Richard G. Petty, MD

Why is Laughter Infectious?

When I was a very young student Monty Python’s Flying Circus was being shown on TV for the first time. The TV room in the halls of residence would normally be home to one or two sleeping stalwarts. But on Monty P. nights we would have seventy or eighty of us crammed into a small room: the sharing of laughter made the whole show ten times funnier.

I think that we’ve all had the experience of infectious laughter. It’s easy enough to see that it can be a social lubricant. But how does it work?

We have known for some time that when we are talking to someone, we often mirror their behavior, copying the words they use and mimicking their gestures. You may know that deliberately copying other people is a technique that we use when we are trying to influence others. It has seemed likely that the same applies to laughter.

Researchers at University College and Imperial College in London have shown that positive sounds such as laughter or a rousing and triumphant “woo hoo!” trigger a response in the listener’s brain. This response occurs in the regions of the brain that are activated when we smile, as though preparing our facial muscles to laugh. The research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, Action Medical Research and the Barnwood House Trust, is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The research team played a series sounds to volunteers whilst measuring their brain’s response using an fMRI scanner. Some of the sounds were positive, such as laughter or the triumphant woo hoo’s, while others were distinctly unpleasant, such as screaming or retching. All of the sounds triggered a response in the volunteer’s brain in the region of the premotor cortex. This is part of the brain that prepares the facial muscles to respond to emotion. The response was greater for positive sounds, suggesting that these were more contagious than negative sounds. The researchers believe that this explains why we respond to laughter or cheering with an involuntary smile.

When we are in a group and encounter positive emotions, the brain responds by automatically priming us to smile or laugh. This gives us a way of mirroring the behavior of others, which in turn helps our social interactions. Presumably it plays an important role in building strong bonds between individuals in a group.

There is a global movement which started in India called the laughter clubs, in which people get together to have a really good belly laugh. It has been claimed that these group giggles reduce the chance of developing depression. The data is not good, but there’s one thing for sure: it’s unlikely to cause you much harm.

“Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.”

–Horace (a.k.a. Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Roman Poet and Satirist, 65-8 B.C.E.)

“What a force is laughter.”
–Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Russian Writer and, in 1970, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1918-)

“The arrival in town of a good clown is of more benefit to the people than the arrival of 20 asses laden with medicine.”
–Thomas Sydenham (English Physician and a Founder of Modern Clinical Medicine and Epidemiology, 1624-1689)

Altruism and the Brain

There is a fascinating new study which will be out next month in the journal Nature.

Colleagues from Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, believe that they have found a region of the brain that is associated with altruism: selfless concern for the well-being of others.

Some scientists have claimed that it is of no value because it has no survival advantage. I’ve never been able to agree with that extreme position. Another view is that the survival advantage comes from an ability to perceive the intention of others and therefore to anticipate their actions. I’m also not certain that this is genuine altruism, in the sense that altruism should be selfless.

45 volunteers were asked to play a computer game and also to watch the computer play the game. In some instances successful completion of the game resulted in the volunteers winning money for themselves, and in other instances it resulted in money being donated to a charity that each person had chosen at the beginning of the experiment. During these games the researchers took functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of the participants’ brains.

According to the old fashioned – and false – theory that pleasure and pain are THE main drivers of behavior, it was assumed that altruistic acts would activate the reward systems in the brain.

They do not.

A region of the brain called the posterior superior temporal cortex (pSTC) is activated by altruism and is very sensitive to the difference between doing something for personal gain and doing it for someone else’s gain. The pSTC appears to help us tune into perceiving and giving meaning to the actions of others. It is not focused on reward.

In the next stage of the research the participants were asked questions about the type and frequency of their altruistic or helping behaviors. The researchers then analyzed the responses to generate an estimate of a person’s tendency to act altruistically and compared each person’s level against their fMRI brain scan. The results showed that pSTC activity rose in proportion to a person’s estimated level of altruism. Note that it was their estimated level rather than their actual altruistic acts.

The suggestion by the researchers is that the ability to perceive other people’s actions as meaningful is critical for altruism.

I am going to be a Devil’s advocate and interpret the data differently. I think it more likely that people who have a good understanding of social relationships are more likely to do things for other people. Helping other just makes sense to you. Both the tests and the imaging could be interpreted in terms of social understanding and empathy. In other words we are looking at an aspect of social cognition.

