A response to Hari-kirtana prabhu regarding my article

Many thanks to Hari-kirtana prabhu for his thoughtful response to my submission on the relative intelligence of men to women. He has clearly done a little homework and I appreciate his reminder that we have to be careful when we cite scientific findings as support for our preaching work. His admonition that “one small slip on the scientific slope (in this case, asserting that testosterone suppresses oxytocin to prove that a man’s biological response to stress is different than a woman’s) is enough to undermine our credibility with educated people and, with it, the credibility Vedic scripture as axiomatic, infallible, and of Divine origin” is well taken. It reminds me of an exchange we had with Srila Prabhupada on a morning walk on December 8th 1975 in Vrindavana:

“Nevertheless, despite his often humorous critiques and sometimes general condemnations of the modern materialistic scientists, Prabhupada cautioned us that any attempt to preach on a scientific basis must be done expertly. When Alanatha, a European devotee, told him of plans to publish a magazine in Sweden with articles challenging the material scientists, Prabhupada warned him. “Don’t write anything nonsense. It must be very solid. Otherwise you’ll be laughing stock. One must be confident before challenging others. In all stages he must be able to defend himself from the opposing elements. Then such challenge is all right. We are confident that this soul cannot be manufactured by any material combination. Therefore we can challenge. And we can defend ourselves in any stage.”

(Transcendental Diary, Vol. 1)

I admit that in my extemporaneous oral submission to my class at the MIHET I did not cite any specific scientific findings or authority when I asserted that oxytocin levels in men are inhibited by testosterone thereby causing a different response than women when dealing with stress. Had I written an article on the subject I would surely have taken the time to do so.

Hari-kirtana prabhu will no doubt be happy then to hear that I do in fact have scientific sources for the statements I made.

Hari-kirtana’s source, a lady who he does not name but gives the credentials of, states that “I did some research on your question and your thesis appears to be false. While women do indeed produce somewhat more oxytocin than men, testosterone does not inhibit production.”

However, according to my source material, an article from The Sydney Daily Telegraph, dated August 9, 2002:

“The University of California Los Angeles study found that special bonds between female friends apparently produce a calming effect that does not occur in men. The American study found that women’s friendships counteract the day-to-day stress with a “cascade of brain chemicals”, leading them to seek and maintain friendships with other women. Until this research, scientists believed that, during stress, hormones are released that tell the body to stand and fight, or to flee– an ancient survival mechanism. Researchers now suspect that women have a more extensive behaviour store that neutralizes the “flight or fight” response and instead encouraged them to gather with other women. During this bonding session the female body produces more oxytocin (the same hormone that is released during breast feeding), which has a calming effect. American researcher Laura Cousin Klein says the calming response does not occur in men, “because testosterone, which men produce in high levels when they are under stress, seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Oestrogen seems to enhance it.” Prof. Klein, now an assistant professor of Bio-behavioural Health at Penn State University, said the release of oxytocin in women in times of stress encourages her to “tend children” or “gather with other women”. “When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, the studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men.”

Klein is not alone in her assertion:

“Newcastle University (Australia) lecturer Melissa Monfries wrote her honours thesis on friendships and is at present conducting research with a colleague on gender sociology. “This Amercian study reinforces what women have known for centuries,” Dr. Monfries said. “They have simply been able to identify a physiological example. “It is consistent with some of the tenets of socio-biological research in the animal world and how it translates into the human world. “Research has been around since the 1970s that women do talk to each other more [than men] and that serves as a buffer for stress.” … It was two women who triggered the research into how women deal with stress. Dr. Klein and a colleague, Shelley Taylor, were talking one day about how men tended to isolate themselves at times of stress, yet women sought out other female company. The results of their research, which showed that women respond to stress differently from men, has significant implications for health.”

The article cites another expert in the behavioral field to confirm these findings:

“Australian psychologist Jonathan Toussaint, state manager of Interrelate and an expert in men’s relationships and behavior, said the latest American research “makes a lot of sense”. “The need for women to fill the emotional gaps in relationships such as marriage by developing these strong bonds of friendship with other women is very real. “Women by their very nature tend to be relational. You only have to look at little girls at play – they are extremely happy talking with each other about stuff that boys find silly,” he said. “Most women are happy to have a chat over the fence, while men tend to be doers – they would rather go and kick a football around or go to the pub.” Mr Toussaint said women’s response to stress “encourages disclosure to other women.”

