Primal Impulses: Journey Toward’s Self-Discovery- Part 2
The limbic system, the emotional and feeling brain that human beings share with mammals and primates, is the next level of conscious awareness. The primary functions of the mammalian brain are the recognition, display and comprehension of emotion, sexual stimulation and arousal, and the storage and conscious integration of memories.
The limbic systems primary neural structures are the hippocampus, hypothalamus, thalamus and amygdala; each exhibit their own unique qualities to assist humans with processing and relaying information across the brain, understanding emotions, storing memories, learning and expressing particular behaviors. In addition to these neural processes, the limbic system also assists the cerebral cortex with other higher consciousness psychic mechanisms; such as, time perception, conscious awareness, instincts and interacting in social relationships.
The mammalian brain acts as a mediator between the instinctual, reptilian brain and the higher conscious, cerebral cortex. The accumulation of memories in the limbic system influences the specific emotions that we attach to particular memories and their strength of connection; the greater the emotional reaction or repetition of an activity, the stronger the connection. The memories that we attach to our sense of smell are especially strong because the olfactory bulb, the neural structure involved in the sense of smell, connects directly to the amygdala, the location where our emotions are processed.
Sensory information from the other four senses are processed in the more rational, logical, cerebral cortex, meaning that they elicit a slower and less potent emotional reaction compared to our sense of smell. Although human beings rely on the sense of smell much less than the more primitive animal species, we still possess the same neurological mechanisms of other mammals, who require the sense of smell to communicate with other animals, to find a mate, and to look for food. As human evolutionary history moves away from the primitive communication techniques of reptiles and mammals and more towards greater Self-awareness and meta-cognitive communication from the cerebral cortex, the strength of our senses may shift or may completely change altogether as our interactions with each other adapt to the changing technological world around us.
The amygdala are two almond-shaped neural structures found deep within the temporal lobes of the brain and are responsible for decision making, forming and attaching emotional contents to new memories and determining where they are stored; expressing emotional responses; and conveying feelings of pleasure, anxiety, aggression, anger and fear. The amygdala plays a major role in what humans call, fear conditioning, the process by which our behavior is altered by new memories that are associated with fear or danger. In frightening situations, the amygdala is hyperactive, causing body functions to change, heart rate to increase, pupils to dilate, and alertness to heighten to prepare for the fight, flight, or freeze response. Information from the amygdala passes to the hypothalamus for further processing and interpretation.
The hypothalamus is a small nerve bundle found within the limbic system that assists with the synthesis and secretion of neurohormones and also assists with maintaining homeostasis in the body. The hypothalamus acts as a link between the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the endocrine system (chemical messenger system of glands and hormones) by releasing hormones across the pituitary gland, which are then spread across the body. The hypothalamus plays an important role in controlling the stress and emotional response in dangerous situations by balancing breathing, body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure.
The thalamus sits directly above the hypothalamus and acts as a detection and relay center for sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex. After relaying sensory information to the cerebral cortex, our minds will then transmit the neural impulses into the appropriate sensation, i.e. touch, sight, taste, hearing. The thalamus helps regulate our conscious awareness and our overall perception, in addition to maintaining a healthy level of awareness through proper sleep cycles.
The hippocampus is a seahorse shaped neural structure that consolidates short and long-term memory and assists in the coordination of spacial orientation. Damage to the hippocampus is prevalent in Alzheimer’s patients, resulting in confusion, memory loss, and an inability to form new memories. Older, long-term memories are stored elsewhere in the brain, so damage to the hippocampal region will not effect them the same way as short-term memories.
The cerebral cortex- the largest, most advanced and complex area of the brain- is what separates human beings from all other animal species on Earth. This neural region covers the entire outer layer of the brain with folds (gyrus) and grooves (sulcus), giving the brain its distinct wrinkly appearance. A newborn babies brain is smooth at birth, but as new memories, behaviors and habits form, the mind develops these folds and ridges, allowing the brain to store greater amounts of information and perform higher cognitive functions within the compact area of the skull with greater density.
The cerebral cortex is divided into two halves (left and right hemispheres). These two hemispheres are connected in the middle of the brain by the corpus callosum, which is a bundle of nerve fibers that allows information to travel from one side of the brain to the other. Each hemisphere consists of four regions (lobes), which are responsible for specific cognitive functions: parietal lobe, occipital lobe, temporal lobe and frontal lobe.
