The Imprinted Brain

How genes set the balance between autism and psychosis

A New Basis in the Brain for Democracy, Law, and Science

The diametric mind implies that the path to truth is adversarial.

According to the leading philosopher and neuroscientist, Anthony Jack:* “we possess two mutually exclusive faculties, both of which are conscious, deliberative and highly evolved, and each of which may be cultivated through distinct cultural learning traditions”—such as Snow’s Two Cultures  (above):**

Yet, each is substantially incomplete: one is incapable of comprehending human experience and essential aspects of morality, while the other is incapable of comprehending the mechanical and mathematical structure of the physical world. While we can blend these cognitive modes, our neural structure creates interference between them. As a result, blended cognitive modes fail to capture insights that emerge only when each of the pure opposing cognitive modes operates in isolation. According to this view, there is no faculty which can be properly called “general reasoning,” because we lack a single integrated capacity capable of generating the full range of human insight.

It follows from this view that progress in psychology will not be best achieved by adopting a blended cognitive mode … to the exclusion of other perspectives. Instead, it appears that a complete understanding requires something more like juggling: we must fully immerse ourselves in distinct perspectives and only then seek to build bridges between the incommensurable conceptual frameworks that emerge. (Jack in press)

As I pointed out in a previous post, these discoveries validate and corroborate the diametric model of the mind and of mental illness, for example predicting (as some earlier findings already suggest) that mentalizing networks are hyper-active in psychosis but hypo-active in autism, with mechanistic ones the contrary way round.

Clearly, both autistics and psychotics would benefit from being made aware of the fact that they have two parallel rather than one unique mode of cognition available to them, and that they could compensate for the excessive activity of the one by exercising the other (as experiments with mechanistic skills training for psychotics already suggest). Indeed, here, as I have pointed out before, lies an entirely new inspiration for psychotherapy.

Furthermore, as I also pointed out in the previous post, such diametric brain architecture must have a genetic basis, and strikingly corroborates William Hamilton’s insight into the genetic basis of mental conflict:

In life, what was it I really wanted? My own conscious and seemingly indivisible self was turning out far from what I had imagined… I was an ambassador ordered abroad by some fragile coalition, a bearer of conflicting orders from the uneasy masters of a divided empire. … Given the realization of an eternal disquiet within, couldn’t I feel better about my own inability to be consistent in what I was doing, about my indecision in matters ranging from daily trivialities up to the very nature of right and wrong? As I write these words, evenso as to be able to write them, I am pretending to a unity that, deep inside myself, I now know does not exist. I am fundamentally mixed, male with female, parent with offspring, warring segments of chromosomes that interlocked in strife millions of years before. (133-5)

Hamilton’s political metaphor mentioning “fragile coalitions” and “the uneasy masters of a divided empire” alludes to the conflicted genome, but also suggests that models of cognition have practical applications in cultural institutions such as government and law.

Look at it this way: dictatorial government or inquisitorial courts of law might be defensible if there was indeed one truth, a single brain system to discover it, and people you could trust to know what it was. But how much more natural do adversarial, government-versus-opposition, or prosecution-versus-defence institutions seem by comparison if we accept the diametric model of the mind? Indeed, could this be the fundamental reason why such adversarial systems of law and government have proved so successful for those fortunate enough to live under them? Could it be that truth and freedom are the products of not simply human dispute, but of a profoundly natural adversarial cognitive system, built into the brain? And could the two sides correspond to mentalistic, top-down, culturally determined cloud-cognition versus mechanistic, bottom-up, individualistic and factually validated skepticism?

Finally, there are also implications for science. As Anthony Jack observes

our neural structure seems to present a barrier to understanding experience in physical terms. According to this view the explanatory gap is genuine, but it isn’t a feature of the world, it lies in our heads. (Jack in press)

Indeed, in another recent post I drew attention to the problem where mathematics is concerned, and here too, the practical insight is that at the highest level of logic mathematics can never be complete and consistent at one and the same time.

On the contrary, scientific research is inherently adversarial—and definitely not consensual, inquisitorial, or dictatorial as so much of the press and so many politicians today seem to believe (and particularly in relation to highly controversial issues such as climate change). Lysenko’s reign of terror in the USSR may the a worst case scenario of dictatorial “science” if we can call it that, but you only have to cite the precedents of Galileo, Darwin, or Einstein to see that scientific revolutions by definition confound consensus, defy the inquisitors, and ultimately find for the adversaries to dominant dogma.

And of course, if that is true, then the diametric model of the mind is not simply a new paradigm for psychiatry, psychology, and philosophy, but the natural basis for modern societies based on democracy, the common law, and scientific reason.

 

* Associate Professor and Director of Research, Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence, and Principle Investigator, Brain, Mind & Consciousness Laboratory, Departments of Cognitive Science, Philosophy, Psychology, Neurology and Neuroscience at Case Western Reserve University.

** Illustration reproduced with kind permission from “More than a feeling: Counterintuitive effects of compassion on moral judgment,” by Anthony I. Jack, Philip Robbins, Jared P. Friedman & Chris D. Meyers in Advances in Experimental Philosophy of Mind, Continuum Press. Editor: Justin Sytsma, in press.

Christopher Robert Badcock, Ph.D., is author of The Imprinted Brain: how genes set the balance between autism and psychosis. 

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