about the Bipolar Predisposition

I would like to discuss the possibility that bipolarity could be traced back to a fundamentally useful disposition that only in the context of modern civilization leads to significant problems.
(German version)

Medical research status

The term „bipolar predisposition“ is not covered by current medical literature. The medical literature places a clear focus on bipolar disorder. this is evidenced by the following publication statistics (as of July 30, 2020, only the term „bipolar predisposition“ was added on August 23, 2020):

english termspublication countdeutsche BegriffeAnzahl Veröffentlichungen
Bipolar disposition0bipolare Veranlagung0
Bipolar predisposition1bipolare Prädisposition0
Bipolar traits32bipolare Züge0
Bipolar spectrum1183bipolares Spektrum5
Bipolar spectrum disorder715bipolare Spektrums Störung0
Bipolar disorder60.113bipolare Störung185

Bipolar disorder is one of the most dangerous diseases of our time. But also phenomena that some medical professionals classify under the terms „bipolar traits“ or „bipolar spectrum“ are considered problematic.

The popular science book „Good Reasons for bad Feelings“ is well worth reading. Its Author, the physician and evolutionary biologist Randolph Nesse expressly contradicts the assumption that bipolar disorder is a product of our civilization:
„these disorders are not diseases like eating disorders and substance abuse that are mainly products of modern environments.“ (Seite 253)

Tiffany A. Greenwood describes the limits of medical knowledge in Positive Traits in the Bipolar Spectrum: The Space between Madness and Genius „[…] the mechanisms by which risk variants lead to disease are complex and remain largely unknown.“

Hypotheses of an engineer

As an engineer, I am surrounded by bipolar behavior in the field of technology. Most machines behave bipolar as soon as they are poorly maintained. Poorly maintained machines tend to commute between the poles „functional“ and „in need of repair“.

If a functional PID controller is put into operation without the necessary specialist knowledge, the controller will typically deliver a bipolar output signal. Its output signal will oscillate between the two poles, positive maximum value and negative maximum value. Thus it will generate a square wave signal. (Of course, any other error pattern is conceivable, and a bipolar error pattern can also be generated with other types of controllers. I only picked out the PID controller because of its wide spread use)

Machines operated without the necessary specialist knowledge can also commute between the „functional“ and „emergency-off“ poles.

In addition, bipolar or multipolar behavior is often desired in the field of technology. Your personal smartphone will behave in a multipolar manner. As soon as you pick up your smartphone, it should be at the pole „high performance“. But after you have run it for a few minutes at maximum power, internal temperatures may have increased. That is why the smartphone may throttle its power and switches to a „reduced power“ pole. In the further course, it may even switch to the „greatly reduced power“ pole or even switch off.

The following hypotheses are therefore strongly influenced by the perception of bipolar behavior in the field of technology.

Energy efficiency hypotheses

  • It could have been energetically efficient for a horde of Homo Sapiens if the cognitive performance and energy consumption of the brains were unevenly distributed within the group. With a typical size of such hordes of 20-80 members, it could have been particularly efficient if only 5% of Homo Sapiens developed particularly energy-intensive brains.
  • It could have been energetically efficient for a horde of Homo Sapiens if 95% of its members in a situation of crisis had been inclined to reduce the energy supply to the brain in order to better supply the muscles.
  • It could have been energetically efficient if the leader of a horde ran her (or his) brain at full speed or in an overload area in a situation of crisis.
  • The predisposition of such a leader would suitably include the following features:
    • Creativity to find solutions beyond fight or flight.
    • linguistic skills to be able to convey suggested solutions efficiently.
    • charisma to achieve leadership of the horde.
    • Exaggerated optimism in order to remain able to act and actively pursue a solution strategy even in situations with a low chance of survival.

Functionality hypothesis

  • The predisposition to a bipolar personality structure can be interpreted as a form of protective mechanism, which was useful for the survival of Homo Sapiens in social groups until very recently.
  • When people gave up their existence as hunters and gatherers to devote themselves to the technology of agriculture and, as a result, more and more technologies, this disposition would have become obsolete or less relevant.

„Cultural Loss“ Hypothesis

  • Our ancestors knew more about bipolar predisposition than modern scientists.
  • Our ancestors may have spent hundreds of hours preparing their children for the stresses and benefits associated with bipolar predisposition.
  • As people turned to the technology of agriculture and, as a result, more and more technologies, the increasing technological knowledge took up space in their brains that had previously been occupied by other knowledge, such as knowledge of bipolar predisposition.
  • Today, parents no longer talk to their children about bipolar predisposition or only when a full-fledged disorder occurs.

