I noticed that some people came over after I accidentally hit “publish” instead of “save” on a draft that I have since returned to draft status. Sorry about that. I can be a little impulsive and hit the wrong button.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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!]
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.
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.]
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
I was going to extend that post on emotions and omotions into a post on racial pejoratives and sensitivity to the term “privilege”, but I need to think about some [a] resources [b] that Tony at The Shoop’s Roost gave me. Bigotry and how all of the little pieces that create it is a pretty complex thing and that bears some thinking about. So I’m going to put that one on hold for a bit and finally start a series of posts about alterations in how the minds of people with Tourette’s Syndrome can be benefits and not just the drawbacks that we all hear about through medicine and popular culture. This series is meant to eventually be turned into a presentation that I can give to children and adults with TS so that they can get a better idea about what TS is (as best as we can understand it) and how they might use it to their benefit.
[Lets just get it over with.
We believe that Tourette’s Syndrome, AD(H)D, OCD, Autism, Schizophrenia and some other mental conditions are “features” of humanity and not “bugs”. THEY ARE NORMAL AND NATURAL as a general rule, though they can be debilitating at their most intense because human development is not a clean process. The problem is that in a modern context things are a lot more confusing and we have culturally decided to pretend that we are all the same (for good reasons that have bad effects). So as medical research started pinching off groups of humans as having similar sets of features, we have been resistant to the idea that these people who have mental strengths and interesting relationships with the surrounding society are in fact how we sort into “kinds” of humans.
Now to start demonstrating it.]
History and the negative bias problem.
As a species we do some things pretty good, and we do some things pretty badly. We are pretty good at identifying and understanding things that cause people suffering when it comes to medicine and creating systems to try to deal with that suffering. Modern medicine is fantastic in how it’s able to take a human problem and figure out what is happening at multiple levels from the molecular to the social. We have tremendous knowledge about what is wrong. So much knowledge that a major part of science is creating ways of organizing and using all of that knowledge constructively. But we can also be very foolish as a species because of how our minds work in a modern social context.
[A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, especially when we don’t always do the best thing or the right thing with that knowledge because we are social primates with an evolutionary history very different from the world we live in today. We are in many ways a reminder of what things were like so when you react or act you are often pretending that it’s 500,000 years ago and have no idea.]
We tend to have a negative emotional bias as a species  meaning that on average we will pay more attention to the negative. Bias  is a word that I’m sure that many of you have heard before. I’m also willing to bet that you have heard that bias is a bad thing as “being biased” is used to dismiss people in arguments often. But it’s not a bad thing, it is in fact a neutral thing since bias just means that your reasoning and motivation is shaped towards particular things. If you have personal experience with evidence that pushes you towards one side of a social conflict (for example you have studied the evidence for biological evolution) you are in fact biased on that issue for good reasons. Bias means you are not neutral with respect to something independent of anything else, and the reason bias tends to be a negative word is because we are not naturally neutral without culture.
I think that what this means functionally is that on average when encountering things we don’t personally have experience with we will be cautious and suspicious. Think about it like this, would it be better for your ancestors to see lions in bushes where there were none (false positive error ), or to miss the lion that was there (false negative error )? Your ancestors would have had a greater chance of surviving if they saw the occasional thing that was not there. So up here in modern times it’s likely the case that we prioritize negative emotions as higher than positive ones. So we emphasize negative characteristics and possible harms more than positive characteristics and possible benefits when thinking about or perceiving things we do not have personal experience with.
[We can’t say if this bias is “hardwired” or not, or how pervasive it is in how we perceive the world. It’s possible that humans would be neutral towards unfamiliar things if it were not for the effect of culture on how we interact with the world. But I would say that functionally we have a negative bias towards things called mental conditions.]
[This is balanced by some positive biases such as an in-group bias that flips this to a positive emotional bias with respect to people and things we have personal experience with. That whole “seeing patterns where there are none” might explain conspiracy theorists. There is probably more that one of those with TS, not to mention a bunch of mad prophets.]
As each of our individual emotional impressions diffuses into the nested sets of organized groups that make up society through of our personal interactions the emotional impressions become “averaged”* into our shared morals, ethics, assumptions, emotional sensitivities, group narratives and more about the things we care about the most. Consider the emotional priorities of Democrats or Republicans versus the emotional priorities of America as a whole, and the collection of stories each group tells.
[*Averaging is not a simple as the average of 5, 5, and 5 being 7.5. That average is altered by the fact that we will be more or less sensitive to things depending on what the emotion is, what object it’s attached to, what our experience of that object was and how significant (intensity of benefit/harm/previous experience/peer opinion/…) the object is to us. A good general picture of a way the average is biased is represented by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs . For example the more personal and related to resource acquisition something is, the more intensely you will tend to feel about it.]
How the negative emotional bias relates to what is called “mental illness”, “mental disorder” or the most neutral one I could think of “mental condition” has to do with how medicine handles suffering people and history.
Perception of medicine associated things shaped by the negative emotional bias and history.
Medicine is in the business of ending suffering, as it should be. Some of that suffering runs so deep that rationality becomes challenging or impossible while experiencing, interacting with and remembering. So it is totally reasonable that a whole lot of negative emotion be bound up in medicine when it comes to medical problems and the social structure that researches and delivers solutions to suffering. But as I pointed out above we tend to prioritize the negative in perception thought and memory. So we will tend to understand things associated with medicine by negative emotional impressions more often.
Where we start running into problems is in the reality of how an “illness”, “disorder” or “condition” is defined.
[Since some of you might sense me getting evasive, equivocal and hair-splitty, no matter what the objective reality of diseases, disorders and conditions is the priority is ending suffering. We are not dismissing or ignoring anyone’s experience of a mental illness, mental disorder or mental condition. We are unapologetic in pointing out that a lot of what we act like we want to eradicate is very likely to be “features” of what humanity is and not “bugs”. Perfectly natural ways that brains and minds operate that can be expressed in ways and contexts that can cause suffering to a the person with the thing, or someone else who they affect. In this case I think that society just does not know what to do with us now that we no longer live in groups of 150.]
