Jan 05 2015

Cancer Risk Largely Bad Luck

This is one of those glass-half-full / glass-half-empty news items. Different headlines reporting on the same study present the results in opposite ways. The BBC, for example, writes, “Life choices ‘behind more than four in 10 cancers.'” Meanwhile the press release from Johns Hopkins states, “Bad Luck of Random Mutations Plays Predominant Role in Cancer, Study Shows.”

The Hopkins headline is more accurate. The BBC headline is not just focusing on life choices vs bad luck, it actually gets the data wrong.

What the researchers did was look at the replication rate of stem cells in different tissue types (they did not include breast cancer and prostate cancer as they could not find published replication rates). They then compared differences in these rates to differences in adult cancer rates in the same tissues. For example, colon cancer is more common than cancer of the small intestine, and colon cells replicate more frequently than small intestine tissue. (In mice, this is reversed, but the correlation holds.)

All cancers, the authors emphasize, are a result of random mutations, lifestyle factors, and inherited genes. The latter two can affect the rate of random mutations and perhaps also the probability of cancerous cells being destroyed by the immune system vs growing into a cancer. The mutations result in cancer by altering the cell’s growing characteristic, allowing them to grow without limit. Normally cells posses mechanisms that keep them from growing out of control, and mutations may disable one or more of those mechanisms.

The authors hypothesize that if getting unlucky random mutations were the sole cause of cancer, then 100% of the difference in cancer rates among various tissue types could be explained by variation in their stem cell division rates. Statistically this means there would be a complete correlation between these two variables (a correlation of 1.0). They found a correlation of 0.804. This translates into 65% of the difference in cancer rates being explainable by differences in stem cell mutation rates.

The correlation was not the same for all tissue types. Some tissues had a very tight correlation, meaning cancers of those tissues are almost entirely due to random mutations. Other tissue types had a low correlation, the obvious one being lung cancer, which is largely caused by smoking. Of the 31 tissue types they looked at, 22 had a strong correlation between cancer rates and stem cell division rates. Those that did not were basal cell skin cancer (sun exposure is a major risk factor), head and neck and lung cancer (smoking is a risk factor), hepatocellular (liver) cancer, thyroid cancer, and several types of colon cancer.

The study, however, did not look directly at the contributions of inherited genetics and lifestyle factors, which is why the BBC headline is wrong. They assumed that not bad luck equaled lifestyle, but it equaled lifestyle plus genetics, which were not separated by this study.

The two cancer types not included, breast and prostate, are not largely lifestyle cancers, and so once they are included I suspect the percentage of overall cancers that are due to random mutations will increase.

Conclusion

This is an interesting study and it will be interesting to look at replications and other methods, if they are available, of making the same sort of estimation. What this study suggests is that at least 2/3 of all all cancers are due to random mutations – bad luck. The figure may be higher once breast and prostate cancers are included. Of the remaining third it is not clear how much is due to inherited genes vs lifestyle factors.

The logic of the study is sound, in my opinion. The authors assume that lifestyle and genetic factors affect the risk of tissue-specific cancers, but not cancer in general. This study would miss, however, lifestyle or genetic factors that affected the risk of all cancers (regardless of tissue type) equally. One might argue, therefore, that it overestimates the role of random mutations, but that is only if you accept that there are universal risk factors out there.

Of course we want to focus on the lifestyle factors, because that is the one thing we can control. If you avoid smoking, avoid excess sun exposure, avoid excess alcohol, and have a generally healthful diet, you are probably covering the vast majority of lifestyle factors that affect cancer risk. That is some comfort.

But still the majority of cancer risk is something we cannot do anything about (our own genetics, and just being alive). The researchers emphasize from this that we therefore need to focus our attention on early detection and treatment of cancer.

The good news is we are making progress. The latest figures show that death from cancer has declined by 22% since its peak in 1991. This translates into 1.5 million cancer deaths avoided if rates had remained at their peak level.

Also, 27% of cancer deaths are due to lung cancer, which is strongly linked to smoking. Therefore, if you avoid smoking then you are avoiding most of the lifestyle-associated cancer risk. Breast, colon, and prostate are also among the most common cancers, with these four representing half of all cancers. Breast cancer deaths have decreased by 35% and colon and prostate by 47%.

Hopefully these trends will continue, with improved detection and treatment of various types of cancer. Meanwhile, if you want to reduce your own risk, then don’t smoke. Avoiding excess sun is also important, but not nearly as large of a risk factor. There are many reasons to have a generally healthy diet – well rounded with plenty of plants. Just as important, however, is to follow screening guidelines. See your doctor and follow their recommendations.

Addendum:

David Gorski has written a much more detailed analysis at Science-Based Medicine that I highly recommend. He correctly points out that the study is not actually a measure of what causes cancer, but makes various assumptions to estimate the correlation of variability in stem cell replication rates and cancer rates by tissue type. The authors then assume that the proportion of cancer types that correlate with stem cell division rates are largely due to random mutations in the replication process.

While this is not literally the same thing, it is not an unreasonable assumption, and David points out that their result is in range with other estimates of the percentage of cancers that are preventable.

65 responses so far

65 Responses to “Cancer Risk Largely Bad Luck”

  1. mumadaddon 05 Jan 2015 at 8:40 am

    I haven’t read either article yet, but based on the headlines, the BBC seem to be trying to have it both ways:

    “Most cancer types ‘just bad luck'”: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-30641833

  2. MikeLewinskion 05 Jan 2015 at 10:01 am

    It’s been estimated that on average each cell repairs 20,000 lesions per day in an average human*. The majority of our cells are red blood cells that lack DNA after maturity, but I come up with a figure of 218 quadrillion mutations repaired per day in the average human body (~ 10.9 trillion cells with human DNA on average out of 37.2 trillion total).

    The mutations are caused by reactive oxygen species generated by normal cell metabolism. These are essentially oxygen ions and hydrogen peroxide.

    The funny thing is that we probably evolved multicellularity as defense against oxygen toxicity, but it still corrupts and corrodes and turns the defense into a liability.

    * See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2664861/

  3. Carl de Boeron 05 Jan 2015 at 10:40 am

    Hi Steve
    The major problem most scientists have had with this story is that the news (and the Johns Hopkins press release) fail to make the distinction between cancer types and cancer incidences. It is also not very clear from your article. For instance, lung cancer is one “type”. You cannot gauge risk from this study because the prevalence of each cancer was not accounted for. E.g. if lung cancer is explained mostly by smoking, while the other cancer types are “luck”, but lung cancer makes up 99% of all cancer diagnoses (made up numbers), then most cancer incidence is not luck. For a better explanation, see: http://www.theguardian.com/science/grrlscientist/2015/jan/02/bad-luck-bad-journalism-and-cancer-rates?CMP=share_btn_tw

  4. almostmedicineryon 05 Jan 2015 at 11:10 am

    “The correlation was not the same for all tissue types. Some tissues had a very tight correlation, meaning cancers of those tissues are almost entirely due to random mutations.”

    How does that meaning come about? The correlation can still be caused by an external factor. Could we really say that random mutations are the predominant factor IF the rate of exposure to environmental factors also increased in correlation to the number of mitoses?

    We have to take into account that the tissues that have the highest replication rate are also the tissues that are more exposed to the environment, and because of that, need to regenerate more often?

    To say randomness is predominant one would have to control for different levels of environment exposure OR, what I think the researchers did, assume that environment exposure is similar or randomly distributed among the population of cancers. And I don’t think that’s what happens.

  5. Steven Novellaon 05 Jan 2015 at 11:20 am

    Carl – you are correct, but as David pointed out, their estimates are still in line with other research using different methods and so it’s probably not a bad first approximation.

    Almost – You are also correct, but it is a bit of a stretch to say that variability in environmental exposure would exactly replicate variability in stem cell division rates. The authors also tested their model in mice, who have different rates of small intestine and colon stem cells divisions than humans, and cancer risk still correlated. This is not iron clad, but it suggests that stem cell divisions are the important variable.

    In any case – this is one study using one model with lots of assumptions. The results are not unreasonable, but certainly the data are not sufficient to make a solid conclusion.

  6. Sylakon 05 Jan 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Headlines are so misleading, even IFLS did it wrong ( like she does too often I think).

    Thanks for this simpler explanation. As much As i like David Gorski Posts, they can be very technical and long to read sometimes so, at least now I have a head start on this topic.

  7. tmac57on 05 Jan 2015 at 12:26 pm

    I was surprised that prostate cancer deaths were down 47%, since there has been increasing debate about whether screening for prostate cancer was of any overall benefit. Does the decrease in deaths from prostate cancer imply that screening and treatment are warranted after all?

  8. robpon 05 Jan 2015 at 12:58 pm

    Hi Steve,

    I work in Computational Biology and have an interest in cancer research, so I’ve been following this study with some interest. However, one of the biggest issues I (and many in my community) have with the paper is that there are some serious issues with the statistics used to derive their “headline” claims — the problems are well-explained in this blog post (http://www.statschat.org.nz/2015/01/03/cancer-isnt-just-bad-luck/). Essentially, the authors try and infer a proportion of incidence from data points that have been inappropriately log-scaled, which confers a very large weight to very rare cancer types. Depending on other (arguably more valid) interpretations of the data, the proportion of incidence due to random mutations is between 18% and 28%; still interesting, but a far cry from the 2/3 claim made in the paper.

  9. almostmedicineryon 05 Jan 2015 at 1:14 pm

    “(…) it is a bit of a stretch to say that variability in environmental exposure would exactly replicate variability in stem cell division rates.”

    I don’t think it would, and I’m not denying that “random” mutations have their part. They so obviously do, just taking the basic science into account. But I think that if we organized the graph by how exposed the tissue is, rather than by how frequently the cells replicate, we would find some level of correlation too, and we would also have the basic science supporting causality there. Even if there was only a 0.3 correlation, we would have to wonder how much of the 0.804 correlation to replication rate was actually independent.

    But I haven’t read the article, and the mention of the data holding up in mice is interesting. I’ll go read Dr. Gorski’s article next.

  10. almostmedicineryon 05 Jan 2015 at 1:17 pm

    That 0.3 was a number off the top of my head, by the way. I have no idea what level of correlation one would need to actually pay attention to that data. It’s just a number that seemed plausible on the low end .

  11. Wolfbecketton 05 Jan 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Science is a cruel mistress sometimes. I have to believe what the studies say but I was personally more at ease with my lymphoma when I was able to assume it was my own damn fault. Knowing that it was actually just fate giving me the finger is kind of a downer.

  12. ccbowerson 05 Jan 2015 at 9:28 pm

    “One might argue, therefore, that it overestimates the role of random mutations, but that is only if you accept that there are universal risk factors out there.”

    I don’t think those risk factors have to be universal exactly, but it could be a hodgepodge of risk factors that are common enough to collectively add some risk to most cancers. Perhaps the different risk factors more or less even out in a way to create some data noise that add to a baseline cancer risk. It seem that the assumption by their methods are that such a baseline of risk factors would be interpreted as caused by random mutations.

  13. BillyJoe7on 06 Jan 2015 at 8:35 am

    tmac,

    “I was surprised that prostate cancer deaths were down 47%, since there has been increasing debate about whether screening for prostate cancer was of any overall benefit. Does the decrease in deaths from prostate cancer imply that screening and treatment are warranted after all?”

    I’m not sure where that figure of 47% came from.

    In fact, screening reduces your risk of prostate cancer death by about 15% after 9 years, 22% after 13 years, and then no further reduction after that. The downside is a 40% overdiagnosis and a 50-60% risk of complications of treatment such as incontinence and impotence. As a result, screening for prostate cancer is not recommended.

