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Sentiment • Posted: Nov 12, 2008 06:07:23Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

What junk do you hang onto? And for what reason?

Physicists describe four underlying forces of nature as acting to hold quarks together, acting to hold atomic nuclei together, acting to hold molecules together, and acting to keep celestial bodies in orbit around each other. But on a human level, what force holds people in orbit around each other and within reach of their possessions? The answer might be sentiment. But what exactly is sentiment and how does it work?

The Oxford American Dictionary suggests sentiment is a feeling inspired by an idea, an emotion attached to a thought, passion brought into focus by intellect. Emotions are clearly mediated by chemistry. One kind of emotion has the heart racing, breathing shortened, palms sweating, stomach churning. Another emotion has the heart slowing, muscles relaxing, breathing slowed and deepening, skin temperature warming. And there are many, many flavors of emotion in between, all mediated by varying amounts of chemicals suffused into the various humors of the body. However, the thoughts and ideas that prompt and focus emotions aren't as clearly mediated by chemistry. They are more clearly mediated by something less clearly real, in a physical sense: symbols.

So what is it, then, that keeps us stuck to the familiar when someone suggests change? It is quite plainly that cascade of chemicals that tighten our muscles and shorten our breathing. Whatever the symbolic prompt, that chemical reaction is real and quite rigidly set. Change, if it were to happen, would involve breaking that associative bond and reassociating its chemical cascade with a differing set of symbols. And extinguishing the old set of bonds is never easy. Anyone who has ever tried to break an addiction, get over the loss of a loved one, or forget the horrors of war will tell you that. The older a person is, the harder still.

Perhaps the single biggest factor contributing to the almost universal loathing of the Bush administration is it's stubborn inflexibility. A recent biography of GW suggests his intractability was born in his long ago decision to quit drinking. That same steely resolve to overcome a downwardly debilitating addiction may have set the chemical pumps within him to resist any change of any sort once a decision had been made, no matter how ill-conceived or how unpalatable the consequences.

It remains to be seen how an Obama administration will fare inspiring the new thoughts we so desperately need to motivate a constructive alteration in the familiar, if disquieting, downward slide of our collective civilization.

Sunday, February 10th, 2008
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