60. Are Personality Disorders Permanent and Irreparable ? If so, Why ?

October 28, 2020

Having had several years of training regarding the architecture and function of the brain, although much about neuroscience remains obscure to us, as I understand it, experiential, neurobiological and neuropharmacological factors often force marked variations in the development of brain wiring, or neuroanatomy — changes that while they may have a profound affect upon thought, emotion and behavior, are usually not apparent from casual observation of individuals so afflicted.

For example, there are but subtle external physical signs, visible to physicians, of fetal alcohol syndrome. The condition is produced by heavy use of alcohol by the mother during pregnancy.  Its victims’ ears are set slightly lower, their eyes set slightly further apart, and the philtrum of the upper lip is flattened.  However, what is more startling is that in victims of severe fetal alcohol syndrome, due to interference with the normal developmental migration of brain cells, many of the brain’s midline structures are underdeveloped or absent, and about ten percent of cases, the largest single bundle of brain wires, the corpus callosum, a bundle of axons with an average cross section of about two square inches and connecting the entire left and right cerebral hemispheres, is entirely absent.  Thought it may affect bimanual coordination, planning, decision-making and abstract thought, this enormously important defect is usually not obvious through appearances, and may remain undiscovered unless, for some reason or other, there happens to be a Magnetic Resonant Image test, (MRI) performed during life or an autopsy performed after death.

Similarly, in a number of other conditions, there are very substantial individual differences in brain wiring that are not apparent unless revealed by extensive specialized testing during life or at autopsy after death.

The brain is organized into clusters of brain cells that relate to various general functions.  This functional organization of the adult brain’s billion cells, occurs between conception and the first couple of years after birth, by the migrations of groups of cells from one place in the brain to another.  As the cells migrate, they drag a long, myelin-insulated connecting wire (axon)  with them from their place of origin, and form other, usually multiple, connections where they end up.  At birth there are about two billion such cells, each connected in this way to many others.

Brain development is markedly influenced by relationships in the early months of life, and as someone noted, by the learning of language, through which ideas are not only expressed, but on the basis of which abstract ideas may actually be formed.  All of these things influence the locations to which cells migrate, what interconnections are formed and strengthened by use, and which half of the cells  and their possible connections will be atrophy and be lost through disuse.

By about the age of twenty, about 100 billion of the original 200 billion cells and connections have been pruned away, leaving those functions and circuits that the organism has found useful and necessary for living as a human being.

Since the architecture and function of the brain have depended for development upon the learning of language, music and our attachments to other humans, etc., all of which will have varied from culture to culture, the proposition that all humans, all cultures, all races, would give identical results to a complex process of testing of brain function, seems far less likely to me, despite our egalitarian sense of fairness, than that they would score differently through cultural drift.  

The changes to which I refer, by the way, happen in the course of a single life, whereas genetic drift evolves over generations of time.  As an example of an important difference between individuals, a significant fraction of the population demonstrably has no empathy towards others.  Moreover, those individuals, once formed, have no capacity for developing empathy, lacking the cells and wiring circuits in their brains that make empathy possible.

In one other seemingly unrelated observation there lies a further bit of evidence regarding the conclusion one can draw about the structure of the brain.  It has been known for many decades that in a child with amblyopia ex anopsia, so called “lazy eye”, where there is a marked weakness of one of the muscles that directs one of the eyes, the images presented by each eye to Broca’s areas 18 and 19 of the occipital (visual) cortex of the brain, are so completely different, that the brain cannot make fine corrections to superimpose and fuse them into one congruent, binocular image.  Therefore the brain selects the image from the eye that is directed straight ahead, and suppresses the other less relevant, less useful image.

The eye surgeon has a dilemma.  For various reasons it is better to wait until at least the age of six before subjecting the baby to surgery, but if one allows the brain to suppress the image of the “lazy” eye for six years, the parts of the cortex perceiving the image from that eye will have atrophied, and will never develop even if the eye’s aim is straightened.  This evidence suggests that the timing of brain development is crucial, and that some abnormalities in brain architecture can become permanent.

The eye surgeon’s solution in the case of amblyopia ex anopsia is to alternately patch one eye, and then the other, forcing the child to use each unpatched eye in turn and providing timely stimulation to the occipital cortex on both sides of the midline, so that visual perception develops bilaterally.  

Thus there is evidence that when there something causes an abnormal development in the cortex in the first few months and years of life, these changes, or defects, can become permanent.

In the case of the dysfunctional prototype attachments to others that we think are the cause of clusters of behaviors we refer to as personality disorders, we suspect that they indicate literal defects in brain wiring, and that those miswirings are effectively unfixable, except possibly by partial patches and work-arounds.


59. Have T V and Newspaper Purveyors of News Committed Socioeconomic Suicide ?

October 24 2020

This morning a member of an e-mail discussion group to which I belong circulated the following story: 

Washington Post public editor:  the powerful have realized they don’t need the Post

THIS MONTH we learned that Tesla, a $400 billion public company run by one of the richest people in the world, has done away with its media relations department—effectively formalizing an informal policy of ignoring reporters. …


For personal reasons, I found the source of this story, the Columbia Journalism  Review, as interesting as the story itself.

