Saturday, December 21, 2013

How The Official Pleasure In Torture is Analyzed

"Are you ready for some football?"
Regular readers know that for quite a while the Dredd Blog System has advocated that explaining some of the behavior of some government and corporate officials should be done with psychological reasoning and understanding (e.g. The Criminally Insane Epoch Arises).

That is because using economic, legal, educational, political, business management, or similar casual forms of analysis to explain sick mental behavior is inadequate (MOMCOM's Mass Suicide & Murder Pact - 5).

Such casual analysis is akin to using baseball or football techniques to analyze a mass murder.

In the series America's Shame Memos (cf. America's Shame Memos - #2, America's Shame Memos - #3 , America's Shame Memos - #4, America's Shame Memos - #Next, America's Shame Memos - #Last) we took a look at the shameful social dementia that affected government officials who seemed to have lost their minds.

Today we are going to tie that into "pleasure" and the cultural amygdala, and show that social dementia of this sort is accomplished by the rewiring of the cultural amygdala of the public, just as toxoplasma gondi ("Toxo") rewires the amygdala of rodents:
The parasite my lab is beginning to focus on is one in the world of mammals, where parasites are changing mammalian behavior... Toxo instead has developed this amazing capacity to alter innate behavior in rodents... If you take a lab rat who is 5,000 generations into being a lab rat, since the ancestor actually ran around in the real world, and you put some cat urine in one corner of their cage, they're going to move to the other side. Completely innate, hard-wired reaction to the smell of cats, the cat pheromones. But take a Toxo-
"Complex" Is An Understatement
infected rodent, and they're no longer afraid of the smell of cats. In fact they become attracted to it. The most damn amazing thing you can ever see, Toxo knows how to make cat urine smell attractive to rats. And rats go and check it out and that rat is now much more likely to wind up in the cat's stomach. Toxo's circle of life completed.

... part of my lab has been trying to figure out the neurobiological aspects. The first thing is that it's for real. The rodents, rats, mice, really do become attracted to cat urine when they've been infected with Toxo. And you might say, okay, well, this is a rodent doing just all sorts of screwy stuff because it's got this parasite turning its brain into Swiss cheese or something. It's just non-specific behavioral chaos. But no, these are incredibly normal animals. Their olfaction is normal, their social behavior is normal, their learning and memory is normal. All of that. It's not just a generically screwy animal.

You say, okay well, it's not that, but Toxo seems to know how to destroy fear and anxiety circuits. But it's not that, either. Because these are rats who are still innately afraid of bright lights. They're nocturnal animals. They're afraid of big, open spaces. You can condition them to be afraid of novel things. The system works perfectly well there. Somehow Toxo can laser out this one fear pathway, this aversion to predator odors... Toxo preferentially knows how to home in on the part of the brain that is all about fear and anxiety, a brain region called the amygdala... Toxo knows how to get in there.

Next, we then saw that Toxo would take the dendrites, the branch and cables that neurons have to connect to each other, and shriveled them up in the amygdala. It was disconnecting circuits. You wind up with fewer cells there. This is a parasite that is unwiring this stuff in the critical part of the brain for fear and anxiety... It knows how to find that particular circuitry... Meanwhile, there is a well-characterized circuit that has to do with sexual attraction. And as it happens, part of this circuit courses through the amygdala, which is pretty interesting in and of itself, and then goes to different areas of the brain than the fear pathways... Toxo knows how to hijack the sexual reward pathway. And you get males infected with Toxo and expose them to a lot of the cat pheromones, and their testes get bigger. Somehow, this damn parasite knows how to make cat urine smell sexually arousing to rodents, and they go and check it out. Totally amazing... So what about humans? A small literature is coming out now reporting neuropsychological testing on men who are Toxo-infected, showing that they get a little bit impulsive... And then the truly astonishing thing: two different groups independently have reported that people who are Toxo-infected have three to four times the likelihood of being killed in car accidents involving reckless speeding... Maybe you take a Toxo-infected human and they start having a proclivity towards doing dumb-ass things that we should be innately averse to, like having your body hurdle through space at high G-forces. Maybe this is the same neurobiology... On a certain level, this is a protozoan parasite that knows more about the neurobiology of anxiety and fear than 25,000 neuroscientists standing on each other's shoulders... But no doubt it's also a tip of the iceberg of God knows what other parasitic stuff is going on out there. Even in the larger sense, God knows what other unseen realms of biology make our behavior far less autonomous than lots of folks would like to think.
(Hypothesis: Microbes Generate Toxins of Power - 6). When we use only a naive part our decency-leaning minds to contemplate and analyze some of what our government has done in recent years, we are going to fall short of understanding the demented reality being played out.

