I got kind of legitimately excited by this story from Northeastern University, the home of neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, who has come up with what sounds like an extremely well-supported hypothesis of a kind I've been waiting for for a very long time, for how the brain might go about organizing itself between birth and toddlerhood, with the necessary help of the people the child interacts with, like, I would say, a natural-selection system inside an ecosystem, constantly nourishing and reinforcing the adaptive neuronal connections and allowing the non-adaptive ones to die, in the general way described by the late Gerald Edelman in the 1980s and 1990s (here's a review of his most accessible book by the also late Oliver Sacks), but with a good deal more attention than Edelman gave to the importance of the child's social connections and a pretty simple biological concept of what the brain cells are looking for: Bill Ibelle, the Northeastern News science writer, explains,Neuroscientists finally grasping the human brain isn't hard-wired and that our cognition and linguistic ability are largely formed after we're born. https://t.co/MMGjoaAqV9— Demented Words Of Violence And Death (@Yastreblyansky) August 9, 2018
At the center of this biological survival instinct is a process called allostasis: a sort of biological efficiency that must be achieved in order to survive in a gamut of stressful situations. Allostasis rewards behavior that replenishes energy and, in response to stressors, allocates those resources efficiently. During early development, infants rely on caregivers to maintain allostasis for them, by providing the proper food, temperature, and social contact.
Barrett contends that the brain’s primary function is not thinking, but anticipating the needs of the body and meeting those needs before they arrive. This is how allostasis is maintained efficiently.And that concept of allostasis provides the cybernetic (self-regulating control-system) element for what drives it to change, the presence of a stressor. (Dumb old child-development joke about the kid who seems unable to learn to talk until suddenly one day at breakfast, when he says, "Mom, my oatmeal's cold!"—"Albert," says Mom, thunderstruck, "you can talk! How come you never said anything before?" "Up until now," says the kid, "everything was perfect.")
What I'm really excited about is the detail I can fill in for myself into this picture. Because if thinking is not the "primary function" of the brain, you have to ask where does it come from, and the answer must be that it comes from the baby's social interactions, inscribed inside the language system that the baby and her interlocutors build for her in the plasticity of the cortex—thinking (second-order cognition) comes from learning how to talk (a step Edelman was unable to take).
Another thought is about human individuality: because the human neonate is so radically incomplete and incompetent, compared to other mammals, so much formed by the social circumstances of after he's born, that the idea of human uniqueness more or less explains itself, and you can see how unimportant the genetic component really is in that. This is why the heritability of "IQ" and arguments like Charles Murray's that it's a significant fact about particular ethnically or economically defined populations are always doomed to wither:
Whatever it is, it isn't anything except as the social surroundings allow it to express itself, and Murray's agenda, which is to enforce the thought that certain people—certain groups of people—will never amount to anything and aren't worth the expense of fostering and cultivating, is not just evil but also incorrect.