This topic began on the first of this month with an overview on trees. The rest of this thread will look at the applications of the Brain Overview" post.
We looked at the first feedback loop (formation of a full thought) in this post on the logical brain (cortex).
In the previous post, we looked at how the cortex and the amygdala (emotional portion of the brain) interact.
In this post we will look at the final part of the Brain Overview post...how the second feedback loop is completed.
The book that helped me make the connection between what we've been discussing on this blog for the last two plus years and the latest discoveries in brain research is Dr. Leaf's "Who Switched Off My Brain?" This post will quote heavily from this book.
The cortex and thalamus work together to form a full thought (experience, memories, and emotion). This electrical information is converted to a chemical by the hypothalamus and sent to the amygdala. The amygdala is also in contact with the "unaware brain" in the same way. The amygdala and cortex determine the individual's response to the thought...and behavior is exhibited.
The body now creates a new chemical that documents everything that has happened so far: full thought and behavior...and the emotion attached to the resulting behavior. This chemical goes to the hippocampus...and the rest of the body is notified about this chemical through "neurotransmitters" (some are a member of the chemical family called "peptides").
Every cell in the body (apart from the brain) has been notified of everything that has happened...whether the individual wants it to happen or not. The only control the individual has at this point is whether to complete the second feedback loop: to choose to put the chemical that is waiting in the hippocampus into the cortex (trees) in an electrical form.
The chemical will survive in the hippocampus for 24 to 72 hours. This is your short-term memory. If the person chooses not to put it into their mind (and this is a choice), the chemical burns away as heat energy.
Remember, a measure of intelligence is the ability to complete feedback loops and the speed at which they are completed. Choosing to complete this feedback loop results in an increase in intelligence. It also keeps the brain and body reconciled.
Notice, the chemical is mostly emotional. Remember during the first feedback loop, an alerting signal is sent to the brain to determine if the memories are positive or negative. Finding out something is negative actually hinders your willingness to search hard for the specific memory.
Choosing not to file this mostly emotional information away has a completely different effect...
From Dr. Leaf's book:
"One of the most valuable coping mechanisms you will learn in this book is how to consciously deal with your thoughts, actively accepting some and rejecting others."
"The worst thing you can do for your health is to deny, block or suppress emotions, whether they are good or bad. This makes them extremely toxic. The process of detoxifying your thoughts can be likened to "putting the library book back on the shelf." If it happens to be a life-threatening book, you may want to get rid of it altogether, building a new and healthy memory over an old, sick one."
"A wealth of scientific evidence supports the manifold benefits of engaging in the battle (in your mind), actively pouring good and correct information into your mind and body through the amygdala and hippocampus in your brain."
Dr. Leaf is showing that the healthiest thing to do is make an intentional decision about putting the information away. It is LUKEWARM to let the information dissipate away as heat energy. Even if you decide to put the information away in a totally self-justifying manner, it is orders of magnitude times healthier than not putting it away at all.
For instance, let's say I hit you. Now I have a choice of putting the information away in my brain as my fault or your fault. Even if I file it away as all your fault, it is much more healthy to do this than let it disappear, because I can always come back and fix the information that is filed. Dr. Leaf says it this way:
"You can't change something you don't know anything about. If you are physically or emotionally distressed but don't understand how your body and mind are connected, you won't be able to do anything about it."
To the person who lives in denial, they literally don't remember the bad behavior. However, every cell in their body knows about it and their amygdala actually uses the bad behavior to justify even worse behavior...that the individual can choose not to remember. From Dr. Leaf:
"In the physical, biochemical and neurological process involved in the formation of a thought, there is a certain point when you can control the thought and decide whether to accept it or reject it. Once the thought is beyond this cut-off point, it is no longer controllable and, if negative, has the potential to become a constant internal stressor with all the negative implications for your health in body and mind."
"Thus, as soon as you are exposed to a stressor, what you do next has enormous implications for your emotional and physical health and wellness."
