Saturday, May 30, 2020

What if God was an alien?

Farmers on a field facing and walking towards a light from the sky
On this piece of terrain embedded in cyberspace and entitled my world, I have looked at philosophy and religion from a variety of perspectives. Apart from Buddhism, I have also blogged quite a bit about Christianity and have approached and looked at it from different angles.

There is of course the traditional Biblical view through a literal and figurative lens. I have also offered and proposed an innovative and progressive reading to revive and modernize Christianity; there are philosophical interpretations by thinkers like Hegel, Kant, and Kierkegaard; there is the political and historical dimension, including viewing religion as opium of and for the masses, and finally, I have also discussed the gnostic interpretation of the Bible, which, simply put, puts religion on its head.

Today, I shall be even more daring and controversial and will add more twist and fire to the absurdity running through this blog by speculating that God may be an alien entity. 

Thinking outside the box is something that comes to me naturally so when this unconventional idea in question came to me, I knew I had to explore it to some extent. Like many ideas, it did not come out of a vacuum, but it was inspired and stimulated by my recent viewing of the documentary Unacknowledged by Michael Mazzola, which is for the most part focused on the work and ideas of Steven M. Greer.

Before delving deeper into the subject matter and before encountering and facing resistance and objections, and, more importantly, before you stop reading or feel tempted to unfollow me on social media and / or my blog, I would like to give an explanatory preamble here.

Some months ago – in the pre-Covid-19 era of little to no physical distancing - I went to an astrophysics talk. It was on Black Matter and Black Holes and included other equally occult and esoteric matters, such as time-worms, bending the space-time curvature, string theory, and, everyone’s favourite, quantum mechanics.

There was a point at the lecture where I felt a wave of panic surge over my whole body. There were these scientists in front of me who talked about bizarre events that made no sense whatsoever. In fact, the thought crossed my mind that they must have been out of their minds. Schrödinger should have used his time to feed and play with his cat instead of eternally trapping it in a box within the nether world or no man’s (or no pet’s) land, that ominous threshold between life and death, and not necessarily interchangeably so.

But indeed, I was being presented with science and scientific facts. Einstein was right, and he told us so a hundred years ago. Many of his own scientific community in the lecture hall must have felt similar waves of panic as myself, and they must have thought this mathematical genius was in fact a lunatic. The German words of weltfremd (literally estranged from the world) and verrückt (crazy but in the sense of being displaced or removed from reality) come to mind. It took us only a century to set our doubts aside and prove Einstein right once and for all, at least for the time being.

Without doubt, the topic of aliens hits a raw nerve in our modern world. We often dismiss it in equal measure as madness and nonsense. We discredit those who claim to have had sightings and make fun of anyone who was allegedly abducted. And I am not one to give them credence either, neither shall I groundlessly vilify or ridicule them. 

I shall remain skeptical of such claims but perhaps to a somewhat lesser degree. There are things that we do not understand, and that science cannot or refuses to explain. As an example, I myself am a strong believer in psychic phenomena (prophetic dreams, Tarot cards, otherworldly signs, synchronicity, and serendipity). People have the right and freedom to refute them, but that does not make them less true.

I am also aware that there are many who are not honest nor genuine and under the guise of the supernatural, they merely try to control and take advantage of others to their own – often financial – benefit. In other words, they either do not believe what they preach – and religion has far too many examples of this – or they embrace so many clichés and stereotypes that they lose credibility – the crystal ball, the incense, and abundant pearls and necklaces or other kinds of hippie vibes that create more resistance in the already doubtful and suspicious person. It would be like scientists never taking off their white lab coats, which only serves to cast doubt onto their credentials and their level of self-confidence, not to say their level of sanity.

And let us end this preamble with a growing trend that has put things into perspective. I was surprised when a renowned astrophysicist like Stephen Hawking started talking about aliens in a serious tone and manner. This had been a taboo topic for decades, and science was only used to discredit, and worse, ridicule those who spoke about or believed in extraterrestrial life and visits. The belief of aliens had been delegated to and firmly grounded within the fantasy genre of books and movies; suddenly and out of the blue, a celebrated scientist was warning us about a potential threat and / or invasion from outer space. I could not believe my ears or eyes for that matter.

