“Me, Myself, and Why” (2014)
21.5.2022 – #Books
Written by Jennifer Ouellette
// Reading notes //
It got me thinking about everything that goes into how we define ourselves and craft a personal narrative and how this in turn influences mot just our identity but the choices we make and what we think we can and cannot do.
xxx was the very definition of a Herculean task
Ask a physicist, and she might tell you that you are a collection of atoms (made up of even smaller subatomic particles obeying well-defined laws as they interact via forces.
Ask a biologist, and he might tell you that you are an organism whose form is the result of complicated processes involving genes and proteins and countless biochemicals, working in tandem with environmental factors to shape a unique individual.
A neuroscientist might point to the intricate wiring of the brain as the essence of self, while a social psychologist might say we define who we are via our interactions with others and our place in society – or by our “stuff”, the material objects with which we surround ourselves.
And if you ask certain French philosophers, you might be told that the self is primarily a cultural construct, and reality itself is just a persistent illusion, at which point your head will explode.
PART I: ME
The debate now centers on matters of degree: how much of the observed variation among human beings for a given trait id due to each influencing factor.
My interest went beyond mere curiosity about xxx
drinking from the fire hose
What sets 23andMe apart from its competitors is social networking. When you order the kit, you also sign up for a one year subscription to what amounts to Facebook for the genotype set.
Johann Friedrich Miescher (1869) first discovered that the proteins found in WBC. He extracted the protein from the cell nuclei and found it wasn't protein but a new substance known as nucleic acid.
Like height, eye colour is highly heritable (90-99%), but there are not separate genes for blue, green, and brown eyes – or combination thereof, resulting in the astonishing range of hues found in ppl all over the world. Eye colour is a “multigenic” trait. That mean there are multiple genes, with multiple variants, interacting with one another in complicated ways to determine eye colour.
Eye colour depends upon how much melanin is produced by the cells in your iris, the same pigment that gives colour to hair and skin. Different eye colours arise because there are diff amounts of melanin in he outer layer of the iris, as well as differing ratios between two types: eumelanin (a blaskish-brown pigment) and pheomelanin (a reddish-yellow pigment). The darker your eyes, the more total melanin your irises produce, because there is more eumelanin, which absorbs light, making the eyes appear brown. Lighter eye have less melanin and a higher percentage of pheomelanin. Instead, light passes to the deeper layers of the eye, where it is scattered by proteins, and then reflected back through the iris, giving it a blue colour. Green or hazel eyes are lighter variations of brown eyes.
A chimera is an organism composed of cells that are genetically distinct.
The DNA in Fair-child's skin and hair didn't match that of her children, but the DNA from her cervix did.
du jour = of the day
1861, French anatomist & surgeon Pierre Paul Broca
He encountered two patients who had lost of speech. He examined their brain after death and concluded the similar lesion site was the centre of speech. Now known as Broca's area.
(Yet the area should be different from what's named today.)
Phineas Gage, who survived impalement by an iron rod only to be done in by violent seizures.
(didn't lose functions, but had personality changed as lesion at the prefrontal lobe)
Wilder Penfield (neurosurgeon), together with German neurosurgeon named Otfrid Foerster, using electrical stimulation to map out the first cortical map in 1930.
He published The Cerebral Cortex of Man in 1950, illustrated the famous homunculi.
sense of being, identify where your body is located in space, self awareness
One of the active regions when it comes to our sense of self is the medial prefrontal cortex (MPC). It is part of what neuroscientists refer to as the default mode network (DMN): those regions of the brain that are most active when we are daydreaming, e.g. as opposed to engaged in a task that requires focused attention. Those areas show high baseline activity even when at rest, and that activity actually decreased when the brain in engaged in goal-directed activities that draw attention away from self-awareness. Whenever we lose ourselves in a given activity — what athletes sometimes call being “in the zone” — our DMN is less engaged because we are less self-conscious.
Activity increases in the DMN and the MPC in particular — in proportion to how relevant the information being processed is about ourselves, particularly when we observe our face or body in the mirror, or in a photograph.
...where we process social info., enabling us to predict how other people are likely to behave, and thus respond accordingly.
