Friday, July 5, 2013

There is No "Primitive" Part of the Brain

Was watching some old interview about "emotional intelligence" (itself a fraught term, but that's for another day) last night, when the interviewee (Daniel Goleman) calmly stated that emotional intelligence comes from your "primitive brain" that "arose earlier in evolution".  ARGHGHSAGHGHGH

(Click for time of offending remark)

This idea of there being a "primitive" brain crops up all over the place, and from reputable sources:

"This means that areas traditionally considered to be more primitive were just as important during our evolution." (Professor Robert Barton, Durham University, said that).  N.B. please see this comment from Dr. Barton:  As one of the people quoted, I am going to cry foul! I do completely agree with your thesis, and that was the point of my comment about "areas TRADITIONALLY ASSUMED to be primitive". I have been on a mission to repudiate the "ice cream scoop" idea of brain evolution, and have shown that cortex and subcortical structures co-evolved. So keep up the good work, but please don't attack those who agree! Robert Barton  But note that despite his good intentions, his quote eventually led to this article - the number one hit on google for "primitive brain" - to be written.  The phrase has power!

"They suggest that new learning isn't simply the smarter bits of our brain such as the cortex 'figuring things out.' Instead, we should think of learning as interaction between our primitive brain structures and our more advanced cortex. In other words, primitive brain structures might be the engine driving even our most advanced high-level, intelligent learning abilities" (Picower Professor of Neuroscience Earl Miller, MIT, said that).

"It's like adding scoops to an ice cream cone.  So if you imagine the lizard brain as a single-scoop ice cream cone, the way you make a mouse brain out of a lizard brain isn't to throw the cone and the first scoop away and start over and make a banana split — rather, it's to put a second scoop on top of the first scoop." (Professor David Linden, Johns Hopkins, said that).

Now let me explain why this is all complete BS.

First, semantics.  What is "primitive"?  How do you measure a tissue's "primitivity"?  In the common usage of the word, primitive means simple, especially in the context of a task, idea, structure, way of life, etc that was employed a long time ago.  Cavemen were more primitive than us, for example.  Unfortunately, this means that "primitive" is a word that refers to things both "ancient" AND "simple".  Which, as we'll see, is a big problem when you start applying it to mean only one of those things as occurs with the "primitive brain" meme.

Second, what are people actually talking about when they say "primitive brain"?  This is confused as well, but in general the thought is structured like this:

Most primitive - brain stem, pons, cerebellum.  (The hindbrain, basically).

Also primitive - the limbic system where "limbic" means "border, edge".  This includes the hippocampus, amygdala, parts of the thalamus (who knows why), some of cortex, and some other bits.  It's supposed to do "emotion" and this is what Daniel Goleman is referring to when he talks about the "primitive brain".  Really though it's just a lumping together of all the structures right near the inner border of cortex, because why not lump it all together?

Gloriously advanced - the mighty cortex (you know, the wrinkly part on the outside).

Third, why do people say that these particular brain structures are "primitive"?  The idea is that evolutionarily, one came after the other.  As in, the first vertebrate just had a brain stem.  Then it evolved more stuff after that.  Then as things kept evolving, more and more stuff got added on.  This is the "ice cream cone" model that David Linden espouses.  It's also incredibly stupid (or at least misleading).  Let's break it down.

Evolution did not happen like this:

Evolution did happen like this:

 I hope everyone pretty much understands the concept of a phylogeny and the fact that every vertebrate came from one common ancestor.  Yes, the common ancestor was a kind of fish.  No, today's fish aren't the same as the common ancestor.  They evolved from it just like everyone else, although "rates" of evolutionary phenomena like mutation and drift can vary and that's beyond the scope of this post.

The point is that the "primitive" brain meme is born in the idea that the brain components fish, lizards, mice, and humans share in common must be evolutionarily ancient and were likely shared in common by the common ancestor.  So, homologous structures across the phylogeny indicate "ancientness".  And "ancientness" = "primitive".  (Except it doesn't, but more on that in a second).

And since we all share structures that resemble the brain stem, voilà!  That's the most primitive part of the brain.  Here's where things go astray.

