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Physiology of the Soul - or, if you like it better, - Neurons & Soul
Riccardo Fesce - all rights reserved (if you are an interested publisher or agent send a mail)
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MOTIVATION − Needs and pleasure

After all this talking about the wandering of our mind in search of the best choice, the question comes to my mind “why should our brain undergo this heavy burden of continually changing its perspective, examining things from a thousand different angles, trying to consider all possible aspects?”, what in the world pushes it not to content itself of a sufficiently strong drive...

Think of a sudden desire for chocolate − we could take a more complex, or noble choice as an example, but this one may do: why one does not simply go for it, why should one wonder whether there are other aspects to be considered, calories, sugar, self-control, lack of food in the Third World...

One may think this built-in mechanism of doubt, and reconsideration, helps in making the best choice. In my opinion this is a quite optimistic view: our way of performing choices generally is not the best one, or at least not the most efficient. The most efficient approach would probably be to select the significant aspects, weight them simultaneously, and decide, rather than keeping cruising among different views and perspectives.

From the physiological point of view, the question is twofold: what pushes our brain to follow this procedures, and what is the advantage of all this. The first one is a tricky question: as we have seen, the brain appears to work this way, in general, it need not be pushed to do it; this is the way sensory data are analyzed by unimodal associative areas, which cruise in the mass of information by focalizing single aspects and various combinations in sequence, changing perspectives and examining and comparing different interpretations. This is the way multimodal areas operate, to generate awareness and produce conscience. Nothing strange that motivational areas also use the same approach. On the other hand, a fundamental difference exists between cognitive processing and motivational elaboration: the first in principle can go on for ever, whether new interpretations keep emerging or the brain loops again and again among the same ideas; the latter, instead, must soon or late converge to a choice. Thus, this may be the best way of exploring reality, but it may well not be the best way to make a choice. Indeed, it is not even pleasant to keep questioning in the uncertainty: if cognitive speculation is an enjoyable game, putting doubt to an end is often a blessed relief.

As procedural and behavioral learning is strongly affected, if not solely ruled, by the motivational power of pleasure/pain, the continuous search for alternative possibilities and better, more coherent, comprehensive, equilibrated syntheses, the continuous re-examination of behavioral choices (but if, and if instead...), postponing the relief of choice, must be reinforced by some kind of gratification, a motivational drive capable of counteracting both the anticipated result of the appropriate behavior and the impatience itself of overcoming doubts. There must be the capacity, by these regions that make us “waste” time and energies in fantasizing, that load any choice with doubts and re-examinations and revisions, for the sake of research and discovery of more complex equilibriums and more round harmonies; there must be the capacity of activating deep centers linked to pleasure, capable of producing a diffuse sensation of well-being. Actually, each intuition, discovery, understanding, each new unifying perspective, and finding unexpected or sought harmonies, all this generates the same kind of pleasure of a smile, a hug, of social appreciation and success... The trick that the brain has enacted, to have us search better solutions, and never be satisfied but pursue something better, is that we manage in enjoying, PROVING PLEASURE in beauty, in harmony.

Thus what pushes us to look for a better choice appear to be two aspects: the general operating mode of the cerebral cortex on one side, and on the other side the “pleasure” of looking for a more comprehensive analysis and a higher synthesis, the pleasure of achieving it, the pleasure of harmony.

But then, why should man have developed the capability of proving pleasure in front of harmony, of a synthetic coalescence of incoherent data?

Well, once you do have the capability (read, sufficient number of neurons) to interpret the same data in many way, and to find several solutions to the same problem, you offer the nature a marvelous possibility to pursue its objective of multiplying survival strategies within one and the same organism... Why then should not nature change this potentiality into reality? It would be no use to be able to offer many solution to the same problem, if one were not pushed in some way to find another solution after having found the first, sufficiently good, one. Thus, there must be a prize, a gratification, if you manage in suspending the choice and find a better solution; a gratification to be compared and measured against the possible usefulness, gratification or relief of accelerating the choice.

