The Brain is Us! An Overlooked Problem in the Presence of an Urgent Need.

Why is difficult to know who we are. Yet there is currently an urgent need to address and deal with certain tribal aspects of our human nature.

The existence of evolutionary roadblocks in knowing ourselves

In the face of it, since the brain is just another biological organ, it is certainly subject to scientific scrutiny just like any other biological entity. Indeed, in spite of its mind boggling complexity – by using now increasingly sophisticated modern techniques – it’s biological molecular secrets and their functions on the biochemical level, are being rapidly revealed. Nevertheless, when we try to understand the mechanisms involved in the expression of our higher faculties, not only in their correspondence with the underlying molecular phenomena, where we already are making some progress, (1) but most importantly, when we try to address and study the intricacies in the expression of our Human nature as individuals and in   social phenomena and the interactions between the two , as well in our relationships with other tribes . I.e. tribalism, expressed as jingoism, aggressive territoriality and racism, being buttressed with treasured exulting heroic narratives regarding ones own tribe/ nation as well exclusive narratives of faith – such as the enduring ironical belief shared by all tribes; “Our country/tribe and God are bigger tribe and God than your tribe and God!,” we run into trouble. The problem is that our brain’s complicated expressions of the embedded algorithms in it making up our human nature are in fact, us! As a result, when specifically, we try to answer the question as to “who are we?” we run into great difficulties indeed: We resist scientific scrutiny, so strenuously, and consistently it seems we are wired for such resistance. Even the notion that our humanity’s algorithms are already wired in our brain from birth, expressed as traits- to be to some degree shaped later by culture, is itself contentious!  (The realm of the controversial new discipline of sociobiology).

There is a reason as to why ;

Emerging insights in studying them, will make us consciously aware of   their incongruities and irrationalities, thus they will interfere with their function! From an evolutionary point; in order for the brain to exercise its complicated evolutionary programed functions of our eusociality, (,2,3,4.) with its burden of our dual nature, has to use rather convoluted behavioral strategies. The embedded algorithms manage the relationships between members of one’s tribe, who are expressing competition as well altruism , empathy and cooperation with each other and competitive often contentious and aggressive relationships with other tribes, while concomitantly, accommodating our selfish self-serving aspects as well. The latter, being the other part of our dual nature posited by E.O.Wilson. In order to accomplish all that ,while avoiding dealing with the resultant   incongruities and contradictions, the brain has to utilize behavioral strategies such as hypocrisy, self-deception, contradictory co- existing beliefs and behavior about our motivations. They all are maintained in their incongruity by being separated by a wall of “unawareness” the Freudian unconscious (5). Thus, they are protected from rational scrutiny.

In addition, as if the above tasks were not enough ;the brain has to accommodate eschatological questions and assuage existential angst recruited by our conscious awareness, the foreknowledge of our death and the sense of causality. For that we employ philosophical and metaphysical constructs and narratives of faith, that are often at great variance from one tribe to another. As mentioned, it accommodates these many tasks and incongruous, irrational beliefs, that are often in conflict, by sequestering them from the scrutiny of rational thinking. We have to do this in order to obtain the benefits of our eusociality of maintaining the crucial cohesiveness of one’s tribal community and cooperation as well as our own sense of identity and meaning, while providing comfort and solace regarding the anxiety of our mortality and handling matters of moral conduct in the community, which are often at variance with our own selfish wishes or needs. A daunting task indeed!

As social animals, we were been programmed to do all these for continuous, survival as a species. (2,3,4) In fact, that is how we have survived so successfully thus far. In support for the tasks, the brain   employs a morass of evolutionary buttressing behaviors such as denials, self deceptions, as well glaring practices of double standards. They are all important for enabling us to exercise the functions which were crucial for our survival as social animals evolved back then as small bands, among similar ones, roaming the Savannah, competing for resources. So when we are called to look and acknowledge that our own tribe’s traits, along with their incongruities and irrationalities shown during their expressions are identical to those of the other tribes, it puts us at a disadvantage, since such acknowledgment will interfere with our tribal smooth function as we will be now consciously but uncomfortably aware as to their irrationality, hence, the aversion of dealing with that! It was to our advantage to point at the mote in our adversary’s eye than to be aware of the stick in ours! Hence, the ferocious resistance to scientific scrutiny. Such stance is fostered by the very institutions and leadership. The latter safeguarding power and profits Thus, we are facing a conundrum. Our nature cannot easily be studied by placing ourselves under own scrutiny.

