In some small colonies of ants if their queen accidentally dies soldier ants engage in ritual fights with each other. Such battles can continue for several days. Ants don’t use in those battles jaws, their most lethal weapons. They are only fencing with their antennae. The most resilient keep fighting longer than others. They become winners without winning.
The level of dopamine, the neurotransmitter of desire, in their bodies increases several folds during those fights. The increase leads to epigenetic changes, activation of dormant and toggling of active genes in their genome and physiological transformation of their organisms. Ordinary soldier ants, all sterile females, regain fertility. Their abdomens grow, their brains shrink and their lifespan of a few weeks increases to several years or even decades. They become gamergates - warrior-queens.
Gamergate fights are yet another example of winnerless competition, the mechanism that mother nature applies quite universally to create systems which can rapidly shift between several states of dynamic equilibrium. The purpose of such a mechanism is to enable the system to flexibly and rapidly react to abrupt changes in the environment, such as an accidental death of an ant queen that would normally lead to the death of the entire colony.
Neurons in human brains are also engaged in winnerless competition with each other unless they get locked in more rigid ‘winner takes it all’ master-slave relationships. In winnerless competition master and slave are continuously swapping places. Multiple repetitions of the same action lead to the master-slave lock-in of neurons. Modern systems of education and work as well as accumulation of habits, all repetitive patterns of behavior reinforce fixing of neurons in rigid states.
Dopamine is involved in almost all processes in the human brain. Yet curiosity, the desire to learn new patterns by resolving ambiguity activates brain’s longest dopaminergic loop that produces highest concentrations of the hormone in hippocampus and neocortex. Desire to play is as important in the game of curiosity as the play itself.
I speculate that when the concentration of dopamine reaches a threshold the brain switches on the turbo-charged regime of thinking of what we don’t know, activates the prior intelligence, that originally evolved for resolving ambiguity (the mysterious, unexpected uncertainty, the Omega number). Turbo-charged brain produces even more dopamine creating a strong positive reinforcing feedback loop. Ordinary humans don’t turn into warrior-queens but began to think like geniuses as a result.
Epigenetic changes in the brain may be short living. When researchers put an ant undergoing gamergate transformation into a colony with a queen local ants got hold of the newcomer and held it in place until the transformation stopped and the ant returned to normal. Humans in the supercharged mode of prior intelligence can be also forced to return to 'normal’ by policing. Reinforcement is specially designed to hold the brain in place.
Many anthropologists attribute shrinking of the human brain by 10% over the last 20 thousand years to self-domestication of human species that took place after the Neolithic industrial revolution. They claim that like other domesticated species humans became less aggressive and their brains shrank as a result.
However we, modern humans, have a much larger brain than our closest living relatives, bonobos and chimps and yet we behave much more peacefully compared to them. It doesn’t look like high level of aggression in primates requires a large brain. Hence there should be another reason. Making the resource intensive prior intelligence dormant due to stable and predictable conditions of human stables sounds like a more plausible explanation.
Good news is that we can find a solution if we recognize the problem. The untapped potential of the supercharged human natural intelligence is huge. Negative consequences if we fail to tap it are obvious.
“Man like all other organisms lives in a contingent universe, but man’s advantage over the rest of nature is that he has the physiological and intellectual equipment to adapt himself to radical changes in his environment. The human species is strong only insofar as it takes advantage of the innate adaptive, learning faculties that its physiological structure makes possible.”
Norbert Wiener, the Father of Cybernetics, Human Use of Human beings
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