Defensible Spaces review 3/6

The magnificent Del Giudice idea entered the theme of Defensible Spaces in 2019.

Via, a genuinely fresh and PRODUCTIVE idea that sounds silly at first glance.

Del Giudice doesn’t claim this is a theory, just an open question to spawn new ways of looking:

Did the brain develop ‘software’ defenses against behavior-controlling parasites?

Many parasites try to control the host’s behavior. The most horrible example is the fungus that takes over an ant, turning it into a seed pod that walks up to the top of a plant and explodes. Most viruses alter the host’s behavior in more subtle ways. Familiar example is chicken pox, which digs into the nerves and pounces years later, causing pain or paralysis.

This type of attack has been going on for millions of years, so it makes sense that the brain and nervous system would have developed electronic countermeasures.

The most interesting part of the question deals with signaling and OpSec:

The central nervous system uses neuroactive substances as internal signals between neurons, brain networks and between the brain and other organs. Parasites can hijack these pathways to alter behavior by producing overriding signals or, as Del Giudice points out, corrupting existing ones. This entails breaking the host’s internal signaling code.

Thus, a more complex signaling code is more difficult for a parasite to break. Instances of such a complexity increase include the requirement of joint action of different neurochemicals, or releasing neuroactive substances in specifically timed pulses. Expanding the set of transmission molecules and their binding receptors also increases complexity. More elaborate internal signals increase the time required to break. From an adaptive standpoint, this can close off the parasite’s options, forcing it to develop other means of manipulation.

Genuinely inspirational and immediately thought-generating. Most discussions of neural signaling miss the infinite complexity of the real neurons and glia. Del Giudice gets it and adds something new.

His concept happens to fit with the question I was asking yesterday about separate mental spaces:

I’m under the weather this week. Trying to boost my spirits, this “thought” popped up:

When I’m feeling bad, I forget what it’s like to feel good. I forget that I was feeling good just two days ago, and the last time I felt bad was only a few days. BUT: When I’m feeling good, I forget what it’s like to feel awful.


That’s not a BUT. Not a paradox. It’s the same rule.

Feeling good vs feeling awful are separate mental universes in some way, just as dreamtime vs waketime or sober vs drunk.

How does the brain keep these spaces separate? When does the brain decide to create a new space? How many spaces can we contain?

A separate mental space during illness would be an excellent way to protect normal memories and decisions when under attack. The memories and decisions formed while the parasite is in control are outside the regular space, thus not affecting the regular space.

How is this space formed? I have only a vague semi-guess. I doubt that the brain opens up a special room or nucleus. More likely it’s a different tuning, a different carrier modulating the signal.

Analogy: The pattern of electromagnetic waves washing over the whole earth includes billions of separate transmissions at any moment. Each receiver tunes to its desired frequency to pick up one harmonic.

Closer analogy, though less familiar: Subcarrier systems. Even on the same main frequency, subtle frequency or phase modulation can create signals that aren’t readable by an AM receiver.

Chicken pox might be a good test case for Del Giudice’s idea. Shingles follows the timeline of the seed-pod parasites. Infiltrate, wait, explode. But it doesn’t actually do anything to help the virus spread. It just messes up some pain and motor nerves, creating annoyance and damage. Is this the result of an ancient countermeasure that diverted the parasite’s efforts?

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