Saturday, November 7, 2009

Linking Bipolar Disorder to Societal Change

In my job search, as I peruse the many and varied job listings, I am struck by the cacophonous diversity of voices represented. What used to be called a "programmer" no longer exists in the minds of the people who put together the job listings. Even the era of the hyper-specialist -- "user interface designer" or "back office engineer" -- has been superseded. We've gone beyond, into an area of super-beings: people who can specialize in many areas with several years of experience in the latest technologies. It all made me wonder what effects such expectations have upon the brain structures of people trying to conform?

My first thought is that increasingly complex, dynamic, shifting and expanding points of view would lead to a fractured consciousness. Disorders like bipolar, which may have a learned component, should increase dramatically in times of rapid cultural change. A quick Google search suggests that the rates are indeed increasing. An NIH study paints a pretty disturbing picture of a forty-fold increase in bipolar among youth.

While many may jump to the conclusion that the problem must be due to chemical factors, it is not only chemistry which affects brain function but also electromechanical factors. Neurons and their wires in the brain, dendrites and axons, grow and shrink in response to the challenges with which we are faced in life. That's why athletes don't train by baking cookies, tracking stocks, and learning a foreign language. Instead, they focus on a select set of activities centered around their sport.

Biblical admonitions such as being careful of what you allow yourself to watch and avoiding vain discussions may be thought of as mere moralizing, but from a physiological growth perspective they represent rational strategies for performance optimization and good mental health. So when you hear conservatives express concern over societal issues my progressive and libertarian friends would do well not to just dismiss the complaints as repressiveness.

Your politicians have been promoting Change for Change's sake alone: "Change is Good," it the moto. Your social networks promote excessively rapid interactions and dissemination of half-baked and ill-informed ideas. You already had difficulty reading paragraphs longer than three sentences, but now your mobile communication methods discourage breadth and depth. People who use mobile devices excessively seem to be suffering from a disuse atrophy: their ability to process and formulate long, logical thoughts suffers. Our kids are going crazy, literally. Maybe it's time for a little less "change" and a little more focus.
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