The Wave Chapter 70: You Take the High Road and I’ll Take the Low Road and I’ll Be in Scotland Afore Ye!
I have made the statement that we are made addicts inside our own skins. And I am fairly certain that most people reading that remark are quite certain they are not! Especially if they are careful of their diet and habits of mental and physical hygiene.
But, I say again: we are made addicts inside our own skins. And what’s more, we are addicted to our emotions. Curiously, the ones who resist that idea most strenuously are very much like an alcoholic who vigorously and vehemently declares that they are not an alcoholic.
It’s everywhere. Tens of millions of human beings experience the consequences of alcohol addiction, from decreased job performance to liver damage to spouse and child abuse, to total breakdown of social concepts and constraints ending in the proverbial skid-row bum looking every day for his MD 20–20 – or even a can of Sterno. And that is just alcohol. We aren’t even going to list the statistics for other drugs as it would be tedious and pointless. You get the idea.
Alcohol and other drugs have the ability to do what they do in our systems because they are fixed. They are synthetic ligands, they bind to our receptors and in various ways produce their effects. It is the nature of these specific effects that we now want to examine.
When an ovulating female boar is exposed to a pheromone from a male boar’s saliva, the scent travels along the olfactory nerve directly into the amygdala, stimulating the release of neurotransmitters, the result is that she becomes immediately and completely paralyzed in a spread–legged mating posture. Naturally, this fact has led to the marketing of a number of pheromone based men’s colognes designed to produce the same effect in the human female. (Nice try, guys.)
If you give rats in a cage access to food and cocaine, the rats will consume the cocaine and ignore the food. And they will end up starving themselves to death, despite the limitless supply of available food. And of course that makes us think of the alcoholic who has gin for breakfast, bourbon for lunch, and brandy for dinner – ending up in the hospital with a severe case of malnutrition.
Caffeine is the most frequently used drug of all. In his Coffee Cantata of 1732, J.S. Bach wrote: “Ah! How sweet coffee tastes! Lovelier than a thousand kisses, sweeter far than muscatel wine!” A couple of centuries later, Isak Dinesen wrote: “Coffee … is to the body what the word of the Lord is to the soul.”
Caffeine has a strong effect on nearly every animal species. Rats being taught to navigate through mazes learn their lessons faster after being given coffee. Not only that, but they remember better. Competitive cyclists have discovered that they can pedal twenty per cent longer if they drink caffeine an hour before racing. Some of them even go to the extreme of using caffeine suppositories before racing – sort of a time release kick in the behind!
Following ingestion of caffeine, even sperm get a kick. They swim faster and wiggle more vigorously increasing their ability to hit the spot.
What we want to know here is, how does caffeine work?
As our neurons process information, they produce cellular waste including a buildup of molecules of adenosine. Adenosine is a ligand that binds with the adenosine receptor, sending a message deep into the cell that it is time to sleep. As the production of adenosine continues throughout the day, as a byproduct of cerebral activity, more and more adenosine is produced, binding with more and more receptors, sending more and more sleep messages into more cells. And little by little our brain cells become more and more sluggish until we simply must go to sleep. We literally cannot remain conscious. We yawn, our eyes may water and try to close and we just want to curl up and let the lights go out.
So, we have a cup of espresso. The caffeine molecule just happens to be the right shape for the adenosine receptor. It hops on and binds, thereby blocking the real adenosine that sends the sleep message. Apparently, caffeine sends a different message, or at least prevents the sleep message from being sent. It interrupts the sleep signal.
This is just a small example of how dramatically chemicals can affect the brain.
We have already mentioned the rats who were implanted with electrodes for self–stimulation and would push the button until they were exhausted. Well, there were additional experiments done along this line. It seems that if the electric reward is doled out only when the rats learn a new trick – such as navigating a maze. The little critters would go to work like crazy to get the job done so that they could get their buzz. As long as the rewards keep coming, the rats will keep working, even mastering incredibly complex and seemingly impossible mazes that humans would find nearly impossible.
But it’s not the learning they love. We already know that, given the opportunity, they will forget everything – food, mates, friends, whatever – to push that button until they collapse in mindless ecstasy.
Now, in the human being, as in other creatures, the sensation that is experienced as orgasm is the same release of chemicals that stimulate the same part of the brain that makes the rats so happy. Some scientists refer to this in technical jargon as the “do it again” center. (Cf. Burnham and Phelan.) When this center is stimulated, whatever activity is associated with it will be sought again and again.
We have, it seems, a lot of “do it again” chemicals with a lot of “do it again” receptor sites all over our bodies. Certain foods in different people act in this way. Some people feel euphoria when they achieve victory over a rival in some sort of competition. Aside from the most obvious example of sex, these are examples of other things that can cause the secretion of these “do it again” chemicals.
By having such a pleasure system in our bodies, we have a built in reward system by which we can be manipulated to pursue any number of activities that may or may not be good for us; mostly based on – you guessed it – early imprinting. And, we are generally unaware of it; we simply engage in certain behaviors because it feels good and we want to do it again. We were rewarded for them as infants and small children, and we constantly seek that programmed behavior in order to receive the reward. Never mind that our early programming may have been for behaviors that completely block the true expression of our essence, or that they are based on fairy tales or unrealistic perceptions of life.