Still, though speculative attitude may be an evolutional advantage, why do we follow that clumsy procedure? Actually, when we face a difficult question it seems that we are not able to simultaneously consider all the aspects; it seems that we use a spotlight that is only capable of illuminating single subsets of the reality we must examine, and we cannot but move around the spotlight, changing perspectives and judgments, in the hope that sooner or later we shall have explored the whole matter. Well, it is not improbable that our wonderful brain, with all its computational power, is much more skillful in decomposing reality and examining subsystems than in putting everything together: actually, it appears that human mind cannot “compute” (interpret, explain) systems and processes where more than a fixed number (seven?) of independent factors interact. It seems that we did a good job in building computers to take care of that...

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Neurophysiology of motivation

In the absence of external stimuli, many sensory system are nonetheless active:

  • “proprioceptive” systems, that report the length, movement and tension of muscles, and the position of the joints
  • “enteroceptive” systems, that gauge the degree of filling and tension of the viscera, arterial and venous pressure, plasma pH (acidity), electrolyte concentrations, oxygen and carbon dioxide saturation in plasma, glycemia and anything else that may bear some relevance to the survival of the organism
  • “thermoceptive” systems, that measure the temperature of the skin and the interior of the body, and of the skull

All this information is elaborated and integrated, at various levels in the brainstem (the extension of the spinal medulla into the skull), by circuits and control centers that are capable of determining specific responses − such as an increase of respiratory activity if the oxygen/carbon dioxide ratio is altered, or a stimulation of the heart and vascular constriction if blood pressure falls... These medullar centers send the results of their control activity to higher centers. At the top of this hierarchical organization sits the hypothalamus, a nervous structure positioned centrally at the base of the brain; the hypothalamus conciliates and rules all these functions of vegetative control, by coordinating hormonal responses (it directly controls the pituitary gland, that is located just below it) and neural responses. It produces the necessary activations to re-establish blood pressure, if it has been altered; it governs renal activity if the volume or composition of the plasma are abnormal; it controls body temperature by producing vasoconstriction to avoid heath dispersion, and shivers, in the cold, or vasodilatation and sweating when the temperature is too high; it intervenes on the regulation of respiration if the pH, or oxygen saturation, or carbon dioxide, are abnormal...

Ok. Wonderful. But it is so obvious that all this is not enough!...

Not even to merely survive.

If it is real cold, you can vasoconstrict, and shiver, but if you do not fetch something to put on, or do not find a warmer site, you end up frozen.

If the glycemia falls, you can use up all glucose stocks in the liver, and burn perhaps some more lipids, or even the precious proteins of your muscles, but if you do not eat you end up like a skeleton...

And if water is missing in the organism, one can certainly stop urinating, and sweating, but if one does not drink he will certainly die.

Thus, even for the mere and simple vegetative survival it is necessary to perform active behaviors − dressing up, moving, fetching food and eat it, fetching water and drinking it...

These behaviors must be actuated by the brain, by the cortex. Otherwise it is necessary that somebody else does these things for us, by shrouding us, feeding us, hydrating us, possibly intravenously...

The area in the cortex that starts movements (primary motor areas, in the posterior part of the frontal lobe), however, is not sufficient: it is an output area from the brain, but it is not those neurons that DECIDE what to do, they are merely refined executors.

Performing a “behavior” − a sequence of ordered movements − requires the activation of areas near to the base of the frontal lobes, in regions near the median line; these are regions that can be considered as the promoters of any movement, those who actually do decide, among the thousands of possible behaviors, which ones are to be enacted. A very instructive way, in trying and understanding the role of various cortical regions in cerebral functions, is to consider how the various functions are altered in the presence of localized injuries (traumatic, tumoral, vascular lesions) to specific regions of the cortex. The most informative function possibly is language, that can be altered in a thousand ways (cognitive, logical, affective, syntactic, motor and motivational aspects). A lesion in these “prefrontal basal medial” regions, produces an almost total aphasia (general term that indicates a disturbance of language), with demoralizing features: it is essentially a form of mutism, due to the fact that the subject has absolutely no drive, no motivation to speak. It is not that he cannot or does not know how to do it. He could speak correctly, but he would only do it in response to a particularly strong stimulus.

These regions of behavior “triggering” need not program movements in any detail, they simply activate the appropriate areas − again in the frontal lobe, “premotor” areas − that elaborate, design and program movements, by integrating them on very different levels of complexity, in the various regions, and over time scales that range from seconds to years.

