Better Together

The human limbic system is composed of a number of areas of the brain – such as the hippocampus and amygdala – which are involved in complex realities such as emotion, behaviour, long term memory and interestingly (to me at least) our sense of smell.

This system is an open-loop system – which simply means it is dependent on factors outside itself for regulation.  There has been extensive research done to confirm what everybody already knows – namely that we are deeply affected by other people when it comes to our emotional well-being and stability.

According to Daniel Goleman, author of books like Emotional Intelligence and The New Leaders, this effect is so profound that it registers physiologically as well as emotionally. He says that even patients in intensive care facilities find the presence of another person so comforting that it perceptibly lowers their blood pressure.

“The open-loop design of the limbic system means that other people can change our very physiology – and so, our emotions.” (1)

Time and again, researchers have found that emotions spread through groups, this ‘spread’ can happen non-verbally as well as verbally, and this appears to be the case simply because of the open-loop design.  It seems that we function together whether we like it or not, even when we don’t consciously choose to do so.  It also seems that we need each other – for better or worse – in order to regulate ourselves, internally, as well as manage the world, externally.

The only way we can live, it seems, is to live together.

So – how might we manage that a bit better?


(1) Daniel Goleman, The New Leaders, p. 4

Not Just a Material Girl Part (1)

Two things can be true at the same time.

In order to create harmony within our societies we need to first create harmony within ourselves. How many internal and external struggles exist because we try to style ourselves as entirely one thing or another?

On the one hand we might see ourselves as totally rational beings, devoid of a ‘higher nature’ and motivated only by narrow self-interest – we’ve even given that story of ourselves a name – homo economicus.

On the other we might try the ascetic route and disappear into our non-material side to the extent that we deny – or at least don’t entertain – our physical/material selves.

Maybe it’s time we dropped the dichotomies?  Maybe it’s time we recognised them as the unhelpful and fragmenting conceptual constructs that they are and instead tried to see the whole picture in everything?

On an instinctive and intuitive level we know we are multi-dimensional beings – emotional, physical, mental, spiritual – we call our ‘dimensions’ by different names but we really do know our reality is much more than a simple physical, or even psychological, truth.

As Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist points out,

Modern people are fundamentally materialistic…and the fact that we’re materialist in our scientific philosophy has made us extremely powerful, maybe too powerful for our morality but extremely powerful from a technological point of view. But it’s also blinded us to certain things and I think one of the things that it’s really blinded us to, is the nature of our own being.

Because we make the assumption that the fundamental constituent elements of reality are material we fail to notice that the fundamental constituent elements of our own reality are not material. They’re emotional, they’re motivational, they’re dreams, they’re visions they’re relationships with other people, they’re conscious, they’re dependant on consciousness and self-consciousness and we and we have absolutely no materialist explanation whatsoever either for consciousness or self-consciousness and we don’t deal well from a materialistic perspective with the qualities of being.

And everyone knows those qualities exist I mean for most people there’s nothing more real than their own pain. Pain transcends rational argument – you can’t argue yourself out of it, it’s just there. And materialist or not there are very few people who will allow the claim that their pain is merely an epiphenomenon of some more material process. Pain is fundamental. Consciousness is fundamental. (1)


Photograph – The photo of the Schie sisters at 71 – is part of a larger series, taken by photographer Barbro Fauske Steinde in 1989.
See the rest of the photo series of the Schie sisters on our web….

(1) Jordan Petersen – Virtue as a Necessity

Become Someone You Can Admire

We wonder how to be in the world.  What to do.  Where to go.  We spend our lives trying to ‘be’ someone.

Why?  We are all already someone.

Stop worrying about what others think.

Here’s the only real question – what do you think?

You’ll never be able to get away from yourself so

For that reason – if no other

Try to become someone you can admire.

Path revealed.

Problem solved.

To love is to admire with the heart; to admire is to love with the mind– Theophile Gautier

Love is a Dynamo – Part II

Love is like pi natural, irrational, and VERY important.

