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Love, Intuition & Knowledge
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Richard Lannon, M.D.

      . . . psychiatrist. Dr. Lannon is co-author (with Thomas Lewis, M.D. and Fari Amini, M.D.) of A General Theory of Love. A revolutionary integration of research and clinical experience, the book demonstrates the critical role love plays in healthy humans and societies. Dr. Lannon is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco and founder of UCSF's Affective Disorders Program, integrating psychological concepts with research in the biology of the brain. Dr. Lannon has an active private practice in San Francisco, is married and the father of two.


Humans create each other. First, last and foremost, we're social animals with deep biological rules which science is only just beginning to understand. Dr. Richard Lannon and his two psychiatrist colleagues, Thomas Lewis, M.D. and Fari Amini, M.D., have written a book that is revolutionary. It's called A General Theory of Love, and brings together science and the arts -- from poetry to medicine -- to describe what most of us know intuitively. We need each other. And love glues us together.

Currently, society works against the very connections that are vital to our health and well-being. Say good-bye to the myth of independence. We require love (the affiliative kind.) Without it, we die. Or languish in pain.

Who and what we humans are starts in our three-part brains. The oldest, reptilian brain regulates basic life support functions. The limbic brain -- mammals' specialty -- is where our emotions are and where internal and external stimuli meet. The neocortex -- evolution's late comer -- is where humans "think." All three parts of our brains are vital, but we've sorely neglected our limbic -- emotional -- system. Our cerebral cortex can help us sort things out, but the limbic system is what life's about.

We are who we associate with and that starts with Mom, say the doctors. (They believe mothers are innately better at forming these affliative connections, though fathers have a role and can learn.) A good mother "tunes in" to her child, reads the child's signals and responds accordingly (instead of overlaying her own signals onto the youngster.) That forms secure attachments, "tuning" the child's most basic physiological functions -- the immune system, blood pressure, the integrity of the heart and so on. If the attachment is not secure, bad things happen. If attachment never occurs, disastrous things happen.

Even if things went badly when we were young, there's hope. What helps and heals is going all the way down to our emotional core. Yes, we tend to repeat what's familiar. But we CAN change. However, we can NOT change alone (which is why most self help books are no help at all). How we build our social network is how we will be. Change happens on a social level, between people who share experiences, people a little better at what we want to be than we are.

The doctors' bias is in favor of attachment, stable bodies and minds, a sense of knowing ourselves. They've seen the enormous personal and societal cost of being ruthless, aggressive and focused only on material success.

What's optimal? To recognize and meet our own and others' needs. To be able to enjoy intimacy. To be happy. How do we get to optimal? Dr. Lannon urges us to make life decisions in the direction of more attachment and connection. Find people (whether therapist or friends) for the long haul -- forming attachments takes time. Choose to make changes, then find ways to do it, with others. Connect. For humans, it's not optional, it's who we are.

Conversation 1

Dr. Richard Lannon tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell why he and his colleagues engaged poetry and other art forms in their monumental book bringing biology, clinical psychology and psychiatry together with love. Dr. Lannon recalls how research confirmed their professional intuitions. He expands on why intuition is where life's action is and describes the brain's three-part architecture.


Conversation 2

Love is the glue that keeps people and societies together, says Dr. Lannon, who explains the biological rules which govern people in society. Anything is NOT possible, he declares, and gives examples. He explains fundamental human biology which makes our connections to others fundamental. He argues for all three parts of our brain being well integrated. He relates the brain's limbic system to being alive, to parenting, to being happy, to appreciating beauty and explains why we cannot "think our way" (just the cerebral cortex) to fulfillment, dismembering the illusion that we "think" ourselves to "higher" experiences. He introduces the concept of an implicit (as distinct from explicit) memory system, located in the limbic system. He describes how it works. He distinguishes everyday talking from interactions within therapy, where an attunement between patient and therapist - not the words - causes change. He distinguishes good therapy from bad, suggesting how to find a good therapist.


Conversation 3

Dr. Lannon describes good mothering which leads to secure attachment and explains the profound implications of the importance of optimally tuning in to a child. He describes how the ideas in A General Theory of Love expand on (as well as part company from) traditional psychotherapy. He explains how dramatically people's lives are changed when they comprehend this revolutionary approach. He reviews the profound, central importance of long-term, sustaining support networks for humans. He notes that most social forces currently work in the opposite direction.


Conversation 4

Dr. Lannon explains why self-help books usually are no help. He distinguishes A General Theory of Love from that genre, explaining why we cannot intellectually (neocortex) control our emotions (located in the limbic part of the brain.) He describes the brain's two quite different kinds of memory and shows how they affect all aspects of the human experience. He expands on the kinds of intelligence that reside in the limbic system. He argues for integration of the different ways of knowing - neocortex and limbic - urging us to give the limbic system its due while pointing to the terrible social price(s) we are paying for not doing so. He describes what happens when people do not attach, personally and in society. He distinguishes sexual love from affiliative love and the optimal consequences of the latter.


Conversation 5

Humans have been given the gift of being a social animal, says Dr. Lannon, who urges us to be more of what we are. He reminds us that emotions are innate and that we all have them and must "tune" them, comparing this to tuning an instrument. He describes humans as open-loop systems, deeply affected by our relationships with other and NOT independent of each other. He expands on, "We create each other." He distinguishes mothers from fathers. He describes the tools we social animals have, with examples. He expands on, "You only can see what you are." He assures us that we can change, but only with the help of other people. He reminds us of the tremendous power social interactions have to heal, reminding us of research which shows that brains continue to grow into old age.


Conversation 6

Dr. Lannon describes where we have both more and less control that we think over the people with whom we affiliate. He urges us to be hopeful and explains why, with examples. He offers options for building powerful relationships, reiterating how central tey are. These processes are very deep and changing them takes a long time, he assures us. He points to the science which reinforces the doctors' experience that individuals and society absolutely can improve.




Dr. Lannon squeezed us into his busy private practice schedule, making this conversation possible. We are grateful to him and to the patient patient who came behind us. We thoroughly enjoyed getting acquainted with this engaging man whose generous spirit is matched by the view from his office -- a spectacular view of the Golden Gate bridge and much of San Francisco.

Leonard Schlain whose "blurbs" on the jacket of A General Theory of Love alerted us to the deep importance of this book and whose personal recommendations encouraged us in our interest.

Paula Shuster in Random House's West Coast office was instrumental in connecting us to Dr. Lannon. Thank you.

Related Links:

A General Theory of Love is published by Random House.

For more information, Drs. Lannon, Lewis and Amini have a website building on the ideas they set forth in A General Theory of Love.

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