The idea of self-organized criticality in the brain is a powerful idea that is intuitive and can help explain many phenomenon within the brain.
Basically the idea says that the brain is balancing on a critical point between order and disorder and operates both randomly and organised.
In this view you can think of your consciousness as the the system that helps keep that balance. You get to decide the level of disorder, or entropy within your system and the goal of life is to have just the right amount of entropy.
However, something that isn’t thought of inside the model is the idea that human beings have access to unlimited amounts of nutrients while being evolutionary hardwired to believe we live in a world of sparse access to resources.
This means that by optimising the levels of the simple things we need to sustain ourself, water, food, sleep, physical exercise, human contact and information we could most likely make our brain function much better.
Add to this an interesting idea from the entropic brain theory, that the brain is actually performing on a sub-critical level (and thus is too orderly) it is likely true that to improve human functioning we most likely need to increase the entropy within the system.
You are most likely reading this on a device comfortable in a safe space, but at the same time you are a descendent of the first humans who ever lived who survived unimaginable hardship to get here. Your ancestors have survived famine, plagues, starvation and unimaginable physical hardship to make your genes carry across the eons so that you are here today.
This means that you also have the power to survive a harsher life than the one you are living right now, and by doing so you will improve the functioning of your brain.
So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
I think it’s a serious academic problem that people who work in neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry seems to fail to grasp the limits of the scientific paradigm they work within.
Neuroscience has potential because it grows from other disciplines but seems to struggle to live up to its potential because researchers are focused on a tiny subset which makes it impossible to make up a larger picture. What the neuroscientists I have met seems to fail to grasp is the fact that everything about how the mind function is obvious. You will always keep searching and figure things out that we already know, because of course we know how it works. We use it all the time.
Neuroscientists seems to believe we will find some big secret that will suddenly reveal consciousness to us. That seems highly unlikely. Instead they are focusing on a tiny slice of a part of an onion failing to grasp that they are looking at an onion part on an onion that might have infinite layers.
Psychologists do understand that everything is obvious and seems to understand how people actually work really well. Most psychologist are skilled in intuitively understanding the mind but might lack the training to explain the same concepts with math, psychics and biology.
Psychiatry is a great tool to map out how things can go wrong. The problem is that it never asks the question why. It only says, if you are this amount of sad you are depressed, if you are this amount of afraid you are anxious, if you are this amount of delusional you are manic, if your perception is broken to this percentage you are psychotic.
We need to start asking why to figure out what is going on.
A good basis is to start from different perspectives on mental health that are true. Here is a good way to start.
All human traits exhibited in the population are traits that made us survive from being the first humans to present day in an unbroken line. So traits that seem dysfunctional might also serve a function both historically and in the present day. This can be explained in a couple of different ways.
All our ancestors might have survived partly because the genetic traits that leads to mental health problems might have positive side effects for the individual or the group. The brother of a psychotic man might be extremely talented and its almost impossible to untangle these genes, otherwise they would have been untangled a long time ago. So we can’t have genius without madness and since one is incredibly useful for society the genes pass on.
Madness is only relative to the society we live in. I have met hundreds of amazing artists in my life and I think most of them would have been diagnosed as either depressed or bipolar by a well meaning psychiatrist. Many of them live their life convinced that it’s the rest of society that is dysfunctional and that they are fine apart from fundamentally question why the hell most people are spending their entire life doing meaningless work and destroying the planet. I question that too.
Every human is so unique that the distinction of what is healthy and what is diseased has to be made on the individual level. What might be functional for one person might be dysfunctional for another one. This agrees well with what we see in neuroscience, that every brain is unique. Your mind and your perception of the world is so unique that you live in a universe of your own making and there will never exists another human that views the world exactly the same way you do. So we need to look at each individual and ask ourselves, what is the best way for that person to move forward? instead of arbitrary assigning people to groups. Because your weakness is also your strength and your sensitivity to the world is what makes you see truths that are invisible to other people.
Every human is capable of experiencing all emotions. By changing the makeup of neurotransmitters in a certain way you can make anyone experience any form of state within their mind including states that we currently define as mental health problems. By experiencing more a human will understand more of the world and will over time experience most things including things that might be seen by some as mental health problems. Most mental health professionals have a limited view of the mind because they have only studied it academically without spending time in introspection. But if you speak to people who are experts in their fields the truth seems to be that they have used unconventional avenues to find knowledge. I’ve met people who are well respected in their field who admitted that drugs (most likely psychedelic) has helped them understand things about the human consciousness.
Over time what we perceive to be a mental health problem also changes. It seems that we are constantly pushing the envelope, 10 years ago mindfulness was considered strange, now it’s normal. If we keep exploring the mind it will be interesting to see what will be considered normal in 10 years.
That being said, don’t do drugs kids!
Moving theories of psychiatric disorders into the paradigm of neuroscience has a tremendous potential for explaining how we function in a way that is both accurate and without stigma.
So for instance instead of talking about ADHD we can say the following.
The human brain consists of two anti-correlated-networks, the default mode network that is active during rest, and the task positive network that is active when we are engaging in a task.
The default mode network is an incredible vast brain structure where our ideas of our self, our ideas of the world and our mental models of other people live. Here we think about the past, the future and other people. It is also the place in our mind where most of our free thinking takes place.
Struggle to attain attention during a task is caused by activation of the default mode network. This is always caused by the default mode network believing that the task we are doing is unimportant (and thus not assigning enough dopamine for us to be able to focus on the task). To overcome this you need to either give yourself more dopamine or convince yourself that the task is important.
There is an evolutionary advantage of the world consisting of people who are both good and bad at doing menial tasks. People who are good at doing menial tasks hopefully save the people who suck at it from starving to death and in turn the people who are bad at doing menial tasks have a chance of figuring out new ways of doing things that will improve the efficiency of the entire tribe.
We can keep describing disorders in psychiatry through this lens.
The default mode networks primary function is to decide how to move forward in the world by computing the values of the mental representation of you, the world and people inside the default mode network of your brain.
A strong belief in your self, the world or people will lead to more actions (because your own computations of the likelihood of positive externalities increase). A lack of belief in your self, the world of people will lead to less actions (because your own computations of the likelihood of positive externalities decrease).
Believing that you have a limited ability to influence the world is technically true but is not a very beneficial way to view things. Lack of belief in yourself leads to disillusion and depression and complete apathy. The opposite complete belief in yourself might be an illusion but is seemingly a life strategy that is sometimes surprisingly effective and can make you become the president of the most powerful country of the world.
It’s important to view mental health by asking the following question, is the individual moving towards goals that they find important? This is a really complex question, because who decides our goals? Do we decide them ourself or do we need society to arbitrary tell us what is right and wrong?
In my view it seems that we as a society seem to struggle to understand how much of what we view every single day is just people feeding us delusions and us blindly accepting it. Every commercial you ever viewed is a lie and it’s bringing you further away from the truth, so technically almost every human being alive is very delusions about the world.
But there are some forms of delusions we accept (blindly following the laws of society without questioning them because we believe that society has our best interest at heart) but others that we perceive as crazy (thinking that society isn’t a living force and thus is in a way incapable of having neither your best or worst interest at heart or believing that society is a negative force that is actively destroying the life of its citizens).
The reason that we think these people are crazy is partly because they threaten the foundational values that society is founded on and that makes everyone living a life that close to the norms of society extremely uncomfortable. Because if it is really true that I can do whatever I want, why am I not doing that instead of what I’m doing right now?