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Our human nature: a physical aspect.

Our connection to the environment: an intimate story

Is quite obvious we “change”. It’s part of everyone’s life experience, and there would be little to say if this variation occurred in an entirely unpredictable manner.

It doesn’t, however, as our state evolves under a complex mix of internal and external forces.

In this variation, we try our best to stay in tune with the world. Life is continuous adaptation, automatically occurring behind the scenes, and effective enough for us to continue surviving.

Adapting to an always changing environment may be sometimes hard. That we can cope with these changes in most cases is another sign, I see, of the immense power of life. It’s so obvious that we survive, but I often feel lost in front of the huge, unfathomable complexity behind of this.

Sure, billion years of life history and evolution have made of us a strange, yet functional compromise.

One of the most important internal source of variation is the reproductive cycle. I’ll focus on it, as it’s an interesting subject in itself, from an evolutionary standpoint. My viewpoint will be reflective, with a mathematical and physical emphasis (but I’m so messy, and know in advance I will not be able to stay in this line).

As any other internal forcing, this one follows its own imperatives. It “just happens”, independently of any external condition, even when external conditions are not optimal. It still operates when major parts of the reproductive system have been damaged or destroyed; the impressive level of redundancy behind of it is not surprising, as this function is critical to our species survival. As I’ll show within moments, we invest quietly an immense amount of energy in this process (with an added load on our natural preys, not very happy of this state of facts).

Why 28 days?

The similarity between the human cycle, on average 28 days, and the lunar month (29.5 days more or less) has been noticed since we humans discovered ourselves. I’m not sure of this, of course (I was not there). But I imagine how this similarity, connecting fertility to the powers of nature, had to be compelling to a self-aware being.

May this just be a happy coincidence? We humans, the moonriders. Our relatives in nature, the other mammals, have too their cycles, but with different durations. 28 days seems not to be a necessity of nature.

I’m wondering whether the cycle duration is controlled by some physical quantity, or quality. I imagine there are constraints, given the complexity involved. But, does dimension (size, weight) in some way matter? To date I’ve not enough data, and am very ignorant – maybe someone has already answered these questions. I feel the answer, whatever will be, may be powerful and revealing – although likely to be expressed in the language of physics and biology. This will not make it any less beautiful.

Duration is “not” 28, in addition.

I began collecting my basal temperature data on a precise date, 8 January 2006, in an attempt to better understand the causes affecting dry eye symptoms. They had began two years before, and initially were very painful. They were also perfectly in synch with cycle, occurring one week out of four, with chronometric precision. I didn’t trace their origin, as they progressively waned out with minimal treatment.

In a sense, relating BBT charts to onset and occurrence of dry eye symptoms was only a partial success. I discovered the hot water, in a sense. But on the time I did not realize my casual choice of time was very happy. On the time I began my age was 43, the cycle was very regular (28.5 days), and dry eye symptoms were the first sign of aging. From then on, things changed. Now, almost 4 years later, the cycle is less regular and on average much shorter (current value is 22 days).

As an individual I’m not so standard, and my personal BBT log is not then so that interesting. It represents my case only.

But it suggests questions. Is the regulation mechanism behind cycle duration a chaotic system? With aging, the transition from a regular duration to a more erratic state is suggestive. There are in nature other systems in which a transition from regularity to irregularity may occur, and many of these are chaotic. An example is water dripping from a pipe. If flow does not exceed a given threshold (changing from case to case, and with air pressure, temperature, roughness, and other physical characteristics), the drop follow one another regularly. But as flow changes, the time of origin of each drop becomes less and less regular, until becoming apparently random.

Same with cycle? It seems, from my data.

Within some years, the cycle will stop definitely. A good reason to continue with my data collection, just for personal curiosity.

Internal climate?

The main streamline use of BBT charts is assessing fertility, and locating the “better days” to conceive children (or having safe intercourse). In view of this objective, charts are inspected to locate a decrease of basal temperature approximately on mid-cycle, followed by a sudden increase sustained for some days.

