Is Your Brain an Anarchist?

Our modern brain science has been rapidly growing but is yet still in its infancy. 

New non-invasive imaging technologies coupled with ever faster and stronger computing power are yielding staggering, mind-bending insights into brain behaviors. 

The ultimate mystery of consciousness lay still beyond the horizon. 

Some materialists are comforted by the early claim that Mind is nothing more than the epiphenomena of complex neurology. 

Others disagree and point towards subtle multi-dimensional probabilities stretching into and beyond quantum boundaries. 

Surprisingly, some of the most promising and daring perspectives about our brain behaviors are coming out of high-level academic psychedelic research. 

Here’s just a taste of what is being served up for dinner…and our two chefs for the evening – Robin Carhart-Harris and Karl Friston.

Karl Friston is the scientific director of University College Functional Imaging Center, London.  Friston has developed a “free energy principle” which might be the most all-encompassing idea since Darwin’s theory of natural selection and hold the key to the development of Artificial Intelligence.

Robin Carhart-Harris is a psychologist and neuroscientist and Head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research, Division of Brain Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London. He is the first scientist to test LSD on humans in over 40 years and is at the forefront of researchers leading the way into the very promising area of psychedelic assisted therapies across a broad range of conditions.

These bright stars have put their stellar minds together and come up with – REBUS & the Anarchic Brain Model. 

Fasten your seatbelts for a very short and very fast ride in this Substack entry (I promise more detailed explorations later on). 

Let’s see if we can glide through this with succinct bullet points (admittedly, it can be a little technical):

1)      Before teaming up with Friston, Carhart-Harris and his team developed the Entropic Brain Model – REBUS & the Anarchic Brain Model are expansions of the original Entropic Brain Model swirled together with Friston’s Free-Energy Principle.

2)      Entropic Brain Model in a “nut-shell”:

a.      At some very early stage in human evolution, our brain experienced a very rapid expansion physically and functionally;

b.      The new capacities permitted broad new conscious possibilities while also generating higher degrees of uncertainty (this “uncertainty” factor can be described in terms of “entropy” hence the name Entropic Brain);

c.       Carhart-Harris labelled this new expansion Primary Consciousness (Think of this as our Old Brain);

d.      To reduce the increased uncertainty factors, our brain consequently went through another second stage of development which limited the expanded capacities down into a more ordered and regulated set of functions;

e.      Carhart-Harris labelled this reactionary evolution Secondary Consciousness (Think of this as our New Brain);

f.        Secondary Consciousness is very good for reliable biological survival and a perfect place to keep habits and patterns stored away for quick reference;

g.      Primary Consciousness is best for new creative problem solving and psycho-emotional growth and healing.

h.      Secondary Consciousness is basically a Top-Down dynamic while Primary Consciousness is Bottom-Up.

i.        Our patterns and habits (both good and bad) are stored in the Secondary Consciousness parts of the brain (basically the New Brain);

j.        To improve or change patterns/habits, we must shift from the New Brain (Secondary Consciousness) and spend some time in the Old Brain (Primary Consciousness) then return to the New Brain (Secondary Consciousness) with some new good stuff or less bad old stuff;

k.       Both our Old Brain and New Brain (Primary Consciousness and Secondary Consciousness) are completely normal and natural – we visit them in different ways every 24 hour circadian cycle;

l.        Our New Brain has logical rational thinking and much of the Ego state we call “me” (more conceptual) – the Old Brain has intuition and symbolism with more states of Union and melting ego boundaries (more perceptual);

m.    Old Brain/Primary Consciousness experiences have often been labelled Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness (NOCS) or Altered States of Consciousness (ASC) – it is easy to see the bias towards logical/rational states here in these terminologies – it is critical to understand that simply because certain states are not common does not make them abnormal.

n.      I guess this is a pretty big “nut shell”.

3)      About REBUS:

a.      As mentioned above, we get REBUS & the Anarchic Brain by combining the Entropic Brain Model (Carhart-Harris) with the Free-Energy Principle (Friston);

b.      REBUS is an acronym: RElaxed Beliefs Under psychedelicS;

4)      About Anarchic Brain:

a.      “Anarchic” is the adjective of “anarchy”;

b.      Anarchy technically means “without a chief or leader”;

c.       So, Anarchic Brain refers to when the brain acts on its own without being commanded by a leader/chief;

d.      In our case here, “anarchy” is when our brain does not follow the normal leadership of the Top-Down/New Brain/Secondary Consciousness and instead acts from the Bottom-Up/Old Brain/Primary Consciousness;

e.      It is easy here to see the influence of the Carhart-Harris Entropic Brain Model.

5)      About the Friston Free-Energy Principle:

a.      Here, we will attempt to contain the explanation as it refers to our brain – knowing that the principle has extensive other applications;

b.      Our brain does its best to conserve energy and in doing so, it does not want to “waste” energy by letting it just “freely” roam around;

c.       So, essentially the “free-energy” in this principle means all energy should be conserved and not wasted;

d.      One excellent way to “save” (not waste) energy is to have as many “short cuts” in processes as possible (take the “short cut” instead of driving all the way around on the long route);

e.      Our New Brain does this very well by making predictions based on previously built patterns;

f.        Friston calls this tendency to save energy “precision weighting on high level priors” – “precision weighting” means a tendency or bias to do this first and so save some energy and “high level” means in the New Brain and “priors” means previous experience encoded as patterns or habits;

g.      So, if you want to modify a “prior” (aka old pattern or habit), some how you have to “de-weight the prior” otherwise the prediction action will just kick into gear as an energy-saving action – result, same old same old.

h.      To “de-weight the prior”, somehow you have got to shift away from the habitual tendencies of the New Brain/Secondary Consciousness and into the new uncertain possibilities of discovery in the Old Brain/Primary Consciousness for a period of time – some temporary Brain Anarchy (Friston and Carhart-Harris would say).

6)      How to Get Your Brain to be an Anarchist:

a.      In the Entropic Brain Model, in REBUS and in the Anarchic Brain Model, psychedelics are used to shift from the New Brain/Secondary Consciousness temporarily into the Old Brain/Primary Consciousness – it is reliable in certain sets of conditions however it is not the only way to make the shift;

b.      We humans actually and naturally make the shift at least twice a day every day in our circadian cycle – we just don’t pay attention and typically do not develop the ability to experience and benefit from it;

c.       The hypnagogic transition from waking to sleep and the hypnopompic transition from sleep to wake yield natural access into the Old Brain/Primary Consciousness type of awareness;

d.      Also, various meditation and yogic practices can enable a person to make the shift into deep change and discovery;

e.      Certain psychological techniques such as hypnosis, autogenic training and EMDR (as just a few examples) can have limited but positive benefits in making the problem-solving shift (you can’t think your way into the Old Brain;

f.        New brain related technologies such as the neuroVIZR Brain Enrichment device also offer excellent safe personal access into Primary Consciousness.