Yet why would it not be possible? We have this ego-centric earth-centered view that we are the only living and breathing creatures in the universe, but why should there not be other types of life out there? Considering the vastness of our ever-expanding universe, it would be statistically possible if not feasible that alien life could exist elsewhere. The same way quantum mechanics put into doubt and made us question scientific facts and truths, why should it not be possible that aliens exist?

The Netflix documentary Unacknowledged made me doubt my own preconceived and dismissive notions about aliens and extraterrestrial life. Although not everyone or everything in the show seemed credible, there were scientists and intellectuals among them who may have been onto something. Couple that with Stephen Hawking’s interest in the matter, and my pendulum moved from only if hell freezes over to potentially possible. At least, it would be warranted enough to listen to and perhaps consider and reflect upon those ideas.

That night as I was falling sleep, I was startled with the following thought: What if God was an alien? What if he was not a supernatural spiritual being but rather a technologically advanced one? What if he, an extraterrestrial being, one day decided to contact planet earth and humanity?

Let us look at the New Testament for instance. He might have come down to Earth and chosen a woman to bear him his son, not unlike Zeus and other Greek deities who would physically come down and have offspring with mortals. Mary’s conception could have occurred not through physical consumption but through alien technology. Instead of the enigmatic, problematic, and cumbersome contraption of the Holy Spirit sent as a missionary and go-between, this would be an alien who impregnated a human female with a simple touch. Hence, Mary would still be a virgin at that moment.

Their son would be like Hercules, half-mortal, half-god. The feats that Jesus would produce would not be miracles, but they were demonstrations of his many superpowers. He could walk on water by controlling and manipulating gravity; he could heal the sick and the blind with a mere touch; he could revive the dead. These powers were then given to him via alien knowledge and technology.

The Romans were afraid of him personally and not so much of his ideas. They saw Jesus as a military threat who could galvanize and weaponize the people. They crucified him, but then he reappeared because he could not physically die, being half alien. He left our planet to reunite with his father who lived up in the skies or in a far way and distant part of the galaxy or universe.

What is deemed spiritual knowledge would be transmitted through alien visits and technology, the same way in The Matrix skills and information could be downloaded within seconds. This would also explain St. Paul getting kicked off his donkey and an illiterate businessman being able to write spiritual verses. They were visited not by angels but by aliens who imbued them with knowledge or enlightenment.

And perhaps, there were other aliens among us. I know that I am entering ancient astronaut theory right now that has been debunked by science, but I have always wondered why Krishna was blue and looked like he had just stepped out of the movie Avatar

What if the Greek did not have the level of imagination that we ascribe to them but that they were describing their reality of aliens descending from the skies with powerful weapons like lightning bolts, tridents, and forceful hammers? How did the Egyptians build those astounding pyramids, and why do their gods resemble aliens?

We only need to look at the description of the Christian rapture, and it seems more like an alien abduction than God taking people back to the heavenly realm. And there is our constant obsession with the sky. We pray upwards and we believe that God dwells in the skies above, and that heaven, our eternal home, is up there as well. Incidentally, in the German language, we use the same word for sky and heaven: Himmel. What if the god that we look up to is indeed an alien and that we are praying for the second coming hoping to be revisited by this same entity?

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Post-Pandemic World: A Virtual Talk with Jacques Attali

Black and white head shot of French economist
Although we are still in the midst of it and have our day to day worries of not catching this dreadful, dangerous and rapidly spreading virus and while we are also looking toward the best means of protecting ourselves and our loved ones via social and physical distancing as well as washing hands and wearing masks, one of the nagging fears and concerns is also what will happen once this nightmare comes to an end. There will be evidently relief, joy, and celebration at first, but what will be the long-lasting effects and consequences of this pandemic. What will the post-pandemic world look like?

It was French intellectual Jacques Attali who managed to give me some answers to that ominous question. Yesterday morning (Pacific Time), I had the pleasure to attend my first webinar / Zoom talk. 

It was organized by FIAF, the French Institute of the Alliance Française and was occurring simultaneously from New York while Jacques Attali was in Paris (presumably in his living-room) at the same time. I was hoping the interview would be conducted in French, but alas it was all in English.

I had my cup of coffee in hand as I connected to the provided link from the comforts of my home. I have been to many lectures and very much enjoy them, but something seemed awkward and amiss with this virtual talk. 

