2018


Ecology and Psychology28 May 2018 11:40 am

We are born sentient beings. While some senses like eyesight improve over the first few months, others such as smell begin fully developed. General states of well being, as well as sensorial sensations dominate the first year or so of life. Our internal sensations of comfort and discomfort and our sensorial experiences of pain and pleasure guide and direct our responses, reactions, movements and activities.

Our early lives are very similar to other mobile organisms with complex nervous systems and brains (such as mammals). We are processing information, making choices and having feelings based on our perceptual sensorial world. We adapt and thrive in our environment by learning from our experiences in mostly a trial and error methodology. 

The bulk of our time is spent in the actual and only over time do our perceptual images of our environment allow us to proactively plan and allow us to live in the possible. The journey to becoming a self-conscious autonomous person is a long, slow process. Growth in our ability to turn images into tools of imagination which we use to secure memories and project a future are vital to the emergence of self-consciousness and sense of personal history. Slowly we go from an actor responding to events, feelings and situations into a self-aware author of our own personal story.

The acquisition of language quickly turns the story into an ongoing internal narrative. We begin to tell our story to ourselves as well as others, and begin to see and hear that our story is often different from others with whom we speak. Developmental psychologists generally agree that most children demonstrate the ability to see and refer to themselves as a separate individual at around eighteen months. Yet, many research psychologists state that a firm and consistent sense of self may not fully form until the age of four. 

While the body is a thing, the mind is a process. Sentient experience is always a combination of body and mind, whether that be in humans, animals or birds. Yet, the majority of sentient life is not self-conscious with an internal narrative or worded thought. As we described above, humans too, are not born self-conscious but only become so through language, a growing ability of imagination to project a future and remember a past, and an emerging ability to be aware of their own feelings and emotions.

Since the process of the emergence of self-consciousness from mere sentience occurs so smoothly and quickly in modern humans its importance is often minimized or completely overlooked. Add to this the fact that once we attain self-consciousness it dominates our experience and in fact becomes the very definition of our identify, it is easy to see why we ignore and forget that we were born sentient and not self-conscious.

It would appear that self-consciousness is itself a stage of development dependent on the interplay of the sensorial body, and autonomic and central nervous systems. Self-conscious awareness does indeed seem to be secreted by the body as an advanced and sophisticated means of improving our ability to both survive and thrive. With this in mind, it is not difficult to imagine humans existing without being self-conscious and easy for us to see this reality reflected in all sentient life and not just in apes and other highly sentient life forms.

So while a child only takes a couple of years of their life to become self-conscious the transformation of sentience becoming self-consciousness is even more pronounced and obvious on an evolutionary level. Currently life scientist estimate that multicellular organisms made their appearance around 700 million year ago. Around the same time they developed non-centralized nervous systems allowing their body of cells to communicate with each other. Nervous systems make their appearance in organic life approximately 500 million years ago along with a centralized primitive brain. The brain went through a number of stages and at around 320 million years ago the cerebral cortex seems to have emerged. While the exact date of the emergence of sentience is still not known it would seem logical to deduce that organisms with a cerebral cortex would be sentient.

Yet, the neocortex which seems to be the strongest candidate to herald the birth of self-consciousness as opposed to just sentience is placed as emerging only about 200,000 years ago. Therefore, you can see the incredible expanse between the emergence of sentience and the eventual emergence of self-consciousness.

While we have already discussed the important role language plays in self-consciousness we still do not know exactly when humans acquired language. We are fairly certain that language existed 70,000 years ago, but we do not know if came into existence at the same time as the neocortex or for how long the neocortex predates the birth of language.

Yet, even if later research cases significant changes in the above timeline, one thing seems rather certain and that is nervous systems producing sentience preceded self-conscious by hundreds of millions of years. We know that sentient beings used their perceptual abilities to not only survive but to flourish. Internal and external mechanisms such as comfort/discomfort and pleasure/pain guided organic life in its successful journey towards surviving and thriving. 

Through natural selection organic life became more adept and adaptable and its developing nervous systems and brains increased its survival skills and mobility allowing territorial expansion and finding more suitable living conditions. As pointed out earlier in this article, the shift from sentience to self-consciousness in many ways was a shift from living and responding to the actual to being able to live in the possible and fictitious. 

