Neurobiology and Sociobiology

    Many facts recently discovered in neurobiology support the sociobiology paradigm. They also point to "beyond sociobiology" -- which can mean only the quantitative, biochemical analysis of structure and function -- the "reductionist" goal. However, these sciences desparately need that very paradigm. The common notions of human nature seem to assume that the brain is a tangled mass of undifferentiated neurons. They want to believe that a "human will and cultural learning" create order out of these neurons. Somehow, its complexity is just "so great that the human will can do anything".  Indeed, some neuroscientists are willing to proclaim that "the brain is only a locus for contact between the ethereal higher reality of the Spirit and a constructed reality in which human spirits interact..."  Most philosophers, who purport to study human nature, are only too willing to accept this.

    Wishful thinking. These hard scientists are not just assuming the conceptions of the social scientists and other interested human observers. They are assuming genetically motivated "sweet" delusions. Intention and free will "just have to exist -- isn't that what my self is doing all the time?"  All the structure of the brain is the "convenient capacities which the human will can utilize."  Again, nothing more seriously destroys survival fitness than the knowledge that one is a gene machine.  In fact, the brain sciences are seriously incapacitated by these preconceptions.  The situation is far more bleak than "waiting for another paradigm" to motivate their research; despite sociobiology's dissemination, most of these scientists have rejected or ignored its possible insights.  "What does evolution have to do with the brain?"  Despite the obvious impossibility, they really seek to justify man's "kindest charity, noblest ideals, brilliant creativity, and deepest love" in the lump of gray matter at hand.

    So much garbage on this subject has been written, that it cannot be compacted here.  Instead, a few recent discoveries will be described to facilitate explanation. First, the oldest evidence of genetic influence of behavior is familial behavioral disorders, for the most part described as "mental illness".  The most common are:
(s.g. = single gene)
Name Cause Description
Lesch-Nyhan Syndrome single gene self-mutilation
Tay-Sachs Disease single gene retardation
Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome single gene sexual appearance & behavior
Porphyria single gene adult-onset, hallucinations, delirium, mania
Down Syndrome trisomy-21 "higher brain" retardation
Turner Syndrome aneuploidy (sex disorders &) "right hemisphere" retardation.
Schizophrenia  neurochemical a range of inappropriate responses, hallucinations

    Some 40 such behavioral traits have been linked with genes.  It must be remarked (what should be obvious,) that sociobiology predicts that these genes must  have been selected for, and may still be, or they would not exist as a significant part of the population.  As will be continually emphasized, many such realizations are inhibited by the current inadequate paradigms.  The obvious disadvantage of such genes in these individuals, and their parents (opportunity cost, sharing fitness, etc.), necessitates some more than compensating selective advantage in some other way (for the gene, not the individual).  A most likely mechanism will be the advantage of the heterozygous state -- as in sickle-cell anemia (where the heterozygous state is more resis­tant to malaria).  Down Syndrome correlates well with parental age, and convincingly demonstrates that reproduction becomes increasingly unfavorable with age; that is, a mechanism that takes such products out of the gene pool is so favorable that it has been selected.  The disadvantage of older parentage arises for reasons of acquired gamete defects, importance of sharing fitness with children and grandchildren already born, and the relative advantages of variation, which account for sexual reproduction, a set lifespan, and delegation of reproduction to younger generations.  Finally, a book could be written about schizophrenia.  Milder cases, i.e., depending on the environment, may have been themselves advantageous.  For instance, it has been suggested that the shaman or prophet may have been the "tribe schizophrenic", who might represent a greater source of creativi­ty and/or inspiration.

    A much broader range of genetically influenced behaviors have been established thru correlation with kinship: handedness, alcoholism/addictions, neuroses/psychoses, math/verbal/spatial ability, sperceptual/psychomotor skills, obesity (eating behavior), sexual behavior, and numerous personality characteristics.  The studies being done have even started taking advantage of "identical twins/reared apart", which provide the best possible controlled experiment using humans.  While some genetic markers have been found, for instance in alcoholism or sex-related aptitudes, these involve complex interactions of many genes.  In general, they cover a broad sample of the population and do not represent particularly striking fitness.  These traits account for a great deal of human variability, but many new mutations and recessive combinations are occurring all the time.  The fact that over 90% of reproductive conceptions spontaneously abort is not widely appreciated. This mechanism is absolutely necessary to filter out all the lethal combinations and defective mutations that are continually created. One might conclude that behavioral gene mutations are less likely to be (immediately) lethal than other body functions. They will be born and express their mutations by "bizarre and abnormal" behavior.  Whereas in earlier times their fellow men, instead of the womb, selected against them, our "enlightened" times regard them as Humans with inalienable rights.  Thus, even the sociopaths, radicals, emotional defectives, imbeciles, and Hitlers are now guaranteed "reproductive rights".

