The Breast To Rule Them All

The breast is best. That signifies the central importance of breastfeeding. But one could also take it as pointing to our cultural obsession with human mammary glands, something not shared by all cultures. I’m going to make the argument that the breast, at least in American society, is the main site of social control. Before making my case, let me explore what social control has meant, as society has developed over the millennia.

There is a connection between social control and self-control. The most extreme forms of this dualistic dynamic is authoritarianism and hyper-individualism (Westworld, Scripts, and Freedom), the reason liberty has a close relationship to slavery (Liberty, Freedom, and Fairness). In reading Julian Jaynes’ classic, he makes this clear, although he confuses the matter a bit. He sometimes refers to the early Bronze Age societies as ‘authoritarian’, but he definitely does not mean totalitarianism, something that only describes the civilizations that followed later on. In the broader usage, the word ‘authoritarianism’ is sometimes tinged with his notions of archaic authorization and collective cognitive imperative (“Beyond that, there is only awe.”). The authority in question, as Jaynes argued, are the external or dispersed voices that early humans heard and followed (as today we hear and follow the voices in our own metaphorical “inner space”, what we call thoughts or what Jaynes referred to as self-authorization; The Spell of Inner Speech). Without an archaic authorization heard in the world allowing social order to emerge organically, an authoritarian system has to enforce the social order from above: “the ultimate power of authoritarianism, as Jaynes makes clear, isn’t overt force and brute violence. Outward forms of power are only necessary to the degree that external authorization is relatively weak, as is typically the case in modern societies” (“Beyond that, there is only awe.”).

And the ego is this new form of authoritarian power internalized, a monotheistic demiurge to rule over the inner world. Totalitarianism turns in on itself and becomes Jaynesian consciousness, a totalizing field of identity, but the bicameral mind continues to lurk in the shadows, something any aspiring authoritarian can take advantage of (Ben G. Price, Authoritarian Grammar and Fundamentalist Arithmetic). “We are all potential goosestepping authoritarian followers, waiting for the right conditions to bring our primal natures out into the open. With the fiery voice of authority, we can be quickly lulled into compliance by an inspiring or invigorating vision […] The danger is that the more we idolize individuality the more prone we become to what is so far beyond the individual. It is the glare of hyper-individualism that casts the shadow of authoritarianism” (Music and Dance on the Mind).

The practice of literally carving laws into stone came rather late in the Bronze Age, during the period that preceded the near total collapse of all the major societies. That totalitarianism then, as today, coincided with brutality and oppression — never before seen in the historical record. Authoritarianism as totalitarianism apparently was something new in human experience. That might be because totalitarianism requires higher levels of abstraction, such as dogmatic laws that are envisioned and enforced as universal truths, principle, and commandments. Such abstract thinking was encouraged by the spread of more complex writing (e.g., literature), beyond what earlier had been primarily limited to minimalistic record-keeping. Individualism, as I said, also arose out of this violent birth of what would eventually mature into the Axial Age. It was the radically emergent individual, after all, that needed to be controlled. We now take this all for granted, the way the world is.

There was authority as archaic authorization prior to any hint of totalitarianism, but I question if it is useful to speak of it as authoritarianism. The earliest civilizations were mostly city-states, closer to hunter-gather tribes than to anything we’d recognize in the later vast empires or in our modern nation-states. Even in gaining the capacity for great achievements, the earliest civilizations remained rather basic in form. Consider the impressive Egyptian kingdoms that, having constructed vast stone monuments, didn’t even bother to build roads and bridges. They were such a small population so tightly clustered together in that narrow patch of fertility surrounded and protected by desert that nothing more complex was required. There weren’t the vast distances of a centralized government, the disconnections between complex hierarchies, nor numerous specialized social roles beyond the immediate work at hand. These societies were small and simple, the conditions necessary for their maintaining order through social identity, through the conformity of groupthink and cultural worldview, rather than violent force. Besides lacking written laws, they also lacked police forces and standing armies. They were loosely organized communities, having originated as informal settlements that had become permanent over time.

Now back to the breast, the first source of sustenance and nurturance. Unfortunately, we don’t have any idea about what the ancients might have thought of the breast as a focus of concern, although Jaynes did have some fascinating thoughts about the naked body and sexuality. As totalitarianism appeared late, so did pornography in the broad sense as found in portrayals of sex engraved in stone, around the same time that laws also were being engraved. With fantasies of sexuality, there was sin that needed to be controlled, guilt that needed to be punished, and the laws to achieve this end. It was all of a single package, an emergent worldview and way of being, an anxiety-driven self-consciousness.

Lacking a time travel machine, the next best option is to look at other societies that challenge biases of Western modernity, specifically here in the United States. Let me begin with American society. First off, I’d note that with the Puritan comes the prurient. Americans are obsessed with all things sexual. And so the sexual has a way of pervading our society. Even something so innocent as the female breast, designed by evolution to feed infants, somehow becomes a sexual object. That projection of lust and shame isn’t seen in all societies. In hunter-gatherer tribes, it is common for the breast to have no grand significance at all. The weirdness doesn’t end there. We don’t have to look to tribal people to find cultures that aren’t sexually prudish. Among some traditional cultures in Asia and elsewhere, even the touching of someone else’s genitals doesn’t necessarily express sexual intentions, as instead it can be a way of greeting someone or showing fondness for a family member. But admittedly, the cultures that seem the most foreign to us are those that have remained the most isolated from Western influences.

The Piraha, according to Daniel Everett, are rather relaxed about sex and sexuality (Dark Matter of the Mind). It’s not that they typically have sex out in the open, except during communal dances when orgies sometimes occur, but their lifestyle doesn’t accord much privacy. Talking about sex is no big deal and children are exposed to it from a young age. Sexuality is considered a normal part of life, certainly not something to be shamed or repressed. As with some other societies, sexual play is common and not always leading to sex. That is true among both adults and children, including what Westerners would call pedophilia. A child groping an adults genitals is not considered a big deal to them. And certainly there is no issue with two children dry-humping each other or whatever, as children are wont to do in their curiosity and budding sexuality. Sex is so common among the Piraha that potential sexual partners are more available, such as with a cousin, step-sibling, or step-parent. The main restrictions are between full siblings and between a child and a biological parent or grandparent. This is a close-knit community.

“The Pirahãs all seem to be intimate friends,” writes Everett, “no matter what village they come from. Pirahãs talk as though they know every other Pirahã extremely well. I suspect that this may be related to their physical connections. Given the lack of stigma attached to and the relative frequency of divorce, promiscuousness associated with dancing and singing, and post- and prepubescent sexual experimentation, it isn’t far off the mark to conjecture that many Pirahãs have had sex with a high percentage of the other Pirahãs. This alone means that their relationships will be based on an intimacy unfamiliar to larger societies (the community that sleeps together stays together?). Imagine if you’d had sex with a sizable percentage of the residents of your neighborhood and that this fact was judged by the entire society as neither good nor bad, just a fact about life— like saying you’ve tasted many kinds of food” (Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, p. 88).

[As a quick note, the Piraha have some interesting practices with breastfeeding. When hunting, orphaned animals sometimes are brought back to the village and breastfed alongside human offspring, one at each breast. These human-raised animals will often be eaten later on. But that must create another kind of intimacy for babies and toddlers, a kind of intimacy that includes other species. The toddler who is weaned might have as one of his first meals the meat of the animal that was his early playmate or at least breast-mate. Their diet, as with their entire lifestyle, is intimate in numerous ways.]

That offers quite the contrast to our own society. Appropriate ways of relating and touching are much more constrained (certainly, breastfeeding other species is not typical for American mothers). Not only would an adult Westerner be imprisoned for touching a child’s genitalia and a child severely chastised for touching an adult’s genitalia, two children would be shamed for touching one another or even for touching themselves. Think about that. Think about all of the children over the generations who have been ridiculed, screamed at, spanked, beaten, or otherwise traumatized for simply touching themselves or innocently playing with another child. Every form of touch is potentially fraught and becoming ever more fraught over time. This surely causes immense fear and anxiety in children raised in such a society. A psychological scarification forms into thick egoic boundaries, the individual isolated and separate from all others. It is the foot-binding of the human mind.

There is one and only one form of touch young children in the West are almost always guaranteed. They can breastfeed. They are allowed human contact with their mother’s breast. And it has become increasingly common for breastfeeding to extend for the first several years. All of the psychic energy that has few other human outlets of skin-to-skin contact gets narrowed down to the mother’s breast. The potency of this gets underestimated, as it makes many of us uncomfortable to think about it. Consider that a significant number of mothers have experienced an orgasm while breastfeeding. This happens often enough to be well within the range of a normal biological response, assuming it’s not cultural. Yet such widespread experience is likely to be judged as perverse, either by the mother in judging herself or by others if she were ever to admit to it. The breast becomes a site of shame, even as it is a site of desire.

Then, as part of weening, the child is given a pacifier. All the psychic energy that was limited to the breast then gets transferred to an inanimate object (Pacifiers, Individualism & Enculturation). The argument for pacifiers is that they’re self-soothing, but when you think about that, it is rather demented. Young children need parents and other adults to soothe them. For them to not be able to rely upon others in this basic human need creates a psychological crisis. The pacifier lacks any human quality, any nurturance or nutrient. It is empty and that emptiness is internalized. The child becomes identified with the pacifier as object. The egoic-self becomes an object with a part of the psyche that stands outside of itself (what Jaynes refers to as the analogous ‘I’ and metaphorical ‘me’) — the bundled mind becomes a splintered self (Bundle Theory: Embodied Mind, Social Nature). This is extremely bizarre, an expression of WEIRD culture (western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic; although the last part is questionable in the case of the United States). Until quite recently in the scheme of history and evolution, regular intimacy among humans was the norm. The first pacifier wasn’t used until 1935.

So, even in the West, some of these changes don’t go back very far. A certain kind of prudishness was introduced to the Western mind with Christianity, one of the transformative effects of the Axial Age. But even then, sexuality was much more relaxed in the Western world for a long time after that. “As late as Feudalism, heavily Christianized Europe offered little opportunity for privacy and maintained a relatively open attitude about sexuality during many public celebrations, specifically Carnival, and they spent an amazing amount of their time in public celebrations. Barbara Ehrenreich describes this ecstatic communality in Dancing in the Streets. Like the Piraha, these earlier Europeans had a more social and fluid sense of identity” (Hunger for Connection).  It is no surprise that, as more open sexuality and ecstatic communality declined, modern hyper-individualism followed. Some like to praise the Western mind as more fluid (Ricardo Duchesne, The Higher Cognitive Fluidity of the European Mind), but for the same reason it is also more unstable and sometimes self-destructive. Individuality, in its insatiable hunger, cannibalizes its own social foundation.

* * *

It occurs to me that this breast obsession is another example of symbolic conflation. As I’ve often explained, a symbolic conflation is the central way of maintaining social order. And the body is the primary field of their operation, typically involving highly potent focal points involving sexuality (e.g., abortion). The symbolic conflation obscures and distracts from the real issues and points of conflict. Obviously, the female breast becomes a symbol of something far beyond its evolutionary and biological reality as mammalian mammary gland.

* * *

Do Other Cultures Allow Sex Acts to Calm Babies?
It depends on how you define “sex act.”
by Cecil Adams

Not to go all Bill Clinton on you, but we need to define what we mean by “performing a sexual act.” For now let’s just say that, based strictly on appearances, some cultures tolerate stuff that in the United States would get you branded as a pervert. Examples:

In 2006 a Cambodian immigrant living in the Las Vegas area was charged with sexual assault for allegedly performing fellatio on her 6-year-old son. The woman’s attorney said what she’d actually done was kiss the kid’s penis, once, when he was 4 or 5. A spokesperson for the Cambodian Association of America said that while this kind of thing wasn’t widespread in Cambodia, some rural folk went in for it as an expression of love or respect, although in his experience never with children older than 1 or maybe 2.

En route to being elected U.S. senator from Virginia in 2006, Jim Webb, onetime Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, was lambasted by his opponent for a passage in his 2001 novel Lost Soldiers in which a Thai man picks up his naked young son and puts his penis in his mouth. Webb responded that he had personally witnessed such a greeting in a Bangkok slum.

