Pharyngula

Your mama’s soul doesn’t love you

If it existed, it might also be profoundly autistic and … diabetic? So science cannot disprove the existence of a soul, but one thing we’re learning is how much valued human properties such as love and attachment and awareness of others are a product of our biology — emotions like love are an outcome of chemistry, and can’t be separated from our meaty natures.

The latest issue of BioEssays has an excellent review of the role of the hormone oxytocin in regulating behaviors. It highlights how much biochemistry is a determinant of what we regard as virtues.

Anyone with a little familiarity with physiology will know the simple function of oxytocin. It’s a short peptide, only nine amino acids long, that is produced by neurons of the hypothalamus. These neurons send a process down into the stalk of the pituitary gland, where they terminate on blood vessels and secrete their hormonal payload into the bloodstream for circulation to the rest of the body. This is a potent hormone: it’s responsible for inducing muscle contractions in the uterus (it’s the hormone used to induce labor in pregnant women), and release also triggers lactation. Those are the overt functions that we expect our physiology students to memorize, and it’s also what’s diagrammed below: the big pink neuron on the left is sending black dots, packets of oxytocin, down its axon to be disseminated to the rest of the body.

i-6db7ae6d45f73a76e9754a2b8255e0ba-ot.gif

Ah, but that simple story is incomplete. The diagram also shows dendrites emerging from the cell body of that hypothalamic neuron; these dendrites are also secreting oxytocin deeper into the brain, into the hippocampus, amygdala, striatum, and nuclei in the mid- and hind-brain. It’s oozing all over the place, and these other roles are almost certainly just as important as its role as an endocrine signal — after all, we males also have these oxytocin-secreting cells, yet we neither lactate nor go into labor. What do these signals do in our brains?

There is a long literature showing an association between oxytocin and affiliative behavior. The differences between prairie and montane voles are well-known: montane voles show little pair-bonding behavior and males do not share in raising the young compared to prairie voles, and the montane voles also show reduced levels of oxytocin receptors in areas associated with reinforcement and conditioning. The idea is that release of oxytocin occurs in social conditions, giving the voles with receptors a little natural high that they seek to repeat, while the surlier montane voles get no biochemical reward, and social behavior is not reinforced.

Experiments in other animals, such as sheep and mice, with application of oxytocin or oxytocin antagonists (also with gene knockout experiments in mice) have had similar effects. Oxytocin encourages nurturing and the measurable symptoms of affection, while blocking oxytocin weakens social behavior. These experiments would be impossible to justify in human subjects — can you imagine mad scientists prowling the maternity wards to see if any new mothers would like to try a drug that would reduce their attachment to their baby? — but some experiments on other behaviors, which involve intranasal oxytocin (that’s right, they’re snorting it) show interesting effects. For instance, oxytocin increased trust between men playing an investment game, and also increased the ability to infer the mental status of others, or elevated empathy.

The diagram above also shows some other complicated interactions going on. Oxytocin is the effector molecule, the one that when released causes changes in other neurons, but other molecules are important regulators of oxytocin. This paper focuses primarily on CD38, a transmembrane receptor that has ADP-ribosyl catalase activity — that is, it creates internal second messenger molecules, cyclic ADP-ribose (cADPR) and nicotinic acid adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NAD) that mobilize calcium stores and increase various activities of the cell. The identification of a regulatory molecule allows more fine-tuned analysis of how oxytocin works. Knocking out oxytocin in mice, for instance, is going to cause obvious problems in the animals with lactation and birth — oxytocin knock-out mice don’t lactate. Knocking out CD38 has more subtle effects: the mother mice lactate, but have greater latencies and spend less time nurturing their pups.

Here’s a science-fiction scenario for you, too: the mice with mutant CD38 showed reduced mothering. They were infected with a virus carrying a wild-type copy of CD38, and a few weeks later, their maternal behaviors were restored. Think about using infectious agents to intentionally modify behavior — you should be a little bit concerned about the possibilities.

The paper mentions a few other interesting correlations. The deficiencies in social behaviors in oxytocin-deficient animals is suggestive of a human disorder, autism. Studies have found reduced plasma levels of oxytocin in autistic individuals, but one has to worry about confusing cause and effect: oxytocin levels are modified by social interaction, too, and the diminished sociability of autistic people may be indirectly reducing their oxytocin secretion, rather than reduced oxytocin secretion impairing their social interactions. There are a few studies that show some amelioration of the effects of autism by intravenous transfusion of oxytocin, though, which is suggestive. Don’t get too hopeful, though, since at best what was seen was a mild reduction of some of the symptoms. (Hey! Maybe they have to try the mind-altering virus approach!)

The other interesting correlation is that cADPR is a second messenger used to regulate insulin production in pancreatic cells. One study of familial type II diabetes identified a common mutation that downregulated cADPR; a few patients in this study also showed an autism-related phenotype, although the numbers looked so small to me that we’re well into the realm of anecdote with this one.

Now I know some people are peculiarly offended by the idea that something like love can be reduced to “just chemicals”, but I’m not one of them. I find it absolutely wonderful that beautiful human feelings are not the product of ineffable invisible spirits, but are a consequence of our splendidly earthly humanity — hug someone, and little peptides tickle regions of their brains, and they feel good and happy, and they might just hug you back … and that’s all right with everyone. Who we are is inseparable from what we are, and we’re all complicated conglomerations of intricate biochemistry with a long, long history of natural change, and we should revel in that. Share some chemistry with your neighbors today!


Bartz JA, McInnes LA (2007) CD38 regulates oxytocin secretion and complex social behavior. BioEssays 29(9):837-841.

Comments

  1. #1 CalGeorge
    August 20, 2007

    Official line: science can’t disprove the soul.

    Unofficial line: people who talk about the soul are full of crap and need a science enema.

  2. #2 Tom @Thoughtsic.com
    August 20, 2007

    As you said, many people become offended when it’s suggested that we’re a product of causal determinism, of which I support. But just a few examples of chemically-modified behavior (pharmaceuticals, narcotics, hormones) is all it takes to prove the concept.

