Graduation, and chemistry

Gradtuation

I’ve graduated, as of about a month ago actually. I actually did it. I actually completed something major in my life. I even received the diploma in the mail. Wow!!

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You’re damned right I put pipe cleaner spiders on my cap. :)

With any luck, I will soon be a cum laude graduate – I had received a C in one of my classes, and at the risk of sounding like a pretentious douche I was admittedly skeptical. I had received As and Bs on all of my assignments up until that point, so a C grade didn’t make any sense… as it turns out, the professor had a brain fart, and somehow the wrong grade was entered into the final transcript. I should have an A in the class. She’s submitting a grade change application and I should soon have a high enough GPA to have cum laude status, which I am really proud of! So, here’s to closing my undergraduate chapter, and opening the doors to new beginnings, new opportunities, wherever life happens to take me…

Chemistry

Currently I’ve been reading what is, so far, turning out to be an amazing book – Love 2.0 by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson (ISBN 978-0-14-218047-1), which explains to us that everything we think we know about love is wrong, as explained by science. It’s really resonating with me, and as much as I hate to admit, it and some concurrent life experiences are making me less cynical in my views of love, sex, and relationships. I’m still analytical to a fault about everything… but I digress.

I’m only about 50 pages in but so far I’ve gathered what her definition of “love” is – positivity resonance between two or more human beings, regardless of shared history, pre-existing bonds (if any), level of intimacy, etc. That when two people seem to really “click”, their brains will literally synchronize; studies have revealed that when people are so emotionally in tune with one another in one of these moments of “positivity resonance”, the participants’ brains will be firing in the same areas, and sometimes one brain will predict the actions of the other! It is your mirror neurons going into overdrive, it seems, that drives what Dr. Fredrickson describes as “love”, and that love doesn’t have to happen with someone you are “close” with, that love can happen between two strangers. Love is, she describes, our “supreme emotion”, and she goes on to say that we need it like we need oxygen, food, and water – it is a nutrient essential to us as sentient, emotional beings, and that going too long without love has substantial and quantifiably negative health effects.

I’ll stop reiterating what’s in her book – you can buy it yourself if you want. For now, I’m just going to expand on her thoughts and findings, as it’s made me realize some things of my own.

It has happened to all of us – you meet someone you just immediately “click” with. Cerebral synergy, positivity resonance, being “on the same page”, whatever you wish to call it, we’ve all been there, where you just immediately seem to “tune in” to one another and strangership seems to skip the acquaintanceship stage entirely, and you jump right into a more intimate, friendly situation. This is regardless of romantic inclinations, but it can obviously apply to both.

Why the hell does this happen? How can this happen?

I’m not, and never have been, one for “love at first sight”. But I do think that millions of years of evolution could absolutely give us the biological and psychological tools necessary to form incredibly strong bonds with other human beings in relatively small amounts of time. Are these bonds superficial and ephemeral; is their purpose linked to short-term survival strategy, hard-coded in our ancestral DNA? Are these bonds sustainable? Surely it seems counterintuitive for something that came about so quickly to last more than a short while – it’s what we’re conditioned to believe, at least. But let’s break it down, let’s distill it to a suite of biological and chemical interactions within ourselves with evolutionary context. That’s all “we” are, after all, whether you wish to accept it or not.

It seems that effective communication combined with effective internal and external awareness – awareness of your own actions and how they interact with the actions of another person, and how they both resonate with one another – can make people’s minds open up and be more receptive to what Dr. Fredrickson calls “love”. There’s also a definite body language component to it… facing somebody full on, exposing your “vulnerable” torso and abdomen to them; as it turns out, when you are comfortable around somebody, your ribcage expands slightly – surely we notice this on a subconscious level. Micro-expressions are also important, subtle facial cues that you don’t notice on a conscious level, but they provide cues as to what the other person is really thinking or feeling. Eye contact is perhaps the most important, as those micro-expressions are hard or even impossible to detect without some level of eye contact. Eye contact can induce the release of one or many hormones and/or neurotransmitters, oxytocin being an example, which may trigger a chain reaction of neurochemicals, all resulting in you becoming more receptive to the other person. These things culminate in that synergy, positivity resonance, feelings of genuine happiness and companionship, feelings of being accepted by someone else – a sense of having your own well-being cared for by someone else, while you care about theirs.

When you look at it this way, to me, it makes sense that it could be sustainable in the long-term. Why would our evolutionary history dictate we invest so much complexity and energy into something that would be ephemeral? Think about the downsides of a strong, yet ephemeral, bond: heartache, regret, longing, confusion. That doesn’t seem beneficial, though we must be careful not to think teleologically, here.

Think of all the friendships you’ve made because you and another person, say, someone you sat next to at a lunch table at school one time, just really hit it off, and remained friends ever since. I can think of my own personal relationships that started off with very rapid positivity resonance. In fact, one of those relationships – forged entirely over the Internet, mind you – will be ten years old this month, and I still consider her to be one of my two best friends in the whole world. WOW. What’s our secret? Well, I can’t really say. Internet-facilitated relationships lack all of those physical, biological, and chemical cues, so something else must be at play, here.

“Neuroplasticity” gets thrown around a lot, and it’s typically used to allude to the your brain’s ability to “rewire” itself, form new connections, and reinforce old ones. Maybe this has something to do with it? Forming new connections and retrofitting them so that they interact with our existing interfaces for “love” and “positivity resonance”, so that even in the absence of microexpressions et al, we can still get those same feelings as if we were in the physical presence of the other person. It does make me wonder, however, how we perceive such virtual interactions and what sort of “internal” criteria we have for what triggers a “positivity resonance” response, and what doesn’t. Furthermore there comes the issue of not ever really knowing if the other person is on board – is the positivity resonance not actually resonating at all, but instead is one-sided? Something to think about, something to look into, something to maybe try quantifying. I’ve just had too many profound experiences with fostering amazing relationships (romantic or otherwise) in the absence of continuous physical presence, so I am skeptical of claims that positivity resonance et al can only persist when you are physically near each other.

Things to think about. I think I’m done for now. Need food.

One thought on “Graduation, and chemistry”

  1. Loved reading this. It reminded me of years I spent looking at the difference between fate and destiny.…

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