Numerous ethnographers report that mothers and caregivers in rural New Guinea routinely fondle the genitals of infants and toddlers of both sexes. In the case of boys this supposedly aids the growth of the penis. It’s often done in public and is a source of great amusement.

The Telegu-speaking people of central India dote on the penises of boys up through age six, which they hold, rub, and kiss. (Girls escape with minor same-sex touching.) A typical greeting involves an adult grabbing a boy’s arm with one hand and his penis with the other.

A 1946 report claimed that among lower-class Japanese families, parents would play with the genitals of children to help them fall asleep, and a researcher visiting Japan in the 1930s noted that mothers played with the genitals of their sons.

I didn’t make an exhaustive search and so don’t know to what extent such things occur in Latin America, Europe, Australia, or elsewhere. However, it appears that:

Fooling with kids’ privates is a fairly widespread practice in Asia, particularly among people toward the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. The reports are too numerous and credible for them all to be dismissed as the ravings of hysterical Westerners. My surmise is that, as societies become more westernized, urban, and affluent, the practice dies out.

The acts are sexual in the sense that those doing the fondling are well aware of the sexual implications and find it droll to give a little boy an erection.

Lurid tales occasionally do surface. Reports of mother-son incest were briefly faddish in Japanese magazines in the 1980s. These stories played off the unflattering Japanese stereotype of the mother obsessed with getting her son into a top school, suggesting some “education mamas” would violate the ultimate taboo to help their horny pubescent boys stay relaxed and focused on studying. A few Westerners have taken these urban legends at face value. Lloyd deMause, founder of and prolific contributor to a publication called the Journal of Psychohistory, cites the Japanese mother-son stories as prime evidence in his account of what he calls “the universality of incest.” It’s pretty clear, however, that incest inspires as much revulsion in Japan as anywhere else.

A less excitable take on things is that Asian societies just aren’t as hung up about matters of the flesh as we Western prudes are. In Japan, mixed-sex naked public bathing was fairly common until the postwar occupation, and some families bathe together now if they have a big enough tub. Nonetheless, so far as I can determine, Asian societies have always drawn a bright line between fooling around with babies and toddlers and having sex with your kids. If Westerners can’t fathom that elementary distinction, well, whose problem is that?

Dark Matter of the Mind
by Daniel L. Everett
Kindle Location 2688-2698

These points of group attachment are strengthened during the children’s maturation through other natural experiences of community life as the children learn their language, the configuration of their village and to sleep on the ground or on rough, uneven wooden platforms made from branches or saplings. As with other children of traditional societies, Pirahã young people experience the biological aspects of life with far less buffering than Western children. They remember these experiences, consciously or unconsciously, even though these apperceptions are not linguistic.

Pirahã children observe their parents’ physical activities in ways that children from more buffered societies do not (though often similar to the surrounding cultures just mentioned). They regularly see and hear their parents and other members of the village engage in sex (though Pirahã adults are modest by most standards, there is still only so much privacy available in a world without walls and locked doors), eliminate bodily waste, bathe, die, suffer severe pain without medication, and so on. 8 They know that their parents are like them. A small toddler will walk up to its mother while she is talking, making a basket, or spinning cotton and pull her breast out of the top of her dress (Pirahã women use only one dress design for all), and nurse— its mother’s body is its own in this respect. This access to the mother’s body is a form of entitlement and strong attachment.

Kindle Location 2736-2745

Sexual behavior is another behavior distinguishing Pirahãs from most middle-class Westerners early on. A young Pirahã girl of about five years came up to me once many years ago as I was working and made crude sexual gestures, holding her genitalia and thrusting them at me repeatedly, laughing hysterically the whole time. The people who saw this behavior gave no sign that they were bothered. Just child behavior, like picking your nose or farting. Not worth commenting about.

But the lesson is not that a child acted in a way that a Western adult might find vulgar. Rather, the lesson, as I looked into this, is that Pirahã children learn a lot more about sex early on, by observation, than most American children. Moreover, their acquisition of carnal knowledge early on is not limited to observation. A man once introduced me to a nine- or ten-year-old girl and presented her as his wife. “But just to play,” he quickly added. Pirahã young people begin to engage sexually, though apparently not in full intercourse, from early on. Touching and being touched seem to be common for Pirahã boys and girls from about seven years of age on. They are all sexually active by puberty, with older men and women frequently initiating younger girls and boys, respectively. There is no evidence that the children then or as adults find this pedophilia the least bit traumatic.

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes
by Daniel L. Everett
pp. 82-84

Sex and marriage also involve no ritual that I can see. Although Pirahãs are reluctant to discuss their own intimate sexual details, they have done so in general terms on occasion. They refer to cunnilingus and fellatio as “licking like dogs,” though this comparison to animal behavior is not intended to denigrate the act at all. They consider animals good examples of how to live. Sexual intercourse is described as eating the other. “I ate him” or “I ate her” means “I had sexual intercourse with him or her.” The Pirahãs quite enjoy sex and allude to it or talk about others’ sexual activity freely.

Sex is not limited to spouses, though that is the norm for married men and women. Unmarried Pirahãs have sex as they wish. To have sex with someone else’s spouse is frowned upon and can be risky, but it happens. If the couple is married to each other, they will just walk off in the forest a ways to have sex. The same is true if neither member of the couple is married. If one or both members of the couple are married to someone else, however, they will usually leave the village for a few days. If they return and remain together, the old partners are thereby divorced and the new couple is married. First marriages are recognized simply by cohabitation. If they do not choose to remain together, then the cuckolded spouses may or may not choose to allow them back. Whatever happens, there is no further mention of it or complaint about it, at least not openly, once the couple has returned. However, while the lovers are absent from the village, their spouses search for them, wail, and complain loudly to everyone. Sometimes the spouses left behind asked me to take them in my motorboat to search for the missing partners, but I never did. […]

During the dance, a Pirahã woman asked me, “Do you only lie on top of one woman? Or do you want to lie on others?”
“I just lie on one. I don’t want others.”
“He doesn’t want other women,” she announced.
“Does Keren like other men?”
“No, she just wants me,” I responded as a good Christian husband.

Sexual relations are relatively free between unmarried individuals and even between individuals married to other partners during village dancing and singing, usually during full moons. Aggression is observed from time to time, from mild to severe (Keren witnessed a gang rape of a young unmarried girl by most of the village men). But aggression is never condoned and it is very rare.

p. 88

The Pirahãs all seem to be intimate friends, no matter what village they come from. Pirahãs talk as though they know every other Pirahã extremely well. I suspect that this may be related to their physical connections. Given the lack of stigma attached to and the relative frequency of divorce, promiscuousness associated with dancing and singing, and post- and prepubescent sexual experimentation, it isn’t far off the mark to conjecture that many Pirahãs have had sex with a high percentage of the other Pirahãs. This alone means that their relationships will be based on an intimacy unfamiliar to larger societies (the community that sleeps together stays together?). Imagine if you’d had sex with a sizable percentage of the residents of your neighborhood and that this fact was judged by the entire society as neither good nor bad, just a fact about life— like saying you’ve tasted many kinds of food.

pp. 102-105

Again, couples initiate cohabitation and procreation without ceremony. If they are unattached at the time, they simply begin to live together in the same house. If they are married, they first disappear from the village for two to four days, while their former spouses call for and search for them. Upon their return, they begin a new household or, if it was just a “fling,” return to their previous spouses. There is almost never any retaliation from the cuckolded spouses against those with whom their spouses have affairs. Relations between men and women and boys and girls, whether married or not, are always cordial and often marked by light to heavy flirting.

Sexually it is the same. So long as children are not forced or hurt, there is no prohibition against their participating in sex with adults. I remember once talking to Xisaoxoi, a Pirahã man in his late thirties, when a nine- or ten-year-old girl was standing beside him. As we talked, she rubbed her hands sensually over his chest and back and rubbed his crotch area through his thin, worn nylon shorts. Both were enjoying themselves.

“What’s she doing?” I asked superfluously.
“Oh, she’s just playing. We play together. When she’s big she will be my wife” was his nonchalant reply— and, indeed, after the girl went through puberty, they were married.

Marriage itself among the Pirahãs, like marriage in all cultures, comes with sets of mores that are enforced in different ways. People often ask me, for example, how the Pirahãs deal with infidelity in marriage. So how would this couple, the relatively old man and the young girl, deal with infidelity? They would deal with it like other Pirahãs, in what I take to be a very civilized fashion.

The solution or response to infidelity can even be humorous. One morning I walked over to my friend Kóhoibiíihíai’s home to ask him to teach me more of his language. As I approached his hut, everything looked pretty normal. His wife, Xíbaihóíxoi, was sitting up and he was lying down with his head in her lap.

“Hey, can you help me learn Pirahã words today?” I inquired.

He started to raise his head to answer. Then I noticed that Xíbaihóíxoi was holding him by the hair of his head. As he tried to raise his head, she jerked his head back by the hair, picked up a stick at her side and started whacking him irregularly on the top of his head, occasionally hitting him in the face. He laughed hard, but not too hard, because she jerked his hair every time he moved.

“My wife won’t let me go anywhere,” he said, giggling.

His wife was smirking but the grin disappeared right away and she struck him harder. Some of those whacks looked pretty painful to me. Kóhoi wasn’t in the best position to talk, so I left and found Xahoábisi, another good language teacher. He could work with me, he said.

As we walked back to my house together, I asked, “So what is going on with Kóhoibiíihíai? Xíbaihóíxoi is holding down his head and hitting him with a stick.”
“Oh, he was playing with another woman last night,” Xahoábisi chortled. “So this morning his woman is mad at him. He can’t go anywhere today.”

The fact that Kóhoi, a strong man and a fearless hunter, would lie like that all day and allow his wife to whack him at will (three hours later I revisited them and they were in the same position) was clearly partly voluntary penance. But it was partly a culturally prescribed remedy. I have since seen other men endure the same treatment.

By the next day, all seemed well. I didn’t hear of Kóhoi playing around with women again for quite a while after that. A nifty way to solve marital problems, I thought. It doesn’t always work, of course. There are divorces (without ceremony) among the Pirahãs. But this form of punishment for straying is effective. The woman can express her anger tangibly and the husband can show her he is sorry by letting her bang away on his head at will for a day. It is important to note that this involves no shouting or overt anger. The giggling, smirking, and laughter are all necessary components of the process, since anger is the cardinal sin among the Pirahãs. Female infidelity is also fairly common. When this happens the man looks for his wife. He may say something mean or threatening to the male who cuckolded him. But violence against anyone, children or adults, is unacceptable to the Pirahãs.

Other observations of Pirahã sexuality were a bit more shocking to my Christian sensibilities, especially when they involved clashes between our culture and Pirahã values. One afternoon during our second family stay among the Pirahãs, I walked out of the back room of our split-wood and thatched-roof home on the Maici into the central area of the house, which had no walls and in practice belonged more to the Pirahãs than to us. Shannon was staring at two Pirahã men lying on the floor in front of her. They were laughing, with their shorts pulled down around their ankles, each grabbing the other’s genitals and slapping each other on the back, rolling about the floor. Shannon grinned at me when I walked in. As a product of sexophobic American culture, I was shocked. “Hey, don’t do that in front of my daughter!” I yelled indignantly.

They stopped giggling and looked up at me. “Don’t do what?”
“That, what you’re doing, grabbing each other by the penis.”
“Oh,” they said, looking rather puzzled. “He doesn’t like to see us have fun with each other.” They pulled their pants up and, ever adaptable to new circumstances, changed the subject and asked me if I had any candy.

I never really needed to tell Shannon or her siblings much about human reproduction, death, or other biological processes. They got a pretty good idea of all that from watching the Pirahãs.