The behavior of sociopaths or psychopaths is not like the behavior of our good neighbor, who we analyze using the simple social norms of our culture.

Thus, we are going to fall short in our civic duty analysis if we use that methodology to analyze government before we vote in an election, because these mentally defective rulers are on a different planet than we are, so to speak.

Sociopaths and psychopaths fit in to society because they know us better than we know them, thus, the sadist for example has, like us, been molded and shaped by certain types of submission to culture.

Submission which acts as camouflage ("law abiding citizen") for them.

The camouflage-like behavior used by toxoplasma gondi, as well as by human psychopaths, is beginning to become a scientifically recognized dynamic:
Most of the time, we try to avoid inflicting pain on others -- when we do hurt someone, we typically experience guilt, remorse, or other feelings of distress. But for some, cruelty can be pleasurable, even exciting. New research suggests that this kind of everyday sadism is real and more common than we might think.
Together, these results suggest that sadists possess an intrinsic motivation to inflict suffering on innocent others, even at a personal cost -- a motivation that is absent from the other dark personality traits.

The researchers hope that these new findings will help to broaden people's view of sadism as an aspect of personality that manifests in everyday life, helping to dispel the notion that sadism is limited to sexual deviants and criminals.

Buckels and colleagues are continuing to investigate everyday sadism, including its role in online trolling behavior.

"Trolling culture is unique in that it explicitly celebrates sadistic pleasure, or 'lulz,'" says Buckels. "It is, perhaps, not surprising then that sadists gravitate toward those activities."

And they're also exploring vicarious forms of sadism, such as enjoying cruelty in movies, video games, and sports.

The researchers believe their findings have the potential to inform research and policy on domestic abuse, bullying, animal abuse, and cases of military and police brutality.
(Science Daily, "Everyday Sadists Take Pleasure in Others' Pain"). The various media practices of analyzing psychopathic behavior as some form of "politics" can explain why American torture is still bragged about in public by past Vice President Dick Cheney and his cohorts:
Dante’s graphic description of the torment inflicted on the latter symbolically evokes scenes of terrible forms of torture. Unfortunately, such torture has and is still to some extent being used in the world today. Of late we witnessed examples of brutal persecution in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons. Prisoners, not only, were subjected to physical abuse, somewhat reminiscent of the aforementioned punishment, but were also subjected to acts of sexual perversion. The leaked photos of the torture incidents in Abu Ghraib unveiled episodes of sodomy, rape, and an over indulgence of voyeurism. The photos also revealed that those who partook in the execution of these actions seemed to be enjoying the power that the exercise of torture gave them.
(Torture as an Extension of the Desiring Machine, emphasis added). Some forms of analyzing violence promulgated in media outlets is also a way of "educating" the public spectators by using the seducing spectacle treatment:
The importance of gladiatorial games should be obvious from the time and finances devoted to them. It is inadequate to attribute this solely to pleasing the crowd or for earning and the status of the sponsors, or to regard the games as ostentatious overtures to munificence and benefaction, even though they do play a role. Such explanations alone would not explain, for instance, the fact that the massive Colosseum, site of many such games, was initiated by Vespasian, the emperor who is reputed to have been the most economical of all [1]. Such games must have served much more important purposes.

