The following are notes that combine the Constructal Law of Physics (Adrian Bejan) and the Polyvagal Theory (Stephen Porges)
Safety is the transference of ‘flow’ of information with the least amount of resistance.
We can see what we call ‘expression of emotion’ as a flow of energy from within a person (the neurobiological changes within their body as a result of perception of something in the environment that results in changes that now cause opening and closing of ion channels – which means there is a change in energy levels….). The increase in energy that results from an input of information combining and integrating with existing information in the brain – results in new combination of ‘data’ or neural networks. There is therefore an increase in energy resulting from the external environment. As we know, all system in the physical universe always move towards an equilibrium. This means that as there is a build-up of new data / energy in the brain, the system consisting of our skin-encased bodies and our external environment will seek equilibrium – and as energy flows from high pressure to low pressure, there will be a system needed to release the increase in energy from the brain to the external environments. In all systems in nature, we see this as efficiently designed networks that come in the form of branches that act as ‘streams’ for this flow. In humans, the funnels or pipelines that allow for the release of increased data from our interactions with our environment are our vocal cords, and physical bodies. Our fingers are particularly good ‘branches’ that can transmit data from the inside to our external environment. The sound waves that are created by our vocal cord vibration are other streams or branches that carry information. The movement of our facial muscles also create fluctuations in wavelengths that are then perceived as others as information.
Here is a drawing to depict this.
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We are always seeking more movement/flow using less useful energy. This is what we would call efficiency.
We can predict how humans will change their methods of transmitting increased data (from their integration of outside stimuli into new neural activity) from inside their own system to an external system.
This predicts the Internet – which is another ‘base source’ of new integration of data that then gets released into smaller and small branches (the streams of data funneling into increasingly personalized and more specific branches).
This predicts the rise of video over text. In video, we are able to use multiple streams of ‘data releasing’ through not only the symbols of words (in our voice), but in our facial expressions and bodily movements. This increases the number of streams that can release data from increased neural activity to the external environment (high pressure to low pressure systems).
Here is another drawing of this.
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With this logic, we will also see a rise in a system that allows to release even more data through even more ‘streams’: virtual reality. In this system, we are increasing the streams of data from our mind to the outside by incorporating our body movement and navigation to multiple terrains as we release our data, and gather new data to increase our internal data even more.
The constructal law also predicts the high level of ‘peer-to-peer’ orientation in modern society, as well as the social media orientation (which is the majority of the peer-oriented social activity in many places around the world today). This is because peer-to-peer flow of information moves more quickly than information that flows through established hierarchical structures.
If every system seeks to release the build-up of new ‘neural information’ through channels that flow into a lower pressure system (the external environment). A brain will become high pressure more quickly than the physical environment because of the density of its matter and the finite size of its container. Once that information increases to a point, the matter increases -which is what we see in the increasing of brain sizes throughout evolution.
Evolutionary theory notes that this was part of what happened as we moved from the reptilian cranial structures to mammalian: the difference between a reptile’s cranial structure and a mammal’s is that the middle ear bones in a reptile are connected – physically joined – to the jaw bone. This connection allows for the inforation of sound vibrations to cause the middle ear bone to vibrate, and for this vibration to transfer to the jaw bone, which is linked to the unmyelinated vagus nerve. This nerve is linked to cardiovascular and digestive tracts: it puts the ‘brakes’ on the heart and gastrointestinal tract so that the reptile can ‘freeze’, and go undetected by predators. (Polyvagal Theory, Dr. Stephen Porges)
To see how we moved from reptilian brain architecture to mammalian, we need to understand that evolution required increases in brain mass. Brains grew because each organism increases its movement across distances, it is exposed to more data- this create new combinations of neural activity. As the amount of data increases, more myelination occurs, which leads to increases in the actual physical mass of the brain, as well as newer and newer structures that allow for increasingly efficient ‘flow of data’ from the outside to the inside using less and less energy. (Porges)
So, back to the brain growing in size. As we see from the description above, brains grew as creatures were able to move more. As myelination in the brain increased the brain’s mass, this put pressure on the skull that contained this ‘meat of the brain’. As the brain’s mass continued to grow, eventually the pressure on the skull was such that it lead to expansion of the skull, and the size of this increasing bone structure then put pressure on the jaw bone, which then lead to the middle ear bones breaking off.
