March 10, 2014
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Our entire life from conception to our death is about utilizing resources to maintain our existence. Things go along smoothly, our DNA manifesting itself according to its best blueprint, until and unless we find anywhere along the line that resources available to us are no longer adequate for this job.
Then what? If we do not have some level of competency to maintain our lives in the face of constantly changing circumstances, then we better learn something new and get on with business. If we can’t, or we don’t, then we die.
All living entities have boundaries and systems in place to assess stimuli in order to know if it is friend or foe. Do things help our chances of survival or do they harm and hinder us? “Let things in or keep them out?,” that is the question. We have to first of all know our boundaries. Secondly we must have a reasonable degree of success in assessing harm from help. Thirdly we must have adequate resources to deal with the harm.
That is why we have an immune system. As far as I can tell, from following my own thinking through my own research I have come to understand that all our emotions are simply operations on some level of our immune system.
Researchers identify disgust, surprise, anger, sadness and fear as being basic human emotions around the globe. Interestingly, they do not always include happiness. Why? Because the expression of joy is not a universally read signal. The meaning of a smile, for example, varies from culture to culture. The expression of the Big Five emotions are universally recognized within our species world wide, and are done so from a very early stage of infancy.
These basic five emotions are built into our bodies — into our brain/nervous system/immune system — as part of the inevitable structure of our species. Being able to express them and have them signaled to others so that they can be instantaneously recognized becomes a sort of mirroring activity. It tells us that “I know that you know that I know that you know what I know….” A fascinating aspect of my studies has to do with where the lines of demarcation are that divide yet link our emotions as they relate to our actions and our empathy abilities through the help of what is called ‘mirror neurons.’
Also interestingly, joy ( See below: *Joy and Happiness) is an emotion that the brain does not consider essential for survival. It is what could be called a ‘surface’ emotion and occurs through involvement of brain cells, called neurons, in a small area of the left brain we could call our happy center. Our other powerful emotions of anger, sadness and fear are our essential survival emotions. We would have vanished as a species and as individuals a long, long time ago if these emotions were not our most powerful allies in the struggle to stay alive.
Surprise is tied to the startle response, or startle reflex. We all know what that feels like. Disgust evolved as an instantaneous alert signal that allows one person to watch the face of someone else as they eat something. If I should have that same whatever in my mouth as you do, and I see an instant expression of disgust on your face, I will spit out the whatever as fast as I possibly can because you are telling me the whatever may well be poisonous.
Very efficient detection and communication system tied to our immune system’s survival response. There would not be time to take the ‘high’, slow road of higher cortical thinking to protect us from strong poison. Our bodies are prepared in such cases to use the extremely fast, ‘low’ road of instantaneous response to such a threat. Automatic programming reaction — spit it out now!
I believe that the emotion of disgust is intimately connected to our sense of smell. The shortest neuronal pathway in the brain and the fastest circuit is about our sense of smell. After all, we could smell one another through this sense long before our brains developed far enough to allow us to react to and send back signals based on what we could see. After all, ‘back then’ (and even today) we used smell to identify and respond for reproduction matters such as finding and recognizing mates and finding and caring for our young.
All of our other survival emotions reside in the right brain in a very early developing area called the limbic system. This ancient part of our brain grew around our center for smell.
Because to one extent or another most of us have the blessing of having the resource of a ‘higher’ mind, we expect ourselves and others to use it. Not always the wisest course of action. When it comes to the truest form of wisdom, our bodies will always win over our higher mind. If not, we can die. Our higher brain can lose track of time in the instantaneous present, and if a threat of severe nature has encompassed us, it is not our higher brain that will keep us alive.
If the higher brain has been able to anticipate threat and therefore to protect us or defend us ahead of time, all should be fine and good. If this ‘future memory’ ability of the cortex could not do this job, then the lower levels of our immune system response have to become activated. These ‘lower, slower’ responses would not ever cause us problems unless something within us is out of balance.
It is here that I will introduce what I consider the MOST IMPORTANT EMOTION. It is not one that the researchers consider as being one of our primary emotions. Perhaps I am inaccurate when I call it an emotion at all. It IS a state of being, but I believe we recognize it as an emotion: Calmness.
