Tag Archives: Self-Evolution

Your Best Attainable Health (BAH)

Image of nonviolent struggle
Your Best Attainable Health (BAH) requires a nonviolent redirection of outdated genetics through mindful practice. Photo by ManicMorff @ morguefile.com

Over the last several month’s the OnTierraHealth blog has focused on the big picture issues that limit the attainability of ideal health for most people. Today I will focus on the fundamental root cause of the poor health prognosis for our species (taken from an evolutionary perspective). The problem is a very basic clash of developmental time scales when comparing biological evolutionary change to technological progress. The essence is this, evolutionary behaviors that were well suited for survival in a jungle-like environment are grossly unsuited for survival of life on earth over the long-term given the rapidity of technological innovation.

Biological Evolutionary Behavior

Biological evolutionary behavior is genetically determined and as such can be viewed as a bottom-up organizational force. An example of this for a heterosexual person would be attraction to the opposite sex. A person is not attracted sexually to a worm. We take this for granted but must acknowledge that sexual attraction is created by the brain. There is nothing inherently sexier about a person unless the brain makes it so, therefore to a worm another worm is much sexier. We accept evolutionary behaviors as immutable and in many cases they serve us well.

However, warfare can also be considered a biological evolutionary behavior.  It is based on an evolutionary algorithm whereby “might is right” by virtue of survival. The fundamental principle is that one can determine who is right in a dispute through an existential challenge, with the survivor being right. Initially this behavior may have led to wrestling matches and fisticuffs resulting in the selection stronger individuals. However, as technology progressed the evolutionary algorithm of “might is right” has not budged resulting in weapons for destroying hundreds, thousands and then millions of individuals (i.e. WWII). Here we can see the problem clearly, technology has advanced too quickly for the evolutionary algorithm to catch up. An evolutionary algorithm that in the past helped natural selection to create stronger individuals now has become a liability that could result in mutually assured destruction of all life on earth.

One may think that this scenario makes the self-destruction of life on earth an inevitable outcome.  However, there may be a form of high-speed evolution that is attempting to bridge the gap.  There is no guarantee that this high-speed evolution will occur fast enough to rescue life on earth.

Evolutionary Neurodynamics and Memes

The idea behind Evolutionary Neurodynamics (Szilágyi, et al., 2016) is that the same natural selection algorithms that are at work in the ecosystem are also at work on a microscopic scale within each person’s brain  and that natural selection in the brain is critical to the discovery of open-ended evolutionary solutions that can take place within an individuals lifetime.  According to the theory, neural evolution takes place at high-speed as neurons and populations of neurons compete with one another in a parallel search for solutions to problems.  Successful solutions are then copied to other groups of neurons with some variability.  This process forms a type of heredity among neural connections that is constantly in flux, resulting in the possibility of novel solutions.

Combining the idea of Evolutionary Neurodynamics with the concept of memes (ideas that are able to be transmitted and reproduced between brains) provides a framework whereby evolutionary behaviors that have become liabilities may be replaced by self-evolutionary behaviors that can be reproduced in a large population.

The advantage  of self-evolutionary behavior is that unlike the relatively blind bottom-up forces of biological evolution, neurological evolution has both bottom-up and top-down components allowing it be guided by holistic intelligence.  This holistic guidance is necessary for the success of self-evolution.  Religion, philosophy and science play a role in providing sources of holistic intelligence and in particular the practice of mindfulness may be critical for self-evolution.  However,  understanding the evolutionary challenge is also essential.

Best Attainable Health (BAH)

The problem of replacing bottom-up genetically-determined dysfunctional evolutionary behavior with holistic top-down self-evolved behavior is at the heart of achieving Best Attainable Health (BAH) and long-term survival.   It appears that at the heart of this evolutionary transformation is the art and science of mindfulness as practiced and taught by the Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay).  The practice of mindfulness draws our attention to the beauty and miraculous nature of the present moment through breathing meditation, and in so doing causes the mind and the body to be reunited. This allows us to observe dysfunctional biologically evolved behaviors with a balanced non-judgemental perspective and to slowly rewire our brains for the next stage of human evolution.

