Some (More) Thoughts on Brain Modeling and the Coming Geek Rapture

The notion of “uploading”–analyzing a person’s brain and then modeling it, neuron by neuron, in a computer, thereby forever preserving that person’s knowledge and consciousness–is a fixture of transhumanist thought. In fact, self-described “futurists” like Ray Kurzweil will gladly expound at great length about how uploading and machine consciousness are right around the corner, and Any Day Now we will be able to live forever by copying ourselves into virtual worlds.

I’ve written extensively before about why I think that’s overly optimistic, and why Ray Kurzweil pisses me off. Our understanding of the brain is still remarkably poor–for example, we’re only just now learning how brain cells called “glial cells” are involved in the process of cognition–and even when we do understand the brain on a much deeper level, the tools for being able to map the connections between the cells in the brain are still a long way off.

In that particular post, I wrote that I still think brain modeling will happen; it’s just a long way off.

Now, however, I’m not sure it will ever happen at all.

I love cats.

Many people love cats, but I really love cats. It’s hard for me to see a cat when I’m out for a walk without wanting to make friends with it.

It’s possible that some of my love of cats isn’t an intrinsic part of my personality, in the sense that my personality may have been modified by a parasite commonly found in cats.

This is the parasite, in a color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph. Pretty, isn’t it? It’s called Toxoplasma gondii. It’s a single-celled organism that lives its life in two stages, growing to maturity inside the bodies of rats, and reproducing in the bodies of cats.

When a rat is infected, usually by coming into contact with cat droppings, the parasite grows but doesn’t reproduce. Its reproduction can only happen in a cat, which becomes infected when it eats an infected rat.

To help ensure its own survival, the parasite does something amazing. It controls the rat’s mind, exerting subtle changes to make the rat unafraid of cats. Healthy rats are terrified of cats; if they smell any sign of a cat, even a cat’s urine, they will leave an area and not come back. Infected rats lose that fear, which serves the parasite’s needs by making it more likely the rat will be eaten by a cat.

Humans can be infected by Toxoplasma gondii, but we’re a dead end for the parasite; it can’t reproduce in us.

It can, however, still work its mind-controlling magic. Infected humans show a range of behavioral changes, including becoming more generous and less bound by social mores and customs. They also appear to develop an affinity for cats.

There is a strong likelihood that I am a Toxoplasma gondii carrier. My parents have always owned cats, including outdoor cats quite likely to have been exposed to infected rats. So it is quite likely that my love for cats, and other, more subtle aspects of my personality (bunny ears, anyone?), have been shaped by the parasite.

So, here’s the first question: If some magical technology existed that could read the connections between all of my brain cells and copy them into a computer, would the resulting model act like me? If the model didn’t include the effects of Toxoplasma gondii infection, how different would that model be from who I am? Could you model me without modeling my parasites?

It gets worse.

The brain models we’ve built to date are all constructed from generic building blocks. We model neurons as though they are variations on a common theme, responding pretty much the same way. These models assume that the neurons in Alex’s head behave pretty much the same way as the neurons in Bill’s head.

To some extent, that’s true. But we’re learning that there can be subtle genetic differences in the way that neurons respond to different neurotransmitters, and these subtle differences can have very large effects on personality and behavior.

Consider this protein. It’s a model of a protein called AVPR-1a, which is used in brain cells as a receptor for the neurotransmitter called vasopressin.

Vasopressin serves a wide variety of different functions. In the body, it regulates water retention and blood pressure. In the brain, it regulates pair-bonding, stress, aggression, and social interaction.

A growing body of research shows that human beings naturally carry slightly different forms of the gene that produce this particular receptor, and that these tiny genetic differences result in tiny structural differences in the receptor which produce quite significant differences in behavior. For example, one subtle difference in the gene that produces this receptor changes the way that men bond to partners after sex; carriers of this particular genetic variation are less likely to experience intense pair-bonding, less likely to marry, and more likely to divorce if they do marry.

A different variation in this same gene produces a different AVPR-1a receptor that is strongly linked to altruistic behavior; people with that particular variant are far more likely to be generous and altruistic, and the amount of altruism varies directly with the number of copies of a particular nucleotide sequence within the gene.

So let’s say that we model a brain, and the model we use is built around a statistical computation for brain activation based on the most common form of the AVPR-1a gene. If we model the brain of a person with a different form of this gene, will the model really represent her? Will it behave the way she does?