If you look on the Internet, you find many examples of how a monthly BBT chart “should look”, and what to scan for. These charts usually look very clear and intuitive, the temperature appearing quite leveled in both the follicular and luteal phases, the first on a somewhat lower level.

These graphs may also be quite misleading. I suspect they are the result of a selection process, whose main effect is “weeding out” all the graphs more difficult to read. For your graph to be easily understandable you should in fact remove all factors affecting basal temperature except the cycle. That is, you should avoid physical and mental stress, maintain your environment at a reasonably constant temperature / humidity / wind speed, and – very important – collect your BBT data at a specific time, allowing yourself a great regularity in lifestyle (especially time when going bed). To this, the actual data collection procedure should be careful enough – for example, if you take oral temperature as I’m doing you have to add up measurement noise due to the known unreliability of this method.

The kind of graph you are likely to obtain if you continue with your usual lifestyle is something like that shown in picture “BBT_May2009.tif” (or maybe a bit better: for me the stake is just conducing my personal know-thyself research, and not trying to have children or not, so I conceded myself a normally active life). You still can see the (quite massive) effect of monthly cycle, but with the addition of a lot of “noise” (the peak on May 2, for example, was due to recover from physical fatigue after a field mission: its duration is very short (I recover quickly from lactic acid accumulation), but its overall magnitude is as large as the luteal’s; on occasions, I found the temperature increase following a stressful event even much higher than the 1 °F of follicular-vs-luteal change I experienced on beginning of measurements, and the 0.5 °F I see to date).

For visual reference, I’ve added a “model” line to the graph showing a possible noise-less oral temperature. As I mentioned, however, oral temperature is not a very accurate predictor of core temperature (the really interesting one). But on the other side I’ve not found a non-invasive measurement practice to date, and as far as I’m concerned the accuracy of my measurements is “sufficient”).

What astonishes me more of graph “BBT_May2009.tif” is, it occurred. As the way I’m built, I natively lack a large part of the “proper tubing”; what remains is sufficient to trigger the various retro-actions at the basis of the cycle. And, I have to confess the example shown in my graph is not the most frequent type: most often, the temperature peak is followed by a quite rapid exponential decay towards the follicular “baseline”. In other terms, most of my cycles (not all, surprisingly as I said) are anovulatory. The most puzzling thing about this is that my body “did not realize” a large part of the reproductive system is missing. It acts as if the cells, as a whole, cooperate to enact a genetic program stating precisely phases and sequences of events, at a complexity level “lower” than that of the “me who writes”. It will attempt, steadily, maybe wasting resources, but with its sort of strange stubborn courage. Single cells and low-level aggregates don’t know the external world the way “I” do, however – they are alive, but in a different sense “I” am. And in fact I kill and give birth to maybe millions of them on each minute of my life.

Whatever the causes and the accidents, it’s quite evident the monthly cycle has an enormous energetic cost (just a fraction of the energetic cost of just “being a mammal”, on the other side). As we are mostly composed of water, increasing our temperature 1 °F (nearly 0.5 °C) requires something like 0.5 kcal per kg of body mass. This may say nothing, until you multiply by your weight: then you see numbers which begin being quite impressive. On the luteal phase you may need a quarter industrial croissant more (I wish you may count on something better) just to sustain the temperature increase. (To stay alive as a mammal, you need the rest of a full meal; reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and plants need much less).

An increase of a tiny amount in core temperature has the immediate effect of increasing manyfolds the speed of metabolic reactions, and this may justify the added energy cost immediately. But on an evolutionary perspective, even these apparently insignificant expense increases may have dramatic effects.

Reasoning on the same line, we may ask the same of the cost of “being male”. Males have a more steady basal temperature (they lack the monthly cycle, but are subject to all other effects, so this my statement should be treated with some caution – the male BBT is maybe as interesting as the female, but as “there is no cycle” no one has measured it systematically). But on average, it stays at a level much higher than females.

My friends and me once made a nice experiment. Our company possess one of those infrared thermometers used by engineers to measure hot pipes temperature remotely. I too use it (is a cheap but very accurate model) on field measurement of things like leaf side temperatures and the like. In an attempt to see whether there was something true in the common female perception that “heating is too low” versus the opposite male claim “heating is too high”, we measured ourselves.