It is not our interest here to define in detail how premotor areas translate these programs into specific movements: we have seen elsewhere how they can also use the cerebellum and basal ganglia to control the correctness of movements, to produce learnt “automatic” movements and to be able to fluidly and harmonically perform complex sequences of movements. What interests us is to proceed a little more backward: these regions trigger the behaviors, “decide” WHETHER and WHAT to do. But who or what in turn moves these regions, pushes them, orients them in their choice?

Some aspects of this process are real clear, others are less so.

A structure of fundamental importance in this game is the nucleus accumbens. This nucleus, close to the basal ganglia (under some respects it is considered part of their system) contains among others two populations of neurons with clear-cut functions.

One of the two populations discharges each time a situation of “unease” is present and the possibility of resolving such unease occurs, or in general the possibility of obtaining a gratification (interrupting a nuisance or experiencing pleasure). We might define them “anticipatory” neurons, or neurons of “gratification expectation”. Let us better define what “unease” means here. A typical situation is when the hypothalamus verifies a vegetative unbalance that requires that a behavior be enacted (drinking, for example). Specific neurons, within this population in the nucleus accumbens, discharge if the hypothalamus signals the need of drinking and other sensory and elaborative structure have recognized that there is the possibility of doing it (water is in sight, possibly a nice glass of iced water...): the result is a very strong stimulation of the centers that “trigger” motor behaviors, and in general the performance of the required behavior. It is easy to delay drinking, it can be done even when thirst becomes burning, but if in such conditions somebody shows us a glass of water, then resisting becomes real hard... A less poetical example, but maybe even more convincing, is when the bladder is overfilled and asks for attention: when we finally get to the bathroom the need suddenly and greatly grows, and if an impediment arises at the last minute unpleasant accidents might happen...

The other population of neurons in the accumbens discharges when the condition of discomfort is resolved. This on the one hand produces a well-defined sensation of PLEASURE, pleasure in the strictest sense, no adjectives. But in the mean time it “reinforces” the behavior that has permitted this situation to happen, by stabilizing the synaptic connections that have produced such behavior and making it more straightforward and easily executable in the future. We might define these “pleasure” or “gratification” neurons. The nervous pathways that are capable of activating these neurons are generally referred to as the REWARD CIRCUITS.

It is important to underline that these are not homogeneous populations of neurons, that discharge all together in response to any situation that may resolve a discomfort, or to the resolution of the discomfort. There are neurons that are specifically dedicated to each possible “discomfort”, and the activation of each group of them specifically signals the need of enacting a specific behavior, or reinforces that specific behavior.

To complete the picture, two more aspects must be considered:

  • There are not only neurons that are activated in presence of a vegetative unbalance, recognized by the hypothalamus (cold, heat, need of drinking, eating, sexual desire), but also neurons that are activated by regions that elaborate the emotional experience, by regions that regulate affective and social interactions, and by regions involved in strictly cognitive tasks: the possibility of approaching the beloved person, and the pleasure of having her close by; the possibility of obtaining social appreciation, and actually obtaining it; the impression that a problem can be solved, a difficult question can be understood, and the satisfaction of finding the solution, and understanding: the nucleus accumbens responds to these possibilities of gratification − and to the achievement of these gratifications − exactly in the same way as it responds to the possibility of stopping a pain or a vegetative discomfort, and to its effective discontinuation. Obviously, a different group of neurons is involved in each of these cases.
  • Not everything is already written in the nucleus accumbens: there are neurons originally destined to discharge when water is presented or thirst is quenched, but many many others are prepared to acquire through experience the capability of “tuning” on recognizing and signaling each single type of gratification that one might ever encounter − especially if this occurs repetitively. It is not fully clear how wide is neuronal plasticity in the accumbens, or in other words whether the circuitry of the accumbens itself “learns”, or learning is actually delegated to the cortical regions that, directly or indirectly, project on these neurons. What certainly is clear is that, if a specific form of gratification repetitively occurs in a certain situation, then some neurons in the accumbens will learn to discharge each time that same situation occurs again, to initiate the behavior that is appropriate to reproduce the gratifications; and other neurons in the accumbens will discharge when the gratification is realized, thereby reinforcing the behavior.
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The dark side of it

It may be worth considering how expectation, anticipation of pleasure, is itself pervaded of pleasure. In many cases, that is the real good part of the whole thing: “I look forward to, I cannot wait for”, it is not simple, anxious or sad impatience, it is the pure pleasure of anticipation.