First, we don't just share the brain stem with all animals.  Here's the real "ice cream cone" of the brain:


And when I say "the" brain, I should say "all vertebrate brains".  Every fish, bird (including reptiles), amphibian, and mammal has a brain that starts out looking like the pictures above.  Each colored bump (or "scoop of ice cream") represents a region of the brain very early on in development, when the whole nervous system is basically a simple tube.  Each bump goes on to expand to varying sizes into varying kind of structures and yadda yadda depending on the species.  The point, though, is that all vertebrates have a forebrain, a midbrain, and a hindbrain.  And the hindbrain, by the way, is the "primitive" brain stem.  But clearly, humans, fish, lizards, and mice all evolved from a common ancestor that had all brain regions, not just the hindbrain.

This is why David Linden's ice cream analogy is so dumb.  He's implying that first you start with one scoop, the hindbrain, then add on another (the midbrain), and finally one more (the forebrain).  Or at least he led NPR to believe that's the case:

When mammals like mice came along, the lizard brain didn't go away. It simply became the brain stem, which is perched on top of the spine, Linden says.  Then evolution slapped more brain on top of the brain stem.
But that's not what happened at all.  All the scoops were there to begin with.  Then as adaptation took its course, different scoops got bigger or smaller or just different as you began comparing across the entire phylogeny.  Yes, humans have an enormous cortex and lizards don't.  And yes, lizards simply evolved a different-looking kind of forebrain.  That's all.

Second, homology does NOT imply "ancientness".  Even if the hindbrain looks pretty similar across the vertebrate phylogeny as it exists today, that doesn't make it "ancient".  The hindbrain has been evolving just like the midbrain and the forebrain.  Maybe it's not been changing as much, but it's still been changing.

This leads me to why the "primitive" notion is so misleading, and should be avoided:

(1) Calling a part of the brain "primitive" suggests what David Linden articulated: that brain evolution happened like stacking scoops of ice cream.  It implies that our brain stem is no different than that of a lizard, or of a mouse, or of a fish.  Yet despite their vast similarities, they are clearly not the same.  You can't plug a human forebrain into a lizard hindbrain and expect the thing to work.  The hindbrain of humans HAD to adapt to having an enormous forebrain.  There's something seductive in the idea that inside all of us is a primal being, a "reptilian brain".  There isn't.  It's a human brain, top to bottom.

(2) Calling brain parts "primitive" because they are shared across phylogeny is often used to justify how amazing our human cortex is.  Look at what makes us us!  We're so great!  Well, I guess.  But we are just one little excursion among many that evolution has produced.  The lizard brain is adapated for what lizards need to do.  The fish brain is adapted for what fish need to do.  They don't have "primitive" brains.  They have highly adapted brains, just like any other vertebrate.

(3) Simply using the word "primitive" makes the casual reader think of cavemen.  It just does.  And that's even more ridiculous, because ancient Homo sapiens were still Homo sapiens.  Read what this poor misinformed blogger has written:

So, let me explain the Primitive brain in simple terms. We have an Intellectual (rational) part of the brain and a Primitive (emotional) part of the brain. In the picture above, the Primitive brain is around the Hippocampus and Hypothalamus areas. In some texts, it has also been called the Limbic System.
The subconscious Primitive part has been there ever since we were cavemen and cavewomen, and houses our fight/flight/freeze response (in the amygdala in between the Hippocampus and the Hypothalamus). Its function is to ensure our survival.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.  You see?  You see??????

 (4) There is not just a "primitive, emotional brain" and a "complex, intellectual brain".  That is so.... wrong.  Factually wrong.  Yet people like Daniel Goleman sell books about emotional intelligence claiming that people need to develop their "emotional brain" and then bloggers like Carrie (above) start internalizing and spreading the misinformation.  Folks.  Let me be clear.  You have ONE brain.  One.  It has many parts, which is to say that humans looking at brains have found ways to subdivide them into various areas and regions and structures and whatnot.  Regardless of all that, the whole damn thing works together.  It's one big circuit that does emotion, rationality, sensation, movement, the whole shebang.  There isn't a simplistic "emotion" part and an "intellectual" part.  The cortex is involved in emotions and feelings.  The basal ganglia are involved in cognition.  In fact, the whole idea of splitting emotion and reason into two separate camps is fraught, as emotion turns out to be critical in reasoning tasks like decision-making.

(5) The "primitiveness" of lizard brains is vastly overstated.  Things like this get written about the "primitive brain":
A lizard brain is about survival — it controls heart rate and breathing, and processes information from the eyes and ears and mouth.
This implies, to the casual reader, that lizards are just sitting around breathing.  Maybe there's some "survival instinct" in there: look out for that big hawk!  Yeah, okay.  But guess what?  Lizards gotta do other stuff too.  They have to reproduce, find food, navigate their environment, learn, remember, make choices, etc.  They aren't just breathing and instinct machines.  And because they aren't, that means their brains aren't just doing that either.  And why is it always lizards and reptiles?  You'd think fish would get picked on more.