The cerebral cortex plays a role in many higher cognitive functions, including: memory, attention, perception, cognition, awareness, meta-awareness, thought, language, consciousness, social interaction, sensory processing, complex problem solving and planning, impulse control, creativity, personality, morality, development and pursuit of goals, differentiates among conflicting thoughts, inhibits counterproductive behavior, and predicts future outcome from present behavior. These mental processes and behaviors are what distinguish human beings from all other animal species and what provide us with the tools to operate within and understand the physical universe.
The frontal lobe, the largest and most recent area of the brain to evolve, is located behind the forehead. This brain region is responsible for many complex cognitive behaviors like decision making, problem solving, attention and emotional expression that enable the functions of higher human consciousness.
The frontal lobe provides human beings the ability to produce and comprehend language by putting thoughts into words and coherent sentences; helps humans recognize, understand and react to the feelings and emotions of others; assists in the formation of new memories; coordinates impulse control to determine consequences from present actions through deductive reasoning; helps to compare and categorize objects; involved in the development of a persons personality though interactions, behaviors, and the formations of new memories; coordinates primary motor control; engages in the pursuit of reward-seeking behavior and motivation through the release of dopamine, the pleasure seeking neuron; and plays a major role in meta-cognition, Self-awareness, and consciousness.
This feeling and awareness of what it is like to be a separate ego in the physical world is a projection of the accumulation of our experiences, memories, habits, and behaviors from our past and our conscious awareness in the present moment to express them in an individualized pattern of personality.
The parietal lobe is located at the top of the head, just behind the frontal lobe. The primary function of this lobe is to assist in the coordination and navigation of spacial awareness, a process known as proprioception, the perception and awareness of movement in space; also helps to localize our sense of touch by determining the sensation of objects in space; assists in the integration and organization of sensory input from other areas of the brain and body; provides a mental map of the physical, visual world; assists in the assessment of shape, size, number and distance of objects in the physical world; also coordinates attention, processes language, and comprehends reading, writing and mathematical computation.
The occipital lobe is a small region located at the back of the brain, where our visual processing center is located. The primary visual cortex receives and processes visual input from the eyes and helps coordinate accurate responses by transmitting input to other areas of the brain. The occipital lobe assigns meaning to and remembers visual perceptions; coordinates the ability to read and recognize printed words; creates a map of the visual world to assist in spacial navigation and visual memory; detects presence and location of light; determines and distinguishes between colors; also measures space, distance, depth and size of objects.
The temporal lobes are located on the sides of the head, above the ears. These lobes are responsible for speech production and language comprehension (processed in Wernicke’s and Broca’s area); processing auditory and visual perception and facial recognition; organizes and attaches meaning to sensory input; coordinates functions of the limbic system by processing input from the amygdala (our fear response) and hippocampus (our emotional-sensory connection and memory); also processes input from the olfactory bulb to determine our sense of smell.
The journey inwards, towards Self-actualization, requires an evolution of thought and action, greater personal responsibility, and Self-discipline to overcome the unconscious mental barriers of the primitive and instinctual ego. Ignorance is a self-imposed prison of ones own choosing. Escaping from the darkness of unconscious behavior requires a rigorous Self-analysis that many individuals fail to address for fear of finding a hidden and uncomfortable truth that may uncover a buried and unconscious aspect of the Self, disguising and projecting itself as a primitive ego. We create fictitious problems to answer illogical questions about our illusory ego, while recklessly and futilely defending that ego on the grounds of protecting that individualized person we believe to be our true Self.
We often fail to realize that the ego we defend is the image that society, our friends, family, enemies, and the surrounding culture have given us. We exist inside of this bubble of ego dominance and control and never allow our real Self to shine through without the fettered attachments and false persona that weigh us down each day. Our thoughts, feelings, behaviors and emotions flow through on unconscious habit, which creates a repetitive cycle of willful ignorance that discourages conscious and free thought, promoting instead, a state of dependence and autonomous action determined by our past experience. Not until we make the conscious decision to look within ourselves and answer those deep dreams, goals, and ambitions can we hope to break from our dominator ego consciousness and awaken the higher conscious and unique Self that each of us are meant to be. Part 3