"Modeling God" and this blog have presented the value of "stating your will" (e.g., prayer). For years I have seen numerous examples that stating your will results in a healthier thought life and increased intelligence. I have also seen that people who avoid stating their will end up getting sick or stressed out. Now, because of Dr. Leaf's book, I know WHY this concept works.
In fact, last week, USA Today posted the latest learnings of the causes of old age dementia:
"People who tend to overthink things might be protecting themselves from Alzheimer's, according to research presented Wednesday at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease."
"A slew of studies were presented at the meeting in Chicago that looked at how certain lifestyle factors, like rumination, and family history may affect a person's risk for dementia. Among their findings:"
"• Overthinking family and work troubles may be a good thing when it comes to late-life brain health, according to Israeli researchers. More than 9,000 men in midlife were asked to rate their tendency for rumination on a scale from 1 (always forget) to 4 (usually ruminate) when it comes to family and work difficulties. The scientists followed up three decades later performing dementia assessments in 1,892 of the 2,606 men who had survived. Dementia prevalence was up to 40% less in men who said they ruminated about life's matters more often, compared with men who had the lowest ruminating scores."
"• Being married or living with a partner was associated with a lower risk of dementia later in life, while remaining unmarried was linked to double the risk of developing cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer's, according to researchers from Finland and Sweden who examined 1,449 people participating in the Finnish Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia study at midlife and then again 21 years later. Divorced singles who remained alone had a three-fold increase in cognitive decline."
(UPDATE 6/26/12: Here is a link to an article that shows medicine is confirming a strong link between a stressful life and Alzheimer's! )
Basically, people who intentionally dealt with their short-term memory avoided old age dementia. People who avoided thinking both internally (forgetfulness, habits passed down from parents) and externally (because they lacked a spouse/partner) had a greater chance to develop old age dementia. And the information just keeps flowing...
Dr. Leaf goes on to explain how suppressing this mostly emotional information can lead to physical illness:
"Although you are completely unaware of these biochemical mechanisms, emotional expression is always tied to the specific flow of peptides in your body. When you chronically suppress emotions, you destabilize and disturb the intricate psychosomatic network by interfering with the peptide flow and feedback loops."
"Here's how this happens: peptides do a very good job of ensuring that the immune system kills tumors (the fact is, we all have cancer cells floating through our bodies all the time). Any destabilizing of the psychosomatic network disrupts the peptide flow, which then reduces apoptosis (death of cancer cells driven by the immune system). This creates the conditions under which cancer cells can accumulate and lead to the formation of a tumor."
"In a nutshell, the power of emotions over the whole body lies in how they integrate systems and coordinate mental processes and biology to create behavior. To ensure that behavior is constructive, positive and life-enhancing, you need to clarify the intention and emotion to create physiological integrity. If you are at cross-purposes, saying one thing but doing another, your emotions will likewise become confused. This causes toxic emotions that sabotage any likelihood of physiological and psychological integrity. This will in turn weaken the psychosomatic network leading to stress and eventually illness."
Saying one thing and doing another is the mark of a hypocrite. Now we see how hypocrisy occurs and why it is so damaging. Think about how different people responded in the Bible to being called a hypocrite. David recovered...the Pharisees didn't.
Your brain and body need to be reconciled...this shows why lying is so damaging.
When a person lies, they are at cross-purposes. Even if the person justifies it for appearance sake or not wanting to hurt someone's feelings, the result in the brain is the information is now "conditionally" filed. The information is available for certain people under specific conditions and not available (or an alternate version is available) for other situations.
When a person lies, they actually become a slave to the person they are lying. They now are required to maintain an alternate reality for the sake of the person they are lying to. The burden is on the liar...and the internal stress is literally toxic. Of all the actions a person can take, this information shows that lying (for whatever reason) is second only in destructiveness to living in denial.
