Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience

Dual Use Discipline for Understanding & Managing Complexity and Altering Warfare

The Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience (ECN) discipline, and its associated fields, may produce tools that advance humanity’s ability to understand and manage itself. Simultaneously, ECN may also yield brain-centric weaponry that drastically alters human warfare. The United States Department of Defense (DOD) may marshal significant resources — as it did during the 1941 to 1946 Manhattan Project — to drive ECN research, development and testing. DOD is the only entity in the United States with the capability to fully fund ECN programs. The DOD’s Defense Science Board and the United States’ Intelligence Community has recently suggested research thrusts into ECN and the merging of data-heavy sciences and social sciences. Success will ultimately depend on program directors and researchers’ acceptance of general Evolutionary Theory and, in particular, Evolutionary Psychology. Failure to do this will result in a mosh-pit of studies based on dated science and methodology.

The Evolutionary Psychology and Neuroscience disciplines are set to merge into a unified field known as Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience or ECN. ECN may produce novel integrated micro, macro models of brain-behavior relationships based on the principles of general Evolution, Evolutionary Psychology and the findings of Neuroscience. Applications may range from predictive human behavior models to neuroweaponry.

Social science literature and United States’ Department of Defense (DOD) documentation also suggests that the time is ripe for an even larger merger between the data-heavy sciences and the social sciences.Data Heavy Sciences: Mathematics, Physics, Engineering, Biology, Chemistry, Computing. Social Sciences: Evolution, Psychology, Economics, Law, Political Science, Anthropology, Sociology, Cultural Anthropology, Game & Information Theory, Marketing, Linguistics, History. ECN may serve as both a conduit and foundation for this convergence particularly as the DOD recognizes its importance to national security. However, the entire effort will fail if program directors and researchers exclude general Evolution and Evolutionary Psychology from their methodologies.

Complexity (the number of ways-hows-and-whys a system can act) may become an anachronism as novel research demystifies consciousness reducing human complexity to a deterministic system. Biomachines that bypass time consuming conscious activity ultimately may be fielded by the DOD. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is already working towards this end. Through its Neurotechnology for Intelligence Analysts program, it has probed brain signals triggered when an analyst sees something interesting in a satellite image. The analyst’s brain registers the discovery long before the analyst becomes cognitively aware of it. “The brain can signal the discovery three times faster than the analyst can respond . . . My goal is to use these technologies to harness the speed of thought . . . I know it’s possible, especially if we confront these challenges not just as problems of biology and neuroscience but problems of physics, math, materials science and microtechnology.”Kruse, A., Defense and Biology: Fundamentals for the Future. Proceedings from DARPATech (2005), pp 45-46, Arlington, VA, USA

The DOD has a very aggressive interest in understanding and adapting to the Human Terrain (brain-behavior relationships in local, regional, national and global environments). With a budget of approximately $1.2 trillion ($US), and the ability to obtain additional funding, the DOD stands alone in its ability to accelerate research and development (R&D) programs in ECN, as well as catalyze the fusion of the data-heavy and social sciences. Such an effort may be as significant as the Manhattan Project (Atomic Bomb) or the development of Quantum Theory. There is historical precedent for thinking as much.

I think the military is the place to do it…I think it is time for the Pentagon to do for human science what it did for chemistry in World War I, for physics in World War II and for computers in the post-Cold War era. I’m convinced that we’re fighting human wars now and that another stealth bomber, another battleship is not how to win these wars . . .Jean, G. (2006), Army Training to Develop Better Combat Leaders. National DEFENSE: Arlington, VA. USA. Quoting Martin Seligman, Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology, UPENN.

