Consciousness discussed without zombies, aliens, or frogs; a link

Consciousness may be more non-verbal than we realize. Our verbal mind may have significant input from our nonverbal mind in order to save us time in life threatening situations. A team led by Ezequiel Morsella of San Francisco State University published a paper in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences about their idea regarding consciousness called the “Passive Frame Theory.” Consciousness is suggested to be a frame for directing and constraining the action of the skeletal muscles for productive output but the direction may be more passive than previously theorized. [Why You’re Pretty Much Unconscious All the Time, June 26, 2015]

The zombies, aliens and frogs were in my last post that was about consciousness and nonverbal behavior patterns. Passive Frame Theory sounds much more scientific but I did find the list of nonverbal behavior patterns very helpful for understanding group and individual behavior. The second book in the list from that post used the term “module” to describe behavior patterns – driving the car module, playing tennis module, sweeping the floor module – we don’t think verbally about how we do much of our daily activities and yet somehow we function.

2. Thomas R. Blakeslee, Beyond the Conscious Mind: Unlocking the Secrets of the Self, (iUniverse, Inc. An Authors Guild Edition, 1996, 2004, Lincoln, NE), This book is written for the average reader and is not very long. Personally though, I found it so helpful that I followed a reference in it to find the complete list of nonverbal behavior patterns by Paul MacLean in the book: 1. Editor: Harold Harris, Astride the Two Cultures, Arthur Koestler at 70, (Random House,1976, New York) and in the text: 4. Paul D. MacLean,  The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions, (Plenum Press, 1990, New York) National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

I happened on the book by David Eagleman, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, (Pantheon Books, 2011, New York)by chance but was glad to find the explanation about Paul MacLean’s work in the more recent book because I had been disappointed not to find more about his work online, so it was an explanation at least.

3. Joseph Chilton Pearce, Magical Child Matures, (E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1985, New York) – This one is an odd book that sells for a penny used on Amazon – Is it worth a penny? to me the chapter on Bonding and Attachment is worth the price of three sets of copies at least but that is a longer discussion for another post.



Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

Books about thinking and non-verbal behavior patterns

Following a quotation from one book led me to an interesting book about creativity that was inspired by the author Arthur Koestler. He wrote fiction and non-fiction works. The book “Astride the Two Cultures, Arthur Koestler at 70,”(1976), is a collection of essays by a variety of authors. The title refers to the two cultures of art and science -or fiction and non-fiction. The various authors explore the theme of creativity and how both artists and scientists may share creative thought processes and the idea is also explored that creativity in science and art may frequently involve non-verbal insights which then need to be translated into words or chemical symbols, or notes in a musical score.

Some of the contributing authors also touch on the idea that great thinkers build on the thoughts of other great thinkers. One of Arthur Koestler’s books, The Sleepwalkers, (1968, 2nd ed.),  focused on the life and work of the early astrophysicist Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) but Arthur Koestler ended up including information about the work of some of the thinkers who had proceeded or followed Kepler in the early study of our solar system. Kepler had the revolutionary idea that the planets revolve around the sun instead of the sun revolving around Earth. That sort of thinking at the time could get you thrown in jail as Galileo Galilei  (1564-1642) found but Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726) may have been spared by keeping his ideas more private until after his death.  Ideas can lead to more ideas in the future – the tree of knowledge grows and blossoms over generations of thinkers.

  1. Editor: Harold Harris, Astride the Two Cultures, Arthur Koestler at 70, (Random House, 1976, New York)
  2. Thomas R. Blakeslee, Beyond the Conscious Mind: Unlocking the Secrets of the Self, (iUniverse, Inc. An Authors Guild Edition, 1996, 2004, Lincoln, NE) The section titled The Reptilian Brain, pages 212-215, quotes part of Paul MacLean’s list of 24 reptilian behavior patterns that was included in Astride the Two Cultures on page 196.
  3. Joseph Chilton Pearce, Magical Child Matures, (E. P. Dutton, Inc., 1985, New York) This book expands on his previous book, Magical Child, with the author’s interpretation of how our consciousness and thought processes might function within a triune brain of Paul MacLean’s theory. Chapter 3 of the book, titled: Bonding and Attachment, discusses how an infant’s birth and early breastfeeding experience may affect the newborn’s physical and mental development. Development of different stages of consciousness and behavior patterns throughout the lifespan are discussed in later chapters. Meditation and chakra energy centers are also discussed.
  4. Paul D. MacLean,  The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions, (Plenum Press, 1990, New York) National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland, “written by the author in his capacity as an employee of the United States Government and is thus considered a work of the United States Government.”
  5. David Eagleman, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, (Pantheon Books, 2011, New York) Paul MacLean’s theory is described in a brief paragraph in this book on page 110 with the summary that the details of the theory have “fallen out of favor among neuroanatomists, but the heart of the idea survives: brains are made of competing subsystems.”