Of course, I appreciated the fact that the world was intricately connected and that I was part of a talk that I would never been able to attend by any other means (both New York and Paris were simply out of reach for me), but while it created a virtual connection and get-together, I also felt oddly disconnected. But more on this later.

Jacques Attali was not the only guest, as there was also the Zambian economist and author Dambisa Moyo, and it was moderated by the host Claude Grunitzky. Yet it is Attali’s thought, insight and contribution I would like to focus on here. 

Jacques Attali is a French economist and social theorist who has worked closely as an adviser with the French government, namely with François Mitterrand and later also with Nicolas Sarkozy. He has published more than fifty books, and Foreign Policy considers him one of the top 100 global thinkers in the world.

One of the threads among his prolific and diverse writing output, which even includes fiction and theatre, has been the focus on the future, and he has correctly predicted and foreseen trends and issues, such as the Internet and YouTube and has written about surveillance and trans-humanism about four decades ago. 

In fact, he has talked about the threat of pandemics more than two decades ago. The virtual talk itself began with a look back at history. How did other pandemics play out and what was their outcome?

The Great Plague of the 14th century was touched upon. One of the outcomes of the plague was a changing perspective of and relationship with science. Many started moving away from superstitions and religious beliefs and embraced science instead; it was science that could give them more effective protection from diseases. 

It is ironic that our current hope is that a similar outcome will take place in this so-called modern world of ours, namely a massive movement toward and (re-)acceptance of science and medicine as opposed to populist movements that are characterized by misguided information and uninformed skepticism towards scientists and scientific experts.

As a rule, pandemics tend to create disruptions in political systems. This can go in two opposite directions. On one hand, there could be a new risk for more instances of protectionism and populism. Governments would then use non-democratic means to manage their people. 

Human rights and privacy rights could be undermined via the uncontrolled and unchecked use of tracing. Although tracing would be a necessary component of dealing with and controlling the pandemic, it could, like anything really, be also misused and abused by certain malicious governments.

These would be strong governments but for bad reasons; nonetheless, other governments might take a strong stance and come out of this pandemic with a new vision. In that case, the system would not be abused but would work for the benefit of the citizens. This would lead to strong self-sufficient and self-reliant governance that follows up its vision with a clear strategy and plans as well as realistic designs for the future.

Such a government would also strengthen instead of weakening and undermining its democratic ties. Monsieur Attali gave South Korea as an example of how the government uses technology to improve upon current conditions, and he claimed that neither the United States nor China have followed suit (although there is still a chance and some hope that they could engage on a more strategic approach and a more democratic path).

Neither country, however, would come out victorious out of this pandemic; on the contrary, they would be weaker as a result. Although some pandemics would set the stage for a new global power and take-over, this would probably not happen under our current circumstances. Monsieur Attali wished that Europe would rise to fill the void, but realistically he did not think that the crumbling Union would be strong enough for such an ambitious undertaking.

Indeed, the economic fallout of the novel Coronavirus would create an economic crisis that would be worse than the Great Depression of 1929. Certain countries, however, might be better equipped and positioned than others to deal with the economic consequences. All the countries that have been investing in and mastering digital and biotechnology will come out less scathed than nations that did not or refused to do so.

One of the consequences of the economic recession would be a de-globalisation that could potentially lead to isolation and a global trade crisis. In that case, a lack of trade and more protectionism could be the unfortunate breeding ground for war. 

As countries will have lack of trade with subsequent deficits, they may seek armed conflict to gain and usurp economic resources to better their position and standing. There are, unfortunately, various historical precedents for such types of belligerent actions and behaviors.

Yet the silver lining is in what he called an ethics of altruism. This would be in governments that actively choose to invest in the “economy of life,” which entails sectors that are deemed of vital importance, especially in (but not limited to) the post-pandemic world. 

That would include the health and education sector as well as agriculture and many other domains. Since these fields are altruistic in nature, that is they intend to help and provide care, knowledge, and services to others, they would also spell a way out of this crisis.

These types of good and well-meaning governments would highlight the importance of self-reliance without delving into its dark cousin, that is debilitating and harmful protectionism. By being able to provide necessities for its population, those nations would indeed thrive and not be dependent upon others. 

