Wise versus Enlightened

Yoda: an archetypal combination of Wisdom and Enlightenment

Wisdom and Enlightenment I take to both be qualitative measures of a person or their actions. In my view, neither are ultimate states of being. When I speak of “enlightenment,” I do not refer to the ultimate state of nirvana or Godliness that may be defined by some Eastern religious philosophies. Instead, I am simply talking about a category of virtue, such as intelligence, bravery, wisdom, loyalty, etc. Wisdom and enlightenment are ultimately the same thing, two sides to the same coin, but in human experience they have subtleties that distinguish them. Males and females are in essence the same—human—but in practice it is meaningful to differentiate between them because they each have idiosyncratic characteristics. In the same way, wisdom and enlightenment stem from the same thing—the holistic evolution of an individual over their life’s journey—but manifest differently in day to day life. I believe it is useful to make a distinction between them.

It has been said that wisdom is understanding others while enlightenment is understanding oneself. While I think there’s an enormous amount of truth in that, I honestly think that most will only find that description confusing and misleading. I don’t intend to try to fully define either term here because 1) they are too complicated and integral of concepts to pretend to explain satisfactorily, and 2) what they mean to each person may be unique and hard to relate. Also, the purpose of this post is not to search for their meaning so much as to delineate them as two separate entities and show how they are different.

Wisdom can be thought of as knowledge of the workings of society and nature. The ability to make logical decisions and accurate predictions, understanding the intentions of others, recognizing patterns, and knowing the consequences of actions all are part of being wise. On the other hand, enlightenment can be seen as recognition of the forces in life that matter most, both in oneself and in everyone. The ability to find happiness and inner peace, cultivate joy in others, and mitigate suffering are all tenets of the enlightened philosophy. One who can forgive unconditionally, love unconditionally, see the impermanence of all things, and value spiritual wealth over material wealth is enlightened. Again, to clarify, enlightenment as used here is not some sort of supreme divine state, but is simply a character trait. Everyone is enlightened to some degree, just as everyone is wise in some way.

Generally the two go somewhat hand in hand—a more enlightened person is usually wiser as well—but that is not necessarily the case. For example, think of a mob boss like Al Capone or the Godfather. The Godfather is experienced and street-smart, and is keen in the art of leadership and survival, not to mention extortion and manipulation. Like a chess player, he thinks business moves through to their consequence, plans ahead, and develops strategies; I think most would agree that this makes the Godfather wise. But such a person’s life choices are ultimately shortsighted because they do nothing to truly help the human race, themselves, or their ilk. They only contribute to suffering, whether it be short-term or long-term, and in their selfishness they believe that their marginal gain necessitates the loss of others and thereby justify themselves in heinous egocentric behavior. They are firmly rooted in zero-sum mentality (see “Fight Zero-Sum Bias” by towardabetterworld). Another great example would be Chancellor Palpatine (the emperor) from Star Wars. Only someone who understands human nature and the dynamics of society on a genius level could have risen to power and taken over the universe like he did; surely he is very wise. But inarguably he is the paragon of the unenlightened person because he chooses the “dark side.”

Conversely, take some 25-year-old flower-child hippie for example. This hippie believes in brotherhood, goodwill toward humanity, equality, pacifism, connection with Mother Earth, and all of the “good vibrations” that are typical of the hippie community. This hippie might suffer any number of faults also associated with her peer group, such as excessive drug use, financial irresponsibility, poor judgment, unsafe sexual promiscuity, inability to plan ahead, being foolishly trusting and thus easily taken advantage of, and so on. Certainly she lacks wisdom. But she is very enlightened because she understands clearly the importance of such fundamental principles as unconditional love, magnanimity, and compassion, and she makes an effort to incorporate these into her life. Many new-age thinkers these days are wonderful people but notorious for being unwise or immature in their life decisions, and so they can serve as an example for enlightened but not yet wise.

