A Book You May Want to Add to Your Bookshelves

The last book we read for our book club was A General Theory of Love.

I've been recommending it strongly.

I had read a good review of it in The New York Review of Books. It was about neuroscience - something I had heard of but never really understood. I thought it would be a good chance to find out why this is such a hot subject.

It turns out that neuroscience is about how the brain works. A General Theory of Love is a book about the biology of emotion.

Despite a tendency toward ornate prose, the book was terrific. It was chock full of interesting facts, figures, stories, studies and conclusions. It clarified and advanced my thinking about many things, including:

Here are some of my notes on the book:

Problems and Questions:

Page 23: The authors don't want to locate love in the reptilian brain, but they will assign gang violence to it, even though they admit that reptiles display both aggression and courtship rituals.

Page 173: Feeling like you are being treated can help you recover because of the connectivity. The limbic brain is healed. Could this account for the placebo effect?

Page 190 - End: The last part of the book does two things: First it discusses the difference between loving...which happens in the limbic brain and is based on mutuality and involves reciprocal physiological connection...and being in love...which requires only a brief connection. This is very good. It harkens to F. Scott Peck's distinction between Romantic love and loving. The second major theme of the back of the book makes the argument that "some cultures encourage emotional health while others do not." The authors criticize America particularly. This was the weakest part of the book.

Differences between Mammals and Reptiles

  1. Mammals bear their young live. Reptiles lay eggs.

  2. Mammals nurse, defend and rear their offspring. Reptiles ignore and often abandon them after they hatch.

  3. Mammals form close-knit, mutually nurturing social groups (families). Reptiles live solitary lives.

  4. Mammals communicate with their children. Reptiles do not. (After limbic ablation adult hamsters ignored the calls and cries of their young, pups would stop over their mates)

  5. Mammals play with one another. (A man tugs a toy with a dog.) Reptiles do not.

Interesting Facts and/or Statements

  1. If the Wernicke part of the left brain is damaged you cannot understand what people are saying to you but you can speak perfectly well. (58)

  2. If the Broca part of the left brain is damaged you can comprehend but not express yourself. (58)

  3. Damage to the right brain can result in Aprosodia, an inability to either discern or to or deliver the emotional nuances (verbal inflections) of the spoken language. (58)

  4. Animals with little neocortical brains - dogs, cats, opossums - have emotions. (60)

  5. Babies look to the expression on their mother's faces to detect danger. (61)

  6. The limbic brain is very sophisticated at detecting the internal states of other mammals. (62)

  7. Because of the connectivity of the limbic brain, emotions are contagious whereas thoughts can easily be rejected. (64)

  8. Take a puppy away from his mother and he will bark and whine for a while.

    Reunite it with his mother and he will quiet down. Separate him for a very long time and he will become ill tempered and despairing. (74)

  9. Prolonged detachment creates a host of somatic symptoms. (82)

  10. Detachment from individual motherly parts produces individual symptoms of despair. For example, detachment from the mother's bodily warmth slows bodily activity while detachment from the mother's milk produces sleep problems. (82)

  11. It used to be thought that the limbic system was determined entirely by the DNA. Now we know it is subject to crucial early growth experiences, such as those provided by the mother. (89)

  12. Sometimes animals abandon evolutionary traits to survive. Pandas, for example, don't need the attachment to the mother that other mammals do. This is probably because nature has forced them to live alone even from a young age. (90)

  13. When people have trouble with their emotions they often want science to pinpoint an offending neurotransmitter, but the brain doesn't work that way. (92)

  14. The limbic brain has neurotransmitters that produce pain and also assuage pain: opiates. (95)

  15. There are two types of memory: explicit memory and implicit memory. Explicit memory records perception: i.e., events. Recent scanning studies show that this part of the brain controls imagination as well. Thus explicit memory is totally fallible. The explicit memory function of the brain cannot distinguish between real and imagined events. (104)

  16. Implicit memory allows us to learn languages and skills. (108)

  17. Implicit memory is active at birth. Explicit memory begins after infancy. (112)

  18. Reasoning has little or no effect on the limbic brain and that is where all the perceptions and emotions are contained. (118)

  19. We learn by neural networks that are inscribed by experience, most especially the experience of early attachments. (120 - 140)

  20. A limbic connection can steady a person whose emotions are tumbling out of control. (172)

  21. Medications can sometimes steer emotions where attachment cannot. (172)

  22. Throughout history man has regulated his limbic brain with alcohol, opium, cocaine, etc. (176)

  23. You cannot control the limbic brain with the neocortical brain. You cannot easily control your perceptions by thinking about them. Self help gurus that say you can feel more positively by making statements in the mirror are probably mistaken. (177)

  24. Nothing kills therapy faster than a therapist who follows Freud's dictum to be "opaque to the patient." (184)

  25. Recent studies show that human babies are meant to sleep with their parents and that dying from sudden death syndrome is more likely to happen when they are alone than when they are with their parents. (196)

  26. Loving relationships are, by definition, based on mutual interest. This is how the limbic brain works. Selfish relationships cannot produce that loving feeling. (208)

These are just a small portion of the notes I took on this book. Check it out yourself and let me know what you think.

posted by M. Masterson @ 2:08 PM,


At 9:15 AM, Blogger ValerieAnne said...

I believe the author you are referring to is M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled.

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Byron said...

So glad to see reference to this wonderful book. I read it three times, marked it up, and loaned it out. Now it's gone.

But the info stays with me, especially the importance of not neglecting the wisdom of the limbic system (mammalian brain). Nuance of voice, look in the eye, feel of the touch - all these matter to us underneath our thinking.

I also loved their honesty in the limits of psychotherapy. The book is a love letter to therapists largely, reminding them it is an inexplicable quality of connection that works, as if by osmosis, between therapist and client.

I'm all for integrating our rapidly growing knowledge about our anatomy and physiology and the poetry and spirituality of our problems and solutions. This book does that well.

Brad Carrier
Ashland, Oregon

At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Darryl said...

Michael, another good book on the function of the brain is "Change your Brain, Change your Life" by Dr.Daniel Amen.

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Byron said...

Thanks to Darryl for putting author and new book together. Looks promising.

Brad (Byron)

At 12:25 PM, Blogger Doug said...

Thanks for the book recommendation.

My wife (a children's therapist) and I are advocates for attachment parenting and co-sleeping (re: two bullets in your notes). (Our daughter as an infant cried instantly when we laid her down alone. We were told constantly to "let her cry it out", but not told what the "it" was. So we picked her up, and soothed her instead. You know... following our natural instinct instead of peer pressure...

It's amazing how judgmental many people are about this, but when we researched parenting styles while she was pregnant, we discovered Dr. Sears (a different Dr. Sears from the one advertises here, but equally good) and his books on attachment parenting.

As our daughter approaches 4, she has silenced all of the critics of our parenting style, with her well-behaved, compassionate, empathetic, and humorous personality, not to mention her intelligence.

So, we'll be picking up this book, and will be reading it together. Thanks again.


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