Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Horny Toad is Niether

The heat of summer came rolling invisibly across the high desert today. In a minute the temperature raised ten degrees (Fahrenheit) and a wind rose from every swirling direction at once. It will be hot, hot, hot this weekend, and I am hoping some of that will be in a good way.

A windy rise in temperature apparently puts the local large long-nosed leopard lizards “in the mood” for love. I saw a large female firmly in the grip of a much smaller male. They looked like an eight legged two tailed awkwardly hobbling mutant lizard. They could barely run away as my shadow fell across them and their tiny lizard brains yelled “RUN” someplace in their heads.


long-nosed leopard lizard, Gambelia wislizenii
 

The lizard brain is thought by many to be capable of only four or so thoughts, emotions really. This is largely because lizards are only seen as displaying a vanishingly small subset of the capabilities inflicted on humans by their big primate brains.

“The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny.” - Seth Godin


The “lizard brain” spoken of most profoundly by thinkers is not the evolutionarily untouched (mostly) actual lizard brain found in actual lizards; it is the core feature of the big fatty tissue in our head that is the human brain.

It is popular, slightly illuminating, and incredibly easy to view the human brain as a series of layers that represent stages in evolution. On the outside is the cerebrum where all of the advanced skill sets have been mapped. Nestled inside the squishy shell of the cerebrum are the elements of the Limbic system; you can find many of the primal mammalian capabilities mapped to this region. Nestled in the Limbic system, perched on top of the spinal column, is the reptilian complex; aka the “Lizard Brain”.

Those feelings the lizard brain purportedly enables for us are strong behavior drivers. We tend to think of them as the cause of uncontrollable obsessive activity. The very idea of lizard fear can conjure images of a trembling crouched figure hugging their legs in anticipation of doom. However, there are a lot of evidenced control mechanisms for the lizard brain feelings; even in actual lizard lizard brains.

This is the time of year that I see many species of lizard out walking. In addition to the amorous long-nosed leopard lizards, I also saw several “horny toads” today. The “horny Toad” is a species of lizard –not an amphibian like true toads- that has patches of short tiny spines on it. All the “Horny Toads” I saw today were solitary. The temperature shift had not informed the “Horny Toads'” lizard brain to begin mating; in other words the “Horny Toads” were neither.




Despite the fact that the lizard brain feelings are obviously controlled anyone who has a brain knows that they are marvelously powerful once invoked. It is easy, therefore, to picture the rest of the brain huddled close to this source of power so that the connections to it could turn it on without bouncing around the skull a few times first.

By manipulating the lizard brain we add power to the bonding feelings that make us humans such a cohesively gregarious species. We eat together and so hunger bonds us. We feel safe from being ostracized from our social clique when we are in it. We feel anger at those not like us, in thinking or appearance, and that bonds us to those that are members of our tribe. Lastly we feel a yearning to be intimate with specific members of our tribe; by modulating this very powerful urge the brain creates a set of emotion patterns known as “Love”.

I know this whole post is an exercise in hand waving masquerading as neurobiology, but it allows me to now describe Love as a series of connections between the powerful lizard brain motivations and all the other layers of the brain.

  • Bad poetry get you to fall a little too hard with that inappropriate significant other who never got a real job? Well, there are a couple synapses for that.

  • Did your daughter interpret her social status wrangling of the football star as love after a couple months? Well, there are synapses for that.

  • Did your father suddenly become immune to his drinking problem because of the way his new bride took up all his attention? You guessed it, synapses.

The effects of love may be the creation of neural paths that re-enforce the recognition and bonding with a lover. These can be mapped and measured. The causative phase of love remains only poorly understood through the analysis of related phenomena like nurturing or lust. This allows me to wave my hands with impunity. Not that actual facts would stop me when I am talking about love.






1 comment:

Nihilism is for lovers said...

Teach me to blog and I swear ill stop rambling...