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
by Julian Jaynes
pp. 465-470

From Mating to “Sex”

The third example I would consider here is the affect of mating. It is similar in some respects to other affects but in other ways quite distinct. Animal studies show that mating, contrary to what the popular mind thinks, is not a necessary drive that builds up like hunger or thirst (although it seems so because of consciousness), but an elaborate behavior pattern waiting to be triggered off by very specific stimuli. Mating in most animals is thus confined to certain appropriate times of the year or day as well as to certain appropriate sets of stimuli as in another’s behavior, or pheromones, light conditions, privacy, security, and many other variables. These include the enormous variety of extremely complicated courtship procedures that for rather subtle evolutionary advantages seem in many animals almost designed to prevent mating rather than to encourage it, as one might expect from an oversimplified idea of the workings of natural selection. Among the anthropoid apes, in contrast to other primates, mating is so rare in the natural habitat as to have baffled early ethologists as to how these most human-like species reproduced at all. So too perhaps with bicameral man.

But when human beings can be conscious about their mating behavior, can reminisce about it in the past and imagine it in the future, we are in a very different world, indeed, one that seems more familiar to us. Try to imagine what your “sexual life” would be if you could not fantasize about sex.

What is the evidence for this change? Scholars of the ancient world, I think, would agree that the murals and sculptures of what I’m calling the bicameral world, that is, before 1000B.C., are chaste; depictions with sexual references are scarcely existent, although there are exceptions. The modest, innocent murals from bicameral Thera now on the second floor of the National Museum in Athens are good examples.

But with the coming of consciousness, particularly in Greece, where the evidence is most clear, the remains of these early Greek societies are anything but chaste. 25 Beginning with seventh century B.C. vase paintings, with the depictions of ithyphallic satyrs, new, semidivine beings, sex seems indeed a prominent concern. And I mean to use the word concern, for it does not at first seem to be simply pornographic excitement. For example, on one island in the Aegean, Delos, is a temple of huge phallic erections.

Boundary stones all over Attica were in the form of what are called herms: square stone posts about four feet high, topped with a sculptured head usually of Hermes and, at the appropriate height, the only other sculptured feature of the post, a penile erection. Not only were these herms not laughter-producing, as they certainly would be to children of today, they were regarded as serious and important, since in Plato’s Symposium “the mutilation of the herms” by the drunken general Alcibiades, in which he evidently knocked off these protuberances with his sword around the city of Athens, is regarded as a sacrilege.

Erect phalli of stone or other material have been found in large numbers in the course of excavations. There were amulets of phalli. Vase paintings show naked female dancers swinging a phallus in a Dionysian cult. One inscription describes the measures to be taken even in times of war to make sure that the phallus procession should be led safely into the city. Colonies were obliged to send phalli to Athens for the great Dionysian festivals. Even Aristotle refers to phallic farces or satyr plays which generally followed the ritual performances of the great tragedies.

If this were all, we might be able to agree with older Victorian interpretations that this phallicism was merely an objective fertility rite. But the evidence from actual sexual behavior following the advent of conscious fantasy speaks otherwise. Brothels, supposedly instituted by Solon, were everywhere and of every kind by the fourth century B.C. Vase paintings depict every possible sexual behavior from masturbation to bestiality to human threesomes, as well as homosexuality in every possible form.

The latter indeed began only at this time, due, I suggest, in part to the new human ability to fantasize. Homosexuality is utterly absent from the Homeric poems. This is contrary to what some recent Freudian interpretations and even classical references of this period (particularly after its proscription by Plato in The Laws as being contrary to physis, or nature), seeking authorization for homosexuality in Homer, having projected into the strong bonding between Achilles and Patroclus.

And again I would have you consider the problem twenty-five hundred years ago, when human beings were first conscious and could first fantasize about sex, of how they learned to control sexual behavior to achieve a stable society. Particularly because erectile tissue in the male is more prominent than in the female, and that feedback from even partial erections would promote the continuance of sexual fantasy (a process called recruitment), we might expect that this was much more of a male problem than a female one. Perhaps the social customs that came into being for such control resulted in the greater social separation of the sexes (which was certainly obvious by the time of Plato) as well as an enhanced male dominance. We can think of modern orthodox Muslim societies in this respect, in which an exposed female ankle or lock of hair is punishable by law.

I certainly will admit that there are large vacant places in the evidence for what I am saying. And of course there are other affects, like anger becoming our hatred, or more positive ones like excitement with the magical touch of consciousness becoming joy, or affiliation consciousized into love. I have chosen anxiety, guilt, and sex as the most socially important. Readers of a Freudian persuasion will note that their theorizing could begin here. I hope that these hypotheses can provide historians more competent than myself with a new way of looking at this extremely important period of human history, when so much of what we regard as modern psychology and personality was being formed for the first time.

Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness
ed. by Marcel Kuijsten
Chapter 1 – Julian Jaynes: Introducing His Life and Thought
by William R. Woodward & June F. Tower
Kindle Location 1064-1079

Jaynes gave an overview of the “consequences of consciousness.” Here he seems to have been developing the feeling side of consciousness in its evolution during the first millennium b.c. He reminded his audience of the historical origins of shame in human and animal experience:

Think of primary school, toilet accidents. Think how painful it was. … If you say to a dog, “bad dog,” he wonders what he did wrong. He puts his tail between his legs and crawls off. It is such a biological part of us that we are ashamed to admit it. … Guilt is the consciousness of shame over time. 58

For Jaynes, the Bible remains our best source on ideas of sin. He lectured that “sin is an awful word for it,” but “the whole Hebrew Bible is talking about the importance of guilt.” He asked rhetorically “how do you get rid of guilt?” and then answered that “it is very interesting to remember what Paul makes of the crucifixion of Jesus: Jesus was taking away the sins of the world.”

After shame and guilt, he went on to the consequences of consciousness in “mating and sex, which is one of the interesting things to us.” Theoretically, that is. Julian hastened to point out that “if you go back to the bicameral world, all the art is extremely chaste. … Then if you go to the Greek world that begins around 700 b.c., it is anything but. You have never seen anything so dirty. … There were brothels at this time. It happens in the Etruscans. You find these very gross sexual scenes. So I am saying that sex is a very different thing than it was before.” What is the significance of all this lewdness appearing in human history? “You can imagine what your own sex life would be if you could not fantasize about it. This is consciousness coming in and influencing our behavior, and our physiology. Here we have consciousness, and guilt, and sex, and anxiety.” 59

The Julian Jaynes Collection
ed. by Marcel Kuijsten
Chapter 14 – Imagination and the Dance of the Self
pp. 209-212

It is similar with love, although there are differences. It is a little more difficult to talk about. We have affiliation responses in animals (or imprinting, which I have studied) where animals have a very powerful impulse to stay together. But this becomes our complicated kind of love when we can imagine the loved person and go back and forth in our imagination about them.

Similarly — and interestingly — with sex. If you look at the comparative psychology of sexual behavior in animals, it is very clear that this is not an open kind of behavior that happens any time or anything like that. It is cued ethologically into certain kinds of stimuli. So you have to have just the right kind of situation in order for animals to mate.

This is a problem that happens in every zoo: as soon as they get new animals, they want to mate them and have progeny. It is a tremendous problem, because you don’t know ethologically what those tiny cues are — they might be temperature or darkness or whatnot. For human beings it might be moonlight and roses [laughs], but it is this kind of thing that you find evolved into animal behavior.

I tend to think that in bicameral times mating was very similar to what it is in animals in that sense. It was cued into moonlight and roses shall I say, and not otherwise. Therefore it was not a problem in a way. Now, when human beings become conscious, have imagination, and can fantasize about sex, it becomes what we mean in quotes “sex.” Which I think is a problem in the sense that it does not ever quite fit into our conscious society. We go back and forward in history from having a free sex age and then a clamping down of Ms. Grundy 2 and Queen Victoria and so on. It goes back and forth because sex to us is tremendously more important than it was to bicameral man because we can fantasize about it.

Now similarly as I mentioned with the Oedipus story and the idea of guilt, we should be able to go back into history and find evidence for this. The evidence that I found for this — and I should be studying it in different cultures — is again in Greece. If you talk to Greek art historians and you ask them to compare, for example, Greek vase painting of the conscious era with the vase painting or other kinds of painting that went on in what I call the bicameral period — either in Minoan art in Crete or the famous murals that were found in Thera — they will all tell you that there is a big distinction. The older art is chaste, there is nothing about sex in it. But then you come to the vase paintings of Greece. We often think of Greece in terms of Plato and Aristotle and so on, and we do not realize that sex was something very different. For example, they have all of these satyrs with penile erections on their vases and odd things like that. Another example are things called herms. Most people have not heard of them. All the boundary stones of the city were stones about four feet in height called herms. They are called herms, by us anyway, because they were just posts that very often they had a sculpture of Hermes at the top — but sometimes of other people. Then at the appropriate place — the body was just a column — there was a penile erection. I do not think we would find Athens back in these early conscious times very congenial.

These were all over the city of Athens. They were at the boundary stones everywhere. If you think of them being around nowadays you can imagine children giggling and so on. It is enough to make you realize that these people, even at this time, the time of Plato and Aristotle, were very different than we are. And if you read Plato you can find that one of the great crimes of Alcibiades — the Greek general that comes into several of the dialogues — is this terrible, frightful night when he got drunk and went and mutilated the herms. You can imagine what he was knocking off. This is hard for us to realize, because it again makes this point that these people are still not like us even though they are conscious. Because they are new to these emotions. I do not mean to intimate that Greek life was sexually free all over the place because I don’t think that was the case. If you read Kenneth Dover’s 3 classic work about Greek homosexuality, for example, you see it is very different from the gay liberation movement that we can find going on in our country right now. It is a very tame kind of thing.

I don’t think we really understand what is going on. There is the evidence, it is there in vase paintings, it is there in Greek times, but there is something we still do not fully understand about it. But it is different from the bicameral period. We have a different kind of human nature here, and it is against this that we look at where the self can come from.

Chapter 27 – Baltimore Radio Interview: Interview by Robert Lopez
pp. 447-448

Jaynes: Yes indeed. And it happens with other emotions. Fear becomes anxiety. At the same time we have a huge change in sexual behavior. If you try to sit down and imagine what your sexual life would be like if you couldn’t fantasize about it. It’s a hard thing to do, and you probably would think it would be much less, and I suspect it would be. If we go back to bicameral times, and look at all the artwork, wherever we look, there is nothing sexual about it. There is no pornography or anything even reminiscent of that at all. It’s what classicists call chaste. But when we come into the first conscious period, for example in Greece from 700 b.c . up to 200 or 100 b.c . — the sexual life in Greece is difficult to describe because we are taught of great, noble Perician Athens and we don’t think of the sexual symbols … phalli of all kinds were just simply everywhere. This has been well documented now but it’s not something that’s presented to schoolchildren.

Lopez: You mean then that the erotic pottery that we see in ancient Greece was a result of new found consciousness and the resulting new found fascination with sex?

Jaynes: The ability to fantasize about sex immediately brought it in as a major concern. There is something I don’t understand about it… these phalli or erections were on statues everywhere. They were on the boundary stones called herms around the city of Athens. And yet they weren’t unusual to these people as it certainly would be in Baltimore today if you had these things all around the streets. It seems that sex had a religious quality, which is curious. There were a lot of very odd and different kinds of things that were happening.

Chapter 32 – Consciousness and the Voices of the Mind: University of New Hampshire Discussion
pp. 508-510

By affect I mean biologically, genetically organized emotions, such that we share with all mammals, and which have a genetically based way of arousing them and then getting rid of their byproducts. But then these become something — and we really don’t have the terminology for it, so I’m going to call them feelings right now, and by that I mean conscious feelings. We have shame, for example. It is very important and powerful — if you remember your childhood, and the importance of fitting yourself into the group without being humiliated. This becomes guilt when you have consciousness operating on it over time. Guilt is the fear of shame. We also see the emergence of anxiety, which is built on the affect of fear.