There may also be another correlation here. Some years ago we showed that in people with chronic schizophrenia there is a shift in the handedness of a particular region of the brain called the planum temporale, which lies on the top of the temporal lobe. This lead to the hypothesis that when people are hearing voices, they really are hearing something being generated in the right hemisphere of the brain. People with schizophrenia sometimes have trouble with reading other people’s intentions and may attach meaning to random events. This new research mat help us understand why that can happen.

It also makes clinical sense: the best ways of helping people with mental illness who have these problems is to ensure that they are not on medicines that impair their social cognition, and to use social skills training.

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
–Albert Pike (American Lawyer, Masonic Author and Historian, 1809-1891)

“Spiritual energy flows in thankfulness and produces effects on the phenomenal world.”

–William James (American Psychologist and Philosopher, 1842-1910)

Healthy Aging

I have talked about the small number of simple steps that can dramatically reduce your risk of getting congnitive decline as your get older and some new evidence to show the benefits of non-drug treatments for dementia. I am pleased to say that my conclusions have just been supported by an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

I would like to let you know about another great resource: the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) which has produced a great package of action items that are all rooted in good quality scientific research. The list is very similar to the ones that I have created for you here, and are very precise.

  1. Invest in good shoes and socks
  2. Play games
  3. Walk
  4. Increases your physical activity
  5. Do exercises to improve your balance
  6. Get regular eye checks, not only for corrective lenses, but to be checked for early evidence of diabetes or high blood pressure
  7. Seek out friends family and neighbors
  8. Modify your diet toward a "Mediterranean" one
  9. Laugh
  10. Get enought sleep

Whatever your age, I urge you to spend a few minutes working on a simple plan that will fit your schedule: your mind and body, family and friends will thank you forever.

Don’t Underestimate Your Attractiveness!

I wonder how many readers have ever been in a social setting and been a bit depressed by how good-looking everybody else seems to be? I’ve seen quite a number of people who by anyone’s standards were attractive individuals, but who were quite convinced that they were not.

At this point most proponents of pop psychology would jump in and say, “Well he’s got low self-esteem and we need to fix that.” They would probably recommend some exercise involving a mirror and telling him or herself how beautiful, attractive, valuable or special they are.

And they would be dead wrong.

This misperception about the attractiveness of other people is an evolutionary trick that will not be much helped by any number of affirmations.

A very interesting and well-executed study from the University of Texas will be published in next month’s issue of Evolution and Human Behavior. Sarah Hill, a psychologist in David Buss’ evolutionary psychology laboratory. Her research has shown that people of both sexes believe that the sexual competition that they face is stronger than it really is. She beieves that this is useful: it makes people try harder to attract or keep a mate.

What Sarah did was to show heterosexual men and women photographs of people. She asked them to rate both how attractive those of their own sex would be to members of the opposite sex, and also how attractive the members of the opposite sex were. She then compared the scores for the former with the scores for the latter, seen from the other side. Men thought that the men they were shown were more attractive to women than they really were, and women thought the same of the women.

She had predicted the outcome of the study based on a theory developed in the same laboratory by Martie Haselton and David Buss. It is called error-management theory: the idea that when people make errors of judgment hey always tend to make the error that is going to be least costly. Research has shown something to which many women can attest: men often tend to misinterpret innocent friendliness as a sign that women are sexually interested in them. Haselton and Buss reasoned that men who are trying to decide if a woman is interested sexually could err in one of two ways. They can mistakenly believe that she is not interested, in which case they will not bother trying to have sex with her; or they can mistakenly believe she is interested, try, and be rejected. Trying and being rejected comes at relatively little cost. However, form an evolutionary perspective, not trying at all could lead the major cost of not being able to spread their DNA around.

The theory is that there is an opposite bias in women’s errors: They tend to undervalue signs that a man is interested in a committed relationship. The evolutionary argument would be that if she guesses wrongly about a man’s intentions, she might have to raise a child on her own.

However, when it comes to assessing physical attractiveness, man and women make the same errors.

We always need to be a bit wary about pushing the perspectives of evolutionary psychology too far. I think that they are valuable, but that we can get into trouble if we apply their insights too liberally: humans are complex creatures who are continuing to evolve rapidly. We are different in every way from the people of a thousand years ago.

But this is a very useful insight into why some many people feel to see themselves as they are.

The moral of the story: have courage in initiating new relationships, and look at the whole person: physical, psychological, social, subtle and spiritual.