Perhaps the most difficult thing in growing up is precisely to tune the perception of the relationship between anticipation and achievement of pleasure to a new condition of independence and autonomy.

As young children, expectations of gratification mostly are satisfied − as far as elementary needs are concerned; for the rest, it is the parents who realize the magic, the fulfillment of desire. Conquering gratification simply implies developing the appropriate strategies to OBTAIN it from the parents; indeed, parental approval itself becomes the greatest gratification, an implicit promise of all future gratifications.

With adolescence, the existential needs change: desire has now turned to conquering appreciation, to auto-assertion, to the satisfaction of creativity, of gestures, to the consideration and admiration by the group of the peers. This creates a situation of dissatisfaction towards the whole world, because it does not fulfill these desires on simple request, as our parents have taught us, and it is not sufficient to well behave to be rewarded with all that; in addition, a feeling of inadequacy arise, for the incapability of granting them on oneís own initiative, and a drive to look for behavioral and adaptation strategies to conquer other peopleís benevolence. If requests, “good behavior” and strategies fail, the possibility remains of researching oneís own autonomous way to self-affirmation; but this is mostly turned inwards, and privileges seeing/feeling oneself acting: the value of the GESTURE grows abnormally, of the bravery act in particular, often self-damaging, because of the intensity of the associated feeling of self-sufficiency, and of being able to face/overcome pain.

If you wander around the network, among blogs, you stumble with incredible frequency on narrations of self-damaging acts by youngsters, conscious, programmed, anticipated. What strikes most is the explicit anticipation, a kind of emotional rehearse, of the act, the declared love for the blade, the ritual, closing oneself in the bathroom, the pleasure of seeing oneself doing it, the pain, the blood that escapes... Go around some more, and you will find other young bloggers describing, with the same times, with the same words, making holes in oneís own brain... The fact is that these gestures only depend on you, on your “nerve” to do them, and you get excited to the idea of seeing yourself performing them, and recalling “I have had the courage”.

Here is a terrible paradox.

This has nothing to do with the original meaning − message − of the act (“cutting oneís own veins”). No! here one has to turn psychoanalysis upside down: it is not a question of auto-destructiveness of “lapsus”, or of biting oneís nails.

No! this apparent auto-destructiveness is not death, it is life − distorted as its interpretation may be − it is assertiveness, it is shouting “look at me, here I am”, it is shouting “this, at least, this which depends on me, this I can do!”.

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The nervous pathway that most specifically and intensely activates “pleasure” neurons originates from deep regions in the midbrain, the uppermost portion of the brainstem, in a region called “ventro-tegmental area” (VTA). This area originates two most important paths, that both employ dopamine as a transmitter; one of them proceeds towards the nucleus accumbens, and from here on to the “limbic” regions that elaborate emotions (meso-limbic pathway): its activation produces a sensation of pleasure and in the meanwhile reinforces the behavior that has produced the present (pleasant) situation. This is said “reward pathway”. All drugs that facilitate dopamine release (or potentiate its action) in this pathway are capable of producing a sensation of pleasure (nicotine, amphetamine, ecstasy, opiates, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, possibly even chocolate and sugar, though more mildly). As a consequence, one “learns” to look for the drug as a source of pleasure. More subtle, and equally crucial, is learning by “anticipatory” neurons, which learn to signal the possibility of obtaining pleasure from the drug every time one finds himself in a situation in which the drug was obtained in the past − places, people, situations. This learning, and the violent motivational drive that activation of the “anticipatory” neurons can exert, explain why the risk of relapse into drug dependence remains so high even for people who have “definitely” abandoned the habit: exposing oneself to places, people, situations that have been previously associated to taking drugs triggers a violent desire, a strong motivational drive towards the search and taking of the drug, a drive resisting to which is real hard.