Now, drugs short circuit these centers. The ways that drugs work are interesting, but in our context here we just want to look at them as a sort of path to understanding the body’s own chemicals. When we take certain drugs, our brain acts as if the natural neurotransmitter was flooding the system. The brain thinks we have done something really great such as finding food or warmth while, in reality, we may be hunkered down in a flophouse with a hypodermic of heroin in our arm. Our pleasure centers know only that they are bathed in chemical bliss. Never mind that the first time we tried it, we were disgusted and repelled by the setting, the process, all the external elements. Once we have received that reward, we are convinced that this nasty setting, this ignominious behavior that is clearly damaging to the self, is okay and desirable for the reward we are going to get.
Now, let’s take a look at this in a practical way. Psychologist Barbara De Angelis writes in her book Are You the One for Me?:
Falling in love is a magical and powerful experience. Each kiss, each conversation, each moment in the beginning seems so right, so perfect. But soon attraction and infatuation become a “relationship,” and we are brought down to earth with the challenging realities of sharing our life with another human being. And as those first enchanted weeks turn into months, one day we find ourselves asking: “Is this person right for me?”
… Since my first serious relationship at seventeen, and, until recently, I fell in love without giving serious consideration to whether the person was right for me, let alone whether they loved me enough. Someone showed up, and if he had something lovable about him, I would start a relationship. I’d convince myself he was “the one,” only to find out that we were incompatible and watch the relationship fail. …
After too many heartbreaks, I was forced to face the sad truth: in spite of my experience, education, and my intense desire to be happy, I continually chose partners who were not right for me. I was falling in love with the wrong people for the wrong reasons. (De Angelis 1992, 3, 4)
Have you ever thought or said the following about one of your relationships?
“How could I have been so blind? Why didn’t I see what he/she was really like?”
“I felt so sure that, this time, it would work. Where did I go wrong?”
“He seemed so wonderful when we first met. I can’t figure out why he changed into someone I can’t stand.”
“All the signs were there from the beginning that she didn’t feel the way I did. I guess I just ignored them and convinced myself things would get better.”
“We loved each other, but we couldn’t agree on anything, and all we did was argue.”
“I was so sure he was different from the other men I’d been with. It took me almost two years to find out that I’d picked the same type of guy all over again! How could I have wasted so much time?”
“I remember feeling really in love with her at the time, but the truth is, I never told anyone we were together because I was embarrassed to admit I was even involved with a woman like that.”
“Everything about him seemed so perfect; I kept telling myself that I should be happy with him, but there just wasn’t any chemistry.” (De Angelis 1992, 5)
Such situations arise because of the fairy tales we are taught as children. The examples of lying to ourselves about our true feelings, which are set because we are told and shown that rewards only come when we suppress our true feelings and follow the rules. Dr. De Angelis continues:
Ask most people why they fell in love with their partners, past or present, and you’ll probably hear answers like this:
“I met Kathy at the gym where I work out. Something about the way she got so into that aerobics class and gave it so much energy really appealed to me.”
All Kathy’s boyfriend knows about her is that she has a lot of physical energy. [He is programmed by his particular socio–cultural system to believe that physical energy is very good and will be rewarded. Thus, somebody who has a lot of physical energy is “lovable.” He may also have had very positive experiences with someone in his childhood who had a lot of physical energy, and who regularly made him feel loved.]
“Donna was a bridesmaid at my cousin’s wedding. She looked so beautiful in this pink strapless dress – I knew on the spot I was going to fall in love with her.”
All Donna’s boyfriend knows about her is that she looked good in pink chiffon. [We might think that the color pink has powerful associations in his amygdala.]
“Jo Anne and I knew each other since we were kids. Everyone always said we’d probably get married when we grew up, and I guess I never even questioned it – it seemed like the right thing to do.”
Jo Anne’s husband has been so influenced by what his friends and family think that he doesn’t even know why he loves her. [We might think that “obedience to the family” has received some very positive reinforcement in his life. Conversely, thinking for himself may have received a great deal of negative reinforcement.]
“Alex and I were assigned to work together on a project in our office. I think it was watching him problem-solve – he is so creative – that attracted me to him.”
Alex’s girlfriend is enthralled with his business skills but has no idea what his emotional skills are. [Creativity in solving problems may have been well rewarded in her home environment as a child. She may also have been exposed to highly creative “problem solvers” as male role models, receiving regular rewards from them. Thus, she associates these skills with love.]
“I’ve always been a sucker for music, so when I heard Frank play the guitar at a friend’s house, I knew he was the one for me.”
Frank’s partner has fallen under a musical spell – she knows nothing about him except for the romantic personality she assumes all guitar players have. [And why does she assume this? Because it is programmed into her amygdala.]
“This sounds terrible, but I always had this fantasy of a tall, dark-haired man with a mustache. Dennis looked exactly like that, and nothing else really mattered.”
Dennis’s girlfriend likes the way he looks – she is attracted to a fantasy, but doesn’t know anything about the person underneath. [And where did she get the fantasy? A program.]
None of these people thought they were making the wrong decision. They all sincerely believed that they were making intelligent, sensible choices in their partners. But the frightening truth is that many of them will discover in a month, or six months, or six years that they are in a relationship with the wrong person.