    Only if these individuals overstep the boundaries of being unable to care for themselves or violent are they committed.  Some 350,000 in American mental institutions and many more on drug therapy attest to how many things can go wrong in the genetic programming of the brain.  We see defects of perception, association, memory, a reality mechanism, in emotional affect, motivation and arousal, attention, loss of individuality, inappropriate prioritization...  Most of these are so serious because they concern defects in systems responsible for "primary epigenetic rules" (E.O. Wilson) which generally are not subject to alteration by experience.  They are the direct expression of biochemical structures not allowed to change.  For example, a more clearcut behavioral constraint is that we must breath an Earth-like atmosphere because of the structure of hemoglobin, tissue permeability, etc.  Humans' secondary epigenetic rules may include: extensive emotionality, survival and reproductive strategies, social bonding, predilections for social norms and sweet delusions, etc.  These are more likely "patterns of neural response" in areas of the brain which can be altered by experience.  One might say the chronically violent or sociopathic express genetic variations in these latter traits.

    These very same human traits appear in other situations which suggest sociobiology. Genetic diversity may explain some of the difference between the world's cultures.  Other studies have implicated numerous other genetic differences between the world's populations (from blood type to metabolism).  It is not suddenly "racist" to say these differences extend to behavioral genes.  Indeed, the very obstreperous critics of sociobiology who suggest that any research, or even consideration, of such things should be condemned have done the greatest damage.  They perpetu­ate the notion that ignorance and blind applications of Shud must be the norm.  Again, this topic has already been treated exten­sively (see Wilson, etc.)  We should expect that some major genetic behavioral differences occur, causing and consequent of the incredibly vicious conflict between men throughout their evolution.  Some evolutionary biologists puzzle over man's rapid evolution or the missing links with lower primates; man evolved through unparalleled competition with other men!  No other natural selection has even approached man's "selective ability".  Above all, this conflict was over behavioral traits, even what might seem like trivial traits -- as those unbelievers in the Trinity found while burning at the stake.  And especially these selected traits (their apparent importance) reflected a selected genetic population.  Even our mildest ancestral competitors were undoubtedly beaten into an early extinction.

    Other situations which throw light on how the brain is organized (mechanically) are brain injuries and psychoactive drugs.  Each apparently modifies a neurochemical aspect of the brain resulting in specific behavioral changes.  Many injuries suggest that particular portions of the brain are responsible for creating and storing memory, planning, morality and sociality, temperament and personality, emotionality, and the well-known hemispheric specializations. (see refs)  Psychoactive drugs on the contrary can give an incredibly subtle and detailed measure of the neurochemical systems in the brain.  They can minutely alter the responsiveness of particular neurotransmitter systems, which enable specific functions of the brain. One common effect of the more desirable illicit drugs is release from the more "instinctual drives" (everyday goal-oriented behavior) and reprioritization.  Other drugs distinguish the substrates of emotional response by particular changes in emphasis of anxiety, happiness, anger, affection.  Some drugs result in ineffable experiences of altered reality constructs; they may begin with perceptual distortions but can proceed thru total replacement of the most profound, unrealized everything of being.  But other more controversial effects also occur: religious sympathies may be enhanced, social norms become absurd or ignored, feelings of authority/submission may be experienced, conceptions of self to nature and free will can be radically altered.   All these changes strongly suggest that these behavioral traits (and thoughts) are expressions of the most basic neurochemical structure of the brain, a structure for which the genes are responsible.

    The inability to appreciate the effect of food, pheremones, pathogens on mental/behavioral states is a flaw of neurobiology's current paradigm.  An uncritical presumption of human intention originating all behavior, instead of biology, has not permitted numerous realizations.  If a common cold virus can release a chemical that irritates the nasal passages and results in a sneeze, 100's of millions of its copies will shoot out into space and the nasal passages of any nearby humans.  Such a wildly successful strategy would be powerfully selected.  If any pathogen can irritate the skin it lands on so that the host is compelled to scratch that spot, the protective barrier of dead host skin stands a chance of being compromised and the pathogen may get in, its success rewarded by proliferation.  (In contrast, the latest theory is that the itch is a "human protective mechanism".)  Don't people with athlete's foot often scratch their soles raw because the fungus "itches so"? -- making the skin moist, soft, and compromised just like the fungus wants it?  Now, is this really any different?: if venereal disease stimula­ted the desire (a motivation) to have sex, its chances of propagation would increase enormously.  Its gene which released (induced to release) such an enzyme(s) (or hormone) that affected its host's behavior would be strongly selected for.  The rabies virus infects the nervous system of mammals, making them (certainly dogs) "ferocious" so that they bite, and the virus spreads to the bitten -- selected for its ability to affect the behavior of the host.

