Cap’n Bob and Yours Truly, in the Whitsunday Islands. Cap’n Bob gave me the immortal advice, when I was up in the rigging about 30′ off the deck. “Ya won’t fall off if ya don’t let go!”
I’ve been listening to (and have almost finished) Daniel Siegel’s audio discourse, The Neurobiology of We. For those folks that seriously read this blog (Sela Hocker– this is a shout-out to you!) it’s worth the eight hours of talk time to hear what Dr. Siegel has to say. He’s a super-famous psychiatrist, a holistic thinker, and a key person in the evolution in the field of interpersonal psychology. Like me, he’s attempting to link a series of insights together on how the holistic mind works. And also like me, he likes the ‘blind men and the elephant’ analogy. If we have a difference, it’s that Siegel, who interestingly enough goes by “Dr. Dan” — very similar to my “Dr. Chuck” — focuses more on the smaller, more individualistic and neurological scales of the Theory of Everything. As a psychiatrist, he wants to treat people and help them get over their trauma. So for him, he’s recognized that there’s an elephant, and then crawled up the elephant’s nose and spends a ton of time poking around the elephant’s brain figuring out how the elephant connects to other elephants on an independent elephant level. That’s a lot of elephants!
I’m one hour away from finishing the entire eight hours, and he’s deep into individual processing and the role of emotion in integrating experiences. His goal is pretty obvious — it’s focused on understanding how to help people heal and be happy. Which is great. And he distills that down to his concept of ‘Mindsight’ — which is in reality, just an integrated version of my Empathy Pyramid. I’ll write more on that in another post.
Dr. Dan’s analysis of brain science is excellent, and if you’re into that kind of thing, you’ll love his explanations. They’re a great curation of the neuropsychology research. Dr. Dan makes sure he weeds out the stuff by holding up the research work to structural and functional bars — he makes decisions about what to believe with a validity- based lens. Does it work, and actually describe the various observables? It’s refreshing, and different than just trusting the data. And while he does talk a bit about complex systems theory (he’s not an expert in this by his own admission) and gets a little sideways with some of the paradigms, he should be forgiven. As someone playing in the neuroscience field, I’m also grateful when those specific practitioners grant me some deference in my unintended abuse, or more generally omission of certain concepts.
Where does my work fit in with Dr. Dan’s stuff? Remember– he’s figured out there’s an elephant, and he’s spending a lot of time with his flashlight inside that elephant’s brain. I’m the guy that realizes that there’s an elephant, and I’ve got a casual understanding of the brain inside the elephant’s head — as well as basic map of the three parts of that brain. I do realize that all the parts of the elephant’s brain are hooked in some form or another to all the other parts, because I bring in an evolutionary perspective. Things had to evolve, and that means that they have to be hooked together. We didn’t just get a huge neocortex overnight.
(That’s a huge advantage, because a lot of contemporary neuroscience is dedicated to the proposition that each little part of the brain is segmented off, with limited communication ability, from every other part of the brain. That’s a direct reflection of the Authoritarian/Legalistic social structures that form the scientific community. In order to be noticed, everyone’s got to claim their own little piece of turf. No holism is allowed!)
And then, I hop on my flying saucer and take off. And look down at a herd of elephants — not just one. And that this herd of elephants is structured differently than other herds — all herds are not created equal, nor do they act equally. And because of that, the dynamics created by that social structure create different brain wiring inside different members of that herd. Which then affect how their offspring’s brains are wired, through things like epigenetic phenomena, that can fundamentally affect the individual elephant’s genes. And then I bring in the concept of self-similarity — propagation of patterns up and down the various scales (the elephant’s genes, neural wiring, personal affect with other elephants, social structure, elephant culture, and finally interaction with the elephant ecosystem) are going to be resonant.
Enough about elephants. Though I DO like elephants! Here are a pair that I met about 8 years ago!
Mother and child, Manyaleti Game Reserve, Greater Kruger National Park, 2008
So that leads us to a better, modified version of the Theory of Everything. If we want to understand how an individual thinks — not just an organization, or what they will do, then we’ve got to move past my first version:
Culture + Social Structure/Empathetic Development = Behavior
And we need to add a couple more things into the mix:
Culture + Social Structure/Externally Promoted Empathetic Development + Individual Experience (Trauma Included) + Independently Generated Empathetic Development (level of mindfulness) + Epigenetic Influences + Genetic Disposition = Individual Behavior
We’ve covered each of these subjects individually. Now we have a complete multi-scale roadmap of the information space that all sentient beings (not just humans!) operate under. This roadmap starts at the chemical and cell level (epigenetics and genetic material, which then manifests as neurophysical structure), moves up to the individual structure level and experience (individual experience and independent empathetic development), then on up to the organizations one participates in (social/relational structure) and the larger culture an individual operates in. Of course, these things are all bound together — remember the ‘elephant wrapped in spaghetti’ when we were talking about addiction? ALL of these parts of the various elephants have connections and influences up and down the scales. Hardware, firmware, software — there are lots of metaphors that we can use to understand this.
As we’ve discussed before, genetics can and does limit expression and speed of development. But the path of sentience, and emergent organization guides all. Even if, as the larger collective intelligence, racing down that evolutionary path, can only see past the end of our noses.
Further watching: Besides listening to The Neurobiology of We, for those who are still skeptical and insist that this stuff (like social structure and its effects) only applies to humans, I’d encourage you to watch the National Geographic special on stress. The interesting part for me was the baboon before-and-after an epidemic. A priori, a group of baboons were run in an authoritarian fashion by a bunch of bully baboons. All the baboons suffered. Then a plague killed off the leadership, and a more tribal/ potentially communitarian structure popped up. Overall health rose.