(6) "Primitive" in the context of a brain part primarily means "ancient".  But the word "primitive", as we already saw, connotes simplicity.  This leaves laypeople with many misconceptions.  First, that the brain stem, or the "emotional brain", or whatever is simple.  Or even that they're simpler.  Nope.  Not really.  Pretty much every part of the brain is complex.  Second, it reinforces, in the case of the "emotional brain", that emotions are beneath intellect.  They came first, they are older, they are simpler, they are the stupid part of your brain.  Again, just no.  You need emotions to survive just as you need your intellect to survive.  Fish need their emotions (an emotion, after all, is just a representation of bodily state imbued with a certain postive/negative valence) just like they need their reasoning abilities as well.

(7) People using "primitive" as scientists do it because it can sound cool and surprising.  Look at how Earl Miller framed it, from above:

"They suggest that new learning isn't simply the smarter bits of our brain such as the cortex 'figuring things out.' Instead, we should think of learning as interaction between our primitive brain structures and our more advanced cortex. In other words, primitive brain structures might be the engine driving even our most advanced high-level, intelligent learning abilities"

Look at that result!  A primitive thing did something advanced!  The forgotten thing is important!  Or maybe - this is going to sound crazy - the whole system evolved together in order to support such essential tasks like learning.  There never was a primitive part or an advanced part, despite two areas or regions being labeled as such.  Every part of the human brain has been evolving for the same amount of time as every other part, and has been evolving to work as best as possible with each of those other parts.

(8) Finally, let's return to Daniel Goleman, who argues that "emotional intelligence" arises from the "primitive emotional brain".  Then he waxes on and on about the value of emotional intelligence, particularly as it relates to social abilities.  Ability to understand your own emotions.  Ability to perceive those of others.  Ability to interact well with others on the basis of understanding their emotions.  Et cetera.  That's all fine, but by saying this comes from an ancient, primitive, emotional brain might make people think that ancient vertebrates really had to know themselves, be able to read others, and interact socially.  But there's a whole lot of solitary, nonsocial vertebrate species out there folks, and they have brainstems and limbic systems too.

Okay folks.  Hopefully never again will you refer to a part of the brain as "primitive."  Some structures probably more closely resemble their homologous counterparts in the last common ancestor of vertebrates, but all the basic parts were there from the beginning.  And remember, evolution didn't happen just to make humans.  We aren't more advanced in an evolutionary sense than fish, lizards, or mice.  Each species is just adapted to the roles it finds itself in, and continues to adapt.  Our sense of being "advanced" comes purely from our own self-regard and anthropocentric tendencies. The human brain is not the best brain, nor is it the most advanced brain, because there's no scale on which to measure how good a brain is.  

To reiterate: we don't have primitive brain parts.  Your urges, desires, rages, and other feelings you think you shouldn't have can't be excused away to a "primitive" brain.  You are your brain - the whole thing.


  1. You make good points and I enjoyed the read. I would almost completely agree. However, primitive comes from 'primus' which means 'the first' (not 'the old', like 'ancient'). 'Primitive brain' should only mean that this structure was aoround early on. It is, indeed, very misinterpreted. Statements often don't make clear that this is a macro-anatomical distinction and not a functional one. You make the point that all the brain areas were there all along. That is discussable. People would not call a cluster of cells that in some animals one day would become a precursor to a - let's say - cortex, an actual cortex, as little as one would say all vertebrates had legs, and that in early fish they just didn't look like legs. The cells that in vertebrates make legs at some point, of course are traceable back to precursers of fins. That doesn't really make them the same thing.

    1. There are certainly structures (like mammalian six-layered cortex or whatnot) that almost certainly weren't in the last common ancestor of all vertebrates. But! That just means that the forebrain took a different turn in mammals than it did in other species. And just because the hindbrain didn't take so many different turns doesn't mean it wasn't also changing. The primitive form - the "first" form, as you rightly say - should only refer to the actual brain of the last common ancestor. After that, every part of the brain is no longer the same as adaptation and drift have their way. And because they aren't the same, they aren't "primitive", in my view.