Ideally a person develops both enlightenment and wisdom equally. Such a winning combination can be found in such people as Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, many of the Founding Fathers of America, and other beloved leaders—like Yoda. Life teaches us both qualities with time and experience, and so the elderly usually make the best examples—although it’s obviously no guarantee, as many people seem to never quite learn some of life’s lessons.

>>Yoda’s teachings (for fun!)

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The Limits and Fallacies of Perception

I once wrote these words:

“The only world that we ever live in is our mental world, one could argue. The real world is not good and is not bad. It is irrelevant, I guess. All that matters is the mental world that you make for yourself. The world will be whatever you believe it to be because the only world your brain knows is the thought world. That’s why imagination is more important than knowledge, as Einstein once said. That’s why you need to tell yourself positive things about the world. The blissful world that a child lives in is just as real in every way as the harsh “reality” that a politician lives in. That’s why the most important thing you can do for yourself is have your mind in the right place.”

Those words are full of my own younger biases and assumptions, but they nevertheless stem from same vein of truth that I advocate today. Let me attempt to expound my childhood thinking by explaining the limits of human perception.

It can be speculated that all that we are ever aware of is what we experience consciously. Any memory, any sensation, any gut feeling, vibe, psychopathy, anything at all ever thought, perceived, or experienced in any fashion is, indeed, experienced consciously. Anything not experienced consciously does not enter experiential reality and thus, to the observer, does not exist. Therefore the entirety of our understanding of and feelings toward the world exist in our conscious experience. If we make the arguable assumption that one can change one’s mind about anything, it follows that any and every aspect of one’s conscious experience can be arbitrarily altered. This has very powerful ramifications. (Note that the assumption made is integral, but the results will be similar even if we assign a lesser degree of intentional mind-changing agency.)

Let’s step out of this abstract conceptualization for a bit and get our feet wet examining the nature of perception and how it corresponds to reality. We generally understand perception to be a chain of events that link external stimuli to an alteration of conscious experience (a quale) resulting from those stimuli. It may behoove us, however, to think backwards here and start with conscious experience. Perception starts with a quale. This quale is, theoretically, in some way caused/influenced by a thought in the brain, a sequence of neuron firings. That thought is the result of data processing that the subconscious brain handles. The data was collected from neural pathways whose purpose is to transmit signals from the sensory organs to the brain. The signal that traversed those pathways came from the receptors of a sense organ, such as the retina or the nerve cells in skin. That sense organ was made to fire off a signal, a package of raw data. That reason that the signal was sent is usually because the sense organ received an external stimulus to which it is specifically designed to be sensitive; it could be an internal stimulus, but we’ll continue with the external case. The external stimulus could be anything, and is usually what you believe you are sensing. The external stimulus is generally assumed to be the product of something that you picture in your internal objective reality, and that you believe to be in external objective reality (sense we naturally assume them to be the same).

Stepping back and looking at the sensory process from a distance, it is important to realize that anywhere along the way the process could be affected by internal influences. Also, the process could be affected by external influences. The only thing that we experience is what bubbles up to consciousness, not anything before that or anywhere along the sensory stages. Therefore, we (the humanself) don’t ever consciously interact with our external environment. What’s more, perceptions could be altered in limitless ways before they reach conscious observation. Therefore, everything you perceive could be a complete sham. It could be a false universe projected into your mind at any level along the sensory progression. It is real enough to us, but the conclusion is that what we perceive in our minds (inner reality) and what those external influences actually come from (outer reality) are totally and irrevocably disparate.

Today, actually, a good example of false perceptions arose. I bumped by elbow’s “funny bone” harder than I can ever remember on the corner of a desk. Immediately the familiar surge of pain and weird numbness shot up my arm, I swore aloud, and, most relevant, my pinky and ring fingers tingled for about five minutes afterward (a sensation similar to when your foot “falls asleep”). I naturally rubbed my tingling fingers because my mind was under the mistaken impression that something about the fingers was making them tingle. You see, as I understand it (I could be wrong, but I doubt it), there was nothing different about my fingers that was making them tingle so fiercely. Instead, it was the nerve conduit passing through my elbow that got bumped that was the culprit. However, my brain had absolutely no way of knowing the difference between something that was really happening to my fingers versus something that went awry along the nerve stem. There was no way of distinguishing a signal that was authentically generated by an outside stimulus versus a signal that was altered/fabricated somewhere along the way internally.

