ON THE STRANGENESS OF MAN
Of the broad questions both important and resistant to satisfying analysis
within the framework of current mind-base psychological theories is that of the question of strangeness. "Strangeness" is
used by me to indicate a group of varied behavior that has the unifying quality of being both significant and very contrary
to the dictates of reason. Examples thereof include such obvious ones as obesity, smoking, spousal abuse, compulsive gambling,
alcoholism, and fanatical participation in a group whose fundamental tenants offend rational analysis. Some scientists such
as Salposky (see best selling nonfiction of 1996, Trouble With Testosterone) have in their explanation relied heavily
upon genetic factors. While not denying the relevance of genes and neurotransmitters as a cause of strange behavior, behaviorist psychologists in their explanation list cultural factors, personal history, and from these emphasize the salient reinforcement
patterns. On to their foundation will be added a discussion of the way the brain stores complex memories.
Consider a typical explanation of "strange" behavior obesity using the behavioral approach. A person, let us call him Tom, had obese parent. Tom because of his weight made the high school
football team as a lineman, and thus was not subjected to adversive conditioning by his peers. After a couple of years of
a typical marriage, Tom started gaining an average of 10 pounds per year. The reinforcements for the additional weight included
the sedative effect of large meals (relieves boredom), the attention from friends he gained from his excessive consumption
of food when dining out, and the diminution of his sex drive which suited his tepid marriage. Still this is only a partial
explanation. Why would anyone want to shorten his or her life by on an average of 10 years (Tom by the age of 45 weighed 350
lbs, his lean body weight is 170 lbs)? Moreover, every strange activity has a list of reinforcers; they are causal but not
compelling. Why isn't obesity and religious fanaticism more prevalent? The behaviorist psychological insight is incomplete.
At another level, the inadequacies
of his public education, the irrationality of his religious parents and his faith in holistic medicine and the ethereal world
stand as evidence that the rational portion of his brain was not full developed. The behavioral explanation with its listing
of reinforcers and his personal history; however, is inadequate. At least 70% of Americans have an essential similar
background, yet only about 5% of them are grossly obese. Something more is needed.
There is a long list of
dysfunctional behavior (compulsive gambling, recreational drug abuse, religious fanaticism, and so on) and this makes strangeness the
norm. Those who are both bright and have extensive training in science and rational analysis are less likely to fall within
those categories. Nevertheless there are those who though bright and educated
still exhibit strange behavior.
I had once married Kathy,
who is unable to rational guide her life. Among her striking problems is her ability to recreate the past. She was sure I
did things that I didn't. It is this ability that gives the clue to what is amiss.
How we remember is much
like how we create visual images of things. We have a few part of a past event. From these parts, like the solving of a puzzle,
the brain gathers together the pieces and selected to make up images of the recalled situation. As the event to
be recalled grows more distant in time and less reflected upon, the pieces become fewer and less vivid. With this, the incidence
of selecting pieces which fit the situation, but are spurious becomes greater. The reconstruction process permits the storing
of complex event with minimal use of the brain's capacity. A recollection of last year's camping trip will consist of a set
of bits of things done, the visual process will add trees, the waters of the lake, the ground, the tent, the faces of the
friends on the trip, the car, etc. The image of the car wasn't from last year’s trip, but from another more recent trip,
the same for those people who were seen more recently. Many of the things occurring during the trip are recalled not as an
image portion but in the verbal portion of the brain. The brain creates images
to complement the verbal list of what went on. Since a visual image requires
a much larger dedication of the brain's resources, it is in language that the events are stored; e.g., "yellow Chevy, Tom,
Dick, and Wendy, and a large bonfire". Upon recollection, the language bits then evoke the suitable visual images. The conversion
from words to visual occurs with such rapidity and in an area of the brain where there is no self-reporting, so that the process
of conversion from language goes unnoticed. Moreover, the more we think about
what occurred the more our brain adds details to the camping trip. This process of recreating a scene I shall call story process.