Attali mentioned that many countries of the African continent are buried in debt; their best solution going forward after this global crisis would be to rely on their own skills and resources instead of depending upon aid and asking for help from others. For instance, Morocco is one of the few countries that decided to create its own masks during this crisis, hence finding a way to focus its economy on what is needed the most by its people while becoming independent from foreign shipments of simple protective wear.

One of the other impacts of the Covid-19 would be technological connections. People had already started to move out of metropolitan areas, a kind of de-urbanization, to work remotely from smaller rural cities instead. This trend was already occurring, and now it is accelerated as many more people are working remotely from their homes. There would be little need to continue living in cities as one could now connect from any place to do most of the tasks.

Yet this has also negative effects on the individual, the company as well as the nation. As each of us continue working in our respective bubble isolated from other colleagues and supervisors, it will also lead to fewer, if any personal interactions. This will have various side effects on our psyche. On one hand, there is the issue of loneliness as we may not have enough physical contact with others and might just live and work inside of our abodes.

But more importantly, it would also eliminate important connections we used to have with our co-workers and bosses. This would be the brief chat at the water fountain, the coffee machine, or even in the hallway. In fact, some of the most productive and effective business meetings occur in restaurants. 

It is the personal touch, the face to face interaction, which leads to positive outcomes in many of those interactions. What’s more, it is the physical and psychological connections with the company that create a sense and feeling of belonging.

In a similar vein, both communities and nations would miss out on important features and aspects when most of their interactions are undertaken from and limited to a confined space. We would need to reach out and connect with others, in a personal way and manner to feel part of a community and to see ourselves as an effective and contributing member to a nation.

And this brings us to my initial observation. As much as I enjoyed this virtual talk, and it was indeed most stimulating and thought-provoking as you can see in this post, something did not feel right. What was missing was the personal human touch. 

In a lecture hall, I would often go up to the speakers and shake their hand and ask them a question or make a comment. This was completely lacking, and it could be another unfortunate consequence of this pandemic that has shaken and uprooted our world.

Finally, there is another often unspoken issue or unacknowledged fear, psychologically speaking, and that is our direct confrontation with death. Death is now more visible, and it could be potentially happening to each and everyone of us. It is indiscriminate. 

Although we kept telling and comforting ourselves that it would “only” affect the elderly or those with underlying conditions, we are slowly learning and realizing that none of us is indeed immune and we are all in peril. And this lack of immunity of death is putting everything into perspective, and it makes it harder to keep our fragility and mortality at bay.

Death is not something that happens to people who live elsewhere in poverty or war-torn countries. It is not something that only happens to the sick and elderly. It is not just happening to those who drive carelessly, nor does it come down to a matter of sheer luck, such as an act of terrorism or a mass shooting. This is something that is occurring in our own communities, and to our neighbours, friends, and family members.

Once we have effectively defeated this virus and we have entered the post-pandemic phase, we may also learn to face the reality and truth of and about life, simply that life cannot exist without death. 

Knowing this, that our lives are fragile and may potentially come to an end at any moment, that time is our most precious commodity, more so than any possession or money set aside in the bank, then we may spend our time and our being more wisely with the ones that matter to us most instead of wasting it indiscriminately on all those things that do not matter, especially when push comes to shove.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Innate Differences and Individuality: A Book Review

Capital white letters spelling INNATE with a blue colored brain in the background
As someone who actively pursues both philosophy and psychology, the brain occupies a special place in my heart. In fact, any issue I look at or examine, will have at least some underpinnings within or ties and connections to the brain. This ranges from questions of free will and moral responsibility to the influence of the unconscious and our perspective of ourselves and of others. Since this incredibly complex organ is the tool, decoder, processor, and communicator of our internal and external world, it becomes relevant to have at least a rudimentary understanding of processes involved within one’s skull.

Modern philosophy took a significant historical and ideological turn since Descartes: The French philosopher and mathematician aimed to break up consciousness and to separate the mind from the body. The brain itself was said to seat the soul, which, nonetheless, would be – rather miraculously - flexible and independent enough from the general constraints exercised upon the rest of the body.