  14. BillyJoe7on 06 Jan 2015 at 8:46 am

    Sylak,

    As Steve suggest in his addendum, his own post is perhaps a bit too simplified, and you will need to read the more extensive article by David Gorski to get a good idea why the headlines were wrong. Most importantly, this study was not about apportioning blame to random mutation, environmental, and genetic factors. It was about whether stem cell activity correlates with the proportion of cancers that are caused by random mutation. So none of the headlines got it right.

  15. arnieon 06 Jan 2015 at 9:12 am

    .BillyJoe7

    “As a result, screening for prostate cancer is not recommended.”

    Way too global of a statement, IMO. You don’t want to put that out in unqualified form in the popular press nor say that to your patient whose father, several uncles, and a few cousins had prostate cancer, especially if one or more were diagnosed in their 50s or 60s and/or died of it.

    I’ve never known a patient with prostate cancer say they regretted being screened but I’ve known some who sadly regretted they hadn’t been screened or had let their screenings lapse.

    Decisions around cancer screenings, treatment options, etc., are seldom, if ever, a one-size-fits-all matter.

  16. hardnoseon 06 Jan 2015 at 4:08 pm

    It sounds like an extremely unscientific article to me. I didn’t read the Gorski post yet though.

  17. hardnoseon 06 Jan 2015 at 4:23 pm

    One problem I noticed so far is: Higher rates of DNA replication could magnify environmental causes. So there would be a correlation between cancer and higher replication rates, but the higher replication would not by itself cause cancer. There would have to also be an environmental cause.

    That’s what I think is more likely. But I didn’t read the whole Gorski thing yet.

  18. hardnoseon 06 Jan 2015 at 4:42 pm

    Ok, I read it, and of course Gorski doesn’t mention the problem I noticed — that higher rates of DNA replication could magnify environmental factors, without being a sufficient cause.

    It is really unfortunate no one notices this, because now the role of environmental factors will be minimized (except maybe for smoking).

    If someone is not exposed to a lot of environmental carcinogens, they will probably not get cancer. This can be demonstrated by comparing cultures with different lifestyles, for example.

    Of course now the whole world is getting polluted and industrialized, so it’s harder to make comparisons.

  19. BillyJoe7on 06 Jan 2015 at 4:55 pm

    arnie,

    It is still true that screening the general population for prostate cancer is not recommended.
    If you have a strong family history of prostate cancer, that may affect your decision to screen, but the conclusions do not change.
    The PSA test does not fit the criteria for a screening test.

  20. BillyJoe7on 06 Jan 2015 at 5:01 pm

    hardnose,

    Read the commentary on David Gorski’s article for an explanation of why you are wrong.

  21. arnieon 06 Jan 2015 at 5:45 pm

    BillyJoe7,

    I understand your point. However, “the general population” is simply too abstract a concept to be useful to real patients facing real life decisions in the office.

    It would be irresponsible for a physician to not recommend prostate screening for a 50 year old patient with a strong family history of prostate cancer. It does happen in cases where the physician does not think deeper than “general population” and meta-analytic studies. But it shouldn’t.

    Also, in the real world, the PSA combined with a digital rectal exam functions as a meaningful screening event informing the patient and doctor’s decision as to whether further diagnostic steps, e.g., a biopsy, are indicated.

    To not understand these nuances is to potentially deny the patient the information needed to make potentially life-saving decisions. And, again unfortunately, sometimes that does happen.

  22. BillyJoe7on 06 Jan 2015 at 7:36 pm

    arnie,

    Several points:

    A screening test is a test that is recommended for the entire asymptomatic population.
    There are specific criteria that must be satisfied in order for a test to be considered for screening.
    The PSA test does not fit these criteria.
    Therefore the PSA test is not recommended as a screening test.

    You, like many others in the population, can go against these recommendations if you wish, but you should make an informed decision and you should discus this with a GP who is well-informed on the subject.

    Having a PSA will mean that you will proceed to a prostate biopsy – otherwise there is no point in doing the PSA in the first place – so you need to consider this before having your PSA done. Also, a prostate biopsy has a sensitivity of about 89% (meaning it misses 11% of cancers) and is not without risk (bleeding, infection, acute retention). Remember also that there is a 40% overdiagnosis rate, meaning that 40% of prostate cancers will never affect your health and can be regarded as being benign.

    DRE is no longer recommended, even when a decision is made to do a PSA.
    It has been found to not contribute in the diagnosis of prostate cancer.

    For those with a strong family history of prostate cancer the statistics are as follows:
    Men in their 40s: A PSA every year for the next 10 years will reduce your chances of dying from prostate cancer from 0.021% to 0.018%
    Men in their 50s: A PSA every year for the next 10 years will reduce your chances of dying from prostate cancer from 0.29% to 0.23%
    Men in their 60s: A PSA every year for the next 10 years will reduce your chances of dying from prostate cancer from 2.2% to 1.8%

  23. BillyJoe7on 06 Jan 2015 at 7:48 pm

    hardnose,

    “Ok, I read it, and of course Gorski doesn’t mention the problem I noticed — Higher rates of DNA replication could magnify environmental causes. So there would be a correlation between cancer and higher replication rates, but the higher replication would not by itself cause cancer. There would have to also be an environmental cause”

    It’s not his fault that you have poor reading comprehension

    Here he quotes directly from the paper:

    Extreme variation in cancer incidence across different tissues is well known; for example, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cancer is 6.9% for lung, 1.08% for thyroid, 0.6% for brain and the rest of the nervous system, 0.003% for pelvic bone and 0.00072% for laryngeal cartilage (1–3). Some of these differences are associated with well-known risk factors such as smoking, alcohol use, ultraviolet light, or human papilloma virus (HPV) (4, 5), but this applies only to specific populations exposed to potent mutagens or viruses. And such exposures cannot explain why cancer risk in tissues within the alimentary tract can differ by as much as a factor of 24 [esophagus (0.51%), large intestine (4.82%), small intestine (0.20%), and stomach (0.86%)] (3). Moreover, cancers of the small intestinal epithelium are three times less common than brain tumors (3), even though small intestinal epithelial cells are exposed to much higher levels of environmental mutagens than are cells within the brain, which are protected by the blood-brain barrier.

    In case you missed that quote from the paper, he adds the following:

    “So this is what we know about cancer. Its incidence varies tremendously among tissues in a way that can’t be explained by environmental exposure or heredity. I might quibble with the authors’ not discussing lung cancer more as a major exception to this tendency, given that nearly all lung cancer is caused by tobacco smoking, but overall for most other cancers this is basically accurate. Given the inadequacy of environmental factors and inherited genetic mutations as explanations for how cancers arise, the authors then tell the reader how this led them to look at what they call a “third factor”: the stochastic effects associated with the lifetime number of stem cell divisions within each tissue”

  24. hardnoseon 07 Jan 2015 at 9:23 am

    BillyJoe7,

    If my reading comprehension is poor, yours is even worse. You did not even get close to understanding my comments.

  25. BillyJoe7on 07 Jan 2015 at 3:12 pm

    hardnose,

    You can say that only because you have failed to comprehend my response.
    But, as always, you do not intend to engage, so let’s just leave it there shall we?

  26. Bruceon 07 Jan 2015 at 3:43 pm

    hardnose,

    If Dr Gorski has it so wrong then why don’t you go over the SBM and comment there?

  27. BillyJoe7on 07 Jan 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Just to make it clear….

    I am not saying that I nesssarily agree with everything in the original paper or with Dr. Gorski’s assessment of that paper. I am saying that hardnose is wrong when he says that Dr. Gorski (and presumably he also means the authors of the study) does not address the question of whether it could be environmental factors that drive up the stem cell replication rate.

    My above quote from Dr. Gorski’s assessment of the paper clearly indicates that he has addressed this issue. Again, I not saying that I necessarily agree that he has addressed this successfully, but simply that he has addressed it.

    And so have the authors:

    “Our study shows, in general, that a change in the number of stem cell divisions in a tissue type is highly correlated with a change in the incidence of cancer in that same tissue,” says Vogelstein. One example, he says, is in colon tissue, which undergoes four times more stem cell divisions than small intestine tissue in humans. Likewise, colon cancer is much more prevalent than small intestinal cancer. You could argue that the colon is exposed to more environmental factors than the small intestine, which increases the potential rate of acquired mutations,” says Tomasetti. However, the scientists saw the opposite finding in mouse colons, which had a lower number of stem cell divisions than in their small intestines, and, in mice, cancer incidence is lower in the colon than in the small intestine. They say this supports the key role of the total number of stem cell divisions in the development of cancer.

    And…

    The research duo classified the types of cancers they studied into two groups. They statistically calculated which cancer types had an incidence predicted by the number of stem cell divisions and which had higher incidence. They found that 22 cancer types could be largely explained by the “bad luck” factor of random DNA mutations during cell division. The other nine cancer types had incidences higher than predicted by “bad luck” and were presumably due to a combination of bad luck plus environmental or inherited factors. “We found that the types of cancer that had higher risk than predicted by the number of stem cell divisions were precisely the ones you’d expect, including lung cancer, which is linked to smoking; skin cancer, linked to sun exposure; and forms of cancers associated with hereditary syndromes,” says Vogelstein.

    But the quote of the week goes to hardnose:

    “It is really unfortunate no one notices this”

  28. karenkilbaneon 07 Jan 2015 at 5:22 pm

    I just watched a commercial on TV for a local hypnosis center. People are shown reclining with glasses that have flashing lights. The announcer shouts in a Let’s Make a Deal Voice, “Let us show you how to unleash the power of your unconscious mind so you can achieve positive change in 2015.”

    Anyone who mentions the unconscious mind is taken seriously because it is a concept currently taken seriously by science. The unconscious mind has as little proof for its existence as God, ghosts, and Big Foot yet we accept the unconscious as a proven fact because psychology says it is so.

    With our current psychological theories of personality that are vague and filled with pseudoscientific facts themselves, people have carte blanche to make claims about our psyche, our unconscious, our subconscious, our consciousness, our emotions, our intuition, our self awareness, our self esteem, our self concept, self destructiveness, addictive tendencies, our mindfulness, etc.

    Our current psychological research on the placebo effect gives every single alternative therapy traction because it says we can think our way into being healthy.

    Research about placebo, like all psychological research, should be questioned because no two psychologists are using the same theory of personality and if they even have one in mind they are using incorrect theories of personality to conceive of, carry out, and interpret their psychological research. Unless we can refute the alleged placebo affect, all alternative therapies have a green light.

    Scientists are handily invalidated by naturopaths and integrative physicians because the latter group claims scientists are too linear, too stuck in their heads, don’t tap into their higher consciousness, are not in touch with their intuition, are too left brained, are not letting their emotions be their guide, are unconsciously shutting out their heart center, yadayada.

    If we don’t clean up the language put out freely by the field of psychology for how we describe and define how the human brain thinks, nobody can protect themselves from trumped up thinking deficits that alternative healers want to throw at them. The alternative healers are using language that is currently accepted as science when they talk about the human personality.

    If we do not stop taking on faith that the personality is controlled by our temperament, personality traits, mood, and unconscious, then we have no legs to stand on. Psychology needs to reframe and retool because currently it is providing the conceptual tools to allow pseudoscience to flourish.

    Furthermore, psychological theories don’t just feed into the general public to be used willy nilly by self help authors, alternative healers, and conspiracy theorists. Psychological theories feed into neuroscience and medicine without being scrutinized properly.

    I hypothesize that our inaccurate and pseudoscientific psychological theories of the human personality are keeping us stuck from making scientific and social progress in many ways. I hypothesize that the various vague theories of personality are also preventing us from understanding and solving many mental health problems.

