Origin of the Human Brain by Chris Baldwin

By Justin

Week 2

So last week I mentioned the three layers, they are Reptile, Limbic and Neocortex. Last week I mentioned the building the house analogy, you build the foundation first, then walls and ceilings. The human brain was “constructed” much in the same way, the reptilian brain being the oldest foundation of brain which we inherited from prehistoric reptiles.

 

Sooooooo this week...

The first thing I’d like to focus on this week is the human brain and its origins, last week I touched briefly on the reptile brain and its basic innate functions, this week I’d like to expand on the three sections of the brain and what they are responsible for.

Viewing it in three distinct groups is referred to as the The Triune Brain, First proposed by Neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean in the 1960s. The human brain is much more complex and is comprised of many more “sections” but in terms of evolution it actually splits up quite nicely into these three bits. A nice example of this is that pretty much all reptiles alive today have a version of the reptilian brain that we have, just without the other two sections.

 

Reptile Brain

The text book name for this is the brain stem.  It comprises a central nervous system (nerves and muscles n stuff that makes you move and not die), and a “computer” to control things like breathing, body temperature regulation and heart rate. Imagine if you had to manually make sure you took regular breaths and that your heart actually pumped blood... you’d go mad, well you wouldn’t you’d probably die!

The reptile brain also takes control of spacial awareness, which boils down to, “That tree is over there and im over here. There’s some space between us I can move around in before I hit that tree!” This obviously helps with perception and judging how far away something is, but also helps with knowing what’s yours in terms of territory. So we can “mark off” an area which is classed as “safe” or “mine”. This means we can set up “mental barriers” in our heads relating to the space around us. If something crosses the line into what is ours, it is automatically a threat and will probably get eaten... maybe. Either way having “territory” and being specially aware of it helps to identify possible threats.

It is also handy when knowing the difference between something being small or far away. This is a massive thing in terms of perception which I'm going to touch on later in another essay. But, for now, it’s basically, “This cow is small, and that ones far away, yeah?”

 

Limbic System

The limbic system is the 2nd layer of the brain. This is comprised of a number of other smaller parts, all of which control emotional responses and behaviour; especially behaviour associated with survival. This will play a key role later in these blogs.

There are several parts of the brain that make up the limbic system but to keep things short I’m going to focus on the Hippocampus and Amygdala.

Hippocampus

The Hippocampus’ primary function is that of memory. It sort of stores events, short-term, before passing them other parts of the brain for more permanent storage. An example of this would be learning a new task; your hippocampus would catalog the learning so the information is passed onto your cerebral cortex for long term storage, and your motor centres to store how to move when performing said task.

Connections made by the hippocampus also link into other parts and help with memory association with things like scents etc. This is a vital function for survival! The smell of a predator would be associated with danger and allow you to run away, or prepare to fight before you have seen it; or more importantly before it has seen you! Another service provided by the hippocampus in terms of memory/emotion is to ensure empathetic reactions. For example, if you see somebody crying you feel the need to hug them.

 

Amygdala

The amygdala plays a key role on your emotional responses, including pleasure, fear, panic etc. Another part of the Limbic system is the Basal Ganglia, this works with the amygdala and regulates “reward” emotions. It also regulates habit-formation based on repetition. This can be good when learning a new task and feeling proud that you have progressed; but conversely bad when forming an addiction to drugs.

The Amygdala talks to the hippocampus when attaching emotions to memories; especially “negative ones”. This may sound like bad idea, but if you’re hunting one day and you see a predator, the following day (if you go back to the same area), you will remember the predator and also the feeling of fear you felt previously - so you’re more likely to not go back.

 

Neocortex

This is the top and final layer of the mammal brain. I’m now specifying mammal as this is where we split away from others species in terms of brain structure. Humans have the largest Necortex of all mammals. The Neocortex is split into 4 parts; the frontal, temporal, parietal and occipital lobes. The main function of the Neocortex  is essentially information processing. From visual information, to touch, to sound. Current theories also suggest that human consciousness also originates in the Neocortex. It’s important to note here that although all “higher” brain function takes place in the Neocortex, the driving forces and emotions attached to these functions still originate from the reptile brain and limbic system. This is, effectively, like having a modern super computer that is powered, regulated, and uses hazard protection systems from the days of steam...

This point is VERY important later on.

 

NEXT WEEK

Next week we take a look at the birth and cementing of consumerism and the origins and evolution of advertising.

Programming the Human Computer by Chris Baldwin

By Justin

 

Week 1

I have been asked to write a blog about a documentary I have been slowly putting together over the last couple of years. This came as a relief as I’ve been struggling to fully explain what my documentary is actually about.

 

What’s it all about then?

I normally give the simple answer of “mental health”, which conjures up imagery of interviews with people talking about feeling a bit sad, explaining how they don’t like feeling a bit sad, and how they wished other people noticed and empathised about them feeling a bit sad... this actually covers about 13% of my documentary.

The documentary, my thesis, isn’t just a study by someone who feels bit sad, trying to help other people who feel bit sad.

My documentary is actually an attempt to explain the fundamental causes of what is fast becoming what I consider to be a global epidemic; an epidemic of sadness and unfulfillment!

Depression/anxiety diagnosis are on the rise! I feel people are looking for something to “blame”, I also feel they’re looking in the wrong place!

800,000 people kill themselves per year due to poor mental health. Thats 2191 per day. Suicide is the 2nd biggest killer of people between 15-29 years old.

Mental health awareness and support services currently receive 1% of global aid.