However, the Buddhist perspective of unity - that the brain and mind are one and contained and embedded within each other - seems to make more intuitive sense. This interconnectedness becomes apparent when we have an emotion. The emotion is caused and / or causes a reaction within the brain, which is transmitted to other parts of the body.

Alternatively, it may be the body that sends messages to the brain, which translates it into different emotions. A feeling, positive or negative, is more interconnected than we may think. Nothing operates on its own or in complete isolation, but it is (at least in its ideal state) a synchronized unit that acts in harmony and tandem with other segments of the body. To separate and isolate one specific item, such as the mind, a disease, a psychological disorder from all the other parts of the body would be a mistaken and a rather limiting and limited approach.

By contrast, this would also put limits and constraints on our free will. Our free will cannot be spontaneous and impulsive; it cannot appear out of the blue, but it has its own sets of physical and emotional restraints and restrictions. This is a thought I have been pondering and writing about for various years, but now I have scientific proof to support my views.

This support comes through Kevin J. Mitchell’s excellent book Innate: How the Wiring of our Brain shapes who we are, which examines not only how but also to what extent genetic information manages to influence the brain and our underlying psychological characteristics. 

Current genetic technology and research indicate that most of who we are, our core identity, would most likely be set and determined by our genes, whereas environmental factors may play less of a role than we had previously thought or assumed. It is not an ideal and balanced 50 / 50 split between nature and nurture, but the scale appears to be tipped and tilted in favour of nature.

This information may come as a surprise and may feel counterintuitive; it is also going against what we have been told for decades about human psychology. To illustrate this point, we would need to take a closer look at genetics and the development of the brain.

Our essential nature is encoded and contained by our DNA, which is a program or a code of development. The DNA is not exactly a blueprint but may be more akin to a program. However, it does not do anything on its own as it needs to be read and decoded by a cell. 

One of the in-built features of the genetic program is to be responsive to changes and fluctuations in the environment. In fact, the human genome contains the history of all of one’s ancestors and their respective environments they inhabited throughout human history; yet at the same time, the system needs to be flexible enough to adapt to new emerging circumstances.

Those who had a more successful cocktail of genes vis-à-vis their respective environments had a higher chance as well as rate of survival and would then be able to propagate their genes to their offspring. In contrast, ancestors who did not survive would not be able to pass on their genes and would disappear from the line of succession. 

The theory of evolution could be interpreted as an evolving and progressive experiment, a thermostat working on the fumes of trial and error by continuously trying to adjust itself (to self beta-test) to reach an ideal Goldilocks state of survival that could and to a certain extent would change with each successive life.

For this to occur, we need both stability and variation. The DNA is overall more on the conservative and robust side of things. Although it is amenable and occasionally welcoming to fluctuations, it also needs and demands structure. 

Some of our characteristics, such as hair and eye colour are generally set and determined; others can change or be modified with influential factors and environments, for example, height and intelligence. Put differently, some of our hardware cannot be changed, but other parts may depend upon us, on our environment, our actions as well as our circumstances.

This can be best exemplified by height. Our genotype, the seed if you like, gives us a predetermined range, but the phenotype, the outcome or more appropriately outgrowth, will be influenced by various factors and choices, such as nutrition and lifestyle habits. 

If you eat well and play basketball, your chances of reaching the maximum potential of your genes is at its highest and by extension it makes heritability not a fixed but a proportional measure. In either case, it is not a matter of free for all but there is a limit written and pre-wired in your genes, which may explain why we have some basketball players who are on the shorter side, despite it all.

Our genes can be expressed as a potential that is contained and lies dormant within it. This could be a positive issue, the potential to reach even greater heights or higher intelligence, or a negative issue, such as a higher probability or a genetic predisposition for certain diseases. Although some diseases and conditions may be completely out of our control, others come down to a matter of probability or luck, while others can be evaded or avoided with sufficient care and control on our part.

Genetic defects and mutations are responsible for conditions like Down syndrome as well as dwarfism, and they can also lead to psychological conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or epilepsy as well as medical conditions like diabetes and cancer. The heritability – the probability of being affected by those conditions – fluctuate: your chances of getting schizophrenia could be up to 50 %, whereas autism can have a risk factor of up to 80 %. 

