Life is about DNA and cell replication, and the evolution of increasingly complex life forms which are the result of billions of mutations over eons of time.
The evolution and success of any particular specie depends on an environment that supports the procreation and safe rearing of sufficient offspring to continue the line. With increase in size and complexity, more investment of nourishment and time are needed for lengthier gestation of the offspring, and for parenting and survival after birth.
The most significant evolutionary change in humans was the increase in brain size, which meant that heads were too large for full-term birthing, so infants were not mature enough to survive without a prolonged period of parenting. This meant that the main necessity for evolutionary continuity was for all the members of the ‘tribe’ to cooperate in sharing the tasks and responsibilities for ensuring the nurturance and safety of all the offspring and of each other. It was to this end that various neural structures and chemical processes were elaborated in the midbrain, which ensured “sociability” and allowed for enhanced communication, through language, expression, abstract thought and imagination, and which has come to be termed Bonding and Culture.
(In evolutionary terms, from the beginning with single cells, there was chemical control of movement and sensation, and replication. This eventually elaborated into the neuro-chemical Bonding Process of humans. The forerunners to Bonding were the simpler reflexes that drove courting, mating, nesting and rearing in primitive animals and, over time and, with the increasing complexity and longer dependency of offspring, led to the precursors of Bonding which are termed “Imprinting” (e.g. ducks), “Attachment” (e.g. apes) and “Herd Hunting” (e.g. lions)
Outline of The Bonding Process
The Bonding Process arises from extremely complex neuro-chemical systems within the more primitive parts of the brain, which monitor and control all the physiological processes of the body, by way of the autonomic and parasympathetic nervous systems and the endocrine system.
The ‘life’ processes of the body are fully functional at birth, but the reflex neurochemistry for the Socialising aspect is mainly latent at birth. As soon as the baby is born, this has to be initiated by close contact with the mother’s nurturing behaviour. (This is best achieved with neo-natal ‘Skin to Skin Touch‘ immediately after birth, and continuing.) There is a concurrent release, within mother and baby, of various endocrine hormones and neurochemicals, such as oxytocin and dopamine, which afford pleasure and energy to both of them. It is the totality of the maturing of this complex neurochemical process which is termed Maternal Infant Bonding. It is now recognised that the reflex socialising process is more complex than this initial process, and also involves the frontal lobes and the right hemisphere of the cortex.
At birth, all the sensations that the baby feels as the mother feeds and handles him, are relayed to the physical monitoring system in the Thalamus of the midbrain, and thence, by way of the latent nerve pathways to specific Endorphin release areas in the cortex of the brain. This results in pleasurable ‘good feelings’. This feel-good factor is registered in the monitoring system and becomes fixed as ‘Needs’ for approval of, and acceptance by everyone else (hereafter termed ‘Social Needs’). These afford the greatest Pleasure when they are met, and Anxiety when they are not met. Once imprinted these Social Needs are the motivators and rewarders of unselfish and altruistic behavior throughout life.
In modern life, birthing practices and social organisation can interfere with the natural neurochemical Bonding Process to a lesser or greater degree. This makes later social life less rewarding, because Social Needs will not be fully established. The autonomic responses of anxiety and fear are triggered, and unlike the physical and physiological triggers, there is no sensory feedback mechanism that leads to recognising and meeting what is causing the lacks. Instead, the anxiety causes an innate mechanism to generate attention seeking behaviour. Unfortunately, the conscious mind cannot distinguish between physical and social triggers that generate the ‘symptoms’ of anxiety and fear, when trying to work out the cause of the distress. Over time, the sufferer becomes increasingly lonely and frightened, and the defence mechanisms of Social Pathology come into play.
There is another neurochemical system that drives the organisation of all the reproductive, nutritive and safety behaviours of individuals for survival of the species. This system is driven and rewarded by Endorphins which are pleasurable, but they differ from the social system ones, and do not replace them. However, in the absence of social rewards this aspect can be triggered by various anti-social behaviours (eg. gambling, promiscuity) which afford a temporary ‘buzz’ which feels good, but does not contribute meeting social needs. Because of this they easily become addictive.
