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First presented at the 7th Australian Cognitive Neuropsychology and Cognitive Neuropsychiatry Research Forum, 25 November 2013. Australian Hearing Hub, Macquarie University, Sydney.

Paul Mason

on 22 July 2017

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Transcript of Degeneracy

What is normal?
Normality is a term which recurs with disturbing frequency in the writings of psychologists, psychiatrists, psycholoanalysts, sociologists, and other people concerned with human behaviour.
H.J. Eysenck, 1953

The normal is what you find but rarely. The normal is an ideal. It is a picture that one fabricates of the average characteristics of men, and to find them all in a single man is hardly to be expected.
Somerset Maugham, 1938
Two theories of degeneracy
degeneracy is "an indication of morbid variation in every species, and probably a primary cause of their sudden extinction.”
Max Nordau, 1892
Due to its association with eugenics in the interwar years and the Third Reich's "Final Solution", most mainstream biologists distanced themselves from degeneration theory. In this scientific cultural climate, George Gamow's contribution to genetics was largely ignored or at best hidden deep in the methods sections of genetics research articles.
Brain sciences
Two questions...
What is normal?
What is degenerate?
Paul H. Mason, Woolcock Institute of Medical Research
Statisticians say "mean" things.
What is the "mean"?
The “mean” was a misappropriation of mathematical methods from astronomy by statisticians trying to characterise human populations.
A planet is a single moving object.
A human population is composed of a collection of discrete individuals.
In 20th century physics, degeneracy refers to different stationary states corresponding to the same energy level. Physicist, George Gamow saw the genetic code as degenerate: many different nucleotide triplets coding for single amino acids.
Popularising the sentiments of his 19th century contemporaries, Max Nordau, formerly Max Sudfeld, believed that degeneration was a mental and social disease
In the brain sciences...
The most accepted definition for neurodegenerative conditions enumerated a group of diseases united only by the gradually progressive disintegration of part (or systems) of the nervous system.
(Bermejo-Pareja 2011:11; Pryse-Phillips 1995:602)
"The average man does not exist. The average applies to a set of data and not to an individual and if the average man could exist he would be such an odd specimen that by his very uniqueness he would deny his own title.”
William John Reichmann (1964, 121)
“Degeneracy is the ability of different structures to yield the same output.”

Gerald Maurice Edelman, BioEssays, 2004
...a different definition of degeneracy
What is normal?
For anywhere up to 52 days, psychiatric staff in 12 different medical institutions did not detect 'normal' behaviour among 8 pseudopatients who falsified existential auditory hallucinations in order to be admitted but did not subsequently report further hallucinations. They behaved sanely and cooperatively during their stay.

Rosenhan, D.L. 1973. On Being Sane in Insane Places. Science, 179(4070), 250-258.
What is degenerate?
a good Buddhist
Saintly trance
Schizophrenic or a gifted shaman
In the brain sciences...
Degeneration is a term used only for neurological conditions where a scientific explanation is absent.

Most current neurology textbooks do not include degeneration as a nosological term

The largest book on Neurodegenerative diseases does not define these illnesses
(Calne 1994)

Pulmonary science
Sports science
Cognitive neuroscience
Molecular physiology
Cancer Research
Language evolution studies
Population dynamics
Cellular physiology
Degenerate structure-function mapping is crucial for understanding the nature of brain networks.

Park, H., & Friston, K. (2013) Structural and Functional Brain Networks: From Connections to Cognition. Science, 342, 579.
Neurological lesions that appear to have little effect upon behaviour within familiar contexts reveal the presence of degeneracy in the brain.

Tononi, G., Sporns, O. & Edelman, G.M. 1999. Measures of degeneracy and redundancy in biological networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 96, 3257-3262.

Different populations of neurons in response to identical external stimuli can produce similar behavioural responses.

Noppeney, U., Friston, K.J., Price, C.J. 2004. Degenerate neuronal systems sustaining cognitive functions. Journal of Anatomy, 205, 433-442.
Deacon, T.W. A role for relaxed selection in the evolution of the language capacity, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2010, 107, 9000-9006.
Downey, G. 2012. Cultural Variation in Rugby Skills: A preliminary neuroanthropological report. Annals of Anthropological Practice, 36(1), 26-44.
Edelman, G.M. Synthetic neural modeling and brain-based devices. Biological Theory: Integrating Development, Evolution and Cognition 2006, 1, 8-9.
Edelman, G.M.; Gally, J.A. Degeneracy and complexity in biological systems. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2001, 98, 13763-13768.
Figdor, C. Neuroscience and the multiple realization of cognitive functions. Philosophy and Science 2010, 77, 419-456.
Friston, K.; Price, C.J. Degeneracy and redundancy in cognitive anatomy. Trends in Cognitive Science 2003, 7, 151-152.
Kelso, J.A.S. Multistability and metastability: understanding dynamic coordination in the brain, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 2012, 367, 906-918.
Komar, J.; Chollet, D.; Seifert, L. How the Level of Environmental Constraint Supports Neurobiological Degeneracy, In: Studies in Perception and Action XII; Davis, T.J.; Passos, P.; Dicks, M.; Weast-Knapp, J.A., Eds.; Psychology Press, 2013; pp. 14-17.
Leonardo, A. Degenerate coding in neural systems. Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology 2005, 191, 995–1010.
Levine, B. Brain imaging and neuropsychology: scope, limitations, and implications for degeneracy in neural systems. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation 2004, 14, 473-476.
Maleszka, R.; Mason, P.H.; Barron, A. Epigenomics and the concept of degeneracy in biological systems, Briefings in Functional Genomics, In Press.
Mason, P.H. Degeneracy at multiple levels of complexity. Biological Theory 2010, 5, 277-288.
Mitchell, K.J. The genetics of brain wiring: From Molecule to Mind. PLoS Biology 2007, 5, e113.
Noppeney, U.; Friston, K.J.; Price, C.J. Degenerate neuronal systems sustaining cognitive functions. Journal of Anatomy 2004, 205, 433-442.
Park, H., & Friston, K. (2013) Structural and Functional Brain Networks: From Connections to Cognition. Science, 342, 579.
Price, C.J.; Friston, K.J. Degeneracy and cognitive anatomy. Trends in Cognitive Science 2002, 6, 416-421.
Tononi, G.; Sporns, O.; Edelman, G.M. Measures of degeneracy and redundancy in biological networks, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1999, 96, 3257–3262.
Rubinov M, Sporns O. 2011, “Weight-conserving characterization of complex functional brain networks.” Neuroimage 56(4):2068-79
Sporns, O. 2011. Networks of the Brain. MIT Press.
Whitacre, J.; Atamas, S.P. Degeneracy allows for both apparent homogeneity and diversification in populations. Biosystems 2012, 110, 34-42.
Whitacre, J. Degeneracy: A link between evolvability, robustness complexity in biological systems. Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 2010, 7, 6.
Whitacre, J.; Bender, A. Degeneracy: a design principle for achieving robustness and evolvability. Journal of Theoretical Biology 2010, 263, 143–153.