So, for hundreds of millions of years our evolutionary path was grounded in our ability to survive and thrive in real and in-the-moment events. While very advanced sentient beings can anticipate and plan based on a history of past events, as evidenced by the behavior of both predators and prey, only self-conscious beings can truly invent and create. 

While being able to think, plan and act in the possible increases our abilities to thrive and survive, it also untethers us from the real and actual. Natural selection is a process that ensures that what is life affirming survives and succeeds and that which is not adaptive and generative dies out. Mechanisms such as pain and pleasure could impel us towards the life affirming and away from the life threatening. Through millions of years these built in attributes of natural selection fostered our developing into increasingly sophisticated and complex organisms with growing survival talents and skills.

To date, self-consciousness is the most advanced skill and talent generated by natural selection with unprecedented potential to have us thrive and be life affirming for not only ourselves but almost all of organic life. Yet, while living in the possible provides perspectives and knowledge increasing our ability to advance the cause of natural selection it also allows us to ignore and abandon the very laws that have guided the proliferation of organic life over literally billions of years.

In the previous article entitled Killing the Host we explored some of the potential harms and catastrophes that our self-consciousness could inflict on our fragile and lush planet. I would suggest you read that article now, and use it to help you better ponder the incredible opportunity and danger that natural selection has released through the emergence of self-conscious life.

It would seem prudent and wise for self-conscious beings to ponder well the road that natural selection has placed us upon and how it has assisted us, and organic life in general, in both surviving and thriving.  Our current tendency to want to transform and transcend natural selection and to demean or reject all of our past is quite risky and extremely arrogant. While the debate between nature and nurture is vital to our understanding of who we are and where we are going, it seems foolish for us to denounce all our old ways of life and being in the world as arbitrary, archaic or as obstacles to our freedom and development. 

Impulsive and reactionary behavior done from a level of self-consciousness does not have a great track record of being life affirming and furthering the cause of natural selection. Such tendencies of human nature have been grossly exploited to foster and justify war, prejudice and hatred. It is likely that further growth and development in the area of being life affirming and improving the quality of all organic life will be more an extension of the processes that have dominated the last few billion years than a rejection or dramatic transformation of its methods, mechanisms and strategies.

 

Jim Guido

Ecology and Philosophy and Social Issues13 May 2018 01:11 pm

I, on numerous occasion throughout the years,  have included in my posts the observation that the Industrial Capitalists have taken liberally from Big Tobacco’s play book of how to defeat scientific and populist concerns about their behavior and policies. When science and citizens began complaining about the unhealthy effects of tobacco and smoking, Big Tobacco shifted the debate from health to whether or not cigarettes “caused”cancer. 

This debate, as you well know, went on for decades as proving something causes cancer is all but impossible. So instead of having to admit the obvious and highly documented negative health impacts of tobacco including the incredible number of toxins and poisons in the cigarettes, they were able to fend off such realities with a conceptual debate on causes of cancer or there even being a possible way to ascertain absolute cause of any multivariable health issue.

The science of the early ecological and environmental science movement is the late 60’s and 70’s had no trouble showing and documenting the unhealthy aspects of dumping tons of toxins and poisons into our land, water and air. And like big tobacco, the industrialized corporate community could tie up litigations in courts for years. Yet, like big tobacco they reveled at the opportunity to switch the debate from easily documentable health implications into a theoretical debate as to whether the poisonous assault on our environment is/was causing global warming.

During the great cancer debate smoking enthusiasts (nicotine addicts) were able to cite personal or anecdotal testimonials of people who had smoked two or three packs a day for decades and never got cancer. Likewise the capitalist industrialist (greed and wealth addict) is able to cite numerous examples of how their practices have in some way improved the environment and quality of life while finding many isolated and cherry picked studies which draw into the question the whole reality of the cause of global warming or its very existence.

While the term ecology was coined in the late 1860’s it took almost a full century before ecological science had popularized concerns that the very survival of much of the life of the planet was being threatened by human generated pollution and industry. In the mid 1960’s Buckminster Fuller began to popularize the idea that the earth was in essence a self-contained spaceship hurdling through the universe. He maintained that while the earth had evolved over billons of years to become a lush and flourishing home to an amazing array of organic life it was also a vulnerable and fragile enclosed biosphere that could be destroyed by the careless actions of humanity.

