I and Thou

Close Relationships


I use the term eigenstate to refer to different self-states or cognitive and emotional states that each person occupies at different times. Eigenstates are complete packages with links between thought and language styles, content, moods, feelings and emotions. One eigenstate may be remarkably different to another producing a "splitting of personality" effect. Some eigenstates are of a general kind and others are specific to individuals.

Another way to relate to eigenstates is to view the mind as a multilayered stack of modules. The lowest, deepest modules are ancient and operate at a subconscious level. The newest most accessible layers contain learned content. Individual learning is also layered chronologically. The deepest biographical layers are laid down in infancy and are followed in succession by newer modifications. The cognitive structures established in early life act as a foundation for later learning. Early learning is implicit memory and cannot be recalled in a declarative or episodic mode.

Insightful humans report different sets of thoughts in the different states and some will describe distinct personalities. An angry, gloomy side may alternate with a happier, more affectionate, generous personality. Women have been generally more forthcoming in describing their personality shifts. Hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle are internal molecular switches and discerning women can relate mood and behavior shifts to phases of the menstrual cycle. The most dysphoric phase is in the last week of the cycle when estrogen levels are low and progesterone levels are high but dropping. An obvious version of shifting eigenstates occurs in manic-depressive people who switch from a high, manic state that feels good to a low, depressed state that is “hell on earth". To a casual observer, the manic person is a different person from the depressed person.

One of the eigenstate changers is the amygdala, an almond shaped nucleus in the temporal lobes. Anger, for example, is an amygdala program that will "split a normal personality". When you get angry you behave quite differently than you do when you are calm and poised. Angry outbursts often violate the rules of good conduct and cause confusion and hurt because the thinking and behavior expressed in anger are so different from the "normal personality".

Eigenstates are determined by the three C’s: company, context and chemicals.

Company A child learns to behave differently with different people, developing templates for different eigenstates. A child uses different strategies for father, mother, brother sister, grandparents, friends, teachers and a normal child keeps these strategies more or less separate rather than lumping them together. There is a natural tendency to develop "multiple personalities" and we are calling these separate packages of cognitive and behavioral strategies "eigenstates." Adults continue to manifest these specialized eigenstates, sometimes with “multiple personalities” that are remarkably disconnected, one from the others.

Context The general circumstances or contexts in which humans have experiences influence the selection of eigenstates. Some eigenstates are context-dependent and others are not. Context cues are usually not consciously perceived. Context switching of eigenstates may be uncomfortable and bewildering as different feelings and behavior emerge unexpectedly. When a child learns more than one language growing up, he or she will develop eigenstates in each of the languages and will become an adult with different packages of knowledge, skills, thoughts, feelings associated with each language. Even when one language is learned, word compartments are often formed to separate the home environment, from school, from peer group interactions. Normal humans will develop several eigenstates based on language use alone and will switch effortlessly from one eigenstate to another as the context demands. A teenager may use teen talk using words such as "fuck' as a cadence word (a word that is inserted between every 3 or 4 regular words) in conversation with peers, but will use more normal language and seldom say "fuck" at home or in the classroom.

Chemicals Experiential events and chemical events converge in the brain. Chemicals from the outside are ingested as food and drugs or they are deliberately injected to change brain function. All body chemical input changes brain function. Some chemicals have strong effects and can be considered molecular switches.

Molecular switches are useful devices when we try to explain how and why a person will flip-flop, changing mental and behavioral states abruptly. Molecular switches may be obvious or concealed. Alcohol and psychotropic drugs are obvious molecular switches and drug users are explicitly aware of the eigenstates they switch on and off. We are used to thinking of the alcoholic as a split personality who flip-flops between a sober state and an intoxicated state. An agitated, sick, belligerent alcoholic in withdrawal will switch to a more stable, reasonable eigenstate by drinking more of the alcoholic beverage that made him or her sick.

LSD is a dramatic example of a molecular switch that changes eigenstates abruptly and sequentially, leaving you little or no control over your experience. An LSD trip takes you through a variety of states, so different and exotic that the whole sense of a coherent reality is dismantled in favor of an assortment of interesting and novel experiences that unfold over several hours.

Food and beverages contain a variety of molecular switches that are usually well concealed in the course of day-to-day living. In children on controlled diets with parents and teachers monitoring closely, flip-flops are obvious and can often be related to eating or drinking specific foods. It is as if the child's entire identity shifts, complete with different attitudes, thoughts, and personality characteristics. Younger children have less ability to smooth their transitions than adults. The 4 year old child who spends 10 minutes screaming loudly and then bites her mother, shouting "I hate you" will be excused by most loving parents. However, adults displaying the same behavior in the wrong context may end up in jail or the psychiatric ward. What is surprising is that the shift in eigenstates can be as dramatic as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde shift. In Robert Louis Stevenson's story of flip-flop transitions between two eigenstates, Dr. Jekyll swallows a liquid potion and undergoes a startling metamorphosis. He painfully transforms into Mr. Hyde, a sociopath who kills innocent people in fits of rage. In movie versions, the transformation includes a physical shift with rapidly growing hair, muscle hypertrophy and enlarged canine teeth. In real life, the transformation occurs invisibly in the brain. This is not just a fictional story of an improbable transformation, but a dramatization of a common path to bursts of violence by ingestion of molecular switches such as rum and coke or whiskey straight, inhaling drugs such as cocaine or injecting drugs like heroin.

  • The book, I and Thou, focuses on intimate relationships. Innate tendencies are hard at work when people meet, become lovers and end with arguments and fighting. The same tendencies determine how family members interact and explain why so many families are “dysfunctional.” When lovers form an enduring pair bond, they often become parents and everything changes. Humans seek bonding with others and are distressed when they become isolated. Humans bond to each other in several ways. The most enduring bonds are kin-related, based on closely shared genes. The deepest bonding occurs when mother and infant are together continuously from birth and mother breast-feeds the infant. Bonds among family members are the most enduring. Bonds to friends, lovers and spouses are the next most significant. Bonds to colleagues, neighbors and even strangers that are admired from a distance are next. Friendships are often temporary bonds, based on the need to affiliate with others for protection, social status, feeding, sex and fun.

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