Let’s start out “easy”. Is aggression or assertiveness and objectively bad thing? No. There are times when one should be aggressive or assertive, but if a person is aggressive or assertive in the wrong context (defined by experience + instinct + emotion + socialization > morality and ethics) they will harm someone or dominate someone for no good reason. Is seeking sex an objectively bad thing? No. But given the statistics on rape there is a lot of sex seeking going on in a context that causes suffering. Now think about how people bias their emotions with respect to medicine and aggression, assertiveness and sex. That is a metric fuckton of current controversies and I don’t think it will take you long to think of an example. The same is true of many things we call mental illnesses/disorders/conditions and the ones relevant to people like me are the neurodevelopmental disorders . (Wikipedia neurodevelopmental disorders )
The DSM-V lists many neurodevelopmental disorders but I want to focus on: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Tourette’s Disorder. Now about 3% of the population is on the autism spectrum, 5% is on the AD(H)D and spectrum and 1% is on the TS spectrum. Those are not mutually exclusive so lets pretend that is 6% of the population. If these were like aggression, assertiveness and seeking sex we would expect to find situations where these features were a benefit instead of a drawback. Good instead of bad. It turns out that there are benefits.
Benefits of Autism, AD(H)D and Tourette’s Syndrome.
It turns out that when you ignore the fact that medicine stereotypically only sees people complaining of suffering and you look at lots of the people in each of these groups, you start to see people actively benefiting from the characteristics that come with these conditions. Autism and TS share a lot of features. Both of us have sensory hypersensitivity  (which is associated with savant syndrome).
[I’m not saying I am a savant, that’s the sort of thing other people say you are. I KNOW we are an arrogant sort. That being said what a savant is can inform about how perception can be shaped. If there is a “tourettic savant” knowing what parts of perception they were gifted in would be informative for how the tendencies are shaped in the rest of us.]
Both of us have rule-based language enhancements  (TS linked towards the end). Both of us have obsessions and compulsions that seem associated with organization and relationships (autism,  TS  and also ) and is in turn related to what is called called hypersystematic behaviors and tendencies in autism. Lately people with autism who have benefited from the features of autism have been getting a lot more press and there are even business opportunities in placing people with autism in jobs that benefit from their natural talents . The benefits of being a person with autism seem to be related to classes or categories of objects, how they are organized and what they associated details are. For example:
…computers, trains, historical dates or events, science, or particular TV programmes. Many younger children with autism like Thomas the Tank Engine, dinosaurs or particular cartoon characters. Sometimes, people develop obsessions with things like car registration numbers, bus or train timetables, postcodes, traffic lights, numbers, shapes or body parts such as feet or elbows.
People with autism may also become attached to objects (or parts of objects), such as toys, figurines or model cars – or more unusual objects like milk bottle tops, stones or shoes. An interest in collecting is also quite common: it might be Star Trek DVDs, travel brochures, insects, leaves or bus tickets.
It’s like they are able to fixate on an object class like “television program” or “car associated number” and master what it is. I have to point out what I have read indicates that only some people with autism seem to have these abilities. But…
[…we think all people with autism have these abilities. What matters is if the had a life experience and made choices that let them build on them in ways that are useful to them. Did they have a life that let them learn to control the sensory torrent in a way that strengthened their ability to use the associated brain systems in contexts that benefit them.]
AD(H)D (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).
In AD(H)D the benefits are harder to describe because they are very qualitative. The “H” that can be dropped in and out has to do with the “hyperactivity component”.
[The difference between ADHD and ADD seems of a similar kind as the difference between an extrovert and an introvert and includes something called “externalizing behaviors”. We happen to hypothetically believe that analogously autism and TS are internalized and externalized versions of one another.]
ADD by itself has to do with a disengagement with the world because some “filters” that people use to detect, recall, store and retrieve information about reality. Those filters essentially “perk you up” and make reality interesting because the signals stand out and create interest. Without the emotional information in those filters we essentially become “bored” on a level that is extremely hard to deal with. That level of boredom is so bad that AD(H)D is associated with self-medicating “novelty-seeking behaviors” and we are more prone to substance abuse problems .
[This might help explain why we like arguing online.]
Without those filters we have more reading problems, tend to have less working memory for names and numbers and are not the best “paper work types”. The hyperactivity component makes you more interactive with the world so instead of the student that stares out the window we are the student that blurts out things without thinking. In the support groups we have to make sure we don’t neglect the people with ADD.
What about benefits ? The hyperactivity can be like having lots of energy if we focus it right. What about the filters? Without those filters it can be said that “reality does not grab us as strongly”. Sure we may annoy a person obsessed with order and structure (and can actually become one of those people) but think about what it means to “think outside of the box”. I think of that process as “pattern breaking” and we are really good pattern breakers, even when we don’t want to be. Here is something you may have encountered in school called a concept map.
In a concept that you take a central thing as an object (which can also be a concept) and you try to connect it to the concepts or features that the central object is most closely connected to (concepts the object consists of really). Like how a door is connected to the idea of going in and out, opening and closing, reversibly blocking an opening, security and other things. One reason we are so easily distracted is because those related concepts (and objects connected to them) are just as interesting to us as the central object. So our attention slides around all of the equally interesting things and right out of the box. I also think of this as “tangential thinking”.
[See what I mean by context sensitive? You have to pair this with some solid skills in creating routines and organizing your life because where other people get unconscious help directing their attention we either have to have really good habits so we make sure we do what we need to do, or we develop really good concentration abilities so we can control as much of perception as we can.]
If we are really enjoying what we are doing we slip into a state called “hyper-focus”  where we can hold one part of something more complex in our attention so strongly that we don’t hear you trying to talk to us. Gamers have called this being in “the zone” and it’s a state everyone wants in a professional context. That last link also has some interesting stuff on day dreaming and creativity as well as leadership skills.
[But you have to learn to control that too because if we focus on something too hard we will fail to notice that something important is related to it, or something that we should do with it. Going down the wrong path and wasting time and effort because we chased the wrong thing sucks. If you are practiced you can eventually scan things and spot most important things most efficiently.]