    The fact there are many theories of personality and not just one theory is our first red flag. There has to be consensus about how the human brain makes its decisions. Our mood, temperament, genes, or so called unconscious do not make our decisions. We need to drop these terms from the lexicon and start from scratch. Our personality is simply a reflection of how our brain synthesizes information. Our brain stores memories, makes associations, forms conclusions about new information by associating it with stored information, makes predictions, and then makes decisions, period. The brain’s only job is to figure out what to do next. There is no way to define how people will or should think and behave in a predictive manner because our decisions for what to do next are totally context specific.Humans are designed to make optimal decisions in ever changing environments according to how each one is able to sense, think, and move.

    However, psychology has promoted many vague theories about the human personality that says the human personality is far too complicated and influenced by the mysterious unconscious and hundreds of biases to ever be pinned down and scientifically verified for what it is and how it works.

    I disagree with the ‘unknowableness’ of the human personality and brain, which are both ultimately one and the same. I know I was not born to have a brain that was wired for how it would eventually be defined against how well I could decipher claims from a scientist or psychologist. My brain was not meant to be judged in terms of how well it could overcome potential thinking biases as defined by the smartest scientists or psychologists. My brain was wired to make optimal decisions that would make the most sense for my sense organs and motor and nervous system capacities in any given environment. If I am born into a family of fundamentalists, my security and happiness calls for me to figure out how to embrace their ideologies. If I do so and then am defined by a Stanford scientist as having cognitive biases based upon how I am making optimal sense out of my personal environment with my personal set of capacities to do so, then the Stanford scientist is missing how individual perspective works.

    One aspect of individual perspective is that no one person can totally understand how another person thinks. All we can know is that each person is always making sense to him or herself. Nobody is born to make sense of how other people think or emote. They are born to make sense to themselves.

    Psychology defines someone as normal when they are able to ‘intuitively’ know how someone else’s emotional responses are impacting that person’s thoughts. We are not wired to understand the emotional cues of other people. That is preposterous. Our brain is wired with an emotional cueing system to direct and hold our focus on a particular event because our brain has determined that event has high importance. Our brain is not wired to know what the emotional cues of other people are directing them to do. Yet psychology perpetuates this preposterous notion. Not having “empathy,’ the understanding of what the emotional cues of another person mean to that person lies at the heart of all personality disorder diagnoses. How did this ever come to pass? Are psychologists trying to legislate kindness in the same way Christians are?

    Each person has to make sense of his environment in ways that make sense to him, not in ways that make sense to other people, to scientists, to Christians, to teachers, or psychologists. Our current psychological theories objectively identify thoughts and behaviors of people and then analyzes those thoughts and behaviors as healthy or unhealthy, ordered or disordered.

    Instead of this, I hypothesize that we need to understand why each person’s thoughts and behaviors make sense to him or her, not how they DON’T make sense to the psychologist or the scientist or the pastor, etc.

    Just because we have advancement in our understanding of the brain doesn’t mean we are advancing in how to apply those understandings. We are plugging our brain research into outdated psychological theories that allow us no forward progress.

    I hypothesize that our mental illnesses are adaptations, necessary for those who manifest them to cope in their environments. If a person is forced to think and behave in ways that make sense to the cognitive style of an authority over them but they cannot figure out how to do so, they will develop adaptations to help them cope with this impossible situation for their brain. That adaptation might involve withdrawal, aggression, or retreat into a fantasy where they can make their own decisions. Why are mental illnesses adaptations that make sense is a question we could be asking? Why does adherence to a fundamentalist ideology make good sense to many brains? If we ask this instead of listing the many ways it is dysfunctional, we will come up with many more answers about our human brain than we currently have.

    The main requirement of our brain is to be able to comfortably and reliably predict what to do next. The other main requirement or our brain is to constantly be on guard for an eliminate all present or potential future threats. The human brain is largely an instrument of threat detection. Fundamentalism is a perfect fit with our human brain because it takes away much of the chance that our brain grows weary of being vigilant of. When our brain knows the rules for conduct are available to know, it can relax. When our brain knows that other potentially threatening people are following the same rules of conduct in their religious community, it can relax.

    I believe a new and accurate theory of the human personality will help us separate the wheat from the chaff in all realms of study.

  29. hardnoseon 07 Jan 2015 at 7:25 pm

    “I am saying that hardnose is wrong when he says that Dr. Gorski (and presumably he also means the authors of the study) does not address the question of whether it could be environmental factors that drive up the stem cell replication rate.”

    I didn’t say that. Some organs have naturally higher replication rates than others, as explained by the article, and I did not argue against that.

    My point was that higher replication rates IN COMBINATION WITH environmental factors might result in higher rates of cancer. It is not a question of EITHER random factors OR environmental factors, since both can work together.

    Maybe certain types of cancer seldom occur without some kind of environmental trigger. We know that is true of lung cancer, for example, since that has been observed and studied and there is now a consensus.

  30. BillyJoe7on 07 Jan 2015 at 8:54 pm

    Hardnose,

    First let me correct a typo in my last post. I meant “stem cell mutation rate” not “stem cell replication rate”

    “My point was that higher replication rates IN COMBINATION WITH environmental factors might result in higher rates of cancer. It is not a question of EITHER random factors OR environmental factors, since both can work together”

    An environmental mutagen cannot act on its own; it must work in combination with DNA replication to cause cancer.
    (And the higher the DNA replication rate, the higher the cancer rate).
    But DNA replication can act on its own to cause cancer – through errors of DNA replication.
    (And, again, the higher the DNA replication rate, the higher the cancer rate)

    So, we have two separate mechanisms increasing cancer rates
    1) higher replication rates.
    2) higher replication rates + environmental mutagens

    You seem to be either denying the first mechanism, or that that this study differentiates between these two mechanisms.
    Is that correct?
    If so, my replies above stand in contradiction to that view.

  31. hardnoseon 08 Jan 2015 at 9:21 am

    “An environmental mutagen cannot act on its own; it must work in combination with DNA replication to cause cancer.”

    “But DNA replication can act on its own to cause cancer – through errors of DNA replication.”

    It CAN but we don’t know how often it DOES. The article assumes it happens OFTEN. That assumption is not supported by anything in the article!

  32. fergl100on 08 Jan 2015 at 10:57 am

    “In general, DNA polymerases are highly accurate, with an intrinsic error rate of less than one mistake for every 10 to the power 7 nucleotides added.” from wiki with references.

    So although highly accurate the error rate is pretty high when you consider the trillions of cells in the body. How many of these errors contribute to cancer? I’m not sure but someone will have information on that.

  33. BillyJoe7on 08 Jan 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Hardnose,

    So it really all comes down to your inability to comprehend the article, because it clearly does address this issue as I have already illustrated.

  34. Bill Openthalton 08 Jan 2015 at 7:40 pm

    karenkilbane —

    The unconscious mind has as little proof for its existence as God, ghosts, and Big Foot yet we accept the unconscious as a proven fact because psychology says it is so.

    We know there is a ‘subconscious’ mind because it is ‘observable’ — e.g. when you walk, you do not consciously balance your body, or when you hear you are not aware of the conversion from airwaves to meaningful words, but rely on subsystems that perform these functions. When you find yourself liking one person and disliking another, you are not aware of the complex evaluations your social subsystems have performed, only of the result (the feeling). The pop-psychology treatment of the subconscious is far from rigorous, but no reason to go full tilt the other way.

    Each person has to make sense of his environment in ways that make sense to him, not in ways that make sense to other people, to scientists, to Christians, to teachers, or psychologists. Our current psychological theories objectively identify thoughts and behaviors of people and then analyzes those thoughts and behaviors as healthy or unhealthy, ordered or disordered.

    I think your appreciation of ‘psychology’ isn’t all that accurate. If a person has ‘made sense’ of their environment and is functioning normally (i.e. is a well-integrated member of society), there is no doubt their thoughts and behaviours are healthy. When they experience problems (such as phobias, or OC behaviour, or depression) is there reason to talk about ‘unhealthy’ behaviour. No human is an island, and even if the little green Martians on people’s shoulders make sense to you, the fact no-one else can see them is a reliable indicator you’re hallucinating.

    As far as objective identification of ‘thought processes’ is concerned, there is little doubt about such mental foibles as visual or auditory illusions, or the propensity to see agency everywhere, etc. These are indeed scientific observations, and apply to you (and me) whether or not we like it.

  35. karenkilbaneon 09 Jan 2015 at 4:15 am

    Bill, I appreciate your clarity. Few people try to pin down and explain with precision the psychological concepts they refer to. You have given clear and thought provoking examples. I have an alternative view that I have been working on if interested. It is a work in progress.

    The notion we have a subconscious mind that is operating underneath our level of awareness to me is imprecise language began by Freud. Words like subconscious, the subconscious mind, the unconscious, and consciousness have undergone possibly hundreds of iterations and permutations over the years. If the science of human thought and behavior is to be a science then every term should be attached to an observable and verifiable structure or function or process that is understood and applied accurately, uniformly, and reliably.

    From my reading, our cognitive evaluations are the agents that direct our brain to focus on any given piece of information in our environment, not our subconscious or unconscious or subconscious mind. Sometimes these terms are used as a verb or a type of processing and sometimes they are used as a noun so it is hard to get a handle on what is really meant by them.

    The term subconscious mind has so many connotations handed down from so many tributaries of psychological, sociological, philosophical, and self help schools of thought that no two people could possibly ever be using the term in the same way.

    Jeff Hawkins in On Intelligence has described the processes that go on in our neocortex.
    We form representations of memories and we store those representations. The representative memory storage is the key to our vast array of abilities and capacities. Our ability to call up stored memories and form new associations to ever changing and often harsh or unpredictable situations is our ticket to success.

    Each human has the capacity to tens of thousands of items of memory in the neocortex that we can call up as needed. The average adult knows up to 35,000 words give or take. We store all 35,000 in our neocortex. It would be very inefficient if we were constantly aware of all the words we know not to mention all the concepts, images, patterns, etc. Our brain is a filing system not a subconscious system. I hypothesize it is more accurate to say we have stored memory representations than it is to say we have a subconscious mind or an unconscious. We have memories that lie dormant until our brain cues them to become active.

    Our brain communicates with itself all the time. It is one organ that can do many different kinds and categories of things so it seems like more than one organ. I think this is one reason we refer to our stored memory as a subconscious mind or an unconscious as if they are separate entities. Jeff Hawkins does not believe, based on his research, that we have the thing some psychologists refer to as consciousness. Our brain is an instrument of memory and prediction. It doesn’t perform any mysterious function that turns into something we call consciousness.

    Our cognitive evaluations turn into conclusions and those conclusions turn into decisions for what to do next. Those decisions are the agents that direct our brain to do what it does moment to moment. Our subconscious mind is not the agent of initiation. It is not really a thing, just an abstract idea, so it can neither do or not do anything.

    Our cognitive processes direct exactly where our attention goes at all times. There is nothing wishy washy about our attention or the directives we give our brain. If I hear a crash in the background, my stored learning forms a conclusion. That conclusion leads me to make a decision. That decision cues my emotional cues to kick in. My brain has a number of methods it operates simultaneously to cue me to immediately get up and check out the area of the crash. The actions of the brain all have a corresponding process that can be observed and measured. Nowhere inside the brain is their a holding area that operates as a subconscious mind. I might hear background noise all the time without really noticing it or attending to it. As soon as I form a decision to attend to a specific noise, I will. My subconscious does not direct my brain, my own conclusions and decisions direct it.

    We do not have to be aware of our sensory, motor, nervous, reproductive, digestive, or circulatory systems. We do precious little in the running of our physiology. All we have to do is evaluate information, form conclusions, and then make decisions for what to do next. Once we decide to move our arm up, our brain cues all the right muscles for how to do it. We just make the decisions in order to cue our brain in a context specific way. Our brain is one organ that performs many functions. I hypothesize that we don’t need to refer to our brain as an unconscious, or a subconscious, or a subconscious mind, just a brain.

