Volume 4, Number 4 Fall, 1991

Editor : Dr. Charles Laughlin, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA K1S 5B6, Phone (819) 459-1121, Fax (613) 788-4062,

E-mail charles laughlin@carleton.bitnet.


My students are putting together their individual reports on the ethnoneurology project . They each took a selection of the Standard Sample of Cultures and tried to tease out how each society conceives of the relationship between mind and body (or brain). As you may well imagine, the data are spotty, but some interesting material was found. I will report this to you in future issues of NNN .

Meanwhile, I want to thank those of you who responded to my query about information. Roland Fischer sent in the excellent review below. Also, Mario G. Maldonado, M.D. , Director of Runajambi in Ecuador, got hold of a copy of my query and wrote the following in a letter -- and I quote:

The Quichua are an Amerindian group who once made up a large proportion of the Tawantinsuyu Confederation, the pre-Columbian nation which at its height included present-day Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, and parts of Argentina and Chile. In the Inca times, blood letting was widely used for the treatment of headache, fever and shiver (a precise stone knife cut of veins was made in the frontal area); see Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1609) Comentarios reales de los Incas . Lima: Editorial Universo, Vol. 1, pp. 123-125. The trepanation of skulls was another neural intervention performed for possible medical use by pre-Columbian populations of northern Ecuador. Unfortunately in this case, I am not able to provide you with the proper references, but I think that those will be available from the Banco Central del Ecuador Museum in Quinto, Ecuador.

Thank you Dr. Maldonado.

It is dues-paying time again. For your convenience I have appended a renewal form with this issue. If you do not wish to change your address or update your Directory entry, just sign your name. Make sure your check or money order is made out to "Carleton University," not to me.

I want to thank you for your support over this last transition year. I hope you have a lovely Xmas season and a productive and happy New Year.


As a neuroscientist I have always been faced with a conflicting agenda. On the one hand as a psychobiologist I have published some 40 neurophysiological and anatomical studies on the development of visual pathways in several animal species, especially in kittens, and their relation to behavioral development (1-5). More recently I have concentrated on human evoked potentials involved in attention and cognitive functions (6), and cross-cultural studies of plant use.(7)

On the other hand I have always been concerned with the issue of scientific bias. In particular I worry about the facile use and application of "objective" neural data as support for deterministic positions regarding the biological basis of behavior, as is currently in vogue.(8)

This issue is best expressed in a quote from Stephen Gould in which he states ".. Science is no inexorable march to truth, mediated by the collection of objective information and the destruction of ancient superstition. Scientists, as ordinary human beings, unconsciously reflect in their theories, the social and political constraints of their times. As privileged members of society, more often than not, they end up defending existing social arrangements, as biologically foreordained." (EVER SINCE DARWIN)

I will chronicle my involvement in both these agendas and discuss how they have led to my current interests in the cross-cultural use and misuse of neural data and methods, especially in clinical applications (9). A recent Fulbright to Nepal convinced me that one role of a neuroanthropology is not only to look at the interface of biology and cultural similarities and differences, but to carefully examine the assumptions, methods and motivations of such attempts. Not only is biology and behavior culturally constructed, so is the technology that measures it.

My graduate career began at UCLA's Brain Research Institute as a graduate student of Donald Lindsley in the early 60's. Not only was the BRI the new leading neuroscience institute in the world, but major scientists (Magoun, French, Lindsley, Scheibel, etc) had been collected to solve the issue of consciousness (attention, wakefulness and sleep) which we all soon "knew" was mediated almost exclusively by the reticular formation. Magoun (by electrophysiology) and Lindsley (by lesions & behavior) had established that incoming information involved two systems; a specific sensory projection system (e.g. primary visual pathway) and a nonspecific reticular system that mediated the arousal and attention triggered by a sensory input. My Ph.D. thesis (1) and subsequent studies at the University of Nebraska Medical School (1965-1970) demonstrated that the onset and subsequent maturation of activity in these two systems differed. Maturation of the nonspecific system preceded the specific system in most species studied including human infants.

We also began to demonstrate that various parameters altered before or during electrophysiological recordings (lighting conditions, anesthetics, degree of attention, early rearing experiences, species differences, etc.) affected the results obtained at different ages, both within and between subjects.

Emphasizing this fact of variability in the animal models in review chapters (3,4) however did little to discourage others from assuming a fixed normative standard and constructing theories of the development of perceptual abilities in human infants accordingly. It is important for anthropologists to know and neuroscientists to remind themselves that biological data are rarely neat and invariant; we also try to present what appear to be the best facts after continual retesting, and hope that they hold up (which they rarely do) as we write new grant proposals. But once data become part of a theory, as for example in the role of the reticular system or the limbic system, the theory itself takes on a life of its own; it becomes reified.