Our surface temperatures clustered immediately around two groups, the Cools (all the females in our group, with no exception) and the Warms (all the males). The former do their best to not lose temperature, the latter have to dissipate heat to stay alive. Air temperature is of course the same for the two groups. There is quite a bit of variation within one of the groups, but the separation between them is impressive. I’m not saying of one Celsius degrees: the difference is something like 7 to 8 °C! In short, males produce much more heat, and to maintain a core temperature at optimal species level (the same of females) they have to get rid of it.

In terms of energy, to our eyes this seems a waste. Yet males “exist” in evolutionary terms – their contribution is more advantageous than the added cost.

Why? This is a nice argument of “evolutionary biophysics”, would someone invent it on some time; to date is not immediate to find an answer valid for some ancient creature, but it is also to be said that “male” physiology, although assumed often as the golden standard, is in fact less known than the “female”.

I wonder if the finding may change the perspective we conceive the world, in terms of “war between sexes”, sociobiology and sexual selection. Something in the mainstream model seems to me deeply wrong, in a way I’m not able to clarify to myself. It seems to be the result of a worldview in which all fight against all others, but deeply counterintuitive, and with an unnatural flavor.
Maybe, who knows, the actual reality was a complex, long term partnership in co-evolution, maybe even with “mammal males” emerged from a former partenogenetic all-female population under some environmental pressure.

May this be not completely implausible? Some intuitive signs seem quite evident. A female genotype (23:XX) under some condition may develop a male-resembling phenotype (the reverse is also true; none of the male- or female-almost-seeming individuals can reproduce, but their existence proves there is a possibility).

Also, among mammals females of different species are almost always less diverse than the corresponding males (think to humans and gorillas, for example: in humans to distinguish a male from a female skeleton takes a forensic anthropologist, while doing the same with gorillas just needs a casual glance; but then, if you compare across species, another casual glance reveals the female gorilla’ skeleton seems to lay between the human’s and the male gorilla’s, in many ways).

If you think, you can find so many other signs. Quite “obviously” among us mammals the female seems to be the “primitive” condition, and the male the “derived”. My biological knowledge is not enough, so I can’t say whether the same occurs for birds (and, by extension, all Dinosauria), whose genetic sex determination is the opposite than ours. This too, given that we mammals and Dinosauria had some very ancient common ancestor, looks me very puzzling.

It seems to me like if “sexed” forms have evolved many times independently, under a convergent evolution scheme. Males of different large groups (mammals and birds, for example) may be analogous, but not homologous forms. “Sexed” forms (and the apparently diffused “re-invention of males”) are rewarded by evolution but, curiously and apparently (to my crank biological culture), only for large living beings: most of the overall biomass is made of bacteria, who just divide with minimal resort to genetic exchange. Why? Why?

(I imagine I’m divagating, as usual).

If we go back to temperature, we find then variation, but with a lot of regularity.

Does it make sense to imagine the existence of an “internal climate”? (Quite steady for males, and with a regulation like a square wave for females). Would it be, any of our actual moments may be characterized by an “internal weather”. As in climatology, the long term statistics of this internal weather defines the internal climate.

Differently than in meteorology, the internal climate changes fast. As I’m experiencing, the temperature difference between the high, luteal phase and the low is waning. Sooner or later it will stop, at a constant level much less than males, yet constant. The change I’ve seen, half °F, occurred in nearly four years, and as I understand is accelerating. At current rate, I imagine all differences will be zero in something like two years.

But like with meteorology, the internal climate defines a large part of the environment in which many creatures live. “My own” cells, to begin with. But also symbiotic and pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and others. They all must in some way have been “adapted” to this environment, and it is not guaranteed this adaptation was simple (I imagine bacteria doing their best to not be attacked and killed by always-hungry leucocytes, and releasing to this “purpose” confounding signals).

That’s very fortunate, in nature. Would friends and technology not helped me, presumably I would have been killed and ate by some predator a thirty years ago, when temperature differences between luteal and follicular phases were at their maximum. But, I’m still here and keep observing the fascinating plot of nature unfolding, bit after bit (unnervingly, sometimes).