One such purpose is the education of Roman values, notably strength/courage (fortitudo), training/discipline (disciplina), firmness (constantia), endurance (patientia), contempt of death (contemptus mortis), love of glory (amor laudis), and the desire to win (cupido victoriae). In other words, in the absence of common military pursuits, gladiatorial games became the means of teaching Romans virtus, since the gladiatorial fights effectively demonstrated soldierly values and illustrated military ideas by punishing cowardly gladiators and rewarding courageous ones [2]. Indeed, it is through what is regarded in modern times as sadistic, i.e. witnessing the spectacle of men fighting to their deaths, that such values are conveyed.

This is supported by a passage in Pliny's panegyric to Trajan (Panegyric xxxi.1) in which he praised the emperor who first satisfied the practical needs of the citizens and the allies, and then gave them a public entertainment, nothing lax or dissolute to weaken and destroy the manly spirit of his subjects, but one to inspire them to face honourable wounds and look scornfully upon death, by demonstrating a love of glory and a desire for victory even in the persons of criminals and slaves. In other words, Pliny viewed the gladiatorial show as an educational experience of morality and virtue. The fact that the performers were outcasts strengthened this educational element by the implicit idea that if even such people could provide examples of bravery, determination to win glory and victory despite impending death, and even more so, contempt for death itself, then so could real men (viri)[3] .
(Violence and the Romans: The Arena Spectacles, emphasis added). In the series about The Cultural Amygdala, we explored the radical variations in perception among cultures concerning mass violence conducted on one's own populace.

Not only that, we tied the mass murder to media spectacle by utilizing a very disturbing yet revealing documentary:
Congo is a man who appears to live in an eternal cinematic fantasy. He's always dressed sharp—inspired by his Hollywood heroes John Wayne, Marlon Brando, and Elvis Presley. What exactly inspired him to murder a thousand people is never quite explained. The only slight ever mentioned that he takes from the communists was their desire to block screenings of his beloved American films. Tapping into this love of cinema, Oppenheimer offers him the opportunity to tell his story by making a dramatic film in which he's the star of his own story.
(Hypothesis:The Cultural Amygdala - 2, emphasis added). Like the mass murdering psychopath who has a nice family and goes to church, these psychopaths among us know our "language" and have known how to deceive us for many decades (The Deceit Business).

The morning pundits of McTell News stumble through the destruction done on 9/11, the destruction of Afghanistan, the destruction of Iraq, the destruction of Libya, the Orwellian spying of the military NSA, along with the cutting off of food stamps and unemployment insurance to those in need, as if they were all simply economic or political anomalies.

They miss the elephant in the room, never figuring out the massive sickness within our government and culture, as they extol our cultural virtues to a fairly horrified world around us.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala - 3

It is all about connections
In this series we are contemplating the neural network of brain circuitry that develops in humans influenced primarily by their culture.

I am calling it "the cultural amygdala," pointing out that it is composed of circuitry which lies outside of the physical amygdala  (Hypothesis: The Cultural Amygdala), but which connects to the physical amygdala's circuitry.

That connecting circuitry is composed of neurons with their long axons which end at dendrites.

There they connect to other neurons in the physical amygdala via "connections" which take place at synapses, those bridges over the gap between dendrites at the end of axons of other neurons.

Neurons that have their soma (cell body) in other sections of the limbic system of the brain (see e.g. The Brain).

As it turns out, the final basic circuitry that makes up the hypothesized cultural amygdala, within the prefrontal cortex portion of the cultural amygdala, does not begin to develop within us during childhood.

That generally begins in late adolescence and then generally matures during early adulthood:
The first realm to consider where PFC [pre-frontal cortex] function is compromised in humans is, quite reasonably, during development. Children show only minimal frontal function, from the standpoints of cognition (for example, in reversal tasks), emotional regulation, control of impulsive behaviour and moral reasoning. One of the myths of child development is that the brain is fully developed at some remarkably early age (the age of 3 years is probably most often cited (Bruer 1999)). Instead, brain development is far more prolonged and, not surprisingly, the PFC is the last region of the brain to fully myelinate. Remarkably, this process extends well beyond adolescence into early adulthood (Paus et al. 1999).
(The Frontal Cortex and the Criminal Justice System, PDF, p. 6). Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford, in the video below, discusses the Limbic System, which contains the circuitry of the cultural amygdala as well as lots of other circuitry.

