Battlestar Galactica and Stress


2 comments   |   Blog, Stress

Battlestar Galactica shotI started watching the old series Battlestar Galactica. After creating a population of robotic workers, those same machines rose up and attacked their makers. A brutal war ensued, but eventually the robots left the planet, only to return in a surprise attack 40 years later. The last bastion of human kind is left to fight with an ancient starship that was about to become a historic museum. The mission now is to avoid danger and try to find a new home, jumping from place to place in the vast abyss of outer space. They are looking for Earth.

Talk about stress! The fate of human kind rests on the savvy war skills of a handful of warriors, balanced by the savvy social adeptness of a woman thrust into the position of President and unexpected leadership. The warrior commander and the new President must find a way to balance the survival needs of the few remaining humans while maintaining their humanity.

Squirrel with Leaves imageIsn’t this what happens every day in little ways in our own lives? While we may not be facing extinction, in a sense we are facing our daily mortality. Some of us face big stress every day, but all of us face little ones. We struggle to live in a moral and ethical way, balancing our individual survival needs with the needs of the many around us who also struggle for survival. Sometimes it is being like a squirrel trying to protect your nest. Or perhaps cutting in line at a four way stop sign. All this stress can get in the way of success, both yours and other peoples. And the more someone else struggles for success, the more they may compete with you, making your stress more as well.

brain imageBut what if we changed the view, and came together like those folks in the make-shift fleet of Battlestar Galactic? Their survival struggle is still hard, but a little more bearable as they come together and share the stress and worry. In fact, what they illustrate, between the balance of warriors and citizens is the slow emergence of our thinking, rational mammalian brain beginning to lead our more ancient limbic lizard brain. We form groups, and alliances, and when we do so very often our deep and ancient survival scuffle becomes a wonderful and rewarding array of friendships, relationships, triumphs, and shared pleasures.

Building a home together imageTogether we build homes, plant and harvest fields, come up with ideas at the office, dig wells. When stress occurs in the form of natural disasters, group difference can melt away and humanity as one help each other in Haiti, Japan, or New Orleans. We know how each of us can help relieve the stress of another.

Some readers of the last blog spoke about the stress in their lives, familiar I am sure to all of us: money, jobs, relationships. They are very real and very scary. Yet the resolution of each intimately depends on both yourself and the interaction with others. Once we recognize that no stress is in a vacuum, we have an opportunity to help each other navigate what seems a hostile universe. In fact, when we all recognize we are in the same battlestar, and the enemy is stress itself, who knows what welcoming hospitable planet we can find in each other. My guess is there are some remarkable potentials out there, all within our brains.

  • Helena SNOW

    Well observed, Joe.
    Very much in line with your thinking, I just finished reading Jonah Lehrer’s magnificent article in the March 5th issue of the New Yorker magazine (they get to me quite a bit later over here in France!) on evolution and the origins of altruism. Basically, the article follows your Harvard colleague E. O. Wilson’s evolving understanding of the genetics of altruism, from his theory of inclusive fitness, which caused such a scandal when his book “Sociobiology” came out in 1975 (we were kids then!) to his more mature understanding of  the subject, which embraces Darwin’s original concept of group selection – the idea that while acts of altruism can be costly for the individual, they help to sustain “the colony,” which makes individuals in the colony more likely to survive.  Lehrer concludes his article with this summary:

    Wilson’s larger point is that, to the extent that altruism exists, it isn’t an illusion. Instead, goodness might actually be an adaptive trait, allowing more cooperative groups to outcompete their conniving cousins. In a field defined by the cruel logic of natural selection, group selection appears to be the rare hint of virtue, the one biological force pushing back against the obvious advantages of greed and deceit. ‘I see human nature as hung in the balance between these two extremes,’ Wilson says. ‘If our behavior was driven entirely by group selection, then we’d be robotic cooperators, like ants. But, if individual-level selection was the only thing that mattered, then we’d be entirely selfish. What makes us human is that our history has been shaped by both forces. We’re stuck in between.’
    What I love about Wilson’s reversal, is that it validates what more spiritually-minded folks (yes, I am my father’s daughter…) have been saying for a long time – that love is the one source of energy that defies the second law of thermodynamics – i.e., that energy used is energy used up.

    I’ve always had a particular fondness for the expression of that principle as encapsulated in the lyrics of a song my Malvina Reynolds (remember “Little Boxes”?), called Magic penny (©1955)

    Love is something if you give it away
    Give it away, give it away
    Love is something if you give it away
    You end up having more

    It’s just like a magic penny
    Hold it tight & you won’t have any
    Lend it, spend it & you’ll have so many
    They’ll roll all over the floor, for

    Love is something if you give it away
    Give it away, give it away
    Love is something if you give it away
    You end up having more…

    Delighted to read you and and looking forward to MORE!Your friend,-Helena


    • Drshrand

      Thanks so much Helena.  For those who may not know, I had the remarkable pleasure of having Helena’s beautful voice filling the Harvard Memorial Church at my wedding, an event that still stands as a pinnacle of my good fortune.

      You are spot on about your observations regarding Wilson and his new book (Actually, it was Wilson’s book on Sociobiolgy that has served as one of a few foundations in my career, and I went to study with him as an undergradaute visitng scholar at Harvard in 1978 – 1979.  Alan Watts was another extremely important infulence and the two, with others, have emerged syntezised in my Imax Approach.)   But my premise is that, even as we have evolved from a being in need of individual survival to one deeply interdependent for survival, that ancient limbic brain can quickly take command of our Battlestar.  Unless we recognize it quickly, a function of our more modern pre-frontal neocortex, our new brain, we always succumb to the survival of the fittest rather than the survival of the friendship.

      However, within that dynaic is the simlpe rule that we control no one but influence everyone.  It is our choice what type of influence we want to be.  And I love the song.

      Please, please keep reading and writing.  I am very grateful.