The brain of industrial Homo sapiens perceives the civilization it inhabits as something with long-term prospects, something that will deliver wealth during one’s lifetime and then be left to the kids for further conduiting of energy and resources. That the technological system is pathological to the ecosystem goes mostly unnoticed. If some recognition harmful effects creeps into the mind, it is easier to come to terms with dispatching the ecosystem and its collection of often malevolent organisms rather than considering any scaling-back of the humanity-serving malignant growth known as technological civilization. It’s not surprising that humans forsake their cellular ecosystem family in pursuit of maximal returns to the striate nucleus because they are not aware that further evolution of the technical system will eventually see them replaced by mechanical equivalents.

Who are they that make such a profound mistake, and is it really a mistake? If Homo sapiens had remained exclusively within the ecosystem, there would not have been any need for a brain capable of creating an elaborate analog world, nor the need to create tools and store information beyond the DNA within the cells, but man has evolved to become the reducer of gradients at the human scale. Couldn’t this have been accomplished by organisms from the ecosystem without involving a second macro-scale system of tool-building and use?  But the tiny protein enzymes could not accomplish the task and it is because none could metabolize the large gradients, that the complexity of the ecosystem emerged. Any organism that becomes too successful will devour completely its prey species and more, just as humans have, and thereby eliminate itself. Instead of creating novel enzymatic tools to digest the gradients, DNA had to rearrange human cellular organization to create the organs necessary for the emergence of a new information/RNA-human/tool system. It would take massive tools to effectively attack and consume the gradients. Organisms like termites, with the help of gut protists that produce specific enzymatic tools capable of digesting cellulose, were able to attack the dead wood gradient. The biomass gradient remained because not a single arrangement of cells could be good at consuming more than one or a handful of other species, until man’s new adaptations allowed him to become systematic.

The build-up of energy gradients created an energy potential awaiting release. Humans slowly evolved into the role of gradient destroyer, slowing prying open the energy rich prizes as tool making abilities advanced. When the energy flow became sufficient, man became more systematic, with specialized roles building tools and storing, modifying and using information. Humans began to build their own concrete, steel and pavement corpus with the nutrients derived from those gradients. Thermodynamics gladly led Homo sapiens along the path to the destruction of the gradients and much of the ecosystem.

Even though humans entertain a self-perception that can rehearse actions within their frontal cortices and can then realize those reward seeking behaviors through activation of the motor cortex, one has to wonder if there is any free will within the brain to control the evolved circuitry which has led the species close to the edge. The reason for existence as a dissipative structure is the acquiring of energy and other resources motivated by regular jolts of electric dopamine and opioids. Even though humans do have an analog mind which can be developed to varying degrees, their actions to this point seem to be mostly unexamined and uncontrolled, automatic behavior leading them to unfettered growth, consumption and associated neural rewards. Is there any hope that some part of the human brain will say, “Enough is enough, we’re going to do some unrewarding things just so we can survive.”, or will they simply continue their reward seeking behavior until nothing remains?

The hedonist (reptilian brain) hides beneath the neocortex which will preferentially remember rewarding situations and motivate the body accordingly. Later the neocortex may communicate that it was all a matter of freewill, unwilling to admit that the primitive hedonist is whispering from down below.

Reptilian Brain: “I’m hungry (a feeling).”

Neocortex: “Yes master, (the neocortex retrieves a well-worn memory) I’ll go to the kitchen and get you something to eat.”

Motor Cortex: ” Legs swinging, arms flailing, tongue wets lips, hand grasps door handle and opens refrigerator door.”

Neocortex:”Apple?” Reptile Brain: “No”.

Neocortex: “Left-over meat loaf?” Reptile Brain: “Hell No.”

Neocortex: “Ice Cream?”  Reptile Brain: “Yes, yes, yes”.

Once the pesky reptile brain is satisfied, the neocortex can go to sleep or think about how to satisfy the master’s many pending requests.

