I recently came across an authors@google talk by Rick Hanson, who is the author of ‘Buddha‘s Brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom’ and was immediately drawn by the similarity of the framework he uses and my ABCD model. Rick draws a lot from the Buddhist tradition and its humbling to find many similarities between what buddha preached thousands of years ago and what neuroscience tell us today.
In particular the root cause of suffering is believed to be due to
1) trying to avoid unescapable threats/ pains etc like ageing and death.
2) pursuit of pleasures/opportunities etc that are fleeting in nature/ not permanent.
3) trying to separate from and become individuated while the nature of reality is connected and interdependent.
4) trying to stabilize that which keeps on changing
The roots of these Rick believes are tied up to the three (I’ve extended them to 4) motivational systems that govern us. These are:
1) Avoid system – reigning this in leads to Calm , a sense of peace and increase in a feeling of moment-to-moment Happiness.
2) Approach system – properly aligning this leads to Contentment, a sense of gratitude and increase in feelings of Well-being.
3) Attach system – properly utilizing this leads to Caring, a sense of loving-kindness and increase in feelings of Love.
4) Absorb system – properly using this leads to Creativity, a sense of insight and increase in feelings of Wisdom.
To me these are absolutely aligned to the ABCD model; the Avoid system is primarily about reacting to -ve (or even +ve ) Affect; Approach system is driven by how Behaviouraly actively or passively you respond to opportunities; the Attach system is all about the dynamics driving the Self-other relational issues; while the Absorb system is the more Cognitively focussed one driven by broad / narrow focus concerns.
Rick also thinks that these are related to how the learning (synaptic strength modification) , regulation (inhibition or excitation due to firing) and selection (the decision to fire based on summation of inputs) happens in brains at synapse levels and that reigning these systems leads to Mindfulness (attention relevant/leading to learning) , Virtue (self-regulation of behaviour) and Wisdom (the ability to make informed choices) at the macro level. As Rick believes that not only brains lead to minds, but what and how our minds act also affects our neural wiring due to self-directed neuroplasticity, he advocates practising mindfulness, virtue and wisdom to rewire your brain to take it to the Buddha’s state.
Here one might pause and consider what mind actually is. some would equate it simply as mind is what the brain does, but more reflection shows that mind is multidimensional (ya…. fits the ABCD model). To me, mind is a result of:
1) Brain Activity
2) Body rootedness (embodied cognition)
3) Embedded with Other minds (relational construct)
4) Shaped/interpreted by culture
Another thing to note about Rick is that he is a fan of Paul Mc lean’s tripartite brain; extending both the MacLean model and Rick associations and aligning with ABCD model, I see the evolution of brain as:
1) Brain-stem (Reptilian brain) : the relative brain sizes in reptiles or those driven by this Avoid mode system should be proportional to their land areas that they need to defend as in territorial defence; this is what I predict, the greater the area/ territory they typically defend the bigger this area. In the reptilian evolution this factor must have driven brain evolution.
2) sub-cortical areas ( Paleomammilian brain) : the relative size of brain in these simple mammals should be tied to their foraging area or how vastly they explore for food/ mating opportunities. I predict that brain evolution during this phase was tied to the Approach mode and linked with exploration propensity and must be linked with typical foraging area, with animals foraging far and wide having bigger brains proportional to those who don’t.
3) cortical areas ( mammalian brain ) : the relative size of brain in these higher mammals corresponds with the social group size (the famous Dunbar number) . This phase of brain evolution was primarily driven by Attach motivational system where concerns for others and groups drove evolution of brain with those having dense social groups needing more brainpower.
4) Neocortical areas/ lateralizations (the human/primate brain): the relative size of brains might be related to artistic/ imaginative ability. This phase of brain evolution is still taking place and is being primarily driven by Absorb system; how much one assimilates and accommodates and how much one intellectually rejects would determine whether the brain evolves further and proportional to how creative (broad-minded) the species is. The more narrow minded/ unimaginative the lesser thee neo-cortical size; perhaps this is the advantage we had over Neanderthals and other hominids. The autism-schizophrenia continuum may be one effect of the cognitive evolution still happening.
Which brings me maenderingly to my final comparison:
2) Behaviour or Approach system deregulation leads to Addiction. The neurotransmitter of concern here is Dopamine. Compare also to cloningers Novelty Seeking
3) Drive/Dynamics or Attach system deregulation leads to Bipolar or manic depression. The neurotransmitter of concern may turn out to be norepinephrine. Compare to cloningers Reward Dependence.
4) Cognition or Absorb system deregulation leads to Schizophrenia . The neurotransmitter of concern may turn out to be acetylcholine.
That covers the major group of disorders. I’m still reading ‘Buddha’s brain’ and not all insights shared above are related to what Rick/ Buddhism says; but I find them broadly aligned with my ABCD model and the eight stage evo-devo model based around Theodore Millons four basic polarities.