Nature of viruses

    Amongst all the pathogens which coexist with humans, the virus may be unique because of its ability to enter cells and operate like the RNA or DNA already there.  Many aspects of viruses suggest that any total description of the genetic basis of life must consider them integrally.  They may have originated (in our evolutionary past) in the very cells they can infect (their resemblance to the host DNA, similarity in action of transposons, very complex and suited strategy for the host cell, total dependence on host cell for survival).  We have only scarcely begun to realize how ubiquitous they are; dozens to hundreds of types may be "infecting" any individual at any time.  Most of these types probably do not cause any overt harm or illness.  For instance, "slow viruses" may sit within the chromosomes for decades before finally initiating cancer, etc.  Instead, they may fundamentally alter the host cell's genetic expression by adding their own promoters, inhibitors, transpos­ons, if not genes.  [Favorite example would be EBV, initial infection appears as mononucleosis, but it can have chronic effect on behavior.]  To appreciate their potential effect on behavior, one must realize that any number of enzymes, manufac­tured neurotransmitters, or hormones might be produced by the virus.  We can not possibly appreciate how frequently they may be crossing from one individual's genes to another's.  Such is all the more startling since by insertion and disinsertion they can take a portion of the host's chromosome.  All such considerations lead to a conception of a much more fluid gene pool, not so much of the sex line, but of expressed traits.  While this may be novel and outrageous, the most important point here is that this situation follows from the fundamental "evolutionary" principles described.  Any strategy that perpetuates the gene which is responsible for that strategy will be advantageous!  The "selfish" gene which acquires the ability to proliferate, even outside the sex line, will be proliferated.  The virus, like the body, is such a strategy.  So also are transposons, tumors, and cancer.

    From an evolutionary perspective, these effects have not just acted upon us, but influenced our evolution.  If they were purely detrimental, the fraction of the population capable of resisting them would have been selected advantageously -- we would all now be resistant.  The more nearly true situation is that we have reached an "equilibrium of benefit" with these influences.  Even the more virulent afflictions of mankind must be prolific and widespread if the pathogens are to acquire successful mutations that (temporarily) bypass resistance.  Consider kissing, for instance.  Kissers do not benefit in anyway from such activity; the exemplary wrong conclusion is that kissing "excites".  Such an explanation demonstrates the invariably false conclusions reached thru the assumption of intention.  Why should it excite?  Why not making faces instead?  Instead imagine that millions of years ago, some infectious bacteria in the oral/nasal passage of primates released a chemical that induced its host to trade saliva with another member of the species.  The transferred bacteria spread successfully thru many hosts this way.  Perhaps this kiss transferred some beneficial flora of the adult's intestinal tract to her child, which served to protect her gene copy from harmful infection.  Perhaps the bacteria was itself in a beneficial symbiotic relationship with the host.  In any case, the kiss eventually resulted in benefit for the kissers.  The capacity to benefit from the kiss was selected advantageously... kissers (and kissing) spread.  At some point, perhaps even the kiss became beneficial for some other reason (proximity, social bonding, transferring pheremones ...?), someone acquired the sensitivity and reward response to the act of kissing itself and this genetic influence spread advantageously.  Kissing became "exciting", because it was already beneficial.  In truth, most people now have these infections throughout their lives, e.g., streptococcus in the oral/nasal passages.  In addition, neuroscientists now haven't the slightest idea why so many hormones, especially psychoactive ones, are secreted into the salivary gland.  We are each a walking ecology of millions of viruses, bacteria, fungi, proto­zoa, and other flora.

    For decades, scientists were so touchingly certain that the brain maintained a sufficient "homeostasis", that "only the human will influenced his behavior".  Only recently has the extent of this misconception been revealed.  The ratios and amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fats have profound influence on mood and behavior, as do the ratios of the amino acids in the protein, and the ratios and amounts of the micronu­trients (vitamins and minerals).  That is only the beginning, for a wide variety of the biochemicals in our food are "psychoactive": epinephrine in red meat, phenylethylamine in chocolate, the active components of many herbs and spices (indeed, ingested because of these psychoactive compounds), opiates in milk, and many more.  Obviously they alter food seeking behavior like craving sweets, starches, types of protein, or just satiety.  But they also cause arousal, depression, euphoria, aggressiveness, suggestability, altered awareness, etc.  Even the concentration of ions in the air and amount of light have these effects!  If these exterior agents are so influential, what could our own brains not do?

Kyle Davenport
c. 1987