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September 20, 2004

Imprinters Walk Among Us

Umm, this is my first post at Gene Expression, and I think I should explain the rather fanciful style of my writing. I adore faerytales, myths and legends, art and music, great literature and poetry, anime, film, and scifi. So these things always are incorporated into the way I think and write. The basic question for me is, why music, art, and literature? Why should the appreciation of those things be wired for us? Is there a selective advantage? Is it only a side-effect? Why do faerytales, myths and legends persist? Why do we tell the same stories? Why do we remember them?

LOL, I am more full of questions than the Elephant's Child! I hope you Crocodiles will not pull my nose too badly! :)

This is from my blog-- The Hot Needle of Inquiry-- do you recognize the name? (hint: Larry Niven) And, I'll remind you, I've mixed in the scifi, but Matt Ridley brings in the Bard.

Don't let anyone kid you. You never write for anyone else. You write because you have to! So, when I say, I wrote this for Louis XIV, Le Roi Soleil, that is only part true! I started it for me, but I finished it for him, and for the Bene Gesserit! Oh, and 'Love' is something way different than I usually discuss with him. :)

Let's be blunt-- sex is the greatest thing in the world. It has to be, to ensure the survival of the species. IMHO, the two greatest works of Science Fiction anywhere ever are the first six Dune books and the Ringworld cycle. If you are unfamiliar with these books, you had better stop reading here and and go read them ! Immediately! All! Just kidding-- but you might want to later. Both of these book cycles have important sexual plot devices. The hominids of Ringworld employ the device of rishathra to make trade agreements or alliances. Rishathra is defined as sex practices outside one's own species, but within the hominids (also useful for birthcontrol). Imagine treaty negotiations between Kim Jong Il and Bill Clinton. Wouldn't that be the schznitz? But it probably won't happen any time soon.

In the Dune cycle, The Bene Gesserit and Honored Matres females control known space with sexual Imprinting. Men become absolute slaves. How empowering is that for XX beings? However, recent advances in the study of cognitive neuroscience reveal that sexual imprinting is actually occurring all the time, and that Frank Herbert was wonderfully prescient in the mechanics. Remember, Herbert wrote "Heretics of Dune" twenty years ago!

From the February 12th, 2004 Economist-- "I Get a Kick out of You":

The scientific tale of love begins innocently enough, with voles. The prairie vole is a sociable creature, one of the only 3% of mammal species that appear to form monogamous relationships. Mating between prairie voles is a tremendous 24-hour effort. After this, they bond for life. The details of what is going on--the vole story, as it were--is a fascinating one. When prairie voles have sex, two hormones called oxytocin and vasopressin are released. The question is, do humans (another species in the 3% of allegedly monogamous mammals) have brains similar to prairie voles? The answer is YES!

Dr Young and his colleagues suggest this idea in an article published last month in the JOURNAL OF COMPARATIVE NEUROLOGY. They argue that prairie voles become addicted to each other through a process of sexual imprinting.
Sex stimulates the release of vasopressin and oxytocin in people, as well as voles, though the role of these hormones in the human brain is not yet well understood.

In 2000, Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki of University College, London, located the areas of the brain activated by romantic love. They took students who said they were madly in love, put them into a brain scanner, and looked at their patterns of brain activity. The results were surprising. For a start, a relatively small area of the human brain is active in love, compared with that involved in, say,ordinary friendship. "It is fascinating to reflect", the pair conclude,"that the face that launched a thousand ships should have done so through such a limited expanse of cortex."

The second surprise was that the brain areas active in love are different from the areas activated in other emotional states, such as fear and anger. Parts of the brain that are love-bitten include the one responsible for gut feelings, and the ones which generate the euphoria induced by drugs such as cocaine. So the brains of people deeply in love do not look like those of people experiencing strong emotions, but instead like those of people snorting coke. Love, in other words, uses the neural mechanisms that are activated during the process of addiction. "We are literally addicted to love," Dr Young observes.

Helen Fisher, a researcher at Rutgers University, and the author of a new book on love, suggests it comes in three flavours: lust, romantic love and long-term attachment. Jim Pfaus, a psychologistat Concordia University, in Montreal, says the aftermath of lustful sex is similar to the state induced by taking opiates. A heady mix ofchemical changes occurs, including increases in the levels of serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin and endogenous opioids (the body's natural equivalent of heroin). "This may serve many functions, to relax the body, induce pleasure and satiety, and perhaps induce bonding to the very features that one has just experienced all this with", says DrPfaus.Then there is attraction, or the state of being in love (what is sometimes known as romantic or obsessive love). This is a refinement of mere lust that allows people to home in on a particular mate. This state is characterised by feelings of exhilaration, and intrusive, obsessive thoughts about the object of one's affection, similiar to OCD. Dr Fisher suggests it might, indeed, be possible to inhibit feelings of romantic love, but only at its early stages. OCD is characterised by low levels of a chemical called serotonin. Drugs such as Prozac work by keeping serotonin hanging around in the brain for longer than normal, so they might stave off romantic feelings. But once romantic love begins in earnest, it is one of the strongest drives on Earth. Dr Fisher says it seems to be more powerful than hunger.

What did we learn here? Well, deliberate sexual imprinting certainly is possible. Imagine giving the object of one's affections a special cocktail before indulging. But if Herbert and Dr. Young are the authorities, Imprinting cannot occur without the "act". So, abstinence and/or a management dose of serontonin will prevent the attacks of Imprinters.
Sadly, according to Dr. Fisher, and to my great personal disappointment, there is no insta-cure for unrequited romantic love. *sigh* The only way to avoid the powerful and painful addiction is to prevent the initial infection-- but wait!! A cure could be achieved if only the object of affection could be persuaded to return it-- how likely is that?

Matt Ridley, in Nature Via Nurture says he can do it!
And Shakespeare gives us a direction to try!

Matt sez--
"In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Oberon tells Puck that the juice of a flower will

"...on sleeping eyelids laid
Will make man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees. "

Puck duly fetches a pansy, and Oberon wreaks havoc with the lives of those sleeping in the forest, causing Lysander to fall in love with Helena, whom he has previouslyscorned; and causing Titania to fall in love with Bottom the weaver wearing the head of an ass.

Who would now wager against me that I could not soon do something like this to a modern Lysander or Titania? Admittedly, a drop on the eyelids would not suffice. I would have to give them a general anesthetic while I cannulated their medial amygdala and injected oxytocin into it. I doubt even then I could make either of them love a donkey. But I might stand a fair chance of making them feel attracted to the first member of the opposite sex they see upon waking. Would you bet aginst me?"

No, not I, Matt.

Posted by jinnderella at 01:48 PM