behavior

Human behavior can be understood in relation to the whole spectrum of primate behaviors and social organizations. Humans appear to have an eclectic combination of primate tendencies with elaboration of features such as tool making, symbolic reasoning and spoken language. Linda Stone suggests that: “Primates are a natural grouping of mammals that includes prosimians, tree-dwelling animals such as lemurs and tarsiers, monkeys, apes, and humans. Some of the physical characteristics that distinguish primates from other mammals are binocular vision and the grasping hand with mobile digits and flat nails. Evolutionary trends characteristic of the Primate Order are most pronounced in humans and include prolongation of gestation of the fetus, prolongation of the period of infant care, and expansion and elaboration of the brain. An important feature in the social life of many nonhuman primates is dominance and the formation of "dominance hierarchies."… a dominant animal wins aggressive encounters with others and usually has greater access to resources such as food, water, or sexual partners.“

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.