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Journal Article

Finding likeness

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Turner,  Robert
Department Neurophysics, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Turner, R. (2019). Finding likeness. Anthropology Today, 35(3), 3-6. doi:10.1111/1467-8322.12503.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0003-A58D-4
Abstract
To efficiently survive, living creatures require some means of recording their experiences, predicting future experiences on the firm basis of such recordings and deciding on actions that help survival and reproduction. For us humans, this is provided by our very large brains. Our brains are adaptable; indeed, we never use the same brain twice. There are two main mechanisms: reversible synaptic plasticity and the irreversible myelination of axons. Culture can be seen as the store of world knowledge, tacit and explicit, that individuals must acquire to facilitate decision‐making by defining their range of options and to become acceptable social persons. Such knowledge is encoded, in ways not yet fully understood, in the pattern of our brain’s connections. In rites of passage, one’s social identity is transformed, entailing a significant modification of this pattern. Liminal status, brought about by entrainment with the ritual’s powerfully affective actions, appears to remove the cultural feedbacks that maintained one’s former social identity and enables durable modification to brain connections by means of a greater myelination of existing pathways and myelination of previously unused pathways. Such changes might be empirically observable using non‐invasive MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) techniques. The shared intense experience during the liminal period encourages a sense of likeness among participants, which is embedded in their brains by shared patterns of durable connections.