And don’t forget to use your intuition: the surest guarantor of making the right steps in relationships.

“I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may, light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful.”
–John Constable (English Landscape Painter, 1776-1837)

In Sickness and In Health

I recently talked about the importance of healthy relationships and some ways to establish and maintain them.

Here is an interesting study that was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The research into 111 coronary artery bypass patients showed that the partner’s personality traits played a major role in how well they had recovered 18 months after their operation.

Pollyannas are probably the best sort of significant other when you’re sick. It is interesting to learn that their cheerful chatter might sound like the last thing an ill person needs but it is such a tonic that patients recover much better and faster.

A homeopath, acupuncturist or Integrated Practitioner would quickly identify who would like the Pollyanna and who would not.

What you definitely don’t want is a “generally neurotic and anxious” partner. These spouses increase the patients’ risk of developing clinical depression. Such depression is increasingly recognised as a significant risk factor in causing slow recovery and deaths from conditions such as coronary disease.

And most specialists recognize that depression and anxiety can be catching.

Healthy Relationships are Essential to Your Health

“All of life is relationship.”
–Swami Rama (Indian Spiritual Teacher and Writer, 1925-1996)

When I first started looking at the hundreds of different therapeutic systems that we have on offer, it was striking that they all have at their core the development of a relationship between two or more individuals. One is designated the patient or client and the other the therapist who is helping the patient cure himself or herself. Until the invention of the stethoscope, which was the first step toward separating patients from those treating them, the fundamental nature of a healing relationship was well understood. Sad to say, over the last century and a half orthodox medicine began to minimize the importance of relationship to cure.

Nothing in the Universe exists in isolation: We live in a Universe of relationships. It is inconceivable that anything can exist except in relationship to something else. The entire Universe is made up of integrated systems that function, develop and evolve together. A failure to construct and maintain healthy relationships can be a cause of much distress.

Several years ago I reported some interesting observations. At the time, I was doing a lot of research on diseases of blood vessels. I had developed a laboratory method for taking some of the cells that line blood vessels from volunteers and then growing them in a cell culture dish. We discovered that if we did not have enough cells in the dish, they would all die of “loneliness.”

The exception is cancer cells, which in culture will grow on their own like weeds.

Next, we made an accidental and remarkable discovery. We normally cleared out our cell cultures once a week, but on this occasion I found that I had accidentally nudged one of the dishes to the back of the incubator, where it had been sitting for three weeks. Looking at the cells under the microscope, we could see that they had formed little tubes. Now that might not sound like very much, but it was. The cells had, inside the body of the volunteer, been part of a microscopic tube called a capillary.

To prepare the culture, the cells had been cleaned with all sorts of biochemical treatments to strip them away from everything else so that we would have no contaminating cells. The teaching for years has been that the development of cells and organs is a result of biochemical interactions between different cells of the body driven by the DNA inside the nucleus of the cells. But my cultured cells had no such cells to guide them. How could they “remember” that their role was to make tubes? The most likely explanation is that they are responding to morphic fields. I published the observation in a paper 17 years ago, and others have now replicated it.

It is estimated that at least 80% of our higher cortical functions are directed toward social functions. It is little wonder that failing to use those vast tracts of evolutionary machinery might have sad consequences.

And they do. Social isolation increases the chance of substance abuse and scores of illnesses. And people who have no social supports are much less likely to recover from many major illnesses. On the other hand, being engaged in robust, dynamic relationships provides you with powerful protections against some illnesses.

Relationships are essential to your health.

There are tens of thousands of books on relationships and I have no intention of reiterating material that has been written about a hundred times before.
But based on our principles of physical, psychological, social, subtle and spiritual, let me make these suggestions for constructing and maintaining successful relationships:

  1. Partnership: As I discuss in Healing, Meaning and Purpose, it is essential to examine every one of your relationships to see if it is a relationship of domination or partnership: is one person dominating and controlling the relationship, or are both people participating equally? And here is the trick. We are not only interested in the relationship between you and another person or persons, we are interested in ALL your relationships, from cell to soul.
  2. Maintaining wellness: all the people in a relationship should do whatever they can to maintain their physical, psychological, social subtle and spiritual well being. Nobody can avoid everything: life will throw you some curve balls, but it is most unfair to burden a relationship with avoidable health worries
  3. Responsibility: In the same way that you should not burden others in a relationship with avoidable health problems, you should also not burden them with needless concerns about money or other resources. Arguments about money are one of the main causes of turmoil in marriages, and it is not so much a matter of having insufficient, it is more often a matter of one person being irresponsible.
  4. Attention: it is essential to give the other person or persons in a relationship the attention that they deserve.
  5. Acceptance: This can be a hard one sometimes, and I am going to write more about acceptance shortly. Suffice to say that mature relationships require a good dose of acceptance. I have written before about an extreme case in which a woman was lamenting the fact that she could find nobody who matched her ideals in a mate. Her list of non-negotiable requirements in a partner ran to some ten pages
  6. Kindness: Spontaneous acts of kindness are essential to healthy relationships. If you do not want to offer kindnesses to another person it implies that there is something seriously awry n the relationship. Kindness should not be planned; it should just be part of your normal modus operandi
  7. Warmth and affection: Spontaneous warmth and affection are signs of a healthy relationship. But don’t think of that as holding hands and signing kumbaya, it also means being aware of the heart, the essence and the soul of the other person or persons in a relationship. If you have not recently shown some real gratitude for the other person, today might be a really good time to start.
  8. Laughter: Do you and your partner(s) have fun together? Are you able to share laughter and to let go of pretence? It doesn’t mean that you have to spend all day watching Laurel and Hardy or telling each other sidesplitting jokes. It means being able to find a new and healthy perspective on life and to find time to enjoy the lighter side of life.
  9. Conflict: do you have a healthy way of dealing with anger, conflict and resentment? All three may crop up from time to time, but the key is how you cope with them. It is simply not realistic to follow the advice that you should avoid all conflict. It’s as silly as saying the key to stress management is to avoid stress. You may as well try to avoid gravity. Stress and conflict are universal constants: the trick is learning how to deal with them. In the case of conflict the key – as always – is to communicate and to avoid toxic or corrosive habit patterns
  10. Listening: Listening to another person is not a matter of sitting back and allowing sound waves to set up vibrations in your auditory nerve: listening is an active learned skill that involves watching, noticing and being aware of every aspect of a communication. (You may be interested in having a look at another piece that I wrote about communication). Listening involves giving space for a communication to unfold and then asking questions and checking to ensure that both people are understanding every aspect of the exchange
  11. Trust: No relationship can be expected o flourish without a healthy dose of trust. Not just in the integrity of the relationship, integrity of the other person(s) involved in the relationship and trust that what you say or do will not be judged harshly
  12. Freedom: I have seen more relationships flounder because of a lack of freedom than almost anything else. There is a good reason why freedom is such a powerful political force. For most people, freedom to be themselves and to determine their own destiny is as important as oxygen. Ensure that your relationships have plenty of space to breathe. 

“Relationships are the hallmark of the mature person.”

–Brian Tracy (Canadian-born American Author and Expert on Business and Personal Development, 1944-)

Eye Color: An Instant Paternity Test?

Most of us learned some genetics in high school. You were probably taught about sweet peas, height and eye color. If mom and dad have blue eyes and little Johnny has brown, then mom probably has some explaining to do.

Sweet peas, height and eye color are examples of genetic determinism: genes determine outcome. But as I have written before, many other genes are not so simple: in behavior and metabolism genes do not so much determine behavior as how the person will react to the environment.

Now there is some fascinating new research about eye color published in the current issue of the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

The color of the human iris is determined by a simple, predictable and reliable genetic pattern of inheritance.

Investigators from the University of Tromso in Norway have shown that blue-eyed men find blue-eyed women more attractive than brown-eyed women. The researchers have postulated that there could be an unconscious male adaptation for the detection of paternity based on eye color.

At first blush this look like a bit of a stretch, but it may not be.

Let’s do a quick revision from high school genetics:

  1. If both parents have blue eyes, the children will have blue eyes.
  2. If both parents have brown eyes, a quarter of the children will have blue eyes, and three quarters will have brown eyes.
  3. The brown eye form of the eye color gene (or allele) is dominant, whereas the blue eye allele is recessive.

It then follows that if a child born to two blue-eyed parents does not have blue eyes, then the blue-eyed father is not the biological father. From an evolutionary perspective, males would be rather interested in knowing whether any children were theirs. So it is reasonable to expect that a man would be more attracted towards a woman displaying a trait that increases his “paternal confidence,” that any children would be his. If the mate also has blue eyes, it would be easy to uncover his partner’s sexual infidelity.

