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A Reader Comments…

I was reading your online material regarding mental relativity and I have some questions. Unlike a lot of people I know, I take very little stock in the whole notion of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus". I am *extremely* skeptical whenever I see someone chalk behavioral or cognitive differences being due to male/female biological differences. Most of the time IMHO, biology is not responsible, sociology is (the differences our usually more due to society, culture, and personal community than to physiological differences). In general, I think views of men and women as different species (such as those propounded by the popular comic strip "Cathy") do a great disservice by causing people (particularly men and women) to treat each other like they are more different than they are alike, and thus less likely to try and relate to them as people who happen to be male or female.

I certainly agree with much of what I've read by Deborah Tannen, but I think most of the differences she notes are sociologically rooted rather than biologically rooted. There is an interesting book entitled "Male and Female Realities" that does a decent job of pointing on the base biological differences between men and women that affect their behavior and cognitive thought processes and perceptions. There is another very interesting book (I forget the author again) called "The Mis-measure of Woman" which argues that an overwhelming number of the so called "male/female differences" can really be traced to who is perceived to have the power in a given situation. That societally, males are typically the ones given the power (or perceived to posses it), but than when women are the ones in power and/or men are in subservient positions, each gender seems to be equally adept at thinking and sensing things in ways typically associated with the other gender.

Note that I'm not saying that I don't think there are *any* mental differences men and women, just that about 98% of the ones you typically hear about in conversations or on TV are sociological and not biological in their basis. I think the differences that really do exist are more fundamental and far more abstract (at a much deeper level) than most of these things I see mentioned. They are rooted in the processing and organizing of sensory and neural inputs, which may have multi-scale effects at the more concrete levels that we see manifested in everyday behavior, but this is more of an indirect as opposed to a direct relation.

So it is with this attitude that I dive into reading your information on "mental relativity". You say that testosterone "doping" leads to a more spatially-oriented mindset whereas estrogen leads to a more temporally-oriented mindset. What is the scientific basis for this?

Is this accepted and documented fact within the life-sciences community? Is it particular to humans or does it apply to other species as well? What would account for the existence of non-negligible numbers of men who are more temporally-oriented or women who are more spatially-oriented or people who appear to be neither (or both)? What differences in temporal vs. spatial based predilections would result from chemical imbalances in the brain due to things like Parkinsons, Tourette Syndrome (which I happen to have), Schizophrenia, Manic Depression, etc.? And what about things which affect neural pathways, like Multiple Sclerosis (which my wife has)?

One things that you write is:

"You've probably heard that men are "spatial thinkers". That's why, statisically as a group, they are good at maps and parallel parking. What you probably havent' heard is that women are "temporal thinkers", though that's why they are generally good at things that require time to develop, such as relationships, and also at getting a sense of where things are headed (often called "intuition")."

How is this due to biology versus society? Certainly things like working on cars and other such "model-like" projects take time to develop and men seem to be plenty good at those (stereotypically more so than women). So suggesting that women or biologically more "intuitive" or better at "investing time" just seems like so much garbage. Men are just as good at investing time and being intuitive as women are, whats different is the things they are intuitive about and the things in which they invest their time. If you think of the universe as being composed of objects and their connections to one another, what I see is that some people think more predominantly in terms of the objects, and some people think more predominantly in terms of their connections (a connection may be strictly spatial, strictly temporal, or some combination thereof).

"Between the 12th to 14th week of pregnancy, there is a flush of testosterone over the brain of a developing male fetus. This flush is absent in the female fetus. Testosterone causes the brain to manufacture more Seratonin (a powerful neurotransmitter that causes the neurons in the brain to become more active. It also has a second effect. The brain's neural networks , called ganglia, contain two very special kinds of cells: L cells and R cells. It is suspected that one of those kinds of cells makes Seratonin, and the other makes Dopamine. Dopamine is something of an opposite to Seratonin, and works to calm the neural networks of the ganglia. Estrogen in the bloodstream causes a greater amount of Dopamine to be created in the brain. A testosterone wash during that 12th to 14th week of the brain's development causes a balance to be set between the L and R cells. Once set, it is locked in place for life, and determines the relative influence of Seratonin vs. Dopamine on the ganglia."

