I just got back from Mexico, where I presented the Spanish translation of my book Habits of a Happy Brain. Here I am on the Mexican equivalent of The Today Show, after furiously working on my Spanish for a few weeks.
A few reporters showed up with dog-eared copies of my book full of underlinings and plastic tabs. I was thrilled by the chance to build a community of thought! But one comment was repeated and helped sharpen my focus. People said this was all new to them, and presumed it was because Mexico was late in receiving neuroscience. I said it’s new everywhere because it is not embraced by mainstream neuroscience.
I have always been honest about the fact that I do not represent the neuroscience establishment. I am not credentialed in the field, and if I were, I would lose my credentials for what I’m saying. Most people find this hard to believe. They think I am just explaining neuroscience more clearly than the lab guys. They don’t see how scientists could object to what I’m saying because it seems obvious. But they do object. On the bright side, they do not openly criticize me because I do not openly criticize them. But I face a wall of silence. Why?
It is not politically correct to say that our brains are wired from life experience.
Why not? Don’t ask me. Ask them.
Furthermore, it is not politically correct to say that our frustrations are caused by our animal impulses. We are supposed to blame our frustrations on “our society.” You can say it’s some of both, but the currently accepted view is that peace and love are the natural default state, and everything bad is caused by “our society.” This view was introduced by Rousseau in the 1700s, but in those days people had more direct experience with animals so they wouldn’t accept the huge misrepresentation of animal behavior coming from modern science.
Today it is not politically correct to say that dopamine motivates us to keep seeking more. We are meant to blame that on “our society.”
It is not politically correct to say that oxytocin motivates us to follow the herd. We are taught to blame that on “the system.”
It is not politically correct to say that serotonin motivates us to seek the one-up position.
No greater good is served by training people to blame their impulses on society, as much as we might wish it were so. It just undermines our efforts to manage our impulses, which leaves us feeling like powerless victims. Of course I am not suggesting that we strive for social dominance, follow the herd, or keep seeking more. I’m suggesting that we accept responsibility for our own motivations instead of blaming them on the system. We have power over our neurochemistry when we recognize that power. If we expect the system to manage our neurochemicals, we give away that power and end up frustrated. Taking responsibility feels threatening at first, but it has many dividends. For example, when you accept your own animal impulses, it’s easier to accept these impulses in others instead of getting so upset about them.
The facts about the mammal brain are not really new- the studies accumulated throughout the twentieth century. (Some references are here and here.) In the present century, attention has shifted to a few contrived studies on animal empathy. But the facts are still there for anyone to connect the dots. I tried to say “connect the dots” in Spanish, but I didn’t have a clue.
About the author: To find out more about Loretta Breuning, please click here