Browsing the net
Browsing the net I have indirectly run into the new book (about to be released) of Digby Tantam, a British Professor of Psychotherapy. The first traces toward the book were not promising at all: some article in the International Business Times (India Edition) reported that „Human brains act like Wi-Fi”. Great, I said, another like hunter article with either no content at all, with overstretched conclusions or a commentary grossly distorting some background research. But at least I can write a short post about how modern and/or social media distorts scientific results, I thought.
So I clicked and yes, at first the content of the article has just seemed to confirm my suspicion. No reference to any research or proper written source: a supreme act of evil in my eye. Moreover, at some point, the article said that Mr. Tantam claims that there are „direct connection between our brains”. Great, what comes next, telepathy? But a newspaper article is not a proper representation of the author’s statements – especially if the journalist is not able to write his name once properly but misspelled it two times in two different way. Browsing the net… And there were also interesting points as well: the importance of nonverbal, subconscious perception of other peoples’ emotions and their focuses of attention. We all are constantly aware of the moods and intentions of people around us – obviously a very useful feature for one’s survival and success. Humans are social beings after all. Obviously, it won’t make our brain wi-fi, it will make more of a part of a larger net if you are forced to use a metaphor. Regardless, the scientific article in the background may be interesting, I said, so lets’ find it.
There came the surprise: I could not find any related recent article from Mr. Tantam at the beginning. But my hunting instinct was already on, so after a time I discovered that the article was probably linked to his new book, The Interbrain: Embodied Connections Versus Common Knowledge. Luckily I was able to look into it and could see that there is no nonsense there: no telepathy, not even wi-fi, but well-based research and conclusion about the idea that human beings are endlessly connected by a continuous interplay of non-verbal communication, of which we are unaware. The channels of these communications are the eyes, nose, skin, and ears. All inputs from these sources are subconsciously processed and used by everyone’s brain, potentially creating a network of connected feeling and low-level awareness. If you think about how much the feelings of our family members immediately affect us, causing either happiness or misery, you can understand the validity of the conclusions. And all of this automatically, without conscious thought. Quoting from some summary: “Considering social smiles and the way emotions can spread from one person to another, he explores the research that shows how our brains are linked and draw out the implications of the interbrain for our understanding of empathy, social communication, psychology and group behavior.”
The book may have several interesting fundamental contributions to our own topic (the scientific answers to the meaning of life):
- The author openly speculates about the meaning of life. The connections built and knowledge gained unconsciously have several results, and of these results “…the experience of transcendence is one and this might be the root of spirituality and indeed what many people would consider the meaning of life.” So the meaning of life may be obtained unconsciously. The interesting idea deserves further research.
- Interbrain significantly influences our feelings and behavior. But this influence leaves less room for conscious decisions and, indirectly, free will. At least partly we are dragged up and down by invisible forces. It is hardly new: most of our thinking (data processing and decision) process is also not conscious, and most of the physical and biological processes of our body are deterministic. Nevertheless, these new unobserved influences are direct, personal and targeted free-will-limiting factors. They can even be (and probably are) exploited to manipulate our behavior and decisions. The first step to solve a problem is to see it.
- We have always known that a potential answer to the meaning of life is our relationship to other people, friends, family or to a group. It is not just a logical conclusion, it is also our deep feelings about these connections. Now we partially understand why we have these gut feelings.
And I also have a gut feeling that this book may deserve a proper post-publication review sooner or later.
The Meaning of Life Team
Human bonding and mother instinct
As ScienceDaily reported (ScienceDaily) based on a study published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS ) the neurotransmitter dopamine is involved in human bonding, using the brain’s reward system to form human relationships, such as mother and child relationship, in both animal and human models.
The significance of the results according to the authors: Early life bonding in humans has critical long-term implications for health, productivity, and well-being in society. Nonetheless, neural mechanisms of bonding are typically studied in rodents, and no study, to this date, has examined the neurochemistry of human social affiliation. This study utilizes a state-of-the-art technology to demonstrate that human maternal bonding is associated with striatal dopamine function and the recruitment of a corticostriatal–amygdala brain network that supports affiliation. The simultaneous probing of neurochemical responses and whole-brain network function in mothers watching their infants provides a unique observation into an “affiliating brain.” These results advance the mechanistic understanding of human social bonding and promote basic and clinical research in social neuroscience, development, and psychopathology.
On the other hand, the interpretations of this result (and of similar studies before) regarding the meaning of our lives may not be favorable. This study can be a blow for those who believe that our human relationships and actions are governed by our souls and not by biochemical processes of our body. Moreover, these processes are based on physical laws of nature and were shaped by a multi-billion-year evolution here on Earth. Consequently, someone may logically draw a conclusion that our human relationships, such as mother-and-child bond, may not form the basis of the meaning of our individual lives as a mechanical and chemical reaction we have no decision about. Some may even incorrectly jump to the result that our lives are meaningless in general – we are just robots programmed to feel by chemicals.
Even if the above logic is mathematically correct, the conclusion may not be valid. Science demands proof. Many fantastic and well thought through hypothesis have failed in experiments. So even a proper logic does not mean that the conclusions are true and reflect reality.
Moreover, such pessimistic thoughts are partially just resulting from our disappointment and fear that we have no soul (we are not immortal), and that there are scientific explanations and background for our existence and behavior. This disappointment makes us jump to incorrect conclusions because the above logic is not watertight. It’s as if death would retrospectively eliminate our current existence as well, or as if our atoms and chemicals are not part of ourselves. The true problems, illustrated herein by questions are three-fold:
- Do the facts that we have no soul and we have to die in the future automatically mean that there is no meaning of our life today and that the current meaning of our lives will automatically cease to exist with our death?
- Do the facts that our body is made of atoms and elementary particles, and there are laws governing the behavior of such atoms and molecules, automatically mean that “we” actually do not exist and we don’t have any freedom to make decisions?
- Will our feelings and affections, which are being produced by physical, biochemical and evolutionary processes, reduce their value and usefulness to us, our society, or humanity?
You can see that the seemingly logical first conclusions from the result of the above recent research are far from obvious. Later, we may return to these questions and topics in another blog.