This part interests me greatly because Tourette Syndrome (TS) is believed to be the result of a hyperproduction of Dopamine in the brain. Does this mean that, despite the fact that I am a male, that I might be more or less spatially or temporally inclined, or might I be more balanced in the two (despite many of the obsessive-compulsive tendencies that seem to go hand-in-hand with TS). What might be the effect if I were to suddenly start taking Seratonin supplements?

Regarding the statement that men are more driven by reason and women more by emotion, I see no evidence for this whatsoever based on spatial versus temporal predilection or biology. This is completely culturally imposed. This statement completely offends my sensibilities and is demeaning to both men and women in my view. I have seen every indication that there are plenty of men who are more emotional than reasonable and vice-versa for women when there surrounding environment constantly and consistently places them in situations where that is the behavior which is most likely to help them achieve their desired outcomes. This seems to be taking the initial gender-specific mental-orientation that we are given at broth and taking it to ridiculous extremes. Granted, many such extremes exist, but these extremes are due more to culturally and societally imposed *over* reinforcement and indoctrination by male anglo's than it is to sheer biology. In other words, we are "softwired" at birth and then later "hardwired" by society and community.

"We cannot take revenge, we cannot ignore the needs of ourselves nor our brothers. Equality is not the answer for we are not equal. But Equity will divide our resources and our power in ways equally beneficial to the special needs of the two halves of humanity."

I agree wholeheartedly with this. Yet many parts of your mental relativity site seems to be preaching more in support of division and distinction (which is harmful IMHO - although recognizing these differences exist is admittedly crucial), and less in support of combining such diversity and variety of perspectives, abilities, and mindsets, to form well-balances, integrated wholes. Just because two things are different does NOT mean one is better than the other (yet this is what we seem to want to impose on ourselves, even as children when we see such things, perhaps so when can figure out which mental compartment to place them in and how they relate to things in the same and in other compartments).

"That is our calling, that is our charge: to stop the pendulum once and for all and let each species prosper in its own way toward its own ends, recognizing our mutual dependency, reveling in the splendor of our differences, striving not against each other, but together to the stars in the heavens and the stars in our minds."

Yes. YES! A thousand times yes! But why is it that many parts of your WWW site seem to be leading me in the other direction (against my better judgement ;-)

Lastly - some of your discussion about women being internal and men being external is confusing to me. More often, Ill hear it stated the other way around. That men are less concerned with what's going on around them when they got focused on a particular activity, and women are more concerned or "in tune" with what's going on around them. Hence, in theory, women are better able to read, and watch TV at the same time or are better able to follow several people speaking during a conversation. That women are more likely to think laterally and men are more likely to think linearly (which I'm not sure I believe).

Anyway - thank you for a very informative and enlightening WWW site. I hope you have the time and inclination to clear up some of the issues regarding the questions I have posed.


Melanie Replies…

I'd like to give you a brief clarification of what I am proposing on the web regarding "Mental Sex", and why it really isn't the binary, "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" approach it might appear to be.

An analogy:

First of all, imagine a range of open ground in a valley. Now, imagine the valley is split in two by a fence. In the middel, where the fence is, the valley is somehwat of a bog, half water and half soil. As we move away from the fence to the left, the valley becomes more and more solid, until mid-way from the fence to the left side of the valley, the land is perfect for growing crops.

As we continue to the left, the land gets drier and drier until at the far left end of the valley, it is a desert, where nothing can grow.

Now, imagine as we move to the right of the fence toward the other side of the valley, about mid-way the bog gradually becomes marshland, which harbors all sorts of life. But, as we move all the way to the other side, the land gives way to completely pure water, in which nothing can live.

If we chart the life in the valley, we see that there is none at the far left, none at the far right, and none in the middle. But everywhere in between there is some degree of life. The greatest concentration is at the two points midway from the fence to either side. And each of those points harbors a completely different kind of life.

Men are born with a spatial orientation, meaning they are to the left of the fence. Women are born with a temporal orientation, meaning they are to the right of the fence. How far depends upon the individual. Some men will be born right up against the fence on the left, and some women will be born right up against it on the right. But, statistically, most men will be born toward the middle of the left and most women toward the middle of the right.

This initial bias simply describes where they will be born - not where they will end up.

When we receive our pre-birth bias in the womb, it determines how much spatial or temporal bias we have to our thinking AS AN UNDERLYING AND CONTINUOUS PULL. But it does not indicate where our life experience, training, and personal choice will lead us.