Any time there exists a state of imbalance in our bodies we will recognize it most easily by detecting THAT A STATE OF CALMNESS IS MISSING. I call this calmness a state of well being. Any time we EVER feel anything other than calm we must realize that our BIG BOSS, which is our immune system, is sending us information through the signals of our emotions.
When not in this perfect state of calm the energy in our bodies is moving us in the form of an EMOTION = our energy is in motion. Think of it as a stone thrown into a still pool of water. We feel the ripples. That is how we know the stone was not only thrown, but has affected us and there’s something we need to pay attention to, assess and respond to.
To the extent that we are balanced all the way out from center (assuming also that we are living in a balanced, safe and secure environment), we will be able to respond appropriately. This is how I define RESPONSIBILITY, or the ‘ability to respond.’ We are either competent in having and utilizing our resources to respond adequately or we are not.
If such a lack regarding our resources exists on any level, then we don’t have the necessary ability to respond and we have a ‘dis-ability.’ We will not be able to get back to a state of calm equilibrium, which is a state of order in our bodies — and we will then experience a state of ‘dis-order.’ (Yes, this IS about ‘ease’ and ‘dis-ease.’ But it is NOT about function or dysfunction in my book! As a wise person once told me, “We are not pencil sharpeners!”)
Interestingly enough, in ‘western’ mode thinking, we consider that joy would be the emotion and state of being that is most desirable. I don’t buy this. It isn’t logical and it’s not correct. When the ‘pursuit of happiness’ does not originate from and return us to a centered state of calm equilibrium then we are off the mark from the start and our trajectory will be equally misguided.
I suspect that our current economic imbalance stems from such a ‘dis-ability.’ We are talking about resources here, and economics is ultimately about resources. Our immune system responses are designed to provide us with the most ‘economical’ way of getting through our lives as we prepare for the future of our species. Not economical? Expect a crash. It is common sense, and our higher cortical brain knows this. We are no longer children, so we are just plain stupid if we make ignorant bad choices the starting point of our own demise. If we fall — hard — there will be nobody else to blame but ourselves.
What any cell can tell us is that a calm state of balanced equilibrium is the goal. Call it a state of homeostatic equilibrium, it would mean the same thing. At this point of calmness all is right in our world both internally and externally. There is no demand being made, not that demands are a bad thing. They usually aren’t. But once a demand is recognized by the body (and brain) it means that additional action must now begin. A process will be engaged that consumes far more energy and attention than does calmness.
When brain researchers became able to watch the brain with their high-science (HiSci) equipment, they found that our human brain is always involved in using energy. They eventually called this the ‘resting state’ and had to take this ongoing business of the brain into account whenever they wanted to test the effects on the brain of assigning it a challenge or a job to accomplish. When the brain receives a task to do, the areas of the brain involved in this resting state buzz of activity shift, and the energy moves elsewhere until the job is done and the brain’s resting state activity is resumed.
I have not taken the time yet to research something that seems important to me – the implication of this resting brain state and the brain regions involved as they relate to how we have, use and build our sense of self. I think in these areas is where we will find the brain region that belongs to this SELF.
High on the road map will be an area called the medial parietal region which includes the precuneus. This area is extremely protected by and within the brain itself, and until now has been extremely difficult for researchers to ‘visit’ in their studies. It is also not an area often subject to ‘brain damage’ and hence has not in the past appeared paramount to study.
I mention this because the nature of our experience and of all the things we wonder about as humans would not exist without the selfhood abilities of our species. For one, without this ability we would not be even one tiny bit concerned with the subject of emotions. Having emotions is not unique to humans. Puzzling ourselves over them, and the states of being they seem to create within us, is uniquely a human matter (as far as we know).
If we find that we cannot easily return to a state of calmness we must recognize exactly what is keeping us from it and attempt to change something, inside ourselves or out, in order for this calm state of well being to be returned to us — assuming that we were blessed anywhere back in our beginnings with a state of calm in the first place. If we do not have calmness at our center then we have some version of unresolved trauma going on and are being exposed to the effects of The Storm. How do we stop this storm from involving us in its energies?
This, after all, is the most important learning we can accomplish in our lifetime because it directly affects what’s happening with our life force and determines what the quality of our life is and will be (and to a large extent the quality of life for future generations).