Volume 5, Number 1 Winter, 1992

Editor : Dr. Charles Laughlin, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA K1S 5B6, Phone (819) 459-1121, E-mail charles laughlin@carleton.bitnet.


Guenter Rose has dropped the idea of doing a symposium at this year's AAA. He couldn't find enough papers to fill a session. This is no surprise. It's the way it is in neuroanthropology. But all is not lost. Michael Winkelman has put together a session for the meetings entitled "The Evolution of Consciousness: Physiological, Linguistic and Sociocultural Perspectives," and there will be a couple of neuro papers in it, including one by me.

There's also been a snag in the ethnoneurology project. One of the students didn't do his thing and I had to recruit another student to redo that part of the sample. Meanwhile, a couple of the original students volunteered to crunch the numbers on the holocultural material so we can present our findings in some crisp tables.

The cross-cultural data on the relationship between mind and body (brain) are spotty, as you can well imagine. Lot's of information for one society, none for the next two. It is difficult to tease the information out of old ethnographies where the question was never asked. But that's anthropology, eh?

One interesting bit of news I have for you is that the IMAX Corporation, in collaboration with the Canadian National Film Board and the Canadian Museum of Civilization, is going ahead to make a 3-D IMAX movie on the brain. The director is John Weiley from Sidney, Australia, the man who did the IMAX Antarctica movie. I have been contracted as a neuroanthropology consultant.



When Webster's wife caught him kissing the parlormaid and said, "Mr. Webster, I am surprised!" he responded, "Oh no, my dear, I am surprised; you are astonished!"

Webster, the founding father of Webster's New World Dictionary, made unwittingly an important distinction about the correct expression of uncertainty in English, a distinction that is based ( a posteriori ) on information theory. Both information theorists, Shannon and Brillouin, recognize that maximum information comes from a mixture of certainty and surprise; but where Brillouin emphasizes certainty ["You" (Mrs. Webster) "are astonished!"], Shannon stresses surprise ["I (Mr. Webster) "am astonished!"].

Brillouin considers uncertainty in the message at the destination (the more surprising a message is, the less information it conveys) -- hence Mrs. Webster is astonished -- whereas Shannon considers it at its source (the more certain the message is, the less information it conveys) -- hence Mr. Webster is surprised.

Clearly, there is quite an amount of certainty prevailing, in the sense of Brillouin's information theory, when a wife is catching her husband kissing another female; while there is lots of surprise on the husband's side, in Shannon's terms, on being caught unexpectedly.

There is, of course, a lot of uncertainty about the very concept of information. In this Information Age of ours the concept of information is, like the concept of God had been during medieval times, an ill defined concept resisting a precise definition. In effect, relative to "information" suggests Rucker (1987:27), we are in a condition like seventeenth century scientists were in relation to energy. Boltzmann, Gibbs, Szilard, Shannon, Brillouin, Wilson, and others offer divergent approaches when defining information, approaches that are colored by the divergent disciplinary practices of these researchers (Hayles 1990:59). The most recent definition describes the determinism of a system as the information stored through time in the dynamical variables (Krueger 1991), a definition that could just as well be applied to the concept of God.


Hayles, N.K. (1990) Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science . Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Krueger, L.E. (1991) "Psychophysical Law: Taming the Cognitive and Chaotic Aspects." Behavioral & Brain Sciences 14:193-199.

Rucker, R. (1987) Mind Tools . London: Penguin.

Roland Fischer

Mallorca, Spain


Recent work using new x-ray techniques by Dr. Marcus Raichle of Washington University at St. Louis and Dr. Larry R. Squire at the University of California at San Diego has shed some light on memory and word recognition. Most of the emphasis in past memory research has been on the role of the hippocampus. The new x-ray techniques have shown that other parts of the brain are also important in recognition, including the prefrontal cortex which seems to direct the memory search.

The technique involves looking at blood flow to different parts of the brain by way of x-ray tracking of radioactive water. Subjects were asked to complete partial words on a TV screen after having been previously "primed" with word lists, or to remember words previously experienced on the screen. The "hot spots" of activity in the brain were recorded on film for the different memory tasks.

In some simple recall experiments where thinking was not involved, recollection seemed to be carried out mainly in the visual association areas. When subjects were asked to recall words previously experienced and match them to partial stems, thus requiring them to think about the task, the frontal areas were active as well as the hippocampus. Curiously enough, severe amnesiacs were able to recall unconsciously held material presented in the past hour very well.


Cross-modal transfer of sensory association is evolutionarily important [Laughlin, C.D. and E.G. d'Aquili (1974) Biogenetic Structuralism . New York: Columbia University Press, p. 53], yet it is an aspect of cortical processing that is commonly ignored in models of the sensorium. There is evidence that the cells in the visual cortex of people blind from birth do not degenerate. Rather, they remain metabolically active [see Wanet-Defalque, M.C., et al. (1988) "High Metabolic Activity in the Visual Cortex of Early Blind Human Subjects." Brain Research 446:369-373]. Moreover, some 40% of the neurons in the visual cortex of cats appear to respond to auditory and other non-visual stimuli [Murata, K. et al. (1965) " Neural Convergence of Noxious, Acoustic, and Visual Stimuli in the Visual Cortex of the Cat." Journal of Neurophysiology 78:1223-1239].


(Mal)nutrition and the Infant Brain , edited by Nico M. van Gelder, Roger F. Butterworth and Boris D. Drujan. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1990, 337 pages.