  3. #3 Bronze Dog
    August 20, 2007

    Something most woos don’t entertain: If we did find souls, we’d be delving into their mechanics, in which case, the woos would make up something else to claim that “Consciousness isn’t just a bunch of ethereal spirit particles bumping against each other!”

  4. #4 sailor
    August 20, 2007

    “Now I know some people are peculiarly offended by the idea that something like love can be reduced to “just chemicals”, but I’m not one of them.”

    It is surely chemical, as all those people who have tried Exctasy know:
    http://www.newscientist.com/channel/health/mg19425984.600-ecstasy-really-does-unleash-the-love-hormone.html

  5. #5 Interrobang
    August 20, 2007

    I’m a dysmenorrheic misanthrope. Can I get some of my oxytocin rerouted, please? I’d feel better, and so would everyone else around me.

    Just to take an extreme devil’s advocate position (not that I endorse doing such a thing), I can see a use for biochemically reducing people’s attachment to their babies: It would simplify a lot of adoption/surrogacy cases by reducing the likelihood that the biological mother would change her mind and start demanding the baby back.

    FWIW, I’m not a mad scientist, but I have been approached to play one on tv, and if I ever start liking babies, I’m going to the doctor’s for strong antivirals. 🙂

  6. #6 Adam
    August 20, 2007

    The obvious “evil scientist” approach would be to create a virus that caused everyone to love each other, after vaccinating his evil army first. It would be like conquering a world filled with people on ecstasy.

    Of course, I suspect nature has already beaten us to the punch as things like toxoplasmosis already take advantage of mental illness in a host to spread itself further.

  7. #7 John Emerson
    August 20, 2007

    According to this paper, the hormone prolactin (long known to be associated with mothering behavior) also is associated with fathering behavior in species whose males care for the young.

  8. #8 Steve LaBonne
    August 20, 2007

    But just a few examples of chemically-modified behavior (pharmaceuticals, narcotics, hormones) is all it takes to prove the concept.

    And remember that alcoholic beverages have been used at least since Neolithic times, so this powerful commonsense argument has ALWAYS been available against the proposition that our thoughts and feelings are the product of some immaterial something-or-other. But human credulity is a wondrous thing.

  9. #9 R!
    August 20, 2007

    If someone were to release an oxytocin virus, would that make potential terrorists more loving towards everyone, or more willing to die for their group?

  10. #10 Niobe
    August 20, 2007

    “can you imagine mad scientists prowling the maternity wards to see if any new mothers would like to try a drug that would reduce their attachment to their baby?”

    I can imagine quite the opposite for Post partum depressions.

    It would simplify a lot of adoption/surrogacy cases by reducing the likelihood that the biological mother would change her mind and start demanding the baby back. And give the adoptive / foster parents a boost in bonding.

    I wonder if this has a factor in the Westermarck effect, and if people with personality disorders like psychopaths and child molesters have a malfunctioning oxytocin system.

  11. #11 Andrés
    August 20, 2007

    Now I know some people are peculiarly offended by the idea that something like love can be reduced to “just chemicals” […]

    Really, I don’t understand why some people finds that offensive. They say “you think it’s not valuable because it’s just chemicals”, but actually is the other way around: THEY are the ones who think love is not valuable if it’s “just chemicals”. Hey, people! Its being love is what makes it valuable, not where it arises from!

  12. #12 Andrés
    August 20, 2007

    Now I know some people are peculiarly offended by the idea that something like love can be reduced to “just chemicals” […]

    Really, I don’t understand why some people finds that offensive. They say “you think it’s not valuable because it’s just chemicals”, but actually is the other way around: THEY are the ones who think love is not valuable if it’s “just chemicals”. Hey, people! Its being love is what makes it valuable, not where it arises from!

  13. #13 woozy (sorry 'bout the ramble)
    August 20, 2007

    I’m a bit surprised to discover there are people who are serious “anti-materialists” a view-point I’ve never come across before reading this blog. Previously I had assumed that there was no argument and what more there never had been. All religious people I’ve spoken with, including fundamentalists and literalists, all believe in the material world and that the brain and it’s physical and chemical make-up make thoughts and emotions[*]. So far as I can tell, their belief in the meta-physical soul is some sort of mutual imprint in an eternal “world”.

    Anyone who thinks emotions and/or thoughts don’t physically reside in the brain simply *has* to be in reactionary denial.

    “Now I know some people are peculiarly offended by the idea that something like love can be reduced to “just chemicals”, but I’m not one of them. I find it absolutely wonderful that beautiful human feelings are not the product of ineffable invisible spirits, but are a consequence of our splendidly earthly humanity.”

    The folks who are “offended” by “just chemicals” believe “just chemicals” disperse with any human essence. This is a bit like believing that a book can be reduced to “just letters” is offensive. On the other hand I can’t really empathize with your finding it “absolutely wonderful” either. I suppose I’ve always felt that although intangiable concepts such as “spirit” and “humanity” (an “bravery”, “thought”, “emotion”, “language”, etc.) can lead to philosophic ontological quagmires (“How can one recognize a table if there doesn’t previously exist the ideal concept of a ‘table’ beforehand?” and so forth), I never thought an acceptance of intangiable concepts required any worldview. Hence whether emotions and thoughts come from “spirits” (which may or may not be “invisible” and “ineffible”) or from “humanity (which may or may not be “earthy”) or whether there is any substantial difference in meaning between “spirit” and “humanity” wasn’t a pressing concern that needed a precise answer.

    I don’t find that reducing emotions and thoughts to “just chemicals” offensive but I, personally, find it a wee bit emotionally disturbing. (Which is not to say that I disagree or that I am even surprised[**].) To try to find the “self” and one direct control over thoughts and emotions and have it fade away into “chemicals” is upsetting. On the other hand, lying in bed when one is five years old and wondering how one can claim to be able to make ones choices when one can’t chose *who* one is or what values one will use to *make* said choices, is just as disturbing.[***]

    So… uh, where was I? Oh, right. Neat essay and neat points. I guess I’m just surprised there are actual “anti-materialists” and that this is even arguable.