This DOD R&D effort may certainly revolutionize warfare. In the process it may also transform the understanding and conduct of human affairs, which in turn may present challenges to the legitimacy of long established, cumbersome institutions. For example, from a policy and organizational perspective, the United States may find it necessary to create some sort of DOD-Plus organization: one centralized defense and foreign apparatus that has a comprehensive capability to anticipate and respond to evolving threats in local, regional, national, and global environments.FY2008 total military related is estimated to be $1.2 trillion (US). By contrast, the United States Department of State (DOS) total budget for FY2008 was roughly $35 billion (US). It is increasingly difficult to distinguish between United States foreign policy and defense policy. Fighting bureaucracies limit effectiveness. For example, see Congressional Resource Service (May 2007), Africa Command: US Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa. Thanks to a Sandia Labs official for the centralized defense and foreign policy apparatus notion. A secondary organization might be needed for post-response consequence and stability management.

Another side effect of this R&D activity may be a significant shift in the way human beings view themselves nestled as they are on the outskirts of 1 of the estimated 125 billion galaxies in the known universe. Already, papers such as Quantum Physics in Neuroscience and Psychology: A Neurophysical Model of Mind-Brain Interaction offer intriguing insights and prospects. ECN encourages innovative thinking through progressive and tested science.Schwartz, J., Stapp, H., Beauregard, M. (2004), pp 1-19. The Royal Society: London UK. The entire paper is fascinating. See also Szafranski, R. (1994) Neocortical Warfare: The Acme of Skill. Military Review, pp 41-55, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

Neuroscientists studying the connection of mind and consciousness to physical processes in the brain often assume that a conception of nature based on classic physics will eventually turn out to be adequate. That assumption would have been reasonable during the nineteenth century. But now, in the twenty-first century, it is rationally untenable. Quantum Theory must be used in principle because the behavior of the brain depends sensitively upon atomic, molecular and ionic processes, and these processes in the brain often involve large quantum effects.

The whole range of science, from atomic physics to mind-brain dynamics, has the possibility of being brought together into a single rationally coherent theory of an evolving cosmos that is not constituted by matter but by actions of agents. In this conceptualization of nature, agents could naturally evolve in accordance with the principles of natural selection, owing to the fact that their efforts have physical consequences. The outline of a possible rationally coherent understanding of the connection between mind and matter begins to emerge . . . A shift to this pragmatic approach that incorporates agent based choices as primary empirical input variables may be as important to progress in neuroscience and psychology as it was to atomic physics.

In the United States, the ongoing obsession with national security and the enormous funding necessary to soothe a national psyche of fear and war is a key driver for enhancing security thereby eliminating the uncertainty of daily living. ECN may generate predictive and diagnostic biotechnologies to reduce tension. Such a development could eliminate much uncertainty and concomitant drama in human affairs by providing leaders with assets to manage the complexities in brain-behavior relationships. To get there though, reliable data on human beings, as they function as interconnected consumers, warfighters, enemies, refugees, diplomats, criminals, and citizens of their respective nations will need to be collected and assessed. The entire effort depends on the application of general Evolution and Evolutionary Psychology.

A comprehensive knowledge base of planetary ecosystems and how humans interface with those ecosystems will have to be constructed and meshed with the findings of brain-behavior functions. The dissection of the individual and global organism may lead to unprecedented forecasting capability The ultimate outcome may be the creation of biomachine systems that suggest procedures and diagnostics with which to anticipate and/or minimize a wide range of human problems. Biomachine tools that can suggest courses of action such as military intervention, diplomacy, containment, stability and consequence management operations, economic aid, covert operations, or a Pontius Pilate approach to nations that engage in internal self-destruction may become available.

Worldscape 2007: Savannah’s and Jungles

The United States diplomatic corps has made general use of standard psychology, game theory, and related social sciences to engage in diplomacy on behalf of the United States.For example, in diplomacy Jervis, R (1976), Perception and Misperception in International Politics, Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ., USA. The business sector has dabbled in Evolutionary Psychology and Neuroscience too. See generally: Hoffman, M., (2004), The Macroeconomic Path of the Law, The Royal Society: London, UK; Garland, B. (2004) Neuroscience and the Law: Brain, Mind and the Scales of Justice, Dana Press: NY, USA; Doherty, J., et al, (2006) Predictive Neural Coding of Reward Preference, Neuron 49: Elsevier; Rock, D. and Schwartz, J., (2006), The Neuroscience of Leadership. Strategy & Business. Likewise, the Department of Defense (DOD) has used elements of the social sciences — especially psychology — to predict, for example, who will or will not earn pilot’s wings, or become a special forces operator.

