What are we as objects? From experience to the brain through the mind. Also crabs…


The post after this one is really challenging. This post is a “this is what I am trying to do, but this is what I learned about what I just tried to do” post. Finding a path from experience, to cognition, to nervous system anatomy is hard.


Finding a “conceptual common ground”.

Concept Map

The most important skill that I am working on at the moment is finding creative ways of getting across brain science concepts to diverse audiences. I have a plan, but finding the right plan is a work in progress so I guess it’s more like a plan for finding a plan. That “concept map” that I posted earlier is useful to get this across. One problem that I’ve discovered exists when you collect lots of information as an instinctual priority is that all of that information shapes how you deal with other people. You have to take care to make sure you speak at the level of your audience.I know that sounds arrogant as hell, but really I don’t see it as an advantage. Society is what determines advantages in this arena. What’s the point of knowing shit if you can’t make it available to the other apes in your group?

Pretend we are primitive people from 500,000 years ago and doors are not really common knowledge. But I know about the idea of resources and storage, and the other person knows about Moving into or out of through experience. Between the concepts there are connections that I can take advantage of to convey other concepts.

[That also gets into a whole other challenge where society characterizes people who know a lot of raw information as somehow “better” that other people which is bullshit. Just because someone knows a lot does not mean they can use it well, and if you can’t use it well you are pretty much useless to yourself and other people. Intelligence, wisdom, ability and other things are not always found together. We have met many smart and wise people who were ignorant of many things that are simply information.]

Starting from experience is the easiest part, but oddly enough that is the part I had to change first. I have a large array of parts of the mind that we can collectively sense that I can use to get into how minds are structured (cognition), and that will be discussed below. But the next step, cognition (and psychology) to anatomy and function as it relates to experience is harder. I think I have a good way of organizing anatomy so that it becomes more intuitive to more people and I will discuss that last.


The value of our uniqueness.

How does one best teach anyone brain science? What are the best methods to give anyone the empowering knowledge of what they are as a human object? It really is empowering. When I started obsessively reading about what I am after my diagnosis of ADHD and Tourette’s Syndrome six years ago the experience was positively euphoric because of how useful it was. So many things in the world started making sense like they never did before. I let the knowledge reorganize how I saw the world and how the knowledge in my head was stored. I knew myself better and it’s true, you can’t really know other people well until you know yourself well.

[I’m still just a metaphor, but I’m a very useful metaphor because there is a version of me inside of everyone that is differently shaped by inheritance and life experience. Knowing what I am in universal terms while being able to to take personal differences into account makes things having to do with human behavior much easier to understand. It’s tricky though because there are very few things that can be stated in strong, simple and polarized terms, the reality of a specific situation in front of you must always determine what that situation is. The knowledge is a guide, not an absolute rule.]

We humans tend to suck so much as interacting as objects, but what we are as objects explains so much about us as individuals.

What I mean by that is we are very bad at respectfully and properly referring to one another in an objective sense when it comes to interpersonal differences. I’ve gotten really comfortable talking about myself as an object, a person with Tourette’s Syndrome. I’m positively excited to relate with what I am even on an anatomical and psychological level inter-personally. But most of the time we are HORRIBLE at it as a species and this really sucks because we are at the point where brain science is telling us what interpersonal differences looks like in psychology and anatomy, but socially there is a whole lot of resistance to figuring out how to listen to what these differences feel like and actually pretending they are true all of the time.


Killermann, Sam. The Genderbread person v3.3, 2015. http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2015/03/the-genderbread-person-v3/ The relationship between sex and gender is the latest frontier in learning (re-learning in many ways) and accepting how we are different on an objective and subjective level.

Male, female, men, women, transgender, asexual (of which there are at least three types), straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, black, white, asian (too many to list), austic, schizophrenic, adhder (I made that up), tourettic…

Sexism, genderism, orientationsim, racism, ablism…

It’s such a damn pity.

[More like FUCKING BULLSHIT. Each “kind of human” (quotes indicate we are right now figuring out what the kinds are) tell us about ourselves. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual and asexual (of which there are at least three kinds) tell us that sexual attraction can be shaped in many different directions and can be present or absent by degrees. Transgender people and other sex-gender minorities tell us that our internal self-reference (gender orientation) can be connected to male, female, both or neither in complex ways. The same communities show us that gender identity and gender expression are also distinct places where we can be different. Each person with a mental condition has characteristics that inform about specific brain systems and associated anatomy that tell us how brains make minds. We are each and every one of us valuable things to get to know.]