When turning to the experimental studies that attempt to relate biological activity directly to behavior, as I did upon returning to UCLA medical school (1970-1975), the problems increase exponentially. In addition to the myriad of problems that beset analysis of even the simplest of behaviors (look up the controversies surrounding eye blink conditioning), separation of maturational abilities from learning onset was extremely difficult. It involved developing special techniques. Although we attempted to suggest a correlation between the maturation of various learned and unlearned behaviors and biological maturation,

each technique variable itself most likely involves different neural circuits. This is understood by psychobiologists (see the excellent studies by Gary Lynch or Richard Thompson), but often not by neurobiologists who either assume the unitary nature of say, all learning, or feel that one can extrapolate from Aplysia to humans or worse yet, other cultures. Some anthropologists I fear buy into these generalized biological assumptions to explain differences or similarities in behavior between cultures. This has led some psychologists (e.g. Skinner) and anthropologists (e.g. Good) to dismiss biological explanation of behavior in favor of strictly behavioral or cultural constructions of normal and abnormal behavior. A recent excellent methodology paper by Browner et al (10) has attempted to resolve these differences with limited success as judged by the commentaries.

During my time at Nebraska and the return to UCLA, my second agenda intruded. While at the medical school (Neuro-psychiatric Institute) in Omaha I was approached one day in the late 60's by representatives of the Black Panthers, a radical Afro-American organization, who complained that their school children were being labelled as "hyperactive" and forced to take Ritalin in order to remain in school. About 1/4 of Omaha's population was black. A local pediatrician was convinced that up to 20% of school aged children were inflicted with this disease which then was felt to indicate "minimal brain damage " and hindered learning, especially in "certain neighborhoods". Evoking a liberal argument he convinced the local school board, that these disadvantaged children could be helped by the new wonder drug, Ritalin, a theme picked up by a few other physicians who received a mass of referrals by teachers. When neurologists could find no "hard" clinical signs, only the "soft" reports of teachers and occasionally parents (except for rare occasions, the kids were usually quiet in the physician's office) the diagnosis was changed to "minimal brain disfunction ". A critical literature review and symposium at the medical school as well as numerous meeting with school officials and the local medical board did little to change the local policy until it attracted national attention. This eventually lead to a congressional investigation. Although the investigation, influenced by the pharmaceutical industry was largely a white wash, it did stop the abuse of the misdiagnosis and reduced drug use. It also eventually led to a new diagnosis of "attention disorder defect" and systematic research, where the controversy continues.

For me it was the first direct involvement in a situation where the abuse of simplistic biological explanations of behavior affected a particular culture/racial group. The next time was two years into my tenure as a principle research investigator at the Neuro-psychiatric Institute at UCLA where I was directing the animal models research discussed above. One day several of us received notification that considerable funds would be available to study the biological basis of violence in a new, soon to be formed, Center for the Study of Violence at UCLA. Studies would be conducted on both animals and humans, possibly involving "volunteer" prisoners, and also testing psychosurgery as a cure for violent behavior. When it was leaked by students that the new head of this Institute was known for research in psychosurgery and had coauthored an article entitled "Role of Brain Disease in Riot and Urban Violence" following the 1967 Detroit rebellion, the battle was on.

In a letter addressed to the head of the NPI, later published in the school paper as "profs call for 'careful analysis' of the violence center", several of us, Ph.D.s and M.D.s suggested several missing guidelines such as an ethics committee, clari-fication of who the term violent referred to (the "others" or also white collar whites), and especially peer review. The latter was especially important since half the funds were to be obtained, practically under the table, from then governor Reagan's California Council on Criminal Justice. The letter was followed by further expressions of concern by psychiatrists, the bioethics faculty, the ACLU, and eventually the state legislature who stopped the project. For our efforts we incurred the wrath of many of the biomedical faculty who saw easy access to funds and most of us eventually left UCLA either by choice or force.

When I arrived at Bowdoin with an intact neurophysiology lab, thanks to supportive UCLA colleagues, although I continued to do animal neurophysiological and behavioral studies, this time on ferrets, I became increasingly interested in human evoked potential research, especially the P300 "cognitive wave" so well documented by Emmanual Donchin, a fellow Lindsley Ph.D. We began ERP studies normal and closed head injured populations along with a side venture into psycho-neuroimmunology.

