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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VII. Our Earthuman Ascent: A Major Evolutionary Transition in Individuality

3. A Complementary Brain and Thought Process

McGilchrist, Iain. The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009. Once in a while a book comes along that is so special it changes our thinking. Such is this well researched volume by a British psychiatrist that makes an audacious claim – since our asymmetric brain hemispheres do possess unique, archetypal capacities, as a result, the course of history ought to be seen anew based upon which neural side was dominant in any age. A strong point is made that after four decades of research the holistic, creative vs. analytic, rational polarity has been proven. The right brain, with a broader purview, takes in the whole, contextual scene. It is the seat of empathic relations, where new experience, good or bad, is encountered. The left half, alternatively, employs a finer focus, to the exclusion of background. Pieces or dots are closely noted, sans any connective pattern. While the RH senses vitality, flux, and emotion, the LH defaults into inert, fragmented mechanism.

The book’s first part explains the latest neuroscience of our bisected brain, to an extent “nothing makes sense except in the light of lateralization.” (Curiously at the outset any association with gender is dismissed, although the following chapters offer evident parallels.) The second half goes on to trace Western cultural history from initial, ancient origins to the Renaissance as a Dionysian phase springing from and embodying RH propensities. While a later minority Romanticism preserved, a Reformation, then Enlightenment, took over with an Apollonain vengeance that so narrowed its compass to drain all spontaneity from a (post)modernity unable to imagine any greater reality or creation. This “zombie” LH rules today to the exclusion of any RH vista, or its cautions. Any deviation from a prior, fixed model (read natural selection, or the 2nd Law) is thus not allowed. If not soon corrected, a dire planetary fate is sealed.

But the remedy is not a lurching shift, antithesis back to thesis, rather it is, as life’s neural evolution found best for survival, a mutual, whole brain complementarity. Such a resolve may be witnessed, for example, in a “dialectical” East Asian cognitive balance or “better symbiosis” of both hemispheres. (One wonders if a spate of “scientific” books (Gleiser, Impey, Carroll) that profess doom in an insensate multiverse, based on quantum collider physics, are a nadir of this (male) LH obsession.) Such a novel revision via this brilliant microcosmic universe in our individual and collective heads, with its temporal turns, and spatial expanse, (the arc of Islam as corpus callosum) just might help us come to our senses.

My thesis is that for us as human beings there are two fundamentally opposed realities, two different modes of experience; that each is of ultimate importance in bringing about the recognisably human world; and that their difference is rooted in the bihemispheric structure of the brain. It follows that the hemispheres need to co-operate, but I believe they are in fact involved in a sort of power struggle, and that this explains many aspects of contemporary Western culture. (3)

An increasingly mechanistic, fragmented, decontextualised world, marked by unwarranted optimism mixed with paranoia and a feeling of emptiness, has come about, reflecting, I believe, the unopposed action of a dysfunctional left hemisphere. (6) So if I am right, that the story of the Western World is one of increasing left-hemisphere domination, we would not expect insight to be the key note. Instead we would expect a sort of insouciant optimism, the sleepwalker whistling a happy tune as he ambles towards the abyss. (237)

In the opening pages of this book, I wrote that I believed it to be profoundly true that the inner structure of our intellect reflects the structure of the universe. By ‘profoundly’ I meant not just true by definition, as would be the case for those who believe that the universe is in any case a creation of our brains. I think it goes further than that. I believe our brains not only dictate the shape of the experience we have of the world, but are likely themselves to reflect, in their structure and functioning, the nature of the universe in which they have come about. (460)

McHugh, Tara and Lori Buchanan. Pun Processing from a Psycholinguistic Perspective. Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition. 21/4-6, 2016. University of Windsor, Canada, psychologists explain how brains can understand the humor in a play on words by complementary modes from the left and right hemispheres. While the LH perceives discrete words, grammar, sentence, the RH provides the integral mode of “surprise reinterpretation” and meaning. The contribution was amusing enough to merit notice in the December 2016 issue of Scientific American as Your Pun-Divided Attention (17).

Ambiguity processing was examined using a stimulus set consisting of homograph puns in which semantic salience, as measured by semantic co-occurrence, was manipulated. Two lexical decision tasks using puns as primes for ambiguous targets revealed that high co-occurrence meanings were processed faster than low co-occurrence meanings. A divided visual field protocol revealed involvement of both hemispheres, but with the pattern of priming from the right visual field more similar to that of the centrally presented condition than the left visual field pattern. In contrast to the lexical decision data that favoured high co-occurrence targets, data from a forced-choice relatedness task showed an advantage for the low co-occurrence associates. (Abstract)

Milli, Smitha, et al. A Rational Reinterpretation of Dual-Process Theories. Cognition. Vol. 217, October, 2021. This section has sought to gather many findings since the 1970s that human beings, and all creatures, possess a double neural-cognitive faculty whereof each half contributes a vital attribute. Along with bicameral brain studies, a divide into slower, think about it and fast, just do it options has a currency, but with debate. Into 2021, UC Berkeley, MPI Intelligent Systems and Princeton University scholars propose a clarification by way of the same, typical left and right hemisphere modes of separate details and contextual orientation. By so doing, an integral synthesis is achieved which confirms of a universal, bigender complementarity. But its presence sets up a deep quandary. While a scientific, psychological, academic literature posts this historic advance, our vital bioplanet remains in a terminal condition because politics, nations, factions, warlords rage with no sense of any greater natural knowledge and guidance.