    As for the little green martians. If someone really sees them, then they really see them. The martians aren’t really there but the person really sees them.This doesn’t mean their thinking is disordered. Nobody’s thinking can be disordered from their perspective. There has to be a valid reason for why they see the martians and trying to understand why is the key to understanding the thinking of that person. Our brain is always making sense of information in way that makes sense to it. That is all it can do. Even if a person has dementia, their brain still has to cue itself in the ways it is able given its limitations. Psychology is the science of trying to make sense of people according to its preconceived theories of how people should think and behave. A bottom up approach to understanding people for how they are making sense of information in a way that makes sense to them will reveal to us how each individual is able to evaluate, conclude, and decide. Replacing the term disordered thinking with something more accurate like ‘thinking that is unpredictable from the point of view of an observer’ seems more accurate.

    Thanks for your smart comments. Still thinking about your other thoughts.

  36. Bill Openthalton 09 Jan 2015 at 12:17 pm

    karenkilbane —

    The fact a person sees little green Martians means their brain is not functioning correctly (in the sense that it works with a reliable model of reality). A valid reason for hallucinations would be, for example, over-consumption of alcohol or the use of hallucinogenic substances. Absent an ‘external’ cause, the reason could be internal damage.

    The yardstick for determining proper functioning of the brain (and its sensors) is the accuracy of the model it creates of reality. In the case of hallucinations, it seems fair to use the observations of everyone else as reliable, especially when there is only a single person hallucinating. Science is a means to gauge the accuracy of our mental models when they are shared by the majority (i.e. the existence of a $DEITY in a religious society). In matters not amenable to a scientific approach, we have to live with the fact that the consensus is normative.

    That being said, just as much as any other organ, the brain can be diseased, damaged, or inadequately developed. In these cases, there is no doubt about its inadequate functioning. Absent physical markers, when it comes to differences of opinion or behaviour, they only become a matter for concern if the behaviour is socially unacceptable. Fortunately, having divergent opinions is usually rather well accepted, in our society at least. 🙂

  37. karenkilbaneon 09 Jan 2015 at 4:52 pm

    Do you have a blog? Your writing is really clear and interesting. I do see what you are saying.

    I was recently researching Lewy Body Dementia and due to physiological changes in the brain some people will hallucinate. I have taught children with special needs, many of whom have some form of brain damage and I have a daughter with Trisomy 21. There are certainly some forms of brain damage that require intervention of some kind.

    However, once born, individuals with brain damage or special needs must cope day to day with the brains they have in the ways they are cognitively and motorically able to. They must organize the information that comes at them from the world in a ways that will allow them to make sense of that information and in ways that will allow them to manage the outcomes of their conclusions and decisions.

    My daughter has extremely slow processing speed. When asked a questions she often immediately says no, even if it’s not a yes/no question. This is not socially appropriate and makes teachers angry, but it is her way of staying safe and in control of herself before she can successfully organize the variables in the question in her head in a way that makes sense to her ability think. She needs a lot of time to deliberate about her eventual response because her brain works slowly and she has fewer capacities and abilities and options than most people, so she has to be pretty selective about how she responds to anything asked of her. Because our current definition of personality is understood to be a relatively fixed and permanent manifestation of our temper, moods, and personality traits her ‘no’s’ are interpreted as stubbornness because it is presumed children with Down’s all have ‘stubborn’ personality traits.

    We could instead define the human personality as a process. The personality is one’s ability to sense, think, and move based upon how one is able to cognitively organize and synthesize information. This definition would account for individual sensory, motor, and thinking differences and we wouldn’t default into behavior modification in our schools. We would always help a child manage their understanding of a situation instead of trying to modify their behaviors. Their behaviors are always in alignment with their understanding and children are extremely guarded and protective of their behaviors. We all are. Our behaviors are the our tools of our brain and having them modified cripples our brain from working optimally.

    As a rule, the models of reality children with special needs create tend be quite different from the norm which causes them to exhibit behaviors quite different from the norm. With the current psychological theories of behavior, these children and all children are subject to behavior modification. We don’t know how to account for the fact that thinking and behaviors are integrated and integral for all thinkers to be able to cope optimally in their environments. Typical children can deal with behavior modification better than atypical children because they are so physically and cognitively flexible. But behavior modification is a damaging practice.

    For children to figure out how to exhibit the behavior expected of them by a teacher, they must first cognitively understand the model of reality the teacher has in her head or they cannot understand or meet her expectations successfully and consistently. If you observe children in schools you see easily that the children who are always in danger of being given a consequence for behaviors they cannot reliably figure out how to exhibit become confused, anxious, paranoid, and either aggressive or withdrawn. That dynamic, in my opinion, is what eventually leased to adaptations that we now call personality disorders.

    Our current personality theories effectively and in application treat behavior and anxiety as if they somehow exist in a vacuum, separate from cognition.

    Some types of schizophrenia that occurs in adulthood, I hypothesize, begins with behavior modification and is preventable.

    Developing a deity who makes the rules, doles out consequences when we break them, is allegedly watching over us and has the ability to take us down, etc. is a socially acceptable way to manifest paranoid schizophrenic symptoms.

    If we put a stop to behavior modification we might be able to put a stop to religion. That is a big if, but what if??? Thanks for the conversation!

  38. Bill Openthalton 10 Jan 2015 at 10:45 am

    karenkilbane —

    There is nothing wishy washy about our attention or the directives we give our brain.

    This is the fun part — there is no ‘we’ or ‘I’ to give directions to our brain (for this to be so, there would have to be something else, like a soul, independent of the brain). There are only interacting parts (or functional units) resulting in actions, based on how the analysis of the sensorial input of the moment proceeds.

  39. karenkilbaneon 10 Jan 2015 at 3:49 pm

    I am writing a lot in these comments because it is what I am working on in my own writing…Critique is welcomed.

    I see your point above. And I agree. I believe I am my brain. And my brain gives the directives to itself. In Jeff Hawkin’s book he says much of the communication that goes on in the brain is its own feedback to itself. So when I refer to I, I am referring to my brain.

    It would have been more accurate to say my brain is not a wishy washy organ. When it gives a directive to itself to pay attention to something, it means business.

    I have read as much about how emotions occur as I can to date. Few psychological theorists or practitioners define in the concrete what an emotion is from the standpoint of the mechanics of emotions inside the brain. But psychologists and everyone else in the world give themselves carte blanche to ascribe to the emotions just about any activity you can think of.

    Psychologists talk about emotions in many fanciful ways and this trickles down to self help authors and into the general public and as a result we have created a monster narrative about what our emotions actually do. We are told we have to manage our emotions. We are told we have to become more emotional and/or less emotional. We are told we are thinking from an emotional place. We are told not to think from too emotional a place. We are told to think with our heart not our head. We are told to stop thinking with our emotions or to start thinking from our emotions. Women are often criticized for making an emotional decision and men are criticized for not making an emotional decision. We discuss emotions quite often as if they are the decision makers.

    So I set out to figure out what exactly is an emotion. From what I can tell from all the reading I have done, I am in agreement with what you said above. Our brain forms conclusions based upon our interactions in our environment. Our cognitive conclusions are the triggering agent for an emotional response. Emotions do not occur spontaneously. Our brain has to give the directive to itself to cue the amygdala to engage. If our ears hear a crash, our brain has to form the conclusion that the crash is alarming before it will cue the amygdala. The weekly crash of the dumpster is not concluded as alarming. Once our brain directs our amygdala to engage, an emotion response occurs. An emotion is merely a cue to the rest of our brain to pay attention immediately to the situation at hand. Once cued by an emotion, our brain sets off a series of physiological cues to engage as well. Our emotions do not think or decide. They are a biological cueing system.

    From what I have figured out based upon my reading, the whole point of our emotional cueing system is to cue our brain to perk up and pay attention because the thinking part of our brain has determined in a split second that something big just happened either bad or good. This is as autonomic as goosebumps. We cannot control our emotions or change our personalities to become more or less emotional. Essentially, emotions are automatic accompaniments to our conclusions

    An observation I have made after teaching and mothering and childcare giving for the past 35 years is that the brain triggers the emotions to engage when there is anything that runs counter to what the brain itself was expecting. And by slightest thing, I mean the slightest thing. Any time our brain perceives wrongness, it engages the amygdala. I do not believe our emotional cueing system is left over from prehistoric times. Without this cueing system we would not survive modern life either. Our dismissal of our emotional cueing system as a nuisance and something to be controlled and taken to yoga classes to be shut down will be our un-doing in my opinion.

    If we watch other mammals we can see they are quite matter of fact about the cues from their amygdala. But they do not take the cues lightly. Every cue signals a potential threat. My dad’s dog lies in a dead sleep in the evenings. Every 20 minutes or so he hears or smells something out back that cause his brain to cue him to jump up and bang on the door to go outside and case the perimeter of the back yard. He cases, ascertains the potential threatening event is benign, then bangs on the door to come in, and falls asleep within seconds.

    When you tell a child or adult they are wrong, or their brain perceives anomaly, their amygdala signals they are being potentially threatened and/or attacked. The brain has no senses and cannot see, hear, smell, or touch the things outside the skull. All it knows is that when someone or something is indicating that it’s conclusions are incorrect, it is going to protect and defend itself vigorously. If we constantly cue a child that he is wrong, directly or indirectly, we put a child’s brain in a state of constant threat mode which means constant anxiety. Last I read anxiety disorders are epidemic in this country. And from my observations in the schools, children are all too often needlessly triggered to be anxious all day every day in school. I hypothesize that with a tad bit of thought about how to understand our emotional cueing system, we could remedy this epidemic.

    We set children up for anxiety willy nilly because we do not get how hair trigger sensitive our brain is to potential threats in the environment. And we do not get that the brain sees even the slightest anomaly in the environment as a potential threat, like all mammals do. Behavior modification, for one, puts the brains of children into a state of war. Schizophrenia, passive aggression, aggression, violence, depression, etc don’t just happen to the unlucky brains for no reason. They happen to brains that cannot evaluate and decide without constantly being threatened by being told they are wrong. A brain in constant threat mode is going to be a paranoid brain.

    The schools could be a bastion of psychological research and development because psychological theories are turned into teaching and classroom management practices. Ascertaining success and failure of psychological theories is easy to figure out by observing in the schools. And all researchers would have to do is observe children over time in their natural school settings, not clinical settings. I have had jobs where I observed students and teachers in all grades and in different schools and states. I have had the opportunity this past decade to observe the same children with different teachers year after year. One teacher will believe a child is smart and well behaved and another teacher the next year will believe that exact same child is oppositional defiant and lazy. Talk about confusing and damaging to that child. And talk about us having no clue how to factor our own thinking capacities in relationship to the capacities of other people.

    We do not know how to tell teachers or psychologists or anyone how to account for their own thinking capacities (their personalities) in relationship to how they understand and interact with the thinkers they are teaching or counseling.

    Teachers are at the mercy of their own emotional cueing system like every other mammal on the planet. When a student does something unexpected, they react in anger or irritation like all mortal mammals because that is how the mammal brain reacts to unexpected incidences, always. We could easily solve for our emotional cueing system if we understood it properly and managed our conclusions about our students. We cannot manage our emotions but we can manage our conclusions.

    Psychology is the philosophy of describing in a top down manner how it believes humans should behave. Biology is the science of observing mammal behavior and documenting it and trying to ascertain why mammals exhibit the behaviors they do and why their behaviors make sense for how they think and the capacities they have. Biology is not the science of telling mammals how they should think and behave.

