Like Mice in a Maze

Tensions across the Urals increase, and North Korea penetrates the Northern Limit.

And the Doomsday Clock ticks down as Cold War enemies remember old war wounds.

And economies, local and global, whipsaw after the hiccup of COVID shutdowns.

The first impulse, as immediate as a blink, is to say these are modern, recent problems. But, read some history, and you’ll see the arc going back to the time of empires and kings and colonialism.

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

These huge massive things seem unassailable but…

“When I was a girl, the idea that the British Empire could ever end was absolutely inconceivable. And it just disappeared, like all the other empires” — Deborah Lessing, who passed away just 8 years ago

Now come back to the present and see what else we found along that arc. See representative democracy being born. Watch the fight for abolition and suffrage. Watch as nations shook hands and agreed that commerce was better than carnage.

See the birth of the Information Age.

So while we suffer and trudge through the next decade, it’s important to keep an eye on a larger perspective. Massive structures that cannot adapt will wither as surely as Dutch tulip speculation did in the face of the Black Plague. And what will grow from that decaying matter will be more wondrous and horrifying that we could ever imagine.

So, what happens next?

I don’t have an answer. To be frank, no one has the answer. Oh, sure, some people might think they have an answer but ‘what happens next’ is as much Farmer’s Almanac as Anthropomancy.

We are in the middle of a maze and every turn could either bring us back where we are or lead to a new area.

Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

So rather than try and chart a course through this maze, let’s look at two studies done to other maze-bound critters.

No, not minotaurs.

First, these studies are mouse studies. Drawing a straight line between ‘what works for mice’ and ‘what works for humans’ is the act of charlatans and frauds. Toss in the whole, “correlation is not causation” bit and the whole thing takes on a speculative smell.

The best we can hope for is, “if it works in mice, there’s a better than average chance it possibly, potentially, if we’re really lucky, be similar to something that might work for humans”

Got it? Okay, let’s continue.

Don’t regret making a bad choice. Regret not changing your mind sooner.

A study, published October 19 in Science Advances, found that mice show sensitivity to two distinct types of regret and that the different types likely stem from different parts of the brain.

To oversimplify, ‘regret’ is when, looking back at a decision, you see it was a bad one. The purpose of regret is to influence the next decision we have to make. And, if you’re lucky enough, you learn enough from your regrets to avoid making the same mistake twice.

What was interesting about the study was the identification of two kinds of regret in mice. Regret Type 1 is the regret felt when the mouse realized they missed a better decision. Regret Type 2 is the regret felt when the mouse decided to cut it’s losses.

In other words, Type 1 centers around having let something good go. And Type 2 centers around having to change your mind.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

And what’s interesting is that they “…are biologically distinct and uniquely linked to stress-response traits.”

The “stress-susceptible mice were hypersensitive to type one regret and insensitive to type two regret…” And the “healthy mice were insensitive to type one regret and only sensitive to type two

And to add a final twist to the whole thing? The stress-resilient mice were even more insensitive to type one and even more sensitive to type two!

“These findings tell us … that one type of regret is part of a healthy set of emotional traits … while others are pathological.”

Relax before and during the stressful times, not just after

On the same day as the last study, but in the journal Nature, a study suggested that resilience can be learned, and even reinforced.

A team of researchers from the Princeton Neuroscience Institute placed small mice in close proximity with larger, aggressive mice and found that a display of defensive behaviors predicted the mice’s ability to be resilient after the stressful event. Further, the team found that by activating dopamine while the mice fought back, they could further reinforce resilience.

One of the researchers said, “…what was really cool to me — that an animal that is not just fighting back but is rewarded for fighting back is the one that becomes resilient.”

So don’t save your dopamine-releasing activities (snacks, yoga, naps, listening to your favorite song, etc) for after a stressful time. Do it before your stressful times. Or during!

Will doing these things will solve the world’s problems? No, but those problems can’t be solved, per se. They are events to survive, movements to be involved in, but not problems to be solved.

The only real problem, the only true problem each and every one of us has to face is, “How do I get through this?”

Because once you figure out how to live with your journey through the maze, you can reach out to another mouse and help them too.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Thejus Chakravarthy

if i’m not optimizing some operations puzzle or the other, i’m probably reading (or writing, apparently)