More than 80% of all known human genes play some active role in the brain, and the brains of any two people are roughly 94% alike.
Individual differences: synaptic patterns
Convergence zones — many found in the prefrontal cortex — integrate all the diverse info. being processed in different regions of the brain to create a unified record of the experience.
Plasticity is further enhanced by chemical neurotransmitters, such as glutamate, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), dopamine, and serotonin.
Synapses are not passive storage devices. They are modified by experience and is the key to how the brain shapes its unique sense of self: you are your synapses. “The Synaptic Self” by LeDoux
“connectome”: a snazzy digitized map, or circuit diagram. If you are your synapses, you are also your connectome.
The discovery of DNA's double-helix pattern in the 1950s.
“We are the product of our genetic inheritance and our lifetime experiences. Gene have influenced your connectome by guiding how your neurons wired together during the development of your brain. Experiences have also modified your connectome, because connections are altered by the neural activity patterns that accompany experiences. Your connectome is where nature meets nurture.” by Sebastian Seung
Personality traits = temperament + character
Freud and Jung met in 1907, their first conversation lasted 13 hours and ignited an intellectual “bromance” fueled over the next six years by the many letters they wrote to each other.
Big Five factors:
The most common number of traits to emerge from the data, but doesn't mean that these are the only possible characterostocs to explain the differences among people. It's a broad overview, more adjectives mean a more nuanced view.
Behaviour is the result of an interaction between core personality traits and contextual situations.
Columbia University psychologist Walter Mischel pointed out that the typical correlation between someone's score on a personality test and their actual behaviour is only around 0.3, or less than 10% of the total behavioural variance observed in populations.
Daniel Nettle writes in Personality, “And the determinants of how the relevant parts of our brains get wired up are firstly genetics, and secondly, various early life influences over which we have no control and which seem essentially irreversible.”
serotonin may be linked to the trait of it.
comes from tryptophan, an amino acid found in foods that is often blamed for that sluggish, relaxed feeling after heavy meals.
affects several major regions of the brain, with axons snaking from the limbic system into the cerebral cortex and frontal lobes, and offshoots into the hippocampus and pituitary gland, as well as the amygdala (fear center)
Higher score on neuroticism are more responsive to -ve stimuli, also differences in the size or density of the amygdala & a lower activity and density in the hippocampus and right frontal lobe.
When sensory stimuli trigger the neurons in these regions, serotonin floods into the spaces between the neuron cells. There, it either starts a chemical reaction, e.g. releasing the anxiety causing hormone cortisol into the brain, or it gets taken back into the cell, a process called reuptake. The process responsible for that reuptake is called a transporter. Some people produce serotonin transporters that are more efficient at funneling serotonin back into the cells. ... serotonin receptors affect all kinds of behaviours and personality traits. That's why the antidepressant Prozac targets serotonin transporters.
only one known serotonin transporter determined by just one gene, called the “Prozac gene”. It has an unusual sequence of 16 repetitions. Some ppl have full 16 copies, while some have shorter version 14 copies.
Longer version: more serotonin transporter
Shorter ver is the dominant, make less transporter protein = more anxious
Yet, neuroticism 48% heritable, 3-4% due to variability of transporter gene
intro/extrovert is linked to dopamine, which is derived from an amino acid called tyrosine and is tied to the brain's reward system, most notably the nucleus accumbens: the pleasure center of the brain. It has a large no. of dopamine receptors.
Along with prefrontal cortex, sensory cortex, motor region — increase in activity in highly extroverted ppl, notably the limbic regions associated with emotional response to stimuli.
becaz extroverts get a bigger rush from social contact, thrill-seeking or other activities, they are far more motivated than introverts to put in the effort to seek out such things, thereby reinforcing extroverted behaviour.
Gene that codes for dopamine receptor molecules comes in both long and short variants. ... long version is dominant and ppl who have at least one copy of long version tend to score higher on extroversion and novelty-seeking.
Novelty-seeking: 40% heritable, gene account for 10%
Agreeableness: oxytocin and vasopressin.