Then you have the same thing happening with sex. I think mating was pretty perfunctory back in the bicameral period, just as it is with most of the primates. It isn’t an obvious thing in any of the anthropoid apes — like the orangutans, the gorillas, the gibbons, and the chimpanzees. It is not all that obvious. And I think it was the same thing in the bicameral time — there is nothing really “sexy,” if I may use that adjective — in the bicameral paintings and sculptures. But just after this period, beginning in 700 b.c ., the Greek world is a pornographic world if ever there was one. It’s astonishing what happens. [At museums] most of these vases are not upstairs where children can see them, they are usually kept downstairs. At the same time this isn’t just a matter of artifacts; it is a part of their behavior. There is evidence of brothels beginning here, homosexuality perhaps begins at this same time, and we have various kinds of laws to regulate these things. It is something we don’t understand though, because it isn’t quite like our sexuality — it has a religious basis. It is very strange and odd, this almost religious basis. You have the tragedies, like the Oedipus plays, put on as a trilogy, and it was always followed by a phallic farce, for example. This seems extraordinary to us, because it destroys the whole beauty of these plays.

All that was going on in Greece, and was going in with the Etruscans — who didn’t leave much writing, but they left us enough so that we have a pattern and know that there was group sex going on and things like that. We don’t find it so much among the Hebrews I think because the Hebrews — who in some places were monotheistic and in other places were not — had a very powerful God saying “thou shalt not” and so on — follow the law. At least we don’t have evidence for those behaviors.

So we have for the first time increases in sexual behavior and the emergence of guilt and anxiety. Think of that: anxiety, sex, and guilt — if anybody wants to be a Freudian, this is where it begins [laughs]. Because then you had to have psychological mechanisms of controlling this. I mentioned something about repression — that’s one of the things that comes into play here — but all these methods of forgiveness and the whole concept of sin begins at this time.

Gods, Voices, the the Bicameral Mind
ed. by Marcel Kuijsten
Introduction
p. 9

The birth of consciousness ushered in profound changes for human civilization. In what Jaynes terms the “cognitive explosion,” we see the sudden beginnings of philosophy, science, history, and theater. We also observe the gradual transition from polytheism to monotheism. Consciousness operating on human emotions caused shame to become guilt, fear to become anxiety, anger to become hatred, and mating behavior to give rise to sexual fantasy. Through the spatialization of time, people could, for the first time, think about their lives on a continuum and contemplate their own death.

Chapter 12 – The Origin of Consciousness, Gains and Losses: Walker Percy vs. Julian Jaynes
by Laura Mooneyham White

pp. 174-175

This sort of “regression from a stressful human existence to a peaceable animal existence” 58 also includes a reversion to a bestial sexuality, as women present rearward for intercourse with the disinterestedness of simple physical need. Heavy sodium, among other things, drastically reduces the frequency of a woman’s estrus, so that hormonal urges and, in consequence, mating, become far less common. Sexual activity becomes emotionless and casual, as casual as in the sexual practices of the higher primates. As Jaynes has noted in a 1982 essay on the effect of consciousness on emotions, such mating, “in contrast to ourselves, is casual and almost minimal, with observations of mating in gibbons, chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas in the wild being extremely rare.” 59 Jaynes forecasts the emotionless participation in sex we see in Percy’s drugged and regressive characters, for Jaynes connects the erotic with the conscious capacity to narrate, to tell ourselves a story about our presence in time. Narration makes fantasy possible. Preconscious humans were not obsessed by sexuality, Jaynes argues: “All classicists will agree with this, that all Mycenean and Minoan art, in particular before 1000 B.C., is what seems to us as severely chaste”; “… tomb and wall paintings, sculpture and the writings of bicameral civilizations rarely if ever have any sexual references.” 60 But after the advent of human consciousness, the erotic begins to make its claim upon human attention: “About 700 B.C., Greek and Etruscan art is rampant with sexual references, very definitely demonstrating that sexual feelings were a new and profound concern in human development in these regions. We can perhaps appreciate this change in ourselves if we try to imagine what our sexual lives would be like if we could not fantasize about sexual behavior.” 61

The sexually abused and sodium-dosed children at Belle Ame Academy in Percy’s novel have lost that capacity to narrate about themselves and have therefore lost all sense of shame, all sense of what should be either morally perverse or erotically exciting. As Tom More surveys the six photographs which document the sexual abuse at Belle Ame, he is struck by the demeanor of the children’s faces. One child being subjected to fellatio by an adult male seems in countenance merely “agreeable and incurious.” 62 In another picture, a young girl is being penetrated by the chief villain, Van Dorn; she “is gazing at the camera, almost dutifully, like a cheerleader in a yearbook photo, as if to signify that all is well” 63 Another photograph is a group shot of junior-high age boys witnessing an act of cunnilingus: “Two or three, instead of paying attention to the tableau, are mugging a bit for the camera, as if they were bored, yet withal polite.” 64 Another child in yet another appalling picture seems to have a “demure, even prissy expression.” 65 What is remarkable about these photographs is how eloquently they testify to the needfulness of consciousness for the emotions of guilt, shame, or desire. Percy and Jaynes concur that without consciousness, sex is a mildly entertaining physical activity, either at best or worst.

Chapter 16 – Vico and Jaynes: Neurocultural and Cognitive Operations in the Origin of Consciousness
by Robert E. Haskell
pp. 270-271

As noted earlier, there are many differences between Vico and Jaynes that cannot be developed here. The following, however, seems noteworthy. In Vico’s “anthropological” description of the first men, he is systematic throughout his New Science in imagining the early sexual appetites, not only of the first males but also of the first females. In fact, it is basically only in this context that he describes the first females. The first men, he says, “must be supposed to have gone off into bestial wandering … [in] the great forests of the earth Jaynes, become “conscious about their mating behavior, can reminisce about it in the past and imagine it in the future, we are in a very different world, indeed, one that seems more familiar to us” ( OC : 466). Vico can be read as saying the same thing; in describing the sexuality of the first men Vico uses the phrase: “the impulse of the bodily motion of lust” ( NS : 1098, my italics), implying a kind of Jaynesian bicameral sexuality not enhanced by consciousness.

The second line of research supporting Jaynes’s claim is as follows. Scholars of ancient history would agree, says Jaynes, that the murals and sculptures during what he calls the bicameral age, that is, before 1000 B.C., are chaste. Though there are exceptions, depictions with sexual references prior to this time are nearly non-existent. After 1000 B.C., there seems to be a veritable explosion of visual depictions of sexuality: ithyphallic satyrs, large stone phalli, naked female dancers, and later, brothels, apparently instituted by Solon of Athens in the fifth century B.C. Such rampant sexuality had to be controlled. According to Vico it was “frightful superstition” (ibid.) and fear of the gods that lead to control. Jaynes speculates that one way was to separate the sexes socially, which has been observed in many preliterate societies. Since males have more visible erectile tissue than females, something had to be done to inhibit the stimulation of sexual imagination (fantasy). Jaynes cites the example of the orthodox Muslim societies in which to expose female ankles or hair is a punishable offence.29

[Note 29: It is interesting to note that both Vico and Jaynes seem to assume a hyper-sexuality on the part of males, not females. Is this an example of Vico’s “conceit of scholars,” or more specifically, the conceit of male scholars? To the contrary, Mary Jane Sherfey (1996), a physician, has suggested that in early history the female sexual appetite was stronger than the male and therefore had to be controlled by the male in order to create and maintain social order.]

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Bonus material:

At the very bottom is an interview with Marcel Kuijsten who is responsible for reviving Jaynesian scholarship. The other links are about Julian Jaynes view on (egoic-)consciousness and the self, in explaining what he means by analog ‘I’, metaphor ‘me’, metaphier, metaphrand, paraphier, parphrand, spatialization, excerption, narratization, conciliation (or compatibilization, consillience), etc. Even after all these years studying Jaynesian thought, I still struggle to keep it all straight, but it’s worth trying to understand.

Also interesting is the relationship of Jaynes’ view and that of Tor Norretranders, Benjamin Libet, Friedrich Nietzsche, and David Hume. Further connections can be made to Eastern philosophy and religion, specifically Buddehism. Some claim that Hume probably developed his bundle theory from what he learned of Buddhism from returning missionaries.

Julian Jaynes on consciousness and language: Part 1
Julian Jaynes on how metaphors generate consciousness (Part II)
by Elena Maslova-Levin

Language and Consciousness according to Julian Jaynes
Consciousness according to Julian Jaynes
by Yosuke Yanase

Jaynes’s Notion of Consciousness as Self-Referential
by Michael R Finch

Metaphors and Mental Models: The Key to Understanding
by Patrick O’Shaughnessy

Am I in Charge of me or is my Brain: Julian Jaynes Edition PART 2
by Yours Truly

A contribution in three parts to the 100th aniversary of Gotthard Günther
Topic of Part 2: “Negativsprache” (negative language)
by Eberhard von Goldammer

Building Consciousness Back Up To Size – Norretranders, Libet and Free Will
by ignosympathnoramus

What are the dissimilarities between Julian Jaynes’ “analog I” and Nietzsche’s “synthetic I”?
by Sadri Mokni

“Lack of the historical sense is the traditional defect in all philosophers.”

Diets and Systems

Chuck Pezeshki is a published professor of engineering in the field of design theory and high performance work teams. I can claim no specialty here, as I lack even a college degree. Still, Pezeshki and I have much in common — like  me: He prefers a systems view, as he summarizes his blog on his About page, “As we relate, so we think.” He states that, “My work exists at, and reaches far above the micro-neuroscience level, into larger systemic social organization.”

An area of focus we share is diet and health and we’ve come to similar conclusions. Like me, he sees a relationship between sugar, obesity, addiction, trauma, individuality, empathy issues, authoritarianism, etc (and inequality comes up as well; by the way, my favorite perspective on inequality in this context is Keith Payne’s The Broken Ladder). And like me, he is informed by a low-carb and ketogenic approach that was initially motivated by weight loss. Maybe these commonalities are unsurprising, as we do have some common intellectual interests.

Much of his blog is about what he calls “structural memetics” involving value memes (v-memes). Even though I haven’t focused as much on value memes recently, Ken Wilber’s version of spiral dynamics shaped my thought to some extent (that kind of thing being what brought me to Pezeshki’s blog in the first place). As important, we are both familiar with Bruce K. Alexander’s research on addiction, although my familiarity comes from Johann Hari’s writings (I learned of the rat park research in Chasing the Scream). A more basic link in our views comes from each of us having read the science journalism of Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz, along with some influence from Dr. Jason Fung. He has also read Dr. Robert H. Lustig, a leading figure in this area who I know of through the work of others.

Related to diet, Pezeshki does bring up the issue of inflammation. As I originally came around to my present diet from a paleo viewpoint, I became familiar with the approach of functional medicine that puts inflammation as a central factor (Essentialism On the Decline). Inflammation is a bridge between the physiological and the psychological, the individual and the social. Where and how inflammation erupts within the individual determines how a disease condition or rather a confluence of symptoms gets labeled and treated, even if the fundamental cause originated elsewhere, maybe in the ‘external’ world (socioeconomic stress, transgenerational trauma, environmental toxins, parasites because of lack of public sanitation, etc. Inflammation is linked to leaky gut, leaky brain, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, mood disorders, ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, impulsivity, short-term thinking, addiction, aggression, etc — and such problems increase under high inequality.

There are specific examples to point to. Diabetes and mood disorders co-occur. There is the connection of depression and anhedonia, involving the reward circuit and pleasure, which in turn can be affected by inflammation. Also, inflammation can lead to changes in glutamate in depression, similar to the glutamate alterations in autism from diet and microbes, and that is significant considering that glutamate is not only a major neurotransmitter but also a common food additive. Dr. Roger McIntyre writes that, “MRI scans have shown that if you make someone immune activated, the hypervigilance center is activated, activity in the motoric region is reduced, and the person becomes withdrawn and hypervigilant. And that’s what depression is. What’s the classic presentation of depression? People are anxious, agitated, and experience a lack of spontaneous activity and increased emotional withdrawal” (Inflammation, Mood Disorders, and Disease Model Convergence). Inflammation is a serious condition and, in the modern world, quite pervasive. The implications of this are not to be dismissed.