In the study, eighty-eight male and female students were asked to rate the facial attractiveness of models. The pictures were displayed on a computer screen and were close-ups of young adult faces of people who were not known to the participants. The eye color of each model was manipulated, so that for each model’s face two versions were shown, one with the natural eye color (blue/brown) and another with the other color (brown/blue). The participants’ own eye color was also recorded.

Both blue-eyed and brown-eyed women showed no difference in their preferences for male models of either eye color. Similarly, brown-eyed men showed no preference for either blue-eyed or brown-eyed female models. However, blue-eyed men rated blue-eyed female models as more attractive than brown-eyed models.

In a second study, a group of 443 young adults of both sexes and different eye colors were asked to report the eye color of their romantic partners. Blue-eyed men were the group with the largest proportion of partners of the same eye color.

The lead investigator – Bruno Laeng – had this to say, “It is remarkable that blue-eyed men showed such a clear preference for women with the same eye color, given that the present experiment did not request participants to choose prospective sexual mates, but only to provide their aesthetic or attractiveness responses…based on face close-up photographs.”

Blue-eyed men may have unconsciously learned to value a physical trait that can facilitate recognition of their own kin.

See if these findings ring true in your own relationships or in the people around you.

The Genetics of the Dancing Bees

When I was ten years old, I picked up one of my father’s old books. By the end of page one I was hooked, and I am sure that it was one of the pivotal points of my life that lead to my subsequent careers.

The book was the Dancing Bees: An Account of the Life and Senses of Honey Bee by Karl von Frisch. I still have it: my edition is now 51 years old, and showing its age.

The book may have faded but its brilliant ideas have not. In 1973, along with Nikolaas Tinbergen and Konrad Lorenz, Von Frisch won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Honey bees are an ideal group of animals for studying behavior. When they are young, adult worker bees perform a number of tasks in the hive including caring for eggs and larvae. As they age, their job description changes and they shift to foraging for nectar and pollen. However, if the hive has a shortage of foragers, some of the young nurse bees will switch jobs early and go out foraging.

This job transition, whether it is triggered by age or social or environmental cues, involves changes in thousands of genes in the honey bee brain; some genes turning on, while others turning off.

The gene switching is achieved by short strings of DNA that lie close to and modulated each gene or set of genes. The strings serve as binding sites for particular molecules called transcription factors. When the correct transcription factor finds its the binding site, the accompanying gene may be switched on. If the transcription factor breaks away from the binding site, the gene is switched off.

New research funded by the University of Illinois and the National Science Foundation was published in two papers 1. 2. in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It used a new approach to try and understand the genetic underpinnings of some of this social behavior. Scientists have recently sequenced the genome of the honey bee, so the researchers’ strategy was to scan the binding sites of transcription factors known to function in the development of fruit flies from a single cell to an adult.

It is noteworthy that two of the researchers are computer scientists, showing us how often we need their help in designing and executing a lot of cutting edge research.

A computer algorithm that they wrote scanned nearly 3,000 genes. Statistical techniques were then used to investigate whether particular transcription factors correlated with genes that were turned on or off (what we call differentially expressed) between nurse bees and foragers.

The answer was the discovery of five different transcription factors that showed a statistically significant correlation with socially regulated genes. I sometimes wonder about the ponderous humor of some scientists: the five transcription factors – known, in fruit flies, to be involved in the development of the nervous system development, olfactory learning and hormone binding – have the names Hairy, GAGA, Adf1, Cf1, Snail, and Dri.

We also have another example of Mother Nature wasting nothing. Some of the same genes involved in the development of the nervous system of fruit flies are re-used for behavioral functions in adult honey bees. There are significant differences in the ways in which the honey bee and fruit fly genes are regulated. It is those regulatory processes that help to ensure that the genes end up producing honey bee behavior and not a fruit fly brain.

These findings suggest that honey bees may well turn out to be useful in elucidating the mechanisms by which social factors regulate gene expression in humans, as well as the effect of environmental factors on the expression of genes involved in social behavior.

There is every reason to believe that some of the same genes will be used in the human brain. The gene regulators will make all the difference in determining whether a bee becomes a nurse or a forager or a human becomes a sinner or a saint: they respond to a child’s environment, cognitions, attitudes, and perhaps even their spirituality.

If you are interested in a brief entree to the interactions between positive psychology and gene expression, together with some brief comments by yours truly, you may be interested to have a look here.