    2. Makes absolute sense! Thanks for commenting!

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  2. As one of the people quoted, I am going to cry foul! I do completely agree with your thesis, and that was the point of my comment about "areas TRADITIONALLY ASSUMED to be primitive". I have been on a mission to repudiate the "ice cream scoop" idea of brain evolution, and have shown that cortex and subcortical structures co-evolved. So keep up the good work, but please don't attack those who agree! Robert Barton

    1. Ah! I'm glad to hear it and I'll put your comment next to your quote in the piece. But it's interesting to see that in your case, your quote led to much other misinterpretation. For instance, that press release that I pulled the quote from led to this piece:

      And that piece is now the number-one link if you google "primitive brain"! So perhaps the term should simply be avoided.

  3. The real question here is: Who gives a shit? Whether something is called primitive, advanced, or argle-bargle. They are just labels with no impact on the mechanisms those scientists are examining.

    1. I think the issue is important because it impacts how people understand and think about the brain. I like it when the most people are the most correct about a thing - as opposed to everyone being wrong or misinformed. And it's not just a layperson issue, scientists themselves can build on this misconception to derive incorrect assumptions that then lead their research astray. There were years when the entirety of neuroscience held that birds were stupid instinctual creatures because they didn't have a cortex like mammals do. Then it turned out that structures in their "wulst" (the forebrain) strongly recapitulated structures in mammals. I was pointed to this reference on twitter (H/T @justindgregg and @feathered_ape):

      So misconceptions are impactful, and therefore rectifying them is important.

  4. I would like to emphasize that cavemen weren't any more simple than us. They may have lived without modern, advanced technologies and writing, but the more we learn about them, the more evidences we encounter that they were just as intelligent as us. Like Newton, we are standing on the shoulders of these people and everyone who came after them. Even Neanderthals are now know to have been much more advanced than once thought... well, here:

    1. very true! although the word 'primitive' might be more applicable when talking about tools they used and the like? I mean, compared to the tools we have. I dunno - it's a different context I suppose.

      But for sure, they didn't have any more 'primitive' brains than we do!

  5. just came across your blog. Great article. Fascinating actually. Has given me much food for thought. Thanks Jason!

    Darren A

    1. Thanks! Glad it gave you something to think about :-)

  6. Thank you for this! This has given me a great deal of food for thought. My daughter & I are working on an educational video on fear in the brain, and our first thought was, "so, the amygdala, then," - but of course, similarly, the more we look into it the less the simplified pop-neuro version holds up, and the more complicated the reality turns out to be.

    1. Thanks! I've now gone from reading science fiction -> pop neuro -> college courses -> grad school and "real" science and let me tell you, the rabbit hole never ends! It always gets more complicated.

      Good luck on the video!

  7. "And why is it always lizards and reptiles? You'd think fish would get picked on more"...

    I am following your advice and picking on my daughter's goldfish on behalf of lizards and reptiles everywhere :)

  8. Thanks for this one. I've been trying to make a similar point for some time:

    But yours is better.

  9. Assuming your thesis to be correct there is still the matter functionality over time. Even if brains had about the same overall structure it's a bit of stretch to deduce they functioned the same way. As such, imho, one can speak of 'primitive' brains in terms of functionality. Otherwise it sounds a bit like intelligent design, as if the end product was already predetermined. But still, a nice thesis nonetheless

    1. The only scientifically meaningful definition of 'primitive' has to mean 'that which most resembles the last common ancestor' and even in that case the term should be avoided as it's fraught with connontation. From that point of view though, the answer is the same when it comes to functionality - how do we know which modern brains (across all chordates) most resemble those of the last common ancestor? It's a tricky question (although perhaps theoretically answerable).

      I agree, of course, that not all brains function the same way. They certainly don't, and they certainly haven't over the course of evolutionary time. My main purpose in raising the developmental aspects of the brain (that the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain have all been there since the last common ancestor of vertebrates) is mainly to refute the ice cream scoop hypothesis.

      The analogous functional argument to ice cream scoop is that first organisms learned instinctual things like breathing and eating and reproducing, then they added more and more complex behaviors or whatever until you end up with humans (very intelligent design-y!). But this is just as wrong - there's functional similarity across phylogeny as well (see point 5, above). All vertebrates need to learn, to adapt, to integrate information across time and space (nonvertebrates, too!). In other words, some of the "higher order" functions of the brain were certainly present in the last common ancestor, just as the basic structural organization was present. And just like the structures adapted over evolutionary time, so too have the functions they perform.

    2. Still i maintain it is a useful term to use in the context of popscience. It is a clear easy image for almost anyone to comprehend even when formally, physically, analogous neural networks existed/exist.