The more we learn about the planet and all of its organic life the more we see how intertwined and interlaced it all is. While it is true that the fight for survival gets played out in so many arenas of organic life, it is equally obvious that there is an even stronger dynamic of things working and functioning together. Life on planet earth does not just survive, but thrives and flourishes. In general, life uses the dead and dying life as fuel as a means of getting rid of waste and having the greater organism (earth) grow, thrive and flourish. The more we learn, viewing the earth’s biosphere as a living organism is more literal than figurative. 

When one acknowledges that the earth is one huge spaceship one can easily see how foolish, dangerous and destructive pollution and war are to the long term survival of much of organic life, including humans. The Starship Enterprise, the famous spaceship from the TV series Star Trek was supposed to be half mile long and home to a couple of thousand people. Imagine how quickly it would have become a mass grave if it would have been home to endless wars amongst its crew members or would have been generating poisons and toxins inside the spaceship and becoming part of its circulated air and water supply.

While space ship earth is far larger it is still silly to think we and most of organic life can continue to survive and flourish when under constant assault through the propagation of poisons and toxins into our living environment. The earth took some 3 billion or so years to become stable and suitable enough to allow organic life to survive. All of organic life has a relatively narrow band of temperature, chemical composition, etc. in which they can survive. While it is true that the adaptable survive, it is also true that adaptation takes time and acceptable changes move at a snails pace in which hundreds of our generations aren’t even a recognizable blip on the screen.  

The above discussion now has advanced to the point where we can talk about its title, Killing the Host. The earth is the host of all of life, and as a planet it is itself a living biosphere teeming with life. The earth as biosphere is alive and is filled with life in the very same manor that each human being is alive and their body and viscera is teeming with life.

Our activities are killing the host, that being earth, in much the same way that microbes, bacteria, germs, etc. can  threaten, make ill and even kill the body. While the fight for survival is usually dominated by a need to kill or eat the dead, dying or disabled to acquire fuel the killing the host method is quite rare and inefficient. In general organic life does not eat or kill something into extinction for a predator is dependent on the survival and flourishing of its prey for its continued survival and flourishing.

The vast majority of organisms that kill the host do so only during a relatively short adjustment period (especially considering the organic life time line which spans hundreds of millions or even billions of years). Once mutual adaptation occurs, if not becoming a mutually beneficial “teem/team” member, the once lethal organism either adapts to being a parasite or becomes  an agent causing temporary dis-ease.

Shortly after developing microscopes strong enough to see bacteria we recognized the role they can play in deadly inflections, diseases and plagues. Soon the general populace began to view all germs (bacterium) as predatory and lethal, beginning a decades long, and in many cases still existing, war against the germ. 

Recent dissemination to the public of the essential and beneficial role bacteria play in digestion as well as many other functions of our organs and central nervous system has still not removed the evil status of germs. Even when acknowledging their necessary role in both our surviving and flourishing we still feel it necessary to talk of good and bad bacterial cultures such as in the talk on probiotics. 

When a microorganism is in its lethal stage, for its own survival, it must find a new host to inhabit before its old host expires. One of the more common ways in which lethal organisms jump from one host to another is when it becomes “air born” through sneezing or coughing. 

When one frames the current status of mankind as a lethal germ whose activities are endangering and killing the host (various biomes and the earth’s biosphere in total) we can equate our desire to seek survival through space travel and “colonizing” other planets as our truly “exploring” ways to find another host to infect and kill. We are totally capable of adapting and becoming as life affirming and promoting as any other organic organism on planet earth, but our current course is one of killing the host.

Please look for and read my next post entitled “Does the Body Secrete Self-Consciousness?” which poses how we got where we are at, and what are some potential alternative courses of action. We can in deed become one of the most beneficial organisms in natures progression in having organic life continue to thrive and flourish in an ever increasing efficient and life affirming manner.

Jim Guido

Psychology and Relationships and Therapy19 Jan 2018 08:15 pm

The change process is a crucial element to almost everything we learn or improve upon. In two posts I wrote over seven years ago I observed that the change process takes place on three levels.

The first level is that of a behavior or habit that you want to change. The second dimension involves the psychological and emotional elements which support and maintain the habit you want to change. The third dimension is the biochemical/neurological wiring that the habit creates in your body and brain.

While you can acquire improvement by just focusing on learning a new habit, real change occurs (and mastery of a new habit usually only results) when all three realms are honored and respected. Pease read the following links to the old posts for examples and a deeper explanation of the roles that habit/behavior, emotion/psychology, and biochemistry/neurology play in the change process.

