Our Animal Instinctual Passions
This diagram forms the scientific neuro-biological basis of what it is we are doing on the wide and wondrous path to Actual Freedom. LeDoux empirically investigated the pivotal role of the amygdala in producing the feeling of fear, in particular the relationship between the thalamus (relay centre), the amygdala (feelings) and the neo-cortex (modern brain/thoughts).
The most significant of LeDoux’ experimentation with regard to fear is that the sensory input to the brain is split at the thalamus into two streams – one to the amygdala and one to the neo-cortex. The input stream to the amygdala is quicker – 12 milliseconds as opposed to 25 milliseconds to the neo-cortex. Less information goes to the amygdala quicker – it operates as a quick scan to check for danger.
Indeed LeDoux regards the amygdala as the alarm system, for bodily safety – hence the necessity for a quick scan and an almost instantaneous instinctive (thoughtless) response. This ‘quick and dirty processing pathway’ results not only in a direct automatic bodily response to either an actual or a perceived danger, but because the amygdala also has a direct connection to the neo-cortex – it causes us to emotionally experience the feeling of fear – i.e. we feel the feeling of fear a split-second later than the bodily reaction.
Not only is the primitive brain’s response ‘quick and dirty’, it is also very powerful in that it primes the whole body for action – which is precisely why instinctual reactions and the resulting instinctual passions are ultimately so hard to keep in control.
Now, these are things we all know well from personal experience as well as from observation of others but it is fascinating that scientific investigation of the ‘hardware’ of the human brain is now providing the biological evidence of how what is known as ‘human nature’ operates. That the Amygdala is quicker than cognitive awareness is easily experienced in driving a car and very suddenly encountering a dangerous situation. The foot is on the brake before we are consciously aware there has been any danger. With the awareness of danger comes an emotional response induced by the Amygdala along the stronger pathway to the brain. Even when the danger has ceased it can take a while to calm down – the pathway back to the Amygdala being ‘considerably weaker’.
These investigations also substantiate the fact that no matter what degree of control is exercised by the neo-cortex in terms of morals, ethics, good intentions, etc., when ‘push comes to shove’ we revert to type – and reverting to type means animal-instinctual. This is clearly verified by the being ‘overcome’ by rage, fear or sadness and being unable to stop it.
Our area of concern is the psychological self in the neo-cortex and the instinctual self in the Amygdala. ‘How am I experiencing this moment of being alive?’ causes the neo-cortex to focus its attention on the activities of the psychological self that has been instilled since birth. This focusing allows us to see the over-arching role that emotions have in causing us to be malicious and sorrowful, and we find that we can reduce their influence in our lives with pure intent.
The other area this awareness operates on is demolishing the social identity – the morals, ethics, values, beliefs and psittacisms instilled to keep the instincts ‘under control’. This is a crucial step on the path to Actual Freedom as it is both a radical and iconoclastic step. This step can only be undertaken with a memory of a Pure Consciousness Experience – an experience of self-lessness that gives one the confidence to venture beyond what is considered safe, sensible and sane. This memory of the PCE gives one the Pure Intent to ‘venture into the unknown’, or to be more prosaic, become aware of the raw instinctual emotions of the Amygdala – to look at one’s animal heritage.
These two facets – reducing the influence of feelings and emotions – both the supposed ‘good’ and ‘bad – and demolishing the social identity, the ‘guardian at the gate’ ultimately brings one’s bare awareness to focus on the Amygdala and its instinctual programming. The focus is then on the instincts in operation both in the body and in the brain – with minimal psychological and emotional effects. Peter, The Actual Freedom Trust Mailing List, Alan (b), 7.6.1999
This is an adaptation of the basic Brain Circuitry Schematic view in order to illustrate the fact that the self has its roots firmly in both brains – primitive and modern.
Peter: Vineeto has worked up three more diagrams, based on our initial diagram, showing a schematic representation of the development of the brain’s circuitry and programming at birth, by age 2 to 3 years and at about 7 years. I would emphasize that, while the diagrams are a factual representation of what happens in the initial years of a human’s life, they are purely schematic in neurological terms. They should be treated as guides only, and although we are well aware of the potential for nit-picking abuse and misrepresentation, I personally find them very useful in order to make sense of the functioning of that extraordinary organ, the human brain. Maybe it is my training as an architect but I do like a good visual plan or a diagram. I think you will also find them useful and informative.