Fortunately all of that has structure, (including the nature of bigotry which is a thing I treat like a creature to hunt). Where there is structure there are objects and subjects that one can start connecting with.


The necessity of pretending that we are all the same.


But I need to take a step back from how we are all different. I’m complaining about how our differences are ignored in ways that I think really do harm to us as a group. But society is not so simple because all ideals must take the history that exists into account.

There are good reasons for history and culture emphasizing how we are all the same. Legally and historically it has been needed in a lot of ways to enforce respect for equal rights. The documents that nations and societies use to define us as people often speak in universal terms with respect to who and what we are and recent examples combat slavery and sexism to curb our tendency to treat other people as things and lesser beings. Some people like to use differences as tools and weapons which is treating another person like a thing and not a person. When you take a whole group and discover that as a group they seem different than another whole group in some respect some lazy people disinterested in accepting reality on it’s own terms like to pretend that every member of that group is like that difference. It’s rude at best, and dehumanizing at worst.

[Seriously, if you walk around pretending that everyone in a  group is the same in a particular way you are literally statistically likely to be an asshole. All it takes is a certain number of meetings. Let people show you what they are. Acting as if reality is what is is not only lets us all be what we are, it gives you the best, most efficient mental tool set for dealing with reality.]

It’s a pity we can’t just talk casually about ourselves and how our perceptions are structured so we can better figure out what we are. Someone has to start so I am casual about my Tourette’s Syndrome as appropriately as I can be. I often hope that this example makes other people willing to talk about what they are, which I then encourage.


Organizing the path from experience to mind to brain.

Look at this thing.

Atlas of the human brain 6 & 8

Paxnios, George. Voss, Thomas. Atlas of the human brain, 3rd ed. 360 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010-1710, USA. 2008.

I need to make sense of that. A mere two centimeters and there are parts that did not exist in the other image (for example the Caudate nucleus and the Thalamus, both of which are altered in TS[x][x]). That complex mass of tissue is a thing that until recent history was mostly only known when someone stuck an axe into another persons head (or similar), and that did not provide more than satisfaction for immediate efforts. I mean seriously, all that fleshy stuff is neat but can you tie that to what you experience in a useful way?

I want my next post(s) to be a transition to discussing what cognitive enhancements in Tourette’s Syndrome actually mean in real-world terms and in multiple physical, physiological and psychological domains (I see the brain as part of the “physical”). First I want to move us from everyday common subjective experience to psychology which works with cognition. I think of cognition as how the mind is objectively segmented, structured and how the parts work together in ways that have to do with “common experience”. It’s actually really useful to learn to see the mind in this way because you get used to how those pieces feel, and what you can feel, you can efficiently work with.

Second, I will move us from cognition to anatomy where I will give a sense of where the pieces of the mind live in the brain. That’s going to be trickier.

That requires:

1) Some form of storytelling to give a sense of the brain and mind as an object that is personal, visceral, interesting and useful.

[We have to be interesting.]

2) Some intuitive basic principles that divide and organize common everyday subjective experience, cognition and anatomy (the brain that generates and runs the mind).

[We have to be accurate and useful.]

3) Approachable and interactive examples.

[We have to be real.]

I have to start from experience, move to “felt on-line processing” and then talk about where the software lives (anatomy) and I have to do it in a way that lets me refer to that post in the future. And it has to be gripping and interesting.

[Fiddler crabs were my first try.]

In my first post I was going to use something called “dual process theory” to get from experience to cognition and  wanted a metaphor. I’m going to do something different in my real posts that add onto the subject of “Tourette’s enhancements”, but I thought I would share this anyway because I think that it’s a good metaphor for dual process theory.

Dual process theory is a very useful model for how the [mind] works (brackets are things that can be described in cognitive terms) with what is in [perception] as the [stream of consciousness] is running by. Your [attention] pans around and things jump out at you as your [memory] [recalls] past experiences of things you perceive, or information about similar things you are perceiving if what you are experiencing is new. Those [emotional impressions] of the past tell you what something is to you, how you interact with it, if it’s good or bad, what it’s characteristics are and more.