Rajkowska, G., Goldman-Rakic, P.S. (1995) Cytoarchitectonic Definition of Prefrontal Areas in the Normal Human Cortex: II. Variability in Locations of Areas 9 and 46 and Relationship to the Talairach Coordinate System, Cerebral Cortex, 5, 323-337

Intersubject variability in the cytoarchitectonic profile of cortical areas 9 and 46. Overlap in the plots of five superimposed left-hemisphere reconstructions is indicated by the level of shading. Cortical territory occupied by area 9 or area 46 in all five individual brains is filled in black.
The days of thinking about degeneration as negative dilapidation are numbered...
Thank you
Travel Grant, Archive Research, Leiden University
The Australia-Netherlands Research Collaboration (ANRC)
The carpenter's norm
The application of numerical approaches and statistical analyses to large groups of individuals, including the idea of the "normal" - in the sense of average - individual, is essential if a concept of "population" is to have political applicability.

Margaret Lock and Vinh-Kim Nguyen, 2010
An Anthropology of Biomedicine, Wiley-Blackwell.
Tony faked a mental disorder to escape a 5-year prison sentence. He ended up spending 12 years in a psychiatric award.
Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quételet believed that the attributes of the average individual represented "all which is grand, beautiful, and excellent" (1842).
Karl Pearson introduced the term "standard deviation".
Tanya Luhrmann of Stanford pre­senting about "Hearing voices in Accra and Chennai: How Culture Makes a Difference to Psychiatric Experience" at the 5th inter­dis­ci­pli­nary con­fer­ence on Cul­ture, Mind, and Brain: Emerg­ing Con­cepts, Meth­ods, Appli­ca­tions hosted by the Foundation for Psychocultural Research on 20 Octo­ber 2012.
Context Confers Meaning
"In tackling the myth of normal, I am talking about our overemphasis on constraining the range of human variation into too narrow a band—mistaking “average” for a value statement, and forgetting that it is merely a statistical description."

Augustin Fuentes, (2014) Why Normal is a Myth, Psychology Today, March 17.
"Weight is even more complicated. Currently we use BMI (the relationship of height to weight) as a measure of overall health. This assumes that there are easily identifiable, and normal, relationships between height and weight in regards to being a healthy human. But weight and health, while related, is not a simple relationship, and BMI does not differentiate between a body builder and a couch potato whose height and weight may be the same but for very different reasons. It is very apparent that while BMI does work for those at the very extreme of the height/weight relationship range, it is not a great measure of health in most of its range".

Augustin Fuentes, (2014) Why Normal is a Myth, Psychology Today, March 17.
Augustin Fuentes on height:

"If you line up all males and female adults in a population, there is usually about a 70 percent overlap in height—meaning that the statistically average male is taller than the statically average female. However, if you actually go out and select thousands of individual people at random in this population and just look at their heights in the absence of any other data, you are going to be able to accurately determine their sex by their height alone only about 30 percent of the time. Yes, the tallest are likely to be men and the shortest, women—but this does not get you anywhere near 100 percent of the actual variation. This means that being a tall woman or a short man, while statistically out of the norm, is not by any means uncharacteristic—or abnormal. It is a regular part of the distribution of variation. Tall women and short men are normal."

Augustin Fuentes, (2014) Why Normal is a Myth, Psychology Today, March 17.
"If we are getting “normal” so wrong for things as easy to measure and understand as height and weight, what about things like gender identity, sociability, imaginative interests, etc.?"

Augustin Fuentes, (2014) Why Normal is a Myth, Psychology Today, March 17.
In one study, 30% of children diagnosed with autism at age two no longer had it at age four.
Rates of ADHD diagnosis are highly variable
Variance is also apparent in rates of diagnosis for personality disorders, anxiety disorders, and affective disorders.
Disagreement about what is degenerate
e.g. Pens and pencils
Brodmann areas
We tend to think of ourselves as the rule and not the exception, but we are all exceptional.
You are unique, just like everyone else.
Full transcript