Soulmates. The history was mostly mythology and fiction. Plato, theosophy, fairy tales, songs, legends, Red String of Fate, plays, dreams. Connection and heartbreak and completeness. Creation stories like Rangi and Pappa of the Maori people or Adam and Eve in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The tragedies of Orpheus and Eurydice, Osiris and Isis, or Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The happily ever afters of Westley and Buttercup or Cinderella and Prince Charming. Love at first sight. Reuniting reincarnated souls. Waking with a kiss.
Some people swore by the idea that somewhere out there was their perfect compliment, the one who would make them whole. Others dismissed it as wishful thinking or an idea that should stay in fairy tales. How does one account for life's miseries, for loneliness, for broken hearts, for divorce, for unrequited love, for too-soon deaths, if soulmates are real? Even those who believed had no tangible or scientific proof.
The advent of neuroimaging in the 1900s, specifically in the 1970s and '80s, led to an interesting discovery. In the late '80s, as scientists and researchers began mapping areas of the brain, they noticed that in roughly half of all test subjects, an area in the right temporal lobe would register activity when the subject was asked to think of or interact with their romantic partner. Researchers were baffled. Did this area have something to do with love or heightened emotion? And if so, why in only half of participants?
The first major breakthrough occurred in 1992, from a team working at Cambridge and comprised of American, British, French, and Japanese researchers. Intrigued by the activity in the right temporal lobe and the possible implications of romantic love in humans, the researchers worked with subjects in couples, from those having just met to some celebrating 60 years together. What they discovered was astonishing.
When one member of the pair was asked to think of the other, 43% of participants showed activity in the right temporal lobe. The longer the couple had been together, the more likely the chances of activity. But the miraculous part was that in that 43%, when one half of the couple was asked to think of their partner, their partner showed increased activity in the same area of the brain. Even when the partner was in another room or building or city, even when the partner was specifically told to think of something else, their brain showed activity when the other person thought of them. Science had started down the road to prove that two people uniquely shared a connection apart from anyone else in the world. Soulmates.
Subsequent research over the next few years showed that almost everyone had the same reaction in the place within the right temporal lobe – specifically the right angular gyrus, now known publicly as the "soulmate spot." People not in a relationship or with someone else could still engage the soulmate spot by thinking of an abstract potential partner or life together.
Most soulmates did not report any of the "signs" traditionally expected when meeting one's soulmate. Most didn't fall in love at first sight or feel electricity when they touched. Most didn't hear choirs or see fireworks. While many reported feeling an interest in or attraction to the other early on, that wasn't always the case. Over time, however, two people who shared a soulmate connection were three times more likely to describe themselves and their relationship as "happy" or "content." They were four times more likely to be in long-term relationships. They were seven times less likely to separate permanently.
Rarely, in roughly 2% of the population, the soulmate spot showed connections between two people other than romantic partners. Connections had been documented between siblings, parent and child, even platonic friends.
One by-product of the soulmate research was a huge leap forward in understanding gay and lesbian relationships, and subsequently, in equality and rights. If science could prove that two people, regardless of gender, were connected, arguments of choice and tradition and God's will were less valid. There were holdouts and continued judgment, of course, often by those who said that homosexual soulmates were actually part of the 2%. However, a majority of people became more tolerant and accepting of what used to be known as "alternative lifestyles."
The second breakthrough happened by accident in 2000.
Canadian and Australian researchers, in an attempt to map areas of the brain that could be retrained and rerouted after severe strokes, stimulated areas in a subject's right temporal lobe/angular gyrus and occipital lobes simultaneously. The result was what the subject called "an out of body experience where I could see but not hear in someone else's body." The incident was at first dismissed, but further testing and research showed that when those areas of the brain were stimulated, subjects could see through their soulmate's eyes for brief periods of time. The effects usually only lasted 2-8 minutes and were limited to vision only. The partner of the subject was unaware it was happening.
Everything changed. In America in 2005, the first legitimate Soulmate Finders opened for business. For several thousand dollars, customers could have a procedure done to look through their soulmate's eyes. Most spent the time verifying their soulmate's identity or, in cases where the person hadn't met their soulmate, searching for clues – location, objects in the field of vision, other people – anything that might point to whose eyes they were seeing through. The unlucky saw only darkness or muted light if their soulmate was asleep. The truly fortunate were able to catch glimpses of their soulmate in a mirror or see a name or address on a piece of paper.
Over the next couple of years, the procedures became safer and more reliable. Other countries, usually those with universal health care, offered Finder services either free of charge or with minimal payment. In America, the procedure continued to be out-of-reach for many of lower or average economic means until a little over a year ago when, in 2009, President Obama signed the Snowe-Harkin Soulmate Equality Act, giving every American over the age of 16 the right to one Soulmate Finder procedure every four years. The governmental restriction did not preclude anyone from paying for their own procedure as often and as many times as they wished.
Now, as people debate whether or not to try to find their soulmates, Americans have generally fallen into one of three groups. Actives are excited about the possibilities in either finding their soulmate or being found. Some have gone through Finder procedures as many as 15 times. Others have even gone so far as to provide clues such as tattooing their name on their hands or keeping a note with their name on it in their field of vision at all times. In one documented case, a man had his name tattooed on the inside of his eyelids and only slept facing light, so that if his soulmate happened to look through while he was sleeping, she could still see his name.
Others are Romantics, those who want to find their soulmate but without the neuromanipulation. Romantics contend that science has taken the mystery and romance out of looking for one's true love. While they do nothing to discourage a partner who might be trying to Find them, they do not give clues or have the procedure done themselves.
A small minority of Americans, and indeed the global population, are Dissenters. For any number of reasons, including a perceived violation of privacy or a belief that science shouldn't play God or fate, Dissenters work toward the abolition of Soulmate Finders. In the meantime, while the procedure is still legal, these people do whatever they can to keep themselves from being found. They close their eyes whenever possible and/or remove telling information from their houses and workplaces.
Blaine stops reading the informational website. There's no point in re-reading again for the seemingly millionth time. He knows what to expect. He has read the clinic brochures on exactly how the coils and whatever would be placed on his head. He knows the stats on how often people found who they were looking for the first time.
Blaine can't help but be excited, though. His sixteenth birthday was only two weeks ago, but he'd had his appointment for close to a year. The best facility in the area is the OSU Wexner Medical Clinic in Columbus, but they'd been booked solid for several months. His first free appointment there, made under the SHSE Act, isn't until March.
However, Blaine doesn't intend to wait that long. The closest place he'd been able to find with an appointment shortly after his birthday is in Lima, at a private clinic owned by Al Motta, a local businessman. Blaine (or more accurately his parents) has to pay, but it'll be worth it. Hopefully soon he'd know where to find his soulmate.
Just one week to go.