In 1987 I was asked to join a group of faculty from diverse schools and disciplines to evaluate a joint undergraduate program in Sri Lanka. While there I wandered into a local village, became interested in medicinal plant use for culturally defined psycho-logical and CNS problems, and became hooked on Asian medicine; in fact Asia, period. The following year I received a Fulbright to go to Sri Lanka which, because of strife on the Island, was cancelled and I was transferred to Nepal. It was here in 1989 that I began my study of medicinal plants and also Tibetan medicine. This research is still in progress.

I first became sensitive to the misuse of modern bio-technology while at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu during 1989-1990. Much of the EEG and evoked potential equipment was either not working or incorrectly run with the data often misinterpreted or misused. This was largely due to lack of technical backup or training after being given or sold the equipment by a "developed" nation. Often lack of adequate basic supplies dictates procedure. For example, only 10 minutes of EEG is used for neurological and psychiatric diagnosis because the EEG paper is too expensive for longer runs. Because of this procedure, a normal transient slowing of alpha waves often accompanying a headcold, etc., thus could be and was misused in evaluating, for example, schizophrenia.

It was while listening to the comments of the Nepalese patients on the strangeness of the standard "clicks" used to generate auditory event related potentials (ERPs) that finally led me to combine my scientific and social/cross-cultural interests.

At the most recent AAA meetings in Chicago I reported a study (9; see abstract below) demonstrating significant differences between Asians and non-Asians in N100, P200, and P300 ERPs evoked by clicks as well as cymbals and chimes, which in addition is influenced by background music. Regardless of whether one wishes to explain these effects as due to neural differences, differences in stimulus saliency, or other factors such as situation familiarity, the basic point is that people from different cultures can differ on standard "objective" measures and yet be perfectly normal. Failure to take this into account can lead to inaccurate diagnosis and generalizations that can have both medical and social/ political consequences.

As I stated earlier, not only is biology and behavior culturally constructed, so is the technology that measures it. For me this will be one of the central issues in a discipline such as neuro-anthropology.

Address: Psychobiology Program, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME 04011, USA.

(1) Rose, G. H. (1988). In G.C.Galbraith, M.L. Keitzman, and E. Donchin, (Ed.), NEUROPHYSIOLOGY AND PSYCHOPHYSIOLOGY: EXPERIMENTAL AND CLINICAL APPLICATIONS. Hillsdale, New Jersey. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

(2) Rose, G. H., Gruenau, S. P., and Spencer, J. W. (1972). Electroenceph. Clin. Neurophysiol., 33, 141-158.

(3) Rose, G.H. (1971) In Sterman, M.B., McGinty, D.J., & Adinolfi, A.M. (Eds.), NEURAL ONTOGENY AND BEHAVIOR (pp. 145-183). New York: Academic Press.

(4) Rose, G.H. and Ellingson, R.J. (1970) In Himwich, W.A. (Ed.), DEVELOPMENTAL NEUROBIOLOGY (pp. 393-440). Springfield, Ill., Charles C. Thomas.

(5) Rose, G. H., and Lindsley, D. B. (1965). Science, 148, 1244-1246.

(6) Rose,G.H. and Guare,R. (1990) Nepal Journal of Medicine.

(7) Rose, G.H. and Boettcher, A. (in press) Journal of Ethnobiology

(8) "Bias in Biological Explanations of Behavior." Invited address: Maine Psychological Association, Portland, 1985.

(9) "Culture, Brain Waves, and Clinical Implications" paper read at 1991 AAA meetings, Chicago.

(10) Browner, C.H., Ortiz de Montellano, B.R. & Rubel, A.J. (1988) Current Anthropology, 29: 681-702.


I may add a few words about the Greek tradition that preceeds and influences our views of the mind-body problem. Wallace Matson (1966) notes that the Greeks had no mind-body problem. In Greek there is no way to divide events in an inner life (that is, conscious states) from events "out there." The picture of a human being as having both an "inside" and an "outside" is so commonplace that it is hard to realize how strikingly modern it is. Once Descartes invented that "precise sense" of "feeling" in which it was "no other than thinking," we began to lose touch with the tradition from Homer to Aristotle that had no words for chopping up the unity of the human person. There is some anticipation of a division between what is conscious and what is not in Augustine:

"The mind is not large enough to contain itself; but where can that part of it be which it does not contain? Is it outside itself and not within? How can it not contain itself? As this question struck me, I was overcome with wonder and almost stupor. Here are men going afar to marvel at the height of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the long courses of great rivers, the vastness of the oceans, the movements of the stars, yet leaving themselves unnoticed."