As a result of this AD(H)D is often related to creativity and many of us are artists. The features are also good for a person in the position of being “on point” in a military formation since they must constantly scan for threats and objectives in a tense environment. I often wonder just how many of us manage to make it in the world of science though.
Now we get to the one the blog is mostly about. The media has not caught up with TS advantages in the same way that it has with autism in that the cognitive (mental) advantages of autism are discussed and in TS it’s mostly the physical advantages that are discussed. For example soccer goalie Tim Howard attributes some of his success to TS . I suppose that makes sense since after the verbal tics TS is best known for the physical tics and any article that gives people with TS some benefits with the physical aspects is a valuable thing.
But I want to take a deeper and more fundamental look at what TS is doing to our minds and not just at how the physical is changed. It’s the attempt to understand the cognitive advantages that has kept me obsessed and provided me some emotional drive after I had to leave my science career five years ago. More than anything else it was the following papers and the story of Dr. Samuel Johnson  that captured my imagination and pushed me towards teaching myself brain science.
In a series of posts I will be individually presenting the contents of these papers in a form that I hope to be able to directly turn into a PowerPoint presentation, right after a post that discusses what “rules” and “associations” mean when it comes to a major division in brain systems. Don’t worry about understanding all of the information in the abstracts below, I will do that in the next four posts. For now I have bolded the bits having to do with the enhancements in TS. As I go through them I will try to paint a picture of what the associated brain anatomy and systems are thought to do in general human terms. I will also try to describe just what I thing TS is as a “thing” that applies to all of us.
[We ask ourselves, what is a “tourettic savant”? And how do they appreciate the world in greater resolution and detail the way that an autistic savant does? We provide a “translation” of each abstract blow it.]
Tourette syndrome (TS) is characterized by dysfunctional connectivity between prefrontal cortex and sub-cortical structures, and altered meso-cortical and/or meso-striatal dopamine release. Since time processing is also regulated by fronto-striatal circuits and modulated by dopaminergic transmission, we hypothesized that time processing is abnormal in TS.
We compared time processing abilities between nine children with TS-only (i.e. without major psychiatric comorbidities) and 10 age-matched healthy children, employing a time reproduction task in which subjects actively reproduce different temporal intervals, and a time comparison task in which subjects judge whether a test interval is longer or shorter than a reference interval. IQ, sustained and divided attention, and working memory were assessed in both groups using the Leiter International Performance Scale-Revised, and the Digit Span sub-test of the WISC-R.
Children with TS-only reproduced in an overestimated fashion over-second, but not sub-second, time intervals. The precision of over-second intervals reproduction correlated with tic severity, in that the lower the tic severity, the closer the reproduction of over-second time intervals to their real duration. Time reproduction performance did not significantly correlate with IQ, attention and working memory measures in both groups. No differences between groups were documented in the time comparison task.
The improvement of time processing in children with TS-only seems specific for the over-second range of intervals, consistent with an enhancement in the ‘cognitively controlled’ timing system, which mainly processes longer duration intervals, and depends upon dysfunctional connectivity between the basal ganglia and the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex. The absence of between-group differences on time comparison, moreover, suggests that TS patients manifest a selective improvement of ‘motor’ timing abilities, rather than of perceptual time abilities. Our data also support an enhancement of cognitive control processes in TS children, probably facilitated by effortful tic suppression.
[TS involves alterations to brain anatomy and physiology that are known to be involved in the processing of the sense of time. Researchers compared nine children with TS-only and ten similar “normal” children in the ability to estimate and reproduce subsecond (less than one second) and suprasecond (greater than one second) lengths of time. TS children reproduced suprasecond lengths of time with greater accuracy than controls suggesting enhancement of “motor timing” systems.]
The smooth pursuit eye movements and fixation ability of children aged 8 to 16 years with Tourette syndrome (TS) were examined.
Although several studies have examined the saccadic ability of patients with TS, there have been only a few studies examining pursuit ability in TS.
Pursuit gain (eye velocity/target velocity) and intrusive saccades during fixation were measured in children with TS-only, TS+attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and TS+ADHD+obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and in controls (8 to 16 y). Two pursuit tasks and 1 fixation task were used. In random pursuit 1 (RP1), each step and ramp cycle began from fixation; in random pursuit 2 (RP2), each cycle followed the next. In the fixation task, children were required to maintain fixation on a center dot and ignore distractor stimuli.
All children had significantly higher pursuit gains in RP2 than in RP1 when pursuing a 30 degrees/s moving target. In addition, in RP2, the TS+ADHD+OCD group displayed significantly higher pursuit gains relative to the TS-only, TS+ADHD, and control groups. In the fixation task, the TS+ADHD group exhibited significantly more intrusive saccades than the TS+ADHD+OCD and control groups.
Our findings support an enhanced oculomotor ability in the TS+ADHD+OCD group and the presence of an online gain control mechanism during ongoing pursuit. These findings are discussed in more detail.
[Now it gets trickier, some of these effects only show up when TS is combined with ADHD and OCD. I love biology…(no really)]
[In an experiment designed to track how subjects were able to visually fix on and track targets, subjects with TS, ADHD and OCD were able to visually track targets with greater accuracy (defined as eye following target as it moves, “pursuit velocity gain”.]
Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a childhood onset disorder of motor and vocal tics. The neural networks underlying TS overlap with those of saccade eye movements. Thus, deviations on saccadic tasks can provide important information about psychopathology of TS. Tourette syndrome often coexists with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Hence, we manipulated various components of a saccade task to measure its effects on saccades of children with TS-only, TS+ADHD, TS+ADHD+OCD and healthy controls. Children looked toward (prosaccade) or in the opposite direction (antisaccade) of a peripheral target as soon as it appeared. The prosaccade and antisaccade tasks were presented in three conditions. In the Gap200 condition, the fixation dot disappeared 200 ms prior to the appearance of the peripheral target, In the Gap800 condition, the fixation dot disappeared 800 ms prior to the appearance of the peripheral target and in Overlap200 the fixation dot disappeared 200 ms after the appearance of the peripheral target. Fixation-offset manipulations had different effects on each group’s antisaccades. The TS+ADHD+OCD group’s antisaccade latencies and error rates remained relatively unchanged in the three conditions and displayed a pattern of eye movements that can be interpreted as enhanced. Alternatively, the TS+ADHD group displayed an overall pattern of longer saccadic latencies. Findings corroborate the hypothesis that the combination of tic disorder and ADHD results in unique behavioral profiles. It is plausible that a subgroup of children with TS develop an adaptive ability to control their tics which generalizes to enhanced volitional control of saccadic behavior as well. Supporting evidence and other findings are discussed.
