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|Who Do You Think You Are? - Page 11|
I began to walk the campus with an excruciating sense of dissonance: everything around me seemed to bloom and pulse; how, amidst such bounty, could I feel so shriveled? My housemate and friend, Marilyn, sat for hours with me at our kitchen table, trying to convey by her gentle presence that I was lovable and worthwhile. Her friendship kept me afloat, but just barely. Looking back, I suppose that any number of clinical diagnoses might have been affixed to me then—depression, social anxiety, adjustment disorder. But beneath everything, I believe that I was suffering from a failure to transform.
I left Berkeley before the year was out, tried once more the following fall, and left again after three months. By then, I understood that my attempted geographical cures had decisively failed and that I was, at bottom, a social defective who'd never flourish anywhere. By now I'd seen two psychiatrists, each of whom pressed me to talk of early family dynamics, but never suggested to me that in new situations, my body-mind might tend to spin into overdrive. Neither mentioned that someone with my particular bent toward life might do better at a smaller college. Instead, I returned home to my parents in the Philadelphia suburbs, broken, a dropout without prospects. I wondered if I could bear to stay alive.
Of Science and Soul
At first glance, Jerome Kagan and my desperate, 21-year-old self wouldn't appear to share much common ground. He remains persuaded of the power of inborn temperament, the very part of me I wanted to excise from my being. His tracking of children's behavior and biology from infancy through midadolescence has persuaded him that we do, in fact, inherit distinctive neurobiological profiles that contribute to particular, relatively enduring emotional and behavioral predispositions. When psychiatrist Carl Schwartz of the Massachusetts General Hospital recently looked at the brains of some of Kagan's subjects via functional MRIs, he found that those who'd been high-reactive infants, and were now young adults, still responded to unfamiliar scenarios with sharp upticks in amygdala activity. They didn't like novelty then, and they didn't like it now. Kagan hasn't come to his convictions without struggle. In An Argument for Mind, he described his first reaction, some 40 years ago, to reading a prediction by Francis Crick, codiscoverer of the structure of DNA. Crick forecast that within the next few decades, brain neurochemistry would be found to wield a major influence on human behavior and its variations. "I wrote in the margin of that page, ÔNo!'" recalled Kagan. He noted that stubborn facts have forced him, "kicking and screaming," to revise his early notions of the overwhelming primacy of nurture in human development. "Temperament is never the whole story," he says now. "But if you don't take it into account, you won't understand what it is to be human."