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Theories and literature on the biopsychological dimensions of love

29 Nov

Theories and literature on the biopsychological dimensions of love: A broad exploration of evolutionary-developmental perspectives on romantic love, mirror neurons, interpersonal limbic synchronicity, neuroplastic interventions for trauma pathway resolution, and transpersonal ego death experiences

alex_grey-the_kiss1

Alex Grey – The Kiss

Abstract

Love, universal to the human condition, is the most profound human experience, and it is the most powerful drug. It comes in many forms, and impacts the brain in ways research is only recently beginning to probe. Love is not merely for pleasure, however. It is fundamental to human survival.

This is demonstrated through neuroimaging studies, but it is also apparent in the fact that love continues to prevail in world that is marked by extreme suffering and cruelty, as the world has been over the course of the millennia of human evolution. This paper will explore a broad literature review on the theories and research on love as necessary to human survival, and will present new frontiers in biopsychological research that may reveal exciting potentials for the future of our species.

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To Be Human in this Lifetime: Top 3 Discoveries in Neuroscience

16 Oct

Oh, to be human in this lifetime.

Our mind is an elegant dance of simultaneous balance with tremendous layers of synchronicity, symmetry and replication. The brain is far more complex than any computer. Scientists have just begun to understand this complexity with the advent of new technologies in brain science. For example, there are more neural synapses than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy – roughly 100 trillion. No computer could possibly match this staggering complexity, and our efforts to understand it or even comprehend the vastness have been elementary at best thus far.

In fact, a single human brain has more “switches” than all of the computers on the Earth (Blow 2007).

brainbow

Example of array tomography imaging.

Consider this image. Known as a “brainbow,” this is a real image of quasi-randomly colored fluorescent proteins in a composite image of a mouse brain that is made from thousands of millions of actively firing synapses. In the human brain, we have more synapses than there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy, and we know less about our own brains than our very own home galaxy system. If Carl Sagan was right that “we are a way for the cosmos to know itself,” we have a long way to go.

  1. The top three scientific developments in the field of psychology and neuroscience begin with the discovery of the “neuronal plasticity” of the brain by the father of neuroscience, Santiago Ramón y Cajal (Fuchs & Flügge 2014). This was a bombshell revelation that carried two equally critical implications. For one, the brain is capable of being internally damaged such that it may affect its functioning and structure. Two, that the brain is capable of healing, which is now understood to occur structurally, functionally, and electro-chemically. This is easily the most important development in the science of psychology because of the relevance of the following discovery.
  2. The second most important discovery in psychology validates the first as the most important. Paul Broca accidentally discovered cortical localization of function in the brain, scientifically proving the theory of cortical localization correct. Combined with Cajal’s discovery of neuroplasticity, behavior could now begin to be explained through neurological explanations, which is now the fundamental basis of psychology. Contemporary brain science and neuroimaging show the causal relationship between nerve specificity and cortical localization, enabling emerging and exciting therapies to be developed based on new understandings of brain damage and dysfunction.

    The indomitable Alex Gray

  3. Finally, perhaps the most inspiring discovery in all of psychology research is as poetically romantic as it is scientifically invigorating. Building on Harlow’s research on physical loving comfort and cognitive-social development in baby monkeys (Harlow 1958) is the advancing theory of interpersonal limbic synchronicity, a label I’ve developed to describe the following three distinct processes: limbic resonance, limbic regulation, and limbic revision (Lewis & Amini 2000). In limbic resonance, research has shown that our nervous systems and brain chemistry can interact without verbal communication, posing exciting possibilities in the future human communication, conflict resolution, deepening intimacy, and empathy studies (Schore 1994).

Ramon y Cajal’s sketch of neurons. In the planetarium show at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, this is precisely how an artist rendered imagined images of dark matter in the universe. 🙂 

One example of this interaction would be eye contact between two people, whether between strangers who have just met and are experiencing chemistry, or twin siblings who merely need a look to “read” one another. This interaction can result in activation of both parties’ nervous systems, particularly the limbic system (Schore 1994), resulting in anything from increased heart rate to a shared spike in dopamine. Limbic regulation refers to a more long-term effect of how these interactions can influence our body systems and brain chemistry (Schore 1994), such as when living with a spouse of many years. Finally, limbic revision refers to how these processes can be influenced with deliberate action in therapeutic contexts (Schore 1994).