The evidence suggests that, no, it won’t. Because subtle genetic variations can have significant behavioral consequences, it is not sufficient to upload a person using a generic model. We have to extend the model all the way down to the molecular level, modeling tiny variations in a person’s receptor molecules, if we wish to truly upload a person into a computer.

And that leads rise to a whole new layer of thorny moral issues.

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that autism spectrum disorders are the result in genetic differences in neuron receptors, too. The same PDF I linked to above cites several studies that show a strong connection between various autism-spectrum disorders and differences in receptors for another neurotransmitter, oxytocin.

Vasopressin and oxytocin work together in complex ways to regulate social behavior. Subtle changes in production, uptake, and response to either or both can produce large, high-level changes in behavior, and specifically in interpersonal behavior–arguably a significant part of what we call a person’s “personality.”

So let’s assume a magic brain-scanning device able to read a person’s brain state and a magic computer able to model a person’s brain. Let’s say that we put a person with Asperger’s or full-blown autism under our magic scanner.

What do we do? Do we build the model with “normal” vasopressin and oxytocin receptors, thereby producing a model that doesn’t exhibit autism-spectrum behavior? If we do that, have we actually modeled that person, or have we created an entirely new entity that is some facsimile of what that person might be like without autism? Is that the same person? Do we have a moral imperative to model a person being uploaded as closely as possible, or is it more moral to “cure” the autism in the model?

In the previous essay, I outlined why I think we’re still a very long ways away from modeling a person in a computer–we lack the in-depth understanding of how the glial cells in the brain influence behavior and cognition, we lack the tools to be able to analyze and quantify the trillions of interconnections between neurons, and we lack the computational horsepower to be able to run such a simulation even if we could build it.

Those are technical objections. The issue of modeling a person all the way down to the level of genetic variation in neurotransmitter and receptor function, however, is something else.

Assuming we overcome the limitations of the first round of problems, we’re still left with the fact that there’s a lot more going on in the brain than generic, interchangeable neurons behaving in predictable ways. To actually copy a person, we need to be able to account for genetic differences in the structure of receptors in the brain…

…and even if we do that, we still haven’t accounted for the fact that organisms like Toxoplasma gondii can and do change the behavior of the brain to suit their own ends. (I would argue that a model of me that was faithful clear down to the molecular level probably wouldn’t be a very good copy if it didn’t include the effects that the parasite have had on my personality–effects that we still have no way to quantify.)

Sorry, Mr. Kurzweil, we’re not there yet, and we’re not likely to be any time soon. Modeling a specific person in a brain is orders of magnitude harder than you think it is. At this point, I can’t even say with certainty that I think it will ever happen.

Movie Review: The Sun Also Rises on the Dark Knight (with Catwoman)

Okay, so I will admit it: I dithered on seeing The Dark Knight Rises.

Don’t get me wrong; I like comic book movies as much as the next guy, which is to say I dislke comic book movies less than half as much as they deserve. But there’s really only so many times one can spend three hours locked in a dark room with Christian “Mincing Momma’s Boy” Bale prancing around trying to be an action hero like Bruce Willis, only gloomier, before hitting one’s self in the forehead over and over with a hammer starts to sound like more fun.

But it came to pass that the movie ended up at the second-run theater. We’re in the middle of rearranging the house, and I couldn’t find my hammer, so we decided to go.

The movie was…um, what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, right. Predictable. Two and three-quarters hours, and not one surprising thing happened. It all goes something like this:

CIA DUDE: Wait, what? I thought we were just supposed to have one guy.
EXTRA: These are some terrorists who were trying to kidnap him. One of them wears a freaky mask. What could go wrong?
CIA DUDE: What are you going to do now?
BAIN CAPITAL: Mrrrr mrr mr mph mrr mpph mpph mr.
BAIN CAPITAL: Sorry. First, I’m going to kidnap the Russian scientist. Then I’m going to crash this airplane and kill everyone aboard. Then I’m going to outsource your jobs to China.
BAIN CAPITAL kidnaps the RUSSIAN SCIENTIST and crashes the AIRPLANE and outsources JOBS to CHINA

Cut for spoilers… To read more, clicky here!

