Same brain

I pointed out that that Daphna Joel’s work was crap – she was trying to find ways that can’t distinguish between male and female brains – that’s easy but useless. But if you can find one approach, any approach, that reliably distinguishes male and female brains, then they’re different. But even then, not necessarily different in ways that anyone could ever give a shit about. Or if they are, the approach that distinguishes male from female may not tell you much about the behavioral differences you’re interested in.

Important differences might not show up in brain scans. For example, we can’t see schizophrenia in a brain scan, yet schizophrenia is important. Hearing voices that aren’t there, even when they give useful tips [ “They’re all against you! They all must die!” ] has social significance. Sure, there are some differences between crazy and not-yet-crazy brains [enlarged ventricles], but they’re not huge and (with what we know today) they’re not diagnostic. Yet we have good reason to believe schizophrenia is caused by differences in the brain – we just can’t say exactly what they are. Even when we know the underlying genetic cause – which we do, in a few cases – we generally don’t know the details of how that genetic flaw changed brain development and/or activity.

You could have a psychological sex difference as drastic as schizophrenia and we likely couldn’t identify it from a brain scan. Not seeing it in a brain scan wouldn’t show that the psychological difference didn’t exist. Got it?

Narcolepsy, massive daytime sleepiness, is generally caused by loss of the neurons that secrete the neuropeptide orexin/hypocretin. Only 10,000-20,000 neurons do this, and I sincerely doubt if you could notice the difference via MRI or CAT scans if they all disappeared.

Inability to see the physical basis via scans is often [not always] the case with various kinds of brain damage or mental illness, but the neurological basis of behavioral adaptations is also usually unobservable via such scans. We don’t know how to detect the brain differences that make a border collie inclined to herd, or that cause the personality differences between a pit bull and a Labrador retriever.

What does this say to someone trying to show effective sameness of female and female psychology by showing effective sameness of male and brains? It can’t be done, with the tools we have. Just as well, since that conclusion [no differences] is almost certainly wrong, since natural selection routinely creates wired in behavioral differences between the sexes. It would be surprising if that kind of natural selection had taken an extended holiday in humans.

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36 Responses to Same brain

  1. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

    • dearieme says:

      if your search for evidence has been intelligent, competent, honest, extensive, and intensive, absence of evidence is rather suggestive though.

      • JJ says:

        Absence of evidence is evidence of absence. It’s not strong evidence, and it’s not proof, but it is evidence. P(A|B)=P(B|A)P(A)/P(B)

        If I say there’s an elephant in my house, and you find it in the drawing room, then that’s pretty good evidence I was right. If I say there’s an elephant in my house, and you search all hundred rooms without finding one, that’s decent evidence I was wrong, but you’ve had to work a lot harder to get it!

  2. If someone were to assert that there is an elephant on the quad, then the failure to observe an elephant there would be good reason to think that there is no elephant there. But if someone were to assert that there is a flea on the quad, then one’s failure to observe it there would not constitute good evidence that there is no flea on the quad. The salient difference between these two cases is that in the one, but not the other, we should expect to see some evidence of the entity if in fact it existed.
     J.P. Moreland and W.L. Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview

  3. Sandgroper says:

    Not almost certainly wrong. It is certainly wrong. Just testing for personality traits like Agreeableness shows that very clearly (and these differences have been demonstrated now very convincingly on very large samples across multiple different populations/ethnicities/races/whatevers – and I do mean very large samples), plus the respective incidences of very noticeable conditions like autism and schizophrenia between males and females. Counting male and female autistics is not rocket science.

    Shit, I’m just a simple civil engineer who reads and listens, and I know that much.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Well, you can assume I was talking to a Martian, one that understood the principles of evolution and the resolution of typical brain scans, but had never seen male and female humans in action.

      Sometimes it is useful to restrict an argument to a formal level, even when everyone ever born knows from practical experience that the argument you’re criticizing is utter crap.

      In fact there seem to be a significant number of people ( or possibly dogs) on the Internet that don’t know those things that everyone born must know. Presumably they were from their mother’s wombs untimely ripped.

      • Jim says:

        I’m sure dogs understand an awful lot about the differences in behavior between male and female humans. No doubt dogs are experts on human behavior. They have to be.

        • Sandgroper says:

          My pet female dingo always used to hump my leg when she was feeling horny, but never my sister’s leg. Or either of my parents.

          She was clearly picking up on something pretty fundamental about human differences, and we can safely assume that it was not different physical appearance. Doubtful that it was behaviour either, unless something subtle that she could read that mere humans couldn’t.

          For the sake of completeness, I should note here that she never succeeded in persuading me or getting me interested.

    • anon says:

      “Just testing for personality traits like Agreeableness”

      These types of simplistic social “science” measurements fail to capture a lot of the differences that are readily apparent to anyone who has ever observed how men and women behave.
      Feminists will accept that mentally ill trannies are somehow wired wrong causing them to have a strong inclination to identify as the other sex. They also accept similar stuff about gays. Somehow these are the only ~100% fundamental differences though.

