How smiles survived

When you get obsessed with evolution, you Really get obsessed with evolution. You start wanting to apply the theory to everything you see and think about. And, this far, it has shown its test proof. The latest test has been about 'feelings'. How did they get here and how did evolution cherry-pick them ? A Harvard Business Review article I've read lately tackles leadership. It explains how important emotional intelligence is for, say, a CEO. Upbeat, positive leader attitudes, as experiments have come to show, yield more profit than tyrant-like behaviors, at least in the long term. This stems from two fundamental ideas your humble servant is fond of :

1) The first is what Dee Hock calls "purpose". Every community needs a purpose to ignite its self-organizing abilities. This is what will eventually Lead it to organized action. The "purpose" is personified by the leader. In a traditional organization, the group doesn't pick its "source of inspiration". Rather a board of directors gets that job done for them, for better or for worse. Does artificially setting the "purpose" rather than letting it emerge from within the organization takes away all the advantages of natural self-organization ? I think the 3 coming years and some nano-work will allow us to answer this question : whether traditional organizations are more efficient then self-organized communities 2) The second one is "people", which need to be emitter-transmitters of information for the group to start organizing. This is not the problematic here however, since the boss is organizing things. However, the transmission is still there and communication must be happening thanks to something. The article introduces a new dimension. Something more than mere discussions : Emotion. See ? Emotion as a form of information ! See what I mean. Here's a quote from the article :

"From this body of research, we discovered that emotional intelligence is carried through an organization like electricity through wires. To be more specific, the leader’s mood is quite literally contagious, spreading quickly and inexorably throughout the business."

Ants communicate through pheromones to pass on a message and self-organize. Emotions are one of the pheromones of our organizations. But this isn't the end of the story. Look at this description of the design an organization's community:

The open-loop design serves the same purpose today as it did thousands of years ago. Research in intensive care units has shown, for example, that the comforting presence of another person not only lowers the patient’s blood pressure but also slows the secretion of fatty acids that block arteries. Another study found that three or more incidents of intense stress within a year (for example, serious financial trouble, being fired, or a divorce) triples the death rate in socially isolated middle-aged men, but it has no impact on the death rate of men with many close relationships.

And this :

Scientists describe the open loop as “interpersonal limbic regulation”; one person transmits signals that can alter hormone levels, cardiovascular functions, sleep rhythms, even immune functions, inside the body of another. That’s how couples are able to trigger surges of oxytocin in each other’s brains, creating a pleasant, affectionate feeling. But in all aspects of social life, our physiologies intermingle. Our limbic system’s open-loop design lets other people change our very physiology and hence, our emotions.

And this :

Even though the open loop is so much a part of our lives, we usually don’t notice the process. Scientists have captured the attunement of emotions in the laboratory by measuring the physiology—such as heart rate—of two people sharing a good conversation. As the interaction begins, their bodies operate at different rhythms. But after 15 minutes, the physiological profiles of their bodies look remarkably similar.

And even more amazingly, a friggin' TED talk about oxytocin !

[ted id=1259]

You see what I mean ? Our connections are Very physical. Our emotions are actually Very physical. In fact, they are manifestations of physical phenomena in our bodies. Our "interpersonal lymbic regulation" is a the closed-loop system that has allowed us to improve our communities through effective feedback. Why "effective" ? Because if a bad emotion is passed on, we all sense its bad effect in a community. And since it hurts (enough to affect our bodies), we realize that we'd better do something about it. In other terms, feedback is effective when negative feedback Hurts and when positive feedback makes you feel Real Good.

And this is where it gets Interesting :

Did you know laughter is the most contagious of all emotions ? "The most ?" Yes "the most". Why ? Because not all emotions spread with the same ease. Let me write that again : Not all emotions spread with the same ease. Just as not all creatures get by through life with the same ease ... And some end up being extinct. See what I mean ? If laughter is the most contagious of all emotions, it means natural selection got it there. Evolution made it so laughter could be the most contagious emotion. And you can see why. Laughter and smiles cement relationships, strengthen alliances and are the best way for a community to stay united, and in term to survive. Remember the group you've been part of and you've enjoyed the most in your life. Yeap ! It's the one where you laughed the most.

Emotions are one our most effective pheromone. But I'm wondering. If emotions are subject to evolution, it means some emotions might have gone extinct. But that's the question, did they go extinct within the homo sapiens community or did the community that used to hold them fail to survive because these emotions were detrimental to its proper functioning. Were Neanderthal's emotions effed up ?

3) The third is "principles" (I love this framework :) it's a great way of thinking about complex systems : Purpose, People, Principles). But nothing extraordinary there. "Principles" in an organization are set by the commander in charge. Some arise from within of course, in the margins of the organization. It'd be interesting to see which are actually more efficient, which make the organization go froward. I'd bet it's the ones set by the group itself after trials and errors and not the "rules" the CEO came up with and artificially imposed.

So that's a tour of how complex systems exist in traditional organizations, how looking at our communities in such a context helps us understand so very much about our feelings, emotions and survival. And so very much about our common history. Comment at will fellow homo sapiens :)