We’re here, and we may reflect on whether a concept like internal climate may make sense.

Is all that?

The internal variation of physiological state is very interesting but, sure, you don’t need a basal thermometer to determine in which part of the cycle you are.

Sometimes the signs are obvious (on menstruation, to name one). But there are many more changes, with greater individual variation and less evident from outside. These changes are real, and sometimes correspond to characters suggesting some advantage the natural selection has worked on.

One subtle change (not so subtle, someone might say) is the variation of neurotransmitter and brain environment. Until a relatively not-so-young age I accepted changes of mood as a matter of fact, with no serious attempt to predict them. On a day some years ago all began to show a systematic pattern I can now account of.

For example, on the couple days preceding menstruation I’m quite euphoric. A bit frenetic, to greater exactness – I feel very energized, of a kind of energy not supported by any real change in, say, mental performance. Then suddenly, on the night immediately before the onset of actual flow, I panicked. I imagined any kind of horrible things would soon happen to me (like losing my job – quite irrational for a company owner). In general I feel quite vulnerable, but on that night I was systematically scared. To make things worse, I wasn’t able to sleep a single minute, having an enormous time to ruminate my terrors. These attacks have waned progressively out, and to date are just a scary remind.

How strange. You live with this from 13 years old for some thirty years, and never “noticed” the close relation between the attacks and the beginning of flow. It was something “so obvious it devised no thought” – and in fact no thought arrived for three decades. I’m very focused on present, so even the few 28 days of a cycle may tend to shift off-attention. Unless you take a diary! (This, in the end, was the way I “noticed” the many regularities).

Of course the largest mental state change occurs at mid-cycle, immediately before ovulation and for some days to follow. Once again I feel energized. But this time there is something real inside. I tried, for experiment, to estimate my IQ before and after the “change”; I’ve done in a non-professional way, so I’m not sure of the absolute value of my IQ (nor I bother very much of it, to be fully sincere), but I can hope the variation is not completely unreliable. The gain I’ve seen is about five points. I also feel very active, exploring, and “sharper than usual”, while surprising connections seem to pop up unpredictably, but on a steady rate.

I confess having used the “two beginning days of mid-cycle” quite systematically in my professional life. All products I developed for my company (with one or two exceptions) have been literally conceived on those days, when all seems to me “possible” (the trick is going on steady with the development for the whole two days, until all harder conceptual problems have been addressed, if not “solved”. So, when you’re back to your normal state you may proceed at a slower, stead pace with the “actual” development, caring for all details, and refactoring code and blueprints as you proceed. The disadvantage is, when I’m in my “normal” state I find difficult to follow my own reasoning of some days before. Sometimes I had to wait a month for the next mid-cycle peak to re-clarify things.

(Please don’t tell my boss ;-) )

Intellect is not the only function changing its setup. And is not even the most striking modification. Where I feel things have changed is with senses. On normal days I’ve little sensitivity for smells. But on these days I sense them again. The experience ranges from pure delight when in nature, to (most often) horror in my usual polluted environment (on these days, I often wonder how is it possible we use chemical so horribly stinking as “deodorants” and perfumes – with time I found a brilliant solution: to make predator escape as quickly as possible! ;-) ). The visual system improves, too. It is not a fact of acuity or any other feature you may measure easily. Rather, it has to do with “interpretation of visual data”. If on field, you can “see” faults and folds with an astonishing clarity, when the week before you passed from the same place and noticed nothing. (This is quite equivalent to say I’m really a bad geologist; but with a bit of self organization... On “normal” days my field activity concentrates on more mundane tasks like measuring bedding dip-and-direction, drawing final maps (a difficult thing, at least for me) or assessing rock compressive strength with a Schmidt hammer: the field survey equivalent of collecting tiny vegetables or washing dishes: an immense lot of work with hundreds of data being collected, then distilled to a ridiculous single number. Something you do thinking something else in the meanwhile (a very relaxing opportunity). Incidentally, these “mundane” activities demand a lot of work, so the overall load balances quite well with “normal vs state-of-grace days” – at least where I do most of my field work, “on sedimentary”).

