2023 Author: Bryan Walter | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 22:24
The book by clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto Jordan Peterson “Maps of Meaning. The Architecture of Belief”(publishing house“Peter”), translated into Russian by Anastasia Suchkova, is devoted to how the mythological ideas about the universe are connected with the human brain. Peterson explores the structure of beliefs and myths, trying to understand how people create meaning and what drives them to commit massive acts of violence. N + 1 invites its readers to read an excerpt on how studying brain function can help understand theories of cognition.
Research: phenomenology and neuropsychology
The unfamiliar and familiar is an invariable part of the experience. We remain ignorant and operate in the face of uncertainty. At the same time, people always know something, regardless of who they are and at what time they live. We tend to view the environment as something objective, although one of its main features - familiarity or its absence - is actually determined by something subjective. This subjectivity is also difficult. It is not difficult to say whether we are healthy or sick, live or die, that is, to give a simple interpretation of the situation. Indeed, defining the environment as unknown / known (nature / culture, alien / familiar) can be considered more fundamental than any objective characteristic, assuming that what we have adapted to is an unconditional reality. The fact is that the human brain and the higher nervous systems as a whole have learned to work both in the field of order and in the field of chaos. But this fact is impossible to comprehend if such areas are considered only metaphors.
We usually turn to ideas about cognitive processes to understand how the brain works (we often use our own thinking models if we want to determine from a physiological point of view how things should be). Nonetheless, neuropsychological research has already shown that the reverse procedure is just as beneficial. What is known about the function of the brain can shed light on our theories of knowledge (and even our understanding of reality itself) and give them appropriate "objective constraints." The philosophy of the Enlightenment sought to separate the mind from the emotions, which gave a powerful impetus to experimental research on the structure and function of the brain. But it turned out that these two phenomena are interdependent and in fact are a single whole. In our Universe, Yang and Yin, chaos and order constantly interact. Emotion provides an initial guideline when we do not know what to do, when mind alone is not enough. Cognition, on the other hand, allows us to create and maintain habitual conditions of existence, to curb chaos - and to control outbursts of emotions.
The brain can reasonably be considered a substance consisting of three primary areas - motor, sensory and emotional - or a composite pair of the right and left hemispheres. Each of these definitions has its own theoretical advantages. Moreover, they are not mutually exclusive. First, consider the description of the units shown schematically in Figure 8.
Most of the neocortical (and many subcortical) structures have reached their most significant and complex level of development in homo sapiens. This applies, in particular, to the motor region, which occupies the anterior part of the relatively later developed neocortex (consisting of the motor, premotor and prefrontal lobes). Its complex structure partly explains the development of human intelligence, the versatility of behavior and the breadth of experience, both actual and potential, and underlies our ability to plan, draw up appropriate programs of action and monitor their implementation.
The sensory area, which occupies the posterior half of the neocortex (consisting of the parietal, occipital and temporal lobes), is responsible for the construction of separate "worlds" of the sense organs (primarily sight, hearing and touch) and for their merging into a single field of perception, thanks to which we obtain a conscious an experience. The sensory area processes the information received during the performance of actions that are planned by the motor area, and creates a recognizable and familiar picture of the world from this information.
Finally, the "limbic region" - a phylogenetically ancient part of the brain hidden under the folds of the neocortex - compares the current consequences of behavior with a dynamic model of what was supposed to happen in the imagination - with the desired result. Thus, the main tasks of the limbic system are the establishment of incentive meaning, or emotional significance, and the formation and renewal of memory inextricably linked with this. After all, important events are “stored” in the memory that transform knowledge (more precisely, change it). The matching process necessarily includes comparing the unwanted present with the ideal future (as they are understood here and now). The ability to create this contrast appears to depend on work deep within the comparatively ancient central part of the brain, especially operations that take place in closely related areas known as the hippocampus and amygdala. To understand in general terms the nature of this comparison, one must study a phenomenon known as event-related cortical potential.
