I, like many, have a lot of feelings about the smattering of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. And then there are the bills targeting the LGBTQIA+ community. The trend I’m noticing is more divisiveness, more separation, and more hate, frankly. Is this what human beings are destined for? Are we doomed to splinter off into smaller and smaller groups and engage in constant “us versus them” culture wars?
Maybe yes, maybe no but according to neuroscience, our brains are wired for connection and cooperation. Neuroscientist Matthew D. Lieberman, director of UCLA’s Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab wrote a book called Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect. He says, “To the extent that we can characterize evolution as designing our modern brains, this is what our brains were wired for: reaching out to and interacting with others. These are design features, not flaws. These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth.”
There’s also a study out of Emory University led by Gregory Berns who learned that when pairs of volunteers cooperated with one another, the reward circuits of the brain were activated. These are the same regions that are activated by drugs. The activation happened only when paired with a human – when the study participants were paired with a computer, they didn’t have the same response.
Volunteers were hooked up to an fMRI scanner and invited to play the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” game. Each volunteer pressed a button to indicate when they were ready to play, and then each simultaneously pushed another button to indicate if they wished to cooperate with, or betray, the other player.
The most common outcome was volunteers mutually cooperated with one another. Berns suggests people are hard-wired to cooperate because the brain associates cooperation with reward. Others are quick to point out that correlation is not causation but I’m inclined to agree with Berns because regardless of whether it’s due to our brains or something else, we want to connect with other people. We are wired for oneness.
What so often gets in the way is exactly what we’re seeing now: socio-sentiment. Socio-sentiment means loyalty to a particular social group to the exclusion of other groups. You already know what a world dominated by socio-sentiment looks like – we’re living in it. What’s the solution?
My spiritual teacher says, “To liberate society from this unbearable situation, consciousness will have to be aroused among the people; their eyes will have to be opened by knowledge. Let them understand the what’s, the why’s, and the where’s. Thus, study is essential, very essential.”
In other words, biologically, we want to connect with others, we’re made for connection, and what’s getting in the way is cultural conditioning that says this group is good and this group is bad. We all do this. The challenge then is to see every person as a human being, not a label. Personally, I do this by practicing empathy and guessing what someone else is feeling and needing. And when I do, I feel even more connected. It’s almost as if my brain is wired for oneness and spurring me on.
I dream of a world where we promote unity instead of division. A world where we recognize we are all humans with the same feelings and needs. A world where we stop propagating socio-sentiment and instead recognize we’re all in the same group. A world where we remember we are wired for oneness.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.