All these changes make definite sense, as receptivity is higher just on the most fertile days.

Other changes are a bit more enigmatic. During menstruation, for example, I often (practically always) assist to the onset of inflammation (the actual symptoms change target organ each time), acne, and have the feeling my full body surface is much more vulnerable (I cut with extreme ease on these days). At end of menstruation all these symptoms immediately stop, as my immune system regains its normal setup. Same dynamics for dry eye, when I experienced it some years ago.

After some Internet search I’ve noticed this is not only my personal concern, and many others experience the same pattern. It seems to me this is so diffused (and in part unnoticed) that the interesting exceptions are the few people who do not notice at least one system-level change.

Is this related only to the needs of reproductive system? Or may it be something deeper? Changing the setup of the immune system periodically looks me quite crazy on a first glance. But then, reflecting, you see possible advantages. For example, as “you” are also the living environment of many pathogens, a change in immune response may contribute, along with temperature variation, to make you “more variable” and then in some way less desirable to a parasite. What about males? Their “environment for pathogens” is much steadier, and if what I said is correct they may be more vulnerable to external attack: a pathogen has more opportunities to evolve undisturbed in a resistant form. This “might be”, as males are also quite more physiologically fragile than females. But I wonder whether some other, simpler explain actually exists. Human males are a bit more fragile than females, but not too much (otherwise, natural selection would have wed out our species eons ago). In addition, the kind of evolution a pathogen may experience in a steady living environment is likely to go in the direction of a decreased overall impact, in the extreme case evolving into a symbiotic form. This is not so likely to happen in a variable environment, where evolution seem to me more likely to produce a sort of reciprocal sequence of attacks and countermeasures by both the pathogen and immune system. So, likely, we all are fragile, but in different ways (surprisingly, on the molecular and cellular scales females might use a “more active and aggressive” tactic than males).

This also offers an opportunity to go back to the problem of duration of reproductive cycles in mammals. Maybe, one of the constraints on it has to do with the average “molecular clock” of bacteria, the (quick) rate at which they are able to evolve. Would the cycle be too short, or too long, the immune system could have less opportunities to contrast pathogen changes. Would this be, a long-term surprising co-evolution of some bacteria on one side and mammals on the other might have taken place behind the scene, for hundreds million years. (I can say this freely as I’m a layperson, and not a scientist – this “intuition” should be proven in some way, before becoming valid; for me it’s just a not impossible hypothesis; nature is always much more surprising than we may imagine, on the other side).

Value judgments?!

One of the things I find less understandable in this planet is why some people are discriminated “because they are female” (or with different skin color, or whatever else). As I’ve seen differences between males and females are deep and pervasive, but operate on a level having little to do, if any at all, with different values. They are not only different in many ways, but they are so in a way having a lot of sense, in terms of co-evolution.

Yet, we always are tempted to attribute one gender some “better” or “worse” characteristic, placing on the subject expectations which might be entirely off-range. This implicit chauvinistic sexism is common to both men and women, and seems to me very much related to an emotional path like “I’m this way as a matter of fact, I love to predict others’ behavior and outcomes, this prediction is simpler with people more similar to me, then I feel more confident, then these similarities must be good”. We human tend to have the proclivity to measure the entire world in terms of ourselves, down to individual scale.

This way, I feel we lose a lot of opportunities.

Take for example the concepts of “femininity” and “masculinity”, as currently intended in Western countries. Some people have attempted to even quantify them, more or less directly. “Gender science” is flourishing in these years, and as discoveries accumulate more and more attempts are made to refine the concepts.

Gender assessment in objective terms has found its way to the mainstream, and is now widely used both as a sort of (amusing) social game, and as part of more serious surveys, like for example in the “leadership profiling” or “management style assessment”. Before you assess something, however, you should define it, in a way allowing at least to formulate a questionnaire. As you have this definition, you immediately have projected into it your own image of what gender “should be”. Quite invariably, this leads to try quantifying very small, and possibly unsignificant, subsets of the immense complexity of a human soul.