The story process of piecing together is used over and over again in the various tasks before the brain. In academic
situations such as in the explaining the dynamics of economic growth and recession, the merits and criticisms of utilitarianism,
the developments leading up to the Civil War, the causes for the abusiveness of a parent, and so on. The story process occurs while dreaming so that a verbal story
is developed piece by piece according to various story templates, and then given images. The holographic nature of memory
(to borrow from the explanation of vision) permits small bits of memory to be developed into a much richer accounting--a very
efficient use of brain resources.
There are certain phenomena, which lend support the story hypothesis of memory. Psychiatric theory holds that
the most prominent cause of neurotic behavior is repressed childhood sexual memories. The psychiatrist who practices psychoanalysis
will attempt to elicit these repressed memories of childhood sexual drives. Some psychologist and psychiatrists believe that some of their patients have repressed
memories of childhood sexual abuse. During talk therapy sessions the psychiatrist
gives little bits of a story a sexual abuse. Eventually the patient both develops the bits into a series of recalled incidences
of childhood sexual abuse; ones that they now can "see". Both patient and therapist
believe in what they have created, and their creation has caused both personal anguish and sometimes criminal cases. Similarly, police officers and prosecutors are known to implant descriptions of a
crime in their witnesses. Priests plant verbally a story of Jesus walking on water and of the frequent intercession of Mary
on behalf of a suppliant to affect "miraculous cures". The believer visualizes their prayers being answered and the working
of God through Mary to affect a cure. Susceptible people see angles, devils, ghosts, the power of laying-on-hands, and much
more. The believer can see the patterns in people according to astrological signs.
Another well-documented example of this process, which illustrates how
the brain from the bits of these stories elaborates there on while at the same time creating associated visual recollections,
is that of near-death experiences. In a study of those who had near death experience (the reference at present I do not have),
a physician interviewed such people shortly after their regaining consciousness. Then a few weeks later he repeated the same
set of questions concerning their near-death experience. The later modification of recollections illustrates the interaction
between story teller and his audience. Recollection is a fluid process.
The interconnection of the visual memory with words
is illustrated by the reading of a story or the listening to a radio drama: the verbal stimulus yields appropriate visual
images. The verbal skeleton given by the psychiatrist, the priest, and from simply reading the Bible, they produce associated
images. For some people the ability to distinguish fiction from real is much
less than the norm: they become the true believers. Such people are susceptible not just to stories as found in the bible, to new age quackery, but to many
other things, to sales people, to compulsive shopping, to an inability to control their weight, and so on.
This is not to deny the
social aspect (peer conditioning) as a vector in maintaining such behavior. But
rather to point out that some people are particularly prone to develop beliefs in the preposterous, and it has to do with
how the story process creates a fictional reality.
The visual process creates
of the verbal story the illusion of an event having been experienced. In neuroscience has established the connection between
the visual cortex and verbal cortex. Neurologist provided clinical examples of
people with various injuries and tumors of the brain. Dr. Oliver Sacks in several
of his books illustrates, through his accounts of such patients of his, this connection between language and seeing. He writes
of a patient who could not properly label species within a family; such as, he could label truck and car, but not Dodge and
Fiat. There was a music professor who couldn't identify the rose he was holding even though he could describe each petal.
However his olfactory center had not been affected by the stroke, one whiff and he would respond "a rose." There is also more
direct evidence obtain through various imaging techniques such as the MRI and PET that show increased simultaneous activities
in both verbal and visual sections of the brain; this supports that the verbal story is translated into images. .
Some people in their recollections fall into error
far more than others. The cause has a genetic vector. For them the story process can produce pathological results. One example
was a schizophrenic person I knew, called Frenchy, who could function outside a mental institution. He is handsome, mature,
friendly, university educated in France, bright, but given to odd verbalizations. He believes that the overhead sprinklers in government buildings
are part of the government's mechanism for spying on him and others. His brain had created a story, and then collected certain
events to support that story, events which were manipulated unconsciously so as to reinforce his belief in being spied upon.
This story with all its pieces now impinged upon him with the force of reality--much like it has done to those who have had
near death experiences and others who have had "recalled" childhood sexual abuse. As Salposky points out there are degrees
of having the genes of mental illness, and degrees of sick behavior.