    I came to all of this after an incident with a student of mine I had taught for 6 years in a row. I realized his diagnosed oppositional defiance disorder could not be correct. He had to thoroughly cognitively understand what he was defying in order to be in opposition to it. He had no idea cognitively what was expected of him quite often. When he made choices counter to the expectations of the teachers it was because the choices he made were all he could cognitively come up with in that moment. The conclusions he came to were so different from his teachers because his thinking style was quite different from his teachers. His thinking style was quite different from most people. So for the teachers to believe he knew exactly what they were thinking and then defying what they were thinking was pretty crazy. This is because psychology treats behaviors as an entity unto itself when behavior is to tool of and therefore the reflection of our thinking brain.

    But psychology confidently tells us kids who exhibit defiant behavior have oppositional defiance disorder. They are making decisions all the time specifically in order to defy the directives and expectations of the authority. We are unable to analyze how the behaviors of the child relate to his thinking because we relate his behaviors to our thinking.

    This boy was trapped in a crazy diagnosis that had no bearing to his brain. He was being diagnosed for how his decisions impacted the emotional cueing system of his teachers. As soon as I figured this out, I stopped managing or even referring to his behaviors and I took his behaviors as my cue for how to understand his thinking style and how to communicate with him in a way he could understand. I stopped thinking about his behaviors in terms of how they impacted my thinking and interpreting as I was taught to do in the psychology of child development courses. I stopped thinking about behaviors of all my students as potentially problematic and saw their behaviors instead as representations of their brains. This boy changed my life because he allowed me the intellectual insight to realize I had only ever understood my own decisions in terms of how they impacted the emotional cueing system of other people. I also realized I had only understood other people in terms of how they impacted my emotional cueing system. I was wired backwards basically.

  40. steve12on 11 Jan 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Hey Karen,

    I’ve been reading about special education, and I’m a little unsettled with the practice of special education teachers eating the children who don’t improve. So I’ve come up with a theory proposing alternative methods to child-eating, which is obviously what the majority of special education teachers believe in.

    You probably are saying “WTF is he talking about?”. That’s how I feel like when you summarize the state of psychology. I went back and forth with you a few months ago, and sent you many links. All ignored. That means that now, it’s willful.

    And if you can make up things about my field, I can make up things about yours.

    Stop the Special Education machine from eating children!

  41. karenkilbaneon 12 Jan 2015 at 1:25 pm

    I completely understand why the above is the best argument you can come up with for your field. You have nothing else to go with. Your field offers up theories of personality as suggestions. There are 8 theories of personality offered up smorgasbord like to students who then are told to cut and paste the theory they want to make up, practice, and/or research with. There is no way to replicate research when every researcher is using their own unique theory of personality.

    You have nothing tangible to defend when I say there is no uniform theory of the human personality informing the science of the human personality. So you go after me personally. I am happy to debate a specific point that you delineate and then say why you disagree, not a link, even though I do read the links.

    Metaphorically, special education teachers are eating their students alive because they are damaging their brains with behavior modification theories taken straight from your field. Defend you theories as they relate to educational practices and I will listen. Blanket defense of a whole field that has many flaws is questionable as to how deeply you understand it. I could never defend the whole field of education. If we don’t question the parts that aren’t working in any field they will never work.

    I did not ignore your links. Nor do I need your permission to formulate my opinions. Apparently you believe I willfully disobeyed your instructions for me to stop formulating ideas counter to your links. What an odd and scary comment coming from someone who totally understands the psychology of the human personality. Do all psychologists get to dictate what their patients think and say? Do all of us need the permission of a psychologist before we question psychology. Is it a fundamentalist ideology or is it allowed questioning?

    Below is an essay I just wrote. You can take or leave it. Specific critique is always welcome.

    I believe our only hope to accomplish equal rights as well as to decrease the incidence of mental illness and acts of extreme violence is to develop a biologically accurate theory of the human brain and human behavior so we can translate verifiable and verified theory into brain healthy child development teaching and parenting practices. Initiating bottom up observations of human behavior to learn why human behaviors make sense for the human brain will yield the workings of the brain.

    Deciding what human behavior should be with top down theories and then being constantly surprised at what humans are capable of is not a reliable strategy for understanding the human brain and its resulting behaviors. I have been an educator, parent, and childcare giver for 30 years. Current theories of child development and human behavior as translated into teaching practices in our first world country of privilege are inaccurate and riddled with practices that keep our children’s brains in states of threat mode and anxiety. We are applying a form of behavioral fundamentalism in our schools, a secular version of religious fundamentalism.

    I hypothesize that with a few theoretical changes we can make a few practical changes the will yield extremely favorable results. Brains that are constantly threatened due to behavioral fundamentalism are brains that will withdraw in fear or defend and attack either passively or aggressively. We can see this in other cultures but not in our own.

    Figuring out how to manage our human brains is not rocket science but we have been led to believe our brains are organs of impenetrable mystery with subconscious motives and drives that hold us captive and powerless to its whims. To replace this thought meme we must first perform the heroic skeptical task of dissecting our current psychological theories, finding the pockets in which they are inaccurate and faith based, and rebuild them from the bottom up. Neuroscience still relies upon psychological science to interpret its data. Psychological theories were written well before current advances in brain research. We are stuck in a theoretical dark age right now because skeptics have not yet looked under the hood of current psychological theories and non theories of personality.

  42. karenkilbaneon 12 Jan 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Steve12, I actually have a better idea for you. Decide upon a personality disorder for me based upon how I am annoying you personally. There are some really good ideas already in the DSM for you to use as a template to make up a new one for me.

    Borderline Personality Disorder might be a good one to start with. Even though we have no unified theory of personality as of yet, we do know when people are on the borderline of having a normal one.

    Fortunately for you, all personality disorders are written with very vague and open ended language. They delineate behaviors in terms of how the person in question is impacting those around them. They are not written from the point of view of the person with the disorder. You don’t have to know anything about me. You just have to know how I impact you.

    It will be super easy fabricate a personality disorder for me. Personality disorders delineate characteristics common to everyone but with slight exaggerations. So it is easy to pin a personality disorder on anyone you might want to with a little fast talking.

    Make one up for me. Go find some members of the APA to vote on it with you. Slap it into the DSM, and then have me labelled disordered. This will render me mute.

  43. steve12on 12 Jan 2015 at 4:25 pm

    “I completely understand why the above is the best argument you can come up with for your field.”

    Bollocks. I patiently gave you a ton of info personally explained + links:

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/solution-aversion-and-motivated-reasoning/

    So please can all the “defend the theories” nonsense. I did. You’ve ignored all of it without taking it on. Why should I continue?

    You’re making the same false accusations as before, because you’ve pressed on with your little war against psychology BEFORE you understood what psychology was actually saying. You don’t have to agree with the consensus, mind you, but you do need to know what it is you’re arguing against, don’t you?

    The eating children routine was not a personal attack. I’m saying that if you can make false charges about my field, why can’t I do the same about yours?

  44. steve12on 12 Jan 2015 at 4:33 pm

    BTW – I’m not a clinical psychologist, so I won’t engage you in this sort of nonsense. The shortcomings of diagnostics are well known – and acknowledged. I do cognitive neuroscience/psychology, and I study implicit (unconscious) memory and processing in the brain.

    You know, the stuff that thousands of people have been working hundreds of years on with great advancement, but which you dismissed above without a shred of understanding?

  45. karenkilbaneon 12 Jan 2015 at 5:18 pm

    I suggest you observe and learn about how the data and theories of your profession are being translated into practice then as they branch out into psychological therapy, teaching practices, and classroom management.

    Psychological and neurological data and its resulting theories are worth nothing if they cannot be reliably and consistently translated into practice.

    I have observed hundreds of children for anywhere from infancy to 22 years old as they have grown and developed. I have observed these hundreds of children in their natural environments over time over the past 3 decades. I have witnessed the kinds of practices used on them in their homes and schools funneled down from psychological theories. And I see anxiety, depression, and aggression in children that could easily be solved for if we make a few theoretical changes in how we understand the implications of how our human brain responds while it is in the process evaluating and deciding for itself. If we put a few easily conceived of changes into practice then I hypothesize we can minimize the kind of anxiety that leads to much misery in childhood and on into adulthood.

    This kind of change must start by poking holes in the existing theories and developing new ones.

  46. karenkilbaneon 12 Jan 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Abd did you just call the personality disorders listed in the DSM nonsense? If you are in research, do something about this nonsense.

  47. steve12on 12 Jan 2015 at 6:01 pm

    We have a long way to go on all fronts. Fair enough.

    But before you supplant all current understanding of the brian, YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT THAT UNDERSTANDING IS.

    1. You do not.
    2. You think that you do.

  48. karenkilbaneon 12 Jan 2015 at 8:08 pm

    Did I say I was going to supplant all current understanding of the brain?

    I am questioning current theories of personality used for interpreting psychological research and data in terms of how it is then translated into real life teaching methodologies.

    I believe we need to develop a biologically accurate theory of the personality, or theory of the brain and behavior, to use another term that means the same thing. We do not have an existing theory of the human personality that is mutually agreed upon and verified so there is nothing to be supplanted.

    I do not know everything about the brain, nobody does.

    I can however use my observations from over 3 decades to form a hypothesis about the responses that occur in the human brain as reflected by human behavior when human beings are evaluating information, forming conclusions about that information, and making decisions based upon those conclusions. I can form a hypothesis about how the human brain responds when it is confronted with anomalies that are different from what it was predicting.

    One of my main observations is that our brains protect and defend our conclusions with tremendous anxiety and ferocity. Our brains do not take unexpected anomalies lightly of any kind at any age for any reason. This small observation can have big implications in how we translate psychological theory into practice. I have anecdotal evidence that this observation is important. That is all I have. I am not trying to over-represent my ideas. I am saying, we have to start somewhere and I am starting somewhere.

    Children on the autism spectrum often have very event specific reasoning abilities. Once they form a conclusion, that is the only conclusion they are able to envision in their brains. In other words, every problem has only one solution in their memory storage. When they are confronted with an anomaly to their one solution, they become enraged or highly upset.

    We are treating their quickness to have meltdowns as a behavioral disorder. However I see these melt downs as a completely normal behavior given their often single solution way of thinking.

    Instead of using their behavior to understand how they think, we are diagnosing their behavior as disordered, modifying their behavior to appear more normal, and then causing them all kinds of anxiety. There is a lot of anxiety and depression among those on the spectrum. What if slight changes in psychological theory could change this fact?

    Is it worth it to take a look in some obvious places instead of blanketly defending all of psychology?

    Let’s say Joey kindergartner has a huge meltdown/ temper tantrum of major proportions when his class heads towards the back door after arriving back to school from a field trip. Joey doesn’t yet know it is possible to enter the school from the back door. He has never seen the back door. His brain makes event specific conclusions and unlike Gina, who has never seen the back door but has generalized that most building have many doors, Joey becomes terrified and angry at this unexpected route to get into the school. He has no idea where his class is going. He just knows the route is completely anomalous to what his brain was expecting. His cognitively rigid brain rightly makes him more guarded about the conclusions he is able to make. Those with fewer abilities to evaluate should have more caution about how they engage in the world. They have fewer options than people who are cognitively flexible. There behavior makes sense for how they are able to think. Their behavior is not disordered. The way we are evaluating their behavior is disordered.

    Occupational therapists and special education teachers have figured out a whole lot of problem solving techniques for these kinds of problems without the help of psychological theories and often times in spite of them.

    Instead of a consequence like her child psychology classes told her she should dole out, this teacher is of the new thinking and she will likely take Joey to the front door instead of the unknown back door after she sees he is melting down. Later on when possible she will show him the back door from inside of the building, practice going through it, and next time he will not melt down.

    Behaviors are reflections of how we think and conclude. Using behaviors as the diagnostic tool for alleged psychological problems is not biologically warranted and is not doing justice to the brains of our developing children. Diagnosing a child due to how he behaves is like diagnosing a child with a skin disorder because he gets more sunburned than other kids. Everyone has different pigment amounts. And everyone has different thinking capacities. Thinking capacities and behaviors should not win a child a behavioral, psychological, or personality disorder diagnosis. Instead, a child should simply be taught in the manner in which he is able to think.

