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Homo Prospectus: What Makes Us Human

By Shlomo Maital

   Martin Seligman is one of America’s leading psychologists, and inventor of the ‘learned helplessness’ theory, which explains why we sink into despair and apathy.   That theory, it turns out, is more than a little negative.   So Seligman took the opposite tack, and helped invent positive psychology, which is about how to be efficacious optimistic and happy.

     Seligman and a journalist, John Tierney, wrote an interesting piece in the New York Times magazine, excerpted in the global New York Times. In it they make an interesting point. Homo sapiens (wise human) is a misnomer, they say. Because – well, we humans are not that wise… Just look around the world at what we do to each other.  

     Instead, call us homo prospectus (future looking human). Because we, unlike animals, are able to imagine distant futures and things that do not yet exist.   This makes us creative.   When we make decisions, we weigh consequences, and in fractions of a second, envision future consequences of our decision and then choose or decide.   Seligman and Tierney say that “the main purpose of emotions is to guide future behavior and moral judgment.” Why?   You judge how you and others feel, when you ponder a behavior, and decide on that basis.

     Moreover, they cite brain imaging research, showing that when we recall a past event, we combine 3 pieces of information from 3 different parts of the brain:   what happened, when it happened and where it happened. Apparently, we use the same circuitry when we imagine a future event. Our hippocampus (a part of the brain) assembles these three pieces of prospective guessing, to create something new.   And even when we are relaxing, our brain constantly works “to recombine information and imagine the future”.

     My ‘take’ on this?   We have become a myopic society, focused on present gratification and present consumption, and far less on saving and delay of gratification. Are we degrading “homo prospectus”?   Are we degrading what truly makes us human, and in doing so, damaging our future and that of our children?  

 

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A New Miracle Drug called “Give Thanks”

By Shlomo  Maital

thank you

Sosa

                                                                                          Mercedes Sosa

   This morning, I awoke at an early hour and as I often do, I listened to one of the least popular Israeli radio stations, despite (or because) of it being the most informative. 

The person interviewed was a family doctor named Dvorah.  She had practiced for many years, loved what she did, but was overweight and slightly discontent.  On a trip to Barcelona, to the Picasso Museum, she saw a painting of a doctor and a patient, titled something like ‘compassion’.   It led her to rethink her life, and reinvent it, because she felt there were pharmacies in medicine, and ten-minute consults, but no true compassion.

The result was a book, and a method, to help people become healthy and remain healthy, in what today is known as Positive Psychology.   This new discipline is built in part on two very long medical terms. One is “neuroplasticity” – the incredible ability of the brain to change itself, for the good.  The second is the daunting word, “psychoneuroendocrinology”,  which simply means that our thinking stimulates hormones that affect our bodies and our health.

Dvorah’s message, simplified into 15 minutes for listeners, was this:  Give thanks.  Each day, give thanks for your blessings.  Believe it or not, it is proven medically and clinically that doing so can lower blood pressure, stress and even LDL (bad cholesterol).  And we have many blessings to give thanks for, especially the ones we take for granted (like,  life itself, having all our limbs, our sight, hearing, etc.). 

    [Do you love, as I do, the Mercedes Sosa song, Gracias a la Vida? Thank you for Life!   Now, we know that it is therapeutic!]

   Dvorah recommends that families have dinner together each evening, and do a small ritual. Let each person thank someone else in the family for some small kindness done during the day.  The result strengthens family bonds, and family bonds simply make us all healthier and happier.

   It’s that simple.

  Here are the words (in English) to the last verses of Gracias a la Vida….it sounds far better in Spanish…

 THANKS TO THE LIFE THAT HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH IT HAS GIVEN STRENGTH TO MY TIRED FEET WITH THEM I WALKED CITIES AND PUDDLES BEACHES AND DESSERTS, MOUNTAINS AND PLANES AND YOUR HOUSE, YOUR STREET AND YOUR COURTYARD

THANKS TO THE LIFE THAT HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH I GAVE MY BEATING HEART WHEN I LOOK AT THE FRUIT OF THE HUMAN BRAIN WHEN I LOOK AT THE GOOD SO FAR FROM THE BAD WHEN I LOOK INSIDE YOUR CLEAR EYES

THANKS TO THE LIFE THAT HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH IT GAVE THE LAUGHTER AND THE CRIYING SO I CAN DISTINGUISH HAPPINESS FROM SADNESS BOTH MATERIALS THAT FORM MY SONG AND YOUR SONG THAT IS MINE TOO AND THE SONG OF ALL WHICH IS MY OWN SONG THANKS TO THE LIFE THAT HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH

      

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
September 2019
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