The modern human brain evolved primarily to be a regulator of social survival.   Social thinking is the most complex operation the brain does.

This is a legacy of our primate history, although the human brain’s evolution goes back much further to mammal brains and mammal psychology.  We nurture our young as mammals do, and before the leap forward to the modern human brain, humans had already inherited the four F’s of mammal behavior: fighting, feeding/foraging, fleeing, and mating.

The main difference between the human mind (besides volume and the number of neurons) and other relatively sophisticated, social animals is the level of integration required for normal function.  The brain is a meta-system comprised of a collection of hundreds of thousands of individual circuits that perform specific functions.  Subsystems form mega-systems such as vision or hearing for instance, although each circuit depends on information and feedback from other circuits in order to do their job of processing information.

These circuits each evolved separately in order to solve some sort of environmental adaptation.  Because these circuits evolved separately and across millions of years, they process information in different ways using different means of encoding and outputting information, and very importantly – they operate at different speeds.  Because the modern human brain is a collection of so many circuits, central organizing systems also evolved that operate as switchboards that connect and synchronize the global system.

These synchronizers also underwent considerable evolution.  Genetically, they’re built to certain “expected” ranges of operation that are part of its biological evolutionary history.  That is, they evolved by calibrating to previously evolved codes and speeds of operation.  Therefore, when everything is within a certain normal range, individual processors can plug in to the rest of the system without causing a bottleneck or a disorganizing phase shift between systems.  In humans, there are four primary organizing systems: the hypothalamus/pituitary system (our legacy from simple organisms); the brain stem/basal ganglia system (our legacy from reptiles); the thalamic/limbic system (the “emotional brain” – our legacy from mammals), and; our extensive prefrontal system (what makes us capable of human capacities of planning and forethought, and behavioral inhibition).

The exclusively human prefrontal system only begins to “come on line” around the ages of 18 to 24 months, and does not fully mature into the 3rd decade.  Before that, the brainstem has the primary job of neuroregulation, and then the thalamic system takes over.[1]  Each one has to stabilize, integrate, and synchronize with the others.  If this does not occur properly, whether due to the globally disorganizing effects of faulty individual processors, or impaired mega-processors such as the basal ganglia, cerebellum, thalamus, or prefrontal cortices – the result is a neuroregulatory disorder.  Neuroregulatory disorders are primary antecedent conditions to behavioral disorders.

Developmental disorders are forms of neuroregulatory disorders.  For instance, when the developmentally necessary connections are made to form the hypothalamic/pituitary system go awry, problems with basic “rhythmicity” can occur – that is, there could be difficulties with regulation of body systems (hunger, thirst, somatosensory perception on the subconscious level), mood and anxiety regulation and; arousal and alertness.

When brainstem, basal ganglia, and cerebellar systems lack integration – distortions of sensory perception and motor output typically occur, and the Student might forever experience disturbing sensory perception distortions, and difficulties regulating mood, attention, and motor activity.  Recent research into autism shows that early on, these children experience some sort of motor coordination dysfunction.

Later on, the emotional systems of the thalamus take on a primary role of regulating the rest of the brain’s subsystems.  This system mega-system plays a large role in coordinating and synchronizing other mega-systems that perform the jobs of somatic-sensory perception, and motor output.

Let’s say that one of the mega-systems, hearing or auditory processing is not developing normally.  It takes much too long (really on the order of milliseconds or seconds) for this processor to do its job.  The thalamus then might have great difficulty creating a unified perceptual experience of what the Student sees and hears, causing a disturbing phase-shift (remember the old Bruce Lee movies where the sound didn’t exactly match the visuals) in perception.  This is annoying at the least, and can cause a Student to ignore information from one processor in order to understand the other.  This in turn further distorts the meta-system as the mega-system that is habitually shut off is deprived of the environmental experience it requires to mature (calibrate).  The result is also developmental disorder.

Autism is one of the most severe developmental disorders, but in structure – it varies from other disorders such as learning disabilities, Tourette’s Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive and other psychiatric disorders, and individual processing disorders such as attention deficits – mainly by the degree and type of neural dyssynchrony.  Interestingly, attachment disorders, which result from deprivation and disturbance of early empathic care, and of the related disruptive behavior, conduct, and personality disorders that are associated with a pathogenic environment, also lead to neural dyssynchrony and similar symptoms.

What Autism really represents is a severe neural integration disorder that makes the most sophisticated operation of the brain – social co-regulation, extremely difficult.

Brain Review:

  • The modern human brain evolved primarily to be a regulator of social survival.   Social thinking is the most complex operation the brain does.
  • The main difference between the human mind (besides volume and the number of neurons) and other relatively sophisticated, social animals is the level of integration required for normal function.
  • There are four primary meta-systems making up the global meta-system of the mind: the hypothalamus/pituitary system; the lower part of the brain (brain stem, basal ganglia, and cerebellum); the central part (the thalamus/limbic system), and the prefrontal (executive) meta-systems.
  • Meta-systems coordinate and synchronize mega-systems of sensory processing and motor output.  Each of these mega-systems consists of hundreds of thousands of individual circuits or subsystems.
  • System dyssynchrony is the prime reason for neuroregulatory and developmental disorders.  It differs from other developmental disorders mainly by degree of dyssynchrony.

Brain Review:

 

·         The modern human brain evolved primarily to be a regulator of social survival.   Social thinking is the most complex operation the brain does.

 

·         The main difference between the human mind (besides volume and the number of neurons) and other relatively sophisticated, social animals is the level of integration required for normal function. 

 

·         There are four primary meta-systems making up the global meta-system of the mind: the hypothalamus/pituitary system; the lower part of the brain (brain stem, basal ganglia, and cerebellum); the central part (the thalamus/limbic system), and the prefrontal (executive) meta-systems.

 

·         Meta-systems coordinate and synchronize mega-systems of sensory processing and motor output.  Each of these mega-systems consists of hundreds of thousands of individual circuits or subsystems.

 

·         System dyssynchrony is the prime reason for neuroregulatory and developmental disorders.  It differs from other developmental disorders mainly by degree of dyssynchrony.

[1]     One system does not wait for another to develop before beginning its own development.  All systems form feedback loops with the others, so they all influence the others.  What we are talking about here is a sequence of maturation.  Generally, full maturation of the brainstem/basal gangliar, cerebellar system occurs before the thalamic/limbic system, and the last one to mature fully is the prefrontal system.

There’s an old saying in the field of evolutionary psychology: “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”  What this refers to is the observation that the neurobiological development of a Student occurs in the same order that these processors evolved – reptile- to mammal- to human.