[No really, fiddler crabs. These things are fuck’in awesome!]


Fiddler crab (Uca sp.) , taken near the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana. By Junglecat is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Dual process theory is, as the name suggests, dealing with two processes that are like cognitive “limbs” that we use to interact with what is in perception. Think about these limbs as manipulating what is in [working memory].

The limbs are called “system one” and “system two”, but was going to call them “big claw” and “little claw”. The fiddler crab is called that because it has two claws that are very differently shaped.

[They also wave the claws around in a way that is reminiscent of someone playing a fiddle with the big claw as the fiddle and the small claw as the bow. Little things like that are amusing and helpful when it comes to fun and memory and learning.]

The big claw is used for attack and defense (and probably other things). It’s pretty intimidating looking for such a small crab (the ones I can see three hours away are about two inches across at the most). The small claw on the other hand is used for delicate things like cleaning it’s eyes and mouth parts, fine detail work. So are things for system one and two.


System One.

Fiddler_Crab_Gulf_Coast big claw

This is your big claw. It’s how you interact with the world in rapid manner and “no thought” as it’s popularly understood. “Just do it!”

[Like “just doing it” never caused a problem. Something is always going on even if you are being “thoughtless” and “unaware”.]

You perceive a stimulus and you respond with no rumination or introspection. Naturally when things get intense we have to “act on automatic” often. Fight/flight/freeze requires fast action to save your life, or defend your argument. A lifetime of practice makes complex things in careers, hobbies and other things of skill happen naturally, efficiently and “without thought”. Here is a bit from my draft.

*System 1 is older than System 2.

*It’s fast, easy, unconscious, automatic and separate from language. It’s your mental sword and shield. Your safety net. Your “rapid response system”. Your dodge, jump, flick, shove, pull and other fast things you don’t consciously think about.

*It is independent of your Working Memory so can often be separated from your “conscious mental work space”. Sometimes you just need to act/react without conscious thought.

*It scans and surveys a large part of perception and rapidly creates and recalls from memory emotional associations to what is in perception. It is not logical in how it operates because applying logic is slow.

*The associations that retrieve quick and easy rules for objects (from physical to abstract including sensations) it preferentially scans for, works with and stores/recalls from memory are modified by the context within which it is scanning. The school bully/abusive ex-spouse is just not going to be perceptually interacted in a more secure place like a parent teacher conference/police station as compared to a less secure place like a playground/ally. It is not logical, but it is rational in an ultimate sense (as in “this is the reason for that” instead of something more abstract in terms of “reason”).

*That context sensitivity is due to the fact that System 1 seems to be composed of Modules [x] working in parallel that perform different functions.

“You” spend about 95% of your time here in average human terms. It’s easy and low “cognitive load“. Some of us spend more time here than others in both good (efficient, responses consistent with reality) and bad (authoritarian asshole who simply reacts all of the time with little introspection or rumination) senses. Some of us spend less time here for equally diverse reasons. It’s how you mentally “grab” onto things like you might grab a pencil and paper. You see the pencil and paper, and you just automatically pick them up “without thinking”. You can see something you want to draw and all of the little pieces are mentally “held” as you perceive them.

[Full disclosure: I AM an authoritarian. Whatever “I” am in terms of Tourette’s it comes with a tendency to pick the simplest and strongest term, description, message, solution and more. This can be an advantage in places like political rhetoric, but we often treat it as an excess that can become a flaw.]


System Two

Fiddler_Crab_Gulf_Coast small claw

This is your small claw. This is when you think carefully. You are analyzing what is in your perception in a more detailed manner that lets deal with the unexpected and the complicated(one way of saying this is that you were connecting context to the object in perception). From my draft,

*System 2 is younger than System 1.

*It’s slower (but often also fast), effortful, conscious, deliberate and connected to language. It’s your toolbox, dissection kit, “detailed analysis software”. It’s the long, carefully done effort. It takes the new “things of significance” and lets you place them into the correct context later.

*It is dependent on of your Working Memory and can be thought of as involved in your “conscious mental workspace” tool set.

