18. Our Connecting Machine

This is the next chapter of a book called “Pyramids and Trees: Attachment, Addiction, Empire, and a Nation Bursting Forth.

As a human parent, we have one real job:  To get our child addicted.  

…to people.  We call it connecting, and hopefully we connect to good people in a nicely balanced relational mesh.  If connecting humans is evolution’s strategy for our species, our biology and brains evolved with this end in mind: Connect to as many people as deeply as possible, while retaining individuality. 

That individuality is our own gift to the species.  The best humans are the ones who are most relationally connected to humans, without losing their own identity. 

This Goldilocks balance keeps our individuality healthy and makes us better contributors to the Whole species.  If we isolate too much, we are like a sheep who has wandered off from the pack.  With no science or reality to keep us in check, we become easily manipulated by whatever has our trust.  Even if we survived the manipulation, our own awesome discoveries and growth would do the human race a fat lot of good, since we don’t talk to anyone.

On the other hand, if we are too integrated, we have no sense of self and are pretty worthless.  We follow the pop culture without calling anything into question, and are just another easily manipulated check mark on an election ballot. 

A balanced human contributes to the building of human society and ordering the world together in harmony. 

To keep this homeostasis, we had to have a rock solid emotional foundation on which to build.  Evolutionary biology handed rock solid hardware, but it had to be programmed with rock solid software.  

This is how we did it. 

With each one of us, the emotional foundation was built in the first year of our life – the year of Magic.

To cram 86 billion neurons into your head, and then get that head out of your mom’s vagina before it killed her, evolution got creative.  It decided to give you an underdeveloped brain in utero, and you would have to finish development outside in the cold.[1] 

Infant brains are a bit like computers with BIOS[2] installed – hardware with a very basic framework of firmware, set up and ready to be programmed.

Over the course of a few years, through a series of leveraged trades, your brain transforms into fully operational software you’ll need to run C:\LIFE.

THE PROGRAMMING BEGINS

Whoever gives a baby’s brain attention and energy is it’s best chance at survival and development.  This is the baby’s domination plan for the earth.

And it’s genius.  If attention is every person’s gold, the baby’s got a fantastic game plan.   Which is good, since it’s the baby’s only option.

So all of that highly evolved skull-jelly is really primed for attention.  Human Positive Attention is the Great Stimulator for growth, and this baby is desperate for stimulation. 

The baby brain vets the sources around it for the best opportunity for stimulating attention, on a Great Stimulation Search.  The winner(s) – the one who stimulates it the most – gets the loyalty of the baby and the prize of attaching to and programming the brain.

Your little 7-pound newborn gelatinous body had almost no power, but all kinds of leverage.  Being your parents’ gamble for the future, you were a little vessel of themselves that they were highly invested in. 

You were their dictator, and no matter how badly you abused them, they had little choice but to serve your every need.  You screamed, and they came running.  You liked it.  They allowed you to exploit and violate all their normal routines and even their health.  Basically, they worshipped you.  And the ones who did it best won your highest regard.  Generally, Mom.  Sorry, dad. You can have silver.

THE GREAT SURVIVAL QUEST

Your first need was to find food.  Pretty key, so the brain stem took that one on and caused you to scream like crazy, even if it killed you. So you invested what you had – your unfettered emotions – by throwing them out into the cold chaotic world to see if anyone cared to respond. 


It didn’t take long for you to figure out that whoever was giving you milk was a superstar:  Mom.  You went ahead and forgave her for forcing you into a conehead during birth.

The smell and taste of mom’s milk stimulated your olfactory senses and taste buds –

— and your first two senses began to develop around this magical Liquid of Survival.  Your brain didn’t just connect to the milk, but to wonderful human giving it to you.  Your brain began to release oxytocin when mom showed up and cuddled you.  Along with her milk, you learned to distinguish the smell of her amniotic fluid and skin by two weeks of age.  Smell and taste were your most primitive forms of connection.[3]  Ideally, they were fine-tuned by your mom.

Through this openness to vulnerability, your sensory input became intimate with and deeply connected to your mom, your codependent savior-servant.

Score two for human connection.

The next battle to program you was for Touch.  Your brain also quickly figured out it should prefer the touch of this life-giving, loving, nurturing momma skin over other textures.   It was like a silky, warm blanket of comfort and protection that let your spazzing brain CHILL and helped your metabolic temperature keep homeostasis.  Just connect to Momma’s skin. [4]

So our touch senses also became regulated and balanced via an inextricable connection with mom.

Next came hearing.   This sense first developed by listening to 2 things – a rhythm of mom’s heartbeat and her voice.[5]  (That and some gurgling intestines, which is probably why we still like Halloween.)

Soon, mom started talking to you in goo-goo- ga-ga voice, intuitively and freakishly, modulating her vocal tones over a range of several octaves each sentence when she talked to you, [6] even though she never does that to adults (awkward).  

The ranges of pitch when speaking to various folks/pets.[7]

All this tone variation caught your spaz-brain’s attention like a wild episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.  You were an emotional mess-ball of snot, freaking out at all the unsafe things in the world, and a whisper wouldn’t do.  Mum caught your attention by spazzing out her voice to meet you in your wild emotional state. 

Captivating. First, she[8] mostly fed you on her left boob while speaking and singing into your left ear, which helped develop your right brain.[9]  At this point, you were only paying attention to basic tones, which seems to be why your right brain took the lead on musicality.  After a couple of months, she started holding you from behind, playing with you like a puppet and speaking into your right ear, about the time you were paying attention to words. This is probably why your left brain took the lead on words. [10]

Your auditory circuits are now firmly adapted for the reception of a human’s voice over other pitches.    You learned to associate a voice with the fulfillment of your needs.  You also learned to associate tone with mood, quite handy for survival.  A 1-year old child, while they don’t know our language yet, knows their mothers voice and intentions by their tone.[11]  Music is the foundation for speech.[12] All this positive, safe attention.

