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Depression Theory (Supplemental)

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

Ultimately, my theory of 'what' depression is, is grounded in embodied cognition.

An idea which takes the evolution of bodies seriously.

In short, embodied cognition says our cognition is influenced by—and even determined by—our experiences in the physical world. In the book, we argue that our ability to think (to decide between two courses of action) came out of our ability to move and to think about moving. So movement is seen as extremely important in our long evolutionary history. But not just random, chaotic movement. Specifically, it's the 'right' kind of movement and behaviors that lead to survival, reproduction, and the proper management of resources. Then, if you think about 'what' the body is, we soon find that the body is really just a reflection of past environments. A memory of what it took for our ancestors to survive. Building upon that knowledge, we may then ask, What the brain is for? And as you may already know, Dr. Daniel Wolpert and Dr. Karl Friston have both argued that the brain is really there to help us orchestrate complex movements through space.

To move and to think about movement.

When you take these ideas to their extreme, you soon realize that all thought is really just premeditated movement. Combine that with the evolutionary story of the prefrontal cortex (the PFC evolved out of the motor cortex), and you really start to take the idea of the Prospective Self seriously. In the video "The Universal Reason Why People Get Depressed" I called it "the Future Self" but since that term is rather ambiguous, I've since relabeled it the Prospective Self.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has argued for the existence of the Remembering Self (a division of the subconscious that's always focused on the past), and when you consider that everything in life has an opposite, you quickly happen upon the idea of the Prospective Self (a division of the subconscious that's always focused on the future).

So far, I don't think any of what I've said is controversial. Perhaps, a tad bit outside the mainstream, but here's a 45 second clip of Jordan Peterson talking to neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, only a couple months ago, describing the PFC like this. JBP says, "The best way to think about what the prefrontal cortex does, in some sense, is that it generates potential abstract patterns of action...it generates them in abstraction...so that they can be assessed before they're implemented. And so it's like it's generating potential future selves."

To which Huberman says, "That's exactly right...that's exactly right,"and then praises him for phrasing it so eloquently.

So, right there, we have two very popular intellectual thinkers basically stating what I tried to say in that video a few years back, only they still haven't connected the dots. They still haven't figured out just how powerful the brain can be in its predictions/simulations. And so, I suppose my whole theory hinges on the idea that the brain is always making predictions about the state of its body (interoception), but that it's also making predictions about where that operator's current behavior patterns end up.

For me, consciousness is ultimately about managing information. It's about managing behavior patterns and data streams. In sum, it's an instinct adjudication system designed to help us choose between conflicting instinctual drives. However, it should also be understood that there's always this dynamic interplay going on between the bottom-up flow of sensory signals, including interoception, and the top-down flow of executive attention (i.e., the wishes and wants of the operator).

Combining all these points, I'd then propose the following:

If flow states are the body's way of rewarding us for 'right' action and 'right' behavior, then what's the opposite of that?

Technically, flow states are defined as "an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and we perform our best," and when you consider the opposite of this naturally occurring state which enables peak performance you get this:




—So, if flow states are underpinned by six powerful, feel-good neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, anandamide, noradrenaline, and sometimes oxytocin), then wouldn't the opposite of this state be characterized by a lack of these neurotransmitters?

And how might that feel?

In other words, the body doesn't just reward us with feel-good neurotransmitters randomly, it does so when we perform actions that are in line with its best interests.

Working out gives us endorphins.

Running for over 15 minutes gives us anandamide.

Fostering important relationships and hugging provides us with oxytocin.

But, when we consistently fail to perform these sorts of actions, we get a state of extended suffering we call depression, which is really just the body's way of telling you "something is wrong."

Another way to think about it is like this. You are an energetic system trying to maintain its integrity across time. Largely, the universe is tending towards entropy and disorder, but there are pockets of the universe where entropy and disorder actually don't go up, and our bodies would certainly qualify as being one of those pockets. By radiating heat outwards into the wider world, we're able to maintain order locally (homeostasis), and this is a battle we can fight for about 70 to 80 years. Sooner or later, we all lose this entropic battle and become disordered again. But if we run with this view for just a moment, it seems clear that our bodies are really just energetic systems designed through the dictates of darwinian natural selection to play the long game of survival.

At least, that's what they're designed to do.

Although, as you well know, the operators of these bodies can get engaged in all kinds of actions that go against this instinctual drive to survive, to evolve, and to keep going. But, when there's too much entropy in the system (too much operator-generated chaos) the system 'tells' you. Similar to the way a car tells you when it's leaking oil (a vague "check engine" light) when we get engaged in activities or behaviors that aren't adaptive to our survival, our bodies tell us in this vague "something's wrong" kind of way, and that's depression.


Additional Information Worth Considering

Below is an expansion on the Prospective Self idea. An infographic explaining the ideas of multiple competing sub-personalities. The infographic comes in two flavors. Simple and complex. The simple one is just to provide the reader with the cardinal directions of the mind, and showcases how we deal with time. The second is a more detailed breakdown of the self, and posits other competing sub-personalities that the psyche is composed of.



Multiplicity of Selves (Simple)






Multiplicity of Selves (Detailed)

If this sounds interesting but you're still not sure, try watching "The Universal Reason Why People Get Depressed" or reading the first blog post about depression.


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