In 1949, when I was about fifteen, and living in the little town of Monroe, about 50 miles north of New York City, I attended tiny Monroe High School, where my English teacher, Miss Beal, whom we all believed was secretly dating a boy in the senior class who had been left back a couple of times, more or less told me that I was going to be the Editor-in-Chief of our school paper.  As I recall, it was less like an invitation than an instruction. 

In making that appointment, she initiated what have been a series of major effects upon my life.  This is all the more astonishing to me because Monroe High School was such a tiny institution.  There were only just over a dozen kids in my class, and the “newspaper” was merely a bimonthly, mimeographed publication.  

In a way, being its Editor-in-Chief was like being appointed “emperor” of somebody’s back yard.  Yet, I discovered nine years later, after college and two years of law school, when the Army drafted me and and made me a military journalist, layout is layout and the inverted triangle format of a news story is independent of the relative magnificence of the publication.  Expositional writing, the clear explanation and publication of information about what is going on around here, is an art that is scalable.

I am pretty sure Miss Beal gave me my editorial duties in an unsuccessful effort to keep me too busy to disrupt her English class with my clowning around, but for me the first unexpected consequence came a year later when she recommended that the school should send me to a week-long seminar of New York State high school editors at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. 

It was my first exposure to the excitement of a big city university campus.  The conference alone was stimulating enough, but in addition, on the first day I met a grad student, Buddy Brehm, who stopped me to ask what our baby-faced crowd was up to at his school.  At the end of a half-hour chat he had to go to a psych class, and invited me to come along.  The class, given by a professor named Short, had to do with the design of academic tests.  Now, after 71 years, I still remember the main point of that class:  that if too many students fail a given test, the problem is with the test, not the students.  The test design will have failed to match the teaching.

This was all about a dozen years before the birth of the Columbia Journalism Review, and I have only a vague impression of the journalism conference itself, other than it was consistent with the professional standards of the day as they were reflected in the work of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

On the basis of that long perspective, I believe I spied another conclusion hidden in the words of the present article.

The author of the Review’s article, Hamilton Nolan, asserts that because the very rich possess extraordinary access to social media, they no longer need to provide once necessary access on the part of the traditional mass media, to their organizations and their lives.  The example cited in the article is that because Elon Musk has more than 40 million Twitter followers, Tesla no longer finds it necessary to have a media relations department, and for more than a year has not responded to any inquiries from what he calls, “critical and ethical outlets like the Washington Post”.

Nolan laments this loss of power by the further assertion that, “As journalists, we all view this as a horrifying assault on the public’s right to know, and on our own status as brave defenders of the public good.”  One wonders whether he is simply unaware of the delicious irony ingrained in this statement, or whether it is merely a cynical exercise of the egregious disinformation strategy for which the current media have become infamous.

First, modern reporters, mostly ignorant of the law and the constitution, have exaggerated the Constitution’s freedom of the press, which merely states that no law shall be made prohibiting it. Reporters have converted that right into a more global but imaginary public right to know.  In using the latter term, the press grants to itself a right and a power it does not actually have.

Secondly, if Nolan thinks that anyone still regards the press as, “brave defenders of the public good”,  he is delusional.  By foregoing the clear and truthful exposition of events as they have transpired, ( forgetting the legacy of Murrow and Cronkite), in favor of the role of  fomenting the on-screen or in-print acting-out of rage and anguish, they have reduced themselves to being parties to the chaos.  They are no longer disinterested reporters of the news when 98% of their content participates in the mêlée for the purpose of attracting viewers and readers and enhancing their own power,

Therefore, by its behavior the press, as it once was,  has committed journalistic suicide, and today the products of the media are consumed only by individuals who already know the various media prejudices and are intent only upon confirming their personal biases.

People who are invited to talk to reporters know that the product of the press is so devalued that it is no longer worth the price of dealing with any who are, or may be, antagonistic.  For the new strategy of ignoring the press you can thank the President, because he has proven that more people see his tweets than they do the content of any of the print or TV news outlets.  

For allowing their greed, rage and fear to corrupt their professional standards, modern journalists have earned the consequences of their bad behavior.


58. Russian Interference in the Election

October 23, 2020

On the eve of the 2020 election, in the final debate of the campaign season, the candidates of the two major political parties each spent a good deal of time claiming that the Russians have again been using the internet to rig the election in favor of his opponent.

Are they each so stupid that they don’t realize that their words actually help Putin achieve his stated goal, which is not to elect either one of them, but to cause Americans to lose faith in what is the cornerstone of any representative democracy:  the free, fair and honest process of election of its leaders and representatives in government?

The answer is, it appears that they are!

And if half the Americans again refuse to honor the result of the presidential election, as the Democrats have done since 2016, and if this time the peaceful transfer of power is actually disrupted by violence in addition to the passive-aggressive resistance on the part of the losers that we have already endured for four years, Putin will have succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in demonstrating that democracy is a flawed theory of government.

It appears to me that hope lies in whatever common sense resides in the lower echelons of the two major parties.  Given that their leadership is composed mostly of the more fanatical partisans among them.

The greater risk of violence, it seems to me, will  come from a very close election, impossible to count and to call for one side’s candidates or the other.  Therefore I am hoping for a landslide in one direction or the other.