Focusing on differences, while often stimulating, is just not as satisfying long-term. Certainly, discerning differences enhances survival… up to a point. For example, being able to distinguish a snake from a crooked stick is a survival advantage. On the other hand, imagining mountains of difference out of actual molehills of similarity is clearly counterproductive and stressful. The Science News article on human relationships, Getting to not know you, offers evidence of the wisdom to let molehills remain molehills, or as they say, ‘let sleeping dogs lie’.
BASEL, Switzerland — Long-lasting marriages may thrive on love, compromise and increasing ignorance about one another. Couples married for an average of 40 years know less about one another’s food, movie and kitchen-design preferences than do partners who have been married or in committed relationships for a year or two, a new study finds.
The subtitle of the article is “Young couples are better than long-term partners at discerning each other’s preferences”. This may indicate that cultural bias is creeping into this research right from the start. This may indicate cultural bias is creeping into this research right from the start. If you think it is better to discern things more sharply, that skews your view in that direction as these excerpts go on to show:
The psychologists observed this counter-intuitive pattern in 38 young couples aged 19 to 32, and 20 older couples aged 62 to 78. “That wasn’t what we expected to find, but this evidence lends support to a hypothesis that accuracy in predicting each other’s preferences decreases over the course of a relationship despite greater time and opportunity to learn about each other’s likes and dislikes,”
In long relationships, partners may also come to perceive an unduly large amount of similarity between themselves, the scientists add. Members of long-term relationships often attributed their own food, movie and design preferences to partners who had different opinions.
In the case of food, taste perception suffers as people get older, Hertwig notes, which could make it more difficult for long-term partners to keep track of each others’ increasingly inconsistent food likes and dislikes.
It’s also possible that older couples in the new study come from a generation in which men and women generally knew less about each other to begin with than couples do today, Hertwig says.
What’s more, long-term partners may be especially apt to tell “white lies” to each other in order to keep the relationship running smoothly, thus diluting their knowledge of one another.
Despite their relative disadvantage in predicting partners’ preferences, long-term couples reported more satisfaction with their relationships than did younger couples.
The following letter to the editor points to some of what the researchers overlooked:
Over time, it gets complicated
After reading “Getting to know you less and less” (SN: 11/6/10, p. 16), I felt the researchers’ assumptions were incomplete. So I asked my wife of 42 years what her favorite color was. Her response was just as I expected: “I don’t have a favorite color,” she said, “only a range of colors.” This was true for me also. Thus, I think that one factor is not that couples get to know each other less the longer they’ve been together, it is that over the years they experience more and more things, and their likes and dislikes are more complicated than when they were young. Each partner then is less likely to know what the other likes because the other has no simple answer.
Frankly, I would say it’s not “more complicated”, it is just less sharp. As we get older, we become more adept at knowing nothing as chapter 10 hints, When your discernment penetrates the four quarters, are you capable of not knowing anything? As one’s days dwindle, chapter 56’s soften the blightness, be the same as dust comes more naturally. Admittedly though, explaining that can get “complicated”. The article, Getting to not know you, while accurate in facts, lacks perspective, and without that, we merely go around in circles.
Too much of a good thing, or not?
The Science News’ article, Making Nuanced Memories, offers another angle on the bias of ‘better’ as it relates to memory. Here are a few excerpts, some of which may encourage you to adopt a healthier life style:
Researchers are discovering ways that people could encourage fresh neurons to grow, through diet and lifestyle. One day soon, medical science might offer ways to enhance memory and protect the brain from erosion that comes with age — a goal so fundamental to human existence that the ancient Greeks even worshiped a goddess of memory…
For memory to be accurate, the brain doesn’t record just an image but the entire context, says Raymond Kesner, a psychology professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. “If you try to remember a story, time and place will always be important”…
Stark and others are now trying to understand why short-term memories become more difficult to capture as people get older, even among adults who remain mentally sharp into their later years. In older tissue, the newborn nerve cells appear to require greater contrasts among images and experiences before reacting and capturing a memory. As people age, Stark says, “we seem to be less good about details and specifics”…
But researchers are also exploring ways to keep newborn neurons of old age as numerous and eager as those formed in younger years. First, scientists are identifying influences that, in animal studies, appear to decrease neurogenesis in the dentate — including stress, alcohol consumption and a high-fat diet. In addition to the enemies of neurogenesis, researchers have identified habits that protect and nurture all vintages of brain cells, including physical activity and some common components of plants…
While exercise encourages new nerve cells, a healthy diet may help keep more of those cells, and even mature cells, in top form. Research is steadily revealing compounds in fruits, vegetables and herbs that appear to enhance the survival of neurons new and old. Among the apparent brain foods: the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon and sardines, flavonoids found in non-green vegetables and berries, and curcumin, a common component of curry. Van Praag has found that epicatechin, in green tea and chocolate, doesn’t promote the birth of neurons directly but does encourage existing neurons to sprout more connections to neighbors, improving memory. The effect is particularly strong when combined with exercise…
This article observes that the better our memory, the keener we can discern things. Clearly, the ability to make sharp distinctions is a huge survival advantage. The stated goal here is to improve this ability in older brains. Naturally, that’s fine on the face of it. However, do we ever stop and ask whether we’ve arrived at ‘too much of a good thing’. Indeed, I feel we passed that point long ago. As chapter 32 says, As soon as there are names, One ought to know that it is time to stop. Perhaps our attraction to alcohol may arise from a need to turn down memory’s glare.
‘What Is Naturally So’
If challenged, few could really pin down what ‘natural’ is. There are many superficial definitions of natural, some are commercial like ‘natural food’, and others are spiritual like ‘natural healing’. These imply that a non-natural reality exists. Try right now to define natural without an implied ‘not natural’ opposite side. Difficult, yes? There is transcendent beauty in the natural that has no opposite. Chapter 1 hints at this,
Frankly, we resist or reject ‘what is naturally so’ if it doesn’t match our ideal of better. The better is nothing more than a projection of our self-interests. These articles exemplify our natural desire for a better memory. However, feeling any transcendent beauty of ‘what is naturally so’ can only happen when we loosen our grip on the ideals of how better any situation could or should be. As chapter 64 advices, Therefore the sage to desire not to desire, or chapter 19, Have little thought of self and as few desires as possible… Well, it sound good in theory anyway!