Alongside The Bonding Process there is genetic coding for social behaviour which ensures that every member has expressions and body language that are instinctively recognised and responded to emotionally. There is also a centre for language, which has to be learned. Together these processes ensure the formation and survival of stable contented groups, which are vital for the prolonged nurturing of very dependent offspring, and necessary for evolutionary success of humans. This now relies on survival of the fittest ‘groups’, rather than on the fittest individuals.
These dynamics have proved to be only fully functional when the group membership is limited to about 200-400 individuals. This is demonstrated by the long life histories of all the individual Hunter-Gatherer groups, and their demise when the planet became more fertile. Easier living led to their numbers increasing, and the genetic Bonding Process became compromised in various ways
The genetic coding for social behaviour and group coherence is dependent on every member recognising, knowing and communicating with all the others.
As the child grows within the community, he learns what he has to do in order to ‘be sociable’ and gain pleasurable feelings in company, and how to avoid the distress of disapproval and rejection. This ensures that for the rest of each individuals life, they are fundamentally motivated to be altruistic and cooperative, in order to gain the greatest pleasures in life, and to avoid the worst pains.
There is also a complex genetic reflex strategy in every individual that is designed to maintain the integrity and function of the community. One aspect of it enables all the individuals to recognise other members, who through illness, deformity or inability to cooperate, do not contribute to the communities’ total well-being, and this threatens the survival of the group. As in the rest of nature, they need to be removed, but in modern times this is not acceptable, but the reflex is still present as stigma. Although killing is not allowed, negative feelings are still engendered and people have to make conscious efforts to overcome them and behave with acceptance. It is one of the marks of civilisation that this can happen.
Another genetic reflex within each individual, is the constant monitoring of the extent to which their own personal Social Needs are being met. If they are not, it is because, for many reasons, they are not contributing or cooperating sufficiently to the group in order to gain approval, and therefore anxiety is generated. If this persists it leads to a pattern of behaviour that is expressed in a manner that is called attention seeking or difficult, and becomes the symptoms of Mental Disorders.This elicits an angry and prejudiced response and a reflex rejection by other members, because their behavior threatens group cohesion.
Ejecting misfits would have been an essential strategy for the harmony and ultimate safety of the hunter-gather tribes, but it causes much distress and difficulty in modern society. This is because individuals have to function in a variety of loosely convened social groups, where acceptance has to earned, and approval given to others. Because there are many factors in modern life, that can limit the Bonding process in varying degrees, ‘Needy’ behaviour results. Reflex disapproval and the desire to reject the person results, but modern social norms require acceptance, and coercive strategies are used to try and improve the behavior.
Communication and Cultural activities.
Language and speech are fundamental to communal existence, and alongside these, the capacity for conceptual thinking and imagination allow for singing, dancing, story-telling, painting, sculpting and playing. These serve two main purposes, in that language and narrative conserve the accumulated wisdom that ensures survival, through the generations, and the sharing of the cultural activities enhance the pleasure and the essential cohesion of the members of the tribe. Through daily living and over time, experience leads these two threads to intermingle, generating safe and rewarding patterns of behaviour in the relationships with each other, and in a sustaining relationship with the environment.
It is possible that in good times the reassurance and pleasure of mutual sharing and support, and in the bad times, the relief of overcoming shared difficulties can lead to an emotional experience for all the members, that is greater than that felt as individuals. This could be the root of what has come to be termed ‘spirituality’. Alongside this there are the practical rewards of the behaviours that result from the imprinted altruism and cooperation for ensuring safety and survival. These are the behaviours that are termed ‘moralility’.
The expansion of the world population has posed serious stresses on forming ‘small groups’ for all aspects of life, so fully meeting Social Needs becomes compromised. This, and failures to fully establish the Bonding Process leads to the difficulties that are termed Psycho-Social Pathology.
It can also be recognised that individuals’ unmet Social Needs lead to greed, envy, pride and jealousy which can become motivators of some temporary pleasure (see above) but, being addictive, they are at the root of all the more generalised social problems around the world.
Last Edited June 2019