MANILA, FEBRUARY 14, 2008 (STAR) DE RERUM NATURA By Maria Isabel Garcia - (Last of two shots) In last week’s column (posted yesterday here at PHNO), I wrote about an experiment that discovered a gas that erases emotional memory. I wondered how useful this could be to so many of our problems that are caused by our being overrun with emotions. I laughed when I saw that the study dealt only with male subjects. In unwarranted haste, I immediately speculated that if the subjects were all male, then there was not much emotional memory to erase anyway. But that is not fair of course. Men do have a lot of emotions, I just was not so sure if they had enough to string a couple of strands of emotional memory that counted. But that kind of speculation belongs more to journals of Everyday Eves than your periodically issued science journals like PNAS.

As expected, the usual suspect is the “amygdala” known to be the brain’s opera house where all kinds of play and drama of the soul are instigated — be it Romeo and Juliet, Casablanca, An Affair to Remember or Streetcar Named Desire or even the Three Stooges. But there is a difference in the location of these theaters between men and women. Men have more of their plays on the theaters located along the right amygdala while the neuroscientists also mentioned previous studies where they saw that for women, the theaters of their emotions are oriented to the left amygdala. What I want for researchers to find out next is if it takes as much of that gas to erase the same amount of emotional memory in women. Just operating on street knowledge that women generally are the ones who have giant holding tanks for emotional memory, I can only guess how many men would like to get their hands on any kind of gas that would erase or at least make hazy, the emotional memory of their beloved women. Imagine how many reminders of missed anniversaries and episodes of insensitivities will never again ruin another Valentine’s Day!

But until the gas is even legal to be mass produced and be on 30 percent off counter sales like those fruit essences that promise surges of passion, we just have to rely on our old ways of coping with too much emotions — writing, talking it out, spa treatments, psychotherapy, fellowships or even forgiving. In fact, men probably would get some respite easy when their partners get pregnant because recent studies have confirmed the myth that indeed pregnancy make women forgetful — not even after C-section — but during pregnancy! In another study recently published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, the mothers-to-be reported to suffer from recall tasks during and even after pregnancy.

Our culprit hormone — dopamine — has made its way to usher feelings of reward from falling in love and making love. Now, its other hormonal cousins join the fleet in a woman’s sea within and from many accounts of pregnant women, different kinds of emotions surge within — an experience akin to having your own personal intertropical convergence zone with no meteorologist to warn you. I am not sure how a gentle spray of that emotional memory zapping gas will be able to quell those kinds of storms.

In fact, I wonder what this emotional zapper gas could do to our mid-life encounters with ourselves. Men and women alike, across cultures, seem to be prone to some kind of mid-life dip in terms of how happy they feel. Another study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine and reported in The Guardian last Jan. 29 surveyed two million people across cultures, covering 80 countries. The study was not designed to find out the causes of depression of people who reach mid-life — they just found out that mid-life crisis seems to be a universal human event. The ones who seemed to be happy were either the very young (generally below 40) or the older ones (generally above 60).

Maybe a palimpsest of a span of a human’s lifetime is imprinted in us all and since 40 seems to be roughly the midpoint, it is but natural to measure if the match of the years lived has so far matched the dreams you have actually lived. The chances for being depressed increases when the match does not look good to you. But it does not stop there, you look ahead with roughly the same number of years but with diminished physical stamina and you wonder if it will be wise to drop your old dreams and to dream new ones. There, you stand at the cusp of an emotional adventure to confront who you really have become since half a lifetime is sort of a good measure to see what you have done with what you started with.

Could an emotional memory zapper gas deflect us all from mid-life crisis? Would it save the dignity of a 40-something if he is distracted from getting a pair of bejeweled knee-high boots for himself? I am not so sure about that but it would certainly save the people around him from episodes of deep worry and being gravely confounded about what turned an accountant into an overnight cowboy.

But folks, don’t you think the zapper gas would serve some value? Won’t it be useful for teenagers whose amygdala theater avenue is always fully booked with half-baked operas and impulsive scripts? Wouldn’t it be useful for people who carry epic loads of family baggage that keep them from crafting their own lives? Would it not be a handy solution to the horrendous traffic on Valentine’s Day?

I have written columns on the science of love in the past years and I will bore myself if I am forced to spin the same potion with the same elements provided by known studies on the anatomy of romance. Those who would like to review them could easily refer to those columns and to other seasonal articles celebrating Valentine’s by other writers.

But for this column now, romance is also about finding a new facet in an ancient fixture in our souls that won’t seem to go away. This fixture is “emotion” and among them, the most intense, if not the most intriguing is “love.” I need to find a threat to it, even molecular, to further understand how deep-seated it is. Sometimes you understand how profoundly embedded something is by how far something can go to try to remove it.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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