Friday, 6 December 2019


In the aftermath of a losing battle, regardless of how aggressively a lobster has behaved, it becomes unwilling to fight further, even against another, previously defeated opponent. 

A vanquished competitor loses confidence, sometimes for days. Sometimes the defeat can have even more severe consequences. 

If a dominant lobster is badly defeated, its brain basically dissolves. Then it grows a new, subordinate’s brain—one more appropriate to its new, lowly position. 

Its original brain just isn’t sophisticated to manage the transformation from king to bottom dog without virtually complete dissolution and regrowth. 

Anyone who has experienced a painful transformation after a serious defeat in romance or career may feel some sense of kinship with the once successful crustacean. 

The Neurochemistry of Defeat and Victory 

A lobster loser’s brain chemistry differs importantly from that of a lobster winner. This is reflected in their relative postures. Whether a lobster is confident or cringing depends on the ratio of two chemicals that modulate communication between lobster neurons: serotonin and octopamine. 

Winning increases the ratio of the former to the latter. A lobster with high levels of serotonin and low levels of octopamine is a cocky, strutting sort of shellfish, much less likely to back down when challenged. 

This is because serotonin helps regulate postural flexion. A flexed lobster extends its appendages so that it can look tall and dangerous, like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti Western. 

When a lobster that has just lost a battle is exposed to serotonin, it will stretch itself out, advance even on former victors, and fight longer and harder. 

The drugs prescribed to depressed human beings, which are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, have much the same chemical and behavioural effect. In one of the more staggering demonstrations of the evolutionary continuity of life on Earth, Prozac even cheers up lobsters. 

High serotonin/ low octopamine characterizes the victor. The opposite neurochemical configuration, a high ratio of octopamine to serotonin, produces a defeated-looking, scrunched-up, inhibited, drooping, skulking sort of lobster, very likely to hang around street corners, and to vanish at the first hint of trouble. 

Serotonin and octopamine also regulate the tail-flick reflex, which serves to propel a lobster rapidly backwards when it needs to escape. 

Less provocation is necessary to trigger that reflex in a defeated lobster. You can see an echo of that in the heightened startle reflex characteristic of the soldier or battered child with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The Principle of Unequal Distribution 

When a defeated lobster regains its courage and dares to fight again it is more likely to lose again than you would predict, statistically, from a tally of its previous fights. 

Its victorious opponent, on the other hand, is more likely to win. It’s winner-take-all in the lobster world, just as it is in human societies, where the top 1 percent have as much loot as the bottom 50 percent11—and where the richest eighty-five people have as much as the bottom three and a half billion.

“One time, sparring with another white belt, I was choked out with a ‘guillotine’ choke, where one arm is round your head like a playground headlock and the other under your throat pulling upwards. 

Because it was another beginner, not Chris or another warlord from the control end of the room, the sparring was competitive and – this is interesting – my ego was suddenly invited back into the equation. 

When I’m sparring with Chris the relationship has explicit and implicit safety built into it, I’m not competing, I couldn’t compete, I’m learning. When it’s against Dave, Smasher, my ego would do just as well to pit itself against the hydraulic jaws of a garbage truck. 

Against another white belt, my ego sees a little chance for glory and sidles in where it would best be left out. As the choke took hold and I felt beaten and submitted it were as if the wrench on my neck had opened a valve to an inaccessible cellar where my bruised adolescent self lay hiding. 

I sat quietly afterwards, uncertain of what I felt. 

My wife remarked that I was quiet that evening and I, reluctantly (ego, again) told her what had happened.

She almost thought it funny, not in a derisory way or in a way that made me feel more ashamed and defensive, but in a way that highlighted the idiosyncrasy of my feeling. 

I spoke about it to someone else who doesn’t drink and does Jiu Jitsu and he explained that it’s a contact sport and that these feelings are normal and have to be accepted. I learned an important lesson through that particular experience. 

I had avoided an entire aspect of my nature because of an unwillingness to confront the vulnerability, no, the shame, that is inhered within physical defeat. 

It came to me in this way, this may not be historically true, but mythically it is: 

I • As a boy I could fight, I had no fear. 
II • As an adolescent I was not initiated. 
III • As I awoke, I was not shown how to live at the new frequency, I had only women to observe and ‘role model’. 

• When violence came, as it does to all teenage boys, I was not equipped and the shame killed a part of me, it put it ‘underground’. 

• I was too afraid to try and revive it; it was in adolescence of course that I became a drug addict. 

• I did not become willing to go into The Underworld until I killed the person I had to become to survive my youth. 

• When I finally went there, in my middle years, through the means of Jiu Jitsu, I needed a mentor, in this case Chris, to hold the space for me.”

Russell Brand,

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