      To me it is beyond a question of doubt that homo sapiens is 99% controlled by the common primate part and only are capable to slightly maneuvre within the limits set by that common part plus are manipulated into making decisions based upon what the primate 'brain' wants.

      That what we tend to call emotions are the nonverbal expressions of that primate 'brain' and by lack of serious connections between the different layers (neocortex/older stuff) aren't capable to place.

      As such we are merely along for the ride, with an illusion of free will.
      I wrote something along those lines and did use the terms you so dislike. But the limbic system did 'crop up' after the earlier system. It came into existence as a functional complex neural network, even whilst the physical subsystems were in place beforehand.

      So in conclusion, you are right in saying that physically there is no such thing as a primitive brain, you are wrong in denying that a primitive functional neural system such as the limbic came into existence later.

      It confuses rather than clarifies. Imho :)

    3. Ah I see.

      (1) Developmentally, mammalian limbic structures arise from the same telencephalon (forebrain) that was present in the last common ancestor (LCA) (and actually the metencephalon too). This means that the mammalian brain took some different turns than did other branches of the tree.

      (2) There's a dangerous assumption in the "older-younger" line of thinking. Can we truly compare an "older" structure to a "younger" one? Let's say the superior colliculus is structurally/functionally pretty similar across phylogeny (it is), does that make it older than the neocortex? No, because there's no such thing as "the" superior colliculus! There's a human superior colliculus, a chimpanzee superior colliculus, a frog superior colliculus, etc etc. These superior colliculi have still been evolving for the same amount of time as the rest of all the brains that have them. The current human superior colliculus is, by definition, the same distance in evolutionary time from the LCA as the current human neocortex. Now, it could be that one has experienced greater change than the other (probably the case) but that doesn't make one older or younger.

      (3) What is the point of calling something 'primitive' - or calling something older or younger - anyway? If I say that, what am I communicating to my audience? There's not much scientific merit in it. And it's not that interesting. Popscience readers gain nothing by thinking that they have 'primitive' brain parts. They don't. If I want to talk to readers about parts of the limbic system, I'll just talk about the parts. The structure and function of the hippocampus is cool enough! I can discuss across phylogeny too by comparing the rodent hippocampus to the primate. Neat! In none of that is there a need to put a fake age on a structure. That only reinforces misconceptions as in point 3 in the original post.


      Okay now some other points:

      (4) Similarity is not identity. So there's no "common primate part", only very similar parts across all primates. It may seem like a trivial point but it's important.

      (5) It's just wrong to suggest that the connections between cortex and limbic structures like hippocampus, amygdala, certain thalamic nuclei aren't "serious". There are tons of connections between these areas and cortex! And what makes a connection "serious" or not? Hell, the anterior cingulate cortex is PART of the limbic system in most groupings.

      (6) Okay, the limbic system is just kind of a mish-mosh of a system in the first place. I'm not a huge fan of it because I think it leads people to pigeonhole the structures involved into only some of the functions they're involved in. (for instance, the amygdala ain't just fear). That said, the name lingers on. But for anyone reading this - don't just think that because someone says "limbic system = emotion" that emotion is the ONLY thing that those structures do. Brains are never that simple.

  10. great article. Just would one explain the phenomenon of blindsight while taking into account the information in your post?

    1. I'm not an expert on blindsight (evolutionarily or otherwise). In humans (and probably all mammals?) the superior colliculus is responsible for blindsight, in the sense that the superior colliculus receives visual input that appears to be nonconsciously processed. There's plenty of homology in superior colliculi across phylogeny, but I can't speak to whether or not the visual processing that goes on there is conscious or nonconscious.

  11. As a "layperson" who lacks complete understanding of what you are saying, I have been struggling to determine the "Source of Evil" and evidently mistakenly thought it arose in people like Hitler, Stalin and serial killers
    because the "primitive" reptilian part of their brains over-rode their "moral"
    reasoning part of their brains that adhered to the Golden Rule. I realize this is not "science" but I crave understanding and I just can't come to grips with
    the cruelty some humans inflict upon fellow human beings. Incidentally, I am 92
    and still haven't been able to figure it out.

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    1. "So, while the “primitive brain/ logical brain” model is probably technically false, it is useful in describing human behavior.”

      I agree that models are only abstractions of reality, and that any given model can be technically wrong while still being useful (though the user should be aware of how that given model is technically wrong and therefore know its limitations!). I would extend your reasoning though and argue that a model's utility is in both its descriptive AND predictive power. In both cases, the “primitive” brain model fails (and not on a technicality). See points 1, 5, 6, and 8 above where I discuss how it fails to describe reality and makes some weird predictions.