I’ve been thinking about this kind of thing for years now. But this is the first time I’ve come across someone else making these same connections, at least to this extent and with such a large context. The only thing I would add or further emphasize is that, from a functional medicine perspective (common among paleo, low-carb, and keto advocates), the body itself is a system as part of the larger systems of society and the environment — it is a web of connections not only in which we are enmeshed but of which forms everything we are, that is to say we aren’t separate from it. Personal health is public health is environmental health, and think of that in relation to the world of hyperobjects overlapping with hypersubjectivity (as opposed to the isolating psychosis of hyper-individualism):

“We shouldn’t personally identify with our health problems and struggles. We aren’t alone nor isolated. The world is continuously affecting us, as we affect others. The world is built on relationships, not just between humans and other species but involving everything around us — what some describe as embodied, embedded, enacted, and extended (we are hypersubjects among hyperobjects). The world that we inhabit, that world inhabits us, our bodies and minds. There is no world “out there” for there is no possible way for us to be outside the world. Everything going on around us shapes who we are, how we think and feel, and what we do — most importantly, shapes us as members of a society and as parts of a living biosphere, a system of systems all the way down. The personal is always the public, the individual always the collective, the human always the more than human” (The World Around Us).

In its earliest meaning, diet meant a way of life, not merely an eating regimen. And for most of history, diet was rooted in cultural identity and communal experience. It reinforced a worldview and social order. This allows diet to be a perfect lens through which to study societal patterns and changes over time.

* * *

Relevant posts by Chuck Pezeshki:

Weight Loss — it’s in the V-Memes
Weight Loss — It’s in the v-Memes (II)
Weight Loss by the V-Memes — (III) What’s the v-Meme stack look like?
Weight Loss by the V-Memes (IV) or Channeling your Inner Australopithecine
Weight Loss by the v-Memes (V) – Cutting out Sugar — The Big Psycho-Social-Environmental Picture
The Case Against Sugar — a True Psychodynamic Meta-Review
Quickie Post — the Trans-Cultural Diabolical Power of Sugar
How Health Care Deprivation and the Consequences of Poor Diet is Feeding Contemporary Authoritarianism – The Trump ACA Debacle
Quickie Post — Understanding the Dynamics of Cancer Requires a Social Structure that can Create Cellular Dynamics
Finding a Cure for Cancer — or Why Physicists May Have the Upper Hand
Quickie Post –A Sober Utopia
Rat Park — Implications for High-Productivity Environments — Part I
Rat Park — Implications for High-Productivity Environments — Part II
Leadership for Creativity Isn’t all Child’s Play
Relational Disruption in Organizations
The Neurobiology of Education and Critical Thinking — How Do We Get There?
What Caused the Enlightenment? And What Threatens to Unravel It?

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Relevant posts from my own blog:

It’s All Your Fault, You Fat Loser!
The World Around Us
The Literal Metaphor of Sickness
Health From Generation To Generation
The Agricultural Mind
Spartan Diet
Ketogenic Diet and Neurocognitive Health
Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis
Like water fasts, meat fasts are good for health.
The Creed of Ancel Keys
Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet
Eliminating Dietary Dissent
Cold War Silencing of Science
Essentialism On the Decline

There is also some discussion of diet in this post and the comments section:

Western Individuality Before the Enlightenment Age

And related to that:

Low-Carb Diets On The Rise

“It has become an overtly ideological fight, but maybe it always was. The politicization of diet goes back to the early formalized food laws that became widespread in the Axial Age and regained centrality in the Middle Ages, which for Europeans meant a revival of ancient Greek thought, specifically that of Galen. And it is utterly fascinating that pre-scientific Galenic dietary philosophy has since taken on scientific garb and gets peddled to this day, as a main current in conventional dietary thought (see Food and Faith in Christian Culture ed. by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden […]; I made this connection in realizing that Stephen Le, a biological anthropologist, was without awareness parroting Galenic thought in his book 100 Million Years of Food).”

* * *

Mental health, Psychopathy, Addiction, Inflammation, Diet, Nutrition, etc:

Dark triad traits and health outcomes: An exploratory study
by Jasna Hudek-Knezevic et al

Brain chemical is reward for psychopathic traits
by Ewen Callaway

Psychopaths’ brains wired to seek rewards, no matter the consequences
from Science Daily

Psychopathic traits modulate brain responses to drug cues in incarcerated offenders
by Lora M. Cope et al

Links Between Substance Abuse and Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)
from Promises Behavioral Health

Antisocial Personality Disorder and depression in relation to alcoholism: A community-based sample
by Laura C. Holdcraft et al

More inflammation but less brain-derived neurotrophic factor in antisocial personality disorder
by Tzu-Yun Wang et al

High Neuroticism and Low Conscientiousness Are Associated with Interleukin-6
by Sutin, Angelina

Aggressive and impulsive personality traits and inflammatory markers in cerebrospinal fluid and serum: Are they interconnected?
by S. Bromander et al

Inflammation Predicts Decision-Making Characterized by Impulsivity, Present Focus, and an Inability to Delay Gratification
by Jeffrey Gassen et al

Could Your Immune System Be Making You Impulsive?
by Emma Young

Impulsivity-related traits are associated with higher white blood cell counts
by Angelina R. Sutin et al

Dietary long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are related to impulse control and anterior cingulate function in adolescents
by Valerie L. Darcey

Diabetes Risk and Impulsivity
by David Perlmutter

Experimentally-Induced Inflammation Predicts Present Focus
by Jeffrey Gassen et al

Penn Vet researchers link inflammation and mania
by Katherine Unger Baillie

Anger Disorders May Be Linked to Inflammation
by Bahar Gholipour

Markers of Inflammation in the Blood Linked to Aggressive Behaviors
from University of Chicago Medical Center

Anhedonia as a clinical correlate of inflammation in adolescents across psychiatric conditions
by R. D. Freed et al

From Stress to Anhedonia: Molecular Processes through Functional Circuits
by Colin H. Stanton et al

Mapping inflammation onto mood: Inflammatory mediators of anhedonia
by Walter Swardfager et al

Understanding anhedonia: What happens in the brain?
by Tim Newman

Depression, Anhedonia, Glutamate, and Inflammation
by Peter Forster et al

Depression and anhedonia caused by inflammation affecting the brain
from Bel Marra Health

Inflammation linked to weakened reward circuits in depression
from Emory Health Sciences

Depression in people with type 2 diabetes: current perspectives
by L. Darwish et al

The Link Between Chronic Inflammation and Mental Health
by Kayt Sukel

Emory team links inflammation to a third of all cases of depression
by Oliver Worsley

Brain Inflammation Linked to Depression
by Emily Downwar

The Brain on Fire: Depression and Inflammation
by Marwa Azab

Inflammation, Mood Disorders, and Disease Model Convergence
by Lauren LeBano

High-inflammation depression linked to reduced functional connectivity
by Alice Weatherston

Does Inflammation Cause More Depression or Aggression?
by Charles Raison

A probe in the connection between inflammation, cognition and suicide
by Ricardo Cáceda et al

What If We’re Wrong About Depression?
by Anna North

People with ‘rage’ disorder twice as likely to have parasitic infection
by Kevin Jiang

Rage Disorder Linked with Parasite Found in Cat Feces
by Christopher Wanjek

Maternal Inflammation Can Affect Fetal Brain Development
by Janice Wood

The effects of increased inflammatory markers during pregnancy
from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

Inflammation in Pregnancy Tied to Greater Risk for Mental Illness in Child
by Traci Pedersen

Inflammation may wield sex-specific effects on developing brain
by Nicholette Zeliadt

Childhood obesity is linked to poverty and parenting style
from Concordia University

The Obesity–Impulsivity Axis: Potential Metabolic Interventions in Chronic Psychiatric Patients
by Adonis Sfera et al

The pernicious satisfaction of eating carbohydrates
by Philip Marais

Your Brain On Paleo
from Paleo Leap

The Role of Nutrition and the Gut-Brain Axis in Psychiatry: A Review of the Literature
by S. Mörkl et al

Emerging evidence linking the gut microbiome to neurologic disorders
by Jessica A. Griffiths and Sarkis K. Mazmanian

New Study Shows How Gut Bacteria Affect How You See the World
by David Perlmutter

The Surprising Link Between Gut Health and Mental Health
from LoveBug Probiotics

Nutritional Psychiatry: Is Food The Next Big Frontier In Mental Health Treatment?
by Stephanie Eckelkamp

Ketogenic Diets for Psychiatric Disorders: A New 2017 Review
by Georgia Ede

Low-Carbohydrate Diet Superior to Antipsychotic Medications
by Georgia Ede

Gut microbiome, SCFAs, mood disorders, ketogenic diet and seizures
by Jonathan Miller

Can the Ketogenic Diet Treat Depression and Anxiety, Even Schizophrenia?
by Rebekah Edwards

Inherited Learned Behavior

There is what we inherit from our parents and there is what we learn from our own experience. The two are distinct, right? Well, actually no they are not separate. This was further demonstrated by a Princeton study (Danger avoidance can be genetically encoded for four generations, biologists say):

“Moore and her colleagues investigated whether C. elegans can convey this learned avoidance behavior to their progeny. They found that when mother worms learned to avoid pathogenic P. aeruginosa, their progeny also knew to avoid the bacteria. The natural attraction of offspring to Pseudomonas was overridden even though they had never previously encountered the pathogen. Remarkably, this inherited aversive behavior lasted for four generations, but in the fifth generation the worms were once again attracted to Pseudomonas.”

This is not an entirely new understanding. Earlier research has found similar results in other species. The study that always fascinates me had to do with rodents. The scent of cherry blossoms was emitted in their cage and immediately following that the bottom of the cage was electrified. Unsurprisingly, the rodents jumped around trying to avoid the pain. The rodents learned to begin jumping merely at the presence of the scent, whether or not any electric shock followed. The interesting part is that their rodent descendants, even though never shocked, would also jump when they smelled cherry blossoms. And this lasted for multiple generations. A very specific learned behavior was passed on.

Of course, this isn’t limited to worms and rodents. Humans are harder to study, partly because of our longer lives. But researchers have been able to observe multiple living generations to discover patterns. I’m not sure if this exactly fits into learned behavior, except in how the body learns to respond to the environment. It’s similar enough. This other research found that the children and grandchildren of famine survivors had higher rates of obesity that had nothing to do wasn’t caused by genetics or diet. It is what is called epigenetics, how the genes get set for expression. The same genes can be switched on or off in numerous ways in relation to other genes.

I find that fascinating. It also makes for much complication. Almost no research ever controls for multigenerational confounding factors. Epigenetics has been largely a black box, until quite recently. To be certain that a particular behavior was directly related to specific genetics in a population, you would have to be able to follow that population for many generations. To fully control for confounders, that would require a study that lasted more than a century. It might turn out that much of what we call ‘culture’ might more correctly be explained as population-wide epigenetics.

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As a side note, this would have immense significance to dietary and nutritional research. Many of the dietary changes that have happened in modern society are well within the range of epigenetic involvement. And the epigenetic effects likely would be cumulative.

We have an ongoing and uncontrolled experiment going on. No one knows the long-term consequences of the modern industrial diet of refined carbohydrates, added sugars, highly processed vegetable oils, food additives, farm chemicals, microplastic, etc. It’s a mass experiment and the subjects never chose to participate.

Definitely, we have reasons to be concerned. Francis M. Pottenger Jr. studied the dietary impact on feline health. He fed some cats a raw food diet, others a cooked food diet, and a third group with a diet mixed of raw and cooked. The cats on the cooked food diet became sickly in the first generation and were entirely infertile after a number of generations.

This is not exactly similar to the human diet of industrial foods. But it points to how results play out across generations. The worst effects aren’t necessarily seen in the immediate generation(s). It’s future generations that have to deal with what those before them caused, as true for epigenetics as it is for national debt and environmental destruction.

Erosion of the Bronze Age

I’ve previously made an argument about the development of large-scale agriculture in the late Bronze Age. It may have helped cause a psychological transformation that preceded the societal collapse. The late Bronze Age empires became too large to be sustainable, specifically according to the social order that had developed (i.e., Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind).

Prior to this, the Bronze Age had been dominated by smaller city-states that were spread further apart. They had some agriculture but still with heavy reliance on hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering. It would have been a low-carb, high-fat diet. But growing populations, as time went on, became ever more dependent upon agriculture. This meant a shift toward an increasingly high-carb diet that was much less nutrient-dense, along with a greater prevalence of addictive substances.