Most people put more time and effort into deciding what kind of car or video player to buy than they do into deciding whom to have a relationship with. (De Angelis 1992, 7, 8)
As De Angelis writes, “Love myths are beliefs many of us have about love and romance that actually prevent us from making intelligent love choices. … Consciously and unconsciously, we base our decisions in relationships on these love myths.” (p. 12) For example:
If I love my partner enough, it won’t matter that:
Our sex life isn’t great
She criticizes me all the time
We fight constantly over how to raise the children
He is a strict Catholic and I am Jewish
I’m not really sexually attracted to her
He doesn’t have a job and hasn’t worked in two years
She has a terrible temper and blows up all the time
She constantly flirts with other women
I don’t get along with her children
He has a hard time telling me how he feel
His family doesn’t accept me
I want children and he doesn’t
She still hasn’t gotten over her ex–boyfriend (p. 14)
One way to tell if your relationships are simply running the program is to examine how you prove to yourself that you are really in love. Do you dwell on the intense connection of chemistry in the beginning, trying always to recapture this, and fail to examine the rest of the relationship?
Have you ever convinced yourself that you love your partner to justify continuing to have sex with them, even though the fire has gone out long ago? Conversely, have you ever been in a relationship where the only place you got along together was in bed?
When we believe the love myths, we inevitably become involved with people we are not really compatible with. We feel constantly empty and none of our needs are fulfilled. And at the same time, even if we are trying to fulfill their needs, we know it’s an effort to get them to fulfill our needs, and the relationship has nowhere to go but down.
And then we are faced with the next love myth problem: we stay in the relationship longer than we should and have trouble letting go of a partner who, in moments of cold clarity, we realize are not right for us. We do this because we are taught to. We see the examples set for us as children; we are rewarded for not being a quitter, and are inculcated in the belief that a promise is a promise, and keeping promises, at whatever cost to us, is rewarded, while breaking them will result in dire consequences. The family pressures of our social and cultural beliefs strongly come into play here, and we are convinced that we must always sacrifice our wants and needs for those of others. We must suffer to be good, and to be rewarded. We live our lives like Dicken’s Oliver, saying: “I want more.” And we want more because we are starved and drained, and manipulated to suffer so as to be food for the upper echelons of the Control System: fourth-density STS.
Now, let’s look at a real life situation that plays out the drama exactly as the theorists have predicted. Some time ago I received correspondence from a reader who wrote to me describing her years of suffering; her dreadful childhood, her marital unhappiness, suicidal feelings, and on and on. She described her father as “a highly intelligent and spectacularly manipulative individual, endowed with psychic energies and a very heavy ‘presence’,” and her mother as “beautiful, clever, unhappy, terrorized by my father – as was I – and learned to like alcohol.”
She described her first marriage, children and divorce, increasing health problems and finally meeting her present husband who “was the first person I knew who was willing to accept me and my children. I was not ‘in love’ with him, though I found him attractive. I thought love would come later. … Later we had two children of our own.”
The next remark is particularly telling considering the description of her father as “highly intelligent and spectacularly manipulative individual, endowed with psychic energies and a very heavy ‘presence’ … ” She wrote:
My husband also has strong intuitive and psychic abilities … my husband and I bickered almost from the start, and it only grew worse. Not a day has gone by in over 30 years of marriage that we have not been at each other’s throats, or without raised voices. Our life together has been chaotic, moving constantly, no coherent thread to my life, though it doesn’t seem to affect him much. He loves to travel, and I did too at first. Now I am numb. Our misadventures along the way would make a saga. I have always turned them into comedies, but underneath there is a great waste of a life. My life.
But notice: even though she describes her husband as psychic, reflecting the programmed imprint of the father, and clearly she is looking for a father because she was not in love, but she married him because he accepted her and her children, she does not ascribe to her husband the same heaviness of the father, nor the spectacular ability to manipulate. She made a conscious effort to not marry the father. And yet, she did. Not only that, she had become her mother. No, she was not terrorized by her husband, not in the overt way her father terrorized, but the result was exactly the same. You could even say that it was a form of unconscious manipulation through poverty, as is clear in the following remark:
And strangely he once said he wondered if I brought him my “bad luck,” for our life together has been an unending series of bad choices, bad decisions, financial catastrophes. Even our friends over the years have shaken their heads in mystification.
Apparently, this husband is a far better manipulator than her father was – mainly because he seems to be not even conscious that he is manipulating. One of the clearest clues to being manipulated is feeling guilty.
I am consumed by guilt, which has been my overriding emotion for all the years of our marriage. Guilt over what I can’t imagine. The failure to make another happy? But why can’t he see I am dying by inches? … I have not accomplished what I need to in this life, and I never will as things are. … Why had I always put off my own path and tried to please everybody else and live up to their own agendas?
So, even though we read in these words the fact that this woman clearly has all the answers to her problems right there in her own psyche, she cannot see them. The soul inside her is dying to live. But her programs are too strong. The belief in the love myths is dominating, and the clear and present danger of the predator is not even suspected.
I have lost all interest in anything except the natural world I see on my daily walks. I must have wept gallons of tears in the past several months. Anything will trigger me off. I look at a cloud and start weeping. Yet my husband notices nothing. Nothing at all, save for the fact I am a little … undemonstrative. I long for solitude, for inner freedom, for tranquility. The thought of saying this to my husband is terrifying. … Every day I fade a little more.
Why is it terrifying to tell her husband what she is feeling? Remember, she has married someone who is not terrifying, someone she can fight with and talk back to … not someone like her father who terrorized her mother. Yet, she is no less terrorized!