A new era, however, starts with Descartes (Rorty 1988). The notion of the "separation between mind and body" means different things before and after Descartes. The only criterion which will draw the line is indubitability, which permits Descartes to say: "nihil facilius aut evidentius mea mente posse a me percipi" (nothing is easier for the mind to know than itself). Many of the readers of this newsletter may be amazed to realize that insight as the outcome of self-referential cognition is a Cartesian postulate. Rorty has a lot to say about how the notion of the non-spatial substance (mind-stuff) entered philosophy, and thus why today we are talking about pains and beliefs rather than people having pains and beliefs.

Since the time of Plato (the pupil of Aristotle), formulations of psyche have oscillated between the two paradigms of extreme physicalism and extreme mentalism. The former arose first, and the latter in reaction to the inadequacies of the physicalist paradigm. The cycle is repeated -- only in reverse -- as the imagination of the mentalist runs away and the plodding of the physicalist catches up. Without the idealism afforded by the purely psychological approaches, the science of humanity (and the human of science) stagnates, while unbridled mentalist constructions soon lapse into pseudo-mysticism. The Greek practice of thinking in polar opposites, a feature that pervades Western thought processes to this day, has proved its fertility (Frampton 1988). Heraclitus was right after all when he declared: "the path up and down is one and the same."

Roland Fischer

Mallorca, SPAIN

Frampton, M.F. (1988) "Psyche in Ancient Greek Thought." Perspec. in Biology and Medicine 31:265-283.

Matson, Wallace (1966) "Why Isn't the Mind-Body Problem Ancient?" in Mind, Matter and Method , P. Feyerabend & G. Maxwell (Eds.). Minneapolis.

Rorty, Richard (1988) Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


Here is some more on wool fibers and the incomplete reference [see last issue of NNN ] for "Antikeratin Monoclonal Antibodies Recognize Subpopulations of Taste Bud Cells." This is an abstract of a paper by Charles F. Shuler, Center for Craniofacial Molecular Biology, School of Dentistry, U. of Southern California, 2250 Alcazar St., CSA 103/HSC, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA.

There is a most impressive and sharp interview with Endel Tulving in the Journal of Cognitive Neurosciences 3:90-94 about the "engram." Most, if not all, of you remember Wilder Penfield's reports of "re-experienced memories" retrieved from their "engrams" through electrical stimulation. Subsequent work, however, has shown that the phenomenon occurs only in epileptics, and even there it has been difficult to validate (for a recent review see my paper, "Why the Mind is Not in the Head But in Society's Connectionist Network." Diogenes 151:1-28, 1990).

The interview with Tulvin explicates why an engram does not exist, as a component of memory, independently of retrieval. The engram, qua engram, is not detectable (in its quiescent state); that is, in the absence of retrieval with any physical technique .

Roland Fischer

Mallorca, SPAIN


The following is an abstract of a paper, entitled "Culture, Brain Waves, and Clinical Implications," delivered by Guenter Rose and Susan Ingram at the American Anthropological Association meetings in Chicago in November, 1991:

This study focuses on the issue of bias in the construction, use, and interpretation of Western computerized biotechology when used as a neurodiagnostic procedure in a non-Western culture. Evoked brain waves and their head distribution maps, in response to standard stimuli, when produced, recorded and analyzed by hard-wired hi-tech clinical machines, were so different in Asian versus non-Asian males as to potentially and incorrectly diagnose normal Asians as demented alcoholics. Explanatory models involving differences in brain structures or neural circuits that are culturally acquired, versus transitory changes reflecting cultural differences in the perceived saliency of the test stimuli, are discussed. Either way, inappropriate and potentially costly misdiagnosis of culturally different peoples must be addressed in the future.

Address queries to Dr. Guenter Rose, Psychobiology Program, Department of Psychobiology, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME 04011, USA.


Dean Falk reviewed Thomas Wynn's book, The Evolution of Spatial Competence (Illinois Studies in Anthropology, No. 17. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), in the American Anthropologist 92:227-228, 1990. According to her, Part 1 of the book analyzes Paleolithic stone tools from various time periods to ascertain the spatial competence required to make the tools. Part 2 looks at the kinds of intelligence required to manufacture these tools from a Piagetian perspective. Wynn reaches the conclusion that the hominids reached modern intelligence by 300,000 years ago. Falk agrees that Wynn's findings are congruent with what we know at the moment about brain evolution.

Address queries to Dean Falk, Department of Anthropology, SUNY-Albany, Albany, NY 12222, USA.