*It inhibits your normal reactions (separates normal reactions from usual responses would be more accurate) and analyzes your environment to find implied and indirect information that requires effortful abstraction and symbolism.

*It’s fluid, linked to language and does things like rule-following, comparisons, weighing of options. It is logical.

*Instead of parallel processing of different domains in a context specific way it processes serially in a domain general way

“You” are here about 5% of the time on average. We want things to run smoothly but often more complicated decisions must be made. Once you have your pencil and paper drawing things become more complicated than just doing things without thinking (assuming you are not a master artist who might be able to do that). You have to take the things that you mentally grab onto in simple terms and do work with them. You have to hold onto a larger context and put the elements together. Holding parts of the subject in your mental workspace as you reproduce them on the paper while paying attention to perspective, proportion and other things.

The “slow” part of system two is very relative though. Some system two expressions can be rather fast.

[The data seems to suggest that we are here more often than average. Constantly concentrating more than overage. It has it benefits.]

 Isn’t that awesome? We can describe perception in terms that can be thought of as mental “tools” or “limbs” that we use to manipulate perception. It has uses all over the place. Stereotyping has system one implications [x]. Quick and dirty impressions of people from culture or physical traits turned into simple labels that are recalled. Logical fallacies fit in here as fast responses to arguments that are the easier symbolic equivalent of wrestling kick in. System two would be a tool that can correct these things over time as a person rewrites their responses after new experiences, rumination and introspection. But system two has it’s biases too…

That reference to “larger context” above is another thing I want to try to turn into a sensible example of looking at how the brain makes the mind. I need to represent how the two systems are bound together at multiple levels because all objects perceived by system one will be present in some kind of context that system two takes into account as system one moves pieces around and does work with them in the larger context. Often one thing in brain science does far more than the examples in functional terms.


The anatomy associated with sensible function.

This is the hard part. Doubly so now that I have decided against dual process theory, now I’ve decided to simpy use the systems discussed in the papers to crate my story. I’m pretty sure I can slide from common perception into those systems as a means of getting into the cognitive patterns in psychology that I can then attach to TS and some papers. It’s more “real” to us than dual process theory. To make the mysterious real I need to draw a functional connection between parts of the brain, how those parts communicate and cognition.


This is the “what” and “where”.

That thing is annoying to learn about. Not just because of what it is or how it works or the details of it’s structure (thought those matter), but because of the horribly inefficient way that we label the things that we study. But it’s an unavoidable annoyingness. Names are important things even though “system one” and “system two” are dry tasteless and stale from the perspective of daily life and language. Much of the descriptors that we use in brain science are like that. Caudate (part of the corpus striatum, “learning” system), putamin (also part of the striatum), pulvinar (means “pillow”, part of the thalamus), zona incerta (“zone of which nothing is certain”, fucking seriously?), thalamus (“inner room”/”chamber”)… making them stick and attaching them to all of the concepts necessary to root them and their features and functions to easy mental access and modeling sucks.

All of the good names have to do with what you do with things. Hence the “big claw” and “small claw” metaphor is useful for “system one” and “system two”. In ages past names of people had to do with what you did or where you came from, much easier to remember. It personalizes it by referencing a crab, something that we all mostly have some passing familiarity with.

So I’m working on a simple way of categorizing the brain bits by function with no more than five features that allow some intuitiveness at different levels. For example I think of the cerebral cortex as similar to a combination of the RAM and hard drive in your computer. It seems to be in part where the data of your life is stored like a “hard drive” (other brain parts are how the data is manipulated) and parts of it get thicker as you do more with that region so it’s like RAM in that it expands for better processing power. That whole “expansion as you use it more” quality is shared with many parts of the brain.


Meat networked with more meat.

This is going to be slightly out of order for effect (spine before skin…). How should one start trying to learn about the brain? I started with the spine and I think that is a good idea.

The bits and pieces of the brain are just the beginning. I also have to give a sense of how the bits connect with one another and how information flows in the brain as the mind functions. I can dispense with lots of the complexity involving how cells function and can probably just stick with things “talking” to one another in terms of activating and repressing (for “parents and children” anyway). But that also needs five or so principles to divide up how that communication works so that the brain and mind start fitting together mentally as easy as possible.