Two of my children – who love their father, by the way – agree with my assessment of him as an overbearing human “steamroller.”
But, even with the agreement of her children, it seems this is a burden to be borne because of love. Nevertheless, it is a certainty that this spectacularly manipulative husband of hers senses that he is losing his grip on her, and the manipulation takes a new turn: health. You can’t abandon a sick man, for sure, or society and everyone else will punish you and reject you and you definitely won’t get your emotional fix by being a good girl.
Last fall my husband was diagnosed with Hodgkins’ Lymphoma. He almost died. He was away in the hospital for three months and I was here alone. For the first time in 30+ years I felt lighthearted, as if a weight were lifted off me. I was totally happy. I knew I could never tell him so. My mind became sharp again and I actually gained weight (I had grown gaunt). Now he is back and ending his chemotherapy. And I have become deeply depressed, talk myself out of it for several days, then once more think of death – and hope my body will respond to my wish.
And here we have the greatest clue of all as to the machinations of a typical feeder line of fourth-density STS: it must be in proximity to work. With the absence of the husband, everything changed. And, of course, it was an absence that was not due to her actions – at least not apparent to her, though it is exactly as likely that he is suffering inside as much as she is, with less ability to articulate it. Her proximity to him stimulates the chemicals of suffering in him that makes him a good meal; and conversely, his proximity to her stimulates the release of the chemicals that make her a good meal. It’s a two-way street. But, of course, this period of respite helped her to come to a realization:
I know I must leave him, though it will hurt him terribly. He has always loved me, and never understood why I am not more demonstrative. I have tried, but my heart is nowhere.
And the problem here is the fact that, just as she is living in a love myth, so is he. Her myth says that he will suffer terribly if she leaves; and his myth says that he will suffer terribly if she leaves. Problem is, they are both myths. She ended her letter with:
If the Cs can shed any light on this issue, or point out for me what I do not see clearly, it might save my life – if not in the physical sense, certainly in the greater sense. … I leave it up to you.
Well, as the reader has probably already figured out, it didn’t take the Cassiopaeans or even a rocket scientist to figure this one out. I did think about one woman who advised me against my own divorce by telling me, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” The idea was, that if I divorced, I might make the same mistake again, and be in an even worse situation. But, my response to that was that the devil I knew was well enough known that I didn’t need to learn anymore about him to know that being alone was a better option.
I was, of course, hesitant to give advice. That’s always a dangerous path to tread, even if the person really seems to be asking. More often than not, they are looking for something that will bring on a shakedown in their lives, which they can then blame on you. Nevertheless, it seemed pretty desperate and heartfelt a plea, and I responded:
I saw your situation completely when you first wrote to me. It was very much my own with slight variations, and yours has lasted longer.
What is the difference?
Everything you have said, I could have said myself in one way or another. The same descriptions of the husband, the same descriptions of the relationships etc. What is the difference?
I started to read the clues. And you have the same clues I had. I noticed that my health improved and my mind was clear when my ex was absent. I noticed that fortunes improved when and only when I was in charge of what happened. I noticed that he was also declining in health and that was a clue that I was as bad for him as he was for me. And by these small, subtle clues put alongside all the lessons I was being led through by the Cs and my life, I made a decision that went against everything that had ever been taught to me by my religion, my culture, my philosophy and so forth.
I knew that there was no way to do it easy and that a clean, complete break was the only answer for both of us and that can’t be done in the slow and gradual way. I knew that he would want an explanation, and the one I saw that would make the break the cleanest and fastest was to tell him that I never cared for him, that I made a big mistake, and everybody was suffering from my mistake, including him. And it was all my fault. And I let him lambaste me and say all the terrible things he wanted to say, and said, “Yes, you are right – I’m a lousy person.” And I held my ground no matter how painful it was.
So, that is what is different. I stopped living in the illusion that I could make anything better or different than it was. What is more, I chose to see it as it was, coldly, clearly, without emotion. Then, I did something about it. And the whole universe changed.
That is the power of such as we are. If we only access it. It isn’t easy. It flies in the face of all our human programming and all the emotional vectoring we live under. But the bottom line is: you cannot be unequally yoked. If you are, the effect is that of two mules harnessed ass to ass, pulling in opposite directions – spiritually, karmically, and even literally. Your life, your environment, your experiences reflect the state of your soul. Poverty, illness, instability, and so on. All are reflections of what is being done to you spiritually by your choices. And your choices are being manipulated and influenced by early damage, which was done for the very purpose of [making you food.] That’s the bottom line.
But again, what I am saying is something that has to be tested. There is no proof. I had no proof, just the small clues – all of which I was clever enough to explain away for many years; most of which explanations had to do with the idea that I could do more, I could try this; I could cut off another arm or open my figurative veins and give more of my blood to fix it, so to speak.
Well, I finally stopped making excuses. I stopped blaming myself for anything except that I had made the wrong choice and now I needed to make a different one – a life changing choice based on clues that were so subtle I couldn’t even explain them to anyone.
Well, that isn’t true. My friend Sandra gave me a gift. She told me that I must make a list of the clues. I must never forget them. When I felt weak, when I felt like I wanted to go back, when I started to forget why I was doing what I was doing, I should take out my list and remember all the horror, all the pain, all the suffering and that I should remind myself over and over again until it sank in that all of this was the biggest part of my marriage and my life. The little happiness or good time was few and far between and never sufficient to balance the negative.