Part of the prefrontal cortex has been removed from the brain above. The white areas are axonal wiring connecting various areas of the brain. The hippocampus, the cartographer, essential for memory formation and recall, can be found on the sides, nested within the temporal lobes. The analog mind is not constructed as an artist would paint a mural, instead a stimulus such as a word can activate the lighting-up of previously connected and stored information from various areas of the cortex to create a schema or memory. An observation, odor, sound, or flavor may be enough to pull together a memory or schema. Simply mentioning the word “car” produces not just a mental construction of a single car, but can begin the process of an almost infinite number of schema involving cars. By paring down the recall to just “the car I drove when I was sixteen” can help the cartographer wander less broadly. Each time you reach for something in your memory, it must be assembled from separate areas of the brain. The retrieval and assembly can sometimes be faulty as when years later, recollection of an event witnessed by different individuals, no longer completely meshes, although they may still fully agree on its emotional content. The out-of-body experience also likely occurs completely within the memory recall system in which the cartographer has assembled a scene looking down upon oneself in that scene.

Human brain wiring, or connectome.

On its surface the brain seems rather dull, but inside there is an almost infinite potential for storing experience and novel connections. The cartographer ventures into this space daily, pulling up maps, eliminating some and remaking others. The ones that provide ample reward are likely reinforced to make sure we pay attention to the things that keep us alive. When John Lilly enters an isolation tank and cuts himself off from external stimuli, the cartographer is free to roam about unconstrained which undoubtedly can provide some rather fantastic experiences. Those that have not bothered to sample the real world can also have fantastic ideas, even though fully awake and not under the influence of any mind-altering substances.

Mind explorer John Lilly – to go where no man has gone before. For my own experience of the mind unleashed I’m going to stick to dreams while I sleep, especially since I don’t remember most of them.

Hippocampus cell from rat courtesy of Zeiss Microscopy. Hippocampus “place cells” record spatial memories while other hippocampus cell types are involved in other types of memory.

In a manner similar to the storage of images on your computer thumb drive, all of the images and many details of massive objects in the environment are stored within the microscopic networks of the brain to be recalled later.  Incoming axonal and dendritic depolarization lights-up a network of neurons like the one above. As you read a novel, it is unnecessary for the writer to describe too fully the scenes within the story. Just a few words can elicit a construction from the reader’s memory that will far surpass the ability of any string of written words and also will be custom made for the reader by their own brain.

Each generation of industrial humans has a mind populated with the images and experiences extant in the environment beginning at birth until death. They may not see as unusual the advancement of the growing pathology which has been occurring in the environment throughout their lives but are rather preoccupied with obtaining the most rewards possible within the paradigm of cancerous growth. Where in the brain will anti-growth, anti-consumption sentiment come from when the very basis of life is the acquisition of energy and resources and reproduction. Can abstractions about the future residing within the neocortex control the primitive desires emanating from the reptilian brain when the neocortex evolved to serve the passions? Even the conformity demanded by the medial prefrontal cortex in social situations, adhering to social taboos, may be inadequate to curb the basic  appetites of the reptilian brain. Arranging a culture that condemns being rich and consuming a lot may be impossible since these activities seem to release a lot of dopamine and opioid at the reward centers.

Below are a few links regarding the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, a tandem that along with language centers, helps define who we are.  From the third link “Interplay of Hippocampus and Prefrontal Cortex in Memory”, I found this paragraph to be interesting.

Schemas were introduced to cognitive psychology by Piaget [51] and Bartlett [76] in their efforts to understand how new information is integrated with pre-existing knowledge. Piaget argued that humans possess structured mental representations embodied as organizations of related associations called schemas. During development, new events are interpreted in terms of existing schemas. When those events are consistent with an activated schema, they are assimilated into the mental structure. When new events challenge the existing schema, the interpretation of the events themselves may be modified to fit the schema and assimilated. Consistent with this characterization of assimilation, Bartlett’s study on recall of a surreal story showed that story elements that were consistent with his subjects’ culture were better remembered, and that elements inconsistent with that culture were lost or modified to fit their pre-existing conceptions. Alternatively, Piaget proposed, learning may demand that the schema itself is modified to accommodate new, conflicting information. Assimilation of new information and accommodation of schema structure continuously interact and ultimately reach an equilibration that adapts schemas to be consistent with external reality. Another key element of Piaget’s theory was that organized mental structures support inferences, the ability to make logical deductions about relations between elements within schemas that are only indirectly related.