Sunday, October 11, 2009

Brain Abnormalities and Environment: from the Curious to the Dangerous

A continuation of how some brains can perceive things like Capgras syndrome (impaired facial recognition), phantom limbs with learned paralysis, and synesthesia.

I want to point out that Dr. Ramachandran stresses that these perceptual abnormalities do not impaired the rest of their brain functioning. In other words, a perceptual abnormality does not mean there are problems with their ability to analyze and think logically. Truth is, most of us have some form of neurological screwiness in our brains. And most of the time, we can make it work for us, allowing us to specialize in tasks, while other people specialize in other tasks.

So for most people, these differences can actually improve society and humanity in general, if they are not squashed and demonized. I will not deny that there are mental abnormalities that are dangerous. However, from the research I have read, it takes more than the abnormality by itself to cause the danger part. It it is a combination of genetics, brain damage, environment, and development to trigger these behaviors that we have every right to fear, as shown in the following video:

It is interesting that Dr. Fallon's father and three uncles were all conscientious objectors in WWII, after so many generations of killers in the family tree. Before this talk, I had always seen conscientious objections as a personal moral and/or religious choice. However, knowing the family history of Dr. Fallon's dad, I believe that in their case especially, it was a matter of not only personal safety, but public too.

I also think this video explains the mindset of violence in areas like Ireland, the Middle East, Africa, and any other place where deep historical hatred seems to have a life of its own. The question is: can these concentrations of violence be diluted? I believe they can, based on how most of humanity has been becoming less violent over the centuries. Steven Pinker gives an excellent summary of this decline in the following video. Be prepared to have several common beliefs challenged.

The last seven or eight minutes gives possible reasons why violence can decline. It's perhaps ironic that Dr. Pinker shows in this talk how environment can change behavior, while in his TED talk about his book, The Blank Slate, he appears to make the argument that genetic aspect is a stronger force. I believe the point really is, that when environmental factors are not strongly stressful, genetics will usually have the upper hand. Sort of like how some people make fruits look like art by placing them into forms to shape them as they grow to maturity. People can be shaped by child abuse and other extreme stressors, in ways that either suppresses or triggers genetic tendencies. Without these extreme forces, a person will develop into their own behaviors and talents, regardless of parental behavior, as explained by the elderly pediatrician who counselled me as a new mother with these words: "The most important thing a parent can do is love their child. Any mistakes they may make will work out fine as long as the child knows they are loved."

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