You might think we know all about the nutritional requirements of the newborn and infant. We don't. And certainly anthropology tends to ignore the issue. That makes (Mal)nutrition and the Infant Brain a very important book. The book is the proceed-ings of a conference on the topic of infant nutrition held by the Centre de recherche en sciences neurologiques at the University of Montreal in 1989. Participants from 8 countries and four continents discussed dietary requirements, neurological factors, neurochemical integration, and nurturance and the environment.

The book consists of 25 papers on a wide range of topics including the nutritional requirements of the premature child, mother's milk vs. formula, kwashiorkor, nutritional and environmental influences on the development of the brain, the effects of vitamin deficiencies, the social influences on diet, the role of government inter-vention in establishing diet, etc. There seems to be something for everybody who has a serious interest in the issue of nutrition. But the book is not for the general interest reader. The papers are all technical and there is virtually no easy access to the material. For example, there are no abstracts at the front of each article of the sort most journals now require. Worse yet, the "Introduction" and "Synopsis" are bear-bones and terribly inadequate. Still, there is a useful index, and the bibliographic references can lead the reader off into all sorts of interesting directions.

What makes this book so important is that most of the papers report primary data. And those data support the conclusion that optimal development of the infant nervous system is only possible in an adequate nutritional environment. But the factors influencing adequate nutrition are many and complex, and include overall diet, cultural knowledge about nutrition, patterns of nurturance, the emotional well-being of the mother during pregnancy, the unconscious and physiological interactions between the mother and the fetus, the changing chemical composition of the umbilicus, etc. A correlation is demonstrated between malnutrition of the pregnant mother and premature birth.

Breast feeding continues to be the best bet for the infant, although adequate formulas are available. But the authors caution that certain immunological and other as yet unknown factors may be missing from formulas, no matter how adequate they appear. Several papers cover populations (e.g., in Venezuela) for whom undernutrition and malnutrition are the norm. The data continue to support the view that, although other environmental factors are important, lack of adequate nutrition during sensitive periods of neurophysiological development may produce lifelong cognitive deficits.

The editors make it clear that we don't know everything about infant nutrition. They suggest that in the face of the many uncertainties about the role of nutrition in neurocognitive development, the best policy is to assure an adequate diet for the pre- and perinatal child. I should think that's common sense.

Charles Laughlin


A call for papers is out for the third issue of WESScom , the journal of the Washington Evolutionary Systems Society (WESS). The focus is the evolution of neural complexity and its relationships to the emergence of mind. Contact the editor, WESS, 159 Kentucky Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003.



The first annual Computation and Neural Systems Meeting (CNS*92) will be held from Tuesday, July 26 through Sunday, July 31, 1992, in San Francisco, CA. It will be an interdisciplinary conference on the general aspects of computational neuroscience. Themes will include development, cell biology, excitable membranes and synaptic mechanisms, neurotransmitters, modulators and receptors, as well as sensory systems. For information contact: Chris Ghinazzi, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, PO Box 808, Livermore, CA 94550, USA.


The following is the abstract of a paper by Akifumi Higashi (National Institute for Physiological Sciences, Okazaki, 444, JAPAN) entitled "The State of Samadhi in Hinduism and the State of Satori (Spiritual Awakening) in Zen (Buddhism):"

What is generally called information includes incoming information, such as sensory information, and inherent information such as DNA and memory. In either case, information is formed as a combination of three types of energy -- wakefulness, sleep and consciousness energy, and the formation occurs once over every unit of time. The brain can be described as the system that facilitates the exchange of information between the formed subject, or the formed self-conscious mind, and the numerous groups of cells that make up the central nervous system. In this sense, the active subject may be considered in terms of "computation energy." This energy can be expressed numerically -- as the result of the addition and multiplication of unit energy, involving mathematical functions concerning time and space.

The length of proper time can be expressed in terms of the size of a cycloid. The size of a cycloid is determined in turn by the size of the sphere rolled to create the cycloid. The longest proper time in the nervous system is the proper time of the conscious activity of an organism. Now, what is the relations between the brain and the sphere whose size determines the length of the longest proper time? Understanding this relation will probably require an explanation of the reason why time and probability amplitude turn into energy. A perfect relation between them will be mentioned separately. One answer would be to see the largest sphere as representing one of two possible containers: one whose volume would represent the difference in the concentration of regular information inside and outside the organism and another that would represent the difference between the concentration of reverse information inside and outside the organism. It should be noted that it is the difference in concentration, not the concentration itself, that is represented.


Chafety, Michael D. (1990) Nutrition & Neurotransmitters. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. [foraging theory & neurotransmitters]

Eccles, John (1991) Evolution of the Brain: Creation of the Self. New York: Routledge.

Caplan, David (1992) Language: Structure, Processing, and Disorders. New York: Bradford Book.

Gallistel, C.R. (1992) Animal Cognition. New York: Bradford Book.

Gamradt, Jan Armstrong (1989) "Developmental, Neurological, and Information-Processing Research: Applications to Culture Acquisition." in Culture Acquisition: A Holistic Approach to Human Learning, ed. by M.A. Pitman, R.A. Eisikovits & M.L. Dobbert. New York: Praeger, pp. 22-35.

Howes, David (1991) The Varieties of Sensory Experience: A Sourcebook in the Anthropology of the Senses. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. [ethnopsychology of the senses]