Overall, neuropsychiatric disorders are highly heritable and, in fact, at a much higher rate than diabetes and heart disease. Nonetheless, people seem to feel more at ease at blaming someone for their mental health condition, while considering a person afflicted with a medical condition to be a helpless victim of circumstance.

What causes these variations within people? We inherit genes from our parents, both from our mother and father with each of them containing genes from their own line of ancestors. Yet there is another type of fluctuation that happens within the womb. During development, there is always a chance for variation.

This random variation is not brought about by the parents per se; they are de novo mutations, that is they occur spontaneously and randomly. In some cases, these variations may lead to miscarriages; in others, they could lead to conditions like Down Syndrome or autism. The latter are not caused by the parents, as neither of them would have had the condition, but they occur and develop on their own in the form of a mutation.

In the case of neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as intellectual disability, autism, epilepsy, and schizophrenia, it comes down to copy number variants (CNVs), which are deletions or duplications of segments of chromosomes. In most of these cases, it is a matter of Murphy’s Law, that anything that could go wrong will go wrong since evolution has a preferred fine-tuned manner of creating and designing a human being. Inversely, these occurring variations could potentially lead to somewhat better and improved conditions for their recipient, whether by direct or indirect means.

Mutations are more common that we may think: In fact, we all carry thousands of minor genetic variants and typically 100 – 200 major mutations. We tend to have about 70 new mutations that were not present in our parent’s genomes but most of them have no effects. In terms of de novo mutations that actually hit a gene, we have on average of 0 to 2, which then comes down to a matter of luck: If we are unlucky, they may affect brain development. Most of them - about 75 % - end up arising in the paternal germline, the father’s side, while the risk of mutations proportionally increases the older the father is at the time of conception.

Yet it is these variations straying from the given script or blueprint that partially lead to the emergence of a brand new and individual human being. I have always been fascinated by the uniqueness of each of us and how that is reflected in our DNA. There are even differences between identical twins who not only share the same sets of genes but are often brought up in the same environments. So what accounts for the (admittedly minor) differences between monozygotic twins in regards to their physical appearance and psychological characteristics?

Dr. Mitchell gives us a clear analogy: We cannot bake the same cake twice. The DNA is your recipe. You have chosen all the necessary ingredients, which are the same and of the same quantity. You bake them in the same oven. Yet the end effect is that each one is slightly different from the other. Your cake will be slightly different, no matter how hard you try to keep everything under control.

This is one of the factors that causes and gives us our individuality. They are fluctuations, if you like, individual experimentation, that try to find the best mix or cocktail for the times and environments we are living in. At the same time, some of those changes occur due to random events or are merely a by-product of noise. 

In other words, no matter how much you control the settings, it cannot lead to the same outcome. Even if you clone an individual, they will not be the same as differences will creep into the system and make them different from each other. The brain may come pre-wired, but it is not hardwired by a long shot, and essentially even the brain structures of twins are already different at birth.

Moreover, every time our DNA is copied, there is a chance for errors or misprints. Since our genome has three hundred billion letters of DNA that need to be replicated, it is understandable that there could be occasional typos or glitches within the system. 

Nonetheless, the cell has proofreading enzymes as well as DNA repair enzymes that detect and correct many and most of those errors. Yet despite having such a robust and well-designed editing system, some errors may still break through causing certain kinds of mutations within the individual.

But individuality is not solely created by our genes. It is rather the genes interacting with the environment that lead to certain types of experiences. Those experiences are filtered by and through our brain. A person who is naturally anxious or neurotic will have a different interpretation of an event than someone who scores less high on those dimensions. 

In turn, those experiences will have an affect on the brain chemistry and will affect our neuromodulators – they will cause variations in our neuro-modulatory signaling pathways - that will then control, modulate and tune our thoughts and behavior. Through experience and with time, our brain becomes refined, and we gradually become ourselves, or rather what we perceive to be our unique and different identity.

This is not always as clear cut as it may seem. As our brain is developing, it is quite malleable, and there is an infinite number of ways that development could proceed. The effects of neuroplasticity are at their strongest as the brain is in growth and development. 

This occurs when children start interacting with their environments and become more aware of themselves and their surroundings. At this point, the brain is ready to take in as much information as possible, which is why children tend to have such an optimal (and enviable) sponge-like capacity for learning, be it a new skill, an instrument, a sport, or any of the world languages.

