TOP > About Child Science > Kodomogaku Kotohazime (1998-2000) > "Tenderness" Rocks the Brain: A sympathetic heart is the foundation of humanity...without which a family or society cannot function well


"Tenderness" Rocks the Brain: A sympathetic heart is the foundation of humanity...without which a family or society cannot function well

I have been thinking about the significance of "tenderness" as a factor in socializing children, especially infants for quite some time now. When I speak of "tenderness", I am referring to the broader meaning of the word as it relates to humanity (a "human" heart) as well as to the more widespread use of word meaning nice or kind. In the broader context, I believe that this human tenderness is based on empathy.

In this message, I would like to explain the above phenomenon from a human science perspective.

Our human brain represents some similar aspects of the animal brain as it has developed throughout the various stages of evolution. The prototypical existence of life itself has developed through the long history of evolution from a life form into plant and animal life. In time, animals developed a spinal column which gave birth to fish and reptiles. In order to survive, the primitive brain was developed, which eventually became the prototype for the brain as we know it today. This was more than five hundred million years ago.

Thereafter, the vertebrate brain evolved and the old cortex covered the archetypical brain. Furthermore, a new cortex developed when mammals emerged and finally our human brain was born with yet another coating. When the primates developed, such as the monkey, a remarkable development of a new form of cortex was observed. Amazingly, however, in some animal forms such as the marsupial (i.e. kangaroo), the brain is a combination of the old cortex and a new cortex. In humans, the new cortex, especially the frontal lobe has developed significantly.

In this way, our brain has developed from an old form of the brain being covered by an old form of the cortex, then covered again with a new cortex, covered by a new cortex and on and on. The old brain is programmed with various behaviors and directly linked to the behavior of instinctive flight and fight. The addition of the new cortex seen in the lower forms of the mammal show some memory capacity which allows for some variations in reactions, yet the actions taken to those reactions remains the same, which shows the premature development of the brain. A new layer of cortex to this brain, finally shows more refined behaviors and cleverness as seen in the higher mammals.

Our human brain has a well developed version of the cortex which communicates with the older version of the brain (the brain prototype), fine-tuning the various programs which allows us to react and act sensibly. In this scheme, the even more developed frontal lobe plays a very important role in uniting the various parts of the brain. The ability to react to the abundance of information we take in and process, along with the program that allows us to "be human" and act empathetically, all lie in the human brain.

Where, in the brain does the program that allows us to live as humans, lie? I would like to share my thoughts with you as I try to analyze this question referring to neurophysiology lectures when I was a medical student.

The necessary program to be "living" is found in the brain stem, or the old brain. Respiration, circulation and metabolism are all programs that are necessary to keep living. Blood pressure regulation, body temperature regulation and secretion mechanisms are controlled by the autonomic nervous system which is also run by the brain stem. There is also the program of consciousness and the program of movement (including reflex movement) which relates to the brain stem and flows into the spinal column. The program which allows us to keep living lies in the limbic system which links the old cortex and a little of the new cortex, but also the program to live vigorously, experiencing many instinctive behaviors (i.e. appetite, sexual desire) as well as emotional behaviors (i.e. anger, sadness) lies here.

However, the new cortex also plays an important factor in helping us, as humans, build a family and community in which we live. Especially in living well, the new cortex is critical as it helps us react to the multitudes of situations and transitions that come up in our daily living. In addition, to live well, humans need to participate in the construction of culture and civilization which calls for creative behaviors as well. This program of the soul lies in the new cortex which is the frontal lobe.

The emotional program of the human being includes knowledge, inclination and feelings and within this program, empathy becomes the foundation of humanity. This program is also linked with the intellectual program. Even without a concrete exchange of information, reading the emotions of another person, such as agony, pain and suffering is possible due to the evolved emotional program. This allows one to live cleverly as well as to live well. Without these factors, it is difficult for even a family or society to materialize.

The program of empathy allows one to be kind to the next person, which activates the new cortex, in turn switching on the emotional program. Thus, in sum, the new cortex activates both the old cortex and the brain stem (physical program). Previously, I have mentioned the children who have the joie de vivre and the mechanism which allows them to behave in this way is this exact interlocking system of the brain. In conclusion, "tenderness" has a five hundred million history of rocking the brain.
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