posted on Jun, 19 2015 @ 11:23 AM
About 8 years ago, I supported the death penalty. 5 years ago, I began studying developmental psychology, developmental neurobiology, and discovered
the new science of systems theory. Because of these experiences, I can no longer logically defend the death penalty.
Here is a quick breakdown of how any human being develops; but first, let me just say that there is nothing more obnoxious than the reifying and
superstitious habit that "so and so" is "evil": when you consider the past, any person who seems "evil", is no more evil than an abused dog who
bites a strangers hand. What is evil are are actions: the people who commit the actions are the chemical result of pathological development, and as
such, society bears the blame, and not simply the doer of the action
I'll put in numerical points to make my point more clear, especially considering that in our make-believe thinking society, some of these points are
1) We are animals. We are animals in the sense that i) we are made up of 50 trillion cells and are host to 100 trillion bacteria. We are animals in
the sense that ii) we are organized, from within, just like other primates, with the same neurochemical pathways (such as the HPA stress axis; the HPG
sex axis) and ultimately, as the science of evolution shows, our biology functions just like other bodys: we are bound by energetic needs;
homeostasis, a process organized at the brain stem level, gives priority to core organic needs and as such, immune function (defense) always takes
precedence to energetic "approach" behaviors. The latter statement essentially means that our "affects", emotions and moods, are "signs",
sometimes indicated by past experiences, other times indicated by a stomach virus, a foreign bacteria, or something we ate; but the point is, WE ARE
NOT AS MUCH IN CONTROL AS OUR "FOLK PSYCHOLOGY" would have it.
2) Neuropsychology has shown just how utterly shaped we are by seemingly irrelevant things. Basically, ANYTHING that impinges on "homeostasis" - or
the energetic "stability" of our body, causes changes throughout the system. Raise the temperature and you might start feeling irritable. Eat
something at the wrong time - such as a steak after 8 - and your body will preferentially focus on digesting such a heavy meal (10 hours in the
stomach), which in effect will interrupt normal circadian rhythms (such as melatonin release), thus disturbing the quality of your sleep. The moral
is: when something happens "here" - in the gut, with a certain energetic output, it has non-local effects elsewhere, in the brain, and in our
3) This isn't it. The experimental psychologist Daniel Kahneman has been awarded many prizes for his research into unconscious processes that bias
human cognition. His book "Thinking, Fast and Slow" documents many of these examples. However, his work deals with cognitive biases that effect
decision making, whereas my primary interest is socioemotional development. But like there, the work from developmental psychology is as, or arguably,
even more transformational when it comes to what human beings generally think about one another, how we attribute fault to one another - quite harshly
- and how this "folk psychology" is largely the result of an instinctive, non-methodological defense mechanism against negative emotions. But we
can't think this way any longer. It is unconscionable that in an age of science, that we would not take into account - and in effect, change our
views - about what is REASONABLE to expect from other people.
4) The developmental psychologists Daniel Stern, Ed Tronick, Robert Emde, Colwyn Traverathen, Louis Sander, and others, have transformed our
understanding of development by abandoning linear narratives (such as Paigets, Mahlers or Eriksons "stages" of developments) by analyzing just what
causes people to develop the way they do. That is, by paying attention to the "system" that the infant develops within.
A "system" is basically the context. When an infant is born, they are whats called "altricial" - meaning, undeveloped. To be completely accurate,
an infants sensory modalities (vision, and to a lesser extent, hearing) work fairly well (which is called "precocial"); but motorically - their
ability to move themselves, and in effect, take care of themselves, is utterly undeveloped, for the simple reason that the human adult brain is too
large to pass through the bipedal - and thus narrowed - cervix of an adult female. Thus, evolution has made a compromise: we are born only partly
matured: we are sensitive enough to pay attention to relational/affective/emotional cues of immediate others, but too undeveloped motorically and in
other areas (cognitively) to do anything for ourselves.
5) The real interesting evidence for development has come only recently, in the form of whats called "neuroplasticity" and the molecular processes
of "epigenesis". The brain at birth is only 1/5th developed. The cortex (the grey matter that surrounds our brain) is only 1/3rd developed. In the
first year alone, the brain grows 100% in volume; in the second year, it adds another 15% volume. In the first few months, the brain starts sprouting
"synapses" - or junction points that facilitate inter-neuronal communication. By 6 months, the brain begins to selectively "prune" these synapses,
and begins the process of 'myelination": the adding of glia cells (fat cells) which cover the axons (long parts of the neuron which feed to other
parts of the brain) in effect "speeding up' and making more efficient communications between neurons.
In this first year, what controls this development is not some internal "maturational process", but rather, the ENVIRONMENT and the nature of the
information - the affective/emotional information - being communicated to the infant through behavioral language, such as body gesture, facial
expression, and vocal tone. What Ed Tronick found was that what matters most is how the infant is allowed to "repair" disruptions in connection.
Breakdowns in communication are inevitable (this is what motivated Winnicott to term the ideal parent as the "good enough parent"); what matters is
the SENSITIVITY that the adult brings to his interactions; for instance, is the mother or father AWARE of the infants cues? Do they know - and are
they attentive to - the significance of a turned away head? Of an inquiring look? Of a laugh? Basically, HOW the parent responds in these moments
(which has everything to do with her or his own development) "scaffolds" - the way scaffolding "surrounds" a building - the type of responses
available to the infant.
Again, this is adaptation, the basic cardinal rule of evolution: all organisms, and indeed, all systems (the weather, the economy, the solar galaxy)
RESPOND to perturbations (disruptions) to their normal "stable attractor" state. An infant that is intruded upon by an aggressive and overwhelming
parent is FORCED to MAKE SENSE of these experiences. If this habit of the parent continues, the HORMONES RELEASED by these negative emotional
experiences SHAPES how their genes function, through newly discovered processes like DNA methylation and acetylation of protein histones. What this
means, essentially, is that the mind any human being becomes as an adult is NECESSARILY the result of the CONTEXT which shaped his/her neurobiological