When the brain is working, it constantly emits a changing pattern of electrical activity. An approximate picture of this figure is visible on the electroencephalogram. During an EEG examination, electrodes are attached to the scalp. They make it possible to identify, control and, to a certain extent, outline the foci of electrical activity that arise in the course of neurological activity. (The electrical activity of the brain is quite possible to trace through the skull and surrounding tissues, although the interference they produce makes it difficult to decipher the electroencephalogram.) The rather limited capabilities of EEG technology have been greatly enhanced by the invention of the computer. It determines the event-related potential of the cortex using data from measurements of brain activity shown on the EEG, averaged taking into account some delays when the patient is exposed to a particular stimulus. This incentive can be of a different nature. In the simplest cases, this is something perceived by the senses, for example, a signal transmitted repeatedly through stereo headphones. In more complex situations, the potential associated with events is studied after exposure to a stimulus of emotional significance - something that needs to be “highlighted, recognized, or otherwise appreciated”. Perhaps the easiest way to trigger this kind of response is to randomly and rarely insert varying intonation into a repetitive sequence of familiar sounds (although the stimulus can be both visual and tactile). Such strange incidents are characterized by relative novelty (novelty is always relative) and cause special foci of electrical activity in the cortex. They do not coincide with those areas that were activated by the perception of familiar sounds. Any event that changes normal behavior in a certain or habitual way also creates the potential for strange occurrences.
The averaged event-related cortical potential generated by rare or otherwise significant events is a waveform whose waveform is time-dependent. The greatest attention is paid to the parts of the wave that arise during the first half of a second (500 ms) after the appearance of the stimulus. Then the polarity of the signal wave is reversed. Peaks and troughs occur at different, but more or less even intervals (and often in predictable places), which is why they were identified and got their name. Event-related potentials (ERPs) can be negative (N) or positive (P) depending on polarity and are numbered according to the time of occurrence. The earliest aspects of ERP (<200 ms) change with changes in the exclusively sensory characteristics of the event. Wave-like fluctuations N200 (negative at 200 ms) and P300 (positive at 300 ms), on the contrary, change depending on the emotional significance and the magnitude of the stimulus and can even be caused by the absence of an event that was expected but did not happen. Psychophysiologist Eric Halgren states:
It is possible to define in general terms the circumstances of cognition that induce N2 / P3 as the presentation of new stimuli that serve as signals for the performance of behavioral tasks. Therefore, you need to pay attention to them and process them.
Such processes are similar to the incentive conditions and functional consequences that have been identified for the orienting reflex.
Halgren regards N2 / P3 and the autonomic orientation reflex as "different parts of the overall complex of reactions of the body, caused by stimuli that deserve further evaluation," and calls this general algorithm of the reaction an orientation complex. A significant body of evidence suggests that the hippocampus and amygdala systems play a key role in the production of N2 / P3 signals, although other brain systems are also involved. (It is curious to note that the additional N4 waveform occurs when subjects are exposed to abstract polysemantic stimuli (spoken or written words, human faces that have a certain significance.) In this case, N4 occurs after N2, but before P3 and increases depending on the complexity of the match words with the context in which it appears The amygdala and the hippocampus are also directly responsible for generating waveforms and therefore for contextual generalization.
The processes that, in the orienting complex, are manifested in the features of behavior, and electrophysiologically, in the undulating oscillations of N2 / N4 / P3, apparently, greatly help our consciousness to experience various situations. Another psychophysiologist, Arne Oman, argued that orientation triggers "guided processing." This difficult and slow process is accompanied by consistent awareness and reflection (we call it exploratory behavior). It differs from the usual, unconscious, direct "automatic processing" (which takes place in the study area). The orientational complex, apparently, manifests itself only when the subject realizes some connection between the information coming from the sense organs and the motor action. Likewise, the N2 / P3 undulating oscillation appears only when the experimental stimulus used "has captured the patient's attention and has been comprehended." Thus, consciousness appears as a phenomenon inextricably linked with novelty and vital for its assessment. It is only with its help that the unpredictable can be placed in a definite and definable context, linking it with a change in behavior in the territory of the unknown. This means that consciousness plays a key role in the formation of a predictable and comprehensible world from the unexpected. These processes are always interconnected and are accompanied by conflicting feelings of hope / curiosity and anxiety - forces not accidentally produced by the same structures that govern reflex orientation and exploratory motor response.