New poster: Relationship Skills, Take 2

Since I offered up the first go-round of a poster design promoting relationship skills I’ve found to be incredibly valuable in happy, successful relationships, I’ve received a great deal of helpful feedback.

I’ve redesigned the poster, taking a lot of that feedback into account. It’s been tightened up considerably, some of the principles have been changed, the design has been tinkered with, and generally it’s been greatly improved by your thoughts and comments. So, thanks!

Here’s the new version:

I’ve also created an entry for it on my online store; you can actually order copies of it now! The poster is 16″ x 20″ (smaller than the Map of Human Sexuality, which is a monster), and printed on very heavy semi-gloss paper. Barring any major last-minute edits, it will be going in for printing tomorrow, which means I will be able to start shipping it early next week.

Some thoughts on courage

I hear you will not fall in love with me
because I come without a guarantee,
because someday I may depart at whim
and leave you desolate, abandoned, grim.
If that’s the case, what use to be alive?
In loving life you love what can’t survive:
and if you grow too fond and lose your head,
it’s all for nought–for someday you’ll be dead.

— Erica Jong, To X. (With Ephemeral Kisses)

This post started out as a reply to one of the comments in my first go-round of the relationship skills poster I’m working on.

I believe courage is among the most valuable traits any person can have. It’s a trait I look for in a potential partner. One of the things I say often, and included on the poster, and one of the things I believe it would have been most helpful for me to have learned a long time ago, is “life rewards people who move in the direction of greatest courage.”

Every time I say that, I’m always taken a bit by surprise by the amount of resistance I get to it. I hear a lot of objections to this idea, and the objections are usually couched in terms that frankly don’t make a lot of sense to me. It seems like when I talk about life rewarding courage, the idea I’m trying to communicate ends up vastly different in its interpretation. I started to write a response about what I mean when I say that life rewards courage, but I thought it deserved a blog post of its own.

First, let me talk about what I mean when I use the word “courage.”

Courage is not the absence of fear. If we never felt fear, there would be no need for courage; indeed, without fear, the idea of courage would be meaningless. We as a species never experience the emotion of fluntillation, for instance, so talking about making a virtue of bandestility in the face of fluntillation makes no sense. Courage isn’t in what you do when you are fearless; it’s in what you do when you’re fearful.

Courage does not mean recklessness. It does not mean acting on impulse or without intent. Recklessness is sometimes easier than real courage; when you’re reckless, you may act without considering the risks or consequences of your actions, and when you don’t consider the risks of your actions you might be less afraid of them. The kind of courage I’m talking about is not blind, impulsive recklessness, but action that comes from calm deliberation.

Courage is not desperation. A person with nothing to lose has nothing to fear.

Someone in the conversation that followed the first go-round of the relationship poster used the argument that a person who hits on a hundred women a day might succeed in finding sex partners in the short term, but will likely eventually run out of people to hit on and also end up being socially ostracized.

I find this argument a little baffling. It is not lack of courage that prevents me from hitting on a hundred people a day; it’s the fact that hitting on a hundred people a day wouldn’t succeed in getting me the kind of relationship I value. Hitting on every woman I see would not be an act of courage, because I don’t want a relationship–or sex, for that matter–with every woman I see.

Which brings up what courage is.

Courage is making decisions that take you closer to what you want, or to the person you want to be, even when you’re scared. Courage is not allowing fear to be in the driver’s seat. Courage is talking to the person you are interested in, even though you’re aware that you may be rejected.

Courage is saying “I will reach for what I want” rather than saying “I have been hurt before, and I don’t want to be hurt again, so I’m not going to risk it; I’m just going to sit here and do nothing.” Courage is saying “This new thing you’re doing scares me; it makes me feel unsure and insecure, but I will support you in it anyway” rather than “This thing you’re doing scares me; I forbid you to do it.”

I have tried both approaches. Moving with courage more often results in me having the life that I want to have than allowing my fears to control my actions does. Relationships with people who move with courage are more satisfying to me than relationships with people who don’t.

Now, sure, moving with courage is not always rewarded. Again, if there were no possibility of hurt or loss, there would be no virtue in courage. Yes, you might reach out for what you want and come up short. You might be rejected. You might be hurt. Absolutely.

But what’s the alternative? Never reaching for what you want? Always backing down in the face of fear? Never choosing the harder path? What does that gain, other than a life lived from cradle to grave by the path of least resistance?

