Monday, August 15, 2016


One of my more interesting feeds is from the National Institute of Mental Health, though they often seem sort of overwhelmed, esp. in the midst of this giant revolution in how to think about human beings and their mental health.  I mean, we are shifting from brilliant schemes invented by thoughtful people who were only partly right, to evidence-based electro-chemical reactions in the brain, observable in screen data.

Today’s post was about monkey brain, not the metaphor of a jabbering pack of primates babbling in one’s head — which can either be healthy ideas competing with each other or just a lot of trash fermenting.  This research was about the risk genes for schizophrenia and autism, which are located close to each other in the brain’s cortex.  A hundred scientists collaborated on the project.

“Their study, which pinpointed the developmental trajectories of the suspect genes in the monkey brain, also identified divergent timing of risk gene activation that might help to explain the differing courses of the illnesses. Autism-related genes first switched on in newborn neurons during prenatal development, while schizophrenia risk genes didn’t activate until infancy.  

“This suggests that genetic risk for autism may have more to do with prenatal processes, such as the birth of new neurons, while schizophrenia risk genes may impact processes underway during infancy, such as refinement of neuronal circuitry. The delay is consistent with schizophrenia’s much later onset of symptoms in late adolescence/early adulthood, the researchers note.”

I don’t know how much of a problem is presented to monkeys by schizophrenia and autism unless it makes them fall out of trees.  Both are devastating for human beings and demand major effort to compensate for the malfunctions.  Among the many things that people don’t know they don’t know — and therefore never try to find out about — are the complexities of brain function and the huge importance of gestation and earliest childhood.  If high schools taught these crucial things to know, it would help a lot of adolescents think more clearly about their sex lives.  Sex not as falling in love but sex as creation of new life.

For a while there I was buying a lot of books about troubled children and technical things like dissociation.  I’d read them, try to think about how they would help with kids I’ve known, explain what I thought to Tim, and discover what the books were saying didn’t really fit.  Now I’m glancing back through them and seeing that politics and Dunning-Kruger (not seeing what you don’t know exists) were distorting conclusions, but — more importantly — just leaving a lot of kids out without realizing that they were doing it.  

The mayor’s wife said indignantly that her neighbor was feeding feral cats, but that if “feral” means wild, that’s not what they were.  I suggested the category of “satellite” cats which are like barn cats, not cuddly but fed regularly while still hunting rodents.  She works with rez kids; I wonder whether she has a category for “satellite children.”  I do.

When I was doing animal control education, I saw that people had only two categories for dogs:  owned pets and unowned pets, strays.  In fact, research suggested at least five categories: feral dogs (totally wild), pye or pariah dogs (living off human garbage, feces, and corpses), child surrogate pets, working dogs, dogs “owned” by other dogs.  Pye dogs, which are mostly a Third World category, are the ones that are dangerous enough to require taboos.  For one thing, they carry rabies.  Dogs “owned” by other dogs will never quite understand humans.  There are probably other categories that need to be invented in order to have “handles” for recognizing and dealing with dogs. 

The same for human children, who are shaped by genetics, gestation, earliest care, trauma, education and experience.  My first superintendent, Phil Ward, used to say that HIS father (also an educator), would say that the best teachers were the ones with as many strategies for teaching as there were kids in the classroom, plus a couple of extras just in case.  This is pretty idealistic, but at least it acknowledges that humans are different at every stage and in every life path.  He would have made a good teacher of me if I hadn’t gotten involved with Bob Scriver.

So now I’ll get personal.  I hardly relate to my family in the “now.”  I’m so politically and sociologically different that we have trouble communicating. The parent generation is all dead.  Three aunts, two maternal and one paternal, died after years of dementia.  The two paternal uncles died of strokes, like my father, and showed vascular impaired personalities before death.  (I agree with Michael Moore that Trump should be medically screened for these things.)  

My father and brother both had personality changing head trauma to the pre-frontal cortex.  Of my maternal cousins, several have mal-developed digits (too many or missing fingers or toes) corrected by surgery.  This is a well-known English gene that runs in families: Anne Boleyn had an extra finger.  One cousin, whose mother was an army nurse in WWII, was constantly suspected of some kind of brain malfunction, seizure sorts of things.  Her son is probably the most brilliant among that generation.  He had a strong stable father, but the marriage ended in divorce.  And so on.

The next generation, which now has school-aged children themselves, are a mystery.  I don’t know their names, have never met them.  Two are adopted Chinese girls.  Even my mother, who monitored family, never knew these descendants.  She died in 1999, so anyone born after that went unrecorded in her book.  No one sends birth announcements anymore.

I’m not very tempted to see what my genome shows.  Mostly Scots immigrants with a dose of Irish.  I used to beg for a Native American in the family tree, but we never found any.  By accident I discovered that Tim has one, an early and honorable person on the East Coast. 

I’m slightly more interested in what my epigenome might show.  And the actions of what I suppose is called the “microgenome.”  I’ve read that lovers and intimate pairs like nurses/patients or mothering/infants soon share tiny migrating life-forms almost entirely.  So what does it mean that — unlike today’s youngsters — I was first intimate with an older man who had had many partners, living on a reservation and more briefly in Edmonton and Chicago.  I know he had herpes because it nearly took his eyesight, but I was vaccinated.  Now they speak of one’s “mineralome” or “metalome,” which would have been much affected by our development of the bronze foundry.  Since I did the patinas for years, I breathed in many compounds, mostly iron, sulphur, and copper.  

Frankly, I think I either inherited or developed schizo and autistic glitches and channeled them through Victorian/Edwardian reading of novels, which made me think of teaching and, more grandiosely, ministry.  I wasn’t good at either; they weren’t what I thought they would be.  Worse, one of my character flaws is a reluctance to compromise.  I see that people are back to reading my posts on Oppositional Defiance Disorder.  I better check out the recent research.

I’ve sometimes been perilously close to living on the street.  My youngest brother did, the one with brain trauma that made him oppositional and defiant.  Education has at least taught me how to present myself in a good light, but “retirement” frees me to be myself, at least in writing.  I’m grateful.  But sometimes it gives me monkey brain.

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