The Moral Molecule

Creator(s): Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer. (09/18/1947 – 02/28/1964)

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22 Comments

  1. Trish, I have read about this and indeed experienced something like this without taking any oxytocin, but probably generating it. 🙂 And yes hugs come into it!

    There is unfortunately a downside that is covered in Jon Haidt’s forthcoming book ‘The Righteous Mind’. Oxytocin can bind a group, but often at the expense of another group. Just like in sports, oxytocin binds us to our team, but potentially against another team. It is not a hormone binding us to some wider human race, but to those close to us either physically or relationally. Testosterone may play a role in all this too, especially where there is a combination of bonding and conflict.

    I don’t mean this pessimistically as I don’t raise problems in the Eeyore fashion. 🙂 So as in creative conflict approaches, we need to find some higher level solution. How can we come to hug out groups and not restrict the impact of oxytocin induced bonding to our side?? The sociologist (Bowling Alone etc.) Robert Putnam talks about bonding, but also about bridging: those human beings who are integral parts of one group, but reach out and become part of another group and then help bring the two groups together, perhaps in an oxytocin mediated better trusting relationship.

    Great generative post! Thanks

    1. I think these are excellent points, Ed – our capacity to empathize and bond is just a physiological capacity without a conceptual framework – will naturally can potentially cause problems. Collusion is a negative form of bonding for example. If oxytocin is to bind us to the wider human race we have to see that bigger group as our family as such – which is a conceptual leap as well. All of which requires us to use our capacity to think as well.

      One of the most interesting things for me in Paul Zak’s talk is that when we are treated well – as in someone puts their trust in us – we respond with an elevation of oxytocin. So, for example, we might be in a conflict situation of one type or another and decide to take a leap and place our trust in someone – who (unless they are the small percentage who don’t respond!!!) will potentially respond positively thereby making themselves literally worthy of the trust and in turn making the initiator happy to have trusted them – creating emergent trust and better relationships potentially. However, the decision to trust someone might require a very cerebral and calculated process which in fact overrides some of our other instincts to fight or flee.

      For me though I guess it just proves that we have the capacity to stop fighting etc if we could just figure out how to use it!

      Thanks for the comment.

      1. Trish absolutely.

        And what is exciting about your reply is that you are suggesting a very interesting ‘creating reciprocity’ positive feedback loop or virtuous circle as my friend Charles Hampden Turner calls it. But it is a mindful one with both our emotions fueled by oxytocin AND our rational brain figuring out what is appropriate and that we are not being had. I always think of constructive empathy as this combo of positive emotion and rationally interrogating it.

        There is also a need for a sort of physical and mental toughness, not of the macho male variety, but a more supple resilience that works in labour relations. Almost oxytocin + assertiveness = greater trust. We need to be true to ourselves in this process, so that the bonding is authentic and sustainable. And to be true to ourselves, we need to have done the work of self knowledge. Again thanks for making me think more on this!!

  2. Very interesting post and comments!

    One thought jumped to my mind: Isolated vitamins or natural pharmceutic substances are by far not as effective (or have much more side effects) than “in context” – that means not to swallow pills and other fabricated supplements but eat fruit and drink therapeutic veggie smoothies instead. – The real thing always comes with more natural balanc; in the case of oxytocin it looks like stress relief is part of the package (or the goal?).

    Should we supply major tax evaders (I live in Greece), war mongers, politicians et al with honest hugs or a free nasal spray subscription? Or just send them to some isolated island with all the money they want, but no utilities or “servants”, and leave them to fend for themselves?

    cyber-real (((hugs)))

    1. Good point about the natural version and the stress relief – it probably does provide a more finely balanced blast of oxytocin with traces of other necessary hormones as well.

      As for the tax dodgers and the bad guys – I live in Ireland (which is like living in Greece but colder and greyer) and l doubt that too many bankers or politicians would be offered hugs at the moment!
      Btw – I’m loving the hugs!

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. Very interesting post and comments!

    One thought jumped to my mind: Isolated vitamins or natural pharmceutic substances are by far not as effective (or have much more side effects) than “in context” – that means not to swallow pills and other fabricated supplements but eat fruit and drink therapeutic veggie smoothies instead. – The real thing always comes with more natural balanc; in the case of oxytocin it looks like stress relief is part of the package (or the goal?).

    Should we supply major tax evaders (I live in Greece), war mongers, politicians et al with honest hugs or a free nasal spray subscription? Or just send them to some isolated island with all the money they want, but no utilities or “servants”, and leave them to fend for themselves?

    cyber-real (((hugs)))

    1. Good point about the natural version and the stress relief – it probably does provide a more finely balanced blast of oxytocin with traces of other necessary hormones as well.

      As for the tax dodgers and the bad guys – I live in Ireland (which is like living in Greece but colder and greyer) and l doubt that too many bankers or politicians would be offered hugs at the moment!
      Btw – I’m loving the hugs!

      Thanks for the comment.

  4. I think the best moral molecule for many is past expeoriences, if remembered. High hopes derived from long belief in hopelessness, such the interminable wars, can trigger a child like state and a mistic one combined, a total removal of guards, and total exteriorization of joy. At such moment of relief peopla are most vulnerable. but at least almost everybody react the same, like a cloud of fish, both collective awareness and actualization at the same time. Great post, i love it.

    1. Thanks for your comment – you are completely right of course,we often wait until we have nothing left to lose before we change and then we wonder why we didn’t change before. Maybe we could learn to change before we lose everything?

      1. It is the fear, mainly, but also the component of iddle confort. The expression ” it could be worse, is the recipe and invitation (predicament, self profecy, refren) to failure. Fear is not always unfounded, perceived or real, as it is instictual: It is the part in us that asssumes basd upon faint, patterns of output form the outside. It hangs in the air, like humidity on a cloudy day. There have been more cloudy days in some parts of the world then in others, and clouds can hang in theair, long after they have dissipated. Such a huge cloud lasted for decades over the Eastern Block, and the fear was real. So yes, people waited until there was nothing else to be lost.

  5. I think the best moral molecule for many is past expeoriences, if remembered. High hopes derived from long belief in hopelessness, such the interminable wars, can trigger a child like state and a mistic one combined, a total removal of guards, and total exteriorization of joy. At such moment of relief peopla are most vulnerable. but at least almost everybody react the same, like a cloud of fish, both collective awareness and actualization at the same time. Great post, i love it.

    1. Thanks for your comment – you are completely right of course,we often wait until we have nothing left to lose before we change and then we wonder why we didn’t change before. Maybe we could learn to change before we lose everything?

      1. It is the fear, mainly, but also the component of iddle confort. The expression ” it could be worse, is the recipe and invitation (predicament, self profecy, refren) to failure. Fear is not always unfounded, perceived or real, as it is instictual: It is the part in us that asssumes basd upon faint, patterns of output form the outside. It hangs in the air, like humidity on a cloudy day. There have been more cloudy days in some parts of the world then in others, and clouds can hang in theair, long after they have dissipated. Such a huge cloud lasted for decades over the Eastern Block, and the fear was real. So yes, people waited until there was nothing else to be lost.

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