The researches not only can be contaminated by their own human nature-themselves protecting their own beliefs and national/tribal identities but in addition, efforts of this kind, create rancor and ferocious responses by the rest of us. This is especially true when we are confronted with demystifying facts of us as human animal trying to survive, maintaining erroneous beliefs often tenacious, and practices whether fallacious, contradictory or not, as they relate to us as individuals as well as to the tribe we belong to. We then readily create a cacophony of protests and worse. The problem is even more complicated by the contentious matter as to who will do the demystifying! As if, this is not enough, we are also confronted by the ever deepening mystery of what is out there, which is now beckoning us to create a new narrative, encompassing the whole humanity, which will be more in accord with our expanding scientific knowledge of the cosmos! Meanwhile the older narratives are becoming even more incongruous with it, creating tension and rancor. A poignant event which took place a few years ago, underscores the predicament we are in. E.O.Wilson a prominent evolutionary biologist, while lecturing in Harvard on the subject, explaining his discoveries and conclusions, he was doused with a bucket of water by a individual of the audience, while the assailant cried; “Wilson you are all wet!” apparently offended by Wilson’s explanations, of his tribal sensibilities which prompted his crass behavior. In addition a noted colleague of his, wrote an outlandish vituperative article extorting the readers no to reed E.O.Wilson’s books while ignoring the contents of the work! The resistance becomes even more ferocious and blatant when we address faulty traits pertaining to our own tribe as a whole; specifically when we are practicing ludicrous territorial aggression and racism towards the ever changing “enemy tribe.” Such resistance as mentioned is aided and buttressed by the tribe’s leadership protecting entrenched power and profit. Leadership and functionaries when confronted in their often against self interest practices, they accuse the challenger of being disloyal or unpatriotic, or even threatening with persecution.

The urgent present need to address and deal with tribalism.

There is at present an urgent need to address certain now obsolete traits embedded in our brain, still with us from the time of Savannah and before, that are part of our nature; such as aggressive territoriality, jingoism and racism all now in a potential lethal collision with modern reality; a reality we ourselves with our genius and enterprise have created, such as overpopulation, global warming, destruction of biodiversity,(6) grotesque economic disparity and others, and above all the lethality of our nuclear weapons available everywhere. (7,8,) “In great necessity even gods will be persuaded!” an ancient greek proverb correctly proclaims. Indeed, we are flexible and ingenious in responding to challenges, such as the need of setting aside obsolete tribal traits still with us, given time. But time is what we may not have. Even though progress continuously is being made, as tribes/nations are increasingly pressured by the nasty realities we have created. The cynics may claim naivete for much optimism. But It is even more naïve for one to believe that we can make it as things now stand and avoid approaching catastrophes or even our extinction, without modifying, redirect, sublimate or out right suppress such now obsolete traits as some nations such as Switzerland Sweden already have done. Then we can be free to develop a new global ethos, encompassing us all, enabling us to collectively target and solve the problems we have created as well avoid possible global conflagration due to our often homicidal aggressiveness. As E.O.Wilson said, “Our species came about by some improbable evolutionary turns.” Well, this is the toughest turn of it all. The effort, is worthy indeed. After all, we are the only ponderers, story tellers, and chroniclers in this part of the Cosmos. In our own profession, caring about our patients is also important to care about us and our fate as a whole.

References

  1. Cross-Disorder Group of the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium. Identification of risk loci with shared effects on five major psychiatric disorders: a genome-wide analysis. The Lancet. 2013; 381(9875):1371-1379.
  2. Wilson EO and Tarnita NA. The evolution of eusociality. Nature. 2010;(466):1057–1062.
  3. Wilson EO. On Human Nature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press;2012.
  4. Wilson EO. The Social Conquest of Earth, New York: Liveright Publishing Corp.;2013.
  5. Sigmund Freund .The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. 1901
  6. Gore, A. (2013). The future. London: W.H. Allen.
  7. Kolbert, E. (n.d.). The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
  8. Barbara Touchman ; “The March of Follies .From Troy to Vietnam “
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