Let me pop that into perspective for you, in 2016 the average number of students in a UK secondary school was approximately 900 pupils. Image when you were at school; all those other students? Times that by 3 and thats how many people end their own lives each day.

 

The Struggle Is Real

One of the problems I've faced with my research is that its taken a much broader look at the problems with mental health. I have taken a much more holistic approach to the problem, which is fine until you come to explain it to people; people who need everything in their lives to fit into small and very separate boxes...

So when presenting my findings to people I often get, “you need to focus on one section of this,” or something along the lines of, “this has got nothing to do with that”.

The problems when narrowly focusing on just one thing, you tend to ignore anything that isn’t directly related to the subject being focused on. Which is fine in general and actually encouraged but when thinking things that effect a broad range of people in makes sense to take a much broader look at the possible causal factors.

 

ME, My big head and thoughts

The interviews and researching for my documentary is almost complete and the next phase is to edit it all together into something that makes sense... which will basically mean leaving a lot of things out! I wrote a 10,645 word dissertation on the whole thesis but it reads like the diaries Kevin Spacey (EW) wrote in the film, Se7en. When I was offered the chance to ‘blogerise’ my thesis I jumped at it as it will give me a platform to fully express/explain the full breadth of my thesis in a far less formal way.

I will, of course, provide links to academic papers, articles and documentaries which add weight to my ideas and hopefully achieve my goal of fully expressing what I feel to be the fundamental cause of virtually ALL problems in the world... imagine the level of ego required to actually believe I've solved everything!

FYI, its not 42.

 

The Trip

A step by step guide to my thesis and what ill be covering in the blog: -

• Evolution of the human brain.

• Beginnings of Consumerism – 1723, doctor by the name of Bernard Mandeville.

• WW1 – WW2 – Developing propaganda and using behavioural psychology – “psychological advertising”.

• Post WW2 baby boom generation – Edward Bernays – using fear of not fitting into the tribe as a way to market material goods – imagery of “happy” people using goods that they own due to being “successful” – the idea being that the ownership of these goods reflects how successful they are.

• Advertising (Mad Men).

• The concept that “happiness” is a key indicator of “success” and “success” meaning you are top of the tribe.

• 90s-00’s – development of social media.

• 2010 onward – posting selfies and other personal images on social media becomes more and more common place – “hyper reality” – people begin to exaggerate their lives via social media to show how successful they are, which indicates happiness (replicating codes and conventions of advertising imagery).

• Imagery people post of their “personal life” begins to emulate imagery used in advertising, the two begin to reflect each other (art imitates life) (https://psmag.com/environment/selfiestereotypes-are-hard-to-shake) – this extends beyond selfies – other research available

• Using the theories of Jean Baudrillard - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulacra_and_Simulation and his work on the “hyper real”, my suggestion based on research and other academic papers is that “reality”, ie normal life with the full length and breadth of human emotion has been “replaced” with the reality we have seen in advertising over the last 100 years. The best way to picture this is thinking in terms of the film the Matrix.

• Addiction to joy and the need to be perceived as “better than others” to demonstrate social dominance).

• Attempting to replicate the life we see in adverts and on social media.

• Constantly trying and constantly failing to live a life that is in “reality” impossible is causing mass anxiety and depression.

• In turn, this social need to always be happy has meant that people with genetic/long term mental health disorders are ostracised from society.

 

THE BEGINNING

Right... now all of thats out the way lets get started shall we?

The first port of call with this insanity is to take a look at the B R A I N! Not the human brain, not just yet! We need to look at the development of brains in general...

So check out this chap here:

Yes, I'm aware I've just said “not the human brain”, then immediately followed that statement with a picture of the human brain. If you take a look at the labels someone else has taken to time to put in this picture you will see this cross section of brain is split into three separate levels.

These are the Neocortex, the Limbic system and the Reptilian brain. Now you may think that these are just labels to easily identify sections of the brain and what they’re responsible for, they’re not.They are three separate sections of the brain and evolved from bottom to top.

If you took a look at a cross section of a new build house you would basically see:

• Floor

• Walls

• Ceiling

The foundation of a house is built first, then walls then ceiling etc etc, our brains have been constructed, over millions of years, in very much the same way.

The reptilian brain is called so as we inherited it from reptiles, who inherited it from fish who evolved from single cell life around 542 (clearly 42 is part of the answer after all) million years ago during an event called the Cambrian Explosion. Here is a terrible 6 minute video hosted by a very pink man who (very basically) explains the reptilian brain.

Basically this “original” brain existed in pre-historic lizards as a mechanism to automise things like breathing, temperature regulation and basic survival like mating (genetic survival) and territoriality (defending territory, attacking those that “don’t belong”).

So imagine, there you are, a little dino walking through the jungle when suddenly you’re confronted by a possible threat, your “brain” kicks in, floods the body with hormones and you have the strength to either attack or run away, more commonly known as fight or flight. Its important to note at this stage that all actions “controlled” by the reptile brain were instinctual, no choices were made. Just like how our hearts beat etc.

Clearly, not dying is the most fundamental element of survival so this part of the brain became a raging success and all other life that survived did so due to having this basic biological algorithm, pretty sweet eh?

Sadly, this didn’t helper friend the little dino or any other dino when that asteroid hit the Yucatan Peninsula Mexico 65 million years ago and wiped them all out. Mammals survived though, thats us, well its not, its little rat things that became us. With that special survival program built into us...

 

NEXT WEEK:

The next 2 levels of Brain

The beginning and cementing of consumerism