If one person reaches for the relationship she wants ten times, and is rejected nine of those times, and another person never reaches for what he wants for fear of rejection, which of them has been more rewarded? The person who was hurt but now has the life she wants, or the person who has never been hurt but also never been happy?

Life rewards people who move in the direction of greatest courage. Yes, moving with courage means running the risk of being hurt. But hiding in the corner, afraid to take a chance, also hurts; it’s just that it hurts all the time, so you become less aware of it.

And being hurt isn’t the end of the world. Broken hearts mend. Indeed, I’ve written in the past about the value of having your heart broken; often, it’s in the way we deal with pain and loss that the best inside us has the chance to blossom.

To live a life built on a foundation of fear, in the end, breaks far more than just a heart. It destroys any chance of having anything worth keeping. Moving with courage means risking pain; but failure of courage means risking everything.

Courage is not fearlessness, or recklessness, or desperation. It is choosing who you want to be, deciding what kind of life you want to have, and then moving toward that even when it’s scary. It is not rewarded every single time; we do not always get what we want, and sometimes, we get hurt. Courage is in living the life we want in spite of that. If there is any other way to be happy, I have not found it.

Some thoughts on parasites, ideology, and Malala Yousafzai

This is Malala Yousafzai. As most folks are by now aware, she is a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for the crime of saying that girls should get an education. Her shooting prompted an enormous backlash worldwide, including–in no small measure of irony–among American politicians who belong to the same political party as legislators who say that children ought to be executed for disrespecting their parents.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about what seems to be two different and at least theoretically unrelated things: parasitology and ideology, specifically religious ideology. This might seem to have nothing to do with Malala Yousafzai’s shooting, but it really isn’t.

When I say I’ve been reading about parasitology, what I mean by that is my Canadian sweetie has been reading to me about parasitology. Specifically, she’s been reading me a book called Parasite Rex, which makes the claim that much of evolutionary biology, including the development of sexual reproduction, is driven by parasites. It’s been a lot of fun; I never knew I’d enjoy being read to so much, even though the subject matter is sometimes kinda yucky.

What’s striking to me is that these things–religious ideology and parasitology–are in some ways the same thing in two different forms.

Parasites make their living by invading a host, then using the host’s resources to spread themselves. To this end, they do some amazing manipulation of the host. Some parasites, for instance, are able to alter a host’s behavior to promote their own spread. Sometimes it’s as crude as irritating the host’s throat to promote coughing which spreads hundreds of millions of virus particles. Other times, it’s as bizarre and subtle as influencing the host’s mind to change the way the host responds to fear, in order to make it more likely that the host will be eaten by a predator, which will then infect itself with the same parasite. In fact, parasitologists today are discovering that the study of life on Earth IS the study of parasites; parasites, more than any other single factor, may be the most significant determinant in the ratio of predator to prey biomass on this planet.

Religious ideology would seem to be a long way off from parasitism, unless you consider that ideas, like parasites, spread themselves by taking control of a host and modifying the host’s behavior so as to promote the spread of the idea.

This isn’t a new concept; Richard Dawkins coined the term ‘meme’ to describe self-replicating ideas decades ago.

But what’s striking to me is how direct the comparison is. The more I learn about parasites, the more I come to believe that parasites and memes aren’t allegories for each other; parasites ARE memes, and vice versa.

We tend to think of parasites like toxoplasma as being real things, and ideas like the salvation of Jesus Christ as being abstract concepts that don’t really exist the same way that real things do. But I don’t think that’s true.

Ideas exist in physical form. It might be as a series of symbols printed in a book or as a pattern of neural connections stored inside a brain, but no matter how you slice it, ideas have a physical existence. An idea that does not exist in any physical way, even as neuron connections wired into a person’s head, doesn’t exist.

Similarly, parasites are information, just like ideas are. A strand of DNA is nothing but an encoded piece of information, in the same sense that a series of magnetic spots on a hard disk are information. In fact, researchers have made devices that use DNA molecules to store computer information, treating banks of DNA as if they were hard drives.

In a sense, ideas and organisms aren’t different things. They are the same thing written into the world in different ways. An idea that takes control of a host’s brain and modifies the host to promote the spread of the idea is like a parasite that takes control of a host and modifies it to spread the parasite. The fact that the idea exists as configurations of connections of neurons rather than as configurations of nucleotides isn’t as relevant as you might think.