Agriculture may have had other impacts as well. The appearance of a more fully agricultural diet meant the need for vaster areas to farm. The only way to accomplish that was deforestation. Along with the destabilizing of psychological changes, there also would have been the destabilizing forces of erosion. Then a perfect storm of environmental stressors hit in a short period of time: volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, flooding, etc. With waves of refugees and marauders, the already weakened empires fell like dominoes.

Erosion probably had been making the farmland less fertile for centuries. This wasn’t too much of a problem until overpopulation reached a breaking point. Small yields for multiple years in a row no doubt left grain reserves depleted. Much starvation would have followed. And the already sickly agricultural populations would have fell prey to plagues.

This boom and bust cycle of agricultural civilizations would repeat throughout history. And it often would coincide with major changes in psychology and social order. Our own civilization appears to be coming near the end of a boom period. Erosion is now happening faster and at a larger scale than seen with any prior civilization. But like the archaic bicameral societies, we are trapped by our collective mentality and can’t imagine how to change.

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Trees, the ancient Macedonians, and the world’s first environmental disaster
by Anthony Dosseto and Alex Francke

Recently, we have studied sediments from Lake Dojran, straddling the border between Northern Macedonia and Greece. We looked at the past 12,000 years of sediment archive and found about 3,500 years ago, a massive erosion event happened.

Pollen trapped in the lake’s sediment suggests this is linked to deforestation and the introduction of agriculture in the region. Macedonian timber was highly praised for ship building at the time, which could explain the extent of deforestation.

A massive erosion event would have catastrophic consequences for agriculture and pasture. Interestingly, this event is followed by the onset of the so-called Greek “Dark Ages” (3,100 to 2,850 years ago) and the demise of the highly sophisticated Bronze Age Mycenaean civilisation.

The Boy Crisis

There is a recent C-SPAN talk with Warren Farrell about his book, The Boy Crisis. Although mostly focused on the US, I imagine it would apply to some other countries, as he does briefly mention ISIS recruits. American boys and girls have the same suicide rate at age 9, but in the years following that it goes up for boys only. Overall, the mortality of boys is declining in recent years, even though mortality of girls remains the same. I don’t know if the book is insightful or not, as I haven’t read it, but the issues the author brings up are important. I’ve made similar observations about gender divides. Let me make my case, although my thoughts here are tentative and so I’m not entirely attached to them. No doubt my own biases will slip in, but let me try my best to be clear in my position, even if I’m not perfectly right.

The difficulty is gender inevitably is mixed with culture, not that gender is merely a social construct, but gender identity and perception does have a powerful influence. I’d argue that, in certain ways, girls get more of a certain kind of attention. My nieces have received immense help for problems they’ve had such as social training, therapy, etc and been given many opportunities such as signing them up for social events, activities, etc. But what I sense is that my nephew who has serious problems has mostly been ignored, such as no one apparently helping him with his learning difficulties, despite his obviously needing more help than his sister and female cousin who are natural learners. The attitude seems to be that boys will be boys, that boys should suck it up and take care of their own problems, that boys aren’t sensitive like girls and so don’t need the same help, that boys are naturally aggressive and disruptive and so troubled behavior should simply be expected or else punished. Boy problems are to be ignored or eliminated, a Social Darwinian approach less often applied to girls, so it seems to me.

There is also something physiological going on, something I feel more confident in asserting. Boys and girls do seem to deal with health issues differently. Girls, according to some research, have a better ability at dealing with stress (or maybe just less acting out their stress in ways that distress others, similar to how female-profile aspies might be better at socially compensating than male-profile aspies). Some of the aggressive and impulsive behaviors from such things as lead toxicity can be rationalized away as the extremes of otherwise normal boy behavior. The same goes for autism, ADHD, etc — simply not taken as seriously when seen in boys (e.g., autism explained as extreme male profile). This is complicated by the question of whether girls are being diagnosed less, a complication I’ve written about before but won’t be explored further in this post because it goes into difficult issues of the psychology and behavior of personality as filtered through culture.

Dr. Leonard Sax also speculates that something in the environment or diet is causing developmental issues (and this is where much of my own recent thinking comes in). Over time, girls are reaching puberty earlier and boys later, which causes an inequality in neurocognitive development and educational achievement, resulting in boys dropping out at higher rates and girls attending college at higher rates. He suspects it might have to do with estrogen-like chemicals in plastics (then again, it could have to do with food additives, increased soy consumption, hormones in dairy, a high-carb diet, etc or else any number of a slew of environmental toxins and other chemicals, some of which are hormone mimics; others have observed that boys today seem to have more effeminate features such as less square jaw structure than what is seen in photographs of boys from the past and from hunter-gatherer tribes). He also makes a slightly different kind of argument that typical boy behavior is less tolerated in schools with stereotypical girl behavior being the ideal of a good student — that of sitting quietly and calmly, rather than running around like, well, little boys which is an issue as free playtime and gym classes have been among the first to be cut in the new push for teaching to the test (of course, this would also impact girls who don’t follow stereotypical female behavior). Not all of these arguments necessarily fit together.

Most likely, it’s dozen of major factors that are overlapping (and one senses the terrain covered with landmines of confounders). Throw in some reactionary right-wing backlash to mix it up, along with partisan politics to polarize the population. The paranoia about boys being emasculated turns into a moral panic and there is the fear on the other side about the return of theocratic patriarchy or whatever. There is no doubt something to worry about for all involved, but the water gets muddied up with ideologically-driven fearful fantasies and identity politics of every variety. Similar moral panics were seen before WWI and earlier before the Civil War. Societies have a tendency of getting militaristic and violent toward other societies, in the hope of toughening up their boys and often the rhetoric and propaganda becomes rather blatant about this. It is madness that leads to madness. Meanwhile, the real problems facing boys mostly get ignored by the political left and right, until a few generations later when the unresolved problems erupt again as moral panic returns.

Society goes through cycles of ignoring boys and obsessing over them. Girls typically never get the same kind of extreme attention, positive or negative (which one could argue leads to other problems for girls). There is a lot of social pressure in being a boy and a lot more judgment for perceived failure and inadequacy, which surely would relate to the higher rate of suicide and self-destructive behavior, including suicide by cop. That isn’t to say life is easy for girls either, but many of the measurements seem to be improving or at least remaining stable for girls in a way not seen for boys where in important areas worsening is apparent. There is a growing disparity that needs to be explained. Why would mortality be worsening for boys while not for girls? Why would more girls and fewer boys be attending college? Why are there more homeless men on the streets? In a society that is historically patriarchal with certain male privileges, this is the complete opposite of what one would expect. And this resonates with life expectancy and well-being (e.g., drug addiction rates) getting worse for rural white men and middle class white men, even as most other demographics aren’t seeing such declines, indicating that even among males it’s particular populations being hit the most.

The awareness of this problem, a sense of something severely wrong, is the kind of thing driving too many Americans to support someone like President Donald Trump. The populist outrage is real, if misdirected in a way that will make everything worse. Authoritarian nationalism promoted through xenophobic scapegoating, chest-pounding, and war-mongering is not going to save our boys. Yet one can feel that so many people in power are itching for mass violence to enforce social order again and that means enforcing nostalgic notions of ultra-masculinity. Nurturing children, all children, and ensuring public health and the public good for all… well, that is less exciting than lamenting the decline of Western civilization or whatever. It’s not about gender wars, about boys and men losing their position in society or it shouldn’t be about that. We need to find ways to help children where they are at, to create equality of opportunities not only in theory but in reality. We are a society out of balance with gender being one expression among many others.

Improving the lives of girls should be a priority, as is true for other historically disadvantaged demographics and populations. But it is severely problematic if improvement in one area of society seems to be coming at the cost at worsening conditions elsewhere, such as for boys. Even if that isn’t exactly true, in that one can’t be directly or fully blamed for the other, we shouldn’t be so naive as not to realize that is how it will get portrayed. We can’t afford to dismiss the real harm and suffering caused to part of the population, especially at a time when the entire society is under stress. Identity politics turned into dysfunctional demographic tribalism can’t lead to a happy result. This situation isn’t feminism in a fight against the men’s rights movement. These boys have sisters, mothers, and aunts. And these boys will grow up to be husbands and fathers. We don’t live in demographic abstractions for we are part of personal relationships that connect us. Our problems are shared, as is the good we seek.

Epigenetics, the Good and the Bad

Epignetics is what determines which genes express and how they express. Research on epigenetics for some reason has often focused on negative consequences.

In rodent research, scientists were able to induce a Pavlovian response to a smell that preceded a shock. The rodents would jump when the smell was present, even when no shock followed. And generations of rodents kept jumping, despite their never having been shocked at all. The Pavlovian response was inherited. In human research, scientists studied populations that had experienced famine. They looked at multiple generations where only the older generation had been alive during the famine. Yet all the generations following had higher rates of obesity. They inherited the biological preparation for famine.

One might start to think that epigenetics is a bad thing, almost like a disease. But that would be a mistake. Everything about who we are, good and bad, is shaped by epigenetics. To balance things out, I just came across some a more positive example. Health benefits get passed on as well. I would note, however, that this is what exacerbates inequality. This is why oppression and privilege get inherited not only through social conditions but in biology itself. This is all the more reason we should intervene to create the most optimal conditions for everyone, not merely the fortunate few.

This is why the political left emphasizes equality of results, beyond theoretical equality of opportunity. Opportunity is meaningless if it remains an abstract ideal disconnected from lived reality for most of the population. Telling people to get over the past is cruel and ignorant. The past is never past and, in fact, becomes imprinted upon the bodies of many generations, maybe across centuries. Historical injustices and transgenerational trauma are what our society are built upon, and much of it is within living memory, from the Indian Wars to Jim Crow.

It will require direct action to undo the damage and to promote the public good. That is the only path toward a free and fair society.

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Intergenerational transmission of the positive effects of physical exercise on brain and cognition
by Kerry R. McGreevy et al

Significance

Physical exercise is well known for its positive effects on general health (specifically, on brain function and health), and some mediating mechanisms are also known. A few reports have addressed intergenerational inheritance of some of these positive effects from exercised mothers or fathers to the progeny, but with scarce results in cognition. We report here the inheritance of moderate exercise-induced paternal traits in offspring’s cognition, neurogenesis, and enhanced mitochondrial activity. These changes were accompanied by specific gene expression changes, including gene sets regulated by microRNAs, as potential mediating mechanisms. We have also demonstrated a direct transmission of the exercise-induced effects through the fathers’ sperm, thus showing that paternal physical activity is a direct factor driving offspring’s brain physiology and cognitive behavior.

Abstract

Physical exercise has positive effects on cognition, but very little is known about the inheritance of these effects to sedentary offspring and the mechanisms involved. Here, we use a patrilineal design in mice to test the transmission of effects from the same father (before or after training) and from different fathers to compare sedentary- and runner-father progenies. Behavioral, stereological, and whole-genome sequence analyses reveal that paternal cognition improvement is inherited by the offspring, along with increased adult neurogenesis, greater mitochondrial citrate synthase activity, and modulation of the adult hippocampal gene expression profile. These results demonstrate the inheritance of exercise-induced cognition enhancement through the germline, pointing to paternal physical activity as a direct factor driving offspring’s brain physiology and cognitive behavior.

Climate Catastrophe In Slow Motion

Let me cheer you up. I came across an article on the rise of heat-trapping methane. In the comments section, I noticed someone link to another article about plants absorbing carbon dioxide, although there is a limit to how much plants can store. Here is the kicker. As plants take in carbon dioxide, it acts like a super-fertilizer for many of them. They grow larger, produce more leaves, and foliage becomes greener. “So on average, the poison ivy plant of, say, 1901, can grow up to 50 to 60 percent larger as of 2010 just from the change in CO2 alone, all other things being equal,” explained Dr. Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s agricultural research service.

