Monday, 30 June 2014

This Time it's Personal ~ part 9

Another interesting statistic comes out of those twin studies I mentioned, which is that even identical twins raised together come out 50% different from each other. I don't know how they work out the maths but it seems plausible when you think about it. Identical twins are so obviously alike in many ways but once you get to know them they are obviously very different people - one is often more outgoing with a 'stronger' personality than the other for example. I emailed Steven Pinker - the main (or at least best known) exponent of these studies to ask him about it.
"I was particularly intrigued by something I think I heard you say (on Radio 4 - In Search of Ourselves) about accounting for the huge (50%?) difference between twins. The consensus seemed to be that it had to be put down to random events (chaos theory?) which it was agreed, is not very satisfactory. Nothing else was left. I think I have another explanation, which is that it seems to me that any pair of people who spend a large amount of time together (spouses, siblings, business partners, double acts?) tend to go to opposite poles in various ways - they take up opposite or complementary roles in the relationship. The identical twins, one of which is outgoing and assertive, the other retiring and passive is an obvious example, the active dominant selfish husband and passive self-sacrificing wife (which also happens in gay couples), good cop/bad cop, straight man/clown. It's all about how they react to each other. I'm sure you get the picture. Of course this doesn't work for twins raised apart (which we would expect, paradoxically, to be more alike)"

He wrote back "Dear Steve, It’s indeed a plausible hypothesis, and a testable one: compare siblings (particularly identical twins) who grow up together with those who grow up in different adopted families. According to the differentiation hypothesis, the ones who grow up together should be less correlated than the ones who grow up apart (an effect that is in the opposite direction to any similarity enforced by parental shaping, so it’s a particularly powerful prediction). Unfortunately, the bulk of the data suggest that there is no difference in the correlations, so it does not appear that the differentiation hypothesis is correct. For more discussion, see Judith Rich Harris’s No Two Alike, which is focused on exactly this question. Sincerely, Steve Pinker"

I've not got around to looking at the book but the whole conundrum does show up the amount of room for manouver (hate that word. The correct spelling is so idiotic so you'll have to put up with mine. Another stupid one is 'gauge'. Ech!) even between people who should be almost exactly the same. Maybe it is about souls and free will after all. The differences between me and my brother Ian were always very obvious. He always craved company and, left to his own devices, soon got very bored. When we moved to a more leafy suburban area with lots of kids down the street he immediately joined in. He had a lot of friends at school, was in the scouts and enjoyed games and sports. He was generally easier company. He was a likeable lad. Unsurprisingly there has always been this tacit comparison going on - Why can't you be more like your brother? and the feeling that really, if he can do it why can't I? I was just being difficult.

I gave this some thought very early on in my quest to find out what the heck's going on and it occurred to me quite quickly that of course, although we have the same parents (I assume) we were brought up under very different circumstances - two children, born one after the other, always are. Quite apart from obvious changes, like promotion and moving home, there is the simple fact that the first child is an only child for a time. Even if that's only for a year it's something the second child never experiences. But there's a lot more than that. Think of almost anything you do - changing a wheel, baking a cake, filling out your tax return - you are almost always better at it the second time and not just a little better - hugely better. Plus you've already got the equipment - you don't have to go out and buy a lot of stuff at a time when you may be very strapped for cash. And you know what to expect. Every child is different but broadly, if the first one is still alive you know that basically it's possible. You can do this. Of course there can be a down side. Two children costs more than one and may exacerbate an already desperate situation.
In my case I was an unplanned baby - a broken condom baby - and my family being what they are, they were worrying about everything. They'd wanted to save, get a nicer place to live, to get more security, and now here was I. Plus the birth was long and difficult and my mother was alone with me in that basement flat in Hove. My brother on the other hand was planned (to keep me company - Hah!) and popped out like a cork.

I recently heard the phrase 'Refrigerator Mums' on the radio in connection with autism and its causes. You can imagine what it means - mothers who are distant and undemonstrative (cold and hard and perhaps a bit angular and pale and a bit too clean) with their babies. The epithet has fallen into disrepute of late because it smacks too much of misogyny ('She's frigid') and its coiner said he wished he'd taken into account more of the troubles mothers have with their children and finding ways to help instead of simply blaming them. Certainly my father would admit (if he were still alive) that, confronted with the housework undone and an unresponsive wife, he was not very understanding and basically told her to snap out of it. Add to this the fact that my mother was far from stupid and had dreams of her own you can see it was a miserable situation. Other findings suggest that peri-natal depression, unwanted children and even 'not-yet' babies tend to lead to psychiatric problems later on for the child, and there is a whole realm of psychiatry called 'attachment theory' that is about what happens to people when they don't get enough affection as an infant. My mum still maintains that I pushed her away as a baby - literally - when she tried to hold me, which apparently is a classic symptom of attachment disorder (the fact that she blames me, even as a tiny infant is sort of tedious). We all know what happened to the orphans that were kept without care or attention in Romania's orphanages. Children die without love, but apparently there are measurable affects even with fairly normal and low level neglect. On top of all that apparently Dr Spock was saying you shouldn't go to a crying baby...
By the time Ian was born my dad had done a bit of reading and discovered my mum was not simply being lazy and he was by all accounts a lot more supportive.

What are we to make of all this in the light of the 50:40:10 (genetics (peer group : parent)) split mentioned before? Is it irrelevant? Can a person simply leave these early difficulties behind (it's only five years after all) or will they affect the rest of your life?

to be continued...


Vincent said...