Because this bias "sets" the L and R cells in the ganglia of the brain to a ratio between the production of Seratonin and Dopamine, we are constantly drawn toward one side of the fence or the other for all of our lives. This cannot be changed by our experience, training, or choice. But these three items are built upon that bias, and collectively, have three times the "pulling power" of our initial bias. We can't get rid of the bias, and but we can compensate for it - or NOT, as we choose, as the cards fall.

So, a given woman might lean way over to the spatial side, due to here experience, while a man might be way over to her right - the temporal side - due to his.

If we just go with our bias because of upbringing or choice, those men would ALWAYS be more spatial than any woman, for she will always be pulled by that initial bias just a bit to the right. Similarly, a woman whose experience leads to a complete temporal outlook will be farther into the time side than any many can ever get.

Now, let's add the final level of complexity, which really makes the whole thing a lot more simple.

Why would something like this happen?

We all have a space and time sense. We all have a degree of Seratonin and Dopamine producing cells. We also all have a limited mental bandwidth - a depth of field as to how much of the space/time continuum we can span at any given moment. Imagine our mental bandwidth as a railroad car on a track. We can move to the left or right on the track along the space/time line, but we can only cover a certain number of "ties" at any given moment. This is our mental bandwidth. Some of us have a bit more or a bit less, but we all have a limit.

Now, an individual who was centered right in the middle, would see a bit of a spatial view and a bit of a temporal view. But, if a spatial person bonded with a temporal person, collectively they could extend their bandwidth to almost double the number of ties on the track. Of course they would have to overlap a bit in order to communicate, but other than that, they would be complementary. Each one could provide a more clear view of one side, and they would watch each other's backs.

As a bonded pair, they would be much better suited to survival than any single individual who could not anticipate or appreciate spatial and temporal patterns as well, at an instinctual level.

So, it is my contention that physical sex and sex roles did not create two different minds, but that two different minds formed quite naturally as a strong survival trait, and the differences in the bodies evolved to support the approach of the mind.

Note that although we all have a bias when we are born, it is enhanced by the addition of hormones at puberty. When we are young, before child-bearing years, we need to be more centered. But when we reach child-bearing age, then we need to form bonded pairs. The hormones do both jobs by making us more attractive and attracted to the opposite sex at the same time our minds begin to move farther from the fence and more to one side or the other.

In this way, just about the time we form a bonded pair, our minds have shifted to make it the strongest pair possible.

Now, in pre-society days, survival traits led to a genetic tendency for men to be far to one side and women far to the other in a double "bell curve". Anyone in the middle was not as attractive a mate, because the bonded pair would not be as strong, and the off-spring would not have as much protection, and would therefore not be as likely to survive.

As we began to build cities and to tame the wild world, we incorporated structural roles for men and women base on these biases. But as we continued to tame the world, the value of these biases became less and less crucial (in perhaps the last 10,000 years).

As society and culture advanced toward the information age, we see more and more individuals being born closer to the middle on both sides, for society itself began to offer opportunities to individuals who were more balanced.

In today's information society, the bias to one side or the other is actually a deficit. The individual who can jump from the spatial to the temporal at the drop of a hat is the most successful and most desirable of mates.

As a result, the best food, the best care and the greatest resources go to those who carry more balanced genes. In addition, and in support of this, as we pollute our lands, it changes the hormone balance in human beings. Men have a measurable lower level of testosterone and women are significantly taller from generation to generation.

These things are indications that our own environment is rippling back to continue the trend that genetics has already begun. The end result is that the two bell curves are simultaneously becoming flatter and also moving closer to the center.

It is my belief that over the course of the next thousand years or so, the range of humans on the spatial to temporal scale will be almost a flat line, evenly distributed from one end to the other. (Except, of course, that this isn't likely occur due to genetic tampering with our own DNA).

Still and all, society itself is a structural beast. Human evolution is dynamic, in all of its forms. When the two meet, tensions are created, just like tectonic plates floating on magma.

The structure cannot bend, so it must either break or be progressively dismantled and rebuilt. One approach is cataclysmic, the other constructive. We, as a world of people, have a choice as to which approach to take. The one sure thing is that choice or not, the building pressure will be dissipated in one form or another.

I hope this clarifies the issues involved, and thank you for your comments on the subject.




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