So, the first one is the brain at birth –
As can be seen from the diagram and readily observed in new-born babies, the neo-cortex is largely unprogrammed and, I understand, still forming and growing for some time after birth. The amygdala comes with a genetically- implanted, instinctual self, ready and primed to develop. This primitive self we share with our closest genetic ‘cousins’, the primates, and a self has been well documented in both chimpanzees and apes. This primitive self is part and parcel of the survival instincts – they are an integral package.
The survival instinct is first and foremost for the survival of the species, hence the willingness of the adult to sacrifice his or her own life for the offspring. A close second comes self-survival, the survival of one’s self – a physical-only act in non-cognitive animals – which is translated into psychic and psychological fear and aggression in humans. In a new-born, this survival instinct is obviously instantly functioning as is evidenced in the instinctual action of sucking – neither lessons nor any encouragement are needed.
It is hard to conceive that there are no pre-natal emotional memories stored in the amygdala of a new-born baby. Medical evidence of the transmission of narcotics and other chemical substances to the foetus through the mother’s placenta would very strongly suggest that emotionally-sourced chemical substances also are transferred.
Thus the foetus would be experiencing the effect of these substances that are the tangible physical evidence of fear, aggression, excitement, sadness and the like. The emotional- chemical pattern is set, the pump is primed, and the baby’s emotional memory has a preview of life in the world into which it will soon emerge.
To insist on the belief in Tabula Rasa in the face of these facts, all easily observable by anyone willing to look with both eyes, is to bury one’s head in the sand. Human beings will do anything but admit that we are but animals ‘at heart’, that indeed what we share with animals is our instinctual passions and emotions – fear, aggression, nurture and desire.
Our dearly held feelings and emotions – the same feelings witnessed in animals, are the cause of all the malice and sorrow, violence and despair, and we come pre-wired, at birth, to be animal at heart.
Peter: As can be seen, by the age of about 2 to 3 years we have a fully functioning circuitry in action.
In the amygdala sufficient events have occurred, sufficient water has flowed through the ‘pump’ – to flog a metaphor – for the emotional memory to be fully functioning and active. Emotional responses and reactions which have their roots in memories of past events, people and places are clearly observed in infants at this age. This is not due to a loss of any mythical innocence but simply the result of the functioning of the brain’s circuitry – it is the way ‘blind nature’ has programmed sentient beings in order to facilitate survival. The other observable functioning is that of a psychological self – the ‘me, me’ pleading being most evident. A stubborn willfulness, a selfishness becomes a prime feature of the infant at this age.
The emergence of a distinct self coincides with increased mobility, socialization and independence from parental dependency, as would be expected. The supposed innocence of babyhood, due to the unformed cognitive faculties and rudimentary-only emotional responses are a thing of the past – the parents now have an almost fully functional emotional-being on their hands – hence the term ‘quite a handful’.
The last in the series documents a further significant stage of development occurring around 7 years of age –
With the development of speech, increased socialization, peer group pressure and teachers’ and parental ‘guidance’ we see the emergence of a social identity. Instilled by reward and punishment, ‘carrot and stick’, the child is taught what is considered good and what is considered bad. Instruction and programming of morals, ethics, values, beliefs and psittacisms are necessary to keep the lid on the instinctual passions and to make one a fit member of the family and of society at large.
One is told that it is ‘time to grow up’, ‘it’s time you learned how to behave properly’ and ‘you’re old enough to know better’. These core values, this identity, will be with one for life, with only very slight adjustments made. A period of rebellion can often arise from this imposition but ‘when push comes to shove’ the child will invariably fall back into line or simply ‘grow up’. Thus the picture is almost complete with only adolescence bringing a further pre-programmed change. For with the ability to father or mother comes the instinctual willingness to accept the responsibility involved; no doubt an integral part of the package of procreation.
So that’s it. The now-teenager usually hangs around home a bit longer and away he or she goes, launched into the world, programmed to battle it out for survival, come what may.