This is seen in the spread of poison ivy, a plant my mother recalls as being relatively uncommon in her childhood, to such a degree that she rarely noticed it. It has since proliferated with climate change and deforestation, a combination that creates the perfect conditions for this invasive species. Poison ivy (and poison oak, along with other vining plants like kudzu) loves both higher heat and higher levels of carbon dioxide. Poison ivy, more than other plants, thrives under these conditions. Also, in response, it produces more of the irritant that gives it its name. Poison ivy toxicity has doubled since 1950, that is to say since my parents’ childhood. This likely explains the phenomenon of why some people who didn’t react to poison ivy as children do so as adults. My mother may have not noticed poison ivy as a childhood not only because it was less widespread but, more importantly, because it was less poisonous to skin contact. Another climate-change-loving plant is giant hogweed (along with its cousin wild parsnip) that can cause third degree burns.

Dandelion and some other invasive species are also fond of mass climatological and ecological disruption (eat more dandelion salads and drink more dandelion wine?). Furthermore, sources of allergens such as pollen from ragweed and certain trees (as oaks and hickories replace pines, spruces, and firs) will become more of a problem and so allergies and asthma might become a more common affliction with increasing costs to society. Mosquitoes, along with deer ticks and red fire ants, have likewise been increasing their territory and population density (the Asian tiger mosquito can carry Dengue Fever and the painful virus Chikungunya, and don’t forget about West Nile virus, not to mention the lesser known Eastern equine encephalitis). The same pattern of spread is seen with bed bugs, kissing bugs, and killer bees. The warmer climate might be assisting the quickened pace of emerald ash borer infestation, and maybe also helping gypsy moths and the southern pine beetle.

I don’t know if it has anything to do with alterations in climate, but this has been one of the greenest springs I can remember. There is a dramatic increase of garlic mustard, one of the most invasive species — it is taking over the town like a 1950s movie about an alien invasion. Many other invasive species are growing like gangbusters across the country — hydrilla, purple loosestrife, Japanese knotweed, oriental bittersweet, milfoil, fanwort, etc — and likely shifting climate is a major factor, not only greater warmth but also changes in precipitation with some areas drier and others moister (ticks love moist and they are precisely moving into areas that have increased rainfall and humidity). The insects killing native species further aids the spread of the invasive plants that quickly take over disturbed ecosystems. And combined with farm runoff, there will be more toxic algae blooms.

The pervasive growth of invasive species and noxious weeds is a nuisance. A friend of mine will no longer walk off trail because of concern for poison ivy, something he never thought about as a child and in fact he didn’t even know how to identify it until adulthood. But it’s more than a mere nuisance. With the spread of pests, there is also the spread of diseases, from Lyme disease to malaria to chagas disease parasite, since over time there are fewer deep freezes to kill off the pests and so they can move further north. There are many other “vector-borne diseases” like schistosomiasis and keep in mind how “thawing permafrost in Polar Regions could allow otherwise dormant age-old viruses to re-emerge.” And don’t think that there is a silver lining to this cloud of doom, as there is “a somewhat paradoxical finding that although carbon dioxide may fertilize plants, many crops show decreased growth (due to changes in rainfall, aggressive weed growth, plant diseases, and other factors), and the nutritional value of the resulting primary production is lowered. Flooded with carbon, crops can become deficient in other elements, resulting in a 10-20 percent decrease in protein levels and anemic iron and zinc concentrations.”

The dramatic superstorms and droughts get most of the attention. They create mass catastrophes and refugee crises, and that in turn causes political instability and contributes to conflicts and wars. But as we head toward existential crisis of the global order and as civilization is threatened by collapse, there will be a worsening that will impact people in small and less obvious ways that make life more difficult and uncomfortable with strains on the social fabric and public health, strains on the food system and economy. A worsening of the conditions and quality of life, this will happen even in the American Heartland that feels so far away from the catastrophes elsewhere in the world. I’ve barely touched upon the diverse challenges and disruptions that will harm humans in numerous other ways. Life will get ever more shitty and this will cause people to act in disturbed and disturbing ways. We are already seeing the increase of terrorism likely with climatological stress and trauma as a contributing factor. Mental health will certainly involve further precipitous declines, with heat waves and societal stress but especially with rising inequality where ecological and societal consequences will be disproportionately found among the poor, not that the rich will be able to forever escape the consequences of the externalized costs they’ve benefited from.

As a society, how long will we be able to ignore the climate crisis, to pretend nothing is going on? Why do we act like ecological collapse and the sixth mass extinction won’t affect us? This is insane and the insanity is going to get far worse. Pests and diseases, noxious weeds and invasive species will be the least of our worries, although I wouldn’t count out the possibility of the first global plague to decimate the human population. We are unprepared for the world we are creating for ourselves or else for our children and grandchildren. Our descendants will curse us for the living hell that will be forced upon them. But on a positive note, if you’re an older adult, you might die peacefully before the shit storm begins. Let the future survivors of the coming collapse deal with the mess later. The joke is on them and humanity is the punchline.

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Here is an example of too little too late. But it’s still better than nothing. At least, it’s an acknowledgment of how bad it’s got. Speaking honestly and accurately is a massive step forward. Still, more than a style guide, what we need is a reality guide or rather a reality slap upside the head.

Why the Guardian is changing the language it uses about the environment
by Damian Carrington

The Guardian has updated its style guide to introduce terms that more accurately describe the environmental crises facing the world.

Instead of “climate change” the preferred terms are “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” is favoured over “global warming”, although the original terms are not banned. […]

Other terms that have been updated, including the use of “wildlife” rather than “biodiversity”, “fish populations” instead of “fish stocks” and “climate science denier” rather than “climate sceptic”. In September, the BBC accepted it gets coverage of climate change “wrong too often” and told staff: “You do not need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate.”

Earlier in May, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has inspired school strikes for climate around the globe, said: “It’s 2019. Can we all now call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?”

Bicameralism and Bilingualism

A paper on multilingualism was posted by Eva Dunkel in the Facebook group for The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind: Consequences of multilingualism for neural architecture by Sayuri Hayakawa and Viorica Marian. It is a great find. The authors look at how multiple languages are processed within the brain and how they can alter brain structure.

This probably also relates to learning of music, art, and math — one might add that learning music later improves the ability to learn math. These are basically other kinds of languages, especially the former in terms of  musical languages (along with whistle and hum languages) that might indicate language having originated in music, not to mention the close relationship music has to dance, movement, and behavior and close relationship of music to group identity. The archaic authorization of command voices in the bicameral mind quite likely came in the form of music and one could imagine the kinds of synchronized collective activities that could have dominated life and work in bicameral societies. There is something powerful about language that we tend to overlook and take for granted. Also, since language is so embedded in culture, monolinguals never see outside of the cultural reality tunnel they exist within. This could bring us to wonder about the role played post-bicameral society by syncretic languages like English. We can’t forget the influence psychedelics might have had on language development and learning at different periods of human existence. And with psychedelics, there is the connection to shamanism with caves as aural spaces and locations of art, possibly the earliest origin of proto-writing.

There is no reason to give mathematics a mere secondary place in our considerations. Numeracy might be important as well in thinking about the bicameral mind specifically and certainly about the human mind in general (Caleb Everett, Numbers and the Making of Us), as numeracy was an advancement or complexification beyond the innumerate tribal societies (e.g., Piraha). Some of the earliest uses of writing was for calculations: accounting, taxation, astrology, etc. Bicameral societies, specifically the early city-states, can seem simplistic in many ways with their lack of complex hierarchies, large centralized governments, standing armies, police forces, or even basic infrastructure such as maintained roads and bridges. Yet they were capable of immense projects that required impressively high levels of planning, organizing, and coordination — as seen with the massive archaic pyramids and other structures built around the world. It’s strange how later empires in the Axial Age and beyond that, though so much larger and extensive with greater wealth and resources, rarely even attempted the seemingly impossible architectural feats of bicameral humans. Complex mathematical systems probably played a major role in the bicameral mind, as seen in how astrological calculations sometimes extended over millennia.

Hayakawa and Marian’s paper could add to the explanation of the breakdown of the bicameral mind. A central focus of their analysis is the increased executive function and neural integration in managing two linguistic inputs — I could see how that would relate to the development of egoic consciousness. It has been proposed that the first to develop Jaynesian consciousness may have been traders who were required to cross cultural boundaries and, of course, who would have been forced to learn multiple languages. As bicameral societies came into regular contact with more diverse linguistic cultures, their bicameral cognitive and social structures would have been increasingly stressed.

Multilingualism goes hand in hand with literacy. Rates of both have increased over the millennia. That would have been a major force in the post-bicameral Axial Age. The immense multiculturalism of societies like the Roman Empire is almost impossible for us to imagine. Hundreds of ethnicities, each with their own language, would co-exist in the same city and sometimes the same neighborhood. On a single street, there could be hundreds of shrines to diverse gods with people praying, people invoking and incantating in their separate languages. These individuals were suddenly forced to deal with complete strangers and learn some basic level of understanding foreign languages and hence foreign understandings.

This was simultaneous with the rise of literacy and its importance to society, only becoming more important over time as the rate of book reading continues to climb (more books are printed in a year these days than were produced in the first several millennia of writing). Still, it was only quite recently that the majority of the population became literate, following from that is the ability of silent reading and its correlate of inner speech. Multilingualism is close behind and catching up. The consciousness revolution is still under way. I’m willing to bet American society will be transformed as we return to multilingualism as the norm, considering that in the first centuries of American history there was immense multilingualism (e.g., German was once one of the most widely spoken languages in North America).

All of this reminds me of linguistic relativity. I’ve pointed out that, though not explicitly stated, Jaynes obviously was referring to linguistic relativity in his own theorizing about language. He talked quite directly about the power language —- and metaphors within language —- had over thought, perception, behavior, and identity (Anke Snoek has some good insights about this in exploring the thought of Giorgio Agamben). This was an idea maybe first expressed by Wilhelm von Humboldt (On Language) in 1836: “Via the latter, qua character of a speech-sound, a pervasive analogy necessarily prevails in the same language; and since a like subjectivity also affects language in the same notion, there resides in every language a characteristic world-view.” And Humboldt even considered the power of learning another language in stating that, “To learn a foreign language should therefore be to acquire a new standpoint in the world-view hitherto possessed, and in fact to a certain extent is so, since every language contains the whole conceptual fabric and mode of presentation of a portion of mankind.”

Multilingualism is multiperspectivism, a core element of the modern mind and modern way of being in the world. Language has the power to transform us. To study language, to learn a new language is to become something different. Each language is not only a separate worldview but locks into place a different sense of self, a persona. This would be true not only for learning different cultural languages but also different professional languages with their respective sets of terminology, as the modern world has diverse areas with their own ways of talking and we modern humans have to deal with this complexity on a regular basis, whether we are talking about tax codes or dietary lingo.

It’s hard to know what that means for humanity’s trajectory across the millennia. But the more we are caught within linguistic worlds and are forced to navigate our way within them the greater the need for a strong egoic individuality to self-initiate action, that is to say the self-authorization of Jaynesian consciousness. We step further back into our own internal space of meta-cognitive metaphor. To know more than one language strengthens an identity separate from any given language. The egoic self retreats behind its walls and looks out from its parapets. Language, rather than being the world we are immersed in, becomes the world we are trapped in (a world that is no longer home and from which we seek to escape, Philip K. Dick’s Black Iron Prison and William S. Burroughs Control). It closes in on us and forces us to become more adaptive to evade the constraints.

Boredom in the Mind: Liberals and Reactionaries

“Hobsbawm was obsessed with boredom; his experience of it appears at least twenty-seven times in Evans’s biography. Were it not for Marx, Hobsbawm tells us, in a book of essays, he never would “have developed any special interest in history.” The subject was too dull. The British writer Adam Phillips describes boredom as “that state of suspended anticipation in which things are started and nothing begins.” More than a wish for excitement, boredom contains a longing for narrative, for engagement that warrants attention to the world.

“A different biographer might have found in Hobsbawm’s boredom an opening onto an entire plane of the Communist experience. Marxism sought to render political desire as objective form, to make human intention a causal force in the world. Not since Machiavelli had political people thought so hard about the alignment of action and opportunity, about the disjuncture between public performance and private wish. Hobsbawm’s life and work are a case study in such questions.”