Now, however, the DOD is moving far beyond its generalized use of the social sciences and is making a considerable effort to incorporate ECN and a bevy of related disciplines into its arsenal.

If approached correctly and conducted properly, this effort, and the technology and/or knowledge transfer from it, could be the catalyst for a certifiable revolution in human affairs. At the very least, DOD’s surge into these fields may produce unmanned and autonomous intelligence biotechnologies, warfighting and medical biomachinery (with civilian applications), along with thousands of terabytes of data on human behavior. In any other time this might be termed acceptable progress. Advancements in ECN and associated fields have changed what acceptable means.

Consider, for example, the Defense Advanced Research Agency’s (DARPA) Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures (BICA) program. “Recent advances in cognitive psychology and neuroscience have given us a much richer scientific understanding of how cognition works in the human brain. The BICA program is developing a new generation of cognitive architectures and computational models of human cognition based on that new understanding.” One BICA team consists of scientists from the University of Michigan, MIT Media Lab, AlgoTek, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Harvard University and Rutgers University. They have developed TOSCA: A Comprehensive Brain Based Cognitive Architecture. According to the researchers, “This organization [TOSCA] starts to answer the question as to where is the magic in human cognition . . .”Located here. Link to TOSCA through BICA, Phase I.

The United States’ national security establishment has determined that the study of the brain-behavior relationships — and its participation and interaction with the global organism — is essential to national security. Today, in the intelligence community, for example, the social sciences are being called upon to assist analysts in the development of new methods for educing information (interrogation) from prisoners of war and/or conflict.National Defense Intelligence College, (December 2006) Educing Information: Interrogation—Science and Art, Foundations for the Future, pp 2, 10, 17, 36.

Beyond contributions to United States’ national security, ECN and associated disciplines may offer new approaches and solutions to minimize violence and ethnic conflict; prevent or manage warfare, pandemics and poverty; protect the global commons; reduce income disparity; and negotiate the allocation of finite resources and space amongst nations and/or groups. New gear is required to help humanity manage that which is the source of its complexity: brain-human behavior relationships.

“We are at a crossroads of human existence: We possess the technical knowledge required to provide for the material needs of all of humanity without systematic plunder and extermination of others: yet, systematic plunder and genocidal extermination continue to thrive.”Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., (2003), p 129, “Fear of Death and Social Behavior: The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness,” in Bloom, R. & Dess, N. (Editors), Evolutionary Psychology and Violence: A Primer for Policymakers and Public Policy Advocates, Praeger: Westport, CT, USA.

“We used to wonder where war lived, what it was that made it so vile. And now we realize that we know where it lives, that it is inside ourselves.” Quote from Albert Camus. Located in Smith, DL (2007) presentation titled The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War. Book with the same title to be published August 2007: Saint Martin’s Press, NY, USA

Humanity is one of the many children of evolutionary forces. ECN may play a key role in helping humanity re-look its role on the planet. ECN may convince humans that they are agents in an interconnected local to global organism. The acceptance of this fact, this reality, may come just in time for humanity as it faces global instability. Such knowledge — and the practical application of it — now seems critical to the survival, stability and prosperity of our species and those that support us.

A key feature of homo sapiens’ evolutionary design has been the ability to forecast; to think ahead, to model and simulate multiple scenarios and outcomes for survival, stability and prosperity. Evolution seems to be working its magic as sections of the government, commercial organizations, academia, and the world’s publics recognize that survival, stability and prosperity are very fragile realities. There seems to be a sense of urgency in developing new models to manage the future.