The constant presence of the incomprehensible in the world around us has taught us to adapt to new circumstances. Such a reaction is characteristic of all creatures like us with a highly developed nervous system. We have evolved to survive in a territory of the predictable versus the eternal paradoxical versus the unpredictable. The combination of what we have investigated and what we have yet to assess actually makes up our environment, since its nature can be defined very broadly. And it was with this environment that human physiology began to correlate. One set of systems that make up the brain and mind governs activity when we are guided by plans - when we are in the realm of the known. Something else seems to come into play when we are faced with something unexpected - when we enter the realm of the unknown.
The limbic region, among its other functions, is responsible for the development of an orientation reflex, which manifests itself in emotions, thoughts and behavior. It is he who underlies our reaction to the new or the unknown. This instinct is primal, like hunger or thirst, and primordial like sexual desire. It is ancient in nature, biologically grounded in nature and has been preserved even in animals at the base of the evolutionary pyramid. The orienting reflex is an unconscious response to a strange category of all events that have not yet been classified. It is a reaction to the unexpected, new or unknown in itself, and not to some special incident. The orienting reflex underlies the process that generates (conditioned) understanding of sensory phenomena and incentive importance or significance. This primary knowledge suggests how to behave in each individual situation, determined both by the external circumstances of a changeable environment and culture, and by various internal motives, and what to expect afterwards. It is also information about what is, from an objective point of view, a record of sensory experience obtained as a result of a particular behavior.
The orienting reflex replaces the habitual learned reactions when something incomprehensible suddenly appears. The emergence of the unpredictable, unknown, source of fear and hope dominates behavior aimed at achieving a specific goal. This is evidence of the inferiority of the history currently guiding behavior. It contains evidence of error in describing the current state, imagining a desired future, or choosing the means to transform the former into the latter. The unknown arouses curiosity and encourages reassuring exploratory behavior controlled by fear as a means of updating the working model of memory-driven reality (updating a known, that is, a certain, familiar territory). The simultaneous emergence of two opposite emotional states - hope and fear - provokes conflict, and the unexpected, like nothing else, generates internal confusion. The scale and potential strength of such a conflict cannot be assessed under normal circumstances, because in a certain area everything always goes according to plan. It is only when our goals are destroyed that the true value of the object is revealed out of context or experience. Such a revelation initially makes itself felt by an attack of fear. We are shielded from submission to instinctive horror by the totality of historical adaptations from previous research on novelty. We are saved from unpredictability by culturally conditioned beliefs, traditions that we share with people like us. These stories suggest how to think and how to act in order to uphold the specific, general and particular values that make up the worlds we know.
The orienting reflex - the involuntary attraction of attention to novelty - lays the foundation for the emergence of (voluntarily controlled) exploratory behavior. It allows you to correlate general and notorious surprises with incentives that are relevant in a particular area. If research reveals the factual meaning of something, relevance determines contextual punishment or gratification, or their supposed second-order equivalents: threat or promise (since something threatening implies punishment, and something that promises promises satisfaction). It should be noted that this categorization is made in relation to motor response, or behavior, and does not apply to sensory (that is, more objective) characteristics. On the whole, we proceeded from the fact that the purpose of reconnaissance is to identify the objective qualities of the investigated territory. This is obvious, but only partly true. The reasons why we create such pictures (strive to create them) are usually not discussed in sufficient detail. Each sub-area explored has its own sensory characteristic, but what really matters is the emotional or motivational importance of the new area. It is enough for us to know that some solid object glows red to conclude that it is hot and therefore dangerous, that if you touch it, punishment is inevitable. We need to know what objects look like and how they feel in order to track whether they can be eaten and whether they can eat us.