I argued in my psychology capstone thesis that such processes are part of a larger complex interplay at work in the resolution of trauma pathways for survivors of developmental trauma in the context of loving relationships. Essentially, that love heals trauma in the brain.

I’d be curious to further study these processes in the context of facilitated ego-death transpersonal experience, such as in psychedelic-assisted altered states of consciousness or meditative yoga nidra. One day I’ll put a couple in love, on lysergic acid diethyl amide or MDMA into an fMRI machine, and have them get it on. You know, for science. Of course, MAPS is already supporting research on MDMA and PTSD as well as couples’ therapy.

These discoveries illuminate the shadows of previous mysteries that have been integral to the human experience, allowing us to better understand our past as a species.

Finally, they provide compelling avenues for further research that will usher in the most exciting chapter in human history. What delight in contemplating our immense potential for healing and shared experience in these perilous and critical times to be human in this lifetime. 

References

Blow, N. (2007). Following the wires. Nature Methods. 4, 975 – 981
doi:10.1038/nmeth1107-975

Fuchs, E., & Flügge, G. (2014). Adult Neuroplasticity: More Than 40 Years of Research. Neural Plasticity, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2014/541870

Harlow, H. F. (1958). The nature of love. American Psychologist, 13(12), 673-685. doi:10.1037/ h0047884

Lewis, T., & Amini, F. (2000). A general theory of love. New York: Random House.

Schore, A. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self: the neurobiology of emotional development. Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.

Saving Ourselves With Science

16 Sep

How is it that everything (100%) of what we do, see, experience, adore, avoid, touch, seek, remember, dream about and think about is SCIENCE – and yet perhaps 1% of the human population understands not just this conceptually – but this in detail. How are we supposed to advance as a civilization if science is seen as elitist and inaccessible? With so many people in the world having access to resources on the internet that provide free education, such as Coursera, iTunes university, podcasts, and Youtube videos – absolutely no one has an excuse in this complacency. The problem lies even deeper still. Culturally, we don’t value lifelong learning and innovative thought. Historically, we have shunned the most radical and creative minds because the deviate from the norm. Aren’t those deviations what makes us beautiful? Why is being the same so valued? And why can’t learning, especially and MOST importantly – learning about science – be cool? Why are there more youtube views of “music” videos – by hundreds of millions – than there are of how the brain works, why the sky is blue, how many stars are in the sky, why we laugh, how two single human cells conspire to form a human being, how the human genome has been mapped, and whatever the heck we maybe kinda think dark matter is? I didn’t grow up on top 40 music, 24 hour cable reality TV, advertisements in my face constantly on cell phones, or the addiction to technological entertainment that we all have today. So how are kids today going to grow up to appreciate these things, if they don’t have those experiences of playing outside until the crickets chirp and the street lights cut on? What will happen to us if we aren’t all trying to improve this world together by learning about it?

Construction of a Feminist Sexual Consciousness

15 Aug

Presenting a new theory of feminist sexual consciousness. Drawing on gender studies theory, ancient goddess archetypal literature, artifacts of the divine feminine, theories on the origins of patriarchy, neuroimaging and studies of physiology of women’s orgasm, and an attempt to formulate a radical and cohesive perspective on women’s contemporary sexual agency. Hopefully this presentation can awaken a feminist sexual consciousness in the viewer, regardless of gender.

