My Grandma’s toes were crooked. She used to say she was born this way, but it was surely the shoes: too small when she was a poor immigrant, too tight when she could afford heels. My Mom’s were less so, she only had bunions whose operations incapacitated a couple of toes. Mine started out on that path too, but I traded the self-inflicted trauma of small shoes and high heels for Birkenstock, a sight I now inflict upon others.
Emotions are apparently simpler than we think. Psychologist James Russell, as quoted in Lisa Feldman Barrett’s new book How Emotions Are Made (2018), came up with a very simple model that describes affect, or how we feel throughout our days.
It has two features only: how pleasant or unpleasant we feel (called valence) and how calm or agitated we feel (called arousal.) … The origin of feelings
Our species’s greatest problem is that every new brain needs more attuned care than any parent finds pleasant to give. The proverbial “village” expertly provided this attuned care for the hundreds of thousands of years of our species’ development. Today, with our isolated western lifestyles, we are suffering from what researchers call an “epidemic of neglect.” … Humanity’s greatest problem
Brains are for two things: pursue life and avoid death. On an ongoing basis, they need the will to pursue food, drinks, mates, whatever makes us live. After spurts of saving us from the claws of death, they need to calm back down and get on with the business of life. The settings “will to live” and “calm back down” are mainly hardwired during childhood when our genes interact with our environment (our caregivers, in the first years) to shape our brain.
Let’s be clear: it is fiendishly difficult for humanity to deliver on these two simple needs that every new generation has from the older one: a solid base from which to explore the world, and safe haven from stress. Two brilliant Marias, born fourty years apart, explained why. … All we need, in one drawing
Everyone should read Robert Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst (2017), but not everyone will. Which is why I created this illustrated short version.… Book on the brain now online