To my bloggers:

My article on Epigenetics and Primal Therapy will appear in the Activitas Nervosa Superior (ANS), a journal for neurocognitive research of the World Psychiatric Association ( I will also publish it on my blog as a series over a month or two, as it is 80 pages long. It is the most important article I have ever written and I hope it will change the science of psychotherapy; this is, begin to turn it into a real science.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Why we Root for the Dodgers?

Why do we care so much when our team loses or wins? Why do we high-five each other when our man scores a touchdown? After all, it is he, not us. But wait. Not so. It is us too. There is something we have in the upper reaches of the brain called mirror neurons (in an area called pre-motor cortex). These are nerve cells in his brain that light up when the man scores a touchdown and also light up the same area in our brains when we watch it happening. We feel what he feels. If he wins, we win. It is neurological, which allows us to live through someone else, and also to empathize with others. It enables us to feel the same emotion when someone sings with feeling. It triggers all of the associated memories with that feeling, our loss, rejection, our finding warmth and/or losing it.
When we think about a song, we can have all of the related emotions all over again. It has been engraved in the brain and can be recalled at any time. The grand orchestrator seems to gather up all the disparate facets of memory, assembles them into a meaningful event and remembers it entirely. The memory is a network of brain circuits joining in an assembly of nerve cells to fill out previous experience. Thus any feeling in the present has the ability to trigger a whole host of memories and feelings that resonate with the present and glide along the same neuronal frequency. In this way a pain now, a rejection, can resonate with serious past rejection from our parents and thereby produce an anxiety attack. It gives weight to the present reaction, which may seem inordinate, but in reality is the bottom rung of a neuronal circuit.
It is in this way that we can summon up the memory of love, feel love and offer it to others. If we never had it, we cannot offer it to anyone, because the feeling is not there. Pain in the present, a humiliation, sets off an old memory; the gates rush in to block the resonating circuits to keep our reactions under control. The circuits involved are all part of the entire experience. We can block part of it from our past so we can function in the present.
My work involves getting below the gating, which keeps old memories at bay, to penetrate the antipodes of the unconscious and allow individuals to heal because they have felt all of the old pain that has gnawed away at them for decades. Suppose the circuits of the mirror neurons evolve early in our lives, even before birth, and are adversely affected by womb life. That may mean that the ability to empathize, to feel what others feel may be impaired. The person grows up without those abilities. The mother's body, which was the whole world to the fetus, has shaped a being with diminished capacity of mirror neurons - for now a supposition. Imagine that she was depressed and transmitted her pain through her hormones to the fetus who suffered. He could not feel what she felt because it was too painful. He withdraws. One way he may do that is through diminished mirror neurons. We will wait to see about this.

On the evolutionary scale, the feelings in music are much older than words, which came along millions of years later. It is why music can move us far more than words. It therefore has a greater impact; hence the singing commercials, which did not come into being until after World War II.
The discovery of these neurons was made by an Italian team of scientists who used brain imaging techniques to find an entirely new class of neurons that become active when we are. Feeling what someone else is feeling is extraordinarily important for us to become humans who care for and about others. These nerve cells are found in the parietal lobe and allow us to imitate unconsciously the actions of our parent. So in some cases a male child will have an effeminate walk as his mirror neurons pick up clues from his mother. This is another way of saying that he identifies more with his mother than with his father. In essence, mirror neurons match actions and feelings of others with our own. It shows we are social animals, otherwise why these neurons? If we were social isolates we would not need mirror neurons.
So we can undergo what others undergo. We should high-five. We feel what they feel. It is a way we live through others; and it is a way we can block our own painful feelings through what others achieve in life. We therefore have a greater interest in baseball and football than what would be expected, because that is us out there.

1 comment:

  1. "Feeling what someone else is feeling is extraordinarily important for us to become humans who care for and about others."

    Just wondering what your thoughts are on the theory that people on the autistic spectrum supposedly have a harder time empathisizing with others.


Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine

Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University

In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University

"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH

His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.