  49. steve12on 13 Jan 2015 at 1:11 am

    “Did I say I was going to supplant all current understanding of the brain?”

    You’re right. Just most. The unconscious part (most by definition) and cognitive biases. I’m sure there are some findings that you accept, but we just never discussed them. Fair enough.

    “I believe we need to develop a biologically accurate theory of the personality, or theory of the brain and behavior, to use another term that means the same thing. ”

    Oy vey, no. No. Not the same. My God. I am speechless, and that is rare. I stopped reading there. You don’t even have a good frame. You could, but you refuse to read more deeply or benefit from feedback – which is why I stopped.

    I tried to help you in that last post, politely and patiently. If you don’t wanna listen to experts, that’s fine. Free country and all. In all honesty, good luck. Maybe you’ll stumble onto something because of your *entirely* fresh perspective.

  50. steve12on 13 Jan 2015 at 1:12 am

    I really don’t mean to be a dick. I have friends with crank theories, and they’re great people. Don’t take it personally

  51. karenkilbaneon 13 Jan 2015 at 2:45 am

    Do you not believe that the personality is a reflection of the brain? If not, what is the personality? Instead of a link, give me your working definition.

    I have never heard someone in your field actually provide their working definition of the human personality or their working theory of the human personality. They only say why the personality is far too complex and complicated and governed by too many unconscious factors to be defined in a scientifically verifiable manner.

    If you knew me you would think I was pretty nice and funny. You are too probably. However, when our brains conclude differently, our brains will protect and defend their conclusions because that is what brains do – part of my cranky theory.

    Ultimately I would like to see a theory of personality that is understood from the point of view of the individual thinker, not the point of view of the observer who is analyzing the thinker’s behavior. And I would like to see a definition of personality that is a process, not a product.

  52. Bill Openthalton 13 Jan 2015 at 7:22 am

    karenkilbane —

    There behavior makes sense for how they are able to think. Their behavior is not disordered.

    Their behaviour is not normal (in the statistical sense), because it is different from the behaviour of the majority. Obviously, it does ‘make sense’ to them, or they wouldn’t be behaving as they do, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense to the others.

    What you seem to be arguing is that it would make a difference if we were to change our definition of normal behaviour to ‘behaviour that makes sense to the individual’, but that would make a mockery of the statistical concept and render it useless. It is true many people see ‘normal’ as normative, but in science it is merely descriptive. You need to change people’s perceptions, and we know redefining words doesn’t change perceptions (the ambitions of the PC (politically correct) crowd notwithstanding).

    Instead of a consequence like her child psychology classes told her she should dole out,…

    I feel you are misrepresenting child psychology, which does not advocate punishing autistic children (or ‘normal’ children for that matter) for throwing a tantrum.

    Ultimately I would like to see a theory of personality that is understood from the point of view of the individual thinker, not the point of view of the observer who is analyzing the thinker’s behavior. And I would like to see a definition of personality that is a process, not a product.

    Alone on a desert island, every person is by definition normal. That doesn’t mean this person is equipped to survive on that island, but there’s no-one but the facts to inform them. In a group of other humans, some will not be able to perform to the same level as the others, in the physical and mental department, and sometimes in both. Those are the facts of life, and no amount of wishful thinking will change them.

    As far as classifying people is concerned, I do agree this often makes it difficult to discover the real capabilities of a person. A lot can be achieved by fully and appropriately (in a way that ‘makes sense to them’) engaging people with issues (I hesitate to use the word ‘defect’ as it could be taken to imply they’re not fully human, but realistically speaking, if one is blind, or deaf, or lacking one’s legs, or has a brain that doesn’t function as that of the majority, one has a ‘defect’) they are capable of much more that one would expect. Pigeon-holing is useful when a quick reaction is required, but it doesn’t work well for long-term cooperation.

    Does this make sense?

  53. karenkilbaneon 13 Jan 2015 at 4:06 pm

    You make a lot of sense. You are an excellent writer and I agree with everything you wrote above. I have different sorts of changes in mind than perhaps meets the eye.

    The changes I believe necessary in how we understand behavior as it aligns with cognition are not just about changing vocabulary for more sensitivity.

    Behavioral standards do have an important role in teaching. You are exactly right on that front. However, I do not believe behavioral standards should play the same role in psychology for understanding the biology of the human brain and human behavior as they do in education. These two fields should have quite separate goals.

    In the field of education, standard benchmarks for reaching child development milestones are very crucial for teachers to know. Developmental delays need to be addressed and remediated ASAP. Behavioral standards, which should really be called academic standards, are what we rely upon to help children acquire and develop skills to thrive in the work force. This is the whole point of education ultimately. Students who have severe deficits in being able to get along with others or who cannot learn to read need intervention to overcome these deficits.

    Standards of development, whether developmental, behavioral or academic help teachers know when to intervene and how. I would like to strike the idea of having behavioral standards, however. We should be helping students attain academic goals like getting along well with others, by giving attention to their cognition, not their behaviors. Behaviors are always in alignment with thinking. If we go for the behavior it causes confusion because they student may have no idea why his behavior is being modified. If we help that student understand the concepts of taking turns in a conversation through explanation and practice, we can teach that skill by working with his understanding. His behaviors will then fall into place. I don’t think anybody has noticed how skittish and fiercely aggressive or withdrawn children get when their behaviors are commented upon. Their behaviors are the tools of their brain and they cannot stand to have them remarked upon. In my teaching, I helped some helped children change extremely aberrant behaviors by working with their understanding, not addressing the behavior specifically.

    So like you I believe we want to help children attain normalized behaviors for adult life. However behavioral standards have nothing to do with the biology of the human brain and human behavior. They are man made concepts. I believe we are imposing characteristics needed to survive in modern society and equating them with normal development of the human mammal. This is an unhealthy mix-up in my view.

    I believe we should not be looking at the ‘desired outcomes’ when trying to understanding the biology of the human mammal. Again, that is the job of educators. Psychologists should be trying to understand the processes of the brain as they unfold, how they unfold the way they do, and why they unfold the way they do. And they should be looking at these processes with no pre-conceived notions. How does the mammal brain evaluate information in its environment? What are the behaviors that allow each human brain to evaluate in a way that makes sense for his sensory, motor, and nervous systems? What sorts of events confuse or damage the human brain and prevent it from evaluating, concluding, and deciding optimally? What causes severe withdrawal or aggression? If we ask and answer these questions, teachers can use that knowledge to teach for optimal brain health. The only active role we play on our human life is that of synthesizing information, forming conclusions, and making decisions for what to do next. Any problems with us as humans have to reside in this synthesize, conclude, decide loop because our brain does everything else for us automatically or autonomically.

    I have a number of observations about human behavior that I believe psychologists have missed because they are not looking at human behavior in a bottom up way. They have analyzed human behavior for how it should be instead of observing it for what it is. There is a gold mine of information just waiting to be mined through plain old observation.

    Does this make any sense to you?

    Thank you for your comments.

  54. karenkilbaneon 13 Jan 2015 at 6:16 pm

    I am not a fan of the term aberrant behavior and instead wish I had said this above.

    I have helped students change behaviors that prevented them from participating fully in the activities that would allow them to achieve their learning goals. I helped them broaden their understanding of the learning goal or activity so they could figure out how to behave in such a way that would allow them to participate. If this did not work I would modify the activity to fit their understanding and then add complexity little by little until they could meet the learning goal without modification.

    This approach requires an understanding that behaviors of students are clues to how they think and understand. Those who think differently than I do will exhibit different behaviors because of it. If I predict that my students should exhibit the behaviors that are in alignment with my understanding of any given activity my brain will always be caught of guard when students exhibit different behaviors than I was expecting. This causes me to get flustered, irritated, or angry. My brain and all brains are disoriented and often irritated when they encounter the unexpected. When I stopped expecting specific behaviors from my students my patience went sky high. They no longer threw my brain for a loop because I stopped making predictions about behaviors and instead made predictions for the learning goals. If I couldn’t achieve the learning goal with the directions I planned, I figured out another way to achieve them. I stopped making kids behave in alignment with my thinking and started developing lesson plans in alignment with their thinking. There were zero behavior problems after that.

    I thought I already was doing the above but realized I was not successful enough through my observations of so many different educators working with my students year after year. Teachers would respond to the same student year after year very differently from one another based upon their differing cognitive abilities to think and predict. Having teachers treat you so inconsistently year to year is very confusing for students. Understanding what disorients and upsets our brains is necessary as much for teachers as it is for students.

    I came to those subtle differences in teaching style because my students with special needs taught me a universal brain rule that I believe is reflected in current brain research. Our brain is an organ of memory and prediction. Therefore anything counter to what our brain predicts is unpleasant, confusing, disorienting, irritating, and or anger provoking to our brain tasked with making reliable predictions. If I have more than one way to understand an event, my brain has more options in its predictions. I will not be as quick to irritation or anger as someone who has fewer predictive options due to their cognitive abilities or deficits.

  55. karenkilbaneon 13 Jan 2015 at 6:43 pm

    And finally, it is the math science brains that will flourish if we apply a biologically accurate theory of personality to our teaching methods. Thinkers who go into elementary school teaching are verbal conceptual thinkers, not typically spatial, pattern, and visual thinkers. Teachers are always thrown by their students who do not think like they do when they are predicting student behaviors to be a certain way.

    First of all, there are infinite arrays of behaviors than can fall within standardized norms, but only a finite way any one thinker can envision potential behaviors given the parameters of her ability to think.

    We cannot logically predict the behaviors of radically different thinkers from ourselves. We can only think how we can think. The boy who will become the inventor of the next best thing is probably stuck in detention every day this year because his teachers cannot make him conform to the behavioral standards they are able to conceptualize due to how they are able to think. If they used his behaviors as cues to figuring out how he thinks, they could keep him challenged and engaged. I believe with a biologically accurate theory of personality we will see a flourishing of new ideas in all field from adults who were allowed to learn in brain enhancing instead of brain detracting ways.

  56. AmateurSkepticon 14 Jan 2015 at 6:57 am

    @KarenKilbane

    “And we do not get that the brain sees even the slightest anomaly in the environment as a potential threat, like all mammals do. ……..

    Teachers are at the mercy of their own emotional cueing system like every other mammal on the planet.”

    “All mammals” is a pretty broad statement considering that there are estimated to be around 4-5,000 of them. Mammals are a pretty diverse group ranging from bats and whales to elephants and anteaters. What support do you have for these statements? Any published studies or are you extrapolating from your personal experience with your father’s dog?

  57. Bill Openthalton 14 Jan 2015 at 6:09 pm

    karenkilbane —

    Cognitive psychology does exactly what you advocate. It is not concerned with changing behaviour, or imposing the psychologist’s view of acceptable behaviour (of whatever ilk) on humans. It merely tries to understand the workings of the mind by careful observation and a scientific approach.

    A lot of the ‘applied psychology’ is questionable, and I guess your contact with school psychologists might have coloured your perception of psychology as a whole.

    As far as education is concerned, many teachers (and school psychologists, and other educators) are not in the field because of a passion for fostering growth and learning, but because it seemed like a good job in terms of money and/or timetables. It’s like this in any field of endeavour (remember the quip: half of the population is below average), and it is frustrating how bad or indifferent teachers affect their students. But this goes both ways, and many a motivated and passionate teacher is driven to despair by a particularly obnoxious student. This is humankind in action.

    However behavioral standards have nothing to do with the biology of the human brain and human behavior. They are man made concepts. I believe we are imposing characteristics needed to survive in modern society and equating them with normal development of the human mammal. This is an unhealthy mix-up in my view.

