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Exploring the Intersection of Neuroscience and the Relational Universe

How canalization represents our inhabiting a relational universe.

Sensemaking is a SpiritDAO community-created weekly column about applying our philosophy and practice to everyday life.

This week's contributors: Ron Rivers

Exploring the Intersection of Neuroscience and the Relational Universe

Neuroscientists presently leverage models of the brain as energy landscapes with various peaks and valleys to describe attractors and our experience within them. Traditionally defined as a stable state or patterns where dynamic systems converge, we can apply attractors as deeply held beliefs and actions following them that bring a future into the present. For example, suppose an individual genuinely embraces a message and believes that writing a book is the ideal method of spreading it. In that case, this vision impacts my behavior—writing daily and becoming an author becomes a valley I find myself in through the prolonged direction of focus and energy. The same may be said for saying, "I am useless," or identifying with a particular set of political beliefs, “I am a….” Each scenario is called canalization, the idea that our frameworks of meaning and value (beliefs) dictate behavior. Over time, the deeper we find ourselves within specific valleys, the more challenging it is to conceptualize alternatives. 

The difference between these two examples, a significant focus of this recent paper, is that one is healthy behavior. The other is pathological—extreme, obsessive, compulsive, or so far from the norm that they cause harm or dysfunction. That neuroscience is branching definitions of canalization as a means of making sense of why we act the way we do highlights how we can leverage this knowledge to guide our daily lives. 

The ‘Waddington Landscape’ – first introduced in 1957 (Waddington, 2014). The ball represents the individual observer within a moment heading towards a trajectory. The deep the valleys the more entrenched we would consider a belief/attractor.

We may apply the single truth and relational universe to brain dynamics by recognizing the interconnectedness of the brain's structure and function with the broader cosmos. Similarities exist between the complex structural and mathematical patterns of neuronal activity and the universe's cosmic web. In many ways, canalization represents a distinct link between the frameworks of meaning and value we embody and who we, and in turn, the world becomes. Some valleys are so deep, so dogmatically embraced, that we as individuals struggle to see beyond them. Others empower us to create the new, to exercise our powers of divinity within a moment. 

The research also explores disorder and how the most probable brain states are characterized by minimal energy and common activation profiles across brain areas. This finding aligns with the single truth's emphasis on change as the fundamental aspect of reality, as the brain's structure and function constantly adapt to energetic and structural constraints. Similar to our experience as observers within an informational universe. 

We can apply our understanding of the relational universe to the observation that cognitive systems display distinct patterns of within- and between-system energies optimized for integrated or segregated function. This suggests that the brain's organization and dynamics are influenced by the interconnectedness of its components and their relationships with the broader environment. We are it, all of it, and simultaneously bound to a fractional embodiment that can fall prey to becoming convinced that we only embody the worst of what the world may offer. 

Our core values of awareness and flexibility can help us navigate the concept of canalization in modern neuroscience by allowing us to adapt and respond to the constraints and predispositions that canalization presents—specifically, beliefs, traits, and actions that can limit possible outcomes.

Awareness, as a core value, enables us to recognize and understand the influence of canalization on our thoughts, behaviors, and experiences. By bringing awareness to the totality of the moment, we can draw attention to the genetic and environmental factors that influence our lives, better comprehending the limitations and possibilities within a given moment and acting upon them in alignment with our ideal. This understanding allows us to make more informed choices and take actions that align with the single truth and the relational universe.

On the other hand, flexibility empowers us to adapt and respond to the constraints imposed by canalization. By embracing flexibility, we can challenge and overcome the limitations set by our genetic and environmental factors, opening up new possibilities for growth and self-actualization. Flexibility allows us to explore alternative paths and perspectives, fostering a more dynamic and adaptable mindset to better navigate our ever-changing world's complexities. 

In circumstances of pathological behavior, our core value of flexibility forces us to question our trajectory even when it makes complete sense. That others we love and trust might advise against our actions and beliefs are an ego check, encouraging us to exercise our core value of relation and the broader connectivity within a moment. 

Awareness and flexibility enable us to approach canalization with curiosity and openness rather than being confined by environmental and self-created constraints. By cultivating these core values, we can better align ourselves with the single truth and the relational universe, ultimately fostering a deeper connection with ourselves, others, and the world around us.

Weekly Happenings

🎤 Ron Rivers was recently a guest on the Chiwi Journal podcast with Camellia Yang!

🔨 Development of our onboarding process and content continues to progress - Bonfire is likely to be our selected onboarding platform.

🧘‍♀️ Our weekly contemplative practices continue to grow in attendees, if you haven't already join our discord or telegram to be kept up to date on weekly connections.

✋ If you're looking for opportunities to become more involved in SpiritDAO now is a great time, we're moving closer to launch every week! Connect with us!

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#relational universe#neuroscience#core values
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