Premature Ejaculation

I was pleased to see an article in this week’s medical journal, The Lancet, that the drug dapoxetine lengthened the duration of intercourse by three to four times in an American study of 2,614 men, of whom 1958 completed the trial. There is currently no medication on the market for a condition that may affect up to a third of all men at some time in their lives. It can be frustrating for both partners in a relationship, and it can put a lot of strain on a family.

The researchers from University of Minnesota found that taking the drug increases the average duration of sex from less than a minute to three minutes 19 seconds. Up to now, many clinicians have used other medicines “off label,” to try and help the problem, but most of those treatments have carried many side effects with them.

This report leads to two other considerations.

First, is that the field of sexual health is being revolutionized by a new approach. One of the worst problems for many men has been the comparison culture, often fostered by the popular media. There used to be a joke that if a man wasn’t having 2.3 orgasms a week he would feel cheated. But what, exactly, is 0.3 of an orgasm anyway??

The “New View” of sexuality starts with a re-appraisal of what is normal in terms of sexual behavior and also in terms of aging. Trying to standardize sex is the cause of many problems for men and women because it leads to unhelpful comparisons. The “new view” asks a person quite different questions about their levels of happiness with their sex lives. This is a considerable advance on trying to medicalize everything.

The second point is this. For many centuries entire schools in China, India and Tibet have taught natural methods for delaying and enhancing ejaculation, primarily by strengthening and gaining control of the pubococcygeus muscle in the floor of the pelvis. Women have also been taught similar exercises to enhance their sexual pleasure, usually as part of a program of spiritual training. Some of these practices are included in this reading list that I put up at Amazon a few months ago.

It is not difficult to learn these exercises. There is surprisingly little research on these non-pharmacological approaches to improving people’s sex lives, so they are often dismissed by experts. But the fact remains that simple Kegel type exercise can often help people greatly.

I’ll happily detail some of these methods if people are interested.

Emanuel Swedenborg, Epigenetics, Sex and Marriage

Emanuel Swedenborg is without question one of the most remarkable people recorded by history. He was a scientist once described as the “last man to know everything.” Yet he was also a philosopher, mystic spiritual explorer and theologian. He has been called the “Buddha of the North.”

For people who worry that it may be too late in life to start on something new, he began his main work when he was fifty-six years old, and the next 28 years of his life generated an extraordinary number of books. As I am writing this, I can see his collected works that run to some 30 volumes.

Like most genuine spiritual teachers, Swedenborg has been much maligned, and some years ago a famous psychiatrist wrote a paper in which he “diagnosed” Swedenborg with a mental illness. A neat trick to do on someone whom he had never examined. On account of him having been dead for two centuries. Posthumous diagnosis is fraught with difficulty, and there was a glaring problem with the psychiatrist’s theory: very few men develop a psychotic illness in their fifties, and it is almost unheard of for them to remain highly functional.

Oh yes, and there’s also the fact that Swedenborg made some remarkable predictions that have proven to be true.

One of them was this. He said that during sexual intercourse between a married couple there is a soul linkage and a transfer of some soul essence between the couple. That was one of the reasons why he was against casual sex for both men and women. In those days there was little talk about the reality of same-sex unions.

Was he just a child of his puritanical times, or was there something more to it?

Soul linkage may be just that. But if that is uncomfortable, try this: For “soul linkage,” read, first, subtle systems. One of the most convincing pieces of evidence for the existence of these systems is the subjective experience of couples who feel energized after spending intimate moments together. While others feel totally drained, as if a psychic vampire has sucked their essential essence from them.

Second, let’s read epigenetic transfer. We are all used to the transfer of maternal and paternal DNA during sex. We are also uncomfortably aware of the extraordinarily high rates of sexually transmitted diseases. One of the most extraordinary of the new findings if that environment may have effects down through the generations, and that these effects must clearly be transmitted during sexual intercourse. Sex transmits not just DNA, but epigenetic codes and perhaps also passenger genes that may enter each partner.

Perhaps we should consider that before dismissing Swedenborg’s ideas as the fruits of an outdated moral and ethical system. Forget for just one moment about religious, spiritual and moral conventions: perhaps there are also biological reasons and subtle system explanations for restricting the numbers of partners that we have.

Marilyn Monroe is said to have once made the remark that, “I don’t see anything wrong with having lots of sex, after all, it doesn’t give you cancer.” Well, as thousands of young women have found, it can do just that, and what other damage may it do to a person?

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