As this happened, ‘neural tone’ (rather than bone conduction) was now needed to transmit information from the middle ear bones to the nerves that regulate our survival systems. What this means is two things: the jaw bone was still connected to the unmyelinated vagus nerve (the parasympathetic or ‘freeze’) system. So sound vibrations that are detectable by the density of bone continued to be vibrations that led to the ‘freeze response’, ie., lower frequencies/high volume vibrations continued to the be sound of ‘danger or predator’. (It was the vibration of a predator’s movement – not high pitched vocal cords – that indicated how close they were). (Porges)
So let’s establish that: we still have a jaw bone, and we still have an unmyelinated vagus nerve. This part of us gets developed in our first stages of embryonic evolution. So we still associated low frequency/ high volume sound vibrations as the sound of a predator. Horror movies know this – you will not feel nearly as scared if they are muted. The sounds they use (think of Jaws) are such that they vibrate onto our jaw bone, and this triggers a sense of a predator drawing near.
But now we need to explore what the breaking off of the middle ear bones did.
Now that we don’t only need vibrations to be at a volume/frequency that vibrate on our bones, there is an opportunity for other vibrations and frequencies to be perceived by us. Some evolutionary theorists state that there was an important purpose for this. As our brains grow (due to increases in data exposure), our brains also have more ‘choice’ – there are more combinations of behaviors and problem solving that will occur. And more efficient systems of allowing the flow of high pressure/ high volume of data (the electrochemical pulsing of neurons) to move to lower pressure systems (outside of our body). This is what we mean by ‘communication’. It is a flow of the higher pressure of neural pulses and the energy this produces into a lower pressure area. We have various ‘branches or funnels’ that allow for this streaming of data to flow. One of those funnels/channels is through our throat. Data is being processed in our brain, and this increase in electrochemical energy is then released by us as puffs of air being pushed by our diaphragm, and then running into variable resistance from the tensing of the muscles in our vocal cords to create varied sound frequencies.
So as our brains grew, the amount of ‘information’ increased pressure/energy/heat in our brains was growing, which then needed to be released efficiently to the outside of our body.
Remember though, that every system adheres to the constructal law -which is that : “everything that flows and moves generates designs that evolve to survive (to live). This is not a desire or objective, but the natural tendency, that is the physics phenomenon. ” p. 14 Design in Nature
So… our brains grew, and continued to generate designs that evolved for us to survive. This new system of being able to detect a wider range of sound frequencies meant that we had an opportunity for a new system to ensure our survival. Evolutionary theorists state that as new organisms with broken off ear bones emerged, they were able to create a new system for communicating that would lead to higher chances of survival for that species. This new system came in the form of using our vocal cords to create sound frequencies that would be undetected by organisms that could only detect the bass frequencies through bone conduction.
We were then able to transmit and receive higher frequencies and specific ranges of frequencies using varying tension of vocal cords to communicate with members of our offspring and kin to signal danger and to flow information from one brain to another that would increase the survival of this group.
If we look at Constructal Law again, this makes sense. The information flow that was occurring before the middle ear broke off restricted us in two ways: Because it was linked to our unmyelinated system, any time there was a sound of threat, it didn’t leave us too many options for variable, trial and error behavior, or movement. It also meant that we could not transmit information that was accumulating from interacting with our environment in efficient ways. Passing information through genes is one way we do this, however, this does not allow for flexibility in responding – and this inflexibility means that we do not efficiently find new ways of surviving, which means fewer chances of movement across new terrains (which means new information exposure, which means evolution, which means continued survival).
Moreover, this is where we see imbalances between the input and output of ‘data’.
If I am constantly on a screen, I am moving through multiple ‘terrains’ more quickly than I do if say, I go for a walk in nature. In nature, there is a lot less motion. Trees do not react instantaneously to my actions, the ground is perceived as solid and continues to feel that way as I walk along. The speed of data is such that I can take in input and it is not requiring me to respond with a high level of complexity.