So, I hope this helps. As the Cs once told us: if you have the courage of a lion, you don’t have the fate of a mouse.
This poor woman truly made my heart bleed. And, it seemed that, perhaps, my words had helped her. She wrote back:
Thank you. I don’t want the fate of the mouse. There is a lion somewhere in the back of the cave, it has been sleeping for many years.
The next day, she wrote again:
I woke up the lion this morning, and what you described is in full process. I don’t need to give you a picture. Perhaps the difference is that we have been together 33 years, and there is a very strong bond between us. However it is like an umbilical cord that has to be cut for further growth to happen, and he cannot see it. For once I am being totally selfish, and my only pain is to see the pain he is undergoing. Thank you for giving me the impetus to go through with this.
Her description of her view of the process told me that she didn’t really get it. She was still living in the myth. She was already excusing the difficulty of the situation by the length of time together. Then, she described the connection in nurturing terms as an umbilical cord, instead of what it was: a fourth-density STS feeding tube. And, finally, she described her actions as totally selfish, resulting in pain from seeing what he was going through. She just simply didn’t realize that both of them were experiencing withdrawal, and that it was purely physical and based on associations in the amygdala. She didn’t get that, in the deepest of terms, what she was doing was as much for him as it was for herself. He was as much an addict as she was.
Well, a couple of days went by and I was inclined to think that she was not going to make it, but I was leaving it open as a possibility. She finally wrote back:
For 36 hours I created hell for myself and everybody around me (my husband) and within telephone reach. By that time I was so exhausted I forgot the reason I wanted to leave and went to bed, as did my husband, and we both slept a long, long time. We have reached a new understanding and to my surprise he respects my courage and realizes he must take me more seriously than in the past. He is now being supportive of my goals, and the constant tension and resentment between us has dissolved.
This was not a surprise. And, it should not have been a surprise to her, either. I am sure that she went through a minor version of this scenario with every fight and argument they had over the years, all ending in agreement to continue the addiction. And, we also see an example of what I already described: an addiction to the whole reward system of fighting and making up. People are programmed to suffer because it feels so good when it’s over. It is almost a deliberate creation of risk so that the rush of dopamine can come when the danger has passed.
Now, the most interesting thing is that it was clearly not apparent to this woman that her very life and relationships had also programmed her children to the same behavior, i.e. manipulation and addiction. The programs kicked in big time:
The next day I called back my daughter who was sleeping off a drunk from not being able to bear the thought of her mom and dad separating. Then I called her brother who likewise had a bad hangover for the same reason, and was mighty relieved to hear I had changed my mind. Then I called my other son who was happy he didn’t have to come pick me up with my considerable belongings. Then I emailed several friends to whom I had announced the sad news. By then I was tired again, but calm.
And here is the program:
The point is that I discovered I am part of a family network, not just a solitary item responsible only to myself. I had never looked at it that way. Perhaps it’s a combination of things: economic (I have literally no money of my own), the logistics of it all, and last but not least the fact that it tears me apart to give such pain to so many people. I seem to be divided into many selves all of which are a part of someone else. My strongest motive was perhaps the desire to find someone with whom I would feel more sexually/spiritually compatible. It is possible to achieve the former with my husband but not both together. … Am I chickening out? … Probably. But then is it all worth the upheaval? … My husband now knows I am capable of what I never seriously threatened to do before, and he greatly respects my frankness. I was astonished at his reaction. I will tell you that he was my first husband/mate/whatever in my first life on this Earth, and we have been together for many, many lifetimes. I also know this is the last one, for we have taught each other all the lessons each needs to receive. I think my next life will be a more harmonious one, for in this one I have lived several lifetimes.
So, we see an enormous number of rationalizations coming together here. Will any of them change the situation? Not likely. For the moment, the control is in the hands of my correspondent; and perhaps this is what she was really looking for: a way to manipulate the situation herself. Perhaps this was a repeating dynamic on a lesser scale throughout their lives; I don’t know.
And, in the end, it reminds me of certain remarks from the movie The Matrix:
The Matrix is everywhere, it is all around us; even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work; when you go to church; when you pay your taxes; it is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth: that your are a slave. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage; born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch; a prison for your mind.
… The Matrix is a system … that system is our enemy.
When you are inside [the Matrix] you look around; what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters; the very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy.
You have to understand: most of these people are not ready to be unplugged; and many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.
… We never free a mind once it’s reached a certain age – it’s dangerous – the mind has trouble letting go.
Now, even though the movie is an allegory that portrays the Matrix as a computer program, there are many things about this that can be highly instructive. For example, when Neo is being introduced to the Matrix, he touches a chair and asks, “This isn’t real?” Morpheus replies:
What is real? How do you define real? If you are talking about what you can feel, what you can smell and taste and see; real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. … [the Matrix reality] is a neural interactive simulation … a dream world created in order to change a human being into …
And, I insert in place of the battery that Morpheus holds up, food.
Let me quote it one more time: the Matrix is a neural interactive simulation.
It is in this way that we are programmed to engage in damaging behavior via the Control System. If our chemicals are stimulated while we are being led down the primrose path in any of a number of situations, the brain will set a circuit to repeat this behavior in order to feel the pleasure chemicals released at the end of the behavior, regardless of the painful process by which the chemicals are ultimately obtained.
Now, let’s go back to synthetic ligands: drugs, to see if we can glean any more clues.