That ongoing development of the frontal cortex and the cultural amygdala in that area is some of the reason for the differing viewpoints, taboos, laws, and norms of one culture or sub-culture when compared to another culture or sub-culture  (cf. The Fruits of A Celebrity World of Illusion).

A contrasting example of how the brain develops early, with regard to language, is presented in the Dr. Lakoff  video below the video of Dr. Sapolsky.

Those videos are lectures by two prominent scientists.

The Dr. Lakoff video shows how the language a culture speaks has a very early influence as to how culture impacts on the shape and configuration of brain circuitry, including the physical amygdala.

Together, I hope they convincingly show that culture is important to brain development; so important that we can envision a virtual entity and call it the cultural amygdala.

One can also hypothesize that one's culture shapes one's cultural amygdala in meaningful ways.

Thus, how impulses etc. from the physical amygdala, which frontal cortex dynamics regulate to the extent that they can, are to a degree also influenced by the cultural amygdala, as well as, to a lesser degree, the individuality of every person.

That is another reason why the toxins of power affect those exposed to power in many different ways, even though the raw power itself may be essentially the same power type across cultures.

That is, a ruler in Culture A, a culture which is way different from Culture B, will be exposed to the same basic toxins of power that a ruler in Culture B will, however, those rulers may react to the same toxins of power differently (to the extent that the cultural amygdala is different).

The next post in this series is here, the previous post in this series is here.

Video index to The Limbic System video, by Dr. Sapolsky

15:20 logical section / emotional section theory of mind is nonsense
15:40 Antonio Demasio - shows Descarte utterly wrong
16:30 circuitry (James Papes)
17:40 Papes circuitry - emotional part of brain
18:58 entire limbic system tries to influence what the hypothalamus does
21:20 stilulating / restricting sections depends on closeness to hypothalamus
23:12 our olfactory system is closest to hypothalamus
24:30 amygdala
26:35 hyocampus
27:25 septum: mid-brain area
28:58 PFC (impulse control, emotional control) develops last
34:30 amygdala / hippocamus memory - connections
50:15 amygdala gets larger in people with PTSD
50:45 stress causes amygdala neurons to grow more dendritic processes
51:00 hippocampus gets smaller @ depression
101:00 amygdala activating aggression
102:18 septum inhibits aggression
103:30 hippocamus turn off stress response
104:40 precortal / frontal moderator
113:40 James / Lang theory of emotion

Dr. Lakoff:

23:35 "word binding"
26:00 "98% of your thought is unconscious"
26:10 "learning is ... 'neural recruitment' ... connecting new brain circuits to existing ones"
30:05 "you can't learn anything unless there are circuits already there to connect to"
31:20 "you think with your brain ... most of it is unconscious ... could all of your thought be conscious? ... no ... conscious thought is linear ... unconscious thought is parallel" [billions of thoughts taking place at once]
41:00 "Louder Than Words is a useful book ... funny" [but also serious]:


"... The key to making your work resonate is to uncover, develop, and then bravely use your authentic voice.

What does this mean? When you are pouring yourself into your
work and bringing your unique perspective and skills to the table, then
you are adding value that only you are capable of contributing. How-
ever, many people operate in “default mode,” and they ignore their
hunches, their deeper intuition, and their unique vision, and instead
settle into the fold. Over time, they become more of a reflection of
everyone around them—​­or a faded photocopy of a photocopy—​­than
­an original source of ideas, energy, and life. Instead of doing the diffi-
cult work necessary to weave their influences together into something
fresh and original, they settle for recycling the scraps in exchange for a quick return on their effort. In the end, they fall short of making a
unique contribution that’s reflective of what they truly care about, and
because of a lack of individuality and passion, their work is less likely
to resonate with their audience.

