Brain & Mind Human Society

Humanity needs to evolve oxytocin-replacement

Lately I am forced to move to a new place (for my daily tennis fix) with really interesting social dynamics. Though a collateral irritant of it is me not getting to play much, I feel adequately compensated as I get a lot of free time to sit on the sidelines and muse!

A tennis court in the morning is a really happy place flooded with pleasure hormones. Human brains around me are flushed with happiness through dopamine rewards, serotonin mood upliftment and endorphin high.

As it is a place full of happy people, conventional wisdom suggests that it should be a nice place to visit, but the reality is that it is not; because if you are a newbie, a stranger, you will find the same happy people can be very hostile and unwelcoming when it comes to sharing the source of their happiness, i.e. the tennis court.

While human beings are considered unpredictable, the reality is, though an individual human is worse than a quantum-crazy electron, at collective level humans are as predictable as large objects of classical physics.

So, this oxymoronic appearing combination of happiness-hostility found on the courts actually has a simple answer. It nothing but a drama produced by coming together of 43 Carbon, 66 Hydrogen, 12 Nitrogen, 12 Oxygen and 2 Sulphur atoms.

C43H66N12O12S2, known as oxytocin by friends, is the engine that is driving humanity since ages, but I want to explore it here because we are possibly heading towards a new epoch where this great ally from past may become the real Achilles heel for humanity.

If I return to the dynamics of the courts, the xenophobia has a simple reason. Each court has a group with a strong bond forged by oxytocin between its members. Oxytocin is a wonderful hormone that allows us to bond emotionally even with strangers. It is a crucial tool for survival that has evolved to make us come together as groups to defend territories.

Unfortunately, while strengthening emotional connect between in-group members by making them feel happy together, it also simultaneously creates a reciprocal of dislike for out-group strangers. So, though touted as a love-hormone, oxytocin has actually led us to conflicts of cultures and wars, because it forces our brains to divide the world into in-group and out-group. It is the root cause of why we feel threatened by strangers and why we regularly manage to go to diabolical extremes of genocides and holocausts.

The problem with oxytocin is a typical problem we have with most of the survival tools we have evolved in past, i.e. it is out of sync with the new age reality of plenty. Oxytocin is a blast from the past where sharing was not viable and territories needed defending at any cost.

Today, there is a real possibility that there is enough for everyone. There is no need to go for wars to take over resources. But, as we are still ruled by oxytocin, we are still prone to get gripped by ancient fears. This has led to absolute insanity of rising xenophobia and racism across the globe when it is least needed.

The tennis courts I go to are just a microcosm of the bigger picture, but they provide a scary message. As the in-group out-group distinction is driven by a hormone that makes a human brain feel happy, there is little hope that people can change their ways and start sharing.

Humanity needs a new phase of evolution where we discard the ancient tools and develop a new set that is more in line with the new era of technological empowerment. We need to find a new hormone that causes happiness while sharing without boundary walls of in-group and out-group built by oxytocin. And till the hormone evolves, we need to consciously learn to share.

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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