To cite another completely different source, here’s something from ABC News, SciTech section from September 21, 2004:

“[Nancy Forger of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst] “At least 100 sex differences in male and female brains have been described so far,” said Forger. “They keep cropping up in animal and human studies.” So what lies that the root of the male-female variability? In mammals, testosterone appears to be a main player. Forger’s work in mice has shown that as mammals develop in the womb, testosterone and related hormones trigger cell death in some regions of the male brain and foster cell development in other regions. In this way, the hormone sculpts the male brain and how it will differ from the female version. Remove or add testosterone to mice shortly after birth, and their brains develop according to the presence of the hormone, regardless of their sex. These kinds of studies are impossible to do in humans, but some have looked for testosterone’s effects in the brain by comparing people of different sexual orientations. Testosterone in Finger Lengths Marc Breedlove, a neuroscientist at Michigan State University, was part of a recent study that looked at the ratio of finger lengths in heterosexual women and women with strong homosexual identities. The idea was gay women may have more traces of testosterone, and this might be evident through other signs. “We found that lesbians we studied had a more masculine-looking pattern of finger lengths than straight women,” he said, explaining that in masculine hands, the index finger tends to be significantly shorter than the ring finger. “The evidence is getting pretty good that testosterone can change the likelihood of sexual orientation which develops later in life.” Incidentally, the same research didn’t produce as clear results when gay and straight men were analyzed. This kind of research remains controversial, as does any work that looks for explanations for human behavior in the brain. But most researchers looking into differences of the brain are quick to point out that there are many more differences in the brain just between individuals than between groups of people or between the sexes. “Men and women are more the same than different in the brain, without a question,” said Forger. “But,” she added, “little differences can go a long way.”

Of course, the above studies are a fairly new field in science. The above article, by Amanda Onion, opens with this observation:

“Men and women may really be from the same planet, but research is yielding mounting evidence that our brains are more different than we might think. From the way we record information to how we process language to the size of our brains and different regions of the brain, clear differences have emerged through animal studies and the use of technology such as brain scanning. Scientists are also trying to get at the roots of what may be behind these differences by looking at the effects of chromosomes and hormones at work in lab animals. And this is just the beginning. Jill Goldstein, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, argues that social climates have only recently made such research acceptable. “When I was growing up, to say there were sex differences in the brain, you weren’t even supposed to talk about it,” said Goldstein. “I think we’re living in a time now when we can look at what some of these differences are without saying they are necessarily deterministic.”

From the above it follows then that there is likely to be disagreement among scientists themselves about the functions of male and female bodies and how this affects the psychological make-up. Hari-kirtana prabhu’s source, who is not identified and who does not cite the sources of her research, has one opinion, which is also tentative (she opens with a classic scientist’s hedge “I did some research on your question and your thesis appears to be false”); there are other scientists such as the half dozen mentioned above who may disagree.

Nevertheless I feel comfortable in using such scientific findings as confirmation of Srila Prabhupada and the Vedas’ statements that women are relatively less-intelligent than men. There are other studies which have established that male brains are on average 10% bigger than female, which according to some researchers, means men are on average more intelligent than women. This is of course another example cited by Srila Prabhupada.

Despite the controversial nature of such research, as long as the work of some prominent scientists is amenable to our purpose, we can use it.

It would be nice if we could just cite the Vedas as our only evidence, but the problem is that modern man has little faith in them, and even, as I mentioned in my original submission, some so-called followers of Srila Prabhupada have such doubts. In an age where empirical evidence is supreme and in the face of political pressure these “followers” are reluctant to assert the truth of our authorities’s statements. It is therefore prudent to use scientific research where possible to convince the minds of the intelligent class that the Vedas are reliable and authentic. Srila Prabhupada himself did this in his Isopanisad:

“Vedic principles are accepted as axiomatic truth, for there cannot be any mistake. That is acceptance. For instance, in India cow dung is accepted as pure, and yet cow dung is the stool of an animal. In one place you’ll find the Vedic injunction that if you touch stool, you have to take a bath immediately. But in another place it is said that the stool of a cow is pure. If you smear cow dung in an impure place, that place becomes pure. With our ordinary sense we can argue, “This is contradictory.” Actually, it is contradictory from the ordinary point of view, but it is not false. It is fact. In Calcutta, a very prominent scientist and doctor analyzed cow dung and found that it contains all antiseptic properties.”

In conclusion I will say that had I written an article, I would have done much more research and cited my sources. Since the topic came up unexpectedly in Mayapur I took a more extemporaneous approach. Still, I think the argument holds up well and I would not be inclined to change it at this stage.

Your humble servant, Hari-sauri dasa




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