Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"The Brain with David Eagleman": inborn neural circuits explain social interaction, susceptibility to propaganda, and the price of giftedness

Tonight, WETA on PBS aired “The Brain with David Eagleman” (link), an episode called “Why Do I Need You?” The program was sponsored by the American Brain Foundation.

Eagleman explored how the brains of human beings do seem to be pre-wired to read each other for social cues, even on the basis of children with little accumulated opportunity to learn interactions.

The prewiring also enables people to empathize with fictional characters in books or movies, and is the basis of much entertainment.

People with less pre-wiring seem to have trouble picking up social cues and are sometimes viewed as having mild forms of development disorder, autism, called Asperger syndrome.

On the other hand, others the lack of empathy for others results in psychopathy.  But people with Asperger would seem often to develop empathy on a moral and intellectual behavior, so they still follow behavior according to an expected moral compass.  Sometimes less immediacy in receiving visual cues about others allows one more energy to develop one’s own gifts, in intellectual or artistic pursuits.

Eagleman went on to explain group behavior in terms of neurology, even genocide or ethnic cleansing.  He explained the way propaganda works at a neurological level, which is why it is so important to dictators (most recently Vladimir Putin, who sees gay rights in terms of “propaganda” rather than intellect).  Propaganda can be overcome by education, and some people are obviously less easily influenced by it than others, based on both education and genetics.

It would be interesting to see what Eagleman comes up with regarding sexual orientation and gender identity (two separate concepts).

An earlier episode “What Makes Me?” purports to explain individual consciousness and identity in terms of the wiring image accumulation of every experience a person has, which can never again be duplicated by anyone else.  Does the memory survive as a afterlife?

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