David Eagleman suggests in his book Incognito [5] that a dual processing mechanism of emotional and rational thinking is the currently accepted approach in the field of neuroanatomy rather than the triune theory suggested by Paul MacLean. While the details of neuroanatomy may be out of date in his book, The Triune Brain in Evolution, [4], the observations of animal behavior presented in his work seems timeless – or priceless as animal species become extinct or lose their native habitats to encroaching civilization or other invasive species. Paul MacLean’s book with 579 pages of text and 55 pages of bibliography is not written for the average reader but it is a fascinating compilation of over a century of research and observations about animal and human behavior. Knowledge grows as it passes from one thinker to the next – Kepler probably didn’t get every detail of astrophysics right but Galileo and Newton were there to fill in more details and other thinkers have followed along since.

Non-verbal communication is my first language – English was my second language starting around age two and a half. Paul MacLean’s theory does include a basic premise that the brain includes a dual processing mechanism of non-verbal and verbal thinking and behavior patterns – and that the various areas of the brain aren’t always in good communication with each other. David Eagleman’s book Incognito mentioned research that has used the term zombie brain patterns and alien hand syndrome but the term software was also used. There are no aliens in alien hand syndrome. If the connection between the right and left hemispheres of the brain is damaged than the person loses normal control of one hand. The left hemisphere controls the right hand and the right hemisphere controls the left hand – no aliens though. [5, page 131-132] I personally am more comfortable with the idea that my brain – or hardware – may come pre-loaded with some innate survival behavior patterns – or software -than that my brain has zombie or alien thought processes.

Hunger is a biological feeling rather than an emotion in the typical sense of the word. Foraging is a survival behavior pattern that is seen in many species including humans – think of gathering wild berries in season or of browsing all the stores during the holiday season looking for the best deals. Frogs will flick their tongues out to capture a fly when they sense rapid movement of a small object and they will leap away when they sense movement of a large object, [5]  – does that mean frogs have zombie brain patterns? – or does that mean they have survival behavior patterns which can occur more rapidly than verbal thinking typically requires?

Good athletes practice so much that their bodies respond to the fast pace of the sport faster than conscious thought – rational, verbal analysis of a play can inhibit the player.

If you would rather not think about zombies, aliens, or frogs, then Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a currently accepted strategy in the field of mental health care that was first developed by Marsha Linehan in 1993 (1997, 2001) to help individuals gain better understanding and acceptance of their non-verbal and verbal thoughts, motives, and behaviors; and to develop more effective strategies for coping  with strong emotions; and for improving communication with others and with oneself. It can be difficult to let others know what your concerns are if you aren’t able to put words to your feelings.

Workbooks are available based on the DBT techniques which can be used individually or with a trained clinician; one example is: “The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & Distress Tolerance,” by Matthew McKay, Ph.D, Jeffrey C. Wood, Psy. D, and Jeffrey Brantley, MD, (New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2007, Oakland, CA). [6]

If you like thinking about thinking or about squirrel monkeys, Komodo lizards and ethology then read on. We are told by Paul MacLean in The Triune Brain in Evolution that the word ethology became popularly known in the 1920s – I had to look it up, so it may not have remained popular. According to The New Oxford American Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 2001, New York) ethology is “the science of animal behavior,” or “the study of human behavior and social organization from a biological perspective.” There are peer reviewed journals for the topic such as the Journal of Ethology so the science of animal behavior is still of interest to some researchers.