The human species faces global climate change; ethnic conflict in geostrategic regions; simmering immigration conflict in apparently stable democracies; intermittent warfare; disinformation; income disparity and employment insecurity, the mobility of corporations to roam the planet in search of low cost labor; the continued spread of weapons of mass destruction; and — significantly — a new era of global economic competition between individual powers like China, Basil, India, Russia, the United States, and consortium’s like the European Union, the South American Community of Nations, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.See, for example, www.comunidadandina.org/INGLES/sudamerican.htm and www.sectsco.org

In local-to-global savannahs and jungles; nations, and groups that want to form nations,For example, the Kurds located in northern Iraq and in Iran and Syria. The Baloch in southern Pakistan. The Palestinians. Arguably the 1 million Iraqi’s displaced as a result of the US occupation of Iraq. now have many choices for international support, recognition, and economic and military assistance. They can roam the globe via the Internet or by aircraft. They can openly appeal to national governments, covertly appeal to a government’s military-intelligence agencies and private security contractors, or to quasi-state groups for support. They have far more maneuverability to pit the larger global economic competitors against one another to get the best economic package, thwart a military intervention, or simply buy time to purse a policy. Iran, for example, in pursuit of regional influence, nuclear power and weapons capability, has conducted an impressive series of maneuvers that often match European Union, Chinese, Russian, Turkish, Pakistani and Indian economic needs against United States and Israeli interests.

Predators and Prey

On the flip side, larger nations can utilize smaller nations and quasi-state groups in an effort to pursue policies and destabilize competitors.Goodman, A., Democracy Now! (2007), Seymour Hersh: “US Indirectly Backed Islamist Militants Fighting Lebanese Army,” democracynow.org. See also Hersh, S., (March 2007), “The Redirection,” New Yorker Magazine, NY, NY USA. With its military supremacy, the United States, like any upstanding, self-interested predator, has consistently made life and trade difficult for many intransigent nations and groups. But why do many nations prefer war? The phenomenon of removing the brakes on non-violent behavior and the promotion of war as a positive activity and economic engine is one of the most understudied issues in human history. ECN may be useful in understanding the war phenomenon as it relates to creation of dehumanized others and violence in general. Interview with Smith, D.L. Author of the forthcoming book referenced in Footnote 10.

According to the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation, approximately 16,000 people are murdered each year in the United States. Nations and peoples around the globe are coping not only with “crime”, but with the fallout from conventional and guerrilla warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Chechnya, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Sudan, Colombia, Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Kashmir, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. Refugees fleeing conflict, increased global fuel costs, the spread of disease, and the creation of slums that house next-generation insurgents are just a handful of the effects of today’s conflicts.

The United States’ generic response to much of this international activity has been to restructure military commands and build more military bases, embassies and consulates around the globe to encircle and contain conflict areas. In short, a sort of quarantine –based approach. This is particularly evident with countries and regions rich in natural resources and in close proximity to sea and land-based choke points.Johnson C., The Sorrows of Empire, (2004), Metropolitan Books: NY, USA. See also Energy Information Administration, World Oil Transit Chokepoints. A recent example of this was the creation of a new Unified Combatant Command called AFRICOM. Coincidently, the United States government announced AFRICOM’s existence on February 6, 2007, in the midst of the Chinese government’s 12-nation tour of Africa.See Footnote #4 and Footnote #23.

Global climate change, in the most severe scenarios, threatens to alter large portions of the planet and in the process either exterminate or relocate many of the humans, plants and other creatures that subsist on it. With the most advanced predictive human behavior models available, humanity may still ignore data forecasting catastrophe. Federal, state and local officials’ response to Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that even with ample warning and time to prepare for difficult outcomes, ignorance stymied success.National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization provided warnings to local, state, federal leaders well in advance of the hurricane’s arrival.

Severe weather events may continue to destabilize densely populated coastal regions resulting in refugee populations and disruption of commercial and national security enterprises. Hurricane Katrina temporarily shut down United States’ Navy contractor Northrop Grumman’s shipbuilding operations in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Katrina has hampered Northrop Grumman’s ability to hire skilled workers and house them.“Gulf Coast Economics Reshaped by Katrina” (2007), npr.org. Hence, it is no surprise that global climate change has been determined to be an urgent national security threat to the United States by the influential Center for Naval Analysis in Alexandria, Virginia.Center for Naval Analysis Corporation, (2007). National Security and the Threat of Climate Change. Alexandria, VA, USA. The United Nation’s IPCC report is cited extensively within in the CNA’s study.

