Medical researchers, and social workers, and psychologists have become aware over the last generation, that there has been a remarkable increase in the number of people who suffer from what is now called, “post traumatic stress disorder” (to be referred to as PTSD in this article). This is just one of the syndromes that have become more common over the years. There are others. And within the community of health workers and care givers, there is a certain feeling of frustration. For with the passage of time, we human beings have developed more and more answers to the greatest threat to human happiness; that is, ill health. But despite our progress, we have been surprised and dismayed by new illnesses and problems that we didn’t suffer before. In the case of PTSD, it really baffled the researchers. For one thing, the disorder has been known for hundreds of years. It was once called ‘shock’, and it was closely followed during different wars, because it was known that this disorder could cause a soldier to cease to function normally. A serious study of the subject was made during WWI. And since then there have been many more studies, with much learned about the subject.
But there was no explanation why there were so many more cases of people completely disabled by the syndrome as the years went by. Some skeptics opined that the soldiers were probably trying to avoid the dangers of war and were faking their distress. But it became clear that the increase in cases of PTSD was not limited to the armed services. People who had been injured in traffic accidences, and those who had been in the vicinity of acts of terror showed up with the well known symptoms in ever greater frequency. Doctors tried different methods to alleviate the symptoms, and researchers tried to develop a medicine which could treat the disorder, and save the sufferer years of great emotional distress.
The answer to this riddle has only recently been discovered. It turns out that there is a natural hormone, that exists in the human being, and is secreted in large amounts after experiencing intensive stress. The name of this hormone is cortisol, and it is regulated by the endocrine system. One of its functions is to soften the memory of the traumatic experience, before the short term memory becomes a permanent memory. It protects our hard disc from serious damage. But unfortunately, the administration of a drug to calm the nerves, such as valium, gives the impression to the mind that the situation is not so bad. And this interferes with the natural healthy function of the body.
Our history is filled great discoveries and inventions, and ideas that have changed the course of history. We learn about these discoveries and innovations in school, and they are part of our cultural heritage. But for every successful invention, there have been many that were originally welcomed with enthusiasm, and later rejected as being unhelpful, or more dangerous than they were helpful. The many mistakes along the road are less remembered. They get swept away with the past. Not too long ago, a great part of humanity believed that communism was the answer to inequality, and the method by which we could bring true happiness to the masses. And those who believed in that system had a hard time explaining why so many East Berliners were willing to risk their lives to escape to west Germany, but it did not lessen their belief.
In the west, there has been a great effort for the past half century, to try and equalize the playing field. It seemed only fair and just to force integration in America, after years of slavery and discrimination of a part of the population. And what better place, to start the process of integration, than in the public schools. But at approximately the same time, the school systems became interested in encouraging the most intelligent students, as part of an awareness that there might soon be international competition in the areas of technological advance. It became a national concern to find the brightest students and offer them the advantages of the best possible education. It became a national priority. The IQ test became important.
But in the 60s and the 70s there was a sense of dismay among ‘forward thinking’ people, that students who had already been blessed with a greater intelligence than others, were to be blessed twice, and get more than other students who were less fortunate in what nature had provided them in the way of intelligence. And it was then, that the great question, “Nature or Nurture” arrived on the scene. Some very brilliant intellectuals proposed that the difference between different young people, was not to be found in the genes or the DNA of their physical bodies, but in the manner they were brought up. According to this theory, if a person who might be evaluated as having an average intelligence or a below average intelligence were to get the same sort of nurturing that highly intelligent people received, they too could be highly intelligent. The idea being, that it was possible to teach intelligence. Unfortunately, this bright idea was disproved over and again.
Still, the very idea that some folks are born more intelligent than others continued to cause agony among many sensitive and clever social thinkers. How much simpler it would have been, if they had found solace in the fact that each person is different, and each of us has certain natural characteristics and talents which are unique and beautiful in themselves, and that we don’t have to judge all people by one standard… But no. they went searching for a new idea which could compensate somehow, those people who got low scores on the intelligence test. And (drum roll), a new type of intelligence was found! Emotional intelligence. Isn’t that great! To call this new invention a myth, is to do it kindness. To study it, is like putting a chair on a cloud. But some people still do. On the other hand, those in the intellectual community are well aware that intelligence is no promise of success.
It is well known and incidences have been recorded of highly intelligent people who’ve had tunnel vision, and found interest only in very narrow aspects of life. There are countless examples of brilliant people, scholars, scientists, inventors, and artists, who couldn’t find their glasses or their hats; who talked to people like they were dirt; who used bills of high currency as book markers, and who wore their trousers inside out. And in contrast, there have been great and wonderful people who have given happiness and joy to others, who were not all that intelligent. The understanding of music is a type of intelligence that doesn’t usually appear on the standard intelligence tests.
I started thinking about this because of the pursuit of my friend Kathryn, in search of an answer to why intelligent people can be so insensitive to their fellow man. I would suggest ‘selfishness’. And believe it or not, I have a friend who is a genetic researcher, and has studied extensively the genetic basis for an altruistic personality. But more about that some other time. I think I’ve said enough.