+THOUGHTS ON “Right, Wrong, and Plastic Brains”


Friday, July 22, 2016.  I continue to find extremely thought provoking insights in the book I am reading by Dr. Christopher Phillips, author of Socrates Café, titled –

The Philosophy of Childing: Unlocking Creativity, Curiosity, and Reason through the Wisdom of Our Youngest

Right, Wrong, and Plastic Brains

“The Harvard neuroscientist Joshua Greene has made it his forte to scan people’s brains while they consider moral dilemmas.  In Moral Tribes [ I need to also read this book ASAP!], he shares his findings that when we agonize over matters of right and wrong, our brains’ “standard-issue moral machinery” equips us with “automated behavioral programs that motivate and stabilize cooperation within personal relationships and groups.  These include capacities for empathy, vengefulness, honor, guilt, embarrassment, tribalism, and righteous indignation.”  On the other hand, our so-called moral brains fail us when “our” group is vying against other ones.  In such instances, our better angels are “thwarted by tribalism…, disagreement over the proper terms of cooperation,…a biased sense of fairness, and a biased perception of facts.”  Greene believes our ability to reason morally boils down to how well we wage the struggle between our atavistic [“relating to or characterized by reversion to something ancient or ancestral”] gut instincts – which drive us toward more combative and selfish behavior – and our more advanced rational capacities that enable and inspire us to bridge differences.  He concludes that our tendency toward tribalism is driven by older parts of our brain, while our will to cooperate and empathize stems from our more recently evolved neocortex.  Greene maintains that we can override our more destructive impulses because our brains endow us with “a general capacity for conscious, explicit, practical reasoning that makes human decision flexible.

“If this is so, who is by far the most flexible among us in this regard?

“An array of studies makes clear that adolescents have unrivaled brain plasticity, and that when this is properly tapped into, it allows them to learn and adapt far more quickly and adeptly than adults.  (One among many articles on the subject is “The Teen Brain:  Primed to Learn, Primed to Take Risks,” by Jay N. Giedd of the National Institute of Mental Health.  A child and adolescent psychiatrist, Giedd specializes in brain imaging.)

“What if we older folks exploited this capacity of theirs?  To do so, we’d have to see this highly transitional stage as a window of opportunity.  We might learn how best to evolve this capacity for conscious, explicit, practical reasoning, so that it stays with us and progresses over time.  The problem is that those of us in the best position to realize this happen to be those with the least plasticity.  We’re not inclined to reach out to adolescents, no matter how much insight we might gain about how to remain more malleable, adaptive, and responsive to rapid changes.”  — pp. 121-122


In my thoughts this connects to this very short video statement made in 2011 by actor Rainn Wilson within which he states that the youth of the world most likely hold the answers to national and global issues – suggesting that adults, perhaps, CANNOT solve our problems.


There are multiple other layers connecting to these thoughts of mine.  As we are increasingly able to understand, high levels of early trauma – including abuse and neglect – change developing brains so that in some cases adolescents ALREADY have been deprived of being able to develop higher cortical thinking abilities correctly.  Severe early maltreatment, as Dr. Martin Teicher asserts, can cause early atrophy of higher cortex so that it never even finishes its development correctly.

So what might happen to members of our social species through attachment trauma abuse and neglect on these fundamental physiological levels?

What if it is “tribal trauma” that harms us most?  Being born and then being treated as if we were all alone?  Harmed so that we fundamentally learned we were flawed and had no right to resources – including our life?

How would these intergenerational trauma patterns appear along the lines stated in the book excerpt above?

And what might ignorance and denial of any of these interrelated critically important processes accomplish?  (And, during American election years?)

Would there be a difference if we adults WERE to ‘mine the gems’ of adolescent plastic brains’ benefits – would it ONLY be safe and securely attached, non-severely traumatized young people whose brains can then NOT do what Phillips is describing?

(I am considering how all these dynamics are contributing to America’s current political processes….)


And then – take a look at the articles that pop up with an online search of these terms, “brain chasing Pokémon” – is this the best we have to offer our younger brains – the hope for our species at play?

Don’t ask me.  Fiddling while Rome burned DOES come to mind, however….  We certainly are an interesting species.


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Here is our first book out in ebook format.  Click here to view or purchase–

Story Without Words:  How Did Child Abuse Break My Mother?

It lists for $2.99 and can be read by Amazon Prime customers without charge.  A daring book – for daring readers – about a really tough subject.


Tags: adult attachment disordersadult reactive attachment disorderanxiety disorders,borderline motherborderline personality disorderbrain developmentchild abuse,depression,derealizationdisorganized disoriented insecure attachment disorder,dissociation,dissociative identity disorderempathyinfant abusePosttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),protective factorsPTSDresiliencyresiliency factorsrisk factorsshame

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