A lot of experience, personal or clinical, falls into place with this explanation of sudden, stubborn changes in our thoughts, moods, and our actions. We commonly operate in a Maybe Range. Too little feeling and we get little done; too much and we become overly persistent about a limited goal or scattered and random, trailing whatever stimulus we encounter. (4) These shifts characterize our daily lives. For example, Sharon (4 y.o) was often kind and snuggling; she could also be assaultive, tearful and self destructive. There was little warning of a change in either direction. Sharon had her older counterpart. Her mother regularly worried after "talking to" Sharon many times; indeed, Mom crossed her own narrow phase transition and screamed if Sharon exceeded behavioral limits.
Susie was 17 y.o. and lied impulsively to avoid trouble or hurting feelings, became defiant when given a direction, or had a panic attack on very short notice. Even when she cried, however, she distracted easily into giggles and a smile. Susie's mother was also confused about the rapid changes in Susie's mood, about it's all or none quality. Susie called me one afternoon. She planned to run away from home, certain that her mother would anger and yell about a school infraction. I called back two hours later; mom had just arrived. Susie was relatively calm and laughed a few times during our conversation. Her bimodal mind flipped, pushed to the opposing, happier pole by her mother's gentle tone of voice.
The Township Manager attends the local Rotary Club luncheons. Some years ago, a levy on members of the Club was proposed in order to generate more revenue. George became agitated, his voice quivered, he shouted that he would "walk out the door" if the measure passed. He may have been exercising his political skills; he may also have been past his Maybe Range and into full, mind-lock attack, a variation on the "radar lock" that jet fighters achieve before firing a missile at a target.
Thus, we empathize and identify with a mind switched between binary outcomes by small events. We all go through such intervals, depending on our physical state and settings. Some of them are relatively brief as with a traffic annoyance, others more substantial in duration and cost. "Love" is one such event, although not always classed properly as a disorder. Love generally is an approved phase transition, one associated with lessened sleep, greater activity, idolization and idealization of a partner, increased planning, and reorientation of long sequences of motor activity in order to be near the object. As Beck (1988) remarked, love is akin to mania. Past the affectional transition shift, into "infatuation," often includes a limiting of input from other people. "She just won't listen to me about Tom." There are numerous self deceptions associated with love, perhaps due to a limiting of input whether from past experience or from current information. (5)
In a similar manner, many personal obsessions, hobbies, and quests also have great intensity and great focus, suggesting the involvement of mechanisms that are relatively isolated from the checks and balances of competing interests. Some of these mechanisms may be derived from psychological adaptations for nourishment, territory, mating, and social standing. Infatuations or obsessive quests in an average person may reflect over-arousal secondary to the fitness relevance of the particular incentives. Or, they may follow illness or head injury. Likewise for other physiological slumps correlated with hospitalization. The powerful interaction between our psychological adaptations and a little brain damage almost guarantees extreme feelings, whether falling in love with a nurse, idolizing your physician, or hating both of them. You could attribute the relationship to a reenactment of infantile patterns; however, the numbers of phase transition likely make it equally possible in an impaired adult or an intact infant. Infatuation in one case may arise from fatigue, lack of activity, and illness; from immature brain structures in the latter. The two situations are similar in that both derive from a reduced cross talk between competing emotional and cognitive systems. (6)
Love also changes in a negative direction. Women sometimes express a persistent phase change, "I don't love him anymore." Such women perhaps speak the minds of their eggs but the mechanism may be that of a narrowed phase transition due to the reduced interaction of a group of neurons. One switches off, a second one switches on, perhaps for identifying a replacement partner. She makes an impulsive decision. Husbands notice the change and cross their own phase transition -- from dullard to attentive, from confident to insecure, from indifferent to courting. Wives will subsequently switch into anger and maintain it so long as hubby courts. "Why now? This is play acting? This won't last." Or, "That SOB, how dare he be nice to me now that I can't stand him?"
The wife may experience her phase shift before her husband, who moves into a condition of anxiety and panic accompanied by weight loss. He may, if clever, rally her mother and father, her friends, or guidance counselors to interact with her. The children will be pulled into the debate. Suddenly, the density of interconnections from outside of her head grows from 1 or 2 to 4 or more. At this point other cell assemblies, all inside of her head, may switch on and raise the density of interaction, causing graded responses and discouraging rapid decisions. She stumbles and reconsiders.
The interplay increases in complexity if she had her phase shift before the kids have theirs. The older children with more information may switch before the younger. The family may function as a single information unit during such crises, impulses are restrained, and emotionally based decisions abate in response to multiple inputs from other centers within the family. Everyone walks on eggs. She sometimes angers further, selectively limits input from other sources, and maintains her decision to leave.
There may be qualitative shifts, each switched on or off by small events, in the nature of attractions between people. Helen Fisher (1997) remarked that there are meaningful distinctions between attachment, infatuation, and lust, distinctions that appear to be correlated with different neurochemical substrates. Many spouses may be held in place by attachment as well as by money or guilt. A suspicious, critical mate slowly erodes attachment while seeking personal, immediate gains. They eventually get through a phase transition in the partner's mind, scrapping the sense of attachment. (7) The husband or wife leaves.
Flashback ... I'm waiting at a rail crossing, the barrier is down. The train of box cars accelerates in a peculiar fashion, each car first being pulled forward by its leader, then bumping into that same leader and slowing. The speed of each car oscillates, The small gap between the connector hooks expands and contracts as adjoining cars speed or slow in relation to each other. If I picture the train as if it were on a treadmill, making no forward progress, the cars still bounce to and fro, into and away from each other. Human thoughts and mood exhibit similar phenomena both inside each of our minds and as we bump into one another.