Components of Personal Growth and Development

Components of Personal Growth and Development: Part 2

So today I’d like to talk about the change process in slightly different terms. A comprehensive and efficient way for you to effectively make changes in your life is by reframing, replacing and rewiring.

Reframing means that one is encouraged to see things from an alternate perspective. The process of reframing allows one to stop being locked or rigid in the way one feels or thinks about their habit or bias. It opens them up emotionally and psychologically to news ways of acting and being in the world.

It makes sense that what we think and say greatly effects the way we feel. The way we think and feel impacts the choices we make regarding actions we take and how we respond to others. The way we act and respond forms our habits. The feelings and emotions we have when engaging in habitual activity creates our neural networks in the brain and secretes the biochemistry which is the basis of who we are and how we are wired.

Therefore, by changing our perspective and attitude we become more open and receptive to developing new habits. New habits Replace the old habits, and new habits done over time Rewire both our neurology and biochemistry.

An anxious person has anxious thoughts and feelings. These anxious thoughts and feelings have one engage in actions which exhibit anxiety. A person who thinks, feels and acts anxiously will have an anxious biochemistry and be neurologically wired to behave in an anxious manner.

Oftentimes peoples attempts to change something in their lives are limited or unsuccessful due to an over emphasis on one dimension of the change process or even completely ignoring the other two dimensions. Talk therapy often helps a person gain insight into why they behave or react in a certain fashion. Yet, gaining insight into why I get angry or have trouble sustaining intimate relationship doesn’t by itself prevent me from getting angry or being toxic or self-sabotaging in relationships.

People often try to end a bad behavior through just will power. In the language of the social sciences a person attempts to extinguish the old behavior by pure will and determination. Examples of this is when a person makes a New Years resolution to stop smoking, eating too much, or spending too much time on the computer. Such resolutions seldom fare well unless the person is able to find a suitable Replacement for the old habit. The replacement chances of success are increased the more the new behavior successfully addressing the emotional and psychological needs that the old behavior fulfilled.

Sometimes attempts at facilitating change focus on the biochemical level. The most common form of such a biochemical intervention is the taking of non prescription or psychotropic drugs. Yet, we often try to affect our biochemistry through other means such as exercise, meditation or diet.

Pharmaceuticals seldom solve a problem, but more often than not just mask a symptom or shift the problem to another area. Taking an anti-anxiety or anti-depressant seldom cures the anxiety or depression, but does provide relief or causes a temporary change in one’s biochemistry deadening one’s unwanted experience.

Even though changes in biochemistry caused by increased exercise and healthy diet inherently involve the introduction of new habits, their long term success depends on the emotional and psychological needs also being addressed and met. While exercise biochemically elevates mood and provides needed energy, these benefits will have a hard time overcoming a highly stressful lifestyle, or a personal psychology dominated by self-hatred. Activities such as exercise or diet which are inherently biochemical interventions need frequent and consistent repetition if they have any hope of becoming durable and reliable facets of successful change.

Reframing, Replacing and Rewiring are essential and interrelated elements in the change process. The quickest and most reliable way to the learning and mastery of a skill or talent is tending in our been able to deal wit

When it comes to the learning and mastery of a skill or talent it is best accomplished through the integration of habit, mind and body. Reframing tends to the psychological and emotional elements through providing the necessary shift in perspective and attitude. Replacing deals with the actual habit, allowing the ritual to become part of our body memory no longer being dependent on conscious awareness. When one habit is replaced by another the new one becomes reflexive and our default mode when we aren’t consciously monitoring our behavior.

A reflexive habit becomes wired into our neurology. Each time we engage in the habit our body deepens the groove, the neural pathways, carved out by the behavior. Each neurological event elicits a corresponding biochemical experience. A new habit, therefore, Rewires us both neurologically and biochemically.

I therapeutic situations I have found it highly beneficial to pay close attention to the processes of Reframing, Replacing and Rewiring. A new book, The Parental Tool Box, written by my wife and I will be released at the end of this month. In each and every chapter we explore parenting strategies and techniques which help create a mutually respectful and rewarding home environment.

The various tools provided all incorporate aspects of Reframing, Replacing and Rewiring.The tools provided are not magic wands but means by which both parents and their children can find increasing joy and harmony in their interactions with each other.