To jump ahead to page 199 of The Triune Brain in Evolution the curious reader can learn that “Squirrel monkeys commonly roll food pellets or grapes on the tip of their tails.” Sadly we then learn that damaging a specific area of the brain will disrupt the ability. This bit of animal trivia is cute but not too relevant to humans off the basketball court. However many hours of watching Komodo lizards and other animals in their native habitats led to a list of behavior patterns that are seen in many species; the behavior patterns like the frog catching a fly or avoiding a predator may help support survival of the individual or the group. Our non-verbal brainstem and limbic areas of the brain may lead us into performing behavior patterns that our verbal mind may then try to rationalize in words – do we go to every store during the holiday rush in order to get the best deal or to enjoy the holiday spirit? – or because our non-verbal self is energized by the thrill of foraging for the best deal?

Non-verbal behavior patterns that may be based in activity from the brainstem area are listed on page 100, The Triune Brain in Evolution. (This area of the brain is rich in the neurotransmitter dopamine so conditions, substances, or stages of life that affect dopamine levels may also affect the likelihood of these behaviors occurring.) Table 6-1. Special Forms of Basic Behavior

  1. Selection and preparation of homesite
  2. Establishment of territory
  3. Use of home range
  4. Showing place preferences
  5. Trail making
  6. Marking of territory
  7. Patrolling territory
  8. Ritualistic display in defense of territory, commonly involving the use of coloration and adornments
  9. Formalized intraspecific fighting in defense of territory
  10. Triumphal display in successful defense
  11. Assumption of distinctive postures and coloration in signaling surrender
  12. Use of defecation posts (or areas away from sleeping areas and trails)
  13. Foraging
  14. Hunting
  15. Homing
  16. Hoarding
  17. Formation of social groups
  18. Establishment of social hierarchy by ritualistic display and other means
  19. Greeting
  20. Grooming
  21. Courtship, with displays using coloration and adornments
  22. Mating
  23. Breeding and, in isolated instances (in reptilian species), attending offspring
  24. Flocking
  25. Migration

[4]- Paul D. MacLean,  The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions, (Plenum Press, 1990, New York) National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

The limbic area of the brain is associated with several non-verbal behavior patterns having to do with bonding and caring for offspring.

Six types of general behaviors have also been observed in many species that may occur as part of the other behavior patterns.

  • From page 143, Table 10-1. General (“Interoperative”) Forms of Basic Behavior: 1) Routinizing, 2) Isopraxic, 3) Tropistic, 4) Repetitious, 5) Reenactment, 6) Deceptive.[4]- Paul D. MacLean,  The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions, (Plenum Press, 1990, New York) National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

There is a tendency to like following routines, 1) routinizing, and repeating usual behavior patterns, 4) repetitious. 2) Isopraxic behavior is the tendency to behave the same way as other members in a group. 3) Tropistic (from the Greek word tropos which means “a turning,” page 145) is used in biology to describe behaviors that seem to be elicited or “turned” on or off by an external signal such as the colorful pattern seen on another member of the species – the same bright color might elicit the response even if it seen on an inanimate object instead of another member of the species. 5) Reenactment is used to describe the repetition of a more complex series of behaviors than the typical routine. The more complex route might have been life saving once and it then may have became part of the daily routine even though the danger was no longer present. 6) Deceptive behavior has been observed by Komodo lizards when they hunt deer. The large lizards will hide along the trails used by deer and wait for the deer to happen along – no chasing necessary.

June 26, 2015 Additional Note: I was having trouble saving the draft a few days ago so I went ahead and published the post instead. The zombie behavior patterns described in frogs in an earlier paragraph and in the book Incognito  [5] might also be described as a tropistic behavior. [4, page 145] The frogs instinctively respond to a small rapid motion with a flick of their tongue to try to catch prey – turning towards the prey – and they respond to a large motion by hopping away to avoid a predator – turning away from danger. Having tropistic instincts seems like a more realistic and helpful description to me. I found all of the books that I listed helpful in different ways, as different perspectives, and I was disappointed to find only limited information available online about the triune brain theory – a brief overview of the basic theory is available in several places but I didn’t find the list of behavior patterns anywhere else online. The details of neuroanatomy is a rapidly changing field but basic animal behavior patterns may show repetition because our basic anatomy and DNA is very similar across many lifeforms.

/Disclosure: This information is presented for educational purposes within fair use and material provided within a publication of the U.S. government./