Thay states, “The practice of meditation helps us to see things other people can’t see. ”  An example of this is the nature of inter-being.  The father is in the son and the son is in the mother,  the cloud is in the river and the river in the ocean, the tree is in the seed and the seed is in the fruit.  The spirit of nonviolence is born from this realization, that we inter-are.  Nonviolence is the antithesis of the “might is right” principle of biological evolution and it constitutes the only path towards the next stage of human evolution.  Thay states,

When we realize our ‘interbeing nature’, we’ll stop blaming and exploiting and killing, because we know that we inter-are. That is the great awakening we must have in order for the Earth to be saved.

Establishing and spreading the meme of nonviolence is the first step towards achieving BAH, because it is a direct mitigation of the self-destructive, biological, “might is right” directive.  Note that Thay warns us that we can never achieve complete nonviolence but rather, nonviolence is a direction that leads us away from complete self-annihilation.   Christ referred to it as  ‘turning the other cheek’ and though the seeds have been sown by religious figures such as Buddha, Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, we are entering urgently upon the time for watering the seeds fully in order to save the world from madness, self-destruction and lost life.

Nonviolence is not a weak concept but rather a form of justice that substitutes “might is right” and warfare with reconciliation, forgiveness, and just arbitration.  It requires one justice for all people throughout the world based upon nonviolence.  However, as Thay teaches, it begins with nonviolence towards the self, achieved through mindful meditation.    From this practice will emerge the neural evolution required to reach Best Attainable Health individually and collectively.

Share the meme.

Health’s Big Picture

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Who defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being?” Photo by svklimkin on morguefile.com

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of health has not changed since 1948 when the organization was first created.  The organization demonstrated a futuristic vision by defining health as follows:

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

The beauty of this definition is that it captures the holistic human being as composed of body, mind and spirit, where the spirit is accurately reflected by the social dimension of being.  The WHO definition of health was (and is) futuristic because our health system is traditionally based on the biomedical model which views health much more narrowly as simply the absence of disease or infirmity.  In the old perspective an unhealthy person is viewed as a broken machine that needs to be fixed, and the physician is viewed simply as a mechanic.  The mechanic is concerned with how to fix (i.e. cure) the problem rather than worrying much about how it could be prevented.

In the old biomedical model of health individual behavior,  social structures, culture and environment are assumed to be fixed and the only thing amenable to change is the individual’s biology and biochemistry.  An extreme example of this form of health care is the Army doctor who treats combat casualties.  It is assumed that combat is an essential aspect of the world and therefore preventing war is not perceived as an important goal of the health care system.

In 1977 George Engel’s biopsychosocial (BPS) model of health began ousting the strongly entrenched biomedical model of health and disease.   This model promotes WHO’s definition of health and holds the health care team responsible for evaluating the social, and environmental, psychological and physical causes of disease or infirmity.  However, as a society we have a long way to go before the BPS model and WHO’s definition of health can reach its full potential.

The Biopsychosocial Model of Health

If we work with the BPS model we can find root causes of illness and disease that are not simply limited to biology.  For example, in the US up to 80% of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke are preventable with lifestyle, behavior and environmental modification strategies.  Because the biomedical model is failing us when it comes to chronic diseases, our government is finally coming around to implementing the BPS approach to health care.

In March of 2016 the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) became the first prevention service model ever to become certified for expansion by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Innovation Center.  On January 1, 2018 the DPP is scheduled to begin benefiting more medicare beneficiaries.  The DPP consists of a coached 1 year program that helps people with pre-diabetes cut their risk of developing diabetes by 58% over a 5 year period through modest weight loss coupled with physical activity of 150 minutes per week.

This monumental transition from treatment of diabetes to prevention of diabetes has taken over 25 years of accumulated research that can be traced at least as far back as the 6-year Malmö feasibility study in Sweden that was published in 1991.   Twenty five years later, and following the Diabetes Prevention Programs multicenter clinical research study published in 2002, the US government has come to the conclusion that it can save money by helping people prevent chronic disease rather waiting for them to get sick and then having to pay for many years of treatment .  This positive transition in perspective may begin to fundamentally alter the future of health care in America and the world.

Is It Really all about Money?

In a poem by James Brown (pen name James J. Lachard) God says that what surprises him most about humankind is:

“That they lose their health to make money and then lose their money to restore their health.”

It never ceases to amaze me that of all earth’s species only humans are dependent on money in order to retain health!  No other animal needs it.   Does that make us smarter or in a way dumber than other animals?  Our brilliance seems to lie in harnessing the complexity of the brain to create more and more barriers in the path of success (and health) for a large portion of the population. Consider that in 2014 the number of US deaths from suicide totalled 42,773 (ranked number 10 overall) and that suicide was the second highest cause of death for ages 10-34.  These statistics bear down directly on the social aspect of health in the biopsychosocial model.