Just as global climate change is inevitable, so too is an increase in the world’s population. By 2050 there will likely be 9 billion human beings occupying the globe with 60 percent of that number living in urban environments in close proximity to ocean littoral zones. Approximately one billion of the nine billion will be relegated to slum life or coerced to migrate as displaced human beings in search of improved economic opportunity.Papatheodorou, Y., (2007), Global Demographic Trends: A Presentation for UEDA’s Winter Forum, Savannah, Georgia, February 22, 2007. CH2M HILL, USA.

One Thing Affects Everything

According to Robert Jervis, “Garrett Hardin gets to the heart of the matter in pointing out that, contrary to many hopes and expectations, we cannot develop or find any highly specific agent which will do only one thing…We can never do merely one thing. Wishing to kill insects, we may put an end to the singing of birds…Seeking to protect the environment by developing nonpolluting sources of electric power, we build windmills that kill hawks and eagles that fly into the blades; cleaning the water in our harbors allows the growth of mollusks and crustaceans that destroys wooden piers and bulkheads…”

Jervis pointed out that it’s the same in politics. “In politics, connections are often more idiosyncratic, but their existence guarantees that here too, most actions, no matter how well targeted, will have multiple affects.”Jervis, R., (Winter 1997-1998) “Complexity and the Analysis of Political and Social Life,” Political Science Quarterly, pp 569-583. Also Quoting Hardin, G., (Autumn 1963) “The Cybernetics of Competition,” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, pp79-80.

This dizzyingly interconnected environment has confused, perhaps even frightened, today’s global leaders and their advisors whose worldviews were heavily influenced by the binary simplicity of the Cold War and the illusory post-Cold War dominance of the United States. More problematic is local-to-global leadership that tends to consult antediluvian belief systems and mythical beings in their decision-making processes. Hence, leaders the world over — particularly here in the United States — are making decisions based on a Flatland approach, ignoring consequences, fallout, outcomes, and linkages.Abbot, E., (1884), Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions. Multiple publishers over time. Here referring to problems with leadership/public myopia in dealing with a complex social issues consisting of different shapes, forms, and dimensions of individuals culture & politics. This mode of thinking rolls downhill to infect local, regional, national and global populations.

For example, the United States’ involvement in Iraq and elsewhere on the Asian continent provides an obvious example of cloudy judgment by leadership and the subsequent disastrous fallout. Additionally, once dominant institutions, and important tools of United States foreign and economic policy, are seeing their influence wane in the presence of simple geopolitical competition The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are two organizations whose reach has been shortened by the inflexibility and predictability of United States’ foreign policy. The Chinese government has been courting alliances by disbursing large amounts of cash in the form of no interest loans and with minimal interference in the borrower’s internal affairs.See generally Molano, W., (2007), “Make Way for the Chinese Giant,” Asia Times Online; Engdahl, F., (2007), “Darfur: Forget Genocide, There’s Oil,” Asia Times Online; Margolis, E., (2006), “Beijing’s African Summit: Why China is Wooing the Dark Continent,” The Khaleej Times carried with commentary by YaleGlobal Online. This is in stark contrast to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund who demand painful economic reforms from their borrowers.

With $1 trillion (US) in cash reserves, and an energy-hungry economy, China is acting as one might expect: it is maximizing its prospects for survival. stability and prosperity.

Exploring and Dissecting the Human Terrain

The increasing global interdependence implies an increase in complexity. However, the relationship that was discussed between this complexity and the internal structural changes that are taking place in social and economic systems provides us with an additional insight. The change from hierarchical to distributed control implies that the complexity of collective behaviors is not only increasing, it is already higher than that of a single individual. In this context, the traditional conflict between individual and collective good and rights should be revisited. This philosophical and practical conflict manifested itself in the conflict between democracy and communism. It was assumed that communism represented an ideology of the collective while democracy represented an ideology of the individual. The transition to a complex organism implies that this conflict has been resolved, not in favor of one or the other, but rather of a third category — an interdependent complex collective formed out of diverse individuals.

