The Science of Love
Harriet Hall’s e-mail in Letters, in which she accuses Robert Epstein’s “Love-Building Exercises” of not being scientific, shows a misunderstanding of science. There are many kinds of science, and the studies cited by Epstein are actually well-designed, good experiments.
My scientific training includes a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I have spent the past four decades as a psychotherapist and graduate school teacher. My reading of the professional literature and my therapeutic experience strongly support the personal and clinical benefits of the exercises mentioned by Epstein. I do these exercises in couples therapy, allowing the practice of powerful behaviors that really can bring a couple closer together. One of the most important outcomes is unlearning or relieving the common and strong anxiety many people experience because of the vulnerability inherent in emotional intimacy.
Therapy outcome research is extremely hard to do well. Moving from published science to creative therapeutic applications in real-life healing requires careful, extensive and long-term assessment of measurable treatment outcomes—a real challenge. Unfortunately, many clinicians pay little attention to the scientific literature and thereby miss both therapeutic options and reports of what does not prove useful over time.
How Many Neurons?
Everything I have read says the brain has approximately 100 billion neurons. Paul Reber in Ask the Brains states one billion.
Curiously, nobody really knows exactly how many neurons there are in a human brain. A good recent estimate comes from a 2009 paper by neuroanatomist Susana Herculano-Houzel of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. By her estimate, 85 billion total brain neurons includes 65 billion in the cerebellum and only around 17 billion in the cerebral cortex. Fact memory is probably a function largely of the cerebral cortex and not the cerebellum. Given that there are a number of different types of neurons in the cerebral cortex and that there are many areas where the neurons do things other than help with memory, you can see how one billion is a conservative estimate I hoped would be useful for understanding the storage capacity of the human brain. Even if the true number is more than that, my point bears out—it is unlikely we could ever use up our storage space.
Fluent in Dreams
Regarding “Once Learned, Never Forgotten,” by Karen Schrock [Head Lines], I have been under the impression for years that once something such as a language is in the brain, it is never forgotten on a subconscious level. My mother was a hidden child during the Holocaust in French-speaking Belgium, and the experience was traumatic for her at such a young age. As she grew up, she lost the ability to speak French fluently; although she took French in college, she was no more fluent than any other college student who has had some classes.
But during the course of her life, she had dreams of Belgium in which any conversation would be in Belgian French without any feeling of limitation in vocabulary. In her dream state she simply knew Belgian French and not English anymore. It seems that all people have the language they learned as a child stick with them on a subconscious level, but it took the trauma my mother went through to spark her nightmares and show that to be the case.