[In an experiment designed to track how subjects were able to visually fix on and track targets, subjects with TS, ADHD and OCD were able to generate antisaccades (looking away from a peripheral target) at the same error rate (errors are looking in the wrong direction) in all trials. All other groups had error rates that increased as the time a central target was left behind before a peripheral target appeared increased. (The central target seems to interfere with locking onto the peripheral target).]
Tourette’s syndrome (TS) is a developmental disorder characterized by motor and verbal tics. The tics, which are fast and involuntary, result from frontal/basal-ganglia abnormalities that lead to unsuppressed behaviors. Language has not been carefully examined in TS. We tested the processing of two basic aspects of language: idiosyncratic and rule-governed linguistic knowledge. Evidence suggests that idiosyncratic knowledge (e.g., in irregular past tense formation; bring-brought) is stored in a mental lexicon that depends on the temporal-lobe-based declarative memory system that also underlies conceptual knowledge. In contrast, evidence suggests that rule-governed combination (e.g., in regular past tenses; walk+-ed) takes place in a mental grammar that relies on the frontal/basal-ganglia-based procedural memory system, which also underlies motor skills such as how to use a hammer. We found that TS children were significantly faster than typically developing control children in producing rule-governed past tenses (slip-slipped, plim-plimmed, bring-bringed) but not irregular and other unpredictable past tenses (bring-brought, splim-splam). They were also faster than controls in naming pictures of manipulated (hammer) but not non-manipulated (elephant) items. These data were not explained by a wide range of potentially confounding subject- and item-level factors. The results suggest that the processing of procedurally based knowledge, both of grammar and of manipulated objects, is particularly speeded in TS. The frontal/basal-ganglia abnormalities may thus lead not only to tics, but also to a wider range of rapid behaviors, including the cognitive processing of rule-governed forms in language and other types of procedural knowledge.
[In an experiment that analyzed the abilities of children with TS to come up with novel word forms in the context of a sentence, TS children were faster at producing rule-governed past tenses then control children. In an experiment that analyzed how fast children with TS could name pictures of objects, children with TS were faster than controls at naming manipulated (like a tool) objects.]
[a] Racism, A Sociological Perspective by Nicki Lisa Cole at sociology.about.com
[b] Why Black People can use the N-word: A Perspective by African American at Word. The Online Journal on African American English
 Type I error (false positive error). In Wikipedia, retrieved on 7/6/15 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_I_and_type_II_errors#Type_I_error
 Type II error (false negative error). In Wikipedia, retrieved on 7/6/15 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_I_and_type_II_errors#Type_II_error
 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 7/6/15 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs
 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
The American Psychiatric Association, May 18, 2013.
 Neurodevelopmental Disorder. In Wikipedia, retrieved on 7/6/2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurodevelopmental_disorder
 Towards objectively quantifying sensory hypersensitivity: a pilot study of the “Ariana effect”.
Panagopoulos et al. PeerJ. 2013 Aug 1;1:e121.
 Talent in autism: hyper-systemizing, hyper-attention to detail and sensory hypersensitivity.
Baron-Cohen et al. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 May 27; 364(1522): 1377–1383.
 Inflectional morphology in high-functioning autism: Evidence for speeded grammatical processing.
Walenski et al. Res Autism Spectr Disord. 2014 Nov 1;8(11):1607-1621.
 Obsessions and Autism. At autism.org.uk on 7/2/15.
 Tourette’s syndrome, trichotillomania, and obsessive-compulsive disorder: how closely are they related?
Ferrão et al. Psychiatry Res. 2009 Nov 30;170(1):32-42.
On a theoretical continuum of tics and compulsions, it can be hypothesized that a nodal point exists where the shift from“unintentional” to “intentional” repetitive behaviors takes place. Subjective experiences that precede these behaviors may be helpful in defining this demarcation (Miguel et al., 1995), and may be particularly useful to investigate in the subgroup of OCD with tics. OCD patients with tics often report compulsions not preceded by obsessions, and instead usually perform their repetitive behaviors to relieve sensory phenomena (i.e., bodily sensations, general feelings), or to reach a specific sensation or feeling “just-right” (Leckman et al., 1994; Miguel et al., 1995, 1997, 2000).
In terms of type of obsessive–compulsive symptoms, patients with OCD plus tics more frequently report intrusive violent, sexual, religious images/thoughts, somatic obsessions, counting rituals, tic-like compulsions, and hoarding (George et al., 1993; Holzer et al., 1994; Eapen et al.,1997; Petter et al.,1998; Swerdlowet al.,1999; Diniz et al., 2005). When symptoms are measured based on dimensions, the aggressive/ sexual/religious factor and the symmetry/ordering/arranging factor are also more frequently associated with the OCD plus tics subtype (Leckman et al., 1997; Hasler et al., 2005).
 The psychopathological spectrum of Gilles de la Tourette syndrome.
Cavanna et al. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2013 Jul;37(6):1008-15.
