Cover photo Vivian Haddad/ Interview Susanne Gold
Professor Gerald Hüther is a neurobiologist and is one of the best-known brain researchers in the German-speaking world. He is the author of numerous (popular) scientific publications and chairman of the Academy for Potential Development.
Seldom has a technical innovation such as the Internet brought about such a profound change in collective coexistence. Social networks are playing an increasingly important role in people’s everyday lives. In times of crisis, for example, people resort to social networks as sources of information that they know from times of no crisis. How can people today, while constantly commuting back and forth between the digital and analogue world, arrive at coherent world views?
Hüther: Coherence is the state that the brain constantly strives for. This is apparently a basic law of all systems living in organisation. We always try to order our relationships until a state is reached that uses as little energy as possible. We strive for a state where everything fits together well. Thinking, feeling and acting: What happens in the head should fit well with what happens in the body. According to this, everyone should be in a relationship with other people that is fulfilling and makes people happy. In addition, the rest of the world would also have to be in a coherent relationship with their own culture, perhaps even with the cosmos. Yeah, then everything would fit. And then you already suspect that this is a condition that does not exist. Interestingly enough, however, it is precisely this state of affairs that is also described in our narratives, in our fairy tales and stories. It is the kingdom of heaven, land of plenty or paradise. This means that we know very well that we want to get there. This is no different in the digital world than in the analogue one. And yet we have to slowly come to terms with the fact that this state does not exist. In the brain it is only really coherent after we have died. As long as we live, our brain is always incoherent. The brain learns to make recurring incoherences coherent. That is actually learning. Something happens, we have a problem and we find a solution, we do something and then we are happy that it fits better than before.
How could a society come to endure contradictions?
Hüther: Once you have understood that there are no perpetually coherent states, then life is no longer about achieving the state of coherence that everyone wants. Then it is about becoming someone in life who, whatever may come, always finds a good and suitable solution. A person with a “coherence restoration competence”. In our German language we have terms for this such as happiness, contentment, cosmopolitanism, i.e. openness but also joy of life and health are linked to this state of mind. The “sense of competence to restore coherence” is therefore a central term. But the fact that I have to use such a funny word for it may make it clear to us that we are still at a level of consciousness where we have not even found a useful word for what matters in life. To answer your question: people should be happy that there are contradictions and be pleased that there are always crises and new problems, because only by problems can we humans really grow. But what we are usually not happy about is the unpleasant experience we all have had, namely that we were confronted with problems that were not solvable for us as individuals. Unfortunately this starts early in childhood. For example, a child should have been brought up with parents who caused him as many solvable problems as possible. Instead of removing stones from the child’s path, parents should put some in the way. But please only those which the children can carry themselves. Most people have this experience at home Unsolvable for a child are problems that its parents have and even worse when parents make their children the objects of their own expectations, teachings, evaluations and measures. At my events I always ask where obedience was first prescribed to the participants. The most common answer is – already at home. The strongest thing that has been hurt there is the need for solidarity. That is why there are so many people who have learned to suppress their need for connectedness and have learned to suppress it. Unfortunately, our digital devices are the first tools we invented to regulate affect. Emotional regulation means to calm down an unsatisfied need, such as boredom, restlessness, anger, anger, perhaps also the need for closeness and connection, or the beautiful need to be able to show what I can do. Unfortunately this often happens in adults to satisfy the need for sexual relief. This is why digital devices are probably used to about 90 percent as instruments for regulating affects, not only by children, but also by adults, rather than as tools. We must learn to see digital devices as tools and not as means of regulating affects and satisfying needs.
I see this as the way out of the digital dilemma of our society.