That is another great insight from Corey Robin, as written in his New Yorker piece, Eric Hobsbawm, the Communist Who Explained History. Boredom does seem key. It is one of the things that stood out to me in Robin’s writings about the reactionary mind. Reactionaries dislike, even fear, boredom more than almost anything else. The rhetoric of reactionaries is often to create the passionate excitement of melodrama, such as how Burke describes the treatment of the French queen.

The political left too often forgets the power of storytelling, especially simplistic and unoriginal storytelling, as seen with Trump. Instead, too many on the left fear the populist riling up of the masses. I remember Ralph Nader warning about this in a speech he gave in his 2000 presidential campaign. There is a leftist mistrust of passion and maybe there is good reason for this mistrust, considering it forms the heartbeat of the reactionary mind. Still, without passion, there is no power of persuasion and so all attempts are doomed from the start. The left will have to learn to fight on this turf or simply embrace full resignation and so fall into cynicism.

The thing is that those on the political left seem to have a higher tolerance for boredom, maybe related to their higher tolerance for cognitive dissonance shown in social science research. It requires greater uncertainty and stress to shut down the liberal-minded person (liberal in the psychological sense). I noticed this in myself. I’m not prone to the reactionary maybe because I don’t get bored easily and so don’t need something coming from outside to motivate me.

But it might go beyond mere tolerance in demonstrating an active preference for boredom. There is something about the liberal mind that is prone to complexity, nuance, and ambiguity that can only be grown amidst boredom — that is to say the open-mindedness of curiosity, doubt, and questioning are only possible when one acknowledges ignorance. It’s much more exciting to proclaim truth, instead, and proclaim it with an entertaining story. This is problematic in seeking political victories, if one is afraid of the melodrama of hard fights. Right-wingers might burn themselves out on endless existential crises, whereas left-wingers typically never build up enough fire to lightly toast a marshmallow.

The political left doesn’t require or thrive with a dualistic vision of opposition and battle, in the way does the political right. This is a central strength and weakness for the left. On the side of weakness, this is why it is so hard for the left to offer a genuinely threatening challenge to the right. Most often what happens is the reactionaries simply co-opt the left and the left too easily falls in line. See how many liberals will repeat reactionary rhetoric. Or notice how many on the political left turned full reactionary during times of conflict (e.g., world war era).

Boredom being the comfort zone of liberals is all the more reason they should resist settling down within its confines. There is no where to hide from the quite real drama that is going on in the world. The liberal elite can’t forever maintain their delusion of being a disinterested aristocracy. As Eric Hobsbawm understood and Karl Marx before him, only a leftist vision can offer a narrative that can compete against the reactionary mind

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“Capitalism is boring. Devoting your life to it, as conservatives do, is horrifying if only because it’s so repetitious. It’s like sex.”
~William F. Buckley Jr., in an interview with Corey Robin

Violent Fantasy of Reactionary Intellectuals

The last thing in the world a reactionary wants is to be bored, as happened with the ending of the ideological battles of the Cold War. They need a worthy enemy or else to invent one. Otherwise, there is nothing to react to and so nothing to get excited about, followed by a total loss of meaning and purpose, resulting in dreaded apathy and ennui. This leads reactionaries to become provocative, in the hope of provoking an opponent into a fight. Another strategy is simply to portray the whole world as a battleground, such that everything is interpreted as a potential attack, working oneself or one’s followers into a froth.

The Fantasy of Creative Destruction

To the reactionary mind, sacrifice of self can be as acceptable as sacrifice of others. It’s the fight, the struggle itself that gives meaning — no matter the costs and consequences, no matter how it ends. The greatest sin is boredom, the inevitable result of victory. As Irving Kristol said to Corey Robin, the defeat of the Soviet Union “deprived us of an enemy.” It was the end of history for, without an enervating battle of moral imagination, it was the end of the world.

Human Adaptability and Health

What makes humans unique? There are many answers that can and have been offered. My own dietary experimentation, from paleo to keto to carnivore, has led to certain thoughts. After two months of carnivory (and before reintroducing plant foods), I ended it with an extended fast, three days to be precise, as inspired by Siim Land. There is something impressive about fasting, far beyond its intermittent variety. Yes, ketosis is involved, but lengthening the fasting state steps it up to a whole other level, specifically to be scientific what is called autophagy along with stem cell activation. With autophagy, your body cannibalizes damaged and dead cells in order to build entirely new cells, including in the brain, and in the process of three days of fasting every cell in your immune system will be replaced. That is pretty kick ass!

More basically, fasting simply feels good or it can, assuming one isn’t sick or stressed. It’s not as hard as one might think, assuming one begins it in a state of ketosis and fat-adaptation. That is the way it has been for me, in the several extended fasts I’ve done. I’ve even done part of the time in dry fasting, that is to say not even water. With fasting, energy doesn’t necessarily decline and sometimes there is a boost of energy, specifically when ketones kick into high gear. And even without water, the body shifts into a different mode and one doesn’t get thirsty, at least not for many days (breathing through one’s nose helps as well), since the body stores water similar to how it stores fat. Fasting has been a practice among probably every traditional society that has ever existed, from early Native Americans to early Europeans, and is found in diverse religions, from Buddhism to Christianity — fasting only became uncommon since vast food surpluses were created in recent generations.

I’ve done fasting in the past, but I always limited myself to one-day fasts. It was never difficult and, even though few people ever do it, I never considered it an impressive feat of personal strength and willpower. It simply meant not eating food for a time. More interesting on a personal level was a different kind of fasting. Maybe a couple of decades ago, I got into the habit of jogging before eating and I would sometimes go for hours. I never lacked energy and, if anything, I had more energy than before I began. A strange side effect was that my hunger also decreased for the rest of the day, a rather counter-intuitive result as one would think exercise would make one hungry to make up for the calories lost.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but I had independently discovered ketosis. Once you run out of glucose in your blood and glycogen in your muscles, your body switches to turning fat into ketones. As long as you have enough fat (not a problem for most people), you can continually produce ketones for long periods of time without any food. Even the small amount of glucose your body needs can also be produced by the body without any need of dietary intake of carbohydrates. For a fat person, they literally can go months without food, as the body doesn’t only store energy in body fat but also nutrients. Cole Robinson of Snake Diet fame is an advocate of this method of fat loss — as he puts it, If you want to lose weight, fatty, stop stuffing food in your mouth. While in this state, you can remain active. The Piraha, according to Daniel Everett, would regularly go without eating on some days for no particular reason and at times would dance for several days without stopping for a meal. Cole Robinson talks about continuing his heavy weight lifting routine many days into fasting, not that most modern people with inferior health would want to try this. Under Genghis Khan, Mongol warriors began their war campaigns with an extended period of fasting, maybe to prime their body for ketosis that they maintained with their low-carb and animal-based diet (mostly meat, blood, and milk).

This relates to our evolutionary needs. Early humans survived as a hunting pack. We aren’t the fastest animal, among either predators or prey. We are rather slow actually and our lack of claws and fangs are a disadvantage, but we are endurance runners with the capacity to develop immense tracking skills. Along with ketosis that puts our large brains into overdrive, particularly the use of the pseudo-ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate, we have a special knack for sweating that keeps us cool, partly because of our lack of fur. Also, because of our upright position, our lungs aren’t constricted by our running gait and so our breathing is free to follow it’s own rhythm. Humans did all this while being barefoot for most of our existence, often running across rough ground. In particularly harsh environments such as Australia, the natives would develop thick callouses on the soles of their feet. We run better and more safely without shoes than with them — barefoot running (or using thin footwear such as sandals or moccasins) forces us to use good running form with impact shifted toward the toes rather than the heels. As natives observed, most animals move with the weight put on their toes. This is also what we humans are designed for.

Running is what humans do. Hunter-gatherers can track animals for days without having to stop for food and water and, as long as there is a water supply, could go on for weeks without food. This is natural. This was once the norm. This is how the human species managed to travel across deserts and oceans, how our ancestors survived starvation and ice ages. For hundreds of millennia, humans maintained such high levels of physical strain typically without harm to their health and rarely with injury. Fasting and feasting. Extended activity and periods of rest. And we are able to retain our physical capacities well into old age. Hunter-gathers in their sixties have the same level of running ability as they had in their late teens, with the developmental peak hitting around the late twenties. Many individuals in traditional societies go on running as their normal mode of travel until the day they die and, excluding early deaths from infection (infections, I might add, that mostly were introduced through colonialism), traditional people live as long as do modern Westerners. As said by Geronimo, a man who lived and fought under fierce conditions into older age, “My only friends are my legs. I only trust my legs.”

Even cold weather is not a big issue. An intriguing side of ketosis is that it has a built-in inefficiency. Burning fat produces excess heat, that is to say wasted energy. As Benjamin Bikman has speculated, this is likely because ketosis most often has occurred in the winter. The extra heat was a side benefit. So, fasting will not only give you immense energy from the superfuel of ketones but keep you warmer as well. Cold temperatures, like fasting, also promote autophagy which is healing. The body goes into its most optimal mode of functioning. Humans who are adapted to it can swim in freezing cold water for long periods of time or hike barefoot and half-naked in the snow as Wim Hof has demonstrated and, shown in research, all humans have such capacity for cold adaptation — it’s related to meditation techniques of warming the body where one sits in snow or on ice until it melts. Cold bathing and sleeping out in the open on cold nights, including with little clothing has been done by numerous populations: Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, etc. Make it a practice to take cold showers and you’ll get some small sense of the effect this can have — something I’ve been doing for a while and, to say the least, it is invigorating, but I’ve always been one of those crazy people who will go outside in the winter underdressed. By the way, Wim Hof at the other extreme has also run a half marathon through a desert without water. He has set many other world records, twenty-six in total.

Humans are adaptable, but a too easy and comfortable lifestyle has caused modern people to lose their adaptability. We aren’t meant to always be at the same temperature, always eating, always sedentary, or always anything else. Pushing the biological boundareies is a good thing to do on a regular basis. Consider hormesis — small amounts of stress actually increase our health. A similar thing is seen with exposure to bacteria and parasites when younger that can strengthen the immune system for life and alter how our bodies function. Even in seeking health, we moderns often get it wrong. We aren’t meant to continually do the same exercise in the same way over and over. Variety isn’t only the spice of life for it is also the meat of life. If we don’t use it, we lose it. This is why we should alternate how we exercise.

One method designed for this purpose is high-intensity interval training (HIIT) which is alternating between strenuous activity to exhaustion with periods of rest and repeating this multiple times. It forces the rhythm of your heart rate to expand its variability and that is good thing. Continuous exercise at the same pace, such as typical long distance running does the opposite in decreasing this variability. This is what can sometimes cause seemingly health long distance runners, once reaching the finish line, to drop dead from a heart attack. The lack of heart rate variability strains their heart too much in going from running to stopping. But this could be easily prevented by doing some HIIT exercise such as wind sprints, something I did a lot as a kid during soccer practice. Sometimes walk, sometimes jog, and sometimes run as fast as you can. That is what most of us did as children when playing and often we did it barefoot — I recall running on gravel alley barefoot, walking through the woods barefoot, and climbing trees barefoot. Why do we forget such natural behavior as we become mature, respectable adults? Don’t exercise. Just go play outside.

Our loss of connection to our species inheritance has cost us our health. But this loss isn’t an inevitable fate of modern civilization. We should take advantage of what we now know about human physiology. We humans are amazing creatures. There is a reason we have survived and thrived and spread all over the earth in nearly all environments and ecosystems. Even with all the unnatural strain and harm we put ourselves under, we still somehow manage to keep many of our physiological abilities. Imagine what we could accomplish if, rather than being sickly, our society operated with optimal health.

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Persistence hunting
from Wikipedia

Endurance running hypothesis
from Wikipedia

Endurance Running and Persistence Hunting
by David Carrier

Running After Antelope
from This American Life

Running After Antelope
by Scott Carrier

Born to Run
by Christopher McDougall

Why We Run: A Natural History
by Bernd Heinrich

Becoming the Iceman
by Wim Hof

The Way of the Iceman
by Wim Hof

What Doesn’t Kill Us
by Scott Carney

Science Explains How the Iceman Resists Extreme Cold
by Joshua Rapp Learn

Breathe Like The Iceman: How To Use The Wim Hof Method
by Harry J. Stead