Saturday, May 30, 2015

"The Well Tuned Brain" by Peter Whybrow

Peter Whybrow, MD
“The Well-Tuned Brain”
A way out of our trap.
May 29, 2015
Today, I received from Amazon a book that I have been waiting for since Dr. Whybrow wrote “American Mania: When More Is Not Enough” in 2005.  At that time, his brilliant effort was the only book that explained the many breakthroughs in neuroscience, and he made since of the implications of what was known at that time.  He also indicated the direction that cutting edge research was going, and some speculation as to where this ongoing research would carry us in our understanding of ourselves, and what changes were needed.

The biology of human behavior is turning our perception of ourselves and our species, Homo sapiens, upside-down and inside out.  Most of what we learned in school is at least half wrong (for example our behavior and our moods  and ideas were based on a psychological model, which was a number of schools of thought all based on the work of Freud).  Since, the early ‘90s, the biology of human behavior has been the hottest area of research in all of science, recently joined in the late 2000’s, by climatology as the world wide events like Katrina, awakened us to the disruptive threat climactic change represented.

The book: “2052: A global Forecast for the Next Forty Years” by Jorgen Randers, who spent his career as a top level consultant for the biggest financial institutions in the world, like the IMF.  He made a compelling case that Global Warming was no only “real”, but threatened to trigger a mass extinction (95+% of the biological organisms living today, including us.  Every climatologist in the world agreed with his assessment, except the exact date this catastrophe would occur, simply because nothing like this has ever happened before.  Most startling was the fact that is well proven, is that our species is the sole cause of the Global Warming, by burning fossil fuels at a hectic pace which has increased at an exponential pace in the 20th Century.  Whybrow fills in the one major factor missing from Rander’s analysis: the contribution of the biology of human behavior in this alarming trend.  We have become addicted to energy wasting activities, including the purchase and collection of stuff that is not only unnecessary for survival, but degrades our health and happiness.  So in essence, Whybrow fills in a huge gap in Rander’s otherwise impeccable assessment.  Whybrow’s conclusions also add the essential element of HOPE, to what otherwise seems to be an impossible task.  Give or take a few years, our species all around the world has little more than one generation to totally change our economies from a growth and consumer basis, to one based on sustainable technologies.  Ironically, many of the big time bankers with whom Randers worked were sociopaths, and being uneducated in the biological sciences or psychiatry, he was oblivious to that fact.

After, reading the table of contents, and the first page of each chapter, the book is everything I expected.  It is lock to win the Nobel Prize, just as Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel”, which opened our eyes to the role of biology played in history, and was completely ignored in the “history” we were taught in school which was based on political and military issues (even economics were ignored).

It is fascinating that practicing physicians (I am a retired primary care physician) have largely ignored books like Diamonds, Oliver Sacks (a neurologists), “A Brain for All Seasons” by William Calvin, a neurologist           in Seattle, who proposed that adapting to climactic changes like the ice ages, force our species to get smarter and learn to adapt or perish, and Whybrow’s earlier books:  “A Mood Apart” written in 1995, which was and still is the best book on depression ever written.

There are several factors in this ignoring of these consciousness expanding books.  First, they are not written targeted to the medical world, but seek to strike a balance between the average American with an interest in science, and the medical profession.  This requires a very sophisticated writing style, and physicians are not taught to write in the same way a professional writer writes with style and substance.  Physicians, in writing to have their research reported published focus on the facts, and an actual writing “style” is actually considered a distraction for the all important FACTS revealed in their research.  Even speculation about the meaning of the facts revealed in their research is discouraged, as it is considered irrelevant to the purpose of the paper.

So, scientist writers must have skills that they either were born with or that they learned somewhere outside of medicine.  It was only in the 90’s when brain research was developing so rapidly, that researchers in one aspect of the brain hardly had time to read the publications in their own narrow area of interest, and more generalized papers were ignored, that the physicians with the elite writing skills were willing to the professional risk of writing books targeted to both the general public and their colleagues.  It is not common knowledge that this reluctance existed since those with the skills and courage to write to a twin targeted audience has been so wildly popular.  Diamond’s book won the Nobel Prize, which was very encouraging others to “follow in his footsteps.”

Please read Whybrow’s books.  Our survival is at stake, and everyone must join in the fight, or we are unlikely to succeed/survive.

A gentleman and a scholar
May 29th, 2015