The human brain is an essentially evaluative organ endowed with reward systems
engaged in learning and memory as well as in higher evaluative tendencies. Our
innate species-specific, neuronally-based identity disposes us to develop universal
evaluative tendencies, such as self-interest, control-orientation, dissociation, selective
sympathy, empathy, and xenophobia. The combination of these tendencies
may place us in a predicament. Our neuronal identity makes us social, but also
individualistic and self-projective, with an emotional and intellectual engagement
that is far more narrowly focused in space and time than the effects of our actions.
However, synaptic epigenesis theories of cultural and social imprinting on our
brain architecture suggest that there is a possibility of culturally influencing
these predispositions. In an analysis of epigenesis by selective stabilisation of
synapses, I discuss the relationships between genotype and brain phenotype: the
paradox of non-linear evolution between genome and brain complexity; the selection
of cultural circuits in the brain during development; and the genesis and epigenetic
transmission of cultural imprints. I proceed to discuss the combinatorial
explosion of brain representations, and the channelling of behaviour through “epigenetic
rules” and top-down control of decision-making. In neurobiological terms,
these “rules” are viewed as acquired patterns of connections (scaffoldings), hypothetically
stored in frontal cortex long-term memory, which frame the genesis of
novel representations and regulate decision-making in a top-down manner.
Against that background I propose the possibility of being epigenetically proactive,
and adapting our social structures, in both the short and the long term, to benefit,
influence, and constructively interact with the ever-developing neuronal architecture
of our brains.
Barbara Wengler Foundation , 2015.