Sunday, February 26, 2012

Potholes in the Brain ?

If evolution was a long road, let me just say that we are probably now at the biggest pothole.

Nestled and protected within  temporal lobes of our brain (situated low behind our temples), are two almond shaped structures, called the Amygdala(e). They are part of, what we might call, lower brain structures along with the brain stem, and are something we have in common with all animals, like pigs, cats and so on.  The amygdala(e) manage how we deal with fear, aggression and so on.  Remember the hissing, growling and teeth baring, of an animal when threatened?   The amygdalae help us produce rage, when required, as a reaction.

However, as humans, we also evolved what is called  neocortex,  situated higher up in the skull behind the eyes, which in simple terms, is called the higher brain; which is blessed with an ability to recognize, interpret, reason out, and take a balanced view of things, based on learnings . 

Recent happenings  have forced me to question the existence and development of this neocortex, in those who take pride in calling themselves evolved humans.

Saif Ali Khan , presumably blue of blood, behaving atrociously in a a restaurant, and along with some others, physically exhibiting his oversupply of brawn, and a confused neocortex, when he does more than fisticuffs, smashes someone's nose,  and hits and pushes down folks,  closer to his late father in age.  All because he was making a lot of noise and someone asked him to pipe down.

A gentleman in a village near Satara (a prosperous district in western Maharashtra), educates his daughter  , enables her to qualify as a medical social worker; she joins one of Pune's oldest hospital , a few hours away by bus,  shares a place with colleagues,  and returns home one day to visit her folks ,  only to be bludgeoned to death at night as she slept, by her own father, because she rejected a marriage alliance arranged for her by him.

Outside the gates of the area where I live, is a huge east west arterial road of 8 lanes, and a traffic signal.While people of all ages and carrying all kinds of stuff try and hot-foot it across when the cross traffic stops for  a red signal, two days ago, around 10 pm, a biker, almost rammed into a gentleman who was crossing, because he was getting impatient and started before the light turned green. The gentleman , slightly elderly, stopped ,  and pointed the red signal to him.   The biker shoved him aside, went a few metres ahead, stopped, parked, returned menacingly, and beat the elderly guy up.  All happened  in a blink of an eye, and then folks rushed in to stop the chaos.

I wonder why Saif Ali Khan, the Satara gentleman, or the biker, are such slaves to their amygdalae.  Are their neocortexes underdeveloped ? If so why ?  Is it education ? Is it bringing up ? Is it the environment ? Is it a faulty diet ?  Is it a lack of parental attachment as a young child ?

 Saif Ali Khan was a star kid (twice, over cricket and films), "studied" in England away from his home as a child. The period in which he entered Bollywood, the popular genre has been action films, full of violence, alcohol admiration, swear words, terrorising, and power. Obscene amounts of money being paid to actors has turned their heads.  

The gentleman from Satara hailed from the place that gave us the Champion of women's education in Maharashtra, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule; but I wonder if his childhood was all about being fawned over as a son, while his sisters bided their time before being married off and left to their fate ?  It would take generations for this mindset to disappear. This man simply couldn't tackle being disobeyed by a daughter.       

What do you say about the biker, at a time when it has become a sport to race these on Mumbai's roads  at night,  traffic rules are there to be bent, till they break or you break, and the general understanding is, that if you get caught, some fancy papers exchanged normally do the trick.  The stress of commuting, delays, work, personal social problems, inadequate housing    is immense, and they think it is therapeutic to blow their top, often at the cost of someone's life .

These guys may be representative , but newspapers are full off such news stories. Gang style retributions for perceived insults,  in middle class societies, senior citizens left to wither alone in houses, ordered honor killings , and everywhere, crass displays of money, possibly black.  Desperate, desolate and depressed women ending lives by jumping from upper floors of buildings.  Relatives and neighbors, once considered trustworthy, now secret molesters , keep making frequent headlines, while other lives are marginalised.  

Are we bringing up a generation with animal instincts ?  Inability to reason ?  Are people suffering from the use-it-or-lose-it thing where their neocortexes are concerned ?   

I've read stories bout cats crying.  I've heard about dogs who listen to doctors so well, you wonder if they have a secret neocortex. 

Maybe it is now time for scientists to do experiments with human folks.  

Make them run through mazes.  

Measure their reactions when stressed with something. 

 Ascertain which part of their brain neurons fire when they are shown pictures of say,  prison, police, weapons, fire , money , and even possibly, sometimes, their families.

 Maybe they will come up with a solution. Maybe they won't.

But we will learn something, about how to control these folks.

Like the Mumbai potholes. 

There has to be a solution. Sometimes they see it, sometimes they don't.

 But we learn how to live despite them.... :-(


  1. Very well said. I am touched by the sensitivity you are attempting to bring through your writing. Kudos to you.
    I strongly feel its all about how we receive parenting, and how we give it. These are significant because parenting is ehat is done in the formative years of any child. How much one invests is what how much one gets.

  2. Nice post, Suranga. Perhaps it is because of a confused neocortex that a person like our spoiled actor of royal blood behaves as he did.

    Who can say for sure?

    We may say it is faulty parenting. But we also know kids of perfectly normal, sane and responsible parents who behave in this manner.

    We may say it is peer pressure. But we see that some kids can withstand peer pressure, while some from similar background and families cannot.

    Perhaps we parents should take up a study on this subject? :)

    1. Manju, thank you. I guess it is difficult, to ascertain the exact mix of missing parental presence, disrespect for money and work, subtle justification of sins, inability to speak decently, and a faulty conviction that might is right, (and so many things) in the algorhytm that defines decent behaviour in a human.

      But it looks like there is an epidemic these days ....