Highly influential “dual-process” accounts of human cognition postulate the coexistence of a slow accurate system with a fast error-prone system. But why would there be just two systems rather than, say, one or 93? Here, we argue that a two part faculty might reflect a rational tradeoff between the cognitive flexibility afforded by multiple systems and the time and effort required to choose between them. We find that the optimal number of systems depends on the variability of the environment and the difficulty of deciding when which system should be used. We find a plausible range of conditions under which it is better to have a fast approach without any deliberation (“System 1”) and a slower view that is more accurate through considerations (“System 2”). (Abstract)

Our analyses found two minded choice and risky-choice modes as a most suitable way to deal with a range of environments and cognitive costs: a system that performs no deliberation (“System 1”) and another with a fair amount of forethought (“System 2”). This might be why the human mind contains opposite subsystems within itself – one that is fast but fallible and one that is slow but accurate. Our findings thereby suggests that dual-process architectures could be optimal for the human mind. (12)

Morone, Flaviano, et al. Model of Brain Activation Predicts the Neural Collective Influence Map of the Brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114/3849, 2017. We note this paper by CCNY, ETH Zurich, and Boston University physicists including Eugene Stanley because it recognizes our dynamic cerebral networks as a microcosmic icon of nature’s macrocosmic, universally manifest, complex system.

Efficient complex systems have a modular structure, but modularity does not guarantee robustness, because efficiency also requires an ingenious interplay of the interacting modular components. The human brain is the elemental paradigm of an efficient robust modular system interconnected as a network of networks (NoN). Understanding the emergence of robustness in such modular architectures from the interconnections of its parts is a longstanding challenge that has concerned many scientists. Therefore, we introduce a model of NoN to shape the pattern of brain activations to form a modular environment that is robust. The model predicts the map of neural collective influencers (NCIs) in the brain, through the optimization of the influence of the minimal set of essential nodes responsible for broadcasting information to the whole-brain NoN. (Abstract)

Morton, Bruce and Stein Rafto. Corpus Callosum Size is Linked to Dichotic Deafness and Hemisphericity, not Sex or Handedness. Brain and Cognition. 62/1, 2006. Studies of differences in aural hearing, one ear to the other, lead to a revised view of brain hemisphere attributes and roles, along with the fibrous connection between them.

“Redefined” hemisphericity is a behavioral laterality syndrome in which normal individuals are categorized as either right brain- or left brain-oriented in their cognitive and behavior styles. That is, either they fall into the right brain style, briefly characterized as bold, intense, talkative, big picture oriented “lumpers,” or into the left brain style of cautious, sensitive, quiet, important detail-oriented “splitters.” (6)

O'Reilly, Randall, et al. The Structure of Systematicity in the Brain. arXiv.2108.03387. UC Davis computational neuroscientists continue their cerebral project (search) to discern and express the presence of distinct neural faculties which act in a complementary manner as they make up and compose our on-going human thought processes. In this entry, their “What, Where and Why” modes have become dual “structure and content” phases so to represent object and frame aspects, along with the informative message they may contain and convey. See also Complementary Structure-Learning Neural Networks for Relational Reasoning by Jacob Russin, et al at arXiv:2105.0894.

Human intelligence is distinguished by an ability to adapt to new situations by way of applying learned rules to new content (systematicity) so as to enable an open-ended array of inferences and actions (generativity). Here, we propose that the human brain accomplishes this through pathways in the parietal cortex that encode the abstract structure of space, events, and tasks, and pathways in the temporal cortex that encode information about specific people, places, and things (content). Recent neural network models show how the separation of structure and content might emerge through an interplay of architectural biases and iterative learning. As a result these networks show facilitate an improved systematic, generative behavior. (Abstract excerpt)

There is a well-established distinction between spatial and object processing in the human brain, which can be reframed as one example of how the brain separates structure and content via distinct, but interacting pathways. Visual (and auditory) networks in the brain route sensory input into distinct dorsal and ventral stream pathways with the ventral visual pathway extending from early visual cortex to inferotemporal cortex characterized as the What pathway, specialized for object or scene recognition (i.e., visual content). The dorsal pathway through the parietal lobe is specialized for spatial Where processing, based on extensive evidence that this pathway represents spatial and relational information in a relatively content-independent manner (2-3)

O’Reilly, Randall, et al. Complementary Learning Systems. Cognitive Science. Online December, 2011. University of Colorado psychologists contend that this theoretical model proposed in the mid 1990s, well researched in the interim, has now reached a proven veracity. Akin to dual process models, an original, hippocampal mode is distinguished by “conjunctive,” fast connective operation, while a later cortical phase is seen to tend more to an “elemental” emphasis.

