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By Troy Holt
Why does a negative person poison the emotions of everyone around him/her? How can a wonderfully charismatic person raise the energy, mood, and productivity of a group? Why do you laugh more at a funny movie when you’re in a theater full of laughing people? Our ability to affect others is not a coincidence. Let’s look at the science behind human connectedness.
“Spooky Action at a Distance”
“Spooky action at a distance” is how Albert Einstein described Quantum Entanglement Theory while working on the experiments chronicled in his 1935 paper, Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete? Einstein and his colleagues were intrigued by the strange effects of quantum mechanics. Researchers entangled particles, then separated and placed them at a distance from each other. No matter the distance, when one of the former entangled pair was manipulated, the other instantly moved to a matching state. They were physically separated, but somehow still connected.
Everything is Energy
All objects in the universe, including human bodies, are composed of energy. That energy is the foundation of all matter, and exchanges with everything else. The same energy that composes one person, composes all people. Energy is always flowing, always changing.
Nobel Laureate Max Planck (1858 to 1947) is considered the originator of quantum theory. Out of his work came an energy scale that relates to vibrations. This leads to supersymmetric string theory (or simply, superstring theory). Superstring theory explains all particles and forces of nature in one theory by modeling them as vibrations of tiny super-symmetric strings.
Harvard Kennedy School of Government Professor Ronald David (also a physician and Episcopalian priest) explains the energy connection as it relates to human interaction. The heart emits electrical signals – energy — uniformly in all directions. The magnetic field of the human heart can be measured up to several feet away from the body. One person’s brain waves can synchronize to another person’s heart. David explains, “Relatedness is the very texture of the universe. Relationships are primary. All else is derivative.” Research for this phenomenon is shown in Rollin McCraty’s study, The Energetic Heart: Bioelectromagnetic Communication Within and Between People.
Scientists working in the “the Global Consciousness Project” (GCP) have been collecting data from a global network of random event generators (REGs) since August 1998. The REG devices produce a continuous sequence of completely unpredictable numbers which can be recorded and logged. GCP experiments have shown that human consciousness can make a string of numbers slightly non-random when people hold intentions to do so, or when there is a special state of coherent group consciousness.
GCP Director Roger Nelson, writes in his paper The Global Consciousness Project: Is there a Noosphere?, “…there should be no structure at all in random data. Yet, we find that many of the global events we look at are associated with striking patterns in the data. Special times like the celebrations of New Years, and tragic events like the attacks on September 11, 2001, show changes that are correlated with shared periods of deep engagement or widespread emotional reactions.” The data collected by GCP suggests there is a global or universal conscience that connects all humans on the planet.
Mirror neurons are located in the frontal lobe of the brain, and include motor mirror neurons, emotion mirror neurons and pain mirror neurons. Certain motor neurons fire when we perform a manual task, such as reaching out to pick up an object. A subset of these neurons will fire when we simply observe another person performing that same action…as if we are performing the action ourselves.
According to Neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran, mirror neurons are acting as though they are adopting the other person’s point of view. Mirror neurons allow us to imitate and emulate another person’s actions, and also create empathy when we observe something happening to another person. When one person sees another in pain, mirror neurons allow empathy for the person who is experiencing the pain…creating a condition that allows the brain of the observer to experience the same agony and pain as if it were occurring directly to themselves. Ramachandran states, “There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings…you are actually connected quite literally by your neurons…and there is no real distinctiveness between your consciousness and another person’s consciousness.”
Ubuntu is an African tribal philosophy about human connectedness and asserts that society, not a transcendent being, gives humans
Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains Ubuntu in his 1999 book, No Future Without Forgiveness: “A person with Ubuntu…has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished.“ In an interview, Tutu explained, “The truth of who we are is that we ARE because we BELONG.”
Michael Onyebuchi Eze writes in his 2010 book, Intellectual History in Contemporary South Africa, that Ubuntu can be summarized as, “A person is a person through other people.” Eze continues, “Humanity is a quality we owe to each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am. The ‘I am’ is not a rigid subject, but a dynamic self-constitution dependent on this otherness creation of relation and distance.”
Impact on Organizational Culture
When we ponder the science behind quantum entanglement, superstring theory, mirror neurons, the work of the GCP, universal consciousness, and the philosophy of Ubuntu, we begin to see how the scientific connectedness of humanity impacts organizational culture. Mirror neurons prime us to imitate and emulate what we see. In this way, an emotional state among a group working in close proximity can be contagious. Have you ever worked with someone in a bad mood…and find that you begin to take on that mood yourself? Mirror neurons help explain why smiles, yawns, and emotions are contagious.
According Shawn Anchor, author of The Happiness Advantage, our amygdala can read and identify an emotion in another person’s face within 33 milliseconds, and then just as quickly prime us to feel the same. People also assess the mood of those around them and act accordingly. Both processes together allow emotions to jump from person to person in an instant. An organization’s bottom-line results can suffer or soar as a result of contagious emotions.
While we assert our individuality as human beings, we must realize that we live our lives in relation to others. The behavior and moods of others affect and influence our thoughts, our emotional states, and our actions. As social beings, we cannot separate ourselves from those with whom we live and work. From a neuroscience perspective, we are all connected brain to brain and cell to cell.
By maintaining a self-awareness of our own thoughts, feelings and actions, we can choose to impact those around us, and thus our organizational culture, in very positive or negative ways. Everything in the universe is composed of vibrating energy. That energy connects and comingles. We are all entangled and our emotions create a resonance that affects everyone else. An image of the structure of brain cells even resembles the image of the known universe.
The 2011 documentary I Am communicates the concept of connectedness in an entertaining way. Try it as a conversation starter among those with whom you connect most frequently.
As you interact with your co-workers, friends and families, consider the impact you have on them at a cellular level. Consciously master your own feelings and emotions to create good spirits, improve everyone around you, and improve your organizational culture.
Author: ASPA member Troy Holt, MPA, has 24 years of public agency management experience in departments ranging from Police, Public Works, Transportation, Administrative Services and the City Manager’s Office. He is currently the Communications and Legislative Affairs Manager for the City of Rancho Cordova, CA, the first local government agency to earn the distinction as a Fortune Great Place to Work. He can be reached via email at [email protected] and Twitter at @TroyGHolt.