When cocaine is snorted up the nose, it heads straight for the dopamine re-uptake sites and blocks them. The feel good sensation is not, however, from the drug; but from the fact that dopamine is flooding your cells, binding with the dopamine receptors like crazy, unable to be reabsorbed. And the brain only knows one thing: this feels great! Crack cocaine reportedly produces a more intense sensation of pleasure than any natural act, including orgasm. And, take note that it is from the body’s own chemical that this pleasure is experienced!
Morphine and heroin work in a slightly different way. They mimic endorphins, which trigger the release of dopamine. So, instead of the sensation occurring because the natural flow of dopamine is not reabsorbed, it occurs because there is too much dopamine to be absorbed.
But, there is something very curious about this: it seems that with repeated use of cocaine, heroin or morphine, the fake endorphin that binds with the opiate receptor and sends a signal into the cell body to release more dopamine, the body reacts by reducing the number of receptors. With fewer receptors, the effects of the drug – as well as the body’s normal ability to bind dopamine that is naturally present – plummets. And, without the normal flow of dopamine into a normal number of receptors, the brain experiences withdrawal, which is interpreted quite literally as pain. It is the agony of a mind that can feel no pleasure at all. Clinicians describe it as:
Abrupt discontinuation of cocaine, heroin or morphine leads to a state of dopamine depletion, which can cause the intense depression and agitation experienced during the crash phase as well as the subsequent anhedonia, dysphoria, lethargy, somnolence and apathy that can be present for six to eighteen weeks after discontinuation of cocaine. (Daly & Salloway 1994)
But, more serious than that is the fact that dopamine plays an important role in controlling movement, emotion and cognition. Dopamine dysfunction has been implicated in schizophrenia, mood disorders, attention-deficit disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, substance dependency, tardive dyskinesia, Parkinson’s disease and so on. Of course, the situation is a lot more complex because at least seven types of dopamine receptors have been identified.
The dopamine cells of the hypothalamus project to the anterior pituitary. In this area, dopamine acts directly to inhibit the release of prolactin. Prolactin possesses a myriad of effects with the most noticeable being lactation.
Now, going back to our programs and body chemicals, we begin to see how it is possible that anything which causes more dopamine to be released into the system will very likely manifest the same result as cocaine, heroin and morphine: we will go back to the behavior over and over again because the imprint of the way that pleasure is to be achieved has been set in the mind of the child.
Now, I have not been able to find any studies which suggest that the more dopamine secretion a person experiences from the body’s own chemicals in the normal way, that the number of receptors diminishes. However, the very fact that the high of cocaine is the body’s own chemical might suggest that this is so. This means that each time a person succeeds in some way in attaining that feel good moment – no matter how it is achieved – the more will be required to experience that same level of feeling again. This may be why love states will so rapidly diminish and turn into battles to produce threat of loss so that it can be averted and thereby produce the rush of dopamine. That is to say: the more that is experienced, the less it can be experienced; so it becomes a physiological and psychological carrot on a stick.
But, even in such situations, the point arrives when the body simply can no longer meet the demand and nothing works anymore. How soon this point is reached depends on many factors, and I am sure the reader can think of any number of situations of their acquaintance that will demonstrate the great variety of ways these scenarios can play out.
Another feel good body chemical is serotonin. The antidepressants, Prozac and Zoloft, block serotonin re-uptake sites causing the brain and body to be flooded with serotonin. People are happy because serotonin is lighting up the “do it again” center like a Hollywood Marquee.
In the early 1980s, clinical investigators discovered a link between serotonin and eating disorders. Richard and Judith Wurtman (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) had already implicated serotonin in eating disturbances. They theorized that dietary starch is converted to sugar, sugar stimulates the pancreas to release insulin, insulin raises brain levels of the amino acid tryptophan, tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin, and serotonin regulates mood, producing a sense of well-being. Therefore, obese people load up on carbohydrates to elevate mood.
According to the National Institue of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 68% of adult Americans are overweight.1 Those who are trying to lose weight have a good reason: obesity is severely stigmatized in our society. The health hazards of being moderately overweight are exaggerated (excess mortality is not seen until body weight is more than 40% above tabulated weights on life insurance tables), but it is a definite social no–no to be fat.
Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are psychiatric syndromes whose underlying pathology has been described as the relentless pursuit of thinness. The two diseases are separate entities, although there is considerable overlap; about 50% of anorectics binge and purge. Both diseases occur primarily in adolescence and young adulthood, they run a long and protracted course, and they interfere with normal development such as social maturation, separation from family of origin, and career decisions.
Anorexia has been described in psychiatric literature for more than a century, but bulimia has only been recognized as a clinical entity in the last 16 years. Patients are challenging and difficult to treat. Indeed, it seems that to be effective, any treatment must ultimately produce thinness. In other words, if a bulimic could achieve thinness without having to vomit, then that patient would be cured of bulimia. If an anorectic can get slim without having to starve, that patient could be cured of starvation.