  3. Amygdale and Neocortexes! Hey, did that heat up my Broca's Area a bit! But something surely seems to have happened. Even dogs, and they are noble as the word goes, let go their worst enemies once they declare themselves ' underdogs' by lying still on the floor with limbs in the air. Humans today would rather move in for the kill in such a situation.

    I believe the heart is the right place for success. Those with tiny hearts cannot accomodate it which then goes to their head.

    A thoughtful post that pries deep.

    1. Looks like these people have a messed-up Wernicke's area, and an overdeveloped Broca's. Both the named gentlemen would have been mortified.

      "....I believe the heart is the right place for success. Those with tiny hearts cannot accomodate it which then goes to their head...."

      So true. So true.

  4. Dont you think there is a answer lying just before and that very simple too.

    its "Double Standards" & "Economics of Feasibility"

    every one knows its quiet feasible to get away after doing what they have done because they have seen it happening somewhere or other.

    1. Makk, its all about two entities and how they interact. The environment may add positives an/or negatives. But if many of us, used reason before flying off our amygdaelic handles, life would improve. Many of us grew up at a time when one was advised to count mentally up to ten , before spouting off a response on something disagreeable. That was about training your neocortex :-))

      I think I'm talking at microlevels, and you are talking on a more macro level (where what you say is probably true)...

      But thank you for the comment !

    2. It is good habit to read you btw.

  5. Its super depressing to read the second and third incident......I wonder why we get so angry..and trust me Suranga, I have seen so much road rage in Mumbai that I have stopped driving its only the two wheeler I take! Everyone is in so much hurry that the samnewala just dont matter to them :(

    1. I find that a lot of things earlier considered NOT OK are simply considered OK today. You extrapolate this, add excessive populations and you get what we have today. Depressing indeed.

  6. Maushi, nice thought-provoking post.
    In vipassana meditation, you are told about the part of the brain that will judge the sensations falling on the body and higher part of brain that will take action based on the judgement gained by the lower part. Your post helped me understand that part better.Thanks.

  7. Is it a lack of Civics as we learnt at school? Got us 40 marks. I try and stop vehicles at the signal opposite Air India building when I see the green signal to cross(supposedly the part of Mumbai which still has some regard for traffic rules).. The points that you bring out are from 3 very different strata of society.. Blue blood, neo rich and conservative.. None of them can be Civil. They are the 99% today..

    1. While what you say may be true, a lot of these things are behaviour problems. I have such behaviour even in 1970's in the city(Fort area) from car owners/drivers who drive recklessly themselves. It really boils down to not how mych money you have, not how much civics you studied, but whether you had a no-nonsense disciplined upbringing at home.

  8. The travails of our society. The many with money think and the many that are in quest for more money..

    Sigh !

    I just hope the elderly gentleman is ok.. Do we have anyway of publishing details of the biker? The world out to know of and beware of such folks

    1. Most of the folks rushed to help the elderly gent.The biker must have done this before, because he parked his bike away where no one could read the number. How many folks like this can you warn against ? We just nee better policing . (There is a chowky less than 100 metres from the spot)

  9. Your post reminds me of zephyr's latest post...or guest post rather. I ended up reading that first although she seems have posted it later than this post of yours.

    When the mentality of parents is that to back up their kids (or whoever doing the wrong-doing)...the generation grows up with a general sense of intolerance for anything that cannot fall into boundary of their selfish ways...and thinks that they can get away with it. :-|

    1. What you say is so true. Today, i see gutless parents, who cannot tell off their own kid when something wrong is being done by him/her. Its all about the unwillingness to take the "burapan".

      On the other hand, children do respond to being corrected. But either parents have no time, no guts, and possibly too much money .....

    2. No time and using money to compensate for it. That's a dangerous combination.

  10. The Civics that I studied was satirical if you may!! And I don't believe in how you were brought up.. You would have brought up your kid in the best possible way.. It's about how the kid thinks.. And that is about how his friends/his colleagues think of him

  11. I have only one answer that lack of right values being handed down the generations for those with money and lack of education for those without money, for this mess!

    1. I partially agree. With the stuff of "lack of values etc for those with money ." I don't agree with the second part. ie lack of education for those without money. I dont think education is something you exclusively get in schools colleges et al. I have an illiterate household help, who had illiterate parents, but I find her values a million times applaudable than , say, someone who is highly educated but a pompous civil society misfit. As much as many would disagree, I still hold on to the fact that its all about a no-nonsense upbringing.

  12. I have a theory on this I think parents hold the key, some parents take sides with their kids irrespective. gone are the times when a parents would tell off their kid if wrong. I remember I did something wrong and my granddad who had never slapped me , Slapped me in front of everyone my whole class as I had cheated.
    In todays world a parent will side their kid giving some excuse , and its becoming very common, so no wonder the kid does not grow up with the value that probably I have grown up.

    society has become I dont know how to say, I mean own family is a society now (if you know what i mean) , as a whole it has changed earlier we were ashamed or felt ashamed if someone got to know of our wrong, now since our own little family is our own society we dont care what others will say and MOST of the time we blame others for the wrong so we can never be wrong.

    The biker who returned back should been caught and thrashed and his bike broken because beleive me that would have taught him a better lesson then just beating him up..

    saif again money and we are untouchable thing has gone to his head, the problem is was he treated the same way as a common man would have been is another thing, because these rich people know even if police come they will be treated like a VIP they dont give a damn about law.. as TV showed he went on his own to the Police station and came out later .. if it was a common man the police man would have first beaten the poor guy .. SO everyone is responsible ..

    The media too the news went on for so long on tele when it was not required Saif was made to look like a super hero or something in all the news ..