    ====
    [*] The implication of the wording is that one’s thoughts and emotions are random and capricious. This is pretty much semantics whether one believes in a “soul” or not. The chemical reactions of the thoughts and emotions are caused and induce other chemical reactions of thoughts and emotions. So whether one believes a “soul” or “self” is influencing these reactions or whether one believes ones emotions or thoughts are a manifestation of these reactions and causing further the result is the same: one’s human and personal experience continues.

    [**] I reasoned bootsrapping had to lead to such a conclusion.

    [***] To my way of thinking the two imponderable philosophical questions are “why is there anything” and “why am I me and not someone else”. My current conclussion is that both of these questions by their very nature (circularly reducing everything to an irreduciable basis while contradictarily never accepting an irreduciable basis ad hoc) can never be answered in a satisfactory and non-disturbing way. ‘course I reached that conclussion when I was five years old and lying awake in bed before I knew anything about brain chemistry or big bang theory.

  14. #14 Bronze Dog
    August 20, 2007

    Really, I don’t understand why some people finds that offensive. They say “you think it’s not valuable because it’s just chemicals”, but actually is the other way around: THEY are the ones who think love is not valuable if it’s “just chemicals”. Hey, people! Its being love is what makes it valuable, not where it arises from!

    And that summarizes a point I think all the time, and should shout more.

  15. #15 H. Humbert
    August 20, 2007

    What hormone is responsible for credulity?

  16. #16 PZ Myers
    August 20, 2007

    You need to get out more. The “just chemicals” riposte is an extremely common response — many people are deeply offended by the idea that their favorite emotions are not generated by an ethereal and immortal spirit completely independent of that gross yucky biology stuff.

  17. #17 Will
    August 20, 2007

    Great article, Myers. OT is one of my favorites to read about. I always thought it was a little odd when people got offended at the idea that emotions were just our bodies chemical responses to stimuli. It doesn’t make you feel the emotion less does it? For the life of me I can’t find the articles I read about this topic, but I can remember a few of the things they said:

    – Females have twice the baseline OT than males have.
    – Females get the same OT release from a hug from their significant other as the male gets from an orgasm.
    – The rower rate of breast cancer in breast feeding women is attributed to OT
    – It also causes the orgasmic contractions in the male that project the sperm

    @ John: I recently mentioned prolactin in a article I reviewed on my blog, it may be one of the hormones that lets us experience sexual satiety. And like you said, it’s much more complicated than ONE neurotransmitter.

    I’ll stop there.

  18. #18 Inoculated Mind
    August 20, 2007

    I’m particularly interested in how these neurotransmitters act in males as well. Too often you find guys promoting the idea that they can’t be nurturing, that they have to (IMO, artificially) distance themselves from child-rearing, from the home, and this carries with the idea that males are too fundamentally different than females for them to cooperate in child-rearing.

    What is also interesting is that some of the same socially-conservative individuals believe that humans are monogamous, or should be completely monogamous. But they are at the same time, very dichotomous in their view of the roles of men and women in society. What we find, however, in species that pair-bond and are monogamous (at least serially), is that males have the same kinds of chemicals welling up that compell them to aid in child-rearing. So if we are the way they say, then those guys should pitch in and change some diapers.

    What is also important is how individuals have developed, and therefore how individual people respond to pair bonds and child-rearing on a biochemical level. Because females can be very non-nurturing, and males very nurturing as well, and if we’re stuck inside this paradigm that males do this and females do that, we’ll miss out on the improvement that we could obtain to our lives. Informed by science.

  19. #19 Stephen Wells
    August 20, 2007

    (1) I too can’t understand the attitude that love isn’t real if it’s explicable in terms of real things 🙂

    (2) To be honest, the differences between prairie and montane voles were not that well known to me, before reading this article.

  20. #20 Will E.
    August 20, 2007

    Theists of all stripes love to criticize non-theists with this kind of reductionism: our brains are “only meat” that “squirt chemicals” (which Michael Egnor was going on about) or “If we’re only the result of blind chance, then we can just do whatever we want,” and the big one, “There has to be more to life than just this.” Drives me bugfuck, because otherwise a lot of these folks are intelligent but seem to have some inability to comprehend that “just” and “only” are not criticisms, but simple facts that must be accepted. Emotional distress, well, that’s a whole ‘nother thing.

  21. #21 marcia
    August 20, 2007

    My friend impregnanted his girlfriend. They got along badly during the preganncy. She chose to move back in with her parents (done right after the birth), a decision made before giving birth.

    At the hospital, one day after the birth, she did a 180 and acted lovingly toward my friend, like it was the first weeks of their relationship. She now strongly desires to move back with him, a complete turnabout.

    She stops breastfeeding in one week. It will be interesting to see if her attitude changes when her oxytocin drops. My friend is aware of the oxytocin – social bonding connection and is awaiting the hormonal changes.

  22. #22 Steve LaBonne
    August 20, 2007

    Too often you find guys promoting the idea that they can’t be nurturing, that they have to (IMO, artificially) distance themselves from child-rearing, from the home, and this carries with the idea that males are too fundamentally different than females for them to cooperate in child-rearing.

    That’s because those guys carry the “asshole” gene- which is autosomal. 😉

  23. #23 chris
    August 20, 2007

    Here’s another interesting article. Intranasal administration of oxytocin may increase “trust” in humans. While increased social interaction may be the effect, an increased feeling of trust of others may be induced by oxytocin.

  24. #24 Sastra
    August 20, 2007

    “Ok then, Mr. Smarty-Pants Atheist Scientist, you know so much with all your materialistic science and no God — can you see LOVE under your microscope? Can you, huh, can you?”

    “Er, why yes … and here is the diagram.”

    “Oh. Never mind then.”

  25. #25 Sabrina
    August 20, 2007

    Great find, PZ! It’s a very meaty topic for a bioethicist – behavior-influencing hormones, gendered behavior, chemicals that make people behave less like jerks. While I think that there could be some beneficial applications of this in the future, I sincerely hope (futilely?) that more research will be undertaken before “better mothering through hormones” gets marketed freely.

  26. #26 Willey
    August 20, 2007

    Absolutely Fascinating! Wonderful summary PZ

  27. #27 Sean Craven
    August 20, 2007

    I’ve actually got story notes based on the idea of using tailored infectious agents to give people socialization-enhancing receptors, so finding out that this actually takes place blew my mind nine different ways.

    (The scenario I had in mind was a society shattered by a couple of very poorly raised generations — ever spend time with a child raised by a nanny? They’re usually bottomless pits of need with diminished capacities for empathy, which I think explains a lot about our current culture — and the vigilante squads that were physically enabling people to form social groups… sort of a post-apocalyptic care bears thing.)

  28. #28 w-o-o-z-y
    August 20, 2007

    You need to get out more. The “just chemicals” riposte is an extremely common response — many people are deeply offended by the idea that their favorite emotions are not generated by an ethereal and immortal spirit completely independent of that gross yucky biology stuff.

    Was this (#15) directed at my #12? If so I’m honored!

    No, I’ve heard the “just chemicals” argument before. However before reading this blog and some of the wackos it draws out I had never actually run across any actual and serious “anti-materialists”. Last night I read your “Planet of Hats” post which was very amusing. I was a bit startled when one extreme wacko said believing our consciousness resided in our hats was no more absurd than believing it resided in our brains. Like many wackos he derisively scoffed the vast majority who believe/assume as though we are the fringe. “Oh, you materialists and your belief in magic,” he scoffed. I was so impressed by this… quaint… concept of “materialism” as though the norm were some “anti-materialism” (or should it be “meta-materialism”) that I wanted to respond but I refrained as the post and comment were 16 months old. Perhaps, the timing that this morning that there was a post somewhat relating to “materialism” made me react here how I wanted to react there.

    I never ran across an actual “anti-materialist” before and all the christians, creationists, new-agers, and spiritually-inclined folks I’ve met all agree that thoughts and emotions exist in the brain in the same way they believe that other planets (in our solar system or not) exist and stars are distant suns. To *not* accept that would be “anti-materialism” and akin to not believing in atoms, or physics, or …. reality. I mean, honestly! My mind boggles at the thought. Perhaps I’m naive for being so stunned at people’s increduality but it’s a bit stunning the first time you run across it, don’t you think?

    Anyhoo… The way I always heard and interpretted the “just chemicals” argument was … well, a belief that the whole is always *less* than the some of its parts. Thus reducing something to its parts “kills” the soul or misses the soul. To try to counter-argue then where is the physical location of the soul is tempting, but to be fair, a little patronizing and assuming the christians, creationists, new-agers, and spiritually-inclined folks are sophmoric. (Many, in fact a lot, are but it isn’t fair to assume they *all* are. Even if you think all are *wrong*, it isn’t fair to assume their arguments are all the same sophomorism.) The xists,creos,na-er and sifs I know tend to believe the “soul” is the “meaning” or the extra bit more that the whole is to the sum of the parts but is some “real” or pertainent way rather than semantic way. (I, by the way, simply can’t find any reason to believe or assume there is any “‘real’ or pertainent way’.)

    My experience seems to be that the whole is nearly always greater than the sum of its parts. (It’s just an expression. I don’t mean it literally.) A pet theory I have is that the world is exponential but we intuitively assume it is linear. (Hmmm, I suppose the whole is always bigger than the sum of its parts because the whole is the product of its parts! Whee! Semantics is *fun*!)

    I think folks find “just chemicals” offensive because they are afraid reducing and quantifying or even discovering something is finite somehow diminishes or eliminates it. I find this on par with arguing reducing a book to its letters destroys the book.

    To absolutely flog an analogy, I guess anti-materialist wouldn’t believe a printed book doesn’t contain the story and is just a radio for recieving the story an the orthoganal story-plane (which I find stunning and surprising that anyone would believe something so weird and … well, stupid). The The xists,creos,na-er and sifs I know would argue the “soul” of the book exists “outside” the book in the people reading and giving it life. Or maybe in the author thinking it and transcribing it to letters. (This is, at least, …. well, sane and somewhat coherent but seems an arbitrary distinction that avoids the question in a semantic loophole.) As an athiest, I believe … stories can be expressed in words which can be reduced and examined as letters which can then be interpretted as words which express the story and uh, just, what is the issue exactly….

  29. #29 Scrofulum
    August 20, 2007

    Be interesting to test oxytocin levels in people of various professions. Might there be high levels in midwives and very low levels in traffic wardens?

    Worrying thoughts of a future employment bias are now occurring to me though. What if you weren’t allowed into the army becuase you’re levels were too high, or the navy because they’re too low. 🙂

  30. #30 PalMD
    August 20, 2007

    This really does help point out the bankruptcy of the anti-materialist argument. Unexplainable phenomena keep getting shoved into a smaller and smaller corner, with less left for the “goddidit” response.

    Oxytocin is the tip of the bio-behavioral iceberg. While the mind, as a complex, emergent phenomenon, may yield its secrets reluctantly, it will reveal them eventually.

  31. #31 Monado
    August 20, 2007

    I wonder if women’s higher baseline level of oxytocin is related to their “intuition”?

  32. #32 Caledonian
    August 20, 2007

    Now I know some people are peculiarly offended by the idea that something like love can be reduced to “just chemicals”, but I’m not one of them.”

    It is surely chemical, as all those people who have tried Exctasy know

    That’s just stupid. ‘Love’ is a complex behavioral pattern generated by various neural structures; the activity of these structures is mediated through neurotransmitters and can be altered by various other chemicals.

    No emotions are chemical. Chemicals affect emotions.

  33. #33 D
    August 20, 2007

    Ironic, considering previous claims that everything can be reduced to physics and thus is physics.

  34. #34 Caledonian
    August 20, 2007

    ‘Physics’ is a fundamental concept. ‘Chemical’ is not.

  35. #35 Badger3k
    August 20, 2007

    Fascinating. I just looked and my school has access to this journal, although they only have up to the Aug 07 issue online now. Have to make note to get this when it comes up.

  36. #36 Ken Cope
    August 21, 2007

    No emotions are chemical. Chemicals affect emotions.

    Of course, but it’s relative steps in understanding that are what is important here, Caledonian.

    Some years ago I spent quite a bit of time with Dr. Oscar Janiger (best known for introducing hundreds of creative people to LSD in a relaxed setting in the fifties, among them Cary Grant, Anais Nin, Alan Watts and Lord Buckley). He was the first to isolate DMT, from Ayahuasca, and discovered what it did by (conservatively) injecting a CC of it. His early work tested the hypothesis that emotional states were correlative with changes in neurochemistry (a radical and laughable notion not too long ago):

    I devised an experiment. I double-blinded my progesterone. I injected the material randomly and didn’t know which was which. Then I charted the symptoms and found, when I broke the code, that progesterone had an extremely salutory effect in relieving these women of premenstrual symptoms. I began to see clear evidence of a substance in the body that, in short supply, was markedly influencing the behavior of these women. I gave a talk before the Medical Society and outlined what I had done. I said that premenstrual depression could best be treated by looking at this as a hormonal problem, and that it had certain implications for the way the body influences the mind. The people in the group were skeptical and some said, “How do you know that it isn’t some unconscious factor that’s still operating regardless?” They said, “You haven’t proven that she still isn’t worried about her castration fears. You’ve only proven that if you give her progesterone, that could be modified, but you haven’t attacked the basis of the problem.” How could I do that? Psychoanalysis has an answer for everything. I went to two of my brightest women medical students, and I asked, “How would you like to spend the summer in Europe? I want you to go to all the primate centers there, and find out, do great apes have a menstrual cycle similar to humans? I want you to talk to the keepers and find out if they have any reason to suspect that their behavior is any different during their menstrual cycle.” For the next three months I had letters from all the European zoological gardens. We were excited to discover that in the Berlin zoo, Fritz, who took care of a female gorilla named Olga said, “A week before her period I can’t get near Olga, she’s just a mess. All she does is throw all kinds of shit at me.” (laughter) At my next opportunity to present I said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have discovered that the gorillas have feminine identification problems, and they also have castration fears, (laughter) because they can get very upset before their period.” Everyone applauded and started to laugh. That was the beginning of my understanding of how mental and emotional difficulties could be correlated with one’s biochemistry. This is the basis for the treatment of depression by altering one’s neurochemistry.

    Having regarded prior experiments with altering my neurochemistry as the ingestion of “entheogens,” it was conversation with Oscar that first made me critically examine my assumptions (set, setting) about my experiences. Just because I had, like the vast majority of his subjects, felt for a few hours that I was at one with the universe, I could not reasonably conclude that it actually was a vast active conspiracy on my behalf. His frank expression of atheism was liberating for me, helping me flip my Necker Cubic personal model of consciousness from top-down to one of bottom-up emergence. While I am a product of the universe, and my chemicals are the product of the deaths of stars, my mental and emotional states are more than chemistry. I am the confluence of a number of processes that are in principle identifiable on a number of scales by multiple measures. Etc.

  37. #37 Patrick Quigley
    August 21, 2007

    Who we are is inseparable from what we are, and we’re all complicated conglomerations of intricate biochemistry with a long, long history of natural change, and we should revel in that.

    Wonderfully Sagan-like prose.

  38. #38 woodland sunflower
    August 21, 2007

    Females get the same OT release from a hug from their significant other as the male gets from an orgasm.

    I wonder if women’s higher baseline level of oxytocin is related to their “intuition”?

    Oh, knock it off, guys. If you’ve read enough of the other articles on this blog, you know this is crap.

  39. #39 Ian H Spedding FCD
    August 21, 2007

    I wonder if there’ve been any studies on the relationship between oxytocin levels and pet ownership. Do I dote on my cats because I am predisposed to do so by elevated levels of oxytocin or is it because their presence induces oxytocin secretion? What else can explain the relative equanimity with which I am able to clear up furballs vomitted up on the carpet?

  40. #40 kristen in montreal
    August 21, 2007

    Hello, everyone. I’m new here… I stumbled upon the blog when I did a google search for “spider sex” (don’t ask). I love this blog! So this is just to say hello and thank you to PZ Meyers for making my day! I’ll spend alot of happy time in the archive here.

    Signed,
    A fellow godless liberal (Canadian version).

  41. #41 Bruce
    August 21, 2007

    #18 “the differences between prairie and montane voles were not that well known to me” -Stephen Wells

    Easier to see in their habitats: montane voles grease their hair back, smoke and work on engines while prairie voles wear sweater vests and help with the housekeeping (and get laid more often).

  42. #42 daedalus2u
    August 21, 2007

    I have a blog about a related subject, when your mama’s love goes bad. When acute metabolic stress causes infanticide.

    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2007/08/low-nitric-oxide-acute-psychosis.html

    Because mammals produce milk which is derived from maternal metabolic resources, mammals have evolved a “safety valve”, to shed maternal metabolic load when that load gets to be “too much”.

    Moderate metabolic stress leads to postpartum depression, severe metabolic stress to postpartum psychosis and infanticide.

  43. #43 Tony Jeremiah
    August 21, 2007

    “Ok then, Mr. Smarty-Pants Atheist Scientist, you know so much with all your materialistic science and no God — can you see LOVE under your microscope? Can you, huh, can you?”

    “Er, why yes … and here is the diagram.”

    “Oh. Never mind then.”

    **A possible counterargument to the materialist view is the radio-voice analogy–the idea that although you can hear voices coming from a radio, they aren’t actually inside of the radio. Instead, a radio consists of components that allow the conversion of electromagnetic energy into sounds that we here that are actually coming from an external source(s).

    When we extend this analogy to the human body, we can suggest that the physical components that make up the body (e.g., neurochemicals) are analogous to the physical components that make up a radio. It could thus be an illusion that our thoughts and feelings are originating within the body. Instead, one could think of all these chemicals as microscopic neuroreceivers that pickup different energy signals (e.g., “love”) that might originate from an external source.

    When the components of a radio stop working, that does not necessarily terminate the source of the voices. Likewise, when the body stops functioning, that does not necessarily terminate the source of one’s thoughts and feelings.

    So to tease apart this dualist perspective, a materialistic scientist would have to show that “love” is in fact originating from within oxytocin (or other chemicals within the body), and in particular, that such chemicals are not in fact some kind of sophisticated neuro-receiver (and or transmitter-)–pardon the pun.

  44. #44 Owlmirror
    August 21, 2007

    Instead, one could think of all these chemicals as microscopic neuroreceivers that pickup different energy signals (e.g., “love”) that might originate from an external source.

    There’s this thing that scientists do; it’s called “parsimony”.

    Given that there’s nothing to suggest that emotions fall off with the square of the distance for the thing emoted for, or can be blocked by Faraday cages or something similar, the idea can be dismissed pretty much out of hand.

    It might make for a nice speculative science-fiction story, though, for a public not too insistent on real science. Feel free to write it up and see if it sells. I understand that there might be a potential market for romance-SF crossovers.

  45. #45 Pierce R. Butler
    August 22, 2007

    Your mama’s soul doesn’t love you

    So, sue her!

  46. #46 Stagyar zil Doggo
    August 22, 2007

    Think about using infectious agents to intentionally modify behavior — you should be a little bit concerned about the possibilities.

    and

    The obvious “evil scientist” approach would be to create a virus that caused everyone to love each other, after vaccinating his evil army first. It would be like conquering a world filled with people on ecstasy.

    Ooh! DARPA Gay Bomb anyone?

  47. #47 Ikti
    August 22, 2007

    I don’t understand why some chemical substance has anything to do with soul existence. It’s like saying that free will doesn’t exist, cause your hand moves only because there was a chemical process in your brain.

  48. #48 Man with a Beggar's Soul
    August 22, 2007

    I’m not suggesting these are soul related, just things I’ve pondered:
    Which “I” is it that knows I’m drunk?
    When my Great Uncle had Alzheimers, he would sometimes say, “There’s something wrong with me, I can’t remember who people are anymore.” Where is this stronghold of consciousness located? The one that asks, “Do I really love her? Is this feeling real?” Why do we even question our feelings? We somehow intuitively know they are irrational, so it should come as no surprise that there are chemical responses going on there. No one doubts the effect of hormones anymore, do they? PMS is popular culture already, so where are these denialists?

    Dualists separate the material from the immaterial. For them the soul is immaterial and exists as if in another dimension, so there’s no use discussing it with them…

    And what’s this whole thing about 21 grams?

  49. #49 Tony Jeremiah
    August 22, 2007

    There’s this thing that scientists do; it’s called “parsimony”.

    Given that there’s nothing to suggest that emotions fall off with the square of the distance for the thing emoted for, or can be blocked by Faraday cages or something similar, the idea can be dismissed pretty much out of hand.

    It might make for a nice speculative science-fiction story, though, for a public not too insistent on real science. Feel free to write it up and see if it sells. I understand that there might be a potential market for romance-SF crossovers.

    **Very good points owlmirror.

    So what happens when we assume a non-Newtonian (or even non-Einsteinian) universe and consider communication on a quantum level. Particularly as it concerns quantum entanglement (what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”), and Karl Pribam’s notion of the holographic universe. In such a universe, distance itself is an illusion and all energies are presumably connected at some (implicate-order) level.

    And concerning Occam’s razor, consider Einstein once said that “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

    Anyways, it will probably take the unification of all the sciences (particularly physics, chemistry and psychology) before we can officially conclude that our thoughts and feelings are “just” a product of chemical reactions (which importantly, are occuring at a quantum level).

  50. #50 Forrest
    August 22, 2007

    “[W]e should revel in that.”

    “Should”? It would appear that we revel in what we’re biochemically compelled to revel in; what we’re not, we don’t.

  51. #51 Man with a Beggar's Soul
    August 23, 2007

    Owlmirror,

    Just to be fair:
    a simpler but less correct theory should not be preferred over a more complex, but more correct one.

    Given that there’s nothing to suggest that emotions fall off with the square of the distance for the thing emoted for, or can be blocked by Faraday cages or something similar, the idea can be dismissed pretty much out of hand.

    Dismissing things out of hand based on a couple of tests is not exactly good science. Obviously, we’re not going to assume there are other factors, if we haven’t yet discovered a way of detecting said factors (electrons in the 18th century?) We accept the theory that best explains the phenomena at this time. That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing else going on, it just means that if there is something else going on, we are as yet unaware of it. We use the best predicting model available.

  52. #52 Ken Cope
    August 23, 2007

    Dismissing things out of hand based on a couple of tests is not exactly good science.

    It has the advantage of withholding credence (of equal weight with the current consensus) to every half-assed notion not even worth elevating to the status of hypothesis, especially in the absence of evidence or observation.

    As Gaspode the Wonder Dog says, “No-one knows the reason for this, but it’s probably quantum.”

  53. #53 Man with a Beggar's Soul
    August 24, 2007

    It has the advantage of withholding credence (of equal weight with the current consensus) to every half-assed notion not even worth elevating to the status of hypothesis, especially in the absence of evidence or observation.

    This is total bullsh*t. Give me a good reason to believe that “emotions [could] fall off with the square of the distance for the thing emoted for”. This is a total bullshit hypothesis not even worth considering!

    Ken Cope, that kind of quantum mysticism doesn’t have a leg to stand on. I’m just sick of people pretending that the latest little bit of information about some process is the gospel. Who knows what will be discovered 10 years down line? Maybe there’s more to it, that’s all I was suggesting. I know there’s a huge body of evidence supporting this and I’m not so open-minded that my brain is going to fall out. On the other hand, I’m not going to tell someone something is definitively untrue, if I can provide no evidence against it.

    Maybe there really is something freaky going on. Who am I to say anything about it? It’s not useful today because it’s not testable. I was merely suggesting that there’s no way to test such a hypothesis that there’s a soul somehwere in some netherworld with a remote control, so why bother suggesting that there are ways to test for it? Such as with some bullsh*t Farraday cage? It’s stupid!

    If there is a soul, which I’m not saying there is, it’s immaterial and therefore untestable by it’s very nature. Why even suggest that science can produce any evidence that there’s no soul? Parsimony, I know.

    Tell that to a believer…

  54. #54 Ken Cope
    August 24, 2007

    MwaBS,

    Well, why didn’t you say so? Apparently I wasn’t sufficiently clear, because I was urging you to go ahead and dismiss things out of hand based on a couple of tests, even if it isn’t exactly good science. Cut straight to the derisive mockery, because quantum woo can’t pass the giggle test. I must look for better snark tags, because if attributing my quote to a talking dog was not enough of a hint, clicking through to the link should have assured you we both hate quantum woo merchants with equivalent vehemence. Why waste brain cycles on any such non-disprovable adolescent stoner epiphanies?

    I stand behind what I said (except I would have changed the first to to from). There is no point in extending provisional assent to bullshit.

  55. #55 Tony Jeremiah
    August 24, 2007

    If there is a soul, which I’m not saying there is, it’s immaterial and therefore untestable by it’s very nature. Why even suggest that science can produce any evidence that there’s no soul? Parsimony, I know.

    **All scientific investigation of hypothetical constructs depend on how such constructs are operationally defined. If we operationally define the soul as an entity existing in another realm unaccessible to the material world, then it indeed becomes pointless to examine a construct from a perspective based in empiricism/materialism. However, there are constructs having characteristics that can be associated with soul qualities that can be found in the domain of psychology–which literally translates as study (-ology) of the soul (psyche).

    One main description of the soul is that it is immaterial–so are important constructs in psychology such as mind, thoughts, feelings, and consciousness–known as qualia among more philosophically minded social scientists. Furthermore, an as yet unsolvable problem in psychology is the ‘hard’ problem of consciousness–How do physical processes give rise to qualia? In the context of this discussion, it would be a more specific question like ‘How does oxytocin (or other such chemicals) give rise to qualia (not the behaviors)of love and other psychological phenomena?’

    Another way to think about this, is that one can imagine that when we discover everything there is to know about the mechanics of body chemical and physical processes, that this knowledge might be quite useful for building machines that are capable of simulating human behavior. But there doesn’t seem to be any conceivable way to program qualia into a machine. At best, we can only program a machine to simulate behaviors that can be connected to qualia. For example, we can train robots to smile, laugh, cry, etc., but there is no conceivable way that such machines will actually experience qualia (happiness or sadness) connected to these behavioral expressions that humans take for granted. That leaves the question of exactly what the difference between humans and machines would be if the former can experience emotions (or at least have the illusion of experiencing such things) while the latter cannot.

    So I suggest the reason why there are two bivalent reactions to the notion of a soul is as follows: some are comfortable with the thought of believing that we are simply biological machines, and others prefer believing that we are more than machines (i.e., human). Perhaps the soul is the only construct left that allows one to maintain the ‘more than machine’ belief.

    In the end, all perspectives are worthwhile because in the end, all we are really asking is ‘What does it mean to be human?’

  56. #56 Caledonian
    August 24, 2007

    If there is a soul, which I’m not saying there is, it’s immaterial and therefore untestable by it’s very nature.

    In other words, if there is a soul, there isn’t.

    In the end, all perspectives are worthwhile

    Yours aren’t; they’re worthless.

  57. #57 Tony Jeremiah
    August 24, 2007

    Yours aren’t; they’re worthless.

    **Wise, witty, kind, and short**

  58. #58 Keith Douglas
    August 25, 2007

    (For those of you wondering about the quantum thing, see Vic Stenger’s calculations on this, or Grush and Churchland’s paper – the brain is essentially a classical system.)

  59. #59 Man with a Beggar's Soul
    August 26, 2007

    Ken Cope,
    we’re obviously talking past each other on this on. I think we’re basically saying the same thing. I can’t even tell if your sarcasm and derisiveness was directed at me or just quantum woo in general, so I don’t know whether I should be insulted or not.
    Sarcasm is difficult to pull off in a comment. If you think some part of my comment was stupid, be more direct.

    Obviously, I wasn’t clear enough in my first post. I wasn’t trying to support a supernatural explanation, I was just suggesting that in addition to what we know already, there could be discoveries (evidence from the natural world) that could change our understanding of what’s going on.

  60. #60 Ken Cope
    August 26, 2007

    Man with a BS,

    What did you not understand? Any advocate of quantum woo deserves nothing better than scorn and mockery (unless you’re Roger Penrose, in which case you deserve comprehensive and devastating refutations of quantum woo, leavened with scorn and mockery (the words set off in a different color text might be hot links; if you click on them, you may find additional relevant information that is often useful, particularly if one is tempted to vilify an author for a position they obviously do not hold)).

    If you didn’t understand what Caledonian wrote, I’ll try to help. What you wrote here is complete gobbledygook:

    If there is a soul, which I’m not saying there is, it’s immaterial and therefore untestable by it’s very nature.

    You took an ill-defined concept and asserted that if it existed, it wouldn’t, because this immaterial thing’s nature is a property of untestabilityossitudinousness. It looks like you threw in the word therefore in an effort to tart up nonsense to make it resemble part of the form of an argument.

    Why even suggest that science can produce any evidence that there’s no soul? Parsimony, I know.

    You shout parsimony! sounding like you have as much comprehension as Costello shouting third base! at Abbot in the Who’s on First? routine. Are you trying to claim that parsimony dictates that gobbledygook in support of an ill-defined notion is, or is not, grounds for rejection? There is no point in discussing the nature of anything outside or apart from the natural world. If there were something to discuss, it would be part of the natural, and it, or the way it affects nature, would be discernible and subject to rational and scientific investigation.

  61. #61 windy
    August 26, 2007

    Are you trying to claim that parsimony dictates that gobbledygook in support of an ill-defined notion is, or is not, grounds for rejection?

    I think he is saying: “I know about parsimony, but I choose to pooh-pooh it, because it’s not actual evidence against my weird soul-of-the-gaps notion”

  62. #62 Tony Jeremiah
    August 26, 2007

    I think he is saying: “I know about parsimony, but I choose to pooh-pooh it, because it’s not actual evidence against my weird soul-of-the-gaps notion”

    **Actually, there’s some really interesting research currently underway that suggests something weird might be going on; initial evidence for consciousness in the absence of measurable brain activity:

    http://www.world-science.net/exclusives/070520_consciousness.htm

  63. #63 Ken Cope
    August 27, 2007

    interesting research currently underway that suggests something weird might be going on

    Woulda coulda shoulda, gonna some day, too, I bet. Wake me up when James Randi awards his million dollars.

  64. #64 Tony Jeremiah
    August 27, 2007

    Woulda coulda shoulda, gonna some day, too, I bet. Wake me up when James Randi awards his million dollars.

    **Doesn’t qualify for the James Randi award because: (1) no one disputes the existence of the consciousness without brain activity phenomenon (see the peer-reviewed study in the medical journal, Lancet by van Lommel):

    (2) the research mentioned above is meant to determine whether this phenomenon can be explained by our current understanding of the natural world, or, whether some re-evaluation of natural world theories is required. In the case of the latter, this might require consideration of controversial natural world theories such as quantum and string theories that are at the cutting-edge of our understanding of the natural world–certainly not explainable by a “simple” synaptic transmission explanation.

    ***********************************************************

    The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. –Albert Einstein

  65. #65 Ken Cope
    August 27, 2007

    The cutting edge of string theory is still elegant speculation. The cutting edge of quantum consciousness is that the microtubules in your kidney are every bit as conscious as your brain’s, and that the brain is superfluous,as you have demonstrated so well by your posts here.

    I got yer mystery right here, pal.

  66. #66 windy
    August 27, 2007

    initial evidence for consciousness in the absence of measurable brain activity

    Out-of-body experiences?? Do di do du do di do du… Next stop, the Twilight Zone!

    I like this study better:
    First Out-of-body Experience Induced In Laboratory Setting

  67. #67 Ken Cope
    August 27, 2007

    Using VR to simulate an out of body experience reminds me of having had the pleasure of watching Jaron Lanier, an early exploiter of goggles and gloves, at a live performance at SIGGRAPH. His plan was to regale us with a performance on his virtual saxaphone, while the audience watched the Amiga-resolution graphics (produced by machines that cost six figures) positioned virtually near his avatar to see some of what the performer saw.

    He could have used an out of body cam, because his performance fell apart when his saxaphone got translated inadvertently behind his head, and worse, parented to it. As he lurched around desperately (not a pretty sight) it remained 180 degrees from wherever he was looking. Hilarious.

  68. #68 Owlmirror
    August 27, 2007

    http://www.world-science.net/exclusives/070520_consciousness.htm

    Hm. It looks like Sam Parnia is trying to perform the same experiments that Bruce Greyson has been working on for a while (with no results, as best I could find).

    Huh. While trying to track down Greyson and his latest reports, I found that the University of Virginia appears to have an entire department dedicated to what might be called “weird shit”. Or just plain “woo”:

    http://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/internet/personalitystudies/

    I have no problem with this kind of stuff being tested, but that doesn’t stop me from rolling my eyes.

  69. #69 Tony Jeremiah
    August 27, 2007

    The cutting edge of string theory is still elegant speculation. The cutting edge of quantum consciousness is that the microtubules in your kidney are every bit as conscious as your brain’s, and that the brain is superfluous,as you have demonstrated so well by your posts here.

    I got yer mystery right here, pal.

    *******************

    ** Hameroff’s microtubule idea is interesting. Importantly, note that the premise behind how they are involved in consciousness, is that they generate a quantum “self-collapse” wave function whose details appear to rely on the notion of quantum entanglement– so can’t really get away from the fundamental reliance on quantum theories. I’d like to know how such a hypothesis explains consciousness in the context of what appears to be a non-functioning brain (e.g., can it be demonstrated that this hypothetical quantum wave function generates energy that cannot be registered by current measuring devices?)

    **********************

    Out-of-body experiences?? Do di do du do di do du… Next stop, the Twilight Zone!

    I like this study better:
    First Out-of-body Experience Induced In Laboratory Setting

    **Pretty cool experiment windy**

    ******************************

    Hm. It looks like Sam Parnia is trying to perform the same experiments that Bruce Greyson has been working on for a while (with no results, as best I could find).

    Huh. While trying to track down Greyson and his latest reports, I found that the University of Virginia appears to have an entire department dedicated to what might be called “weird shit”. Or just plain “woo”:

    http://www.healthsystem.virginia.edu/internet/personalitystudies/

    I have no problem with this kind of stuff being tested, but that doesn’t stop me from rolling my eyes.

    ************************************************
    ** Yeah; I think these edge-of-understanding experiments are awesome (keeps my students awake anyway). There are actually quite a few such experiments going on in many labs. Another weird one I’ve seen is the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton. There’s some controversial evidence that some machines (devices operating under quantum dynamics) are recording human consciousness in response to world events (e.g., evidence for non-random activity in these devices a few hours prior to the 911 attacks):

    http://noosphere.princeton.edu/

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