I read an article in the New York Times last week about the relationship between the brain and love. Or rather, about the relationship between the brain and relationships. In this article, the author (Diane Ackerman) shared a deeply personal story about her husband’s recovery from a left-hemisphere stroke. She wrote about how their bond, their love, and their patience helped to rewire his brain after the stroke to the point he could talk and write again. She wrote about her experience because she felt it was powerful and meaningful and, as she recently learned, scientific.

The science of interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB) has evolved from the work of Dr. Dan Siegel who first published on the topic in 1999. Dr. Siegel’s work, as he explains it at this TED Talk,* [warning: a video will open with sound] is couched in biology, neuroscience, psychology, and many other sciences. The talk is kinda long, but it’s the best explanation I can find of IPNB. Before interpersonal neurobiology hit the science scene, experts believed neural connections stopped being formed in early adulthood. But new science demonstrates that is not true; your brain can be rewired at any time across life.** In other words, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Yay for old dogs! Or “w00f!”

Drawing of a Neuron. It reminds me of Yggdrasil, and other Pagan symbols.

This got me thinking about what what we princesses believe about relationships and how we hold them in high esteem. We have written about wyrd and frith quite a bit on TPP.*** As far as I can tell, IPNB supports the core Heathen value that forging healthy and long-term relationships is a priority. We honor wyrd in recognition of our connection to something larger than ourselves. And we honor frith to maintain the ties that bond us to others. Connection and bonding are two of the major tenets of IPNB in terms of how relationships positively (and negatively) affect brain wiring (neural networks).

In a nutshell, IPNB argues the brain creates neural pathways that reflect our experiences in general, i.e. “good in, good out” (and “junk in, junk out”). And that to be healthy, contributing members of society, we need to thoughtfully consider our actions our actions and understand how others feel about our actions. Dr. Siegel argues that mainstream education and many social norms pull us away from these behaviors. In his TED talk, Dr. Siegel describes how the current design of education fails to nurture reflection and empathy. He explains that education systems focus on the “physical world” or focus on content that measures the physical world and exclude content on emotional development and fostering relationships. He uses a visual for this by showing a brain stuck in a cage. The idea we are (or part of us is) trapped by social convention is not new; Einstein called this pull an “optical delusion” and said humanity needs to free itself from this “prison”:

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.” — Albert Einstein

Bella, bella Signore Einstein!

A quote from His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) became a meme on the Grand Overseer not too long ago. In 2005, HHDL Tenzin Gyatzo wrote an article for the New York Times where he said, “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change.” As a science geek, I give mad props to HHDL for this wisdom. And in regards to wyrd, frith, and IPNB, I think Heathenry doesn’t need to change a bit.

What about you Realm? Are you familiar with IPNB? What do you think about it? How does it jive with your spiritual beliefs?

* This talk was part of TEDxBlue in 2009. TEDx events are independent of TED, but follow the same philosophy. TEDxBlue was sponsored by a private school in Manhattan. Our city (Austin, TX) has a TEDx conference, too. You should find out if your city has one, too.

** Go to the Academic Oracle (aka Google Scholar) and search “neural links across lifespan” for a sample of this research.

*** Check it! If you ask the Oracle for “wyrd and frith,” Jax’s article on the social contract is the first entry! *happy dance*

+ Featured image, Neuron Synapse.