The typical patient with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa is female, young, single, and of middle-to-upper socioeconomic status and has previously shown a tendency to obesity. Depressive and obsessional symptoms are common, as are a strong family history of affective disorder. Depression is sometimes attributed to the starvation, which can produce the same psychological profile as that seen in mild to moderate major depression. However, true major depression (either before or after the emaciation) is far more prevalent in anorectic patients than in the general population. Although anorexia and bulimia are more often seen in females, both disorders also occur in males. Sharp et al. described the clinical features of 24 men with anorexia nervosa. Bingeing and vomiting were common (50%, the same as in females). Also remarkably common were depressed mood, early wakening, obsessional symptoms, and a family history of affective disorders and alcohol abuse. Age at onset (18.6 years) and at presentation (20.2 years) was older than in females. The men were mostly single and of higher socioeconomic status and had a premorbid tendency towards obesity. Laxative abuse was less frequent in males than has been reported in females, and excessive exercising was more frequent. (Sharp et al. 1994)
And, as it turns out, increasing the serotonin bath in the brain by administering serotonin reuptake inhibitors seems to help in controlling symptoms of bulimia. Increasing the serotonin in the brain also seems to produce improvement in depression, carbohydrate craving, and pathological eating habits. The only problem with this is that these reuptake inhibitors have been seriously implicated in both valvular heart problems and primary pulmonary hypertension.
Prozac is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor that produces many side effects, including: nausea, headache, nervousness, insomnia, drowsiness, diarrhea, weight loss, dizziness, and anxiety. It also causes a side effect that we need to think about for a moment after learning what we have about the reduction of dopamine receptors with repeated use of drugs. You see, one of the side effects of Prozac is an inability to have an orgasm.
The street drug “ecstasy” is the common name for MethyleneDioxyMethAmphetamine, or MDMA. Ecstasy is a central nervous system stimulant and it is thought to work by boosting the levels of serotonin and dopamine.
Immediate effects of ecstasy can include increased feelings of self confidence, well-being, and feeling close to others; a rise in blood pressure, body temperature and pulse rate, jaw clenching, teeth grinding, sweating, dehydration, nausea and anxiety. Higher doses of ecstasy can produce hallucinations, irrational behavior, vomiting and convulsions.
Now, since we already know that using such drugs reduces our dopamine and possibly our serotonin receptors, it’s not surprising that ecstasy also produces tolerance.
Ecstasy is known as the love drug and commonly makes users feel warm and loving, even towards people they may not know well. Ecstasy can also heighten sexual desire and intensify the sexual experience, as well as decreasing inhibition. Lab results with animals have suggested possibilities of long-term brain damage arising from the reduction of serotonin and dopamine receptors and the ultimate failure of the brain to produce serotonin at all.
So, in a roundabout way, we have come to the fact that our addictions to our own chemicals may ultimately lead to permanent inability to feel any pleasure at all. And we all know that as we age our ability to be amused by simple things diminishes.
I am torn between being shocked and amused by the spate of recent commercials for sexual stimulants that promise to “revive the love nature.” I think the funniest one is promoting a product called “Top Gun.” But the problem it suggests is not very amusing. It seems that in our sexually permissive society, where for the past 20 or 30 years everyone has been encouraged to claim their natural right with more orgasms, better orgasms, extended, multiple and repeaters, and so on may be at the source of the present problem with achieving any orgasm at all for so many people.
The bottom line seems to be: if it feels good, you will want to do it again and again and more and better. And if you do you will be less and less able to do it at all; and in the end the imbalances will lead to more pain and suffering and feelings of inadequacy. And we know what all that is: lunch!
Now, nicotine is a most interesting drug. Nicotine mimics one of the body’s most significant neurotransmitters, acetylcholine. This is the neurotransmitter most often associated with cognition in the cerebral cortex. Acetylcholine is the primary carrier of thought and memory in the brain. It is essential to have appropriate levels of acetylcholine to have new memories or recall old memories.
Now, let’s go off to the side here for a moment. I cruised the net for sources on acetylcholine and the results were positively amazing, as you will see from the following excerpts:
Acetyl–L–Carnitine (ALC) is the acetyl ester of carnitine, the carrier of fatty acids across Mitochondrial membranes. Like carnitine, ALC is naturally produced in the body and found in small amounts in some foods. … Research in recent years has hoisted ALC from its somewhat mundane role in energy production to nutritional cognitive enhancer and neuroprotective agent extraordinaire. Indeed, taken in its entirety, ALC has become one of the premiere “anti-aging” compounds under scientific investigation, especially in relation to brain and nervous system deterioration.
ALC is found in various concentrations in the brain, and its levels are significantly reduced with aging. In numerous studies in animal models, ALC administration has been shown to have the remarkable ability of improving not only cognitive changes, but also morphological (structural) and neurochemical changes. … ALC has varied effects on cholinergic activity, including promoting the release and synthesis of acetylcholine. Additionally, ALC promotes high affinity uptake of choline, which declines significantly with age. While these cholinergic effects were first described almost a quarter of a century ago, it now appears that this is only the tip of the ALC iceberg. (Gissen 1995)
It turns out that Alzheimer’s, a veritable epidemic in our country, is directly related to low levels of acetylcholine. In Alzheimer’s disease, the neurons that make acetylcholine degenerate, resulting in memory deficits. In some Alzheimer’s patients it can be a 90 per cent reduction! But, does anyone suggest smoking and exercising the brain as a possible cure? Nope.
Another interesting little snippet found in a doctoral dissertation by Galen Knight says:
Which suggests to us that low thyroid function can be partly ameliorated by nicotine as the Cassiopaeans have already stated in so many words.