      • Sandgroper says:

        “These types of simplistic social “science” measurements fail to capture a lot of the differences that are readily apparent to anyone who has ever observed how men and women behave.”

        Such as?

  4. James Valois says:

    I tend to find brain imaging “science” pretty dull

    • gcochran9 says:

      what it is is very immature. Jerry Fodor is an idiot, by the way. I think I’m not going to publish my master idiot list. Instead, I will just gradually sprinkle it into my posts and comments.

      • Jim says:

        The article by Fodor referred to seems to say that the petty details of how the brain actually works are a matter of indifference to a person of his Olympian philosophical insight. What a pompous ass.

      • “It is to Fodor’s credit that he pursues his claims to their logical consequences, regardless of how unconventional they might be. As fellow philosopher Dan Dennett put it. ‘Most philosophers are like old beds: you jump on them and sink deep into qualifications, revisions, addenda. But Fodor is like a trampoline: you jump on him and he springs back, presenting claims twice as trenchant and outrageous. If some of us can see further, it’s from jumping on Jerry.’ ”
        from The Stuff of Thought, by Steven Pinker, re Fodor’s claim that we have fifty thousand innate concepts (or thereabouts).

  5. teageegeepea says:

    I was under the impression there are coarse differences in male vs female brains. Their average size differs, there are differences in white vs gray matter, and certain regions took up a different relative amount of size.

    • Jim says:

      There are always differences. Equality is a highly singular and very improbable occurrence. I don’t know what are the average heights of oak trees in the Sherwood Forest versus the Black Forest but I’m pretty sure they are different.

    • gcochran9 says:

      There are such coarse differences. if you look at one such difference [ volume for example] , there is overlap, and you can’t reliably distinguish male from female brains by that alone. If you build a statistical filter that operates on several such traits (volume, gray matter vs white percentage, differences in connectivity, etc) you can get close to perfect discrimination. Daphna Joel’s goal was to fail in this, which is not particularly difficult or interesting.

      And, of course, there are differences at finer levels that matter but do not show up in MRI or CAT scans.

    • melendwyr says:

      Yeah, there are size differences, but research seems to show that men’s brains are just slightly less densely packed than women’s. It’s a consequence of greater male body size rather than a meaningful difference.
      We know that there are significant differences in brain activity – women are far less localized in their functioning than men, which has serious implications for brain lesions that arise from strokes and traumatic injuries, and may have implications for how men and women deal with problems differently. It’s just that it’s very hard to understand the brain by looking at it at the macroscale. It’s like trying to understand the chips in a computer board by peering at them with a magnifying glass. All the cool stuff takes place at a level you can’t see.

  6. I have no expertise whatsoever in the area of interest you are discussing but still find this excellent reading and most intriguing. Thank you for going to the trouble of sharing it.

    At one time I suspected I might have narcolepsy (tend to conk out rather quickly without warning) but rather concluded that it was a result of my being extremely attuned to my body’s own rhythms and wants. When I’m hungry, I eat. Horny I hunt for discharge. Angry I accept it and throttle the impulse to retaliate. I’m 76 and in excellent health, with only a bit of physical degeneration (prostate, eyes) and I conclude that this is in part the result of having tracked and responded to my body’s own needs over the decades. I avoid crap food and stressful situations, as much as possible, and laugh a lot. I live with monkeys and have learned perpetual alertness and wariness from observing and responding to them.

    Thus my habit since the 1960s of taking at least three or four catnaps during the daytime, and frequently awaking in the middle of the night, alert and fresh and ready for action. Imagine me trying to hold down a job in retail or manufacturing or any other artificial 9-to-5 environment. Fugeddaboutit.

    When I am hired as a free-lancer for any duty involving being physically present (teaching ESL classes mostly) the first thing I do is attempt to hunt up a place where I can squirrel away and pass out for twenty minutes. My daytime sleeps are in a deep coma – takes me ten to fifteen minutes to really wake up – but I sleep extremely lightly at night. When I thought back on this I realized my parents had a similar tendency, so I began to wonder whether it was (at least in part) hereditary.

    I hope these personal insights are of interest or are relevant to the current topic of discussion. As to being a man or a woman I have tits but have yet to lactate so that remains an unresolved issue. Thank you and have a God Dog as they say in Denmark.

  7. Frau Katze says:

    I find a shame that money and resources are spent on this type of thing. Surely there are more productive things to do.

  8. jd016 says:

    Here’s how a guardian article explains their approach:

    The researchers drew on MRI scans to look at a host of brain characteristics, from the amount of grey and white matter to the strengths of connections in the brain. Much of the analysis focused on the sizes of different brain parts. While many regions showed a huge overlap between the sexes, the researchers focused on the parts showing the greatest differences, with the least overlap between women and men.

    Joel and her team next looked to see how often the form of each of these regions within a single brain was consistently on the end of the distribution where females were more prevalent than males (the “female-end”) or consistently at the other “male-end”. Across the four different sources of brain scans they studied, the scientists found the percentage of “internally consistent brains”, in which all regions were at the male end or all at the female end, varied from zero to 8%, while those with both male-end and female-end features ranged from 23% to 53%.