Lisa Hoffman


Original Caption: A youngster, clutching his soldier father, gazes upward while the latter lifts his wife from the ground to wish her a `Merry Christmas.’ The serviceman is one of those fortunate enough to be able to get home for the holidays.  December 1944

U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: NWDNS-208-AA-2F-20

Persistent URL:

World War, 1939-1945

We are What we Believe

Belief is not just an optional extra – it is the primary influence on our actions.

However, sometimes we don’t take enough time to think about what we do believe and so our actions leave us feeling uncomfortable and out of kilter with our true selves.

It’s worth thinking about what we believe.  It’s our humanity after all.

The video below is interesting (and fun) – have a look:–taboo-topics.html

Interesting Discoveries About the Brain (3)

More About Mirror Neurons – Monkey See – Monkey Do 

A mirror neuron is a part of the brain in human beings (and other animals) that fires when we do something and also when we see the same action performed by someone else. Neurons that act in this way have been found in various parts of the brain and are offering explanations for everything from our attraction to watching sports to our empathic reactic to the suffering of others.

This two part video gives a simple but accurate description of the discovery and function of mirror neurons –


Laughter is the Best Cement

Have you ever noticed how contagious emotions can be?

Research shows that positive emotions are the most contagious and that laughter – in particular – spreads like wildfire.  The fact is that laughter is both universal, and universally trusted.

As everybody knows – you can fake a smile, but not a laugh. 

In neurological terms, laughter represents the shortest distance between two people because it instantly interlocks limbic systems.*  This immediate, involuntary reaction, as one researcher puts it, involves, “the most direct communication possible between people – brain to brain – with our intellect just going along for the ride – in what might be called a, ‘limbic lock.’ (1)

Funny that…


*Photograph – Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Lyman, Polish tobacco farmers, near Windsor Locks, Connecticut, (LOC) – Delano, Jack, photographer.

1940 Sept. Persistent URL:

Call Number: LC-USF34- 041573-D

* Limbic system

(1) Primal Leadership: realizing the power of emotional intelligence – By Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis, Annie McKee p. pp 10,11 Harvard Business School Press, 2002

Thinking About Thinking

Most of us pride ourselves on being rational beings who think before we act. Indeed even the word think suggests consciousness – but are we really as rational as we believe ourselves to be?

Two recent books that deal with how our unconscious thinking and instincts influence our decisions are Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and Risk by Dan Gardner.

Both authors contend that our decision making is based on a combination of conscious and unconscious thought processes.  Gardner calls these two modes Head and Gut.

…Gut is unconscious thought and its defining quality is speed. Gut doesn’t need an encyclopaedia to figure out what to do when something moves in the long grass…Head is like a bright but lazy teenager capable of great things if he would just get out of bed. (1)

Both Gladwell and Gardner agree that our unconscious decisions appear to us as if we are using our conscious mind and not our gut. Ironically enough, decisions like these feel particularly definite and reliable.  And while sometimes indeed these feelings-which-present-as-thoughts are reliable, in order to make really good decisions we need to use all of our capacities.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, also recognises this twin-engined thought process and like Gladwell and Gardner, attributes this unconscious thought process more to our ancient survival tool-kit rather than our sophisticated modern needs. (2)

The first step then in learning to think for ourselves is realising that our thinking is multi-layered and includes information from both our conscious and unconscious processes.  To quote Daniel Goleman again,

Intuition works best when a gut sense can be built on other data. (3)

The important thing about our unconscious decision and thought processes is not whether they are right or wrong but that we recognise them and try to use our conscious decision making faculty to harness and best use whatever Gut brings to the party.

TomorrowThe Stories We Tell Ourselves

(1) Dan Gardner, Risk – The Politics and Science of Fear. Virgin Books, 2009, p. 32

(2) Daniel Goleman, The New Leaders, Little Brown and Company, 2002, p. 28

(3) ibid, p.43