This paper reviews the fate of the central ideas behind the complementary learning systems (CLS) framework as originally articulated in McClelland, McNaughton, and O’Reilly (1995). This framework explains why the brain requires two differentially specialized learning and memory systems, and it nicely specifies their central properties (i.e., the hippocampus as a sparse, pattern-separated system for rapidly learning episodic memories, and the neocortex as a distributed, overlapping system for gradually integrating across episodes to extract latent semantic structure). (Abstract, 1)

O’Reilly, Randall, et al. Deep Predictive Learning: A Comprehensive Model of Three Visual Streams. arXiv:1709.04654. While most neuroscience papers identify and study the internal aspects of human cerebral form and function, University of Colorado neuroscientists here proffer a whole brain expanse proposal. As the abstract cites, a dynamic reciprocity and synthesis of ventral What object focus and dorsal Where (How, Why) field view can be joined in an integral unity as it seeks to sight and plan ahead. Akin to Stephen Grossberg’s complementary computation (2017) and other dorsal/ventral work, when both particle detail and contextual image neural streams are availed they accomplish the cognitive acuity of thoughtful vision. As brain science advances, this latest perception of reciprocal archetypes accords with left/right hemispheric asymmetry (search sections), and dual process, fast and slow thinking, modes to further establish our reciprocal bigender microcosm. See also Pun Processing from a Psycholinguistic Perspective (McHugh 2016) for a similar insight.

How does the neocortex learn and develop the foundations of all our high-level cognitive abilities? We present a comprehensive framework spanning biological, computational, and cognitive levels, with a clear theoretical continuity between levels, providing a coherent answer directly supported by extensive data at each level. Learning is based on making predictions about what the senses will report at 100 msec (alpha frequency) intervals, and adapting synaptic weights to improve prediction accuracy. In vision, predictive learning requires a carefully-organized developmental progression and anatomical organization of three pathways (What, Where, and What * Where), according to two central principles: top-down input from compact, high-level, abstract representations is essential for accurate prediction of low-level sensory inputs; and the collective, low-level prediction error must be progressively and opportunistically partitioned to enable extraction of separable factors that drive the learning of further high-level abstractions. Our model self-organized systematic invariant object representations of 100 different objects from simple movies, accounts for a wide range of data, and makes many testable predictions. (Abstract)

Our model encompasses most of the posterior visual neocortex, including both the dorsal Where (and How) and ventral What pathways, along with a proposed third visual stream, that serves to integrate information from these other two streams (i.e., a What * Where stream). (1)

Ornstein, Robert. The Right Mind. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1997. The psychologist who first popularized the brain's reciprocal hemispheres looks back on 30 years of research on the subject.

It’s this specialization that contributes to one side (left) being good for the analysis of the small elements versus the synthesis or holistic vision, (right) or language via the literal meaning versus the intonation and indirect meaning. I still like text and context. (175)

Otis, Laura. Rethinking Thought: Inside the Minds of Creative Scientists and Artists. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Based on interviews with innovative, accomplished people such as Lynn Margulis, Scott Gilbert, Katherine Hayles, Temple Grandin, Gerd Gigerenzer and many more, the Emory University neuroscientist and literary scholar contributes this work at the frontiers of cognitive imagination. As Maryanne Wolf, Nina Kraus and others are lately finding, people are at our best when a dynamic synthesis of literal detail and conceptual context, an “interdependence of visual and verbal,” is in effect. This reciprocity results from the primary cortex’s ability to dual process a ventral stream of items and dorsal field of view. Another section refers to the fluid integration of the analytic and holistic hemispheres. So once again we find that a gender complementarity to be the life of the mind.

Paivio, Allan. Mind and Its Evolution. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2007. An emeritus University of Western Ontario psychologist and educator advances a “dual coding theory” of discrete linguistic and analog image streams of cognitive thought, which generally agree with left and right brain hemisphere propensities. In this latest work, such a complementarity is found to have deep roots in animal evolution.

Panksepp, Jaak and Lucy Biven. The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions. New York: Norton, 2012. This 500 page meditation by Pankseep, Chair of Animal Well-Being, College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University, with Lucy Bevin, a British child psychologist and editor, envisions life’s long creaturely march as a grand recapitulation of the neural development and maturation of each human person. Ancient Affective origins, right brain emotional, analog, perceptive but less computational in kind, evolved on to later Cognitive stages which are left side digital, more geared to active intention, a sense of bicameral Metazoan awakening dawns. Out of seven main emotive states such as fear and care a “seeking system” is seen as primary - “brain sources of eager anticipation, desire, euphoria, and the quest for everything.” All of which in our retrospect begs for “Integrations between cognitive (higher) and affective (lower) forms of consciousness,” i.e., personal and planetary whole brain. A deeply thoughtful, caring essay, when and how might we ever learn?

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