A General Theory of Love by Lewis Amini and Lannon - A review
Why are we collectively so unhappy? Unhappy at home and at work? Have we put our rational brain too high on the pedestal? If we understand our Mammalian or LiMbic Brain better might we have a better time? Why are relationships so important to us? What is a real relationship? What is wrong with our relationships today? How important is having the right relationships to our happiness and to our health?
Some context - Robin my wife is away for 3 1/2 weeks and I miss her a lot. After nearly 30 years of being with each other this type of parting actually hurts. Why? Well here is how I am making sense out of this feeling. Parts of this post come from a email that I sent to her earlier today.
This is a science book not a new age book. It answers some questions about why we miss each other and why relationships are so important to our health. Why does loss hurt? Is this feeling of hurt only a feeling or can it affect us physically? They say that hurts in our relationships are as wounding as say broken bones or physical wounds.
Their thesis is that we have 3 brains. The reptilian brain which controls the core life functions like the heart beating and our breathing. The limbic brain which is a mammalian construct not found in lower animals which controls our emotional life. Its main job is to keep us connected to those who matter the most too us which is essential for mamals. And then the neo cortex which humans have the most of which deals with things like speech and reason. Today we give no credence to the limbic brain. We have put the rational or neo cortex brain up on a pedestal. We value IQ, our education system is rationally based. But really we get things done and we get through life as mammals on how well we connect or not with others. Our EQ is as important as our IQ. Maybe more so. Their insight is to look at the power of the mammalian brain to inform us about what is going on, to govern our health and to enable us to work effectively with others.
So missing you is more than simply missing you - the book makes the case that there is a break in my relational world. Breaks or openings in important relationships for mammals are not small things that you can rationalize away. Recall the waves of grief that came after your father and even your mother's death?
So what is this limbic mammal brain all about anyway? The big idea is that the limbic brain is our relationship brain designed to enable mammals which have live birth and which need the tribe to protect the mother to form the attachments that are essential for the success of these large investments in the other - the other baby, the mate and the tribe.
It is remarkably perceptive acting on small cues such as pupil dilation, smell and visual cues from facial and body movement. It does not need the neo cortex to process an immediate like, dislike, sense of unease, fear etc. This maybe is why love hits us by surprise. It is not part of our rational brain at all. This is why we cannot rationalize a loss - so your reason tells you that your mother's death is good for you, and your limbic brain tells you that losing your mother is a deep loss and sends waves of grief and dreams to remind you. A woman sees a man who rationally is no good as an economic provider but her limbic brain tells her to get it on as a genetic provider!
Reptiles do need need relationships because on the whole they do not raise helpless young. Most but not all reptiles abandon their offspring and most do not have mates or packs/tribes. Having no need of relationships, they are more than cold blooded they are cold emotionally. We can tell by the eyes. When we look into a shark's or into a crocodile's eye we see nothing coming back. When we look into a whale or a dogs eye we see a whole world. This is the limbic brain. The limbic brain is powerful. When babies have no "relationship" such as in a Romanian orphanage not only do they fail to thrive, in the end they die. The worst punishment we can inflict on a person to to keep them in solitary confinement. The absolutely worst is compete sensory deprivation. In Ireland the British could always break a man by "hooding" him and isolating him from all sensation.
It seems that the limbic brain needs to be in active relationship with others to be happy. We need in effect to be dancing with others emotionally all the time. A shark is like a car on cruise control - it is a closed system that only self-references. It reacts to prey but only as a target. Mammals are "open" systems. We cannot exist without referencing with others.The mother who imposes her agenda on her baby, feeding, touch and control is not dancing with the baby's cues. The husband who imposes his will is not dancing. The boss who imposes his will is not dancing. The result failure to grow and learn, stress, depression and illness. I wonder if we have ben entirely captured by the Rational Brain as represented by the corporate world of relationships which are not be definition interactive but power driven down?
There is a pattern developing for me in how I make sense of the world and why perhaps the world feels so shitty now. I think it feels so shitty because many of us are not dancing with another. We dance increasingly alone. We actually see this in dance itself. Until now all dancing especially tribal dancing was interactive. Now we stand alone on the floor and do our own thing. We have our career which supersedes our marriages and our role
I find this book very helpful in seeing a way out of our depressing and over rational world. Descartes said that "I think therefore I am" What is becoming clear is that our foundation need as a mammal is to be in interactive and meaningful relationship with others.
Our corporate world is a machine world with machine relationships. No amount of wellness or flex programming will change this unless the core work is to change the machine relationships to human/mammalian/tribal relationships. When we bring the corporate world home and have corporate and functional relationships with our spouses and with our children we are on a course for unhappiness. Our spouse and our children need our attention not the things that we buy. When we live in a machine community where all we do is sleep overnight before going back to the machine place in the day - we have no community. When teachers and nurses ignore relationships and focus on technique, they miss the connection to help the other learn or heal. In missing the relationship with the other, they feel depressed.
It's interesting to look at how power works in ape and monkey tribes. You might think that the really strong and tough alpha male gets to the top. Sometimes he does but usually the females form an alliance and ensure that a highly collaborative male who has their intersts at heart is the leader. In the context of the needs for mammals to look after each other this makes perfect sense. Today we live I think in a fantasy where we "think" that we ned no one. Like Bush we think that power is enough. Like Bush, we find that this is simply not true.
So where does blogging fit into this? I suspect that blogging is intensely mammalian and that it builds relationships and makes us feel good and hence well.