Wednesday, April 13, 2005

A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis et al 2000

Again, this is another book I discovered by perusing the bibliography to 'Younger Next Year'. Some interesting points, but not on my 'must read' list.

Publishers Weekly
The Beatles may have sounded naive when they assured us that "all you need is love," but they may not have been far off the mark. New research in brain function has proven that love is a human necessity; its absence damages not only individuals, but our whole society. In this stimulating work, psychiatrists Lewis, Amini and Lannon explain how and why our brains have evolved to require consistent bonding and nurturing. They contend that close emotional connections actually change neural patterns in those who engage in them, affecting our sense of self and making empathy and socialization possible. Indeed, the authors insist, "in some important ways, people cannot be stable on their own." Yet American society is structured to frustrate emotional health, they contend: self-sufficiency and materialistic goals are seen as great virtues, while emotional dependence is considered a weakness. Because our culture does not sufficiently value interpersonal relationships, we are plagued by anxiety and depression, narcissism and superficiality, which can lead to violence and self-destructive behaviors. It is futile to try to think our way out of such behaviors, the authors believe, because emotions are not within the intellect's domain. What is needed is healthy bonding from infancy; when this does not occur, the therapist must model it. The authors' utopian vision of emotional health may strike some as vague or conservative to a fault, and the clarity of their thesis is marred by indirect and precious writing. Yet their claim that "what we do inside relationships matters more than any other aspect of human life" is a powerful one. “A mammal in protest shows a distinct physiology. Heart rate and body temperature increase, as do the levels of stress horomones…Cortisol levels rise six fold in some mammals after just 30 minutes of isolation.”

“Despair (prolonged separation response) and depression are close cousins. Growth horomone levels plunge in despair… immune regulation undergoes major alteration… the reason why children deprived of love stop growing, lose weight no matter what their caloric intake, and dwindle away.”

There seem to be two types of memory; we’re only conscious of one of them. “Mr. Underwood was taught to braid – a skill he was unacquainted with before his explicit memory expired. After he mastered it, experimenters asked him if he knew how to braid. He replied ‘No’, a truthful statement from his point of view. Yet when 3 strips of cloth were placed in his hands he wove them together without hesitation.”

Babies seem to hear in the womb, and here is some evidence: “Within days, an infant recognizes and prefers not only his mother’s voice but also her native language, even when spoken by a stranger. You might think this knowledge comes from postpartum interactions – quick learning indeed. But a newborn doesn’t recognize his father’s voice, indicating that neonatal preferences reflect learning before birth.”

Is seeing believing? “Close your left eye, push gently on the corner of the right eye – and the world dips or lurches several degrees, as if it were not your fingertip moving a millimeter but the hand of God shaking the planet. The brain doesn’t detect the eye’s position but tracks only the ocular movements it commands. When it orders no eye movements, the brain assumes that none occurred. Displacing the eye manually shifts the light falling on the retina. The brain concludes that with eyes immobile, the world has turned.”

Does it get harder to learn new things as we age? “Because human beings remember with neurons, we are disposed to see more of what we have seen already, hear anew what we have heard most often, think just what we have always thought. Our minds are burdened by an informational inertia… and as a life lengthens, momentum gathers. ‘In scientific work, we find that new theories are understood only by the graduate students… in contrast the senior professors are burdened with such connectional inertia that when they encounter new ideas there is no apparent effect, other than an occasional vague irritation.’”

Question advice and think about the consequences: “A newspaper column with advice for parents recently advocated letting older and younger children settle disputes without parental interference, so that they might learn what people do in the real world. The children in the unfortunate households that apply this pearl will unerringly distill the timeless lesson of the unsupervised boarding school or playground: justice is weak; might and intimidation triumph.”

“The American habit of sleeping separately (from your children) is a global and historical singularity.” Robert Wright, a proponent of evolutionary psychology and a champion of common sense refutes this habit. “According to the commonly held belief, the trouble with letting a child who fears sleeping alone into your bed is that ‘you are not really solving the problem. There must be a reason why he is so fearful.’ Yes, there must. Here’s one candidate Maybe your child’s brain was designed by natural selection over millions of years during which mothers slept with their babies. Maybe back then if babies found themselves completely alone at night it often meant something horrific had happened – the mother had been eaten by a beast, say. Maybe the young brain is designed to respond to this situation by screaming frantically so that any relatives within earshot will discover the child. Maybe, in short, the reason that kids left alone sound terrified is that kids left alone naturally get terried. Just a theory.” Absolutely classic! I have to look up this Robert Wright character and see what he has to say about the world.

Is cocaine really addictive? “Of all humans that try cocaine, less than 1% become regular users – the other 99 walk away… This staggering imbalance points to a problem not in the juices of the coca leaves, but inside the brains of a tiny fraction.”

Do businesses think like reptiles? Manville’s President Lewis Brown during the asbestos litigation ridiculed the other asbestos manufacturers “for the foolishness in notifying workers about the terminal illness they had contracted on company time.” When questioned about this statement under oath, “’Mr. Brown do you mean to tell me you would let them work until they dropped dead?’ Brown said ‘Yes, We save a lot of money that way.’”

Is your doc's next award going to be the Nobel in medicene or an Oscar? “The Lancet, Europe’s most respected medical journal, advocated teaching acting techniques to medical students… ‘We would suggest that if physicians do feel antipathy toward patients, they should at least act as if they cared.’”

Do HMOs think like reptiles? “The NY State Health Commissioner discovered a short while ago that an HMO was using its data on cardiac surgery death rates to improve the selective routing of patients to NY hospitals. Did the insurer send its patients to the most dependable institutions? Of course not. Instead, administrators used the statistics to bargain for basement rate prices from the most lethal centers. Then they diverted patients to the cheapest facilities available, where those customers were likeliest to suffer and die.”

All in all the book is a quick read on a short plane ride and better than watching reruns of "The King of Queens" on the inflight video. 2 stars

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