The second pathway originating from the VTA goes to the prefrontal regions, precisely those that have been described above as implied in enacting behaviors, and thus in the modulation of voluntary, intentional behavior (this is called meso-cortical pathway). This is also a pathway using dopamine as a transmitter. The appropriate balance between the activities of the two paths, mesolimbic and mesocortical, is crucial to maintain the correct relationship between cognitive activities (and voluntary behavior) and emotional experience. A strong unbalance, that can be generated or sometimes “treated” by using drugs that interfere with dopamine activity, produces “dissociation” between the two spheres − cognitive and emotional − and gives rise to thought and behavior disturbances of a psychotic type, up to the well-defined clinical picture of schizophrenia (break, rupture if the soul).

The picture is reasonably clear, by now:

  • any behavior that can bring a discomfort to an end, or make it possible to achieve a gratification, is strongly demanded − MOTIVATED - by recognizing the possibility of enacting it
  • the associative regions of the cortex perform a continuous activity of elaboration and evaluation of the real situation, simulation of behaviors and assessment of their consequences; this translates every strategy − even the most complex − that is capable of leading us to achieve a gratification into the recognition of the possibility of performing the appropriate behavior, and therefore MOTIVATES the strategy and the consequent behavior
  • at every moment the prefrontal areas that are in charge of enacting behaviors are “bombed” by requests that arrive from every associative region, each of them proposing a particular behavior suited to obtain a specific gratification, be it of visceral origin, or vegetative, emotional, affective, social or cognitive.
  • the regions that are in charge of behavioral programming must evaluate on the one side the compatibility of the various behaviors and strategies that are proposed and demanded; on the other hand the intensity of the MOTIVATION associated to each of them
  • this is not a simple static computation, a scheme with crosses or scores that indicate the strength of each motivational force, and the strongest one simply wins... This is a continuous evaluation of alterative hypotheses, of attempts at reconciling and needs of exclusions, that generates complex paths, alternative plannings, interior simulations of behavior. And the whole process is disturbed by reflex, instinctive and automatic responses, that are generated at the lowest levels of the nervous system: these sometimes strongly interfere with the possibility of performing a complex planning of behavior; in other cases instead they can be predicted, and will then be anticipated and inhibited in such a way that the complex behavioral strategies that have been elaborated by higher centers can be pursued.
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According to what has been said hereto, the frontal associative areas of the cerebral cortex incessantly elaborate strategies and behavioral plans, and a MOTIVATIONAL DRIVE is associated to each of these strategies, generated by the intensity of the obtainable pleasure (gratification or decrease if discomfort or pain), but also by the possibility of achieving it.

When a strategy turns out to be sustained by a sufficient motivational force (in absolute terms and in the meanwhile with respect to the drives that sustain different, incompatible behaviors), then specific regions of the prefrontal cortex “start” the behavior.

This is disheartening.

Where did the soul go? werenít we supposed to talk about the soul, here?

True. If you tell it this way, it appears it is only a hideous materialistic calculus (NOOOO! how must I say that it is not a computation, but an evaluation, which is continually evolving, of alternative strategies, a continuous re-examination in the light of ever-new proposals of integration, reconciliation, exclusion...). Ok, it is not a calculus. But it is materialistic, is not it? I have only talked of gratification, discomfort, pain and pleasure.

Well, ok, should we pretend we do not know?

Kant himself had a depressive crisis when he finished his critique of practical reason and realized that his categorical imperative, that force that drives us to act irrespective of any personal interest, pursuing what is RIGHT only and exclusively BECAUSE IT IS RIGHT, does not actually occur in life: the motivation is never exclusively ethical, the satisfaction of having behaved well is anyway there, pride, feeling we deserve approval by ourselves, by others, by those who do not know but if the knew, possibly even the expectation of a prize in another life, and freedom from remorse, and the feeling of superiority that comes from not having to thank but rather to be thanked, and we could go on for some pages along this line...

Thus, the question − at least for a treatise of soul PHYSIOLOGY − is a different one. Not whether there is a spiritual force that overcomes the motivational storm in the frontal cortex − fully taken by earthy pleasures, − but how can superior values, supra-personal, social, ethical, ideal values, enter that motivational storm, being sustained by a money of equal worth, that the cortex might consider and evaluate in a “homogeneous” way with respect to the other motivational drives described so far.

