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The Risk Factor of Loneliness
Ross Douthat, the only conservative columnist for the New York Times, reports some good news and some bad news.
The good: The Americans are becoming less criminal and less violent. There are fewer murders. And I’m adding or guessing that right as we become attuned to the dangers of bullying, there’s actually less frightening bullying. Not compared to Europe, of course, but to our own past, we live in a safer society, one driven less by hate and at least seemingly less by cruelty.
The bad: Americans—especially middle-aged men—are become more suicidal. That’s mainly because, Douthat thinks, Americans are becoming more lonely. He cites the very influential recent New Republic article by Judith Shulevitz that “reports that one in three Americans over 45 identifies as chronically lonely, up from just one in five a decade ago.” Studies show that there’s more than a bit of a loneliness epidemic. They also present new medical and neuroscientific evidence that loneliness is bad for your physical health. Not only can it lead to suicide in rare cases, it can lead to early death in other ways in lots of cases.
Loneliness is an increasingly formidable risk factor, and those “calculating probabilities” when it comes to staying around for as long as possible better work hard to avoid it. Gun suicides are now twice as common as gun homicides.
Maybe reformers should start saying that I, a (very late) middle-aged man, should vote for gun control mainly to protect myself from myself. On the other hand: Why shouldn’t we be pro-choice on suicide? As we extend lives in the direction of indefinite longevity, surely some people are going to need an exit option more than ever. But the “nudge economist” would object that maybe suicide shouldn’t be illegal, but we should still incentivize people not to be stupid.
None of these developments or discoveries would surprise our better evolutionary psychologists. According to Jonathan Haidt, the pioneering sociologist Emile Durkheim, who knocked himself out connecting suicide rates to being socially disconnected, was the most truthful of our social scientists. He even suggests that all his empirical work is pretty much a footnote to Durkheim. Asocial isolation is contrary to nature of “eusocial” animals such as ourselves, and so of course it would be bad for our mental and physical health. And the resulting feeling of insignificance or loss of purpose, it is easy to see, could lead to suicide.
Let me add quickly—as Douthat gets around to doing—that the evolutionary psychologists exaggerate the extent to which we only flourish as a part of social group. They don’t do justice to the free individual or the person. For instructive exaggeration in the other direction, read Ayn Rand or a Stoic philosopher. The repressive conformity of small towns can lead to suicide too.
Fewer thoughts are more simple-minded than “community” is the solution for “individualism” or the solution for “the repression of community” is “the autonomous individual.” It is reasonable enough to say that we almost always only find secure personal identity within a secure relational context, but that context doesn’t have to be all that “organic” or rural or even homogeneous. There’s such a thing as the global community of diverse, displaced persons, and we can even learn a lot about it from the Bible.
There’s quite the subtle but insistent partisan dispute over relative weight of the causes of our loneliness epidemic.
Shulevitz highlights the loneliness felt by both closeted and marginalized gays, as well as by those stigmatized by having AIDS. It’s true that if we all more open and accepting in these cases, some people might be a lot less lonely. Who can deny that we should all, in love or charity, act accordingly? It’s always true—but especially now—that loneliness is the worst form of poverty, which is why charity is better (if more unreliable) than welfare. (I’m not taking a public policy stand here—arguably we’d be better off with both.)
But quantitatively speaking, it’s clear that other causes of loneliness are more important. Douthat points to the erosion and instability of relational institutions—particularly the family, local community, and church. Haidt largely agrees. Haidt and Douthat (if you read this column in light of his others) blame our increasingly aggressive ideological individualism. It would be easy to go on talk about the decline of fatherhood, the “epidemic” of lonely single moms, the declining birth rate, and the surprisingly rapid rise of divorce among the middle-aged. The fastest rising demographic group in the country is men over 65 with no close connection to spouse or children.
A lot of the threaders, with some good reasons, object to Douthat’s deemphasis of economic causes for our loneliness. Surely the increasing inability of middle-class (especially lower middle-class) men to find decent jobs is a key cause of their detachment from their families, their churches, and their communities. The birth dearth did spike when the economy swooned.
Some blame welfare dependency for what’s happened to our relational institutions. When people come to rely on the impersonal government, they stop relying on their personal relationships. Others blame the global competitive marketplace for undermining the various safety nets that support personal or relational life (such as unions, “the family wage,” and so forth) and for making the workplace itself much more lonely. It’s possible, if you think about it, to blame both the excesses of socialism and those of capitalism.
I actually have a lot more. The good things about all the causes I’ve listed so far is that they all deal with what goes on in the relational context of real human lives. None of them suggests ridiculously that loneliness—like anxiety and other disorders listed in that psychiatric manual—is a merely chemical problem that can respond well enough to medicinal solutions. There's no neuroscientific cure for loneliness on the horizon.
I would remind the lonely, as did the Boss, that Roy Orbison did sing for you. It wouldn't hurt—and it might help—to listen.
This storm rained electrons, shifted energy from the sun's rays to the magnetosphere, and went unnoticed for a long time.
- An international team of scientists has confirmed the existence of a "space hurricane" seven years ago.
- The storm formed in the magnetosphere above the North magnetic pole.
- The storm posed to risk to life on Earth, though it might have interfered with some electronics.
What do you call that kind of storm when it forms over the Arctic ocean?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8GqnzBJkWcw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Many objects in space, like Earth, the Sun, most of the planets, and even some large moons, have magnetic fields. The area around these objects which is affected by these fields is known as the magnetosphere.</p><p>For us Earthlings, the magnetosphere is what protects us from the most intense cosmic radiation and keeps the solar wind from affecting our atmosphere. When charged particles interact with it, we see the aurora. Its fluctuations lead to changes in what is known as "space weather," which can impact electronics. </p><p>This "space hurricane," as the scientists are calling it, was formed by the interactions between Earth's magnetosphere and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_magnetic_field" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interplanetary magnetic field,</a> the part of the sun's magnetosphere that goes out into the solar system. It took on the familiar shape of a cyclone as it followed magnetic fields. For example, the study's authors note that the numerous arms traced out the "footprints of the reconnected magnetic field lines." It rotated counter-clockwise with a speed of nearly 7,000 feet per second. The eye, of course, was still and <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/for-the-first-time-a-plasma-hurricane-has-been-detected-in-space" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">calm</a>.</p><p>The storm, which was invisible to the naked eye, rained electrons and shifted energy from space into the ionosphere. It seems as though such a thing can only form under calm situations when large amounts of energy are moving between the solar wind and the upper <a href="https://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/releases/PR854520.aspx" target="_blank">atmosphere</a>. These conditions were modeled by the scientists using 3-D <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec10" target="_blank">imaging</a>.<br><br>Co-author Larry Lyons of UCLA explained the process of putting the data together to form the models to <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/space-hurricane-rained-electrons-observed-first-time-rcna328" target="_blank">NBC</a>:<br><br>"We had various instruments measuring various things at different times, so it wasn't like we took a big picture and could see it. The really fun thing about this type of work is that we had to piece together bits of information and put together the whole picture."<br><br>He further mentioned that these findings were completely unexpected and that nobody that even theorized a thing like this could exist. <br></p><p>While this storm wasn't a threat to any life on Earth, a storm like this could have noticeable effects on space weather. This study suggests that this could have several effects, including "increased satellite drag, disturbances in High Frequency (HF) radio communications, and increased errors in over-the-horizon radar location, satellite navigation, and communication systems."</p><p>The authors <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">speculate</a> that these "space hurricanes" could also exist in the magnetospheres of other planets.</p><p>Lead author Professor Qing-He Zhang of Shandong University discussed how these findings will influence our understanding of the magnetosphere and its changes with <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/uor-sho030221.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">EurekaAlert</a>:</p><p>"This study suggests that there are still existing local intense geomagnetic disturbance and energy depositions which is comparable to that during super storms. This will update our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling process under extremely quiet geomagnetic conditions."</p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.