Unfortunately for man (and woman) it truly appears that our oversized cerebral cortex when compared to other mammals has been misappropriated to the task of obfuscation.  That is, our ‘smartness’ has been turned against us through centuries of manipulation by the few to control and harness the power of the many.  The sad result is thwarted social evolution even as technological knowledge and sophistication continues to increase.  This intelligent obfuscation  means that humans are often worse off than other animals with far less cognitive ability.

When seen in the proper context  it becomes evident that in the BPS model the biggest health challenges arise in the social sphere, because society has been structured to induce loss of health on many levels in order to promote the wealth of the few at the expense of the health of the many.

The Health of the Many Traded into Wealth for a Few

Any factor that reduces the spendable income of Americans ultimately takes a toll on health, especially when it affects food quality choices (i.e. organic vs non-organic, processed food vs fresh food), fitness choices (gym memberships and available time for fitness activities) or family time.  Thus excess income inequality, taxes, insurance costs, and interest payment costs  create a burden that decreases the holistic health of society.

Take for example how our society entraps college students today. The total student debt has been estimated at 1.3 trillion dollars and in 2016 two-thirds of graduate students owed an average of $35,000 each.  Debt needs to be called out as form of slavery!  We like to think of ourselves as a free country,  but yet we sell our children into the slavery of debt, and in fact the country as a whole is sold into slavery through the national debt.

The BPS model of health gives us a framework for making decisions to change social structures. such as a monetary system based on debt, that inhibit health as defined by WHO.

The Future of Health (Big Picture)

The earth and its biosphere can be viewed as a seed in the relatively lifeless environment of space.  Like a seed the earth contains in abundance all of the ingredients for life to develop to a certain extent, after which sustenance must be derived from outside of the seed.  In a like manner, the sun which powers our biosphere is a middle-aged yellow-dwarf star that is 4.6 billion years into its main sequence of life.   In as little as, 1 billion years we can expect the increase of solar output to begin causing serious challenges to life on earth.  This may seem like a long time but there are many technological barriers that must be overcome before life can expand from the earth-seed to other solar systems. In his 2015 State of the Union Address President Barrack Obama stated,

“I want Americans … Pushing out into the solar system not just to visit, but to stay.”

In order for our earth-seed to be successful, optimum health will be required of all of its human and non-human inhabitants.  By this I mean health according to the WHO definition: “…a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.”  

From the biopsychosocial model we can see that this will require a complete overhaul of social structures throughout the world.  Social structures that are depleting and restricting our human potential must be replaced with new health-oriented structures such as debt-free societies.  Then the power of 7 billion human brains can truly be harnessed and applied to the future of the earth-seed.

Live long and prosper!

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Live long and prosper! By NASA Astronaut, Terry W. Virts (nasa.gov, archived link.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

The Organ That Pleases Itself

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Intimacy releases endorphins and oxytocin resulting in bonding and improved health. Fraternal Twins By MultipleParent (CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Your brain is like a labyrinth that hides, deep within it, the Holy Grail of life. Simply put, your brain has secrets that it doesn’t want you to know!

“But why?” you ask, “would my brain keep secrets from little ol’ me?”

It boils down to this, your brain has to perform functions that your conscious ‘self’ may not like very much.  In order to accomplish its goals it is best if the conscious ‘you’ is left in the dark.

This strategy is an act of genius for survival of social organisms where the individual is important but secondary to the needs and survival of the group.  An example of this strategy is found in the cellular communities within our bodies where cells undergo apoptosis or programmed cell death.  There are two pathways for apoptosis, the intrinsic pathway in which a cell kills itself due to internal stress, and the extrinsic pathway in which the cell kills itself due to messages it receives from its neighboring cells.