Through our human perception we can NEVER know the true nature of external objective reality. All that we can know is that something is there. In my view, the only way to discover it’s form is to view it from a higher perspective, to transcend it and live as the higherself, occupying the realm of the higherworld from which the outer reality of the humanworld emanates. We would need to ascend to a different reality.

>>I stumbled across an amazing video on youtube that actually illustrates beautifully the majority of what this article is about. It’s long and has kind of a hilarious introduction, but what could be more worth your time? It’s called “Perception – the reality beyond matter.”

>>For any terminology that stumped you, see Reality: Definitions in Short.

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Abe’s Brain Chemistry

I would like to tell a little fictional* story about Abe as part of a thought experiment. Abe has been visiting a particular doctor every couple of weeks for two years. Every single time he comes in he is shaky, nervous, fatigued, and unhappy. The doctor performs tests on his brain and body to determine the cause. The results are always the same. He finds a marked overabundance of adrenaleen (a fictional hormone and neurotransmitter roughly equivalent to epinephrine) to be present in Abe’s brain. The doctor concludes that Abe’s unpleasant symptoms are the result of an excess of adrenaleen in his system, and that an induced change of brain chemistry is the only answer. The doctor prescribes medication called Prozak that will alter the balance of adrenaleen in Abe’s brain, something complicated having to do with re-uptake and other things Abe doesn’t understand that well. Abe doesn’t care about the details, though, he just wants to feel better.

Reflect on my little story about Abe. It sounds pretty typical, actually, a lot like what is going on in psychological health today, except for some fictional alterations. It is standard and accepted that drugs are the best solution to such mental-physical health problems. The solution that Abe’s doctor invents seems totally logical and irrefutable. Clearly the chicken came before the egg.

However, let us re-examine Abe’s story with some new information about his situation. Abe is actually a prisoner of war being held in a concentration camp. The doctor that he visits is employed there to see to the health of prisoners. Abe is frequently threatened with violence, and without warning he is sporadically tortured. He is in constant fear of unprovoked pain or even death.

In light of these insights, a rather different picture of Abe’s health conditions is painted. The unconscious fight-or-flight response in his system that he is constantly subjected to causes adrenaleen to be produced and build up to excess. He is fatigued and shaky because of his body always being on the edge of panic, always releasing adrenaleen into the bloodstream until he is saturated with it. He is nervous and unhappy because he is always subject to violence and obviously has very poor quality of life.

So the doctor got it backwards. The cause of his affliction is not excess adrenaleen; adrenaleen is produced in excess because of his affliction. It’s the complete reverse! His symptoms are exaggerated by the presence of adrenaleen in his body, but the ultimate cause is not some innate problem with brain chemistry. The imbalance in his brain is caused by his situation; his situation is not caused by an imbalance in his brain. Thus, to solve his problems one has to remove him from these fearful situations, not prescribe drugs. Only if he was absolutely unable to alter his situation but wanted to reduce his suffering would one prescribe drugs to help him cope.

I offer this thought experiment as a way to raise questions about current treatment practices in modern medicine. Issues of causality can be very relevant to understanding the body’s disorders. Sometimes people forget the old “chicken or the egg” enigma and assume that problems start with biology and then manifest mentally. In the case of depression, to cite a common example, one must ask, did my irregular brain chemistry cause me to get depressed or did getting depressed cause my irregular brain chemistry?