0:00 – Introductions
0:47 – Oppression of women throughout history & sexual agency
1:35 – Feminist consciousness-raising and sex
2:30 – The origins of patriarchy as a response to the divine feminine
4:25 – Creatrix myths & women’s sexual power
5:00 – Patriarchy & the rise of the state; origin of property following Neolithic revolution
6:40 – Ancient art representing mother-creator/ creatrix cosmic origin myths
6:52 – Minoan snake goddess
8:18 – Mother atop the mountain goddess image from Minoan gold signet ring
10:15 – Sumerian god/ goddess and the Tree of Life; transliteration of divine feminine myths into Biblical stories to justify patriarchy
12:13 – Egyptian goddess Nut, Grandmother Spider (Hopi pottery), gold statue of Hindu goddess Durga, Creatrix of the universe
13:15 – Enheduanna poet & priestess; Sumerian sacred sex rites & fertility; sensual hierophants
14:31 – Female-authored Tantric texts, autonomous definitions of the sexual self
15:01 – Transpersonal sexual experience, core energies & tantric philosophies on liquid substrates of life
16:00 – Sexual & spiritual disconnection in contemporary life, the sexual revolution, casual sexuality vs. meaningful sexual connection & transpersonal sexual experience healing power
17:05 – controversy of sex & spirituality, vulnerability, the ego, human connections & contemporary values vs. ancient traditions
18:04 – depression rates, the death of human intimacy, and digital life; the distraction from the status quo; healing the Judeo-Christian-Islamic patriarchal sexual narrative
19:09 – extrapolating ancient values to awaken a feminist sexual consciousness; the vulnerability in intimacy, radical definition of women’s sexual experience
20:05 – new models of women’s orgasm, neural pathways to orgasmic consciousness, 16,000 ways to stimulate orgasm, ESR orgasms, transcendental orgasmic experiences, status orgasmus, synesthesia, blended orgasms, oxytocin pathway through intercostal nerve, similarities to psychedelic & spiritual experiences; similarities to ancient descriptions of invoking the divine through sacred sex rites
23:37 – therapeutic applications of feminist sexual consciousness theory
25:56 – incongruous social construction of women’s sexuality requires a thorough examination of historical perspectives to inform contemporary sexual agency
26:06 – healing sexuality from a humanistic perspective as a mode of feminist liberation and human sexual awakening; the cheapening of sexuality in the media and pop culture; the subversive power of women’s sexuality
27:25 – recommendations for new paradigms of feminist sexual consciousness as a new theory in sexuality & gender studies; application to clinical practice

Coffee: Bitter with Imperialistic Bite

10 Jan

Attention Coffee-Drinkers in Your Trendy Mac-Device-Filled Establishment: Do you like coffee? Of course you do. It’s the world’s number one drug. But now for some troubling thoughts on an American Institution…. Urban coffeehouses, especially that cater to a certain young, upwardly mobile crowd of the typically Caucasian demographic. I’m in one of such coffee shops, and I notice a few key definitive elements…

SONY DSC

The flyers for different types of exotically-named Yoga classes (is this actual Sanskrit or something made-up?), categories of coffees labeled by country of origin… Peru, Columbia, Kenya. Treats such as baklava and alfajor (Lebanese and Latin American). The music is John Coltrane and Miles Davis. The coffee is sweetened with sugar harvested in equatorial regions. And we are all wearing clothes probably made abroad in unsafe conditions.

Couple all this with the army of teenage, light-haired, very young white women who are employed at cafe after cafe. If this is not deliberate it is still suspicious.

One woman turns to her daughter and shows her healthy dog treats, for the dogs who come in and visit. Meanwhile, homeless people outside freeze and starve.

Taking this in, it is clear how every element of this trendy establishment, by definition, has been appropriated from non-white people in the world… The Africans and Latin Americans grew the coffee beans, chocolate beans, and sugar cane we consume. The treats have all been Americanized and branded for consumption without context, whitewashing the cultural significance of things like baklava. The jazz music was invented by generations of cultural resistance of people of color whose culture was systematically bludgeoned out of them. The people who leave the coffee plantations in Central America are demonized as “illegal aliens,” while those people of color who record our beloved jazz music are seen as disposable humans by a society that regards their lives as less important than white life. Yoga, of course, is now a brand – whereas it is a sacred practice that guides elemental lifestyles in its homeland. Yoga’s poster girl is the white college girl in the ubiquitous “yoga pant,” finding harmony in a practice none in her class are bound to give proper cultural contextual consideration – even her instructor.

Something particularly questionable is when these kinds of places have expensive portraits of indigenous people from around the world, such as toothless old people smiling in Indonesia, or barefoot children harvesting wheat (or the image of a woman in Kenya harvesting coffee beans). It comes off as terribly insensitive, and downright offensive. With no context, it’s rendering the deep sacrifice (for our luxury) of those in the Global South meaningless, or worse – trivial and quaint. “Why look at the happy brown people with their good, honest living and traditional way of life. How I envy them in that simplicity,” some people will undoubtedly wonder.