Here, once more, some limits and borders seem to magically disappear. Because if we consider these supra-personal values one by one we see that they have precise correlates into specific cerebral activities, and therefore the possibility of being translated into “neuronal” motivational forces, not different (from a biological point of view) from vegetative motivation, and from those aimed at avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure.

The key words are EMOTION, SOCIAL appreciation, desire of overcoming oneís own LIMITS, affectiveness and LOVE, SYMPATHY and SOLIDARITY, ETHICS, harmony, BEAUTY, eagerness for INFINITY.

EMOTIONS, viscerally lived and communicated, below the level of conscience, are elaborated by portions of the cortex that do not give them words, but apply to them a true and full logic, though implicit, non rational, non verbal: the emotional logics, the “intelligence of the heart”. These regions are strictly interconnected with the “anticipation” and “reward” circuits just described, both directly and through the cognitive and verbal elaboration by other frontal areas that plan behavioral strategies suited to pursue emotional well-being and gratifications. The link is tight and twofold: on the one side emotions can easily generate powerful motivational drives; on the other side precisely these regions elaborate the activities of the “anticipation” and “reward” neurons, translating them into emotion: desire, anxiety, satisfaction, pleasure.

Emotions are transmitted directly, with no need for cognitive elaboration. These are mechanisms clearly present in animals as well: emotions originate instinctive behaviors − mimics, bodily postures − that have the function of communicating the emotions to other subjects. This makes it possible that the fear felt by an animal which realizes the presence of a predator is rapidly transmitted − thanks to the bodily attitudes it assumes − to the whole herd, that can thus escape the danger. The sub-cortical centers (that work in a fundamentally instinctive and unconscious way) recognize the mimic responses associated to emotions and reproduce in the subject that sees them the same emotions that have generated them. It is not necessary to have a particularly touchy soul to feel joy in front of joy and sadness in front of tears...

From here comes the great motivational power of the emotions of the others, of social consensus and appreciation, that directly translate into personal emotions.

Actually, this is not an aspect of nervous system functioning limited to the “lower” regions that elaborate emotions − oneís own and othersí. As it is known today even out of the circle of those who are interested in neurophysiology, in several cortical regions there are cells that are called “mirror neurons”: they are groups of neurons that are activated during programming of movements, acts, attitudes, and are activated exactly in the same way when one looks at somebody else who executes the same movements, acts, attitudes. The function of this “mental imitation” of other peopleís behavior is very important for learning new behavioral procedures and strategies, and this continuously and diffusely happens in regions of the cortex that operate below the conscious level. Sure, a behavior can be reproduced intentionally, and seeing it being executed makes it easier to study the way of reproducing it, but the neuronal basis is precisely the “simulation” of the movement, a simulation that “automatically” occurs in the regions of motor programming: unconsciously imagining movements even though they are not materially performed.

Somewhere else we said there are few things more personal than our own expressions, of our own habitual gestures. But how many times it happens that through unconscious imitation − it happens a lot to children, but also to us, with the people we love − we reproduce several times the expressions and gestures of another person, until they gradually become our own, personal...

All this sustains a strong, uncontrollable tendency to identification, to sharing, to SYMPATHY (syn+pathos = suffering together)...

This tendency to identification is particularly strong toward people who are close to us, emotionally, affectively, who occupy a privileged position in our emotional life, in our memory, in our experience, and it contributes to affection and LOVE a powerful motivational valence.

But the tendency to identification also translates into the capacity − and once again with no need for a particularly noble soul − of loading with motivational value the needs, the emotions, the dreams of the others, of transforming also solidarity into an important factor of our motivational equilibrium.

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Hamlet and women

Indeed, what wears out is responsibility, is taking care.

The artist talks to everybody. Literates, poets and heroes have certainly thought that the Bard mostly talked to their heart, directly and precisely. But perhaps even more − possibly without even wanting it − he talked to the soul of the woman, of each and any woman, mother, housewife, lover, simply woman.

The woman who can build a world around herself, for herself and her beloved, and loves it and takes care of it.

The woman who cannot neglect her world, leave it to failure.