(from Part 8)
“Others, probably the majority, have a more woolly notion of what a soul is (or a god for that matter). They just believe there's... something. As such it explains nothing. We know nothing about it except that it answers all the questions.”

So what is it that makes you turn your back on the majority, and seek explanations? Will science tell you the answer to your anxieties and frustrations?

(from Part 9)
“Can a person simply leave these early difficulties behind (it's only five years after all) or will they affect the rest of your life?”

You haven’t really established that what you now diagnose as early difficulties have anything to do with the anxieties and frustrations.

All you can truly say, in a Cartesian kind of way, is “I feel anxieties and frustrations, therefore I’m on a quest—to escape them!”

To have anxieties and frustrations is to be like everyone. We receive prompts from our feelings and emotions. This is how it is meant to be. More to be pitied is the rarechild unable to smell burning, unable to feel the pain of a pin-prick.

Because our unhappiness won’t forget to plague us, we have a chance. The more it plagues, the more we are unable to silence it “with some dull opiate”, the luckier we are, because unlike the mass of humanity we have been given the chance to find a true and lasting accommodation with the cards we have been dealt in life. Suffering is the open door to an undreamed-of heaven.

Steve Law said...

Hello Vincent
I guess I deserve a curt response. I've been aware that my reply to your blog was not the best (ungracious is a good word). I really should wait until I'm in a more constructive mood before I say something. I was in two minds about deleting it. Anyway I apologise for it.

"So what is it that makes you turn your back on the majority, and seek explanations?"
Well the fact that in many ways I do have a scientific way of approaching life - possibly because my inner life is so emotional. It's a way of trying to make sense of the confusion.

"You haven’t really established that what you now diagnose as early difficulties have anything to do with the anxieties and frustrations."
No indeed. I have a lot more to write about this.

"To have anxieties and frustrations is to be like everyone... This is how it is meant to be."
Well a person has to make some sort of judgement about whether their anxieties and frustrations are unusually or intolerably bad. Many people do and they try to get help - therapy or pills or just talking to friends. It seems a reasonable thing to do.

"the more we are unable to silence it “with some dull opiate”, the luckier we are, because unlike the mass of humanity we have been given the chance to find a true and lasting accommodation with the cards we have been dealt in life. Suffering is the open door to an undreamed-of heaven."
The whole point of what I have been writing here is indeed to find a 'true and lasting accommodation' with the hand I have been dealt, not to dull it with opiates. I want to find a way to be who I am that works, not one that constantly gets in the way.

Vincent said...

It was not meant to be a curt response, only a spontaneous one. Before seeing your response above, I drafted a second attempt, as follows. Which seems to converge with what you are saying above, as if we are achieving the same wavelength here.

As you know very well, I express myself badly in being spontaneous. So let me try again. You are what you are. The self-awareness is achieved. Where next? To accept what you strikes you as a negative, and see experientially how it can turn itself into a positive---for you in your own self and being and self-awareness. To be glad unconditionally that you were born to be you and have every opportunity to be gladder now. That is the only task. You are already doing it. Just see it in a different way, that it is completely OK.

Steve Law said...

But I think there are some parts of how I am that I really don't like and don't want and which repeatedly cause problems for me.

Actually, take yesterday. I was taking my step-daughter, Zoe, to meet her mum at work so she could take her on to her University open day at UEA. I completely messed up the navigation. We started out late anyway and I thought I knew where I was going (I've been there a lot of times) but this is Crawley I'm talking about and as you may know it's almost completely devoid of memorable landmarks. Anyway, I was just getting more and more wound up, trying to keep it together and Zoe picked up on it and was trying to jolly me along and Emma (my wife) was not answering her mobile, as usual, even though we were late and she had to be wondering where we were.
Zoe got out to ask directions and then Emma rang back and said she didn't work in Crawley any more and hadn't for ages. She works in Redhill now. Now to be fair this had actually occurred to me that morning so I'd phoned and then texted her at work to confirm that we were meeting in 'the usual place'. One of the recurring problems here is how difficult it is to contact my wife on her mobile. She either doesn't hear it or leaves it at home or there's an emergency at work. Eventually though she texted back and said yes, the usual place, but she thought I meant Redhill. I think I've been there once. I still wasn't sure but I decided to go anyway because it was impossible to hold a conversation.
The directions Zoe got didn't work - predictably - I hate asking directions - they say left when they mean right, they forget a turning, or miss out a whole mini roundabout, either they've made a mistake or I remember wrong. Either way we're lost and Zoe's upset that her directions took us the wrong way. I just feel utterly stupid that I've got it so wrong - and I mean really humiliated and wretched.
So anyway, when we finally arrange a place to meet and we're driving along I just yell the most enormous 'Fuuuuuuuuck!' you ever heard and Zoe bursts into tears.
The point here is about how badly I handle things not going according to plan, partly because it is so upsetting for Emma and her kids but also because it doesn't make me feel any better. It makes me feel wretched. At times like that the feelings are so out of hand... I just don't want to be like this. There's nothing to be glad about. There's no 'undreamed of heaven'. I just don't want to be like that. That's all.

Vincent said...

PS I know that technology isn't the answer, but it is a positive step that's doable, and each such step helps convince us that we are not helpless against fate, but have a certain freedom to act. True, we remain surrounded by bulls, but once we have grasped one by the horns and won, the worst is over already.

Steve Law said...

Oh I'm not above a little symptomatic relief but I would like to get at the root of the problem, if at all possible. Otherwise it's just a life-long game of whackamole.