After all, emotions and mental states cause different chemicals to be cascaded through the brain. We could take a newly wed couple to the doctor and after all the relevant brain tests the doctors would conclude, “yes, I can see by the functioning of XYZ neurotransmitters that these two patients are quite happy.” Or we could take two children whose parents just died in a car crash to the doctor and, after the tests, the doctor would say, “oh yes, I can see right there in the lab results that these two have problems with their brain chemistry that ought to cause them to be depressed. We’d better prescribe antidepressants!” How much thought is given to the possibility that it is a person’s mental habits, their subconscious thoughts, that most influence their mood and their current brain chemistry? Over time, the brain can “get used to” regularities in its functioning and adapt to make those regularities even easier. If you practice speaking in a different language, the brain will make using those neurons even easier over time so that it becomes more and more natural. If you always get angry when you go to work every day, the brain may fall into a neurological pattern of quickly and regularly exhibiting the effects of anger. If negative thoughts become part of your brain’s routine or you habituate negative responses to stimuli, those negative emotions maybe become rutted into your physical brain structure and alter your brain chemistry, thus making it more and more difficult to escape and find happiness.

Of course, I know scientists aren’t stupid and so I trust that experiment has shown the efficacy of and need for medicated neurochemicals such as SSRI’s. However, how much of the time does the solution lie in changes of thought patterns, in conscious shift, rather than drugs? In some cases (not all, of course), could SSRI’s and the like be analogous to giving someone throat lozenges when they have strep throat? The analogy is that throat lozenges may help relieve some of the symptoms but it does not address the actual and ultimate cause of strep throat: the bacteria streptococcus must be eradicated either by the immune system or antibiotics. You can buy throat lozenges for the rest of your life, or you can extirpate the problem.

It is very easy to seek some medicated solution to a health problem, physical or mental, but some consideration needs to be given as to what the best solution actually may be. The ultimate cause for the health condition must be ascertained before decisions of how to fix it are made. It is important for doctors, patients, science, and society in general to pursue this because there could be a large incentive for some sections of the medical industry to ignore alternative treatments—eg., the pharmaceutical companies.

My limited understanding is as follows.  The pharmaceutical companies are not interested in health or the well-being of patients. They are not non-profit. To the contrary, the are only interested in profit. If it was legal to sell drugs laced with other addictive drugs to cause patients to need to continue drug treatment even after being cured, they would do so. If they could cause an increase in the rates of cancers and diseases requiring drugs, they would. If they could get away with threatening you or your family if you refused to buy their products, they would. It’s just business for them, like any group of companies in control of a life-dependent commodity. Thank goodness for laws.

Since the pharmaceuticals and other for-profit divisions of medicine can attain so much economic value (and, consequently, power) they could, and would, inflict very serious impediment to attempts to progress medical science. For this reason, some restructuring of medicine needs to take place. I am not an expert, but it is not difficult to foresee huge problems with the current order. How to fix these things is another issue entirely.

*(The events are fictional, the characters are fictional, and the science is fictional!)

>>Please check out this column by Lawrence Weathers on causes and treatments of ADHD. He also takes into account the chicken and the egg argument.

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Quantum Universe

Impossible is a relative term, like all terms. It is a necessary term because it allows us to assess and communicate the feasibility of something. Some things appear more plausible than others, and thus those things with the lowest relative level of probability in a given context are described as impossible. But of course impossible is not absolute. Only one who has complete knowledge of life and the cosmos can state absolutely that something is impossible. I’ve never met any such person, and I doubt you have either, so we may both conclude that anything that was ever told to us to be impossible can be, in fact, possible.

Our notions of possibility are necessarily based upon our experience, but our experience is limited—perhaps infinitely limited. Thus our assessment of probability is infinitely imprecise and is infinitely likely to be entirely inaccurate.

Of course, our entire system of scientific understanding and prediction is dependent upon the requirement of isolated systems. No scientific conclusion could ever be made without isolated system assumptions. In a nutshell, an isolated system (or “closed system,” I use them synonymously here) is a finite system which is closed to any outside influence. An isolated system assumption means it is assumed that the system in question is closed.

