Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Nov 1, 2012

Brain Exclusivity

I ran across an interesting article today about some research that seems to indicate the parts of the brain responsible for processing certain types of information may exercise a large degree of exclusivity.  When you're feeling emotional connections, the analytic portion is largely inhibited, and vice versa when you're doing analytic work the emotional centers are largely inhibited.

It's true that this happens, at least from my own personal experience, because I have problems with depression and anxiety so I generally keep my emotions suppressed by being as analytical as I can manage at all times.  Chances are, when I'm being emotional (and it happens more often than I'd like), I'm completely non-functional.  The analytic part of my brain works.  The emotional part is a mess, so I have to stomp on it.  Unfortunately, this has unpleasant consequences in that a lot of the time I don't consciously feel much of anything at all.

Here's the thing, though, and this is why I have a different take on this than the researcher quoted in that article. I can have physical reactions to emotions I'm not consciously aware of "having".  When I got my wisdom teeth out, for instance, I was extremely shaky to the point that the dentist noticed even though I wasn't consciously aware of being any more nervous than I am all the time about everything.  So, I'm wondering if it isn't that your *emotions* are shut down, it's that the part of your brain that processes your emotions and passes them on to your, um, consciousness in the form of a "feeling" is shut down.  So the emotional reaction, whatever it is, is still humming along in the background, it's just not at the forefront of your attention.

I find this particularly interesting because research of this kind might actually be the key to discovering just how consciousness and volition actually operate.  What mechanism allows you to inhibit your awareness of emotion while bringing analysis to the forefront, and vice versa?  How is that mechanism controlled and initiated?

This may also be an explanation for the phenomenon of catharsis and also of self-abuse.  Possibly, even of sexual preferences.  It's clear to me that the switching mechanism, whatever it is, can develop problems.  There may even be multiple different kinds of switches, all of which can develop their own problems, so that flipping the switch to allow the experience of sexual desire or the release of extreme anxiety may require people to go through some strange or pretty extreme behavior.  Much like intentionally calling up a buried memory, you may have to get there through a circuitous route, summoning up one bit of context at a time until the path is established or the switch is flipped and the desired memory or feeling reaches your conscious awareness.

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