Everyone here chats away, spending $17 on coffee and pie per person, and the beat goes on. Mother Jones encapsulates this absurd paradox with their indictment of “hipsters” who drink almond milk, as its production contributes to the worst drought in California in years (http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/07/lay-off-almond-milk-ignorant-hipsters).

I will recognize the efforts of conscious consumerism. Fair trade and sustainable-sourced products are increasingly popular. But such popularity eventually becomes trendy, and is then rendered mindless once again. How to protect such legitimate efforts to even the playing field for those in developing marketplaces when this pattern is so persistent?

Finally, let me disclose that I type this while patronizing one such place, sucking away at some combination of difficult-to-pronounce fruit and green tea. Reflecting on the above, it’s safe to say I will not be spending my money or time in these places anymore. I will find new places that allow me to work on my online courses without contributing so heavily to problematic paradigms.

Meanwhile, these establishments are often opened in gentrifying areas, where traditional communities are suffering economic and cultural displacement in that very location. How ironic that fair-trade coffee and Shakti yoga are marketed as “conscious consumer choices,” but in this environment, these are anything but conscious. They are mindless choices made by a product-hungry society, the primary element in the maintenance of the status quo in a market-driven, social system that is designed to oppress.

iDepression – Is There an App for That?

2 Jul

Increased social media use (specifically Facebook) is positively correlated with depression, stress, and anxiety. One study examined the Facebook behavior of nursing students and their emotional outlooks. According to this study, increased time spent on Facebook was positively correlated to high depression scores (Labrague, 2014).

Still another study found positive correlations between Facebook use and having negative feelings about one’s self-esteem (Lee, 2014). This study in particular show that people tend to compare oneself to others whose posts appear on their Facebook feeds. According to this study, social comparison theory is used to explain the study results; that comparing oneself to others can influence self-perception (Lee, 2014). On the other hand, the study also poses the theory that people with low self-esteem are predisposed to self-compare to others while using Facebook. I imagine that would make for a very frustrating self-fulfilling prophecy!

I think it probably works both ways. I believe that people with low self-esteem are more likely to self-compare, and that being on Facebook a lot leads to self-comparing, which leads to low self-esteem. The question is how much is too much, and with social media becoming so pervasive in our society, what kinds of implications does this carry for people, especially younger generations who have adopted these technologies as a natural aspect of their childhoods and adolescence?

Another of my own interpretations of these studies is the idea that Facebook time is not necessarily an addition to our social time – it’s becoming a substitute for it.

 

With decreased face-to-face time, we may naturally become less socially stimulated and socially content. Couple that with seeing lots of people doing fun stuff on your feed (people doing fun things – together – in person), and the self-comparing cycle that may lead to depression becomes as clear as it is troubling.

 

Works Cited:

Labrague, L. J. (2014). Facebook use and adolescents’ emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress. Health Science Journal, 8(1), 80-89.

Lee, S. (2014). How do people compare themselves with others on social network sites?: The case of Facebook. Computers In Human Behavior, 32253-260. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.12.009

Park, S., Lee, S., Kwak, J., Cha, M., & Jeong, B. (2013). Activities on Facebook reveal the depressive state of users. Journal Of Medical Internet Research, 15(10), e217. doi:10.2196/jmir.2718

Robin Thicke and the Dynamics of Abuse

25 Jun

These apologies, entreaties, promises and veiled threats are all a typical part of the cycle of abuse.  This is what psychologist Leonore E. Walker calls the “Reconciliation/Honeymoon Phase” – the abuser feels guilty, is contrite. He or she makes grand gestures of their affection, constructs elaborate apologies. They promise never to hurt their loved one again. They might promise to get help (though most likely they won’t). If that doesn’t work, they might threaten suicide or self-injury in order to gain sympathy or otherwise manipulate the situation. They will do literally anything they can to convince their victim not to leave them.

via Robin Thicke and the Dynamics of Abuse.