At this stage, the brain can adjust in different manners, especially when there is any shortcoming or accident. This is also the reason why people who are born blind or become so at a young age will have other senses that will become more developed to compensate for this irreversible loss and lack of function. 

The plasticity will allow the system to adapt itself; for instance, the visual cortex then becomes responsive to auditory information making up for the gap or lack that the congenitally blind individual would experience otherwise.

Since the brain works at such heightened capacity, children are also more susceptible and prone to fear, anxiety, and other strong emotions than other age groups would be. Any emotional impact would more likely have a traumatic effect that could spill over into adult life many years later. 

In fact, any strong internal and external stressors at early stages of life could have cascading, prolonged and long-lasting effects on the circuitry and connectivity of the brain. This is another reason why childhood trauma leaves behind such deep and profound emotional scars within the afflicted person. 

As we learn from our experiences and develop habitual ways of acting and behaving in the world, such traumatic experiences would additionally shape and form an individual’s lens and interpretation of the world and could alter personality traits irrespective of genetic phenotypes or potential.

Although Dr. Mitchell gives self help and psychotherapy short shrift and claims that they are either not as influential or not as effective as they claim to be, as most of our ailments and shortcomings could be potentially traced to genetic make-up, I believe that he errs on that matter. 

Although I could understand that parental influence has less of an influence than we think, it is still, at least from a psychological point of view, more lasting and wide-ranging than he assumes. This is merely due to the fact that the developing brain of children with their budding perspective and identity is still in a fragile and vulnerable state, while any experience would have lasting effects on their future selves.

However, beginning after young adulthood, the brain loses some of its flexibility, and it becomes more set and crystallized in its functions. This is simply to protect the sense of one’s established identity. While there could be a revolution to one’s perception at any time, and age and trauma could be relieved and a blindfold could be taken off from one’s eyes at any stage of life, the brain tries to limit these types of chaotic changes, especially after a certain age, to preserve its continued and continuing sense of self. 

Consequently, we become less adept and less quick at learning new skills and tricks, but at the same we are deepening and consolidating our previous abilities and experiences. It can entail that we become more set in our ways, and we may become less flexible (and generally more traditional) in our views, politically or philosophically speaking.

My own views fall somewhere in the middle ground at this moment. In certain ways, I am quite set in my ways since I have seen and understood certain truths about life and human behaviour; in others, I always welcome and incorporate new incoming information, especially if it is backed up with solid reasons and supported by science. 

For the most part, Kevin J. Mitchell’s book falls into the latter category. I learned many details not only about the genetic process and development, but also about how they affect different parts of our psychological make-up ranging from predispositions for conditions and diseases as well as various issues related to intelligence as well as sex and gender.

There is so much information I would like to get into, but that would have to occur on a different post as this one keeps getting longer. As to the book itself, I highly recommend it and can easily accept more than 90 % of its findings and conclusions. 

Where we end up clashing is our respective fields and backgrounds. Although our brains come pre-wired and many of our traits are innate, I do not think that psychology is mostly determined by our genes. I think the software has the power to transform the hardware to a much higher degree than Dr. Mitchell gives it credit for.

For instance, he claims that psychotherapy is used more for coping with symptoms than actually curing the condition. A similar claim could easily be made about medicinal treatments. But when it comes to psychotherapy, I strongly believe in its curative and healing powers and that some but not all psychological conditions can be cured. 

Neurotics would fall into that category, and it is defeatist to think or believe that they cannot be helped or changed and that they must blindly embrace their genetic predisposition or misfortune. There is hope for them especially when equipped with the appropriate psychotherapeutic tools and, most importantly, when fitted with the right and most conducive attitude.

But in terms of evolution and progress, we would most likely agree that it is our individuality that gives us the edge in addition to a better chance for survival in the world, and that this has been the case at any point of human history. The different viewpoints and psychological characteristics that each of us brings to the genetic table is of immense value and should not be underappreciated. 

We can see how the world seems to push us in the direction of conformity, how everyone is beginning to act, look and dress the same, indistinguishable one from the other, but we need to resist this applied peer pressure; for the sake of humanity, we need to keep and preserve our individual flames aglow and, if possible, expand it and pass on the lit torch of diversity to our offspring.