Love the One You’re With


Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

The field of interpersonal neurobiology is an exciting new area of research. The more that is discovered about how the brain works, the clearer it is that it is endlessly open to development and change as it rewires itself every single day. It turns out that how you choose to think really does have an effect on your brain – especially when it comes to love.  Loving relationships have the greatest effect on the wiring and rewiring of the brain.

In 2006, researchers in Virginia gave electric shocks to the ankles of women in happy relationships and measured their anxiety beforehand and pain levels during the shocks.  What they discovered was that the same level of electricity administered when holding their partner’s hand reduced their blood pressure and their brains showed a lower neural response to the pain.  Women in troubled relationships didn’t experience the same relief from holding their partners’ hands.

To quote from Diane Ackerman‘s very interesting article, The Brain on Love

All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.

Every great love affair begins with a scream. At birth, the brain starts blazing new neural pathways based on its odyssey in an alien world. An infant is steeped in bright, buzzing, bristling sensations, raw emotions and the curious feelings they unleash, weird objects, a flux of faces, shadowy images and dreams — but most of all a powerfully magnetic primary caregiver whose wizardry astounds.

Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose. Wordlessly, relying on the heart’s semaphores, the mother says all an infant needs to hear, communicating through eyes, face and voice. Thanks to advances in neuroimaging, we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain. The patterns of a lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of sweethearts all begin in this crucible.

We used to think this was the end of the story: first heredity, then the brain’s engraving mental maps in childhood, after which you’re pretty much stuck with the final blueprint.

But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent. (1)

So, what can we learn from this?

That we need love to be healthy and balanced and happy?  We all probably knew this.

But it also says that every smile, every loving touch, every kindness is worthwhile because it resonates and shapes the brain of the recipient.  It says that we should be careful with each other – even when it’s difficult.   And generous with our love – whenever possible.

This song reminds me of Diane Ackerman’s article – I have no idea why, the link is pretty tenuous – but I really like both the song and the video anyway.  So, here it is –

(1) Diane Ackerman, The Brain on Lovehttp://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/the-brain-on-love/

Learning to Live Together


Reciprocity – the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit – is widely recognised as an important feature of successful co-operation but how does reciprocity between ordinary people actually work?

Mary hits Joan.  Joan is angry so she hits Mary back – repaying her in kind.

An eye for an eye.

Tit for tat.

Revenge.

Justice.

Positive and negative, it’s a if there is a hidden balance that must constantly be maintained.  Impulses like revenge solve nothing of course but this striving for reciprocity appears to be deeply rooted within us. It’s naturally occurring and is neither good nor bad in itself – only in its application.

If we look at our instincts as tools to help us survive and develop, rather than tie ourselves up in knots either suppressing or exalting these naturally occurring impulses, then maybe it might be easier to use them properly.

Instincts are simultaneously wonderful and problematic – like any tool. Even a humble hammer is all about application – it is enormously useful and – literally – constructive, if you want to hang a picture or build a cabinet or a wall but in other circumstances it can also be used to destroy or kill.

The solution is not to get rid of hammers but make sure we use them properly.  Just like our instincts.

Educate Girls and Change the World


There is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls.
Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General

I can’t say it better than that – or this –

http://itonlytakesagirl.blogspot.com/

All Together Now


Reciprocity is more than just simple give and take – it’s about co-creating environments and conditions that work for all involved.

There are many examples of reciprocity in nature – take the hermit crab and the anemone, for example.

The hermit crab lives in vacated shells of whelks or other mollusc.  One species carries a large pink anemone on its shell so that when octopi or fish – who like to feed on the hermit crab – approach, the anemone shoots out it brilliantly coloured tentacles, and stings the intending predators.

This is a good example of living co-operation as the crab returns the compliment to the anemone, which feeds on the droppings and discarded food of the crab. When the crab needs to move to a larger home, it gently detaches the anemone and takes it along.

In human society, just as in nature, reciprocity creates an actual environment.  Once this environment is created all manner of new and wonderful things can happen and the co-operation we need to learn in order to survive and prosper will get a real chance to take hold.

Apart from the obvious, the difference between us and hermit crabs with their anemone companions is that we have free will.  We get to decide what to do, and in our efforts to do what is best for ourselves we can think that acting only from self-interest will be the most advantageous.  This isn’t true.

Like the anemones and the crabs we share our planet.  Whether we like it or not we are interconnected.  As well as being undeniably cousins according to our genome, we are all now living in a world that is becoming increasingly smaller.  We are very much a hugely extended family, living together in the same place, interconnected even when we don’t get on.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just work out how to get along?


The Moral Molecule


Creator(s): Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer. (09/18/1947 – 02/28/1964)

Persistent URL: arcweb.archives.gov/arc/action/ExternalIdSearch?id=531280

Related articles

Eradication of Evil


We can never eliminate tragedy – even in a perfect world tragedy will exist.

Evil, on the other hand, as it is created by us, is well within our control to eliminate.

So, how do we eliminate evil?  Are there fundamental actions we can take that will help to eliminate evil from the world?

If evil is not a force in itself but an absence of good (just as darkness is absence of light) then it would stand to reason that there must be things we can do that will increase ‘the light.’

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.
Henry David Thoreau

I wonder what we can actually do to strike at the root of evil and let goodness flourish?

We’re only human…


For more than three hundred years Western thought has been dominated by the images of industrialism and scientific method.  It’s time to change metaphors.  We need to move beyond linear, mechanistic metaphors to more organic metaphors of human growth and development.

A living organism, like a plant, is complex and dynamic.  Each of its internal processes affects and depends on the others in sustaining the vitality of the whole organism…Most living things can only flourish in certain types of environments, and the relationships between them are often highly specialized.  Healthy, successful plants take the nutrients they need from the environment.  At the same time, though, their presence helps to sustain the environment on which they depend. (1)

Think of anything in the human arena and it will display all the characteristics of non-linear systems. Family, government, business, relationships, science, religion, societal systems, the arts, the human mind etc – even a cursory examination will reveal that these are all things that are hard to predict, hugely variable and must be examined as a whole if we hope to understand how they work.  As mathematician Steven Strogatz says about such systems:

This synergistic character of non-linear systems is precisely what makes them so difficult to analyse.  They can’t be taken apart.  The whole system has to be examined all at once, as a coherent entity.(2)

A linear system can be taken apart, examined and put back together and while it may give up it’s secrets readily, it will always simply be just the sum of it’s parts.  Not so with complex, dynamic systems which have the potential – given the correct conditions – to far exceed the sum of their parts and produce outcomes that could never even be dreamed of when looking at any of the individual components.

How cool is that?

(1) Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (with Lou Aronica). Viking, 2009, p. 257.

(2) Steven Strogatz, Sync : the emerging science of spontaneous order. Hyperion (2003), p. 182