Moreover, it has been observed that obsessive–compulsive symptoms in people with tics have their own character (Frankel et al., 1986; George et al., 1993). Compulsions tend to be more related to counting, symmetry and “just right” thoughts or actions. Typical examples of this include having to cross a door threshold in a certain manner, counting all the floor tiles in a room or having to perform a tic in a particular way (which can lead to repetitive tics). Intrusive aggressive or inappropriate sexual thoughts and images are relatively common in people with GTS, whilst the obsessive–compulsive symptoms in pure OCD tend to be more related to fears about contamination or harm coming to another person (e.g. Frankel et al., 1986; George et al., 1993; Cavanna et al., 2006b; Worbe et al., 2010). Frankel et al. (1986) reported that patients with GTS had significantly higher obsessional scores on a specially designed inventory when compared to controls. The obsessional items endorsed by GTS patients changed with increasing age, with younger patients endorsing more items to do with impulse control, and older subjects endorsing items about checking, arranging and fear of contamination. Cluster analysis of the inventory responses revealed a group of seven questions that were preferentially endorsed by GTS patients (blurting obscenities, counting compulsions, impulsions to hurt oneself) and eleven questions elicited high scores from OCD patients (ordering, arranging, routines, rituals, touching one’s body, obsessions about people hurting each other). George et al. (1993) showed that patients with GTS and co-morbid OCD have significantly more violent, sexual and symmetrical obsessions and more touching, blinking, counting, and self-damaging compulsions, compared to patients with OCD only, who have more obsessions concerning dirt or germs and more compulsions about cleaning. The phenomenological differences between the repetitive behaviours encountered in GTS and OCD have been consistently reported in further studies (e.g. Worbe et al., 2010). The current view is that GTS and OCD can share some neurobiological underpinnings, and that specific obsessive–compulsive symptoms are likely to be intrinsic to GTS (Robertson, 2000; Lombroso and Scahill, 2008; Cavanna et al., 2009a).
 Specialisterne company website “about” page, US branch.
Specialisterne (which translates from Danish as “The Specialists”) is an innovative social business concept originally founded in Denmark in 2004. Specialisterne is internationally recognized as the first and foremost example of how high functioning people with autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder) can become effectively included in society, and provide valuable, high quality services to their employers.
 A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D. From The New York Times by Richard A. Friedman on 10/31/14
 The Creative Gifts of ADHD. From Scientific American by Scott Barry Kaufman on 10/21/14
 Bother Me, I’m Thinking. From The Wall Street Journal by Jonah Lehrer on 2/19/11
 Up In Your Head: Can Having Tourette Syndrome Make You a Superior Athlete? On Yahoo News by Joseph Diaz and Lauren Effron on 8/14/2014
 Time processing in children with Tourette’s syndrome.
Vicario et al. Brain Cogn. 2010 Jun;73(1):28-34.
 Smooth pursuit and fixation ability in children with Tourette syndrome.
Tajik-Parvinchi et al. Cogn Behav Neurol. 2011 Dec;24(4):174-86.
 Enhanced antisaccade abilities in children with Tourette syndrome: the Gap-effect Reversal.
Tajik-Parvinchi et al. Front Hum Neurosci. 2013 Nov 13;7:768.
 Speeded processing of grammar and tool knowledge in Tourette’s syndrome.
Walenski et al. Neuropsychologia. 2007 Jun 18;45(11):2447-60.
All that shit you feel in your head.
Emotions. we all know about them, but we really don’t know about them. What I mean by that is that we feel emotions and we largely understand what another person is talking about when they say they feel a certain way, but we don’t really pay attention to what we do when we act on them. We know that we hate what another person is arguing politically, but we don’t really have a very detailed view of how we approach them, understand what they are saying, and how we respond to them. When we get into details of how we act on emotions things get very interesting. This is especially true when you take an outside view of how we act and look for patterns in lots of situations.
In this entry I’m going to try to explain how I see emotions and social emotions structured, and then finish up by using that to show some of how I see people fight with words. Specifically how “fight/flight/freeze” seems to work when people are arguing and getting intense. Some of this might get a little abstract because I’m trying to symbolize things that we don’t normally think about in these terms. But I think it’s worth it because of how this relates to my grappling  metaphor for social conflict. I described it like this,
Instead of limbs, joints and whole body being used with force and torque, you have objects and meanings being manipulated with emotion and instinct. There are positive and negative emotions in there, of many intensities connected to many objects and people-objects. All to convince a person, and especially an audience, by plucking at social emotions.
Social emotions are one of the “joints” in this metaphor. Our language has lots of little “pivot points” where meaning and emotion as it relates to objects in language can be manipulated. The division of “one of us” and “one of them” in our minds twists the way we see many many things. We literally change our entire way of looking at information depending on who we are talking to or receiving information from (motivated reasoning ). That in-group/out-group psychology switch gets flipped back and forth on a regular basis results in some most interesting kinds of human hypocrisy and bullshit.
I’ve posted an image of a Plutarch wheel before, and this one is modified with some symbols and explanations below.
A really simple definition of emotions that works for us here is that emotions are the sensations that have a role in binding perception into memory and are used in memory recall so we can know what to do with what we see based on past experience. Emotions are painted on what we see as what we feel. Here is what the symbols mean.
[(+) = positive, feels good/satisfying
(-) = negative feels bad/threatening
(>*) = approach/fight
(<*) = withdraw/flight
just to complete the set for the future
(~) = pause/freeze
I’m not sure how that last one works computationally but it might have to do with balanced or cancelled signals. Also there is an approach-fight, withdraw-flight spectrum. Probably a pause-freeze spectrum too.]
The horizontal and vertical axes are split into positive (feels good/satisfying) and negative (feels bad (-)/threatening) halves. And they are also split into approach/fight, withdraw/flight behaviors (low and high intensity versions). It includes the traditional names for many but not all emotional states, and as you can see they blend at the diagonals such that you both like and fear someone you admire.
These are how we feel about things. That term “feels about” is a quality statement, what you perceive leaves a felt mark on you. Good/bad or approach/withdraw is termed the valance of the emotion, and they have intensity. You like it (ecstasy-serenity), you don’t like it (grief-pensiveness), you hate it (rage-annoyance), you fear it (terror-apprehension). So far this should be intuitive for us. Now I want you to think out of the box.
[If you happen to have ADHD this might be easier for you because we are good “think out of the box” types because associated concepts are often as interesting to us as the central object in perception making tangents easy.]