Two versions of the oxytocin receptor gene: A (adenine) & G (guanine) variant. People who have at least one A variant may be more vulnerable to stress & have poorer social skills. 1-2 A variants ppl are less optimism & self-esteem, more likely to be depressed than people with two G nucleotides.
PART II: MYSELF
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) works by letting more chloride ion into brain cells to inhibit the firing of neurons. Drugs like diazepam increase GABA's effectiveness, while caffeine (a stimulant) odes the opposite. Alcohol, like diazepam, has a sedative effect, and regular heavy drinking may increase the number of GABA receptors in the brain, increasing one's tolerance even as it sooths anxiety. It's possible that people with a hyper-excited CNS are self-medication. That puts them at greater risk of developing alcohol dependence.
Ditto for another genetic variant, common in those of Asian or Ashkenazi Jewish descent, which causes a severe flushing response to alcohol. This is due to a deficiency in an enzyme our bodies need to process acetaldehyde, a toxic carcinogen produced while alcohol is broken down and metabolized. The enzyme turns acetaldehyde into the relatively harmless acetic acid (vinegar), so a deficiency results in a nasty buildup of the toxin in the body, leading to the aforementioned flushing effect.
glue neuron cells together to keep synaptic connections stable
Differences between alcoholic & non alcoholic: chronic have smaller, lighter, more shrunken brains, esp in the hippocampus and frontal lobe regions. less grey matter (neuron cells) & less white matter (axons) i.e. the connections are less dense.
Children in general have less white matter when they are young, and brain function is broadly distributed across many different regions as a result.
as children age, the brain starts compartmentalizing, assigning certain functions to specific regions, thereby becoming more efficient at processing information. gray matter decreases and white matter increased, becoming denser and thicker to forge stronger connections between neurons.
teens that not become binge drinkers increase in white matters & processing efficiency as they aged, but not in teens who drank
alcoholics notoriously appear to be stuck at the adolescent phase of psychological development. They still have that “teen brain”: the areas associated with reward mature before those regions involved with exercising restraint, so teens are esp prone to risky and impulsive behaviour.
Social psychologist Sam Gosling:
He studied how we fill our spaces with material things, esp offices & bedrooms, to understand what they say about our personalities.
“conscious identity claims”: things we choose based on how we wish to be perceived by others e.g. posters, artwork, books, music, tattoo
“feeling regulators”: photographs of loved ones, family heirlooms, fav books, souvenirs from travel to exotic locales, anything that serves to meet some emotional need.
“unconscious behavioural residue”: cues we leave behind our space as a result of our habits & behaviours, e.g. a highly conscientious person may alphabetize their books
Cultural historian Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: we are attached to old photo, family heirlooms or seemingly insignificant trinkets precisely because they keep us grounded in the present, and help us remember the past. In that sense, the objects with which we fill our homes play a vital role in how we construct our sense of self. Like Gosling, he lumps such totems into three distinct categories. There are objects that serve as symbols of status, or of good taste. There are objects relating to what he terms “continuity of self” that help construct memory and personality. Finally, there are objects of relationships, that linked us to our loved ones and broader social networks.
Facebook profile is one gigantic identity claim.
At the end of the day, Facebook is just one more tool we use for self-verification: we want to be known and understood by others in keeping with how we feel about ourselves.
There is Objective Self-Awareness (OSA), first proposed in 1972, which holds that we are both the subject of our own life stories through our actions and an object when we evaluate ourselves, making reference to societal norms and standards.
Facebook can serve as a social mirror, whereby we compare our own profiles with those of others in our network. ...always results in decreased self-esteem.
XXX would cease to matter
People rely on gender to help understand the world, to make order out of chaos. The social categories of man/woman, boy/girl are fundamental, and when an individual challenges that by blurring the lines, it's very disorienting.
Biological sex is wholly determined by chromosomes, but there are many other genes involved in development that contribute to whether a child is born male of female – or somewhere in between. 4% of babies may be born intersexed, and often the condition is not detected until puberty.
But some ppl are missing one chromosome, or carry an extra one. And merely having the correct chromosomes isn't sufficient to determine biological sex, either.