The woman who asks “but why can he walk about with no worry among piles of dirty dishes, abandoned laundry, the cover of the w-c always wide open to show the horrid hole to the fetid world down there?”, “and why cannot I, why must I take charge of it, and take care of it?”.

Would not it be much better, at least once, to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, instead of taking arms against a sea of troubles − and unmade beds and perfidious bacteria - and by opposing end them? or, maybe, to sleep, perchance to dream...

Maybe this is why Hamlet is so cherished by women. He is tender, poor boy, awkward enough to drive mad his beloved Ophelia, so much he loves her, so much this makes him act as a stupid. Bewildered, but HE CARES. He looks around, “somethingís rotten in (the state of) Denmark”, “the time is out of joint”, everything seems to tell him not to care, just mind your own business, if the world is crooked that is not your fault, it is not up to you to clean it up and polish and straighten it, reorder it and put it back to work...

Oh, nay, not him!

“To be or not to be”, why should that be my business, why me? But I cannot just stand here, and look, without doing anything, I wish I could stay in bed and sleep, and wake up the next morning that the world has reset on its own and everything goes well, without my being the one who must run and do things...

And perhaps Hamlet is a hero, precisely in this feminine facet of his. The first hero in history who is not guided by a goddess, endowed with unshakable certainties, subdued to honor codes and proud of his destiny. No, he is orphan. Orphan of his father. Of gods. Of certainties.

He has the defects of a man, naive, messy, inconclusive; and his thinking it over, and taking care, instead of going on along his own way, sure of the rules they taught him, as any other old hero would do, is absolutely disastrous: he becomes capable of candidly pulverizing, as a steam roller, the soul of anybody who might love him. Sure, as a partner he may not be the best choice − he can drive you crazy in a moment... but which woman could ever resist to a guy like that, who can make her suffer quite a bit, not because heís evil, no, just a little stupid, with a big warning signal on his forehead “CAUTION!! I donít know what Iím doing, I might hurt you hard!”... And he is tender, in addition, he cares...

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Vegetative and physiological needs, then, to guide our behavior, and running away from pain and discomfort, and looking for gratifications and pleasure, but emotions as well, ours and othersí, and social appreciation, and affects and love, and solidarity.

All this, translated into the activity of neurons that signal the possibility of a success in any one of these domains − and generate anticipation. All this translated also into the activation of pathways that elicit PLEASURE, in its strictest sense (physical, if you wish, but I really do not know of anybody who could clearly tell the difference between a physical pleasure and an emotional one, or affective, ethical, esthetic: maybe the pleasure should be defined exactly as what all these forms of well being have in common...).

And everything transformed into motivational drives, in the end, capable of provoking the elaboration of appropriate behavioral strategies and starting their execution.

It is evident, though, that in the end it is not a question of choosing a pair of shoes, of simply selecting among many possible behaviors the best one − in the sense that it is pushed by a sum of motivational forces (in favor and against) that is greater than for the others. No, the problem is to compare and try and reconcile, to renounce, to compose complex strategies, delicate balances, in a mutable picture, while each new perspective, each novel way of considering elements and relationships, projects a new light on the whole matter, and ever-changing shades.

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What moves us? The impetus of need, desires, fears and dreams, and then projects and rationality...

But rationality is manifold, eager, intricate, captious, gray and never satisfied. Like a mischievous sea, stormy at times, unpredictable streams, mutable winds.

Eventually, what we should wish is an invincible tide, a strong wind, stable, a sturdy motor down there, the ability of regulating the sails, keeping the helm steady...

Eventually, what we should wish is a strong positive motivation, that may put any desires, doubts, uncertainties to sleep...

Eventually, what we should wish is simply passion − the need, the absolute desire, Achillesí wrath, Abrahamís faith, and Agamemnonís, in the absurd will of the gods, Kareninaís love − a passion that can shout down reason and take possession of acts.

Sometimes, like Hamlet, we happen to desire folly − rather than pretending heís fool, sometimes he seems to desperately desire it, − the folly of “taking arms” and fighting with no hesitations, or being able to put an end to all of it.

Folly, that frightens and fascinates, because it kill the reason, but along with it responsibility as well: “incapable of understanding and acting”, thus NOT responsible.

Driven by something other than reason... FREE from reason? Free from responsibility? Free from conflict?

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