Note to Readers:

Please Note: The editor of White Refugee blog is a member of the Ecology of Peace culture.

Summary of Ecology of Peace Radical Honoursty Factual Reality Problem Solving: Poverty, slavery, unemployment, food shortages, food inflation, cost of living increases, urban sprawl, traffic jams, toxic waste, pollution, peak oil, peak water, peak food, peak population, species extinction, loss of biodiversity, peak resources, racial, religious, class, gender resource war conflict, militarized police, psycho-social and cultural conformity pressures on free speech, etc; inter-cultural conflict; legal, political and corporate corruption, etc; are some of the socio-cultural and psycho-political consequences of overpopulation & consumption collision with declining resources.

Ecology of Peace RH factual reality: 1. Earth is not flat; 2. Resources are finite; 3. When humans breed or consume above ecological carrying capacity limits, it results in resource conflict; 4. If individuals, families, tribes, races, religions, and/or nations want to reduce class, racial and/or religious local, national and international resource war conflict; they should cooperate & sign their responsible freedom oaths; to implement Ecology of Peace Scientific and Cultural Law as international law; to require all citizens of all races, religions and nations to breed and consume below ecological carrying capacity limits.

EoP v WiP NWO negotiations are updated at EoP MILED Clerk.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

[Memetics] In control? Think again. Our ideas of brain and human nature are myths | Nobody in Your Brain...

In control? Think again. Our ideas of brain and human nature are myths

The notion of individual autonomy underpins our society, yet new research suggests this guiding principle is an illusion

Black Iron Prison Project, revisits Discordia's messages, philosophies and humor. Its focus is to crystalize favorite themes from the Principia, those of radical free will, self-emancipation, critical thinking and self awareness. The basic math is that the more frequently people develop their critical thinking skills, the better it is for everybody involved.It was browsing in a bookshop that got me started. I was confronted by a bank of bestsellers on the brain: how it works and how we think. There were the books which have attracted huge attention, such as Nudge and Blink, but there were others popularising the new insights of a range of academic disciplines – social sciences such as evolutionary psychology as well as neuroscience – which are radically challenging the most fundamental assumptions on which human beings operate.

Perhaps that sounds a little overblown, but it's not. Who, dear reader, do you think you are? Do you think your mind is capable of independent judgment and largely directs the course of your life? Do you think that most of your decisions in life have been the product of your rational, conscious self? Do you believe you are in control of your life? Do you cherish ideas such as self-expression, a sense of autonomy and a distinct, self-authored identity? The chances are that, albeit with a few qualifications, most of your answers are yes. Indeed, given a pervasive culture which reinforces all these ideas, it would be a bit odd if you didn't.

But the point about this new explosion of interest in research into our brains is that it exposes as illusions much of these guiding principles of what it is to be a mature adult. They are a profound misunderstanding of how we think, and how our brains work. They are fairytales, about as fanciful and as implausible as goblins.

This is such dramatic stuff that Matthew Taylor at the Royal Society of Arts, which has pioneered public engagement with this new research, argues that we are on the verge of a new Enlightenment. He argues that the 18th-century concept of the individual self has run its course and that a new paradigm of human nature is emerging. Given that assumptions of an autonomous individual underpin every aspect of how we order society and our political economy, educate and tackle social issues, this kind of Big Idea tends to make you feel a tad dizzy.

It's not an accident that many of the biggest bestsellers in this territory are about decision-making – Blink, Nudge and The Decisive Moment. The image which comes to mind is that they are all sticks of dynamite dug in to explode the great sacred mythology of our time: namely that individual freedom is about having choices, and that progress is about the constant expansion of those choices.

Read these books and you discover that people are useless at making choices. We are lazy, imitative, over-optimistic, myopic, and much of our decision-making is made by unconscious habits of the mind which are largely socially primed. We are "not exactly lemmings, but we are easily influenced by the statements and deeds of others", according to Nudge's bleak view of human nature.

The thesis of Nudge which has attracted such keen interest from the Conservatives is that this information can be used to prime better decisions without compromising freedom of choice. Nudge has appeared to offer a neat alternative to state intervention for all those intractable areas of private behaviour – from obesity and smoking to energy use and recycling – which have such damaging consequences. It's intriguing how much attention the thesis has attracted from many parts of the political establishment, such as policymakers in pensions, health and the environment, because often the gains from nudging seem pretty small – it is fanciful to think it can solve the environmental crisis.

This humbling evidence of our hopeless decision-making exposes consumer capitalism as not being about millions of independent decisions of individuals expressing unique identities, but about how social norms can be manipulated to create eager shoppers. Or take the idea of introducing choice into public services; some bizarre consequences will result, such as the popularity of a hospital being determined by whether it has a car park, not the skill of medical staff.

There are two other areas of this new brain research which are arguably more important. First, we have much underestimated the social nature of the brain: how primed it is to recognise, interpret and respond all the time to the input of others and how that lays down patterns which govern our behaviour. We are herd-like animals who show a strong tendency to conform with group norms; what makes our brains so much bigger than other primates is this remarkable capacity for social skills such as empathy, co-operation and fairness. Instead of the old metaphor of individuals as discrete entities like billiard balls, we need to think instead of them as nodes in a relationship network.