There is almost no difference between M & F embryos upon conception. At 8 weeks, a gene on the Y chromosome called TDF switches on, producing a protein that activates another gene, which produces testosterone and other hormones to prevent female internal organs from forming. i.e. if the TDF gene switches on, the fetus heads down the male track; if it doesn't, the fetus continues down the female track. But there are many other genes that must switch on at just the right time to ensure a fetus develops normally. e.g. r-spondin1 gene is linked to the development of ovaries. If that gene isn't functioning, that person, while genetically female, will grow up to be physically and psychologically male, although he will be sterile and it may not be clear whether he has male or female genitalia – or both.
A woman's sexual orientation may be partly influenced by prenatal exposure to a male sex hormone called androgen, and women exposed to greater levels of the hormone in the womb may exhibit more gender nonconformity in childhood, but this behaviour X correlate with a woman's sexual orientation later in life.
PART III: WHY
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or acid, is a member of the tryptamine family that is derived from ergot, a grain fungus commonly found in rye.
LSD belongs to psychedelics drugs, Greek root words for “mind revealing” becaz of their ability to alter cognition and perception.
LSD is water soluble, odorless, colorless, tasteless, and a dose as small as a single grain of salt (about 10 mg) can produce mild effects, with the full mind-altering impact kicking in at higher doses (50-100 mg).
The effects last several hours and include hallucinations, warped perception of time and space, and what is often described as a temporary dismantling of the ego or sense of self.
While the fandom fluctuations in brain activity might technically just be “noise”, the brain will take that noise and turn it into a pattern. Since there is no external input when the eyes are closed, that pattern should reflect the architecture of brain, specifically the functional organization of the visual cortex.
“You are not seeing that the cells themselves, but the way they're organized – as if the brain is revealing itself to itself.”
Alan Turning is best known scientifically for his work on codebreaking, computing, and artificial intelligence during WWII, and personally for his arrest, conviction, and chemical castration by the British gov. becaz he was a homosexual, leading to his suicide in 1954. In the midst of all that personal drama, however, he still found time to publish a seminal paper in 1952 on the mathematics of certain regular repeating patterns in nature, notably tiger stripes, leopard spots and the precise spacing in rows of alligator teeth. These are known as Turning patterns.
Turning came up with a set of equations to account for such patterns. He proposed that the patterns arise from interactions between 2 chemicals that spread throughout a system much like gas atoms in a box do, with one crucial difference. Instead of diffusing evenly like a gas, the chemicals diffuse at different rates. One chemical act as an “activator” while the other acts as an “inhibitor”. The activator chemical expresses a unique characteristic, like a tiger's stripe, and then the inhibitor chemical kicks in periodically to shut down the activator.
The same type of mechanism might determine the distribution of species in certain ecological system, most notable the predator-prey model, in which the prey function as activators, seeking to reproduce and increase their numbers, while the predators act as inhibitors, keeping the population in check.
Nigel Goldenfeld & Jack Cowan:
in such a case, the firing of neurons would amplify the Turning effect, making hallucinations more common. But if our visual cortex actually behaved in this way, it would interfere with our vision. “You don't want to be enthralled by a hallucinatory spiral when there is a dangerous tiger in front of you.” This may be why our brainy architecture is non-random: it confers an evolutionary adv. that limits interactions to stronger short-range connections with nearby neurons. Excited neurons simply follow the familiar uniform diffusion patterns we associate with the behaviour of atoms in a gas, and the visual external input from the eyes easily dominates any weaker internal activity.
LSD treating alcoholism & terminal cancer to ease the “reality” (state of shakabuku?)
Descartes even pinpointed what he believed to be the seat of the soul: the pineal gland – a tiny pea-shaped region near the center of the brain that secretes the hormone melatonin, which is tied to sleep wake cycles.
Once scientist thought pineal gland is the seat of the soul, yet Francis Crick zeroed in on a thin layer of tissue just under the brain's insular cortex as a possible source of this unity. Known as the claustrum, this region connects to nearly every part of the brain, both sending and receiving signals continuously.
Another suspect is the thalamus, sandwiched between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain. Patients in vegetative states usually have an atrophied thalamus, as well as damage to the white-matter tracts that carry nerve signals to and from that region.
