WE ARE BACK with the second instalment of our new series, Talking Points, and in this edition, we’ll be looking at the relationship between the body and mind; the notion of Mass Fame, and the concept of temporal neutrality.
In the 1960s and ’70s, American psychologist Robert Ader discovered, through a series of studies, that “the immune system is amenable to classic Pavlovian conditioning”. This led to the creation of ‘psychoneuroimmunology’, the study, by psychologists, of the immune system and its links with the brain. The immune system responds in complex ways to stress and trauma–an imbalance in the immune system is associated with several trauma-related psychiatric illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder.
The immune system also plays important roles in controlling social behaviour. For instance, some scientists believe depression could sometimes be a side-effect of your immune system reducing your social motivation in order to minimise the risk of spreading disease. Likewise, ‘mental’ illnesses can have physiological effects outside ‘the mind’.
Chris Hayes’s recent essay in The New Yorker looks at the human desire for recognition and what happens when the experience of celebrity becomes universal and how fame (or at least being known by strangers) is no longer a novelty, but a core human experience. He explores how humans evolved in small groups, defined by kinship: those we knew, knew us; and how strangers were once only known through our imaginations—kings and queens, the heroes in legends and gods in myths—whom we may have felt as intimately close to as if they were our kin. For most of history, there were two main categories of human relations: kin and gods. Those we know who know us, grounded in mutual social interaction, and those we know who don’t know us, grounded in our imaginative powers.
Hayes introduces a third category, people we don’t know, who somehow know us: “They pop up in mentions, comments, and replies; on subreddits, message boards, or dating apps. Most times, it doesn’t even seem noteworthy: you look down at your phone and there’s a notification that someone you don’t know has liked a post. You might feel a little squirt of endorphin in the brain, an extremely faint sense of achievement. Yet each instance of it represents something new as a common human experience, for their attention renders us tiny gods. The Era of Mass Fame is upon us.”
And while the experience of being known, paid attention to, commented on by strangers, is not universal and still foreign to most, both online and off, he makes the prescient observation: “now the possibility of it haunts online life, which increasingly is just life.”
Ever since I was little, I have always been a little obsessed by the passing of time. I am, at times, overly emotional and sentimental and well, I feel things deeply. Days fading into nights (especially with October’s pink sunsets like tonight), and summer into autumn can make me feel wistful at times. Of course, I am always excited for the morning and even the next season (with the exception, perhaps, of winter), but it’s the minutes ticking away, never to be again that I think about, perhaps a little too much. That is why I am drawn to the idea of temporal neutrality, “a habit of mind that gives the past, the present, and the future equal weight.” While I know that I am lucky to be living a life that I can’t wait to wake up to the next the day, I would like to think less about the past and temporal neutrality seems like a good place to start.