You are the box here and you must think outside of yourself. You have a pretty good idea what your emotions are to you and we all unconsciously act as if other humans perceive the world as we do. But what is the purpose of emotion to all of humanity? Your anger. Your happiness. Your sadness. Your ecstasy. These always have to do with other people around you as much as they have to do with you. Evolution frankly does not care about you and me all that much. What it cares about is the whole group. If you and me vanished the human race would just keep on going largely like it was and we don’t tend to pretend this is true because it terrifies many of us. But if you want to know reality and have the advantage of knowledge when you act you will put at least as much emphasis on what you are to the group and other individuals as well as what they are to you.
This article discusses a study where scientists developed techniques for detecting emotions in measured brain activity and the discovered that the three things that impact how you store (modulate) emotion in order of effectiveness is valance, intensity, and other people .
“We found that three main organizing factors underpinned the emotion neural signatures, namely the positive or negative valence of the emotion, its intensity — mild or strong, and its sociality — involvement or non-involvement of another person. This is how emotions are organized in the brain.”
[That’s right. I’m in your head. EVERYONE is in your head. Other people are literally creating patterns in your brain that can permanently alter the function and structure of your brain and the beliefs and behavior of the mind it generates. Look on the bright side, you get to be in our head too which is why you should take all of this stuff seriously. Once you know about it you have some moral and ethical decisions to make. We certainly can’t unsee this stuff and would not want to.
What did you expect? We are networked biological computers and social primates.]
From good/bad emotional impressions, to emotional impressions that define objects.
I want you to think about things that act the same as emotions but store information about different qualities. I want you to think of emotions that define kinds of objects. It’s a crappy term and I want a new one but lets call them omotions for now. Some of these omotions categorize simple objects that we encounter.
And we all self reference when trying to understand the world.
We encounter all sorts of objects.
(The “>*” and “<*” below is supposed to represent going towards or away from and object.)
(+)(<*)[Other]:beautiful dangerous waterfall
And at some point we discover that that some of these objects are like us.
Objectification as a concept is run on a brain system. So people discussing sexual objectification deserve your attention. Perception paints characteristics and qualities to define what we are perceiving, how we feel about it, and what we should do. But the concept of objectification is probably broader than that. Do racists objectify racial minorities? They only seem to care about them as objects and not people from what I see.]
I want you to imagine that those emotions are “tags” in a tagging system similar the tags that I apply to blog posts to organize them.
[This is a TS aside just for fun, “demonic lore”. Skip to the next part if you want.
There are a lot of anatomical differences in the brain between a person with TS and “average humanity”. Including the amygdala, what is often thought of as the “fear center” but is actually at least as involved in positive emotions as it is in negative emotions. We think of the amygdala  as the “writing head” and possibly “reading head” (I’m still doing reading) for your “hard drive” when it comes to emotional signatures. Our amygdala is… different . One relevant part (basolateral complex) has something to do with “emotional, aversive, and discriminative learning”, “reinforcers”, “reward anticipation”, “behavior suppression”, and “modulation”. And the other part (central nucleus) has something to do with emotional and autonomic (intensity, fight/flight/freeze type stuff) motor behavior.
Your brain paints omotions and emotions onto what you perceive as you experience reality so that you know what it is to you and how you relate to it now based on how you related to it in the past. Those tags determine how the experience is stored and what you will feel about future perceptions that relate to the past experience so you can determine what/who something is and how to feel about it.
Did you notice that “(not like)[Me]” on the figure instead of just nothing for non-person objects? I’ll explain that below.
Confusing “(-)[Other](like)[Me]” with “(-)[Other]”. Descending into hypocrisy and irrationality.
Social emotions are critical in psychological differences in behavior between a person’s in-group and out-group (“my people” versus “those people”). Those emotions are part of why logical fallacies work. Consider the ad hominem fallacy . Dismissing another person’s argument because of an irrelevant characteristic often occurs after someone finds out the other person is a feminist, a republican, a democrat, a conservative, a liberal, a libertarian, a communist, a socialist and any number of other groups. Would you think that someone should dismiss what you have to say just because you are on a particular part of the political spectrum or with a particular group? Of course not.
Yet for many people the rules for “us” change when it’s one of “them”. Somehow the fact that you feel bad about the other person is all you need to render them literally “not like me”. This could either mean that a person never learned to see another person as the same as them socially, or they are suppressing the omotions that make them see the other person as the same as them socially. So that “(like)[Me]” up there is basically equivalent to empathy.
I can’t say what all of the differences are but “(not like)[Me]” and the total absence of any category for things being (like/unlike) [Me] are probably different. But for now I will concentrate on “(not like)[Me]” because I suspect that the absence version is a severe thing (perhaps equivalent to psychopathy).
[Want to feel how they work? Consider a Conservative Republican Christian Male White terrorist, or a Liberal Democrat Atheist Male White terrorist. Consider the fact that all women experience sexism from men.
I bet a bunch of you just felt a surge of “something” inside. Was that “something” anger? Was it attached to anything interesting? Did the urge to say “Not all Republicans!” or “Not all Whites!” or “Not all Men!” come to mind? Yet I did not say that all of all of those groups do anything. I described a person that has existed and does exist, and what women experience. All that happened because from your perspective I chose not to textually separate a group you are part of from something terrible. Sucks how manipulable we are huh?
Who has your puppet strings? You? Or Us…]
A spectrum of strategies in offense, defense, evasion, redirection and more.
This final section involves a set of patterns that I have seen in human social conflict that involve the object of discussion, the object that is the opponents and the object that is the audience. These patterns are like specific “moves” in fighting like a punch, block or throw. That object of discussion can take many forms, but the emotional rules are the same. Good/Bad, Intensity and social emotions are the primary things affecting what one feels about the object and shapes how they “choose” to respond.
Moving towards or away from an object that someone likes or dislikes will occur depending on the people involved and how they respond to one another AND the audience. An honest and reasonable opponent willing to engage in a social exchange in control of themselves and their reasoning and logical skills will engage in a fair fight. A dishonest and unreasonable opponent unwilling to engage in a social exchange who is not in control of their reasoning and logical skills will not engage in a fair fight.
One of the issues I’ve seen people fight over the most lately is rape and sexual harassment.