We make isolated system assumptions all the time. For example, suppose I throw a frisbee across a field and then observe the frisbee hover in the air like any well made frisbee before hitting the ground. I have a clear view of the path of the frisbee the entire time and I conclude that it was the cushion of air created by the motion of the disk that kept it afloat for an extended period of time before gravity finally won out. I could be wrong in this particular instance, however. There could have been invisible multidimensional fashion-monkeys who saw me toss the frisbee and thought it was the gift of a new hat. One monkey could then have grabbed the flying hat and donned it atop its head and taken a stroll down the field until taking it off out of disinterest and placing it gently upon the ground. This is entirely possible, and I rightly recognize the presence of an infinite number of possible outside influences. But as a scientific observer I have no choice but to rule out all influences except those which can be perceived and measured. Thus, by definition, I must close the system. Only then can I make meaningful and useful scientific conclusions and gain results which can be predicted and intentionally repeated.

It is important to understand that just because a speculated scenario, such as the intervention of cosmic monkeys, seems exotic does preclude its possibility. As humans, our limitations have often caused us to and continue to cause us to make pretentious and immature proclamations about the nature of plausibility, probability, and possibility. We tend to positively correlate exoticness with unlikelihood. There is rationalization for this, but we must not fall captive to the fallacy that the limitations we put on the universe are anything more real than our own mental limitations. We must recognize the difference between our best guesses of emergent patterns and the actual powers of the universe. Who says that the universe cannot at any moment exercise its prerogative to re-scramble the laws of physics? We must approach science and understanding humbly.

I offer you some examples of how historically in error our judgements of possibility have been. This way you can begin to make you own reassessments of what lies within the realm of human possibility:

Imagine that you are a caveman from 100,000 years ago, alike in mental capacity to any modern day homo sapiens. There are many things which you know to be impossible. You believe you are quite reasonable and just in such opinions. You know that when you say something, the sound disappears and cannot be captured. You know it is impossible to encapsulate or transport a speech the tribe leader makes. You know that humans are destined to walk the face of the earth and cannot leave it, yet must return to it no matter how high one jumps. To leave the surface of the earth and journey past the clouds is without doubt impossible. If we were to accelerate forward in time until 200 years before the present, even as a leading scientist you would still know that things such as induced coherent light (lasers) and frameless eyeglasses (contact lenses) were impossible. If we catapulted you another 100 years forward to 1910 you might be more flexible, but you would still argue that if anything is known to be true it is that objects cannot pop in and out of existence (ie., that nothing can travel from point A to point B without traversing all of the distance in between on a single trajectory). Sadly, many of you may still believe this to be true today, oblivious to the wonders of quantum mechanics (you’ll want to watch the whole clip).

Our difficulty grasping the realm of possibility stems not only from the limits of our experience but, relatedly, from the limits of our perception, as will I expatiate in another post. We just don’t know any better much of the time. But the least we can do is to maintain an open and curious mind and a tolerance for unorthodox ideas. After all, what we know to be true and possible changes over time; hindsight is 20/20, as they say. The writers of “Men in Black” had something to say about this facet of the human condition. Consider carefully the elegant words of J’s partner, K, after he reveals to J that extraterrestrials are living in Manhattan:

“Fifteen hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat. And fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.”

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Brackets and Hyperlinks

Just note that I often use [brackets] to help myself remember where to insert hyperlinks when writing a post.  Sometimes I may not delete the brackets afterward, so don’t pay them any mind.

At the very bottom of posts, marked with “>>,” I will sometimes include additional links that are relevant and worthy of your attention.  Please follow my links, even if you don’t give them much attention, because you never know what interesting random places they might lead.

Also, please let me know via posting a Comment if a link does not appear to work or go anywhere useful.  URLs sometimes change, so I appreciate knowing if any are troublesome.  Thanks!

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Pseudoscience: Biology and Behavior in Gender

Considerations of [causal fallacy] are especially important to keep in mind when on the topic of brain science because so little is understood or recognized about the possibilities of the brain. When a researcher notices that one particular group of people exhibit a neurological difference, such as increased neurons in a specific region, from the control group, the researcher is not necessarily at liberty to say (beyond the vaguest conjecture) what the cause of the observed difference could be. It is known that patterns of brain activity can alter the physical structure of the brain, especially in childhood. Therefore, nature versus nurture arguments become very precarious and downright dubious.