    “We show there are differences, but brains do not come in male and female forms. The differences you see are differences between averages. Each one of us is a unique mosaic,” Joel said.

    What did they do wrong exactly?

  9. Ursiform says:

    There is actually overlap in the female and male distributions of breast size. That doesn’t mean ability to nurse infants is a social construct.

  10. Eugene Swin says:

    Knowing what brain scans can now do is useful. Brain scans are obviously not the only tool of neuroscience. Presence or absence of a Y chromosome in the brain changes things, as it does also in the genitals and nearly everywhere else.

    As for schizophrenia, see: Keeney, Dumas, Sikela, “The case for DUF1220 domain dosage as a primary contributor to anthropoid brain expansion.”
    and VBS Quick, et al., “DUF1220 copy number is associated with schizophrenia risk and severity: implications for understanding autism and schizophrenia as related diseases.”

    “In the schizophrenic population (N=609), decreased DUF1220 copy number was linearly associated with increasing positive symptom severity (CON1 P=0.013, HLS1 P=0.0227), an association greatest in adult-onset schizophrenia (CON1 P=0.00155, HLS1 P=0.00361). In schizophrenic males, DUF1220 CON1 subtype copy number increase was associated with increased negative symptom severity (P=0.0327), a finding similar to that seen in autistic populations. Subgroup analyses demonstrated that schizophrenic individuals with predominantly positive symptoms exhibited reduced CON1 copy number compared with both controls (P=0.0237) and schizophrenic individuals with predominantly negative symptoms (P=0.0068). These findings support the view that (1) autism and schizophrenia exhibit both opposing and partially overlapping phenotypes and may represent a disease continuum, (2) variation in DUF1220 copy number contributes to schizophrenia disease risk and to the severity of both disorders, and (3) schizophrenia and autism may be, in part, a harmful by-product of the rapid and extreme evolutionary increase in DUF1220 copy number in the human species.”

  11. pam32 says:

    Qoute: ”Daphna Joel’s work was crap – she was trying to find ways that can’t distinguish between male and female brains”

    There is a difference in the cerebral cortex geometry e.g. an Asian female and Black male

    • TWS says:

      Interesting they avoid using the word ‘race’ like it is radioactive. And they used several different euphemisms rather than stick to one. Still different brain structures for different races? Yikes! That’s got to be scary for researchers.

      • melendwyr says:

        In itself, it means little. I’d be willing to guess that the distribution of fingerprint patterns varies between races – it doesn’t make it meaningful. Now, if different brain structures correlated to different performance levels on specific cognitive tasks, it’s possible the observable differences affect that. And possible that they don’t.

  12. MEH 0910 says:

    “Hearing voices that aren’t there, even when they give useful tips [ “They’re all against you! They all must die!” ] ”

    Damn straight.

  13. waffleironmarch says:

    Found this “rebuttal” someone gave to your insights in a comments section somewhere a while ago and found myself out of my depth. I’d love to hear you expound. I certainly don’t sympathize with their views, but find myself unable to mount a sufficiently rigorous defense.

    “# leoneton 06 Jan 2016 at 7:27 pm
    @ CrookedTimberon
    Regarding Cochrane’s critique, it seems that he’s essentially proposing exactly what he’s accusing the study of doing which is choosing a statistical technique that’s guaranteed to yield the desired outcome. If there are any statistical differences at all between a set of variables, of course you can come up with an algorithm for binning them into ‘male’ and female’. It doesn’t mean your categories are worth anything (scientifically).
    The second point, that morphology doesn’t determine behavior, is stronger but it undermines his claim that the study’s approach isn’t valuable. If you think about it developmentally, humans don’t have separate “male” and “female” suites of genes for each brain structure. Rather, you get morphological differences in a structure when cells are differently responsive to a sex hormone, for example, estrogen causes certain tissues to develop and others to recede and it does so pretty reliably between individuals. The fact that the brain is a morphological “mosaic” seems to be fairly strong evidence that this is not what’s happening. In fact, I think it may be stronger evidence against innate sex differences than if the study had found even smaller size differences but ones that were more consistent between structures.”

    • gcochran9 says:

      If you can develop a statistical criterion that perfectly or almost perfectly separates male brains from female brains, that means that they’re different. If they’re not different, you can’t. Now Joel was only talking about gross morphology – there are other differences that don’t show up there,

      There are enormous differences in propensity to violence, in choice of sexual target, in susceptibility to various mental illness, etc. Some of these difference trends are stronger if you’re looking far out on the tail: if we’re talking great mathematical minds, Nobel science winners, world chess champions, guys that code 100 Euler problems in a day – very close to 100% male.

      What can I say to someone that doesn’t believe in innate brain differences due to sex, which exist in every other mammal? Hopeless. In fact the existence of such persons ( at fairly high frequency) is interesting, important, and profoundly depressing, unless you’re a professional con man.

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