Given that the process is
connected to memory and thus essential, it must be under a variety of genetic controls. Judging from behavior there is a continuum
among humans of the functioning of the story process at the extreme are certain cases of those labeled full-blown schizophrenic.
The account of the strangeness of man, however, is not simple, for a person who is schizophrenic often will exhibit a degree
of delusions, depression, paranoia, and compulsiveness. And such a person will be quite logical in certain areas (such as
John Nash the mathematician). Even in those who are less severely afflicted,
there are degrees of a variety of mental illnesses. Psychiatry has developed a number of labels for those whose strangeness
has come under clinical analysis. Currently in the latest edition of DSM there are hundreds of putative conditions, however,
we are herein concerned with the major categories in so far as they shed light upon the question at hand, why do so many people
who are functioning within society do things which are in the extreme imprudent? They
exhibit mild forms of what psychiatrists label as schizotypal, paranoid, bipolar, schizoid, and obsessive-compulsive personality
disorders. If more severe the label changes from "personality disorders" to that of "neurosis." The cluster of symptoms used
to describe the schizotypical personality:
Display oddities of thinking, perception, communication, and behavior that
suggest schizophrenia but are never sever enough to meet the criteria for that disorder. Those oddities in cognition may be
expressed as magical thinking, ideas of reference, and paranoid ideation and . . . . (Merck Manual, 17th Edition). These conditions have been related to imbalances in neurotransmitters such as dopamine. The neurological foundation promotes false beliefs. The reconstruction
process causes fantasy to be taken as the gospel truths.
Above I developed a
mild case, Tom. He has created stories
to justify his obesity: A story about his right to be fat. Another about how he has known some obese people who live to be
90 (but they are not 60% above their lean body weight, like he is). He even has imagined himself to be attractive to women. He is married and doesn't have to create additional stories as to why he has such
poor luck with the opposite sex. He finds reasons for his overeating--pressure from work, his wife's failure to relate, his
obese grandmother whose genes he has inherited. What I hold to be genetic is not his appetite or ability to gain weight, but
that the story process of the brain and a mild imbalance in neurotransmitters.
His promotion of homeopathic treatments is another example of story process producing folly.
This function can be either
exasperated or ameliorated by the environment. So too can Tom's eating behavior come under environmental controls. There is
with Tom a genetic factor expressed in the level of neurotransmitters, of which dopamine is the most significant. In addition
I hold that the direction of the abnormal thought process can be grouped around themes, and these the frequency of these themes
is because of associated reinforcers. The schizotypical person exhibits excessively several of the following qualities: fearfulness,
anger/rage, sadness, romantic desires, paranoia, and obsessive. To this I would add that of constructive memory; i.e., the
There is something very amiss with our species. It is not just obesity, drinking, and
other reckless and imprudent types of behavior are so frequent, but also that most people are capable of believing things
which by rational standards are unbelievable. There are beliefs about races, about politics, about religion, about alternative
medicine to name the principle that are so contrary to the body of weighted evidence that to hold such beliefs proves that
there has been a breakdown in the reasoning process. There is a breakdown is primarily the result of a story process that
for many is stronger than reason.
Having such an ability to believe the impossible entails that when exposed to reinforcers like gambling, food,
sex, and recreational drugs, that a person with exceptional story abilities will create exceptions, give reasons why it is
reasonable for him to behave unreasonable. The fat person finds reasons for his problem, reason that proves that he by being
fat is doing the right thing. Those addicted to gambling have their reasons--and so on. These people are able to believe stories
about themselves and the future in just the same way they are able to believe that Jesus walked on water and there is a fiery
who have the problem in the extreme, two of whom I have been able to observe at length, both seem to have the imagination
of a child of 8--with its consequences upon behavior. They come up with schemes on how to make money appropriate to someone
at that age. Likewise their inability to control their spending is suggestive of a child. So too is their ability to in their
recounting of an event that occurred to them. They, like a child, have difficulty deciding, thus they exhibit ritualization
that reduces the number of times they have to make a decision about something some such as what they are to wear or how and
when they brush their teeth. They become angry when the person they live with violates this pattern. Though they are full
of desire to have someone to love, they are not able to have a relationship with another:
they are insufferable. A child is controlled by parents; a beloved lacks this control. Thus Elaine developed soon a
pattern of displaying anger towards her beloved. Elaine shows the fascination and energy towards things, such as going to
the circus, that one would expect of a child of 12. At the age of 53, she is a delightful combination of youthful energy and
mature vocalizations. In other ways she is childlike. She is on an emotional roller coaster like that of a young teenager.