THE VALUE OF EMOTIONS
In an earlier post I shared the definition of "evangelicalism" given by Nancy Pearsey in "Total Truth": "convincing people to give their life to God through emotions". She goes on to state:
“Evangelicalism was a renewal movement in the church. Its goal was not so much to convert non-believers as to enliven the faith of nominal believers – to bring individuals to a subjective experience of the saving truths of the gospel.”
The reality is that most of what we have filed away in our cortex (trees) is emotion. This is WHY EVERY fact in our brain has an emotion associated with it! In fact, it leads to a very interesting finding explained by Dr. Leaf:
"A fascinating aspect of all this interaction, and something you really need to be aware of, is that even though you can be presented with evidence that something is true, you won't really believe it, unless you feel it is true. It may be reasonable, logical, scientifically proven or just plain common sense, but you won't believe it unless your brain's limbic system (the seat of your emotions) allows you to feel it is true."
"Your emotions are not separate, but rather enmeshed in the neural networks of reason in your mind. The limbic system provides you with feelings that tell you what is real, true and important. You have your own criteria for this "self-convincing" process which are different from anyone else's because your memory and natural learning and thinking style is different."
We can't ignore the emotional component when we present information. However, we can't totally ignore the logical component. Look at Presidential elections...how much of a candidate's support is due to their logic and how much is due to how they make the public feel?
I now realize that a lot of the negative response I got to "Modeling God" in Appleton is due to this discrepancy. Some people were very angry about the book, yet they hadn't read it. I would tell them to 1) forget about the book (if they thought it was wrong) like they did with every other book they didn't agree with or 2) discuss the book with me. They wouldn't do either of these. It is amazing how many people didn't want to meet with me and didn't want to discuss the book with others, yet they couldn't let their emotion go...they couldn't forget about "Modeling God".
I believe they heard enough about it to logically know it was right, however they didn't emotionally feel it was right. Their response was either frustration or fear. Frustration over the fact that people who agreed with the book couldn't present it emotionally to them. Fear over the fact they knew they were unable to feel something was true that they logically knew was true.
What is the right balance of logic and emotion? Dr. Leaf states that the first information we get about an experience is emotional:
"This is why it is never wise to react to the first emotion you feel. It is a physiological response designed to alert and focus you, not to direct your actions."
"When your thoughts go wrong, your emotions rule; to overcome that, you need to learn to rule your emotions with wisdom and rational thinking."
"Emotional perceptions are not reliable because they can misinterpret the truth: they mix truth and fact. Their chemical nature, when allowed to run unchecked, causes them to rule the brain. The flow of chemicals of emotion that cause a lack of integrity in the brain immediately throws the body into a stress reaction that is potentially dangerous."
"Remember that perceptions are emotionally based and unreliable. Emotional perceptions are designed to create alertness, to guide but not to rule. You need to take them captive, tame and control them, take the opportunity to evaluate them thoroughly before believing them and acting upon them. If not, you allow your emotional perceptions to take over and rule you. If they happen to be negative or destructive emotions, you set the scene for irrational behavior, bad decision making and harmful reactions in both body and mind."
What is one of Dr. Leaf's methods for reconciling the body and brain?
"Frame your world with your words."
Basically, emotions are necessary to create alertness so that we can think...and then intentionally experience the emotions for a known cause. Words are the way all of this is reconciled.
This week we learned how physical illness and bad behavior are effects of our thought life. We learned that the worse thing a person can do is attempt to live in denial...to not choose to intentionally think and state their will. We learned why this behavior leads to the body producing toxic chemicals and damaging both brain and body.
In the past two years on this blog, we have seen that the church and "Christian" authors encourage us not to think, deny reality, attempt to have the effects (John Piper stating that we should just have the emotions without knowing the cause), focus on appearance (be polite), embrace tradition, and not understand the words we use.
Basically, the church and "Christian" authors are encouraging us to damage our brains and bodies.
The question has to be asked:
Does the Bible encourage us to damage our brains and bodies?
Next week we will look at what the Bible tells us to do and how it affects our brains and bodies.