The traditional collective model was a model that relied on the uniformity of the individuals rather than diversity. Similarly, the ideology of the individual did not view the individual in relation to the collective, but rather the individual serving himself or herself. It should be acknowledge that both philosophies were deeper than their caricatures would suggest. The philosophy of democracy included the idea that the individualistic actions would also serve the benefit of the collective, and the philosophy of communism included the idea that the collective would benefit the individual.

Nevertheless, the concept of civilization as a complex organism formed out of human beings is qualitatively different than either form of government. There are two natural conclusions to be drawn from recognizing that human beings are part of a global organism. First. one can recognize that human civilization has a remarkable capacity for responding to external and internal challenges. The existence of such a capacity for response does not mean human civilization will survive external challenges any more than the complexity of an organism guarantees its survival. However, one can hope that the ability to prevent local disasters will increase…Second, the complexity of our individual lives must be understood in the context of a system that must enable its components (us) to contribute effectively to the collective system…The merging of disciplines in the field of complex systems runs counter to the increasing specialization in science and engineering [but] it provides many opportunities for synergies and the recognition of general principles that can form a basis for education and understanding in all fields.

Bar-Yam, Y., (1997). Complexity Rising: From Human Beings to Human Civilization, A Complexity Profile. New England Complex Systems Institute, Cambridge, MA, USA.

In February 2007, the Defense Science Board (DSB) released a little noticed report titled, 21st Century Strategic Technology Vectors.Defense Science Board, 2006 Summer Study on 21st Century Strategic Technology Vectors, Volume I, Main Report, February 2007, OUSD/AT&L. In the report, DSB recognizes the commercial sector’s “ . . . limited but promising successes in coupling social science methods with quantitative/computational techniques…” See Footnote #6 for further readings. In the report the DSB recommended that military planners explore the Human Terrain in which US warfighters operate. To do this, the DSB suggested a radical approach: tap into the non-kinetic social sciences network for analytical data and marry future findings and applications to the military’s warfighting toolkit.

Human, Social, cultural and behavior (HSCB) modeling…pushes the boundaries of DOD’s comfort zone the farthest. However, it is an area that DOD cannot afford to ignore. The DOD needs to become much more familiar with the theories, methods, and models from psychology, sociology, cultural anthropology, cognitive science, political science and economics in order to be able to identify those with real potential to add value to DOD’s toolkit. Coupling these to quantitative and computational modeling and simulation techniques from mathematics, physics, statistics, operations research, and computer science could lead to powerful new tools that represent complex human and social systems…One promising starting point for the application of HSCB models is to complement the more familiar physical network modeling with human/group behavioral models.

HSCB models are designed to help understand the structure, interconnections, dependencies, behavior, and trends associated with organizational entities. Macro HSCB models address nation states, socio-cultural regions, economies, and political systems. Micro HSCB models deal with religious and ethnic tribes, militias, insurgent and terrorist networks, and military units at the tactical level. Integrated models try to tie together the macro and micro models. A formidable challenge in modeling social and behavioral phenomena is to integrate and make coherent micro-macro models at multiple levels of data, granularity, and analysis, and across multiple disciplines of the social sciences, and to acquire and structure data that can be used to guide and test the models.

Ibid. Chapter 2, pp 13-14.

Evolutionary Psychology: Some Basics

Evolutionary Psychology offers four linked, interdependent paths to understanding how brain-behavior relationships change over time in individuals and populations. Change and/or adaptation happens biologically through molecular development that affects the genetic substrates of behavior; psychologically through emotions, and conscious and unconscious mental activity; culturally through social life; and environmentally as behavior adapts to ecosystem and social system changes.Bloom, R.W., (2003), “The Evolution of Scientific Psychology and Public Policy: On Violence and its Antidotes,” pp 10-11, taken from Bloom, R. & Dess, N. (Editors), Evolutionary Psychology and Violence: A Primer for Policymakers and Public Policy Advocates, Praeger: Westport, CT.