Women may, on average, have more neurons than men in the such-and-such region of their brains because in reality that region is used in decisions involving food preparation (such as what smells fresh or spoiled or how salty the sauce should be) and women are more often required to develop culinary aptitude in our society. Of course, this is just for example sake, and not necessarily true: accentuating stereotypes can help elucidate arguments. Or men may, on average, have a larger such-and-such region of the brain because that region facilitates understanding of projectile motion that men need to play certain sports (my high school geometry teacher actually told the class that it was postulated that athletes tend to have an easier time learning geometry than non-athletes because of the subconscious spacial reasoning that needs to develop in order to correctly model the trajectory of an object, such as a basketball)*. What these two examples have in common is that they have nothing whatsoever to do with genetics or evolution or nature. Instead, the differences in brain structure are entirely produced by behavior.

However, in our ignorance we might assume that observed brain differences between genders are clearly the result of DNA. And we might even go on to build a false assumption upon a false assumption and conclude that these brain differences manifest in gender specific tendencies and stereotypes, such as women being more empathetic, talkative, and socially dependent, and men being hyper-sexual, risk seeking, and more rational than emotional. I should now have given you the perspective to see through this kind of fallacy and realize that such notions are, at best, highly questionable and much, much more complex than what even the most penetrating current research can skim the surface of.

Of course, some genetically based theories on gender differences may be true. Certainly biology plays some degree of a role in gender specific behavioral differences. The problem is not about what is true versus what isn’t true. The problem is that so many people (such as Dr. Louann Brizendine) seem to want to jump on the old biology bandwagon and assume that genetics is the cause of everything because such ideas seem so convincing and fashionably scientific. But if you assume you know what makes a human being do the things that a human being does, then you tacitly claim that you know everything about the working of the mind. Considering that the mind is basically the most complex thing ever encountered in human experience, it takes a lot of gall to even suggest that DNA is most likely responsible for certain trends in human behavior. At our current level of scientific understanding, there are simply too many variables unaccounted for to trace a linear relationship between a biological element and a high-order** behavioral element.

*(Consider an NFL quarterback: he must figure out how to place a spiraling football into the arms of a runningback who will run straight about 20 yards, then cut diagonally left for about 15 more yards. The QB is himself jogging backwards and in erratic directions to avoid the enemy linebackers. His target runningback is far away from him now, obscured by other players, and moving at a velocity contrary to his own. He must make sure that the football flies over the heads of enemy team members so that it is not intercepted, and he must place the ball level with the runningback’s torso. Too high and it might slip from his fingers; too low and it might fumble. He must correct for even the slightest lateral or parallel wind, and he must watch that his feet don’t slide on the grass, especially in rain or snow, when his massive arm finally launches the ball. Considering that he only has a couple of seconds to decide on a target and fire before clobbered by the opponents, it’s a pretty extraordinary mental feat. So it’s not unreasonable to imagine that he might have been keener at imagining spacial translations in his mind than his geometry classmates, having had more practice doing so on the field.)

**(By “high-order” I mean a behavior that is affected by and reliant upon a complex array of conscious experiences and decisions. A “low-order” behavior would be the opposite: a behavior that is fairly unconscious. For example, putting your hands over your head and flinching because a bomb goes off in your vicinity would be a low-order behavior. It is largely instinctual and not a lot of thought goes into it. On the other hand, deciding to leave your husband and run off with some Colombian surfer would be a high-order behavior. Presumably a sizable amount of thought went into the decision (it was not just instinctual or instantaneously hedonistic), and one could possibly trace the reasons for such a decision back through thousands of different events over her life and childhood that put her in such a state as that which enabled her to make the decision to leave. Maybe a hormone can have pretty strong and predictable effects over a low-order behavior, but over a high-order one? (See bullet #1 in Pseudoscience: Misunderstanding, Misrepresentation, Misattribution, Predisposition))

Posted in Gender, People, Science | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Pseudoscience: Brain Gender

Ah, how naturally the stereotypes fit into place.