This lady was the ticket.  And you programmed your hearing and emotions via connecting with her.  4-Zip.

Last and greatest sense to develop: sight.   

This one took a while.  When you were born, everything looked like this:

And finally, this sight came into view:

These three dots started it all.

These three dots started it all.

You quickly figured out that these three dots were pretty special, because they accompanied every great gift for survival.  A face.  Faces were so important that a pea-sized region of your brain, called the Fusiform Face Area (FFA), is completely dedicated to deciphering the complex algorithms needed to recognize the tiniest of differences here.[13]

Mom, Dad, and your crazy uncle Roy got busy making all these goofy faces up close.  Same thing happened as with baby talk—exaggerated expressions caught your attention, and you were mesmerized:

I’m still a little pissed that mom and dad quit making funny faces.

These funny faces helped you exercise your FFA and primed your sight for social awareness. Just as zebras are connoisseurs of stripes, we are facial recognition wizards.  Unlike any other animal, we can tell apart virtually every human we’ve ever met just based on face and categorize hundreds of emotional states based on the tiniest variation in expression.

These faces were the only Netflix we had, and we binged.  We fell deeper in attachment, and our vision got clearer, with these faces as the pinnacle of our visual existence.

Faces are the most important object we look at, because understanding them is the key to a successful life.  We subconsciously traverse the world scanning faces and gleaning all kinds of information based on their expressions.  Thanks to mirror neurons, we even feel a bit of what they are feeling and match our own expression to theirs. 

All this training really paid off, so that now you can know the meaning to every emoji on your phone, and many more NOT on your phone.

Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to find the right emoji when you need it most.

This facial training, provided for free by mom and dad, connected you.  If they felt sad, you downloaded it.  If they felt joy, it was contagious. 

In a healthy home, those adults were emotionally stable.  Over several years, your connection to stable emotional adults anchored your volatile baby emotions and took you from

The more you attached to them, the more you would regulate your emotions like theirs.  With all your senses in sync, your neuropsychology was developed by and for those who poured life into you.

Attachment. 

Mom and Dad and Uncle Roy got your brain addicted to human stimulation, because the only chance you have at surviving is bonding with humans.

The depths to which social connection is intertwined with our existence have still hardly been explored.   New studies are consistently finding that our social interaction affects not only our psychological well-being, but even basic vital functions such as our hormones,[14] digestive tracts,[15] immune systems,[16] and life expectancy.[17]

We are hardwired all the way to our core for human connection. 


REFERENCES

[1] This is why our brains double in size in year one!  Fun fact:  IQ can be predicted by measuring baby’s head circumference at birth and again at 1 month.  More head growth in month 1 = higher IQ later.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4530288/

[2] Ask someone born between 1975-1990.

[3] Seriously, smell.  One study gave menstruating women shirts from different types men, and they were most attracted to the smell of the most symmetrical [generally, healthiest and most attractive] men.  Read it and weep: Human body odour, symmetry and attractiveness. A Rikowski and K Grammer; Proc Biol Sci. 1999 May 7; 266(1422): 869–874.

[4] See the videos from Dr. Karyn Puvis that explain sensory development. Start here: https://empoweredtoconnect.org/resources/understanding-sensory-processing/

[5] All that chaos/order/chaos/order homeostasis bit has created quite a few rhythmatic sequences in nature, like day/night, life/death, and momma’s heartbeat.  Which is why you like to groove to the beat.   Don’t you?  Don’t lie.

[6] Listen to yourself when you talk to babies?  Why?  WHYYYYYY??   You’re training that little dude.  Instinct.  You got it.  Just for fun, try talking to a baby like normal bass monotone and watch everybody freak out- including baby.

[7] Gergely, A., Faragó, T., Galambos, Á. et al. (2017). Differential effects of speech situations on mothers’ and fathers’ infant-directed and dog-directed speech: An acoustic analysis. Sci Rep 7, 13739 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-13883-2

[8] That’s 88% of moms who are right-handed. Southpaws, please flip all right-left hemisphere references hither forth.

[9] The hypothesis is that This is why, in 88% of people, left hemisphere only can talk, while righty can sing notes.  Cool, huh?

[10] This is all called the Mother’s Voice hypothesis, and has gained a ton of traction in recent years.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animal-emotions/201701/mums-babies-and-their-brains-why-they-take-sides; also see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3439120/  

[11] One study was done that showed one year olds responded the same way to their mother saying things in English or greek, regardless of what was being said. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-01-english-greek-toddlers-tone.html

[12] Awesome study showing this concept: Brandt, Gebrian, & Slevc. (2012).  Music and Early Language Acquisition.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3439120/  For adults, see Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.  describes a study done by medical researchers that found that by using a content-filtered audio recording of conversations between doctors and patients, they could predict which doctors were more likely to be sued for medical malpractice.   They took four 10-second clips of conversation between doctor-patient, filtered the audio so that they couldn’t understand the words, but could only hear the tone of voice, and in 40 seconds time could predict with high accuracy if you would get sued.  

[13] This pea-size part of our brain, called the Fusiform Face Area, has one job: to recognize faces, specifically, eyes, nose, and mouth.  This somehow connects us to states of empathy.  One study brain-scanned people watching a stick being broken.  Nothing.  Blank stare.  Then, they took another stick, drew a smiley face on it, and broke it – and their brain went beserk with empathy and shock.  

[14] https://www.socialconnectedness.org/social-science-101-this-is-your-brain-on-social/

[15] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-37298-9

[16]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0024320500005063  

[17] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1745691614568352?journalCode=ppsa

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