„Same blueprint“ hypothesis

  • The bipolar spectrum beyond the disorder is based on the same disposition as the full-fledged disorder, just as the functional turbocharger shown here follows the same construction plan as a defective turbocharger. Image source: Wikimedia, Licence: BTR / GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)Turbolader Abgasseite, funktionsfähig
  • A defective turbocharger can sometimes hardly be distinguished from a functional one. One defective turbocharger, the central components of which I was kindly allowed to photograph in the Schier dealership in Buxtehude, was „only“ distinguished by the fact that it was no longer performing. Excessive bearing play on the exhaust side (left picture) was assumed to be the cause. The scratches on the compressor side (right picture) would therefore not be relevant for the function.
  • Turbochargers are primitive compared to a human brain. And yet the range of possible defects is enormous, as this overview of typical failure causes on turbotechnik-altmark.de shows. The Autobild writes: When the turbo whistles. Matsch & Piste writes: The turbocharger, the diva of the engine.
  • Even a normal car without a turbocharger is a dangerous object. The boost in performance that a flawless turbocharger brings about further increases the risk potential. Who would wish that an unprepared young person would sit down in a Porsche 911 Turbo, turns it on, just steps on the accelerator and sees what happens then?

Overload protection hypothesis

  • A low or a depression only appears if the triggering crisis cannot be resolved within a high phase.
  • Until very recently, in terms of developmental history, the symptoms of a bipolar predisposition typically followed the following pattern:
    • asymptomatic phase
    • Crisis (stressor)
    • High phase or manic phase
    • solution of the crisis
    • asymptomatic phase

    This hypothesis is in stark contrast to the current state of knowledge, which the author Thomas Melle, who has bipolar I, describes in his autobiographical book Die Welt im Rücken as follows: „And if one thing is certain in a manic phase, it is that depression will follow.“

  • The depression forces those affected to allow themselves to relax and to end a phase of physical and / or psychological depletion. However, the depression only occurs in the event that a crisis is not resolved within a high phase. This means in a case that is designed as an exceptional case from a developmental point of view. Those affected who had been prepared for the bipolar predisposition by their parents for hundreds of hours were able to acquire a variety of techniques to avoid overexploitation and thus avoid depression.

Testability of these hypotheses

Anomalies in brain metabolism in people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have already been recognized by Rodrigo Barbachan Mansur and Elisa Brietzke and described in The „selfish brain“ hypothesis for metabolic abnormalities in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. However, they apparently did not look in detail at the absolute energy consumption in the brains of people with bipolar disorder.

The energy efficiency hypotheses are falsifiable

With functional magnetic resonance imaging, engineers provided medical professionals decades ago with a wonderful tool to localize, quantify and analyze brain metabolism and thus its energy consumption.

If the energy-saving strategies of the human brain have not yet been explored, this must be done immediately. Such research will reveal any correlations between energy consumption and cognitive performance.

For this it will of course be necessary to make absolute statements in addition to relative statements that are comparatively easy to determine. Where up to now one may have been content with statements such as: for a given stimulus, region X has a 20% higher energy expenditure per cubic centimeter than the neighboring regions, should one come to absolute figures such as: region X consumes Y joules per second and cubic centimeter, while the brain in total consumes Z joules per second.

To the best of my knowledge, the fact that cognitive performance is unevenly distributed and, in particular, not Gaussian has already been researched in detail. There are far more people with outstanding intelligence than would be expected with a Gaussian distribution.

The functionality hypothesis could be proven by a collection of case studies in which those affected could successfully use the energy from a high phase to solve crises.

The connection between bipolar disorder and stress is meanwhile the subject of research, see for example the dissertation of Dipl-Psych. Eva Bäzner: Eine Meta-Analyse empirischer Studien zur Frage des Einflusses von Stress auf den Verlauf bipolar affektiver Störungen
[= A meta-analysis of empirical studies on the question of the influence of stress on the course of bipolar affective disorders].
Bäzner writes: „Psychologische Faktoren, wie Stress oder negative Lebensereignisse als potentielle Auslöser für manische oder depressive Episoden wurden lange Zeit nicht untersucht, ihre Rolle als weitgehend unbedeutend eingeschätzt (Johnson & Roberts, 1995). Erst seit Ende der 80er Jahre wendet sich die Forschung systematisch psychologischen Faktoren zu.“
[= Psychological factors such as stress or negative life events as potential triggers for manic or depressive episodes have not been investigated for a long time, and their role has been assessed as largely insignificant (Johnson & Roberts, 1995). Only since the late 1980s has research systematically turned to psychological factors.]

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