And without supervision, she has problems budgeting her time and making a prudent choice as to taking care of the many daily
chores of life. Elaine is bright, bright enough to deal sufficiently with her emotional problems as to attend college and
later graduate school. At both she had a GPA of over 3.8. Elaine has learnt to talk like an adult--years of conditioning,
and often to hide her child like thought patterns, but the suppression has limits. In summation, those who have this story
telling faculty in the extreme, have it like a child of 12, and its influence upon their behavior is strikingly similar.
There are limits. Elaine can’t tell the created
"events from those that have occurred." The story must fit in with other recollection; and it may be modified by peer conditioning.
Moreover, conditioning plays an essential role in the confusion of facts and fiction.
I have been looking to those who by the extreme of their behavior form paradigms, there is for all people signs that this
ability to recall in story form, in holographic patterns, has its inroads upon the thought process that produce results which
differ from what would expect of the android of science fiction. The process which simplifies complex learning makes its inroads
upon all of us. We are easily seduced by stories, be it or religious origin, political, romantic, and so on. We also are less
than an ideal observe because of the power of reinforcers: social, sexual, financial, peer reinforcers are all known to cause
us to adopt stories about these things which does not withstand cold logic. If we were but just a rational animal (Aristotle's
definition), then we would not be so queer. We would logically and prudently cater to our animal side so as to maximize our
pleasures. But even the best of (such as Socrates) did sometimes drink to excess (see Plato's "Symposium"), was a gadfly,
and had a very shrewish wife. The deviation between what reason dictates in its accommodation with our animal side and what
we do, this is the strangeness of man. A strangeness which exhibits the effect of the way we organize our complex experiences.
Man is a rational animal who tells stories.
This theory can be tested--unfortunately not being connected with a university, I am not in a position to do the testing.
One way to pick out such people would be to select those who are fanatics about a religion, the environment, or other cause.
My model predicts that their recollection of things will be less accurate. One test could be to have them recount on paper
a movie seen a month ago. The two groups could be compared as to accuracy. Another thing my model predicts is that the religious
fanatic will have more problems in area where their religion is silent, such as obesity, and cigarette smoking (except for
the Mormons). In a clinical situation, a therapist could attempt to implant ideas about the past. The group, who exhibit strangest,
could in a matching study to control confounding variable, be thus compared to those who score low on the strangeness scale.
Devout religious people could be compared to those in such tests.
Of course my observations of this phenomenon could itself be part of the
process I am writing about. There is a fine line between insight and garbage. Noted mathematicians get from amateurs proofs
to theorems from those who have crossed over the line. And sometimes very creative people have an overactive story process.
Kurt Gödel, who taught mathematics at Princeton, was on the fringe of insanity. And the famed Hindu mathematician ________
through his strict diet religious destroyed his health while in England, and died
there. Linus Pauling was far from a scientist when it came to certain topics related to health. Wallace was quite into the
paranormal, to the embarrassment of Charles Darwin and other scientists. And Isaac Newton's efforts in numerology and alchemy
are an embarrassment to modern scientists. .
There is another way to look at this problem, to ask the question raised
by anthropologists. Why would there be genes, which confer on a significant portion of every population with a type of behavior
that is selected against, such as obesity, compulsiveness, etc. Obesity is extremely
rare among hunter-gathers. The answer lies with our ancestors and the unity brought
about by religion. Such a tribe has more success than a tried without the shaman
and tribal gods. This success is sufficient to outweigh the costs. In the modern world the religious mind is a burden not outweighed by the benefits. Such people reproduce less, and in a few generations will be quite rare.