Somewhat related to this is how I first started learning about neuroanatomy. I actually specifically chose two regions because I thought that  they were closer to our experience in a way that would act like mental “conceptual common ground” (something one can relate to). I started by looking at the spinal cord where it merges into and becomes the brainstem. This actually worked out because the spinal cord is organized in a way that lets you connect it to experience (through surface and sensory tissues) and it honestly reminds me of cables going to and coming from a computer that move incoming sensory data and outgoing commands, because that is what it is.

command and control cables

Top: Gray, Henry. (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body. From Wikipedia. Bottom: Haggstrom, Mikael and Polarlys. Tracts of the Spinal Cord. From Wikipedia.

The blue “wire bundles” (sensory afferents) go up to the brain carrying sensory information from the surfaces we have experience with, and the red “wire bundles” (descending efferents) carry commands down from the brain to the limbs (and glands and things) that we have experience with. An example of the part we experience would be the skin and that actually looks a lot like “sensor pads” distributed around the body, dermatomes.


Dermatomes, areas of skin supplied by single spinal nerves. Grant, John Charles Boileau. An atlas of anatomy (1962). From Wikipedia.

Here is where the idea of a cognitive “conceptual common ground” was supposed to come in when it comes to anatomy. You can look at the dermatomes and see the skin that you are used to interacting with. By tying the dermatome concept to the wires going up to the brain you can see how your body becomes segmented information from sensor pads that become bundles fed into the spine through spinal nerves. Whats even more neat is that this information stays spatially organized relative to one another!

[This will be “feature #1” for categorizing anatomy, “sensorytopy”. “What receives information will stay with it’s neighbors unless needed for other things.”]

Information from similar sources staying in the same location relative to similar information is called “somatotopy” for the “skin senses” (figure below, dorsal column leminscisus system from “tracts of the spinal cord” image above). The image below shows the section in the top left is labeled C1-C8, T1-T12, L1-L5, and S1-S5. S to T to L to C is all bottom (genetialia and anus, Sacral) to top (Cervical).

spinal somatosensory somatotopy

Spinal somatosensory somatotopy. Mai, Jurgen and Paxinos, George. Scanned from “The Human Nervous System” 3rd ed. (2012).

That is a scan from a brain anatomy textbook I own that shows that as the “wires” come into the spine, the parts that come from pieces next to one another stay next to one another (somatotopy). This relative organization is maintained as the information continues up into the brain, from the spine. One of the next stops for this information is the thalamus (which I think of as your “perception lens” that you use to direct where in perception you are paying attention to).

thalamic sensory somatotopy

Thalamic somatosensory somatotopy. Mai, Jurgen and Paxinos, George. Scanned from “The Human Nervous System” 3rd ed. (2012).

The information is still spatially relative in the thalamus, in the ventral posterior (VP) part at least (VP= ventral posterior, VPL= ventralposterior lateral, VPM= ventralposterior medial). And it continues as the information leaves the thalamus and departs for the cortex.

cortical somatosensory somatotopy

Cortical somatosensory somatotopy. Mai, Jurgen and Paxinos, George. Scanned from “The Human Nervous System” 3rd ed. (2012).

The information still maintains relative spatial relationships after moving from the spine, to the thalamus, to the cortex. These are the kinds of features that if turned into some basic principles might make learning this stuff easier for everyone.


My next attempt.

So what am I going to try to use next to link with cognitive advantages in TS? I’m going to try to figure out what the system in common with the papers talking about cognitive enhancement in TS is. I think I know how to do that, but for the audience in question I will need to discuss cognition from the point of view of a person with TS. Some day I will get to everyone, but apparently not yet. If you do not have TS, you can’t perfectly know about that thing that becomes demon possession as you go back into history. Bu for the purposes of those papers it looks like:

*Rule-based cognitive processes.

*Focused motor processing.

*The “motor component” of time processing.

*”Rule-based” language processes.

It’s a little weird. Do you have any idea how distant that all feels from what I feel on a regular basis? I scan over peoples words and “something” radiates from it that often correlates to human behavioral rules (from what I see of reactions from other people). As I go about my day I feel “bundles of intensity” pool in my joints, bones and muscles that amount to movement orders. I feel pressure to pay attention to particular part of human interaction. Only some of it correlates to what is in those papers. I still think I can make this work.



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