To temper things out, I have to add I tried some of these gender tests, and found them to provide quite consistent results – that is, if you are found “feminine” (say) on one, then you are likely found the same (maybe on a different level) by most others. At least, the special measurement taken by the various tests are conditioned by a “same” set of shared rules, possibly not entirely clarified.

But on the other side, you get many doubts.

My first is a quite unconventional one, I suspect. I’ve read dr.Goleman’s book “Social Intelligence”, finding there a thing I considered obvious: we humans are build for empathy and connection regardless of gender. In the chorus-aligned popular literature, empathy and connection are related to the “feminine” side. The message may be read at least in two ways, I see. You may assume any mature person has (or should be) both “masculine” and “feminine” characteristics, in a well-balanced mix. You might also imagine “males are (or should be) masculine and females feminine”. In the first case, you just will have some problem in designating things – something with a bit philosophical flavor you may easily integrate in your view. In the second, you end up applying stereotypes.

My subjective view is, I see very little relation between maleness/femaleness on one side, and masculinity/femininity on the other. The latter still seems to me so much a social construction, despite the “massive evidence” gender science says have given on the opposite claim.

The danger of being stereotyped, and applied expectations depending on some simplified model, is real, and not limited to social life. This is especially true if you happen to be found “close to one stereotype”, as my personal experience has shown. In a management style assessment survey conduced some years ago in a previous company I and a few others were found to have a marked “transformational” style. Based on answers to a questionnaire imagining to describe “our ideal manager”, we were given our simplified profiles with characteristics, strengths and weaknesses to work on. The people administering the test did not know us in depth, yet they formulated quite precise diagnoses. Years later, re-evaluating the episode, I attempted deconstructing the test and found a visible overlap between its questions and those of the BEMS Inventory, a popular gender (social expectation) assessment tool. Actually, a large part of “transformational style” was due to having been attributed mostly “feminine” characteristics, the opposite for “transactional style”. Nothing too bad, if you limited to work on your “strengths and weaknesses”: at worse you lost some of your times trying to fix your closeness to some social expectation. But the experiment had consequences: the company desired to project an external “macho” image, and all the “transformationals” were wed out and moved to other occupations. I may agree they shared predominantly “feminine” characteristics, but I also know for sure this accounted for their professional achievements only on a minor part. Important, as it has to do on how we relate to others (something paramount to management), but entirely disconnected from actual passions, knowledge, experience, hopes, even “sense of independence” – in a single word, all what makes people real world managers.

This is only an example. I feel gender science has an interesting potential, especially when applied to behaviors and functional outcomes at a “low” level (like discovering little girls use more colors in their drawings than boys of same age because their visual system on average detects colors better; or that females hear better than males; or that males outperform females in mental rotation of geometric three-dimensional figures; many other differences like these have been found and supported with evidence).

But trying to deduce higher level characteristics, akin to the human soul, from these nitty gritty details seems to me extremely reductive.

The chorus tries very often to provide justifications. The most common, of sociobiological origin, assumes males and females (driven by their “selfish” genes) try to produce as many copies of themselves as possible. Males favoring males, females the same to females. This originated a divergent pressure which caused the sexes to clash (males are considered “inherently more promiscuous because the effort they place in building their sperm cells is much less than for producing an egg” – females are, with a specular reasoning, assumed to be “more faithful”). This war-of-sexes hypothesis, presented in most cases as if scientifically proven, often falls short if compared with reality.

There are alternative hypotheses, but to date they have not received a comparable attention. A nice book is “The genial gene” by prof. Joan Roughgarden, where complex co-evolutionary processes are presented. This view is quite the opposite than sociobiologists’. Ideas like prof. Roughgarden, although in the end much more natural and plausible than the cut-throat fight of all against all other implicit in sociobiology, may have a long way to go before wide acceptance: they are “less spectacular” to the fightthirsty people so common to date, are “very feminine” (wanting to apply the stereotype to ideas, too ;-) ) and, last and possibly worst, come from a woman.