The second area of astonishing discoveries is in the plasticity of the brain. We talk of "hardwiring" (computers have generated many misleading metaphors for the brain) but in fact, the brain can be changed. Parts of the brain can learn entirely new tricks. Neural pathways are not fixed, and even much of the damage done by deprivation in childhood can be repaired with the right circumstances of example, support and determination. We can shape our own brains to create new habits that we might have thought we were not capable of – it's a long, hard process but it is possible.

This all may seem remote from politics, but it's not. Jon Cruddas has a habit of startling audiences by arguing that the regeneration of the left requires a convincing new account of what it is to be human. Are human beings self-interested creatures or are they collaborative? The right's argument for market capitalism is rooted in the former but the research on the social brain supports the latter. Put crudely, we are social creatures with an inbuilt tendency to co-operate and seek out each other's approval and that is probably more important in determining day-to-day behaviours than narrowly conceived self-interest.

In a thought-provoking pamphlet on the implications for politics to be published early next month, Matt Grist, who runs the RSA's Social Brain project, concludes that both the right and the left have lessons to learn. The rightwing emphasis on the individual's capacity to triumph over their environment through willpower is undermined by the research which shows how childhood deprivation leaves such scarring on the brain. While the challenge to the left is to recognise that the myopic tendencies of the brain to privilege the short term has been held in check by institutions and traditions which can safeguard longer-term interests. Perhaps that requires greater understanding on the left of how such institutions operate and a revision of assumptions about why they restrict individual autonomy.

To add one more element to this potent brew of extraordinary ideas: what has been left out of the UK debate so far is how much of this new research maps on to Buddhism. In the US, a group of researchers has been involved in an ongoing dialogue with the Dalai Lama to deepen understanding of the correlations between the new research and Buddhism. Here is a system of thought which has maintained for several thousand years that the idea of a separate individual self is an illusion, which urges a set of practices to increase awareness of the processes of the mind in order to transform them and cultivate ethical habits such as compassion or courage.

Apologies if by now you are feeling giddy. This is the kind of stuff which challenges almost everything you're used to thinking about yourself.

Source: The Guardian, UK


Nobody In the Brain: No Decider, No Mythical Self

Matt Grist's Social Brain

There are three main strands to the idea that the brain is essentially social.

  1. The brain, now it is finally beginning to be understood, turns out to unconsciously execute many of the decision-making processes that were previously thought to be self-consciously produced. The idea that all decisions flow from an executive rational subject, in principle capable of operating in isolation from others, now appears to be at worst false and at best unhelpful.

  2. The brain has evolved to develop and function within social networks. For example, a deficit in the neurotransmitter Serotonin (which, amongst other things enables self-control) will result from unstable social environments lacking in qualities like empthy. Or, another example: mirror neurons are designed to enable (amongst other things) altruistic behaviour that facilitates social cohesion and allows an agent to successfully engage with others (and thus to achieve her own goals).

  3. Even when we do make self-conscious decisions these are partly constituted by systematic biases that are fundamentally social. For example, behavioural economists have shown that people often indulge in herd behaviour. Game-theorists have also shown that it can be optimally rational to act altruistically because an agent’s good reputation amongst her fellows is massively important for her ability to successfully negotiate the social world. And as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have shown, these kinds of socially motivated biases have their basis in the neurology of the brain.

Project Design
In policy circles, the implicitly assumed model of decision-making in the last thirty years or so has been that of ‘rational-choice’. This model, imported from economics, represents people as perfectly rational and wholly self-interested. However, a slew of recent research in the neuro- and behavioural sciences has brought the usefulness of the model into question, showing that people are often systematically ‘irrational’ and not only self-interested. This means we should perhaps be more humble about our rational powers yet more optimistic about our ‘prosocial’ possibilities.

The first phase of the first year (until April 2010) of the RSA’s Social Brain project brings together experts from various disciplines to collaborate on producing a new model of decision-making that is informed by such research. The aim is to make the new model as clear and accessible as possible. The Steering Group’s work will be documented on an ‘openwiki’ that will be available for public viewing once it has been constructed.

The second phase of the first year of the project will involve designing, sometimes in partnership with other organisations, deliberative research that tests to what extent the new model generated in Phase One resonates with various cohorts. So for example, we might ask a group of pupils whether it changes how they would approach learning, whilst also asking a group of teachers whether it affects how they would approach teaching. We might ask a group of police officers how it relates to their doing their job. But we might also ask a group of offenders and victims of crime for their thoughts as well. Given that Phase One will give us insight into how we frame questions and engage participants, we will think very carefully about how we carry out the research of Phase Two.

The third phase of the first year of the project will consist of collating the research of Phase Two and presenting it in a final report. At this stage we will assess the practical import of the new model of decision-making generated in Phase One. We will also investigate how the research of Phase Two might inform other RSA work. For example, it might inform the work we do at the RSA academy school, as well as work in deprived communities resulting from our Connected Communities project.

In the following year (April 2010-April 2011) we hope to design and run an action research project that measures the effects of ‘metacognition’ – knowledge of how we think and behave - on various outcomes such as academic attainment, wellbeing and behaviour.

Source: RSA Social Brain

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