We can treat ideas the same way we treat parasites or diseases. We can use the tools of epidemiology to track how ideas spread. We can map the virulence of ideas in exactly the same way that we map the virulence of diseases.

Religion is unquestionably a meme–a complex idea that is specifically designed to spread itself, sometimes at the host’s expense. A believer infected with a religious ideology who kills himself for his belief is no different than a moose infected with a parasite that dies as a result of the infection; the parasite in both cases has hijacked the host, and subverted the host’s own biological existence for its own end.

The more I see the amazing adaptations that parasites have made to help protect themselves and spread themselves, the more I’m struck by how memes, and especially religious memes, have made the same adaptations.

Some parasitic wasps, for example, will create multiple types of larva in a host caterpillar–larva that go on to be more wasps, and larva that act as guardians, protecting the host from infection by other parasites by eating any new parasites that come along. Similarly, religious memes will protect themselves by preventing their host from infection by other memes; many successful religions teach that other religions are created by the devil and are therefore evil, and must be rejected.

We see the same patterns of host resistance to parasites and to memes, too. A host species exposed to the same parasites for many generations will tend to develop a resistance to the parasites, as individuals who are particularly vulnerable to the parasites are selected against and individuals particularly resistant to the parasites are selected for by natural selection. Similarly, a virulent religious meme that causes many of its hosts to die will gradually face resistance in its host population, as particularly susceptible individuals are killed and particularly resistant individuals gain a survival advantage.

Writers like Sam Harris and Michael Shermer talk about how people in a pluralistic society can not really accept and live by the tenets of, say, the Bible, no matter how Bible-believing they consider themselves to be. The Bible advocates slavery, and executing women for not being virgins on their wedding night, and destroying any town where prophets call upon the citizens to turn away from God; these are behaviors which you simply can’t do in an industrialized, pluralistic society. So the members of modern, industrialized societies–even the ones who call themselves “fundamentalists” and who say things like “the Bible is the literal word of God”–don’t really act as though they believe these things are true. They don’t execute their wives or sell their daughters into slavery. The memes are not as effective at modifying the hosts as they used to be; they have become less virulent.

But new or mutated memes, like new parasites, always have the chance of being particularly virulent. Their host populations have not developed resistance. In the Middle East, in places where an emergent strain of fundamentalist Islam leads to things like the Taliban shooting Malala Yousafzai, I think that’s what we’re seeing–a new, virulent meme. islam itself is not new, of course, but to think that the modern strains of Islam are the same as the original is to think that the modern incarnations of Christianity are akin to the way Jesus actually lived; it’s about as far off the mark as thinking a bird is a dinosaur. They share a common heritage, but that’s all. They have evolved into very different organisms.

And this particular meme, this particular virulent strain of Islam, is canny enough to attack its host immune system directly. The Taliban targeted Malala Yousafzai because she favors education for women. Education, in many ways, provides an immunological response to memes; it is no accident that Tammy Faye Bakker famously said that it’s possible to educate yourself right out of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s no accident that Fundamentalism in all of its guises tends to be anti-intellectual and anti-education.

I’m not saying that the meme of religion (or any other meme) is inherently bad, of course. Memes have different strains; there are varieties of any large religion that are virulent and destructive to their host population, and other strains that are less virulent and more benign.

But with parasitic ideas as with parasitic biological entities, it is important to remember that the goal of the parasite is not necessarily the same as the goal of its host. Parasites attempt to spread themselves, often at the host’s expense. the parasite’s interests are not the host’s interests. Even a seemingly benign meme, such as a meme that says it is important to be nice to each other in order to gain an everlasting reward in heaven, might harm its host species if it siphons away resources to spread itself through churches that might otherwise have been used to, for example, research new cures for cancer. At the more extreme end, even such a benign meme might cause its adherents to say things like “We as a society don’t need to invest in new biomedical nanotechnology to promote human longevity, because we believe that we will live forever if we abide by the strictures of this meme and help to spread it through our works.”

Virulent memes tend to be anti-intellectual, because education is often a counter to their spread. Malala Yousafzai was targeted because she represents the development of an immune response to a virulent, destructive meme that is prevalent in the environment where she was born.