[We are naturally attracted to concentrations of social tension and conflict. Why avoid the big stuff now?]
Objects of importance in an argument.
The 5 most important object categories to keep in mind in a conflict in progress are:
2) Your opponent(s).
3) The object(s) of discussion.
4) The audience.
5) The emotions and omotions each person associates with the object(s) of discussion.
I will note at this time that this is not like what is often termed “objectification” because the idea here is to talk about how your brain and mind literally create objects such as people that you see as having equal worth to yourself. A “non-‘objectified’ object” would be an opponent that you respect in a way that would cause you to treat them as you want to be treated including avoiding fallacious reasoning and logic.
1) You must consider yourself an object as much as any other. This is how you learn to strip bias away from what you choose to do in a social conflict. You must practice self objectifying by learning to identify it when you use reasoning that you would not want used on you. You literally have to make a mental simulation of yourself to do effective introspection.
2) Naturally they are the human object you are interacting with using language to create conceptual objects of discussion.
3) These can be anything conceptually. Literally every word of text can be an object in analysis of an argument. But there will be a central object, supporting objects, reasoning and logic (which are often objects when showing why someone is wrong).
4) This is virtually always a factor on the internet. The audience is always a psychological pressure that drives a lot of fallacious reasoning and logic, and other emotion-driven behavior. The general nature of the problem is “winning instead of being correct”. You want to be correct and win, in that order.
5) This is the point of this blog post. The (emotion)[omotion] combination drives perception, memory and behavior. Race, sex, gender, religion, political party, and more are all omotionally painted on what opponents perceive of one another. It drives your behavior and theirs. The trick is to make sure social groups are only used in reason, logic and rhetoric when relevant.
The relationship of the object with emotions and an “abstract/concrete filter”.
So let’s get to our example, solving the rape and sexual harassment problem. Many omotional connections have driven behavior. Rape and sexual harassment drive very strong emotions and reactions with respect to rape as a conceptual object as a concept or in specific examples. Logical fallacies are easy, these examples are about what look like social strategies with respect to topics that rouse intense emotions. What is worse is that they can be consciously or unconsciously done with respect to hurting people and making social problems worse (or not making them better at best).
I’m introducing something new here, I’m going to try calling it the abstract/concrete filter. This is essentially how specific or general someone is being about the object of discussion. An abstract concept and specific (concrete) examples are one way that this plays out. People will be abstract or specific depending on honesty and strategic needs.
Here are some examples of how I have seen it play out.
(-)(<*)[Concept of Rape]: If a person feels the object/subject threatening, such as someone with a relative who might have raped someone, one way to attack people trying to solve the rape problem is to stay in the abstract realms and avoid all discussion of specifics. If someone stays in the abstract realms they can bring up endless examples to counter what someone is talking about because you are dealing with a variable that can be endlessly replaced. If they were forced to actually deal with the specific, the conversation would turn to actual solving of rape which would not be in their strategic interests.
[The fear makes a person acting like a predator in communication avoid specifics about what they fear. If they stay abstract and ignore the specifics of their opponent they avoid what they fear and can keep doubting, minimizing, redirecting and more until their opponent is exhausted. What is worse is that they may not even know they are being predatory while retreating. That is a vulnerability :)]
(-)(<*)[rape]and(+)(>*)[public discussion]: A person interested in emotional dominance displays on people who want to solve the rape problem would attempt to foster public philosophical discussions that portray rape as a positive. One example is “If you had to rape to save the human race is this a moral good?” Seeing rape treated casually and positively is deeply hurtful to rape victims and their allies, yet privilege makes many unaware of this so the appeal to “Can’t we discuss a philosophical question without getting attacked?” can seem reasonable to some. This makes a rape victim or ally feel powerless if this occurs successfully or without social opposition/criticism. Again, since it’s a philosophical question it’s abstract so games can be played.
[The person thinking they are doing good here may be suffering from “They can’t tell me not to discuss rape philosophically!” The actual rapist would be enjoying the fact that they are triggering victims and allies. It might even be a mix. Human cruelty is often not straightforward unfortunately.]
Basically if someone finds something threatening and they are not in control of their emotions they will get general about things that “help the enemy” and specific about things that “hurt the enemy”. But it’s not as simple as how a rapist or a person who fears for a rapist might behave online. People with privilege such as white males like me will often get specific in ways that are harmful to people and what they are trying to express or change in society. For example:
(+)or (-)(>*)[Topic Subject Tangent]: At a social events about solving rape or sexual harassment people (males most often) asking questions often bring up what they experience in a way that subtracts from the overall message of the event. They make it about themselves and do not create a way for their experience to add to the event and the experiences of people effected by rape.
[This is mostly people used to being the center of attention acting like they are used to acting. They think everyone is interested in what they have to say or their experience instead of something that might actually solve the problem. I’m sure there is a “hidden rapist/harasser” in here somewhere but my predatory aspects have not been ready to speak casually about that.]
There is a lot more than this. These are only some of the things that I notice about how people fight with words and how the emotions are arranged. I hope to flesh these ideas out a lot more in the future so if anyone thinks they see a hostile, unwanted or unfriendly strategy/behavior that fits in here feel free to offer example. What we see in other people is the only way these things get figured out.
The shit I do* to expel emotions related to all that fear and aggression I see…
[*Yeah some of the visuals are questionable in terms of facts, but I love the song.]
 Scientists identify emotions based on brain activity. On Science Daily June 19, 2013 at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130619195137.htm
 Morphologic features of the amygdala and hippocampus in children and adults with Tourette syndrome.
Peterson et al 2007. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 Nov;64(11):1281-91.
I’m in quite a difficult spot.
On one hand I honestly believe that things like ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, OCD, autism, schizophrenia and more are expressions of perfectly normal human instinct. Understanding them will allow us to understand the different ways that human minds can be naturally shaped. They have disadvantages, advantages (both measured relative to other people), and excesses that can become flaws unless a person develops control which can even make those excesses benefits.