In my case it was such a shock to enter the real ‘adult’ world all by myself. I remember thinking ... ‘Is this it?’ But the serendipitous thing was that my father’s advice came back to haunt me. ‘Be Happy’ was his only real advice to me, and although he couldn’t tell how, the bells did ring when I met Richard. Peter, The Actual Freedom Trust Mailing List, No 3b, 14.6.1999
Alan: The diagrams are extremely useful and one question which arises (to which I do not have an answer) – what happens in the brain when a PCE occurs?
Vineeto:My speculation is that in a PCE, a ‘self’-less pure consciousness experience, the connection from the amygdala to the neo-cortex is temporarily out of order, like when you get a numb foot from an interrupted blood circulation. Very often this temporary interruption is caused by drugs or brain-sourced chemicals in intense situations, be they near-death experiences, shock, intense fear, or overwhelming sensual input like sex or nature. Also a pure consciousness experience can occur after contemplating on a vital issue, while gaining a sudden insight, a striking realization or just as an accidental short-circuit. With this temporary disconnection between amygdala and neo-cortex there is no input from the instinctual self, and the psychological self becomes fleetingly redundant and keeps quiet until something triggers both the ‘selves’ back into action. Vineeto, The Actual Freedom Trust Mailing List, Alan C
Respondent: If there is a working model and an understanding of the main function of each component then I think it would be possible to extrapolate to create a rough picture of what happens.
Peter: The ‘working model’ we have for the process, at this stage, is Richard, and given his little ‘detour’ of finding himself in an Altered State of Consciousness as opposed to a pure consciousness state for some 11 years, his ‘picture of what happens’ is a bit distorted. There is, however, no doubt that Richard can report reliably on the end result of the process – the complete and utter extinction of both the psychological and psychic self – and that this extinction results in the complete elimination of the instinctual passions. Those currently following in his footsteps and utilizing his method are avoiding the delusion of an Altered State of Consciousness and, as such, their discoveries, experiences and writings give an accurate picture of the process in operation.
I also must admit to a lack of curiosity as to ‘how’ it all happens – I am more interested in the fact that it is now possible for it to happen. Of even more vital interest is that it is happening to me – that I can be free of the instinctual animal passions of malice and sorrow that accompany the self – the alien entity within this flesh and blood body.
I watched a television interview with Douglas Adams – the author of the ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’. I pricked up my ears when he said that the major issue that human beings are presently facing was the ‘battle between instincts and intelligence’. But within a few sentences he was proclaiming the popularist belief that ‘our survival is threatened by our instinctual behaviour in that we are wiping out endangered species and that only intelligent action will save us’. Not a word about our instinctual behaviour towards each other, such as war, rape, torture, genocide, murder ... let alone despair, depression, loneliness, suicide ...
So, the facts about instincts can, and will, be denied, avoided, ignored or twisted by those unwilling to face the facts and set about changing themselves. It is only those who acknowledge that they feel malicious, murderous, revengeful, resentful, sad, depressed, lonely, despairing, etc. – and want to do something about it – who will be interested in Actual Freedom.
Now that the neuro-biological scientific evidence is becoming available, it will be up to each of us what we do with it – whether we continue to ignore or escape from it, or get up off our bums and do something.
The main interest for me in LeDoux’s findings was that instinctual fear was sourced in the primitive brain and that the primitive brain was the quickest to react. The ‘quick and dirty’ instinctual response then overwhelms the modern brain – a ‘hose pipe’ connection from the amygdala to the neo-cortex compared to a ‘drinking straw’ the other way. This explained my feelings of being overwhelmed by rage, anger, sadness, despair or loneliness in my lifetime and it explains the more subtle feelings that constantly served to ruin my happiness. It makes it glaringly obvious that, no matter how ‘good’ or well intentioned ‘I’ am, it is factually impossible to be free of malice and sorrow unless I am free of the instinctual animal programming in its entirety.
Peter: Just a news item that I came across on the Net, which further confirms the findings of LeDoux that the amygdala is the source of instinctual fear. This experimentation focused on the memories of fear that can be instilled into an animal during its lifetime. What I find interesting is that the research indicates that these emotional memories are stored in the amygdala, in particular, and not elsewhere in the brain where other memories are stored.