This is not true when we turn to our screens. The amount of data I am taking in is in proportion to the amount of data flow that has been released into the channels that are flowing to my ‘receptors’ (my eyes, ears). The more data that has been released into these channels, the more combinations new data get generated, which increases the volume/pressure of information flowing through the channels. The Constructal Law predicts that this high pressure system will need to release this pressure to a lower pressure/lower volume system through roots resembling lightning forks or the roots of the tree, or the branches of dendrites of neurons.
So these massive amounts of pressure (information/data) are then streamed into the channels that I then connect to (via my phone/computer). I am receiving high amounts of data. The longer the internet has been around, the more data there is. The amount of data pressure being released to me through the computer back in 1998 was only the build up of much lower populations adding their input into the system. The channels for streaming it also faced much more friction/restriction (think of dial-up modems!). Because we did not have mobile technology at the time, there were fairly long periods of time each day where I was not being exposed to those high amounts of data pressure.
If we are only in the mode of ‘ingesting’ without digestion/release – whether it is food or information, eventually the equilibrium is shifted and our systems MUST shut down. From a physics perspective, there can be no other way. Just as ion channels open and close according to different thresholds, if the amount of negative ions exceeds this threshold, the channel closes – or releases positive ions in order to restore the equilibrium.
If I am continuously ‘ingesting’ data and not releasing any of the pressure that is coming from the neural energy forming from the new combinations of neural networks due to this data, my system will go into disequilibrium.
This would also happen the other way: if I continue to output data (release and express ‘information) without any input, there is another disequilibrium.
Let me say it in a more personal way with some examples:
When I am in the mode of ‘learning’: I am watching YouTubes, reading, consuming. Each moment I consume, new combinations of neural activity are occurring, creating more energy/data in my brain.
If I continue to learn and watch and consume information but I don’t take time to ‘digest’ it (meaning allow my brain to process it), I actually begin to feel it viscerally: I get headaches, my head feels like it is ‘spinning’. I can’t slow down my thoughts. I sometimes feel physically ill. I did not always understand what was happening.. I just knew that I wasn’t ‘saying what I wanted to say’ and this felt bad.
What I have noticed in myself is that after a period of consuming information, I need two things: rest and expression.
Our brains naturally help us ‘digest’ information during sleep. This is where our brain literally ‘makes room’ for new, updated information and prunes away old, unused networks. It does this using microglial cells …..
So sleep is one way that helps me decrease some of the pressure in my brain that is coming from increased exposure to data.
However – from personal experience, I also know that sleep is only part of this process. It helps me ‘update’ networks by integrating the most recent data I have ingested into existing, and well-used pathways. But this does not seem to be enough to ‘relieve’ or release the pressure of all the new combinations of neural information that is generating electrochemical energy in my brain.
The only way that I feel this energy gets released is through “expression”. This can be understood in terms of the Constructal Law: the input from my brain can be released through various channels moving from the electrochemical in my brain as ‘data’ to the outside environment. These channels include my throat (tenuated by my vocal cords and diaphragm) and hands. My hands using hand gestures can only express so many combinations, so this is not the most efficient system for releasing pressure. My fingers typing on a keyboard are able to combine higher combinations of symbols to be able to more efficiently transmit the data being combined and generated in my mind to the outside world. So writing feels like I am releasing pressure. The better I get at writing in ways that truly express the data generation in my mind, the ‘better’ or the more ‘relieved’ I feel.
But remember, if I kept writing without any type of consumption and integration, it would eventually feel what I would call ‘draining’. I would feel like there was not enough pressure coming from the neural activity to be released in a high-flowing way through my words.
I need releasing of data – without live interaction as well (meaning no human reactivity that I have to continuously interrupt the release of data through my expressive branches). So my releasing of data must have periods where I am not ‘texting/ or writing in order to have almost instantaneous feedback from another human. This is because this feedback is a form of input – I am releasing data from a high pressure system to another high pressure system – which means I am consuming almost the same amount of data that I am releasing = which is not allowing me to fully release data from high pressure to low pressure.