      But that's all the “primitive” part (which was the main thrust of my post). I suspect you're reacting here to the related-but-distinct emotional/rational brain part (See point 4 from the original post). Your argument is that dividing the brain into emotional drives and rational controls is a useful model, and perhaps it is. I would reiterate here two things: (A) This division doesn't require that the emotional side be “primitive” (!) and (B) This model is obviously way too simplistic. As I discuss in point 4, emotion and reason aren't all that distant from each other when you start digging into it.

    2. “Your rant about the “primitive” brain illustrates how scientists use logic to argue against ideas that have emotional resonance “

      The emotional resonance comment really struck a chord with me. I absolutely think that both the emotional/rational brain and the “primitive” brain ideas DO resonate. So because you've inspired me to think about it, here are my (pure) speculations about where that resonance comes from:

      I think we humans are drawn to the "primitive" brain idea because it gives us something to blame for behaviors we do that we think are wrong in some way (smoking, in your example). To speak a bit off the cuff, we want to distance ourselves from our "sins" and "sinful thoughts" and that's what the "primitive" brain model allows us to do. "Jeez, I can't help having that impulse", we tell ourselves, "that's just my primitive brain." [Sidenote, but isn't that cool, if true? That our brain has systems in place for dealing with the mistakes it makes? Think guilt, distancing, etc].

      More broadly, people like understanding stuff. People like there to be explanations for things. But they also like things to be simple, so that there's not a lot of energy required to understand those explanations (scientists, by the way, are no different in that respect). The emotional/rational brain division idea meets these criteria and has the added bonus that it jives with our own conscious experience. It really can feel like we're a little rational humunculus riding a giant nonconscious unpredictable emotional beast. Perhaps we're steering it or perhaps it is steering us, et cetera. Very truthy!!! But true?

    3. Finally, some remarks about science communication and connecting with the audience. I agree wholeheartedly that my post is a giant rant and probably ends up preaching to the choir more than bringing on converts. On the other hand, this topic isn't exactly evolution vs creationism. Do people really have their guards up on the “primitive” brain issue? Or is it something that most have heard, accepted but didn't really think about, and therefore are open to revisiting? How strongly held does a belief have to be before an “emotional connection” is required between scientist and nonscientist as you describe it?

      Of course, even if the reader is open to revisiting this belief, my tone could be too off-putting. Too much logic or whatever. I don't know whether to apologize for that or to put my sunglasses on and kindly request that the reader deal with it. Frankly, it depends on what I think the purpose of this post is. I wrote it as a one-off rant that had been percolating for quite a while, with the idea that maybe people who google “primitive brain” or “primitive part of the brain” might stumble across it and read with an open and appropriately skeptical mind. For those purposes I'm more or less satisfied with my tone. But if this was part of a campaign to educate "the public” about science? Then maybe there are better ways.

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  13. Interesting article, but I definitely did not like the tone of it. How you worded it made it seem like you were angry. A real turn-off for readers.

    1. I was angry. Well, internet sarcastic exasperated anyway.

      Let's say you hear in a news report or in conversation somewhere down the line someone reference a "primitive part of the brain". How would you react:

      A) Acceptance, there probably are some primitive parts of the brain.
      B) Denial, there probably isn't a primitive part of the brain because the term doesn't make sense.
      C) Equivocation, maybe there is and maybe there isn't a primitive part of the brain.

      I'd be happiest if my readers left with B, but C is fine with me too. The tone question then is whether it's possible to turn people off so much that they stick with A. (Or, if I had written with a cheerful tone, would I leave more readers in B rather than C. Or what if the tone was responsible for how much traffic this got?).

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  15. Unfortunately, people can be as stupid when misinterpreting theoretical physics. Just look at how many people are still trying to make perpetual motion machines using zero-point energy. I don't know of any misinterpretation of the Higgs boson or particle physics at this point, but it probably exists, or be sure it won't take long!

  16. I'm going to reference this post on my blog: Asperger brains are supposedly "defective" but this is based on very sketchy (and somewhat crazy) ideas about the brain - more religious than scientific, more prejudiced than thoughtful; that is, I doubt that psychologists etc. have a clue as to what "brain" they are talking about. It's my hypothesis that we simply have vision-dominant perception and processing, which is concrete and fact-based. Thanks for the info.