The following is a direct quote from the first chapter of Brizendine’s book “The Female Brain“:

“Males’ and females’ brains are different by nature. Think about this. What if the communication center is bigger in one brain than in the other? What if the emotional memory center is bigger in one than in the other? What if one brain develops a greater ability to read cues in people than does the other? In this case, you would have a person whose reality dictated that communication, connection, emotional sensitivity, and responsiveness were the primary values. This person would prize these qualities above all others and be baffled by a person with a brain that didn’t grasp the importance of these qualities. In essence, you would have someone with a female brain.”

The sheer pretense of her rationale and ridiculousness of her conclusion in the final sentence almost tangibly blows my hair back like a cacophonous explosion of nonsense—I don’t even know where to begin. Before even entering into the serious implications about gender and the brain that she throws about so easily, the terms “communication center” and “emotional memory center” jump right out at you. It’s as if when doctors first removed the top of the skull to observe the tissues of the brain there were bold, highlighted labels on each section stating its exclusive and autonomous function. They merely had to sketch a diagram and jot down nature’s labeling scheme: the lump over there had “Communication Center” written across it, the fold over here had “Center for Humor and Sarcasm,” and the notch at the back said plainly “Emotional Memory Center.” No. Last time I checked, human communication was a little bit more complicated than a hormone or a region of neurons. Communication, emotion, and memory are not simple computational functions that occupy a little niche of the brain like the distributor occupies a little niche of an automobile. Scientists do not even purport to understand the scope of how communication and emotion are handled by the brain, let alone which specific regions handle what. It has been shown that the logistics of language syntax seem to be partly associated with certain areas in the brain, but that says nothing as to how one produces intelligent sentences. There’s a big difference between what enables you to put words in the proper grammatical order and what enables you to express your ideas.

Further venturing into the mine field of Brizendine’s quote calls into question the size of these apparent “centers” for brain functioning. There simply isn’t any substantive evidence that whether the regions she might be referring to are larger or more pronounced as a trend in one sex or the other has anything to do with greater ability. Also, she implies quite strongly that such differences (if they did exist) are the result of evolution as opposed to developmental changes. Again, there’s no scientific data to support the claim that females evolved to be more social than men. She also states that the female brain has a greater ability to read cues in people, but it has been shown that such perceptive abilities vary far more greatly within a gender than across genders. Additionally, what sort of “cues” are being referred to and how inherently gender-biased are the tests that are being done? What men look for in each other and what women look for in each other is likely have some degree of difference. If the types of “cues” were changed, men might appear much more observant than women. It’s all relative.

You have to understand that it doesn’t necessarily do any good at all to observe sex-related differences in the functioning of adult brains. We know that everyone assumes there are some tendencies that seem to better characterize women (empathizers, they say) and some traits that better characterize men (systemizers, they say). If we see some trace of these generalizations in the laboratory, it doesn’t mean anything. All that was shown was that, yes, this female subject appears to think differently than this male subject does, and, yes, it seems to partially agree with gender stereotypes. Unless their personalities were exactly identical, we already knew that! So, what does such a study NOT tell us anything about or provide any evidence whatsoever for? It does not show that the female brain is designed differently than the male. It does not show that the brain evolved to have gender specific differences. It does not show that a female is predisposed to think differently than a male. It does not show that one sex inherently possesses a greater affinity for anything than the other. It does not give any reason to believe that a female is born to be mentally distinguishable from a male. In other words, it offers no evidence that any and all gender differences are not the result of developmental differences—basically that girls are conditioned to be girls and boys are conditioned to be boys; the brain may well be genderless until conditioning.

Finally, it is inherently wrong to connect observed mental-emotional “qualities” with brain sex. They vary far more on an individual basis, to the point that comparisons between sexes become very difficult. It is not valid, scientifically or ethically, to assume that society’s stereotypical sense of gender is rooted in nature, evolution, and DNA. Rather than shackle a human being in pseudoscientific gender roles, we should focus on the untapped potential for the human mind to be anything it chooses.

Posted in Gender, People, Science | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments