Life arose spontaneously when given sufficient energy, and has always been defined by continuous exploration and expansion. Situational inhibition, the restriction of avenues to discovery, atrophies the organism. Stasis is antithetical to life, and embedded mechanisms maintain this law by gradually shutting down dormant organismal components–holistic rigor mortis. For some perspective: 10-15% of muscle strength is lost per week (1-3% per day) of bedrest, along with whole-body insulin sensitivity (Dirks, et al., 2016; Guedes, et al., 2018). Cardiac function weakens, the resting pulse jumping ½ a beat per day, and blood volume decreasing 5% in just 24 hours, and 20% in 2 weeks. Weaker cardiac function and less blood volume mean less oxygen transported into cells and the brain. Reconditioning of the body after disuse happens slower than does deconditioning (Pišot, et al., 2016); keeping nerves healthily primed is an uphill battle.
Knowing that imprisonment, deprivation, and restriction can kill (even if these are mentally-imposed illusions), we must work against the accumulation of maladaptive discrimination. We must always be reorienting to socialized novelty, to progression, and transcendence, being careful that transcendence does not close off previously-generative activity. Moving past old paradigms into new territories shouldn’t mean banishing that old paradigm’s ideas; it just means that we’re able to prune what wasn’t useful in it, taking only what will aid us ahead (as put most gracefully by my old friend Parsifal’s post at raypeatforum.com). This repeated collection of valuables from each new step in our respective evolutions is transmutation; distorting and improving upon these valuables is what culminates into whatever looks like “originality”.
Participating in meaningful work, especially collaborating with interesting people, generating interesting things, is not only the existential “Petersonian” redemption from the miseries of life, but a biological imperative that stimulates and protects us down to the cellular level. There is a dangerous view in the “biohacking” communities of humans as predominantly mechanical beings that can be regulated through ingesting chemicals that will push homeostasis. Often it seems that the lifestyles and environments are the limiting factors of health and no amount of supplementary or dietary modifications will alleviate particular problems because the source of them is surrounding the individual: the people, places, and activities available are lacking stimulatory qualities or are having physically toxic effects, similar to ingesting poison. Even “psychobiotically”, we exchange gut microbiota with the people we live with (Song, et al., 2013). Our immunity, digestion, psychology–our very essence–is enlivened or contaminated by our immediate contacts. This revelation gives new meaning to the phrase “you are who your friends are”. I think we can protect our souls under sustained environmental duress and coercion, but a certain amount of damage is inevitable, so it’s important to guard wisely, carefully selecting who is worthy of being in your life, who you must expel, and what deserves your attention.
The human brain has tripled in size over the last 2 million years, owing in large part to the dawn of cooking animal food, large consumption of fruits, shifting ecological demands, and social competition. The larger our societies became, the more complex our brains have made themselves to navigate heavier amounts of interpersonal relationships (Bailey & Geary, et al., 2009). Social creatures exist entwined in social worlds, and I’m curious of anyone who would deny that even the hermit can continue existing because they know they have the world of people waiting for them if they so decide to return, and if they die alone, then at least future explorers will find and acknowledge their remains. In a vacuum, the organism shrivels and crumples, and a lack of social entwinement can be seen as an external hypoxia, just as inward degeneration involves internal hypoxia.
Dr. Sergio Pellis researched rough-and-tumble play in animals and concluded that the adolescent experience of play refines the brain for adaptability later in life. Dr. Jaak Panksepp believes play functions more specifically to build pro-social brains that “know how to interact with others in positive ways.” In rats, play activates the whole neocortex (our “higher-order” brain) (Burgdorf, et al., 2011), and produces long-term changes in brain areas used for thinking and sociability, as well as profound changes in gene expression that occur in just a half-hour of play. Play deprivation and social isolation, especially early in life, is a severe stressor that activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, releasing cortisol and adrenaline, alters receptor sensitivity in the NMDA (glutamic) and opioid systems, inhibits mitochondrial respiration, and induces overall inflammation with oxidative and nitrosative stress (Mumtaz, et al., 2018). Obviously, our bodies see a lack of fun and a lack of belonging as an emergency state, or death-state. Once we know our physiological requirements for thriving (which are frequently so simple), we can align ourselves to live in ways most suited to our long-term success. For example, prosocial foundations account for ~35% of academic achievement in children (Caprara, et al., 2000).
Social stimulation is being a part of something that matters, where meaning reflects off each participant and sustains itself only so long as participants uphold the network. Just as a diamond reflects, refracts, and disperses light to create brilliance (its famous rainbow), so too does collaboration take individuals, elevate them as a unit to more than the sum of their parts, and disperse generative activity where each leaves transformed. The dispersion, the ending of a social occurrence, generates a brilliance inside the individuals and an external brilliance, that being the product of a group project, the change in the environment brought about by the group. It’s increasingly important to celebrate and embrace sociability, harmonizing our uniqueness with that of those around us.
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