    Man-made concepts are devised by human brains. The human animal builds humongous societies and largely thrives within them (witness the hugely improved life expectancy). If living in a modern society would not be within the ability of the majority of humans, they would not have arisen. Acquiring appropriate knowledge about the society a human is born in (language, social mores, objectives etc) is what a human brain does automatically, and amazingly effectively from the moment of birth (and maybe even earlier). We are not wired for a particular kind of social structure, we adapt to the society we’re living in (at least, the vast majority of us do). So in my view, normal human development is indeed acquiring the ‘characteristics to thrive (and not merely survive) in modern society’.

  58. karenkilbaneon 15 Jan 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Amateur skeptic: reasonable questions. I am posing theories on my own in an extreme beginning effort to develop a biologically accurate theory of the human personality. I am synthesizing my own research with my observations to develop a potential theory. I am wondering aloud about it here for the purposes of critiques of it. I am not stating it as proven fact and will not unless I can develop it into something that can be tested and verified. Thus far we do not have a scientifically verified or verifiable theory of the human personality.

    As to your second comment I believe there is one single element totally consistent among all mammal brains. Each mammal brain predicts what to do next based upon its capacity to evaluate the information it takes in through its senses. What and how we predict is different between and among species of mammals. THAT we predict is the single universal agent that lies at the basis of all mammal predictive thoughts and all behaviors emanate from these predictive thoughts. All mammal thought and behavior can be related to and understood in terms of the mammal brain’s capacities evaluate and predicting…..Evaluationg and prediction is the only active dynamic we offer in the whole of our moment to moment existence. Once we make the prediction to do something, our autonomic capacities take over to manifest that prediction. I predict I need to lift my arm to reach a coke, My brain sends that message to my arm muscles and it lifts until my brain predicts it is time to lower it. These ideas are maybes and the result of much research, observation and thought on my part, but that is all they are thus far.

    Bill O:Again, you make excellent points with excellent writing. I appreciate and admire your writing style. And again, I am in agreement with you. I have written a lot again here because it is what I am now doing these days. Don’t feel obligated to read it but your thoughts are more than welcome.

    Contrary to what it might seem, I am a realist. I believe humans are much tougher and can endure extreme suffering and trauma with much more resilience and much less therapeutic help than psychologists would have us believe. We are built to endure potentially harsh and unpredictable environments. I believe true trauma to the brain is when it cannot reliably and consistently rely upon its own capacities to evaluate information in order to make predictions for what to do next.

    I do agree as you so eloquently stated that whatever time period or culture of origin, all mammals must live and function in the conditions they find themselves in. Life tends to be messy, disappointing, and harsh as often as it is fun and pleasant. We all must deal with the ups and downs or real life with realistic solutions.

    I believe a more biologically accurate and descriptive way of understanding our mammal behaviors as they relate to our thinking capacities will help us navigate the ups and downs of life.

    The hole I see in current psychological theory does not deny all the things you just wrote about or write them off as irrelevant. Our man-made theories, discoveries, and inventions have indeed improved life expectancy and quality of life and will likely continue to do so.

    Our current psychological ideas are like tupperware. Tupperware has nothing to do with the food inside it but contains it and keeps all the food neatly and efficiently organized. We can store much more food much more efficiently with organized tupperware products. Even though tupperware is great for organizing food we don’t use the shape, materials, or features of tupperware to define the food inside. Like tupperware, religion and psychology are organizational structures that allow authorities to manage large groups of people in as organized and efficient a manner as is possible for such large numbers. Religion and psychology provide tools and products that allow authorities to contain the thoughts and behaviors of large numbers of people as follows. Religion and psychology set forth rules, standards, and parameters that force people to think and behave in ways that will conform their thoughts and behaviors to comply with those rules and standards. Getting group members to conform to the will of the group certainly allows humans to maximize group organization and has a place. Nonetheless, I believe we can uncover much more about why humans behave as they do if we step outside all current modes of ‘human tupperware organizational systems.’

    What I believe is this. We have made a few intellectual errors in our understanding of human behavior. Freud and all the founders of psychology began a few lines of reasoning that all psychologists picked up and ran with. The founders made up their theories well before brain research but nobody ever back tracked and completely deleted their very old school reasoning about the human brain. Bits and pieces of outdated psychological theories have survived within new psychological, neuro-scientific, and medical theories for no scientifically valid reason. These ideas persist because it is very hard for us to separate what we think from how we think.

    We have many man made thoughts and ideas that have been great but just as many that have been heroically wrong. Leeches were used to cure people and the theory behind leeches was quite complex, almost poetic. It took 1000 years before all were convinced that the theory behind the leeches was wrong.

    So what if we step outside of our religious and psychological man made belief systems and look at them for what they tell us about our human thoughts and behaviors instead of using them to direct our thoughts and behaviors?

    The structure of religious belief systems is remarkably similar throughout history regardless of time and place. Religious systems can reflect back to us the nature of how we think if we dissect them like a biologist would dissect the organized group behavior of wolves or apes.

    From everything I have observed and read, the single agent of all human thought is involved in the loop of of what our brain does with the information it takes in from its environments in order to synthesize it, organize it, form conclusions about it, and then develop predictions for what to do next in relation to it. Seeking reward or punishment is an overly simplistic method of describing what is going on in our brain.

    Reward for the brain is being able to follow through with its predictions in the manner it predicted it should. Punishment to the brain occurs when someone or something prevents its predictions from occurring in the manner it predicted they should.

    Ultimately we do precious little within our integrated biological systems that is not automatic or autonomic. And most of our biological structures and functions dedicated to active evaluation and prediction are dedicate to detecting potential threats in our environment. Our brain is largely an instrument of threat detection.

    What prevents our brain from establishing a lack of threat? Incorrect predictions do. Our brain takes its predictions deadly seriously. Our very undifferentiated emotional system is at the ready to cue us with anxiety whenever anything happens that differs from our predictions, no matter how slight the differences are.

    Our brains can never stop looking for threats or cueing us for potential threats. This can be exhausting. Religion and psychology are organizational schemata’s that help our brains minimize potential present and future threatening situations.

    It is my belief that we need to identify enduring characteristics of the human brain that will ring true regardless of belief systems, sex, culture, socioeconomic level, IQ, etc. If we identify pure descriptions about the actions the human brain performs we could use these descriptions to guide our interpretations of our human behaviors regardless of what we want our need our human behaviors to be for maximum comfort and efficiency. Theories of the human personality would be pure description not tied to desired outcomes. Desired outcomes have a place, but they have nothing to do with the biological dynamic that is the human personality.

    If you made it this far…thanks for reading. And again, critique is welcomed.

  59. Bill Openthalton 15 Jan 2015 at 6:25 pm

    karenkilbane —

    Glad you like my writing style :). It takes me ages to write a few lines, and it’s nice to know that time isn’t all wasted.

    Freud and all the founders of psychology began a few lines of reasoning that all psychologists picked up and ran with.

    Actually, Freud’s ideas have largely been abandoned or discredited. As I pointed out, there is a chasm between cognitive psychology (a science) and psychotherapy (mostly woo), and it would be unfair to tar them with the same brush.

    Back to what caused me to comment on your posts:

    Ultimately we do precious little within our integrated biological systems that is not automatic or autonomic.

    Didn’t you say there was no proof for the existence of the subconscious? Freud’s subconscious is a load of codswallop, but as you yourself observe, the vast majority of the brain’s activity happens without conscious involvement, and as experiments show, consciousness is not so much a controller as a belated observer with delusions of grandeur.

    Our brain is largely an instrument of threat detection.

    Obviously, to stay alive and thrive (so our genes make it into the next generation), it’s is better to avoid jumping in the crocodile’s mouth. Keeping safe is one of the functions of the brain, but not a goal in itself. Witness humans actively searching for challenging (and even life-threatening) situations once they have achieved very secure and stable living conditions. You suggest humans live in a state of constant anxiety (Our brains can never stop looking for threats or cueing us for potential threats. This can be exhausting.). While this appears to be the case for many people, it doesn’t seem to be a general determining characteristic of the human brain. In my view, anxiety is the result of the repeated inability to meet the challenges one faces, rather than their mere existence.

    It is my belief that we need to identify enduring characteristics of the human brain that will ring true regardless of belief systems, sex, culture, socioeconomic level, IQ, etc.

    This is a puzzling comment, as in my experience this is exactly what cognitive psychology and neurology try to, and on the whole do achieve.

  60. karenkilbaneon 17 Jan 2015 at 4:26 am

    Bill Openthalt – Thank you for the great discussion points. Again I agree with the generalities of what you say. I still believe all branches of psychology arbitrarily place too many assumptions on top of human thought and behavior that serves to obfuscate rather than explain human thought and behavior.

    For one, I am a reflection of what my brain is doing at all times. I am not a reflection of my goals. Goals I come up with are a reflection of what my brain can do just like a painting is or a school paper. My painting doesn’t guide my thoughts and behaviors, my thoughts and behaviors guide my painting. I supply predictive decisions in order to do everything I ever do. I make predictive decisions by associating new information with old information stored in my memory and then forming new conclusions based upon the context. This predictive decision making is the engine that runs my entire human self and predictive decision making is all I am capable of actively doing.

    The idea our brain knows what we are going decide to do before we are aware of it is a twisting of words and an obfuscation in my opinion. If my brain has assessed a situation and formulated a predictive decision, my brain did it, not somebody else’s brain or the universes’ brain or my made up thing called my unconscious. My neocortex took in sensory information. My brain identifies that information and then communicates all kinds of messages to itself so all the right signals get to the right places.

    If experiments show that my brain knows it is going to signal my right hand to reach for an object before I can express this information, does this show I do not have conscious control of my decisions and that my unconscious makes my decisions and that I don’t have free will? Or does it show how much slower my neocortex is at expressing or describing my decisions than it is at making my decisions. Assessment and description are two totally different brain activities. Jeff Hawkins talks a lot about the time it takes for different kinds of brain activities to occur. Time differentials are a very new finding in brain research. The neocortex has 6 layers. Activities that occur in layer 1 will occur much faster than activities that occur in layer 6. I am guessing description is not a priority for our problem solving capacities to handle the fastest.

    As for anxiety, when I cannot meet life’s challenges it means I cannot make sense of the information I am tasked with assessing in order to make predictive decisions about what to do next in any given environment I find myself in. Why can’t I make reliable and satisfying predictions and decisions?

    Here is where my thinking diverges quite a bit and what I am currently writing about most days.

    Thanks again for your feedback!

  61. Bill Openthalton 17 Jan 2015 at 8:05 pm

    karenkilbane —

    I still believe all branches of psychology arbitrarily place too many assumptions on top of human thought and behavior that serves to obfuscate rather than explain human thought and behavior.

    What exactly is your bone with cognitive psychology? Would you be willing to try and state it in a single paragraph?

    For one, I am a reflection of what my brain is doing at all times. I am not a reflection of my goals.
    But an organism, and hence its brain, has goals — to stay alive and procreate being the primary goals for any reproducer. Without a reason for acting, a brain would simply do nothing. This is one of the reasons computers (of the type we have at this moment) can never be a threat, no matter how complex. An amoeba has no brain, but is more motivated than a z13 (IBM’s latest super-duper mainframe.)

    Pursuing its goals is what your brain does, and your consciousness is one of the strategies it applies to attain its goals, as is the ability to make decisions (how would you decide between alternative actions without an objective to aim for?)

    The idea our brain knows what we are going decide to do before we are aware of it is a twisting of words and an obfuscation in my opinion.

    You’ve got it bass-ackwards. The experiments show the illusion of conscious control — consciousness is more a lawyer putting a nice spin on the actions of its client than the client itself. A lot of the subsystems are simply not accessible (or do not participate in the elaboration of the ‘consciousness process’, if you wish) and we rely on ‘hacks’ (like reading the position of our facial muscles) to acquire information on some of our internal state.