The problem is when they don’t fit into a modern context or they reach an intense enough level to be a problem in a modern context. They are inherited but largely not genetic. Attempts to find genes end up finding hundreds and indicate the conditions likely represent mental systems, or a set of systems that are expressed a certain way for a particular type of human. The non-genetic inheritance likely stems from epigenetic programming by the environment and references to epigenetics and imprinting are all over the literature. I increasingly believe these conditions represent a place where one’s ancestors experiences and mode of life (things like warrior, craftsperson, politician…) are written into us as changes of gene expression.
I think that a person with one of these conditions needs to understand how their mind is shaped and learn to understand what that does for them and to them so they can figure out how to thrive in society on their own terms. Until almost six years ago I thought I was “just like everyone else” and lived my life as if that were true.
Society does not even come close to thinking in these terms. These conditions were first studied because of people suffering because that is what medicine does. As a result things like TS, ADHD and autism have a negative bias emotionally speaking. The advantages or finding good ways to express the excesses are not common knowledge and we are in the process of just getting people to admit that we are not all the same and treat one another fairly. As a result talking about any one of those conditions and many more is like a social minefield, and my social emotions are not the “normal” set.
We are going to have to deal with us as some point. I just listed more than 10% of the population. Sub-clinical people will spread out from there. around 25% of the population has a diagnosed mental condition. We are figuring out how to define normal and if we do not learn what normal looks like in all of it’s diversity, accept it and act like it’s true society will have problems.
I earned two bachelors degrees in Microbiology and Cellular & Molecular Biology with a minor in Biochemistry. I earned a masters degree in Cellular & Molecular Biology. I spent over ten years in laboratories from entomology to plant genetics. I worked in the lab of one of the big names in epigenetics research and that person supported me when I applied to and attended a good graduate school. My work was good quality. I was given administrative positions like safety, training, tracking and disposal person for radioactive and toxic materials in the laboratory. I did all of the things I was supposed to do and took to every goal with relentless determination. None of that prepared me for the things that were totally invisible to me because “I was just like everyone else” to myself and everyone else*.
TS, AHDH, hypothetical OCD and how I got to this place.
*While my work was of good quality, I was slower than most at getting my data and I had strange difficulties in different situations that on occasion had people saying “I just don’t understand how you could…”. I have seen other people with these conditions complain of similar things. That led me to getting 12 hours of neurological testing done and receiving the ADHD and TS diagnoses. This was in 2009 when the economy was blowing up. The university was not supportive and I had no idea what to think about this and would not have been able to deal with an 80 hour a week post-doctoral position while figuring this out. I accepted a masters degree.
*I applied to jobs for about 6 months. I got one interview during this period and was not hired. I needed to do something so I decided to train to be a public school science teacher and worked as a substitute teacher in the American south for about 2 and 1/2 years. That experience left me with clinical depression and probably PTSD (not confirmed but my psychologist worked with veterans). I got psychological help and while I am no longer positive for those conditions, recovery is more than just not being clinically positive.
*While getting therapy I spent some time teaching myself pharmacy technician. But I was resorting to that and I honestly loved working in science so with the encouragement of my psychologist and my wife I tried applying to science positions again. Two years later I have again only gotten one interview and did not get the job. I’m now trying to get hired to other things like sales person at nicotine vapor shops (it helps with the ADHD).
My current place.
I largely don’t have any real idea what I look like on paper because I can’t get anyone in a position to know how it looks and how I might fix it to talk to me. They seem to shut down when I mention the neurological conditions even when I’m not seeking a job with them. Even my attempts to talk to my former PI (laboratory primary investigator) about how ADHD and TS might have impacted my graduate work have become uncomfortable enough that I have stopped trying.
I think it looks bad. I have not had one science job since I graduated. They see that I spent roughly 3 years in public education since I graduated. They see 2 years of unemployment after that. I’m pretty sure that if working at a convenience store or a fast food place is added it will look even worse (I have nothing against those jobs but am trying to think about how they will see it). My references are still people I worked with at the university because as a substitute teacher you don’t get to know anyone well enough for them to say yes.
I have spent the last six years obsessively reading about TS and ADHD and OCD. I taught myself enough brain science to follow along with every paper that I have read. I’ve been working to understand what I am so I can take my disadvantages and excesses into account functionally. This 10% of the population has a lot of advice on what can be done to make what we are a benefit instead of a liability in employment.
One current realization is that a life time of being a person with TS has made me a socially avoidant person. Looking back on my life I can say that I have only once tried to make friends with another person (it worked, but he ended up a bit of a jerk). All of the other friends were people that extended friendship to me. They all seem to honestly like me and since I’m an ambivert I mostly like a smaller number of closer friends that I am very passionate about (the link on ambiverts makes that make sense). But that strange repulsion from extending myself towards other people and other groups has really messed me up in a lot of ways. I effectively have no skills at networking. I did not realize it but I essentially completely neglected my ability to form professional social contacts. The mental filters were either not there or all associated with negative emotions.
What I need is information and a chance. What I need is a person working in government or industry or academia who makes hiring decisions to actually agree to talk to me about this and give me some ideas about how I look on paper and how I can fix it. What I need is someone who has experienced these sorts of issues with networking to give me some advice. I’m actively looking and trying to fix these issues myself but nothing beats a knowledgeable teacher and role-model. I’m sure that I can fix it.
So far I have only contacted one person about an informational interview to see why I might look bad on paper and how I might be able to deal with it. They responded and seemed positive about helping (they asked a couple of questions and for a copy of my resume). I responded with a reply that told them that I needed to make sure it was ok because it had to deal with mental conditions that might impact in ways I’m trying to understand, and did everything I could to word things so that it put as little pressure on them as possible.
I have not heard back. I may have to hide what I am and see if I can address it with euphemisms. This is dishonest, but that seems to be what society wants me to do right now.
*Just as a note, a common complaint among people who are mentally different is that they often run into people who say things like “that happens to everybody” or “me too”. This is not true, these things are a matter of something that is more or less intense, or present or absent, or altered in a persons mind. The same general category of mental feature exists in everyone but the specifics are different and important. This is why these diagnoses exist. I know that people are trying to make a connection but this way of doing it tends to make us invisible.