This would seem to give credence to the fact that the primitive brain has its own separate complete set of functioning – its own first access to sensory input, as LeDoux indicates, its own processing ability and its own output causing chemicals to flow directly to the modern brain and to other organs in the body. I have understood that the primitive brain would be the seat of our pre-coded instinctual memories but that it builds an on-going lifelong memory base makes it a powerful and relentless source of fear in particular.
Peter: ‘Scientists have identified the brain circuit where memories of fear are evaluated and expressed. Their discovery, published Nov. 18, 1999, in the British journal Nature, points the way toward possible treatments for anxiety disorders. ‘The amygdala, a large structure deep within each cerebral hemisphere, is the place where the brain stores memories of fear,’ said University of Southern California neuroscientist Richard F. Thompson, co-author of the Nature article. ‘In the presence of threatening stimuli, the amygdala signals to the prefrontal cortex, triggering the expression of fearful behaviour.’
Researchers at USC and the Université de Bordeaux (France) trained laboratory mice by sounding a tone and then administering a small electric shock. The mice soon learned to associate the tone with the impending shock and froze in fear as soon as they heard it. Simultaneously, the researchers detected changes in the electrical impulses measured by electrodes implanted in the subjects’ prefrontal cortex. When the amygdala was then surgically removed, both the freezing behaviour and the altered neuronal activity disappeared.
Lead author René Garcia, of Bordeaux’s Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives, designed and completed the experiment in Thompson’s USC laboratory during the summer of 1999. ‘While a mouse’s brain is far smaller than a human’s, it has essentially the same structures and operates in analogous ways,’ Thompson explained. ‘The prefrontal cortex acts as a kind of ‘executive office,’ controlling other parts of the brain. It makes decisions that determine how you will react. Memories of fear are stored in the amygdala, which codes them into signals and transmits those signals to the frontal cortex for action.
‘Why are you afraid when you’re walking alone in the dark and hear footsteps behind you? You have learned to be afraid. Nearly all of our fears are learned fears.’ And anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks and phobias, are expressions of your memories of fear, said Thompson. ‘If we could find a drug or genetic treatment that would stop the amygdala from signalling to the frontal cortex, then we could effectively treat anxiety disorders,’ he suggested.’
‘Nearly all our fears are learned fears’ is a telling point, for in-depth research into how much of the ‘bad’ passions of fear and associated aggression are genetically encoded, and therefore instinctual, and how much is ‘learned’, will no doubt run into ethical and moral objections. Nurture and desire are always seen in a good light and humans love to see it in action and recognize these emotions in action in other animals. Fear we try and sooth over – alcohol, drugs, excitement or adrenalin rushes being good panaceas, and aggression we simply label as evil or bad and blatantly ignore it in our own lives.
I like the last sentence in particular – ‘If we could find a drug or genetic treatment that would stop the amygdala from signalling to the frontal cortex, then we could effectively treat anxiety disorders,’ he suggested.’
What Richard has discovered is a way that one can weaken this ‘ signalling ’ from the amygdala to the frontal cortex to such an extent that eventually the ‘signalling’ ceases altogether. With the cessation of this ‘signalling’, the chemical flows from the amygdala, comes the extinction of the instinctual ‘self’ – one’ very, ‘being’, the associated instinctual passions.
Richard’s on-going experience is that one can live without any identity whatsoever, be it societal or instinctual. His first step was societal – stepping out of society – one’s social identity is left behind, there is no illusionary person in the ‘executive suite’, no ‘little man inside the head pulling the levers’. The second step was instinctual, one’s instinctual being is left behind, the ‘signalling’ from the amygdala ceased completely.
The critical difference between the traditional approach and the actualist approach to freedom is that the spiritualists attempt to deny the bad instinctual passions and identify with the good instinctual passion and chemical flows, denying the ‘signalling’ – thus one feels oneself to be bliss, oneness, wholeness, love, etc. while transcending or rising above fear and aggression. As Mr. Lowe so rightly pointed out in the opening statement of his recently reviewed book one can ‘find a way of living where you can feel happy and joyful and free of fear’, but the full range of instinctual passions are still present in spiritual freedom for there is still ‘anger, greed and lust’ present, it’s just that he doesn’t ‘identify’ with them any more.