Evolutionary Psychology is an approach and a way of thinking. The mind is seen as a set of information-processing mechanisms designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors during the Pleistocene era. There are five basic principles that form the foundation of Evolutionary Psychology.Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1997). Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer. Available from the University of California, Santa Barbara, USA, Center for Evolutionary Psychology. Citing the five principles verbatim.

1. The brain is a physical system. It functions as a computer. Its circuits are designed to generate behavior that is appropriate to your environmental circumstances.

2. Our neural circuits were designed by natural selection to solve problems that our ancestors faced during our species evolutionary history.

3. Consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of what goes in your mind is hidden from you. As a result, your conscious experience can mislead you into thinking that our circuitry is simpler than it really is. Most problems that you experience as easy to solve are very difficult to solve as they require very complicated neural circuitry.

4. Different neural circuits are specialized for solving different adaptive problems.

5. Our modern skulls house a stone age mind.

“Our species lived as hunter-gatherers 1000 times longer than as anything else. The world that seems so familiar to you an me — a world with roads, schools, grocery stores, factories, farms and nation-states — has lasted for only an eye blink of time when compared to our entire evolutionary history The computer age is only a little older than the typical college student and the industrial revolution is a mere 200 years old. Agriculture first appeared on earth only 10,000 years ago, and it wasn’t until about 5000 years ago that as many as half the human population engaged in farming rather than hunting and gathering. Natural selection is a slow process and there haven’t been enough generations for it to design circuits that are well adapted to post-industrial life.”Ibid.

Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience: Problem Solving Tool

ECN fuses Evolutionary Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience into one unified theory of human behavior based on the foundations of evolutionary meta-theory.See generally Darwin, C., (1872) Origin of the Species, multiple publishers. The fruitfulness of ECN and, hence, the DOD’s R&D efforts to divine the Human Terrain, depends largely upon the willingness of participants and practitioners to accept and apply the general principles of Evolution and, most particularly, the basic tenets of Evolutionary Psychology.

Like Pre-Darwinian psychology and other social sciences, cognitive neuroscience without evolution will have difficulty accurately describing the functional workings of the human mind . . . A cognitive neuroscience approach to ultimate questions without evolutionary meta-theoretical guidance makes little sense…An evolutionary perspective provides a structure from which to guide empirical investigations and hypothesis generation about brain behavior relationships . . .

Evolutionary psychology assumes that an evolved psychological mechanism and its corresponding neural substrates is an information-processing module that was selected during a species’ evolutionary history because it reliably produces behavior that solved a particular adaptive problem. Evolved psychological mechanisms are understood in terms of their specific inputs, decision rules and outputs. The filter of natural selection operates on psychological mechanisms that produce behavior. Natural selection cannot operate on behavior directly, but on the genes associated with neural substrates that generate the psychological mechanisms that produce the behavior…Evolutionary Psychology is not post hoc storytelling: its practitioners often use a deductive approach moving from theory to data…

The majority of psychological mechanisms are presumed to be domain specific. The mind is comprised of content-dependent machinery — physiological and psychological mechanisms — that is presumed to have evolved to solve specific adaptive problems. Psychological mechanisms can also be expressed as cognitive biases that cause people to more readily attend to some pieces of information relative to others . . . A domain, when referring to a psychological mechanism, is a selection pressure, an adaptive problem. Domain, then, is synonymous with problem. A domain-specific mechanism refers to a problem-specific mechanism — a mechanism that evolved to solve a specific adaptive problem. Although evolutionary and cognitive psychologists use the term domain-specific, perhaps some confusion could be avoided if the more accurate term problem-specific were employed.

Why is ECN important? Without evolutionary meta-theoretical guidance, cognitive science will fail to describe with anything but superficial accuracy the human and animal mind. Cognitive science will simply explain proximate mechanisms (i.e., the “how”) or brain-behavior relationships (most often using theoretical models derived from standard social science models). This is only half the equation. The approach misses the ultimate (i.e., “why”) questions of brain behavior relationships.