New poster: Relationship Principles (I wish I had learned in kindergarten)

On a mailing list I read, I recently wrote an article summarizing the basic things about relationships that I wish I had learned in elementary school. Several folks have suggested I make it into a poster. Here’s a first go-round of a poster version, which I plan to have printed if there’s enough interest. Let me know what you think!

The principles themselves are:

You can not expect to have what you want if you do not ask for what you want.

Just because you feel bad doesn’t necessarily mean someone did something wrong.

Just because you feel good doesn’t necessarily mean that what you’re doing is right.

Integrity matters—not for the people around you, but for you.

Life rewards people who move in the direction of greatest courage.

An expectation on your part does not incur an obligation on someone else’s.

When you feel something scary or unpleasant, talk about it.

Your partners add value to your life; treat them preciously.

Make sure your partner’s heart is safe in your hands.

The easiest way to attract people with the qualities you desire is to be the sort of person that someone with those qualities finds interesting.

People are not commodities.

There are a whole lot of things your partner will do that are Not About You.

Different people express love in different ways; learn to recognize the way your partner speaks of love, so that you know it when you see it.

Don’t treat people the way you’d have them treat you; treat them the way they’d have you treat them.

Pay attention.

We are all born of frailty and error; it is important that we forgive one another’s failings reciprocally.

Being in a relationship that does not meet your needs is not necessarily better than being alone.

Love is abundant.

It is not necessary to be the best at everything, nor even the best at anything; alone of all the people in the world, only you bring your unique mix of qualities to the table.

Relationships entered into from conscious choice are often more rewarding than ones entered into out of default assumptions.

Don’t play games, especially with other people’s hearts.

The things you think are important when you’re theorizing about relationships are not always the things that turn out to be important.

Be flexible.

A relationship with a partner who chooses, every day, to be with you is more satisfying than a relationship with a partner who is with you because he or she can’t leave.

Real security comes from within.

People are not need fulfillment machines.

Don’t look to others to complete you.

Change is a part of life.

Occasionally, you will feel awkward, uncomfortable, or both; that’s normal, and not something to be feared.

We are all lousy at predicting how we will respond to new or unfamiliar situations.

When you hurt someone—and you will—suck it up, take responsibility for it, and do whatever you can to make it right.

There will be times when relationships end; it doesn’t mean they were a failure, or that the other person is a bad person.

Your heart will, at some point, almost certainly be broken, and that’s okay; you will survive, and find love again.

Feelings are not fact.

Fear of intimacy is the enemy of happiness.

The times when compassion is the most difficult are the times when it’s most necessary.

Don’t vilify those who hurt you; they are still people, too.

It is possible to deeply, profoundly love someone to the bottom of your heart and still not be a good partner for that person.

Being uncomfortable is not , by itself, a reason not to do something.

It is almost impossible to be generous or compassionate if all you feel is fear of loss.

The world is the way it is, not the way we want it to be.

Life’s song is filled with beauty and chaos and joy and sorrow and pain and uncertainty and ecstasy and heartache and passion; to fear any of these things is to fear life.

Benchmarks for Good Relationships

On another forum I read, the subject of how to tell whether or not a relationship is a good one–benchmarks, if you will, for positive, vibrant relationships–was raised.

I put some thought to the question of creating benchmarks for good relationships, and came up with this set:

1. Am I striving to treat others with compassion, even when it’s hard? Am I being treated with compassion?

2. Does this relationship offer me the opportunity to grow and develop in the way that feeds me and makes me happy? Does it offer the same opportunities to all the other people involved?

3. Am I moving with courage in this relationship? Are the people around me moving with courage?

4. Does this relationship help me to be the best possible version of myself? When I look around at the other folks involved, do I see the best of them?

5. Can I say whatever I need to say, whenever I need to say it, and have a reasonable expectation that I will be heard and understood? Am I creating an environment where everyone else can tell me what they need to say, even if it’s something I don’t want to hear, and I will hear it?

6. Is this relationship fair to everyone concerned? Not “fair” as in “everyone gets the same thing,” but “fair” in that “everyone has a hand in the relationship, everyone’s voice can be heard, and everyone has the ability to help build the things that make their parts of it happy and healthy.”

7. Does this relationship give all the people involved the opportunity and support they need to pursue their joy?

This is a first stab at the question of defining benchmarks for good relationships. I think there might be some things I’m missing. Opinions? What would a list of benchmarks for healthy relationships look like to you?