It is estimated that in adults between 50 and 70 billion cells die every day as a result of this carefully orchestrated process of programmed cell death.  In a similar fashion, there is mounting evidence that the process of aging is orchestrated and programmed by the brain.  The brain doesn’t allow awareness of this orchestration but sometimes we catch a glimpse of the brain’s ability to control disease and aging. Some examples are:

  • The placebo effect – the brain is tricked by the mind into healing the body based on a perceived (but fake) external intervention.   This shows that the brain actively withholds healing from us in many cases.
  • Immunotherapy  –  a type of cancer treatment designed to boost the body’s natural defenses.
  • Spontaneous remission of diseases and cancer.
  • Neurochemicals of happiness – The brain produces or triggers the release of molecules such as endocannabinoids,  endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, seratonin, gaba and adrenaline,  that play a role in euphoria, contentment, affection, pain reduction, calmness, confidence, energy levels, healing and in slowing down the aging process.

The answer to the question, “Why does the brain promote aging”, may vary depending upon your viewpoint.   From an evolutionary perspective one rationale is that aging and programmed death of the individual allows the species as a whole to progress.   Regardless of how you rationalize death, it is pretty clear that the conscious ‘self’ wants no part in it and thus the brain has kept its involvement a secret, until now.

The Brains Secret Exposed

The brains secret is that it potentially has the power to make us healthier, smarter, stronger and younger than we currently experience and yet it proceeds with its implementation of programmed aging and ultimately death.  However, there is growing evidence pointing to a transitional period in the history of mind-brain interaction.  We can start making use of the brains secret today to improve our brain fitness in the years ahead.  Here’s how:

  • Re-evaluate habits that may simply be ‘giving in’ to the brains hidden aging agenda.  In particular, challenge your overall activity and social intimacy levels as these behaviors can trigger a flood of endorphins that have positive benefits for health and help postpone the aging process.
  • Give and receive at least 8 hugs per day.  A proper hug is deep, where the hearts are pressing together (my youngest daughter Mia is a pro at this).  Hugs boost oxytocin levels and oxytocin has been shown to increase regeneration of muscle.   You can even take this strategy to the  next level by giving and receiving a regular massage.
  • Try being a go-getter by setting goals and achieving them to trigger the release of dopamine.  Set goals related to social interaction for the biggest hit.
  • Practice yoga and meditation to trigger the release of gaba and thus reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Take on activities that challenge your comfort level and confidence, to trigger the release of serotonin and adrenaline.  These are the kinds of activities that keep you evolving as a human being.
  • Add laughter, singing, dance and music (LSD-M) to your daily schedule.  These activities trigger the feel good neurochemicals that may trick your brain into delaying aging.

All in all, remember that you can negotiate with your brain for health, youth and strength rather than just going with the flow.  Let us know what strategies you devise for peering into your brains secrets.

Brain Fitness and Self-Evolution

file000894312228According to the theory of evolution, billions of years of survival-selected changes were necessary for us to reach this amazing peak of human development. Whether or not one accepts the premise of evolution one has to admit that the perspective of evolution gives much to be thankful for.  Imagine yourself surfing on the cusp of a 4.5 billion year wave without perceiving all that has transpired to raise you up to this magnificent level.

Evolution and creation theories of the origin of life are not really at odds with one another.   In a sense evolution is a creation theory!  In evolution the creator is the constellation of the laws of physics which appear to be unchanging and eternal. In the “creationist” view the creator is the great “I AM”  who is also associated with unchanging laws that reflect his/her character. The debate is not about whether or not there is a creator, but about the characteristics of the creator, that is, is the creator conscious or not.

High Speed Evolution

As humans we each possess the crowning achievement of biological evolution / creation, our brains, with over 100 billion neurons and over 100 trillion connections. Our brains are conscious super computers the likes of which have not been found anywhere else in the universe (as of yet).  One of the marvelous abilities of our brains is the ability to change, grow and morph. This is very exciting because unlike biological evolution discussed above which can take millions of years, our brains can “evolve”, adapt and change in the space of years, months, weeks and in some cases even a single day.

The process of change in the brain can be likened to the process of evolution because it is a competitive system in which neural connections are competing with each other for space in the brain. The connections that survive are fed through repetitive activation. These connections can then go on to reinforce other connections resulting in more new connections.  Unsuccessful connections are pruned away, and any existing connections that depended upon the lost connections may also wither away.

Thus the brain can be seen as a laboratory within which world simulation experiments can be performed at a high speed.  The potential of the brain when seen in this light is unpredictable, transformational and disruptive.