However, brilliant contributors commit to the process of devel-
oping an authentic voice through trial and error, by paying attention
to how they respond to the work of peers, heroes, and even their
antagonists, by playing with ideas, by cultivating a sharp vision for
their work, and ultimately by honing their skills so that they have the
ability to bring that vision to the world. If you examine the most con-
tributive, impactful, and ultimately influential people throughout
history, the one thing that clearly sets them apart is their unique
voice. They had developed a personal expression that distanced them
from their peers and put them in a field of their own. Their body of
work speaks loudly about who they are and what they value. Louder,
even, than their words."
 [first two chapters here (PDF)]

Monday, December 2, 2013

Hypothesis: How Toxins of Power Are Neutralized or Removed

DNA: a molecular machine
Regular readers know that one of the problems with the hypothesis that toxins of power originate at the microscopic level (virus, single celled microbes, etc.) is that some people in power are not overcome by corruption.

Oh yes, the power of their office may stimulate toxins, however, as the hypothetical formulas for toxins of power origination show, those toxins can also be neutralized or overcome by those who are exposed to the toxins while in power, i.e. while in office (e.g. Tables For The Toxins In Power, The Power That Corrupts).

There has been no hypothesis on this Toxins of Power blog, up until now, for how this could happen.

A paper published recently details how pathogens and parasites are converted from dangerous or deadly behavior into mutualistic, symbiotic behavior, which is a complete change of their behavior from toxic bad to helpful good:
Like pretty much all multi-cellular organisms, humans enjoy the benefits of helpful bacteria. (As you may have heard, there are more bacteria in the human body than cells.) These mutualistic microbes live within the body of a larger organism, and, like any good long-term houseguest, help out their hosts, while making a successful life for themselves. It’s a win-win situation for both parties.

Scientists still don’t understand exactly how these relationships began, however. To find out, a team of researchers from the University of California, Riverside, used protein markers to create a detailed phylogenic tree of life for 405 taxa from the Proteobacteria phylum—a diverse group that includes pathogens such as salmonella as well as both mutualistic and free-living species.

Those analyses revealed that mutualism in Proteobacteria independently evolved between 34 to 39 times, the researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  The team was a bit surprised to find that this happened so frequently, inferring that evolution apparently views this lifestyle quite favorably.

Their results also show that mutualism most often arises in species that were originally parasites and pathogens.
(Microbial Languages: Rehabilitation of the Unseen -- 2, emphasis in original). This is a discovery which clearly indicates that fundamental changes take place in microbial life, changes which convert them from a "toxic behavior pathogen" into a "helpful behavior symbiont."

I will, in future posts, consider papers that indicate the opposite, that is, the conversion from symbiotic microbes (good guys) into pathogens or parasites (bad guys).

Potential triggering sources for such changes from good to bad has been discussed in Dredd Blog posts Are Microbes The Origin of PTSD? and Weekend Rebel Science Excursion - 16.

Those posts discuss the abrupt changes in all Earth life, including microbes, that happened during the meteorite impact which caused the Fifth Mass Extinction of most Earth life (~90%) some 65 million years ago.

The hypothesis contemplated in today's post should also consider, in bad->good and good->bad behavioral changes, the potential damage to molecular machines within microbes, as well as the repair of damaged molecular machines, as potential reasons for changes in behavior.

In other words, let's consider damaging events as triggers for toxins, but let's also consider repair via healing and remedial behavior as factors for toxin neutralization or removal (see e.g. Putting A Face On Machine Mutation - 4 and the series beginning with The Uncertain Gene).

But, the bottom line is that the genetic material in microbial life, which has been through several mass extinction events on Earth, and perhaps elsewhere, may have recorded reactions within their genes that can be triggered to re-produce bad toxic behavior or good symbiotic behavior, depending on the environmental dynamics being experienced at a given time.

The hypothesis would have to show: 1) how the advent of toxins in an individual who becomes powerful triggers improper genetic ons or offs, and 2) how certain remedial behaviors (think epigenetic behavior) could neutralize or remove that toxic behavior by re-setting the proper genetic ons or offs.

The bottom line is that we are considering both genetic and epigenetic factors in this hypothesis (see e.g. the series The "It's In Your Genes" Myth).

That is all for this post.

The next post in this series is here.

The following video indicates that epigenetic dynamics take place in microbes ... genes do not control them any more or less than genes control us: