Sunday, December 26, 2010

Your Brain on Sex

Let’s look at what goes on in the brain during sex and orgasm. Although you think everything happens between your legs, the experience of orgasm actually occurs between your ears. Certain pathways are turned on, while your defenses are turned off. This happens by means of chemical messengers and the nerve cell receptors they bind to. These neurochemical changes take place in the limbic system, or "mammalian brain." The mammalian brain controls almost all bodily functions. It’s the seat of emotions, desires, drives and impulses. It’s where you fall in and out of love…or lust.
The mammalian brain, or limbic system, is largely the same in all mammals. It has been around for well over 100,000,000 years, lurking right beneath your large, rational neo-cortex. Rats, apes and humans use the same neurochemicals to operate the same functions in this part of the brain. Scientists aren't studying rodent brains to help them with their addictions and erections!
Thanks to your limbic system, you cannot will your feelings, emotions, falling in love, or staying in love, anymore than you can will your heart to beat, or yourself to digest a meal or sleep.
Recently, scientists have begun to unravel the neurochemistry of lust, attachment and falling in love. Falling in love involves simultaneous activation and deactivation of discrete parts of the limbic system. For every biological event in your body, there is a biological cause. In this case, the cause is neurochemicals—and the pathways they turn on and off.

Neurochemical Commands

brain's reward centerThe central neurochemical player behind falling in—and out—of love is dopamine. Dopamine is the principal neurochemical that activates your reward circuitry. Your reward circuitry drives nearly all of your behaviors. In other words, most all roads lead to Rome, or to the reward circuitry so you can assess things as "good, bad, or indifferent."
At its most basic, this circuit is activated when you engage in activities that further your survival, or the continuation of your genes. Whether it’s sex, eating, taking risks, achieving goals, or drinking water, all increase dopamine, and dopamine turns on your reward circuitry. You can think of dopamine as the "I’ve got to have it" neurochemical, whatever "it" is. It’s the "craving" signal.
The more dopamine you release and the more your reward circuit is activated, the more "reward" you experience. A good example is food. We get a much bigger blast of dopamine eating high-calorie foods than we do low-calorie foods. It’s why we choose chocolate cake over Brussels sprouts. Our reward circuit is programmed so that "calories equal survival." cake sliceYou’re not actually craving ice cream, or a winning lotto ticket, or even a romp in the sack. You’re craving the dopamine that is released with these activities. Dopamine is your major motivation, not the item or activity.
Addiction mechanisms are complex. Yet the one aspect they share is dopamine. All addictive substances and activities increase dopamine. Porn, accumulating money, gaining power over others, gambling, compulsive shopping, video games…if something really boosts your dopamine, then it’s potentially addictive for you. Why did Martha Stewart risk everything for more money? She got a thrill from a stock market gamble. She didn’t need the money; she needed the dopamine.
Addictiive highs mimic the good feelings of the basic activities for which we're actually hijacking our wiring. Out of thousands of chemicals, these few substances (alcohol, cocaine, etc.) jack up dopamine. We can also hijack it with extremely stimulating versions of natural behaviors: casinos with hot hostesses, novel porn at every click, tasty junk food filled with fat and sugar, and so forth.
Do not get the idea that dopamine is bad. There's no such thing as a bad neurochemical or hormone, although both can be problems when out of balance. Dopamine is absolutely necessary for your decision-making, happiness, and survival. Yet when it’s too low or too high (or when changes in its receptors alter your sensitivity), it can cause real problems.
If you look at this chart you can see some behaviors and conditions associated with dopamine levels that are too high or too low. The key word on the list below is bonding. Bonding is more than a behavior. It is a mammalian program, the program that permits parenting and living in groups. When dopamine drops, you are likely to find your partner less rewarding—and your bond unravels.

Dopamine Levels (or altered sensitivity to dopamine)

AddictionsAddictionsHealthy bonding
AnxietyDepressionFeelings of well-being, satisfaction
CompulsionsAnhedonia—no pleasure, world looks colorlessPleasure, reward in accomplishing tasks
Sexual fetishesLack of ambition and driveHealthy libido
Sexual addictionInability to "love"Good feelings toward others
Unhealthy risk-takingLow libidoMotivated
GamblingErectile dysfunctionHealthy risk taking
Compulsive activitiesNo remorse about personal behaviorSound choices
AggressionADHD or ADDRealistic expectations
PsychosisSocial anxiety disorderParent/child bonding
SchizophreniaSleep disturbances, "restless legs"Contentment with "little" things
Researchers placed electrodes in rats’ reward centers to stimulate them, much as dopamine does. The rats could then press a lever to stimulate the reward center. That’s all those rats didrat pushing leverThey ignored food, receptive females and their own pups, if female. They just sat there pressing the lever over and over, wasting away…not unlike crack addicts. In other experiments, scientists blocked dopamine so the reward center could not be stimulated. What happened? The rats just sat there, again—ignoring food, receptive mates, and the opportunity to explore their environment. (For more on how this "binge trigger" works, see this more recent article: Has Evolution Trained Our Brains to Gorge on Food and Sex?
Orgasm is the biggest blast of dopamine (legally) available to us. A Dutch scientist recently scanned the brains of people having orgasm. He said they resembled scans of heroin rushes. He saw visions of an "orgasm pill" and lots of money. We saw visions of one of the most addictive substance ever produced.
Orgasms and addictive substances or behaviors have two things in common. They both produce an initial pleasurable experience, and both are followed by a hangover. The sexual satiation (orgasm) hangover is innate. It's a program of neurochemical fluctuations, triggered by orgasm, which appears to continue for about two weeks. It can be such a subtle part of you that you do not connect the dots—unless you switch to making love without it for several weeks, and then go back to sex with orgasm.
"What goes up must come down." It’s simple biology; body systems must return to balance, or homeostasis. In this case it's your dopamine rising and falling. That can play around with your mood and, most importantly for your love life, the way in which you perceive, and treat, your partner.
Jekyll & HydeWith conventional sex and orgasms you’re probably going in and out of these dopamine extremes. So are we saying that orgasm makes you schizophrenic and then depressed, as in the chart above? No, but it definitely affects your behavior and mood. Reflection upon the behaviors associated with high and low dopamine may help explain how one’s lover can do the "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" thing. (Or the Aphrodite-Medusa thing.)
Consider this: A menstrual cycle is generally 28 days of hormonal dominoes, but some women suffer from PMS often, others now and then, others don't notice it. Same thing with the orgasm cycle. It's there...and we know for sure that it lasts for at least 7 days in men, and for 15 days in both males and females of at least one other mammal. Yet the experience of those going through it can differ widely.
All of the following factors (and more, no doubt) can shape lovers' experience: How new is their romance? How much daily affection do they engage in to soothe their nervous systems? What kind of sex do they have? (Intercourse has been shown to be more relaxing over the days following than oral sex or masturbation.) How sensitive are they to particular neurochemicals? Probably no two recovery periods are identical.
Subtle or not, these changes in our feelings can lead to many of the judgments that couples routinely make: "He's not doing enough." "She's nagging me," and so forth. Your genes want enough disharmony so that both of you will welcome new mating opportunities, whether or not you actually indulge in them. Why? Increased genetic variety in your offspring. There are no sexually-exclusive monogamous mammals (or birds), even among pair-bonders. True monogamy is a ticket to extinction as far as your genes are concerned.
This mechanism is very old, because evolution keeps the traits that work in our genes' favor. This does notmean these urges work in your favor, however. Close, trusted companionship and warm affection are some of the best health insurance there is. Relationship turnover can be stressful.

More to the Story

The highs and lows of dopamine are only part of the "post-sexual satiation hangover" story. At orgasm, dopamine drops like a lead balloon (at least if you're a typical male), and we lose interest, at least temporarily.
However, if dopamine’s not kept in check, it could rapidly shoot up again and we’d be back in the sack. Biology’s mission is now to stop us from screwing around and place our attention elsewhere—like on hunting and gathering, feeding the babies, going to our job, taking out the trash and so forth. Otherwise we’d end up like those rats, working our levers over and over, and doing nothing else. Another aspect of biology's strategy may be to keep the brakes on dopamine so that only something really enticing jacks it a novel mate.
Suppressing dopamine is so important that nature uses an additional neurochemical to curtail our sexual desire. It’s called prolactin. If dopamine is the "foot on the gas," then prolactin is the "foot on the brake."

The 'Passion Cycle'

Dopamine - RED / Prolactin - BLUE dopamine drops, prolactin risesResearch shows that prolactin surges immediately after orgasm in both men and women. Men may experience this prolactin surge as the "roll over and snore" phenomenon. In women, the effects may be delayed for days. We notice that the effects come and go for about two weeks.
There’s an inverse relationship between the levels of prolactin and dopamine; when one is up the other is down. This rise and fall may produce a dopamine/prolactin roller coaster of highs and lows. We suspect that prolactin, and this roller coaster, are aspects of the post-orgasm hangover.
Notice that in women excess prolactin is also associated with anxiety and hostility. Sound familiar? The following table lists symptoms of patients with chronically elevated prolactin. We think that after sex, prolactin surges may be subtle, but still noticeable in their effects. The symptoms could be due to the rises in prolactin or the consequent suppression of dopamine.
Loss of libidoLoss of libido
Mood changes / depressionMood changes / depression
Hostility, anxietyImpotence
Signs of increased testosterone levelsDecreased testosterone levels
Although research hasn’t shown how long prolactin surges continue in humans after sex, in female rats, twice daily surges of prolactin continue for up to two weeks after vigorous mating. This may help to explain how great sex last week could lead to relationship friction now. And it’s no wonder we don’t make the link between cause and effect.
There’s also evidence that prolactin acts as a stress hormone. Unlike the "fight or flight" stress hormones, prolactin seems to be associated with "giving up," or "despair-type" stress. When a wild monkey is first caged, "fight or flight" stress hormones rise. As time goes by and despair sets in, "fight or flight" hormones fall and prolactin rises.
Could surges of prolactin explain agitation, wanting "space," or irritation with your partner that seems to come out of nowhere and then die down? Over time, could these recurring feelings also lead to relationship disillusionment? Who knows?
To summarize thus far, orgasm leads to fluctuating levels of dopamine and prolactin. Both of these lead to multiple behavioral and emotional symptoms, which, in our experience, can arise over the next two weeks. During this time, behavior may change for the worse. More importantly, lovers' perception of each other can shift dramatically for the worse. If we feel depleted, our partner will seem overly demanding; if we feel needy, our partner will seem selfish and uncaring. Bickering and emotional separation then lead to further friction. Of course, few people ever avoid orgasm for two weeks. Most of us ride this roller coaster over and over, never really experiencing balanced brain chemistry—or the easy harmony that accompanies it.
dopamine hangoverOrgasm’s fluctuating dopamine pattern, especially the lows, actually encourages addictions of many kinds because people attempt to use artificial means to manipulate ("medicate") their dopamine levels. Low dopamine (or reduced sensitivity to it) is at the heart of all cravings, whether one is addicted or not. We want our dopamine back up to normal, so we feel "right."
Gary found that when he got off of the roller coaster, the results were amazing: He dropped a long-term addiction and eventually left behind prescription antidepressants, ending a lifetime of depression.
Evolutionarily, a mammal's prime choice for feeling good (without waiting out the cycle) was pursuing a novel sex partner.
Think about it. Most addictions, or use of mood-altering substances and activities, kick in during teen years, when we become sexually active. A Columbia University study found that sexually active teens use more drugs. One might think social factors alone lead to this correlation between drugs and sex, but when scientists studied hamsters, they found that sexually-active hamsters were much more susceptible to amphetamine addiction than their virgin counterparts. This research brings us to another observation. Children, or pre-teens have yet to activate this dopamine roller coaster, and they possess a cheerful, optimistic enthusiasm for the simplest activities. Perhaps this is due to balanced dopamine.

Testosterone, Dopamine and the Coolidge Effect

satiated ratThere is further evidence for the post-passion hangover. Sexually-satiated male rats take up to fifteen days to recover their full desire for sex, although there is one way to jump-start them, which we’ll get to in a moment. Research shows they experience a reduction in testosterone receptors for up to a week within their reward circuitry. Hormones and neurochemicals dock with receptors on the nerve cells. In this case, fewer receptors mean less sensitivity to circulating testosterone. The result is that the reward circuitry pumps out less dopamine. It's like the reward circuitry's batteries are low. If this happens in females, it would also reduce their sexual desire. Low testosterone (or decreased sensitivity to it) is associated with irritability and anger.
image of nerve cell receptorsSerotonin and endorphin levels also rise in the reward circuitry of sexually-satiated rats. Most of us have heard that these are "happy neurochemicals," but in this part of the limbic brain both function to put on the brakes instead of just producing warm, fuzzy feelings. Keep in mind that sexual dysfunction is a major side effect of taking either antidepressants that raise serotonin, or narcotics that mimic endorphins. When neurochemicals dampen your reward circuitry for a time, your relationship can suffer.
Humans, like virtually all mammals, are not naturally monogamous. This may not sound very romantic, but no mammals are sexually exclusive. (A few, such as humans, are socially monogamous. That is, they raise their offspring together.) It is therefore likely that our mating neurochemistry is set up to accomplish two goals. It encourages bonding so we co-parent. Yet there is also a conflicting program to push us out of those bonds—at least far enough to add a novel mate.
From chimps to rats, the same neurochemical events drive mammalian behaviors, and they are driving them to be promiscuous. Is it likely that Mr. and Mrs. Rodent are growing apart in their relationship? Could the excitement be gone from their marriage? Perhaps Mrs. Chimp spends too much money, or nags too much. Maybe Mr. Chimp watches too much football or doesn’t help much with housework. Not likely. Just like us, they have a subconscious program, triggered by mating, found in their mammalian brains, which biology uses to urge them tire of their mates and move on to new mates.
regions of brainDuring the two weeks that the hangover from orgasm lingers, our large, rational brain proposes logical reasons to explain our relationship disharmony. Orgasm is natural…absolutely. But it may also be natural for both men and women to sour on a mate, to suddenly find a spouse unattractive, irritating, and wholly unreasonable. It may even be natural to become wholly unreasonable and thus hasten the departure of a mate.
Now we know that all of you are wondering about that sure-fire way to jumpstart male rats' flagging libido. Perhaps you can already guess. All you have to do is introduce a new, receptive female. That may not be the answer you were hoping for…or perhaps it was!
Have you heard of the "Coolidge Effect?" Because that’s what we're addressing. Scientists have discovered that—after a frenzy of copulation—a male rat will lose interest in a female. BUT should a new female show up, he’ll perk up long enough to service her.1 This process can be continued until he practically dies of exhaustion—once again proving that biology doesn’t give a rat’s…hindquarters about anything but propelling genes into the future. The Coolidge Effect has been observed in every species tested, and not just in males. Lady rodents prefer to seduce new guys, too.
The Coolidge Effect just might play a role in human affairs as well. Marnia once talked with a man who had stopped counting at 350 lovers. He said, "I really don’t understand it. I lost interest in all of them sexually so quickly—and some of those women are really beautiful, too."
brussel sproutsThe Coolidge Effect is linked to your post-orgasm hangover. The reason the rat loses interest is that he’s getting a weaker and weaker dopamine surge from Partner No. 1. No dopamine surge, no interest. She is not perceived as "rewarding." The same thing happens to humans. The thrill is gone, and Partner No. 1 looks like Brussels sprouts. Now you’re primed for anything that will jack up your dopamine again. Partner No. 2 appears, and your dopamine soars. As if by magic, your blues are gone, and you have that heady feeling of anticipation, that sense of uninhibited aliveness. In short, No. 2 looks like chocolate cake.
Assuming we don't learn how to steer for lasting bonds by taming our limbic system, our reward circuitry will push us to do just what it evolved to do (once our temporary honeymoon neurochemistry wears off). We'll get less and less dopamine "reward" during sex with our current mate. Notice that this is similar to what occurs when people use drugs or gamble. They seek more and more stimulation to get the same high.
In short, feelings of sexual satiety do not promote romance—which calls into question a lot of today's relationship advice about producing bigger and better orgasms. The truth has been recognized for thousands of years. Here's a poem from the ancient Greek Anthology.
Once plighted, no men would go whoring.
They'd stay with the one they adore,
If women were half as alluring
After the act as before.
Back to our tale. What if No. 2 doesn’t show up for your tryst, and you’re left in the doldrums? Unlike rats, you have many dopamine-raising possibilities—from internet porn, gambling and alcohol, to the new dopamine agonists drug companies are producing to light a fire under slumbering libidos (not recommended, due to risky side effects).
These "fixes" make you feel better briefly, but as far as your well-being goes, they are like eating junk food—a net loss.
Your mammalian brain (limbic system) is not equipped to understand that there can be too much of a good thing. It just keeps rewarding you to do the same unrewarding things. A "fix" just positions you for a continuous addictive cycle of highs, more lows, and a search for more highs. Many of us spend much of our sex lives caught in this cycle—with no obvious way out.

The Power of Equilibrium

happy coupleWe have talked about how roller coaster levels of dopamine can break couples apart, but there’s also something holding couples together. The neurochemical that binds couples together is oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone" or "bonding hormone." Without it, we could not stay in love. Falling in love is associated with a soup of neurochemicals—like adrenaline, which makes your heart race, and, as we have mentioned, dopamine, which makes you crave your beloved, and low serotonin, which can make you obsessed with someone. But the heartwarming, loving, "gushy" aspects of love are due to oxytocin. It is the "unconditional love" hormone associated with nurturing and generous affection.
Oxytocin has various functions in the body, such as inducing labor contractions and milk ejection, but from evolutionary biology’s perspective, its main evolutionary function is to bond us to our children for life. It also serves to bond us to our mate…at least long enough to fall in love with our child so that it has two caregivers for its long childhood and adolescence.
Friendships are also built on oxytocin, and can be quite deep bonds. Yet, what happens to friendships that turn into sexual relationships? Often things change for the worse. When Harry Met SallyThis change is an excellent example of the post-sexual satiation neurochemical shift or hangover kicking in.
Oxytocin and dopamine are the yin and yang of bonding and love. Dopamine furnishes the kick, oxytocin makes a particular mate appealing, in part by triggering feelings of comfort. You need both acting on the reward circuitry at ideal levels to stay in love. In experiments, if scientists block either oxytocin or dopamine, mothers will ignore their pups. There's evidence that these two neurochemicals stimulate each other's release, so if one is low, it affects levels of the other. As sexual satiation plays havoc with dopamine, lovers can end up with a double-whammy effect on their precious emotional bonds. Low dopamine alone interferes with feelings of love, and it may reduce oxytocin levels or the brain's sensitivity to oxytocin. As things go sour, something interferes with oxytocin's bonding effects. It's likely that it's low dopamine.
The good news is that making love while avoiding sexual satiation is the loophole in biology’s plan for our love lives. This is the secret that the ancient sacred-sexuality sages stumbled upon. Making love with lots of affection, without the dopamine-driven highs and lows of conventional sex, seems to keep neurochemical levels balanced.
There's some evidence that the more oxytocin you produce, the more receptive to it key nerve cells become. This is the opposite of dopamine. In addicts, dopamine receptors start to decrease, as the nerve cells protect themselves from overstimulation. Addicts then need more and more of a drug (more and more dopamine). Luckily you don’t need an ever-increasing "fix" of oxytocin to maintain the sparkle in your romance. Daily bonding behaviors can make your partner look better and better—at least to you. This is why daily affection, with less orgasm can strengthen your bond with your mate.
Oxytocin is associated with significant benefits, both emotionally and physically. In fact, oxytocin may be the answer to the question, "What is the mechanism by which love and affection positively affect our health?"
Consider the following research:
  • Oxytocin reduces cravings. When scientists administered it to rodents who were addicted to cocaine, morphine, or heroin, the rats opted for less drugs, or showed fewer symptoms of withdrawal. (Kovacs, 1998)
  • Oxytocin calms. A single rat injected with oxytocin has a calming effect on a cage full of anxious rats. (Agren, 2002)
  • This quality of oxytocin explains why companionship can increase longevity—even among those who are HIV positive (Young, 2004). dopamine high, followed by hangoverOr speed recovery: wounded hamsters heal twice as fast when they are paired with a sibling, rather than left in isolation (DeVries, 2004).
  • It may also explain why, among various species of primates, care-giving parents (whether male or female) live significantly longer. (Cal Tech, 1998)
  • Oxytocin appears be a major reason that SSRI’s [Prozac-type drugs] ease depression, perhaps because high levels of cortisol are the chief culprits in depression and anxiety disorders. (Oxytocin counteracts cortisol's effects.) (Uvnas-Moberg, 1999)
  • Oxytocin increases sexual receptivity and counteracts impotence, which may be one reason why this other way of making love remains pleasurable. (Pedersen, C.A., 2002), (Arletti, 1997)
Again, notice that oxytocin reduces cravings and increases sexual receptivity. This allows making love without orgasm to be surprisingly satisfying. The affection is always there, flowing between you and your partner.
When we tiptoe around dopamine’s highs and lows, we encourage balance and clear perception of each other. We see each other as sources of safety and pleasure, not as sources of recurring stress with brief moments of sexual pleasure. The real magic of love happens at a neurochemical level—and we can choose balance in order to foil the extremes of our genes' plans for us.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fear of Failure

Michael Jordan and the Fear of Failure

In any contest there is a winner and a loser and almost anyone would tell you that winning is a lot more fun.  But in many ways losing is more valuable in the long run as it helps to define us.  When we lose in sport, we learn much more about ourselves, our weaknesses, and how we might improve for the next time.  Setbacks, obstacles and outright failures force us to make decisions as to how seriously we want to pursue a goal, and how we’re going to make it happen.
In sport there are a great number of champion athletes who faced setbacks and later acknowledged these failures as very significant to their ultimate success.  Michael Jordan for example was cut from his high school basketball team in grade 10.  He refers to this event as being integral to his development as it taught him that he could bring about a significant change in his ability through hard work.  A lot of that has to do with his reaction to being cut in the first place.  In other words he chose to react positively, to work harder, to make himself better.
Experiencing failure can also be very valuable in the sense that one learns that life goes on and that failure is not something to be feared.  In terms of being successful in a competitive environment, getting over the fear of failure is a very valuable skill.  In fact, the higher the level of competition, the more important the skill becomes.
In the mid-90’s when the Chicago Bulls were in the midst of winning several NBA championships, Michael Jordan was in a commercial that reflected on the fact that failure is a part of what he did for a living.  Have a look:
Keep in mind that this commercial was made before the end of Jordan’s career.  In other words, the numbers he refers to where not career totals and when all was said and done the numbers were higher.  To me, the most poignant stat referred to in the commercial was the missed game-winning shots.  It’s an amazing thought that you could string together somewhere between a third and a half of a season worth of (NBA Champion) Chicago Bulls losses where they lost for no reason other than they gave the ball to the best player ever to step on a court and he just missed.
What’s the point?  You can’t be afraid to try.  And by all accounts when Jordan went for that game winning shot, the thought of missing was the furthest thing from his mind.  And if you ask any sport psychologist, they’ll tell you that was one of Jordan’s greatest strengths.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You Scratch My Back and I'll Scratch Yours

The Glass Hammer had an article this week called “Ask the Right Career Questions. Now“. This article speaks to the fact that men are better at networking to get ahead.

Men learn at a young age the concept of reciprocity – “You scratch my back – I’ll scratch yours" which helps them make casual connections that are overtly transactional, yet powerful, because both parties benefit.

Why can’t women learn this as well? We are great at relationship building, but not so great at leveraging those relationships to advance our careers or build our businesses. We are generous with our time. We graciously give away lots of valuable information and services, but when it comes to asking for something in return, we stop. Something holds us back from asking. Is it that we don’t like to impose? Are we afraid to ask because we fear their answer will be “no”, or do we assume that people will automatically reciprocate without us asking?

The next time you are engaged in conversation with someone and are tempted to give them some valuable information or offer to introduce them to someone they would benefit from knowing, STOP. Stop and think about what you might ask for in return.

I would be happy to introduce you to Jane. I think she would be a valuable resource for you. I understand that you have worked with John Smith. Would you mind making this introduction for me? I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks.

How simple is this? No one will turn you down in this type of situation unless for some reason they can’t make the introduction. If they cannot do this for you at this point in time, make sure you ask for another introduction or favor in return.

We can learn reciprocity too. The problem is we don't normally think this way and we don’t ask.

Bonnie Marcus

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"The Shift Hits the Fan"

The Revolution Has Begun - "The Shift Hits the Fan"
By Kenny Ausubel
Co-CEO and Founder, Bioneers
Opening the Bioneers Conference, October 15th, 2010, San Rafael, California

The Bottleneck. The Great Disruption. Peak Everything. The Great Turning.

Whatever you call it, it's the big enchilada.

In the words of filmmaker Tom Shadyac, "The shift is hitting the fan." We're experiencing the dawn of a revolutionary transformation. This awkward 'tween state marks the end of pre-history - the sunset of an ecologically illiterate civilization. Like a baby being born, a new world is crowning.

The revolution has begun. But in fits and starts. The challenge is it's one minute to midnight - too late to avoid large-scale destruction. We have to fan the shift to ecoliterate societies at sufficient scale and speed to dodge irretrievable cataclysm.

From breakdown to breakthrough, it's a revolution from the heart of nature and the human heart. It leads with a basic shift in our relationship with nature from resource and object to mentor, model and partner. Game-changing breakthroughs in science, technology and design such as biomimicry are revolutionizing our very ways of knowing. The Rights of Nature movement is recognizing the inalienable rights of the non-human world of ecosystems and critters, widening our circle of compassion and kinship. Greater decentralization and localization are building resilience from the ground up - shaped by ancient indigenous wisdom of becoming native to our place.

The digital communications revolution is primed to spread solutions without borders at texting speed. Historic demographic shifts are fertilizing the landscape - from the ascendancy of women's leadership to the worldbeat of cultural and racial pluralism. Empires and dynasties are waning and waxing with sudden shifts in the balance of global power.

When a chrysalis turns into a butterfly, the caterpillar's immune system attacks the very first of the butterfly's cells as invaders. The pushback will be equally fierce, casting shadows of widespread destruction and violence, mass migrations, virulent ideologies, and ethnic strife. Yet in the end, the big, hairy caterpillar audaciously becomes a beautiful butterfly.

What does the revolution look like on the ground?

As climate shocks rock the planet, renewable energy is reaching a tipping point and going mainstream. For the past two years, the U.S. and Europe have both added more power capacity from renewables than from coal, gas and nuclear combined. Worldwide, renewables accounted for a third of new generating capacity, and now provide a quarter of global power capacity and 18 percent of electricity supply. Germany is aiming for a carbon-neutral grid while maintaining its highly industrialized status - without significant changes in consumption patterns and lifestyles.

Renewable energy investment topped $150 billion worldwide in 2009, attracting many of the world's largest companies. Government policies are largely responsible. Over 70 national and state governments have put incentives in place.

Europe has the leading position globally in great part because of government policy. EU business leadership sees green products as its future Silicon Valley. The EU is aiming for 25% of global green market share by 2020.

China has leapfrogged the world in pursuit of a low-carbon economy. It's now the largest manufacturer of wind turbines, solar panels, and the most efficient grids and coal plants. It has created a national energy "superministry," and the President has stated China must "seize preemptive opportunities in the new round of the global energy revolution."

The expansion of wind power is moving to industrial scale. Electric cars are heading for the mass market worldwide. Massachusetts and California lead the U.S. with efficiency standards expected to generate billions in savings to customers and tens of thousands of new jobs. An estimated 23 percent of U.S. emissions can be cut by 2020 just through energy efficiency.

Job creation and new businesses are key drivers of renewables. Germany now employs more almost as many people in clean energy as in its largest manufacturing sector of automobiles.

The spread of renewables is starting to reduce CO2 emissions. Germany has reduced its emissions by nearly 30 percent since 1990. Sweden has vowed to eliminate fossil fuels for electricity by 2020 and gasoline-powered cars by 2030. Sweden also commissioned research that shows the country could cut its emissions by 25-50 percent by changing the national diet. A new national food policy puts emissions labeling on foods and restaurant menus. The principal Scandinavian organic certification program will require low-carbon farming methods. Sweden's dietary recommendations are now circulating throughout the EU. An estimated 25% of emissions produced by people in industrialized nations are linked with the foods they eat.

Greatly heightened investment from banks is advancing these trends, especially in Europe, China and Latin America. Germany's Deutsche Bank is redirecting much of its $700 billion in assets to address global warming, including a $7 billion climate investment fund. National green infrastructure banks are on the horizon.

A sea change in thinking has propelled the banking industry and economists to team up with mathematical biologists to study natural ecosystems for lessons about resilience. The Bank of England says the banking industry will be fundamentally reshaped to treat global finance as a "complex adaptive system" like a living ecosystem.

A parallel epiphany is bubbling up in engineering, led by giant firms such as CH2M Hill that have embraced climate adaptation. Instead of steel-and-concrete, they're recommending "soft infrastructure" - flexible ecological systems like wetlands, oyster beds and barrier islands, as well as water retention, wastewater recycling and water efficiency. The bywords are reliability, local self-sufficiency and decentralization. FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers are close behind.

In the absence of a national clean energy policy in the U.S., the action is coming mainly from cities and states. Mayors and governors are developing ambitious climate strategies and policies, while creating jobs, businesses and living laboratories for low-carbon development. L.A.'s Mayor Villaraigosa vowed to "permanently break our addiction to coal" by 2020. The Pacific Coast states are working to jettison coal within a decade.

Sounds great, right? But of course, there's more to the story. The current gains are tenuous, vulnerable to the vagaries of politics and economic oscillations. And we're still losing ground anyway. Global emissions will rise by 40% by 2030, more than half of which will come from China and the balance from developing countries.

As Groucho Marx put it, "Why should we bother about the next generation? They have never done anything for us!"

In truth, the world is reaching "peak everything," in Richard Heinberg's words. A global economy built on unlimited growth and massive resource use is heading for inevitable contraction.

A major barrier in the U.S. is the annual military budget of over a trillion dollars. Although the Defense Department has embraced climate change as a top national security issue, national sustainability must move front and center. As David Orr observes, "The concept of sustainability should be the new organizing principle for both domestic and foreign policy. Sustainability is the core of a national development strategy designed to enhance our security, build prosperity from the ground up, and reduce ecological damage, risks of climate destabilization and the necessity of fighting endless wars over dwindling resources."

What's needed is the national and global equivalent of a wartime mobilization with sustainability as magnetic north. Many say only catastrophe will precipitate such a shift and are readying plans for that turning point. Paul Gilding's One Degree War Plan forecasts a "Coalition of the Cooling" anchored by the U.S., China and the EU, who produce 50 percent of emissions - and who could then engage Russia, India, Japan and Brazil to hit 67 percent.

But for now, the U.S. is being left behind. As a leader at Germany's Deutsche Bank stated, "They're asleep at the wheel on climate change, asleep at the wheel on job growth, asleep at the wheel on this industrial revolution taking place in the energy industry." Rather than catastrophe, business competitiveness may ultimately prove the more compelling driver.

Yet as Einstein said, we cannot solve the problem with the same mentality that created it. Brother, can you spare a paradigm? The supreme challenge of global interdependence is to foster meta-cooperation in a full world.

Our collective fate likely hangs from the cliff by three intertwining ropes: systems, power, and story.

Shifting the mindscape starts with systems thinking. Complex systems by nature are unpredictable, nonlinear and cannot be controlled. The key to building resilience is to foster the system's capacity to adapt to dramatic change. As Dana Meadows observed, "A diverse system with multiple pathways and redundancies is more stable and less vulnerable to external shock than a uniform system with little diversity."

A paradigm is the hardest thing to change in a system, but it can happen fast. As Meadows advised, "Keep pointing at anomalies and failures in the old paradigm. Keep speaking loudly and with assurance, from the new one. Insert people with the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power. Don't waste time with reactionaries; work with active change agents, and the vast middle ground of open people."

At the core is the transformation to a restoration economy.

Europe's model of "social capitalism" may be the most important innovation in the world economy since the rise of the corporation. Among its structural innovations are two policies: Works Councils and co-determination.

Works councils give employees significant input and decision-making or veto power on substantive issues. They contribute to efficiency by improving the quality of decisions and worker buy-in.

Co-determination, where workers are elected to company supervisory boards, has fostered a culture of consultation and cooperation, benefited business, and distributed wealth more broadly. Most EU nations use the practice. The 27-nation European Union, the world's largest economy, has a higher per capita growth rate and slightly lower unemployment than the U.S. The vibrant small business sector produces two thirds of EU jobs. Ironically, the EU social capitalism model arose following World War II to punish postwar Germany with economic democracy and curtail corporate power.

What's afoot globally today are the re-envisioning of the economy and the redesign of the corporation into diverse structures of business ownership and governance - such as large-scale cooperatives, mission-controlled social businesses and foundation-owned social profit companies. Bill Gates calls it "creative capitalism." It works. Employee-owned firms modestly outperform their peers. Foundation-owned, values-driven companies perform at least as well or better. In Europe, coops comprise 12 percent of GDP and engage 60 percent of the population. Marjorie Kelly terms them "emergent new organizational species" designed like living systems to deliver human and ecological benefits as well as profits.

Another seismic meta-trend transforming the economy and society at large is the ascendancy of women's leadership. As writer Hanna Rosin points out in "The End of Men," "Those societies that take advantage of the talents of all of their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest." One study measuring the economic and political power of women in 162 countries found with few exceptions that the greater the power of women, the greater the nation's economic success. As David Gergen wrote, "Women are knocking on the door of leadership at the very moment when their talents are especially well matched with the requirements of the day."

Natural systems have their own operating instructions, as biomimicry master Janine Benyus describes. Nature runs on current sunlight. Nature banks on diversity. Nature rewards cooperation. Nature builds from the bottom up. Nature recycles everything. And Earth's mission statement: Life creates conditions conducive to life..

Given that the most important element in systems is purpose and goals, the big question is: What's the economy for? If the goal is building resilience, the priority flips from growth and expansion to sufficiency and a sustainable prosperity. Resilience also favors economic re-localization, which in turn produces greater energy and food security.

How then do we set about redesigning human systems? And who has decision-making power?

In practice, our current system design concentrates wealth and distributes poverty. The super-rich .01 percent of the population - about 13,000 people - earn as much as the bottom 120 million. U.S. unemployment is the highest since the Great Depression. Forty-four million Americans live in poverty. Joblessness underemployment and low wages are the new normal.

Washington D.C. has 11,195 corporate lobbyists who in 2009 spent six times all spending combined by environmental, consumer, labor and other non-corporate entities. The biggest lobbying and campaign spender is the financial services sector, with banks being the most powerful. As Senator Dick Durbin commented, "Frankly they own the place." It's no wonder. The estimated lobbying return on investment is a hundred to one. Remember that $13 trillion in public bailout funds to the banks? That's the public option.

No wonder there's a Tea Party. Call me traditional, but the Tea Party needs to get back to its roots. The Boston Tea Party was as a rebellion against a government-backed corporate monopoly.

As author Thom Hartmann recounts, Britain's East India corporation staked its claim on parts of North America under military protection from its biggest investor, the British Crown. Already hugely powerful in India and China, the corporation had gained control over almost all international commerce to and from North America. But it was bedeviled by colonial small businessmen and entrepreneurs who dared to run their own ships and buy tea wholesale from Dutch trading companies. The East India corporation obtained laws to eliminate the competition - backed by the death penalty.

As Hartmann points out, "'Taxation without representation' meant hitting the average person and small business with taxes, while letting the richest and most powerful corporation in the world off the hook for its taxes."

The Boston Tea Party precipitated the American Revolution and guided the first American century of highly resrtictive corporate governance and law. That revolutionary tradition is resurfacing today in the growing movement to challenge and revoke corporate constitutional rights.

The story of today's battle is above all the battle of the story. As human beings, we're hard-wired for story. When our story conflicts with the facts, we stick with the story. As scholar Richard Tarnas observes, "Worldviews create worlds."

The ruling story according to Western Civilization took hold about 500 years ago with the birth of the Scientific Revolution and exaltation of human reason. When the Copernican revolution showed the Earth revolves around the sun, science redefined humanity's place in the natural order and the cosmos.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of the modern mind is the belief in a radical separation between the human self and the external world. According to the modern mind, Tarnas observes, "Apart from the human being, the cosmos is seen as entirely impersonal and unconscious... mere matter in motion, mechanistic and purposeless, ruled by chance and necessity. It is altogether indifferent to human consciousness and values. The world outside the human being lacks conscious intelligence, it lacks interiority, and it lacks intrinsic meaning and purpose... For the modern mind, the only source of meaning in the universe is human consciousness."

The modern mind stands in radical contrast with the primal worldview, exemplified by indigenous cultures. As Tarnas continues, "Primal experience takes place within a world soul, an anima mundi, a living matrix of embodied meaning. Because the world is understood as speaking a symbolic language, direct communication of meaning and purpose from world to human can occur."

The linear, mechanistic, reductionist worldview has yielded as science has radically evolved into a vastly more complex view of interdependence and other ways of knowing. From complexity and chaos theory to the Gaia Hypothesis, a new cosmology is unfolding. In this scientific revolution, the Earth does not revolve around us.

Tarnas frames the battle of the cosmic story in this way.

"Imagine for a moment that you are the universe. But for the purposes of this thought experiment - that you are not the disenchanted, mechanistic universe of conventional modern cosmology - but rather a deep-souled, subtly mysterious cosmos of great spiritual beauty and creative intelligence. And imagine that you are approached by two different epistemologies - two suitors, as it were - who seek to know you. To whom would you open your deepest secrets? To which approach would you be most likely to reveal your authentic nature?

"Would you open most deeply to the suitor - the way of knowing - who approached you as though you were essentially lacking in intelligence or purpose - as though you had no interior dimension to speak of - no spiritual capacity or value; who thus saw you as fundamentally inferior to himself (let us give the two suitors, not entirely arbitrarily, the traditional masculine gender); who related to you as though your existence were valuable primarily to the extent that he could develop and exploit your resources, to satisfy his various needs; and whose motivation for knowing you was ultimately driven by a desire for increased intellectual mastery, predictive certainty, and efficient control over you for his own self-enhancement?

"Or would you, the cosmos, open yourself most deeply to that suitor who viewed you as being at least as intelligent and noble - as worthy a being - as permeated with mind and soul - as imbued with moral aspiration and purpose - as endowed with spiritual depths and mystery, as he? This suitor seeks to know you not that he might better exploit you but rather to unite with you and thereby bring forth something new - a creative synthesis emerging from both of your depths. He desires to liberate that which has been hidden by the separation between knower and known. His ultimate goal of knowledge is a more richly responsive and empowered participation in a co-creative unfolding of new realities. He seeks an intellectual fulfillment that is intimately linked with imaginative vision, moral transformation, empathic understanding, aesthetic delight. His act of knowledge is essentially an act of love and intelligence combined - of wonder as well as discernment - of opening to a process of mutual discovery. To whom would you be more likely to reveal your deepest truths?"

Which suitor shall we choose? Which suitor do you choose?