I found an interesting view in an old book by the German ethologist Irenaus Eibl-Eibensfield, titled “Human Etology” (I hope – the actual title was “Etologia Umana” in Italian, I translated it literally). There, synthesizing studies made on “primitive” populations, the author says all people tend to be caring and nurturing, and this tendency is especially visible in small communities, when food availability is scarce or requiring cooperation. That’s interesting. It matches dr. Goleman’s “Social Intelligence” claim that humans are evolutionary built for connection and cooperation.

As if what we now consider “feminine traits” was, or is, a normal species characteristics we culturally tried to specialize in a gender role. In the same time, war and prey killing are also something “built in”, at species level. It’s interesting how, in “primitive” cultures, elaborate procedures are used to reduce the sense of empathy in order for wars to be possible.

The same pattern occurs in our “civilized” world, as happened in the long preparation campaign before the Hutu-Tutsi conflict years ago, and what is happening today in Italy with media and political campaigns against strangers. The very need of “hatred campaign” shows to me convincingly that males too are highly empathetic, and their normal empathy needs to be suppressed for a human to become able to kill another without regret.

Is considering empathy “feminine” a cultural way to make wars more likely? Our entire Western civilization was founded and diffused by ancient Romans. We westerners are just no more than that, modern Romans. We write using Roman characters, live in houses built as Roman did (with some improvements), have a passion for civil engineering as Romans did. And fight as Romans. Our habit of dividing and conquering has not changed significantly over time, as two world wars and a cold war show.

Genderization, in sense of stereotyping, may be one of the most important ways we humans “self-domesticate”. We do, for sure. For example, there is little logical reason to dress differently as men and women (I’m not to make some moralization campaign – but sincerely having an industry massively producing mini-skirts worn in winter in Milan with an air temperature of -5 °C induces me questioning why do we collectively spend a disproportionate amount of money, time and mental energy to dress, when the thermal effect of doing so is close to zero (of course, in part we do for industry profit! ;-) )).

But we do, and consider this obvious, as dresses establish and confirm a status and position. The ensuing conditioning is so strong that, would someone try to break barriers seemingly too constraining they often choose some form of “cultural cross-dressing” (my mind goes to the long-haired men contesting the patriarchal system in the sixties and seventies). No one apparently has imagined to “simply go beyond” and imagine something really radically different. Breaking existing symbols is more effective than inventing new ones (are we patriarchal even when “fighting against” patriarchy?!).


Emily Garcia's picture

Hi Mauri, Thank you for

Hi Mauri,

Thank you for writing and sharing your ideas on human nature and gender. You've done a good deal of thought-provoking analytical work here and raised some important questions. In considering empathy to be a "feminine" characteristic and in assigning femininity to women only in cultures that undervalue women, it does seem that such cultures would be working to devalue empathy as well.

This is not the kind of culture I want to further. I think it is so important that we allow and encourage all human beings, no matter their gender, to develop the caring, cooperative natures we know are possible.

Thank you again for your post!

Best wishes,


Emily Garcia
World Pulse Online Community Lead

Emily, thanks so much of your reply!

It's so heart-warming finding someone with similar concerns!

Outside of Pulsewire, it is not so simple to find ;-)
That's, I see, the great value of a space allowing to express feelings and ideas freely.

You are right, and I share this concern: labeling some characteristics as "feminine" in this society is the first step in removing them. I too feel can not live in a world where empathy is removed; I see the consequences of this attempt from Italy, where a strong debate (I would better say "a streetfight of all against everyone else") is taking place - for television visibility, I imagine, and very little more. Behind of it, and the way you see women and foreigners depicted and treated, you perceive clearly how frightened, solitary, boring and meaningless a life without empathy may be...

So, I too don't accept. I love life, however (I've seen your journal, and see you too are in a so deep and irreversible love). So, I try something. It's always not enough...

Again, thank you of your warm support. I'll love to stay in touch with you. Who knows: may we find some way to do more, together?



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World Pulse Voices of Our Future

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

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Announcing Our Prize Winners!

Announcing Our Prize Winners!

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Nobel Women's Initiative

Nobel Women's Initiative