Thursday, November 02, 2006

Telepathy Explained?

In an interesting 23 minute podcast called How Human Brains Are Wired To Connect, Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence (which I haven't read but have read about ;-) ) speaks about his new book, Social Intelligence. Much of what he discusses sounds kind of similar to The Four Agreements and Magic Words and Alchemy. ;-)

He begins by explaining that "social intelligence" is an aspect of "emotional intelligence." He briefly defines emotional intelligence as self-awareness, self-management, and "channeling" positive emotions leading to the social aspects of empathy and skilled interactions with others. It seems he is saying that social intelligence is a kind of subset of emotional intelligence, which makes sense enough and sounds kind of familiar. ;-) His ideas are based on the findings of an emerging field called "social neuroscience" that studies how social interactions affect neurology. He describes "mirror neurons" that act as "wifi" that connect the physiology of two or more brains. (though he doesn't explain how this happens, only that it does; maybe there's more of that in the book?)

Goleman suggests that anecdotes of "ESP" in long-term relationships could be explained by the brains of the people in close relationships forming the same cognitive associations due to their physiologies interacting over time. I think that this synchronicity is probably rather variable and that it doesn't necessarily take a long time to achieve.

Probably the main point of his talk is that physiologies/neurologies seem to interact in non-trivial ways that we haven't been scientifically aware of until recently. Of course, these ideas have been around for a long time, but it is pretty interesting that there is now scientific research looking at them.

Goleman also discusses what we can do to regulate our receptivity/projection of these neural signals. Sure, we've all known people who can either light up a room or suck all the energy out of it just by being there. Apparently, meditative practices strengthen the neural pathways or "circuitry" responsible for the ability to block negativity and project positivity, but Goleman seems to be moving away from the scientific and into the spiritual (or at least speculation) when he talks about the larger implications.

I can't say I am convinced about his application of these neurological insights to the broader issues of society such as social, political, and economic problems. When he starts talking about possible "altruism circuitry" that "wants" to improve relationships and social conditions and how modern life impedes positive interactions and world relations, blah, blah, blah, he kind of loses me. Let's get the science of the individual interactions figured out better before we go making big sweeping conclusions about society. He mentions "compassionate capitalism" and so on, but it sounds too much like sociological mumbo-jumbo to me. Not that I'm against such things, but I feel some resistance to this kind of mandating of morality in much the same way as I am resistant to most Political Correctness.

Another idea Goleman suggests is that prisons should do more to "reform the brains" of convicts. (Actually, that sounds a bit like A Clockwork Orange.) Well, I tend to think that the brains of convicts are probably less "reformable" and that is probably why they are convicts in the first place. ;-) However, it would be okay with me if they used prisoners for this kind of research, and if they got positive results then yay for them.

Despite these sociological problems I think I'd like to read this book just to see if it makes sense as it's presented. And I'd like to know more about the actual research because you can't always trust other people's interpretations of things. ;-)

For those who are interested in other podcasts check out Science and the City.

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