By adopting the ECN approach and directly addressing ultimate questions about brain-behavior relationships, scientists will be in a position to better describe the cognitive processes and the neural correlates that they investigate. Likewise without cognitive neuroscientific methods, evolutionary psychology may not be able to adequately describe and understand the neurophysiological mediators to psychological adaptations and hence may never be able to accurately describe the evolved nature of the human mind. Without peering into the brain with techniques such as modern functional neuroimaging, evolutionary psychological investigations can only describe the cognitive processing of human mental characteristics.

Evolutionary Psychology can describe function but is limited in its description of structure, and thus has no ability to relate function to structure which might be important especially in comparative investigations of cognitive evolution. The relationship between structure and function is inherently a problem of evolutionary biology; .i.e., the genes that give rise to brain structure and its component nuclei and modularity, as well as its ability to process information, were the combined units of selection.

The need for an integrated science of the mind that utilizes evolutionary meta-theoretical guidance to cognitive neuroscience investigations is overdue, but beginning to flourish…By adopting an ECN approach, scientists will be in a position to think about uniquely human traits such as higher-level consciousness, theory of mind and self awareness.

It is likely that the most exciting advancements in technology for understanding the evolved mind are going to come from interdisciplinary collaborations…In fact, ECN might be the only approach that can give rise to such an understanding. Evolutionary cognitive neuroscience might be the newest science of the mind.

Krill, A.L., Platek, S.M., Goetz, A.T., Shackelford, T.L., (2007) “Where Evolutionary Psychology Meets Cognitive Neuroscience: A Précis to Evolutionary Cognitive Neuroscience,” Evolutionary Psychology, Volume 5(1), pp 232-256, located at www.epinet.net.


ECN may be used to inform current studies of human activity by providing insights as to how 21st Century humanity graduated from multiple hunter-gatherer bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and kingdoms to become nation-states. This may provide insights to public policy makers of the future, particularly given that humanity may be now working its way from nation-state back to tribal-state as the accelerated global mobility of everything from insurgent groups and viral strains to ideas and corporations threatens slow-moving governing institutions. Already, ECN has tackled matters as varied as water pollution and fetal development; the role of women and men in society and conflict; violent crime; leadership styles; terrorism, law and sentencing; world government; drug use, and an array of other issues falling into brain-behavior relationships.

In the end, humanity should be its own best resource for researching and solving complexity since humanity itself is the root cause of its problems. ECN may lead humanity to figure itself out. In that process there may be a possibility that this discovery will show that the species is really not as complex as it is egotistical and dualistic by evolutionary design. Humanity may find that it does, indeed, occupy a special place — not in the known universe or some mythical after-life, but right here at home.


Neuroweapons may be an outcome of ECN R&D programs. It is likely that DOD may classify as Top Secret programs that seek to turn the speed of thought into a weapon, or programs that blur the line between human and machine. With classification, no one may ever know of the existence of such programs. Some in the scientific community have suggested that, beyond the development of neuro-biomachinery and genetic manipulation, non-traceable neuroweapons with viral genetic payloads may be used to disrupt the brain and central nervous system. As a result, the creation of neurosecurity advisory and/or ethics boards may be required to keep R&D and testing efforts in bounds.

John can be reached at jeff@jstanton.org. He published a book in 2019 titled Cancer for Jokers, an irreverent, black humor based look at his first cancer diagnosis. Read other articles by John.

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  1. Rowan Berkeley said on July 1st, 2007 at 12:17am #

    When marxisant liberals claim to have extracted the most important elements from Marx, they usually leave the dialectic behind. Veblen’s industrial sociology is a good example, in that when you read his longer online texts you discover that he proposes to subordinate Marx to Darwin. In the same way, the bourgeois theoreticians of global control pursue a circular logic of justification, in which the liberal society is a given, and all that remains is adjustment of its subjects.

    I should add though that, from a psychological warfare point of view, it is not the reality of psychotronic engineering, but the mere threat of it, that produces profound (and quite understandable) defensive mass urges towards conformism. When these reach a certain point of abjection, the power holders can begin to reconstruct ‘conformity’ itself, as a guessing game to which only they know the answers (as with Orwell’s O’Brien).