The trap for past seekers of freedom is that spiritual concepts are instinctive in that their roots are so ancient that they disappear into the mists of time. The idea of a human spirit or soul, the idea of other-worlds, the idea of life beyond death, are deeply entrenched in Humanity, so much so that they could be regarded as both instinctual and intuitive. Intuitive in that these ideas are implanted in the memory of the amygdala and the amygdala automatically responds to spiritual notions with appropriate chemical responses. Thus the beliefs and myths of a spirit ‘home’, a spirit world and a life after death ‘feel’ right and true at a gut level. The flow of chemicals from the amygdala in response to spiritual input are warming and comforting as the intrinsic human awareness of mortality and the fear of death are temporarily extinguished.
As such, the only actual and definitive freedom from the spiritual is to evince a complete cessation of the ‘signalling’ from the amygdala as Richard has done and as those following his method are doing. Neither repressing nor expressing, neither denying nor transcending, neither rejecting nor accepting, but actively observing and developing an understanding of these emotional signals and how they cause malice and sorrow in your life.
‘How am I experiencing this moment of being alive?’ is the method to eventually lead to an awareness and investigation of this instinctive ‘signalling’ from the amygdala such that one can plainly see, and experience, ‘who’ one thinks and feels one is ‘in action’. With this awareness and investigation comes a bare awareness such that one can distinguish between ‘what’ one is – clear thinking, a bare consciousness and sensate experiencing – and ‘who’ one has been taught to think one is and ‘who’ one has been programmed by blind nature to feel oneself to be.
My experience is that sufficient time is needed living and experiencing a state of virtual freedom such that the fuses don’t blow when the whole ‘signalling’ system collapses or atrophies. In practical terms, this is a period of virtually no ‘signalling’ from the amygdala and virtually no personal ‘self’-centred thoughts. When one checks out by asking ‘how am I experiencing this moment of being alive?’ and there is no ‘signalling’, no sadness, no being peeved, no boredom, etc. and no mental worries or anxieties and no desire to go looking for them, then one simply ‘cruises and grooves’. Just a note that I am talking here of the latter stages of the process – in the early days one’s life is so full of discoveries, investigations and insights into the Human Condition and how one functions that one can barely catch breath with the often tumultuous excitement and pace of events.
This latter period of ‘nothingness’ can be daunting at first but gradually an existence devoid of any ‘real’ world and ‘spiritual’ world meanings and values becomes delightfully delicious and sensually rich, not as a feeling but as a magnificent and overwhelming actuality. This ‘nothingness’ can be seen as a milder version of Richard’s angst or mental anguish period when all ‘signalling’ had ceased.
It’s so good to follow and copy something that works, to follow someone who’s been through it and done it, and to find that modern empirical scientific research is confirming our experiences. And it’s good to be able to describe the process in dictionary definable words and post scientific empirical neurological and genetic research that both confirms actualism and buckets the spiritual belief in an immortal Godly soul.
Respondent: And the questions related to LeDoux’s work are to know how much of what is stated on (www.actualfreedom.com.au/library/topics/instincts.htm) follows from his and related work, and how much of it is your completion based on your understanding. From the presentation in the above link, it is not clear how much is your construction (schematic diagrams) based on the results – what results from LeDoux and others you are using.
Richard: Very little of it, other than the basic circuitry of the brain, is based upon scientific studies ... as I said in the previous e-mail the only reason that any reference is made to them on The Actual Freedom Web Page is so that other people do not have to take my word for it that the feelings arise before thought in the reactionary process (albeit a split-second first).
This discovery – and nothing else – is the only thing I have ever drawn from Mr. Joseph LeDoux’s studies (I have not read any of his books).
Respondent: Most of it (schematic diagrams) are exactly as in LeDoux works (and as in the ‘Time’ magazine’s reference you pointed out), except that I don’t find references to ‘instinctual self’ or ‘psychological self’ or ‘instinctual passions’.
Richard: Indeed not. As I said in my previous e-mail it is pertinent to realise that no scientist has been able to locate the self, by whatever name, despite all their brain-scans ... and I also said ‘from what is implied therein’ when referring to the ‘Time’ magazine’s article.
Selected Writings and Related Discussions on the Topic
A Down-to-Earth Freedom from the Human Condition – Happy and Harmless in this Lifetime
Diagrams & Richard’s & Peter’s & Vineeto’s Text ©The Actual Freedom Trust: 1997-.
All Rights Reserved.