Curiosity is terminal

Saturday, 13 October 2012


A young woman has died. She was bullied to death. She was followed, taunted and abused by inhuman young people who practically commanded her to kill herself. Subsequent news items are full of inhuman comments that somehow this young woman deserved her fate.

A young woman gives birth in jail, while prison guards and nurses taunt and abuse her. Subsequent news items are full of  inhuman comments that somehow this woman and child deserved this cold and unwelcoming birth, and perhaps even worse.

I am reading "A General Theory of Love" by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon. It is about the biochemistry and  biopsychology of love. It begins with a description of Paul McLean's triune model of the brain, in which there are three distinct parts of the brain- the early "reptillian" brain; the limbic brain wrapped around the early one; and the newest part, the neocortex, wrapped around that. Each part is mostly responsible for a certain part of our existence - the hindbrain responsible for such physical necessities as breathing, eating and running away from danger, the limbic brain responsible for our relational lives, and the neocortex giving us language, speech, math, reasoning abilities. None of these parts operates completely independently- there is overlap and communication between the three, and the book describes an evolutionary hypothesis for these three structures. As I am in the beginning of my scientific education, I do not yet know other hypotheses that refute this one, though the authors hint at the existence of such and argue for McLean's model:
"The scientific model of separating neocortical from limbic brain matter rests on solid neuroanatomical, cellular, and empirical grounds. As viewed through the microscope, limbic areas exhibit a far more primitive cellular orgainization than their neocortical counterparts. Certain radiographic dyes selectively stain limbic structures, thus painting the molecular dissimilarity between the two brains in clean, vivid strokes. One researcher made an antibody that binds to the cells of the hippocampus-a limbic component- and found that those same fluorescent markers stuck to all parts of the limbic brain, lighting it up like a biological Christmas tree, without coloring the neocortex at all."
And there are behavioral distinctions as well:
"Remove a mother hamster's whole neocortex and she can still raise her pups, but even slight limbic damage devastates her maternal abilities. Limbic lesions in monkeys can obliterate the entire awareness of others. After a limbic lobotomy, one impaired monkey stepped on his outraged peers as if treading on a log or a rock and took food out of their hands with the nonchalance of one oblivious to their very existence. . . After limbic ablation, adult hamsters ignored the calls and cries of their young: a limbectomized pup would repeatedly walk on top of others "as though they did not exist."  In addition to erasing the recognition of others, removing limbic tissue robbed these mammals of responsiveness to the playful overtures of normal littermates."
A few pages previously in the book, while discussing the evolutionary emergence of these three parts of the brain, the authors say:
" Many people conceive of evolution as an upward staircase, an unfolding sequence that produces ever more advanced organisms. From this perspective, the advantages of the neocortex-speech, reason, abstraction-would naturally be judges the highest attributes of human nature. But the vertical conceptualization of evolution is fallacious. Evolution is a kaleidoscope..."
It seems to me there is an alarming lack of kindness in the media. And it seems like there is a preponderance of attention concentrated on people with a severe inability to behave humanely, who have the ability to just use and disregard others as if their being or desires were  of no matter. And I worry about how successful our popular culture deems these persons.
I wonder about the cerebral anatomy of these persons. Specifically, I wonder about their limbic makeup. I wonder if we are evolving into psychopaths.


  1. Thought-provoking post.....

    I, too, have wondered the same thing.


    1. Thanks for commenting, RossK.

      Its hard not to get depressed when these things happen and the responses are so vitriolic. My online travel destinations however, do tend to be kinder and I have also wondered if the kindness "backlash" is also somewhat more pronounced. I keep hoping that the bad stuff is more noticeable simply because it so shocking.