Brain stem-thalamus-cortex axis
one case: no damage to brain stem or cortex, but the man was in a deep sleep. <-Ambien, wake up
Within the brain stem, there are objects called intralaminar nuclei that help regulate sleep-wakefulness cycles, as well as arousal, attention, and emotions. During sleep – but not during dreaming – this system shuts down, a true loss of consciousness. Zolpidem, propofol and similar drugs jump-start those nuclei, so that the normal sleep-wake cycle kicks in.
Basal ganglia: whirring away beneath the surface, making decisions via two feedback loops. One loop serves as a brake, or an “off” switch, stopping someone from physically acting out his or her dreams. (like trying to run or fly in our dreams) The second loop releases that brake – it serves as the “on” switch – and it's this loop that seems to be affected by sleep-aid drugs like Ambien and propofol. They trigger a reaction called paradoxical excitation and eventually leads to a deeper sleep.
Consciousness is a property that emerges from the many interactions between networked neurons in the brain.
“mind is matter, and consciousness is emergent.”
H.M. (epilepsy case)
can't transfer new memories to long-term storage. (happens in the REM sleep)
H.M. still had his past personal memories and his sense of self.
Boswell (lost almost all autobiographical memories), but still had personality traits and social skills. He had a self, although autobiographical memory is certainly important to identity, it's just not central to consciousness.
Anesthetic (by propofol): certain brain regions that normally worked tgt fell out of sync; they ceased to communicate. When the patients were unconscious, small sections of the sensory cortex still fired in response to outside stimuli, but did not spread to other areas.
The no. of connections was largest between those areas of the brain closet to each other (local clustering) and declined as distance increased.
A means of quantifying consciousness: phi (Giulio Tononi)
2011 Raymond Mar found that the brain networks associated with stories overlapped significantly with the regions we use to navigate social interactions. He believes that this capacity helps us easier to predict their intentions and actions. He found that ppl who read a great deal of fiction, in which omniscient narration is common, are better able to empathize with others and view a given situation from another's perspective than those who do not.
The ability to comprehend another's viewpoint and project how that person might respond to a given situation also makes it much easier to manipulate other people for selfish end.
The function of the human mind is to make rough approximations of the world, telling stories that allow us to predict what other actors are going to do.
One way we do this is via “schemas”: sets of predictive models that enable us to make educated guesses as we navigate our social world, adapting our own behaviour in response to how we expect others to behave.
Schemas are most often emergent, in the sense that you can't point to a single origin of the story.
同人互相Tell story: integrate info into our schema for that person.
an intriguing correlation between sensory perception and how we respond to metaphors.
The more brain regions are involved, the more vivid our experience will be – and the more likely we will be to recall the details.
Stronger emotions = stronger connections and associations, more vivid memories.
Amygdala and its powerful neurochemicals (dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, actylcholine), which serve as a primitive alarm system alerting the brain to potential danger or stress – fight or flight response.
The cells that produce those chemicals are found in the brain stem, from which axons branch out into every other area of the brain to produce a coordinated sensory response. Fear and anxiety are the result of those cells flooding the neurons in various brain regions with neurochemicals, though only active cells are affected. Diff regions process and store diff sensory aspects of a given experience, and this widespread flooding of neurochemicals ensures that all those regions record info from the event. The cortex then integrates the info, and the experience becomes part of our memory. Those memories in turn may influence how we react in the future.
Henry Roediger explained that memories does not operate like a computer, where stored files are pulled and reopened intact. It is much more like storytelling where you are given a few cues and use those to make up the story. Our memories are distributed over several diff regions of the brain, and each time we recollect an event, we are, in essence, reconstructing it from scratch, based on a few key clues. Some of the details that emerge over time might be pure fabrication, but we still believe they are accurate.
The key to implanting a false memory is to start with an element of truth.
Jonathan Gottaschall: Our life stories are boldly fictionalized... based on distorted memories and wildly optimistic Ax of our own qualities. No personal narrative will ever be a purely objective account. The personal is inherently subjective, and we will often choose to tell the version of events that is most flattering to ourselves, We fabricate and embellish even when we believe ourselves to be truthful. We are accidental fabulists.