    Why can’t I make reliable and satisfying predictions and decisions?

    Because, as Sam Goldwyn never said(*), it is hard to make predictions, especially about the future. The problem is not the reliability and effectiveness of predictions and decisions (everyone makes mistakes, and no-one’s memory is perfect), but that we’re worrying about them. Like most human characteristics, anxiety ranges from none to stultifying. Most people sit in the middle of the spectrum, and worry enough not to be foolhardy, but not so much to be paralysed. Some are not so lucky. Shit happens…

    (*) Apparently, this pearl of wisdom was coined in Denmark by one bishop Absalom, the founder of Copenhagen.

  62. Bill Openthalton 17 Jan 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Oops – quote malfunction. Here’s how I wanted it to be:

    For one, I am a reflection of what my brain is doing at all times. I am not a reflection of my goals.

    But an organism, and hence its brain, has goals — to stay alive and procreate being the primary goals for any reproducer. Without a reason for acting, a brain would simply do nothing. This is one of the reasons computers (of the type we have at this moment) can never be a threat, no matter how complex. An amoeba has no brain, but is more motivated than a z13 (IBM’s latest super-duper mainframe.)

  63. karenkilbaneon 19 Jan 2015 at 2:31 am

    Hi again, Bill…
    As opposed to having a problem with cognitive psychology, I have a divergent way of understand the mechanics of our biology that does not utilize the notions derived from psychology.

    I did have the experiment I referred to wrong, but I still don’t believe I am under the illusion that I am conscious of my autonomic or automatic sensory, motor, or nervous system processes. I am conscious of the internal and external information that commands my attention and that I must assimilate, organize and manipulate in each moment in order to decide what to do next. I am also aware of the decisions I make for what to do next. It is imperative to my own brain that I am confident and sure of my decisions so I can maintain control of myself in my environment in ways I am physiologically capable of.

    Religion and psychology have both superimposed passive aggressive definitions of human thoughts and behaviors that have caused most of us to worry a great deal about our biological cues and needs. We are led to believe we are supposed to be engaging in constant self improvement in ways that are impervious to improvement. We are led to believe we need to mistrust the biological cues and capacities that we must rely upon implicitly to understand and navigate the ever changing conditions of our internal and external environments.

    Prediction of the future is not exactly what I mean by predictive decisions. Our best guess within each moment at hand about what to do next based upon our assessment of that moment is a predictive decision for what to do next. The very best decisions consider as many tangential variables as possible while being made. The very best decisions are those that predict with the most accuracy how to best handle each moment in time in relation to our own understanding and sensory-motor capabilities. Being uncertain about how to predict for any given moment will always cause our brain anxiety. We cannot decide our brain does not make predictive decisions each moment because of the potential anxiety it can cause. It is what our brain has to do.

    Regardless of how well we can make a predictive decision in any given moment, it is the imperative of our brain to do so. The percentage of sub-optimal decisions a human makes in a life time is quite high. So humans will have lots of anxiety. If anxiety is connected to exactly what is causing it in the moment, it is quite manageable. When it streams into us and we have no idea why and no idea how to manage it, it becomes debilitating. We are preventing our children from connecting their anxiety to what is causing it because we are constantly telling them what they should be thinking and how they should be behaving as well as deciding for them what their behaviors mean and then telling them what their behaviors mean. Eventually they only know how to make moment to moment predictive decisions in terms of how their decisions will make sense to and impact those around them. Individuals who cannot figure out how to decide according to how those around them expect them to will ultimately suffer shame and marginalization and are usually awarded some personality disorder diagnosis. Because they cannot cognitively think the way those around them think, it is decided for them that their behaviors are disordered and abnormal.

    The biological imperative of every organism is to make as many optimal predictive decisions for what to do next every moment of every day, period. We don’t have to formulate a goal or call up our desire to survive or reproduce with every predictive decision we make each moment. Survival and reproductive instincts are biological urges loaded into us. We do not have to make predictive decisions to survive, our survival instincts compel us to continuously make optimal predictive decisions. To satisfy our biological drive to survive, we simply satisfy the requirements of our brain by feeding into it a constant stream of predictive decisions for what to do next based upon our assessments of the internal and external information that streams into and around us all day long.

    Believing that from our personal perspective we can know what another person’s behaviors or choices say about him or her is one of psychology’s greatest fallacies. Trying to interpret the behaviors of our children from our perspective or the perspective of a standard prevents us from learning how that child thinks. If nobody can be disordered from their perspective then we would seek to understand the perspective of each person instead of requiring them to exist from a standardized perspective. Sadly we have decided that the school authorities have the right to interpret standards of behavior from their perspective and decide who is in behavioral compliance and who is not. When authorities become masters of the environments over which they supervise instead of the behaviors of the people within them, there will no longer be behavior problems in the schools. When behaviors are taken off the table as the target for others to manipulate according to their whims or whatever behavioral flavors are in vogue that year, children will not suffer so much personality damage in our schools.

    When we ‘help’ children in ways they need not be helped, we confuse them and disorient them and we damage them. Supporting developing brains by manipulating the environments they are in instead of behaviors will help us grow some brilliant brains that will solve many of our world’s problems….

  64. Bill Openthalton 19 Jan 2015 at 6:25 pm

    karenkilbane —

    Prediction of the future is not exactly what I mean by predictive decisions. Our best guess within each moment at hand about what to do next based upon our assessment of that moment is a predictive decision for what to do next. The very best decisions consider as many tangential variables as possible while being made. The very best decisions are those that predict with the most accuracy how to best handle each moment in time in relation to our own understanding and sensory-motor capabilities.

    An organism reacts based on the input it receives, and historical information at its disposal. The moment it considers what to do next, it is dealing with the future, and the word ‘predict’ reflects that. To decide what to next (e.g. to make a left turn rather than going straight on), one needs a goal — which of the possible actions will get the organism closer to the goal it is currently pursuing. The current moment does not hold any clues as to what to do next, only the consideration of what one wants to achieve in the future makes it possible to determine the best course of action.
    Of course, when you’re standing on a slippery slope and your goal is not to slide down (maybe because there’s a crocodile waiting for you), you’ll look for things to hold on to, or ways to dig in your feet, etc. If your goal is to slide down (because you’re having a whale of a time skiing downhill), you’re not going to look for trees to hug. There is no way you can evaluate any action without a goal. Sometimes sliding down a slippery slope is desirable, at other times is disastrous, so your actions will vary with the goal you’re pursuing at that moment.

    Anxiety is usually defined in relation to the future (From Wikipedia: Anxiety is not the same as fear, which is a response to a real or perceived immediate threat;[4] whereas anxiety is the expectation of future threat.). When you’re trying not to slide in the mouth of a hungry crocodile, you are experiencing fear. When you’re worrying about tomorrow’s exams, you’re anxious. When you are comfortable about your knowledge of the subject matter, you will not be anxious, even if you are mistaken about your knowledge, in which case you will be disappointed, or angry after the exam.

    To satisfy our biological drive to survive, we simply satisfy the requirements of our brain by feeding into it a constant stream of predictive decisions for what to do next based upon our assessments of the internal and external information that streams into and around us all day long.

    We don’t feed anything into our brain — remember there’s only one thing that can process information, and that is the brain. The information arrives through the senses, and as the result of internal processes that combine current and historical information to evaluate how close we are to realising our goals. Using this evaluation, the brain decides upon a course of action, and these actions and the resulting changes in the environment become the information used to decide upon the next action, and so forth and so on.

    In other words, you cannot get away from the goals the organism has. Obviously, there are many goals which are not always equally active — the circumstances will decide if there are resources available for lesser goals (you’re unlikely to think about eating when running away from a tiger, although weirder things have happened 🙂 ).

    Trying to interpret the behaviors of our children from our perspective or the perspective of a standard prevents us from learning how that child thinks. If nobody can be disordered from their perspective then we would seek to understand the perspective of each person instead of requiring them to exist from a standardized perspective.

    Sorry, but that doesn’t work for a social species. As long as you’re living alone, whatever works for you is OK. But humans are very social animals (to build societies with hundreds of millions of members one has to be one of the most social species on the planet), and as such social norms matter very much. The behaviour of the group is normative, whether or not this is optimal for an individual. Because we’re genetically diverse (unlike ants in a colony), the current social norms will inevitably be less appropriate for a minority. For example, the less physically strong individuals will be less adapted to a society that values combat prowess, but the big and burly who lack in the brain department will be at a disadvantage in a society like ours, where physical strength and endurance is not really very important (as opposed to having a couple of degrees).

    You work with people who are not well-equipped to deal with the requirements of this society (which does a lot for such people, but cannot make them better equipped — it can only agree to lower the standards for them). I know how frustrating it is not to fit in, and how one would appreciate a different society, better adapted to their needs. But believe you me, a different society would have different outcasts.

  65. karenkilbaneon 21 Jan 2015 at 10:14 am

    Bill – interesting comments. Perhaps we are talking about the same thing when you say goal and I say predictive decisions. In both cases we are making a decision for what to do next.

    We have the emotional accompaniment of anxiety intermittently every day of our lives. Anxiety is simply the message to our brain to pay close attention to something. It’s can be as innocuous as hunger pains. I hear a crash, I am startled, anxious, I attend to site of the noise, determine a lamp fell, and anxiety is gone. It doesn’t have a lasting effect on me. I am in a soccer match and will have anxiety of some sort most of the hour and a half game meaning my adrenalin is pumping, I am in a state of hyper awareness of all going around me, and I thoroughly enjoy it. Anxiety about present or future events doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It is bad when we have no idea how to manage it. Managing it successfully as in finishing a paper by the deadline can feel very rewarding. Having anxiety that has no apparent source or mode of management is terrible.

    When we told our decisions are wrong from the point of view of an authority over us but we cannot think like that authority in order to make our decisions comply with his dictates, we will unabated anxiety. When we are constantly judged by how accurately we can think and decide in line with how the authority wants us to think and decide but we have extremely different cognitive capacities than the authority we will be consistently and intermittently punished by this authority for our ‘incorrect’ decisions which equals anxiety we have no way of managing as it is out of our control to do so. Go into any classroom in America and between 2 and 6 children fall into this category. Follow them through adulthood and I am sure they will be suffering form of mental illness. With no biologically accurate theory of personality we will never solve these kinds of problems because we have no practical methodologies for teachers to prevent anxiety causing teaching practices. All psychological information applied to teaching is based upon behavior management of some sort.

    We can achieve the same sort of society-healthy practices without damaging developing personalities. In fact, healthy personalities will make for a far healthier society. If we base behavior plans on how we want children to behave in the workforce and community when they are 30, we are being short sighted. We have reversed our thinking about spoiling infants because of biology. We can just as easily reverse in subtle ways our classroom management techniques to grow much healthier children than we are now who will enter society with much less depression and aggression. We first need a mutually agreed upon working definition and theory of the human personality.

    What we need as humans to be social animals is built into us. Observe any kid. They mimic the tiniest nuances of their parents facial expressions, hand gestures, patterns of speech, intonation, etc. Kids are parrots. We teach them by how we behave not by how we ‘teach’ them to behave. We teach them how to be bullies by how we speak to them. We teach them that those in authority have the right to take over the jurisdiction of someone else’s behaviors. They learn exactly how to do it when they grow up. Society will reflect true equal rights when every human individual is treated as an equal regardless of age. The human personality has the same fundamental requirements at age 3 as it does at 53. Taking control of another human when they are young teaches that young person how to take control of others.

    Anyways…I have a feeling we are more in agreement than meets the eye and in the end the changes I am seeking are quite subtle. I am talking about subtle differences in how teachers handle classroom management. I am not talking about changing the learning goals or societal goals, just speaking to a child in a direct, straightforward, context specific manner.

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