Self-Evolution

You are not limited to the you that you are now.  No one is. Your brain can grow or it can shrink today depending upon the choices you make.  It can also make positive or negative new connections.   Everyone knows they can learn new things, but what we don’t fully realize is that our brains create the world that each individual calls home.  Everything you perceive is a simulation being created in your brain.  Even the perception you have of yourself is only a simulation of the real self that remains hidden.   In order to grow your brain, you have to challenge its simulations.  Self-Evolution means you can change not only yourself, but also your brain’s simulation of the world.

Brain Wars

In his book, “Change Your Brain Change Your Life”, Dr. Daniel Amen, a clinical neuroscientist, psychiatrist and brain imaging expert, warns that we are in a war for the health of our brains.  Some of the forces that are working against our brains are listed by Dr. Amen as:

  • Brain Injuries (sports, accidents, sleep apnea)
  • Drugs (including many medications)
  • Alcohol and smoking
  • Obesity and lack of exercise
  • High blood pressure and diabetes
  • SAD (Standard American Diet – neurotoxins)
  • Environmental toxins (air pollution / pesticides / etc.)
  • ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts)

On the other hand are the weapons that we can use in the fight for our brain health.  Dr. Amen lists the following:

  • Improve positive social connections
  • The challenge of learning and trying alternate strategies
  • Brain healthy diet (careful reading of nutrition labels on foods)
  • Improving sleep quality and avoiding brain injuries
  • Exercise
  • A healthy level of anxiety to challenge our comfort zones
  • Meditation, gratitude and ANT killing

Dig deeper into Dr. Amen’s brain fitness strategies by following this link.

Cognitive Training

How can we do it?  How can we accelerate self-evolution?  Surely it is a good thing to begin with brain health.  Because of the extreme complexity of the brain its health requires a holistic approach that according to Daniel R. George, PhD, MSc, and Peter J. Whitehouse, MD, PhD must include increased social connectivity in the form of intergenerational relationships. The authors state the following:

“For decades, a widening evidence base of cross-sectional and retrospective research has demonstrated that older adults who volunteer in their communities may experience a range of biopsychosocial benefits from physical, mental, and emotional health to longevity.”

Thus getting involved in the community may be a primary factor for brain health.    Negotiating the obstacle course of other factors described by Dr. Amen (see above) is also necessary.   In addition recent research also shows that there is a role for targeted cognitive training to help protect the brain from degeneration and to even improve cognition.

Intergenerational interaction is good for brain health.
Intergenerational interaction is good for brain health.

This brings us to the self-evolution phase of brain development.  We all accept that we need to exercise our physical bodies to stay fit, but we fail to take our brains to task when it comes to strenuous goal oriented, expansive, mental workouts.  This keeps our brains from fulfilling more of its potential.  This is where cognitive training software and smart phone apps may be able to contribute.

In order to push further we need to challenge our cognitive abilities beyond our comfort level.  Excessive comfort is the enemy of progress.  The cognitive abilities that form the foundation of self-evolution are memory (working, episodic, semantic), concentration, reasoning, speed of mental processing, visual and spatial skills, and executive functions (organization, planning, decision-making, attentional control, inhibitory control, cognitive multitasking).  These capabilities keep our minds agile and ready for change.

Cognitive training apps like Neuronation, Posit Science and Luminosity have been designed to target brain fitness, and other apps and games available online also provide fun and useful ways to improve memory  (i.e. MemZy and Fun with Animals) and novel thinking (i.e. Cut the Rope).

Apps like these provide a means for measuring progress and establishing goals.  Just as we may set a goal of increasing muscle strength to achieve a bench press with 200 lbs, we should also be creating mental challenges to increase the size of our working memory, our autobiographical memory, our reaction times and other cognitive skills.  These skills form the foundation of an agile mind.  However, keep in mind that the goal is not to spend bucket-loads of time in isolation with apps and games, ultimately we need to use cognitive training apps as tools for enhancing social interaction at a deeper, more meaningful level.  In fact, cognitive training apps and games may provide a tool for intergenerational interaction.

As we find our brains capabilities renewed and refreshed, we will naturally seek to challenge ourselves further by looking at things from new angles, trying new activities (like Zumba or yoga), by innovating , and by improving the quality and depth our interaction with others.  Welcome to the domain of self-evolution!

At a minimum we should be establishing a baseline of our cognitive functions so that we can more quickly detect and correct mental degradation.  But ultimately the goal is not just to live long and be healthy, but rather to live long and evolve.  To move humanity forward.  Self-evolution is coming, don’t miss the wave!