The next excerpt is the most interesting. It is a from a Bioelectromagnetics Research Laboratory paper, first presented at a workshop to discuss possible biological and health effects of Radio Frequency Electromagnetic waves. The workshop was held by the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Washington, Seattle. The paper was later presented to “Mobile Phones and Health, Symposium,” October 25–28, 1998, University of Vienna, Austria. What they are talking about here is the effects of cell phone towers and the use of cell phones and pagers, etc:
We carried out a series of experiments to investigate the effect of RFR exposure on neurotransmitters in the brain of the rat. The main neurotransmitter we investigated was acetylcholine, a ubiquitous chemical in the brain involved in numerous physiological and behavioral functions.
We found that exposure to RFR for 45 min decreased the activity of acetylcholine in various regions of the brain of the rat, particularly in the frontal cortex and hippocampus. Further study showed that the response depends on the duration of exposure. Shorter exposure time (20 min) actually increased, rather than decreasing the activity. Different brain areas have different sensitivities to RFR with respect to cholinergic responses [Lai et al., 1987b, 1988b, 1989a,b].
In addition, repeated exposure can lead to some rather long lasting changes in the system: the number of acetylcholine receptors increase or decrease after repeated exposure to RFR to 45 min and 20 min sessions, respectively [Lai et al., 1989a].
Changes in acetylcholine receptors are generally considered to be a compensatory response to repeated disturbance of acetylcholine activity in the brain. Such changes alter the response characteristic of the nervous system. Other studies have shown that endogenous opioids are also involved in the effect of RFR on acetylcholine [Lai et al., 1986b, 1991, 1992b, 1996.]
Since acetylcholine in the frontal cortex and hippocampus is involved in learning and memory functions, we carried out experiments to study whether exposure to RFR affects these behavioral functions in the rat. Two types of memory functions: spatial “working” and “reference” memories were investigated.
Acetylcholine in the brain, especially in the hippocampus, is known to play an important role in these behavioral functions. In the first experiment, “working” memory (short-term memory) was studied using the radial arm maze. This test is very easy to understand. Just imagine you are shopping in a grocery store with a list of items to buy in your mind. After picking up the items, at the check out stand, you find that there is one chicken at the top and another one at the bottom of your shopping cart. You had forgotten that you had already picked up a chicken at the beginning of your shopping spree and picked up another one later. This is a failure in short-term memory and is actually very common in daily life and generally not considered as being pathological. A distraction or a lapse in attention can affect short-term memory.
This analogy is similar to the task in the radial arm maze experiment. The maze consists of a circular center hub with arms radiating out like the spokes of a wheel. Rats are allowed to pick up food pellets at the end of each arm of the maze. There are 12 arms in our maze, and each rat in each testing session is allowed to make 12 arm entries. Re-entering an arm is considered to be a memory deficit. The results of our experiment showed that after exposure to RFR, rats made significantly more arm re-entries than unexposed rats. [Lai et al., 1994.]
This is like finding two chickens, three boxes of table salt, and two bags of potatoes in your shopping cart.
In another experiment, we studied the effect of RFR exposure on reference memory (long-term memory) [Wang and Lai, submitted for publication]. Performance in a water maze was investigated. In this test, a rat is required to locate a submerged platform in a circular water pool. It is released into the pool, and the time taken for it to land on the platform is recorded. Rats were trained in several sessions to learn the location of the platform. The learning rate of RFR-exposed rats was slower, but, after several learning trials, they finally caught up with the control (unexposed) rats. However, the story did not end here. After the rats had learned to locate the platform, in a last session, the platform was removed and rats were released one at a time into the pool. We observed that unexposed rats, after being released into the pool, would swim around circling the area where the platform was once located, whereas RFR-exposed rats showed more random swimming patterns.
To understand this, let us consider another analogy. If I am going to sail from the west coast of the United States to Australia, I can learn to read a map and use instruments to locate my position, in latitude and longitude, etc. However, there is an apparently easier way: just keep sailing southwest. But, imagine, if I sailed and missed Australia. In the first case, if I had sailed using maps and instruments, I would keep on sailing in the area that I thought where Australia would be located hoping that I would see land. On the other hand, if I sailed by the strategy of keeping going southwest, and missed Australia, I would not know what to do. Very soon, I would find myself circumnavigating the globe.
Thus, it seems that unexposed rats learned to locate the platform using cues in the environment (like using a map from memory), whereas RFR-exposed rats used a different strategy (perhaps, something called ‘praxis learning’, i.e., learning of a certain sequence of movements in the environment to reach a certain location. It is less flexible and does not involve cholinergic systems in the brain).
Thus, RFR exposure can completely alter the behavioral strategy of an animal in finding its way in the environment.
… What is significant is that the effects persist for sometime after RFR exposure. If I am reading a book and receive a call from a mobile phone, it probably will not matter if I cannot remember what I had just read. However, the consequence would be much serious, if I am an airplane technician responsible for putting screws and nuts on airplane parts. A phone call in the middle of my work can make me forget and miss several screws. Another adverse scenario of short-term memory deficit is that a person may overdose himself on medication because he has forgotten that he has already taken the medicine.
Lastly, I like to briefly describe the experiments we carried out to investigate the effects of RFR on DNA in brain cells of the rat. We [Lai and Singh 1995, 1996; Lai et al., 1997] reported an increase in DNA single and double strand breaks, two forms of DNA damage, in brain cells of rats after exposure to RFR. DNA damages in cells could have an important implication on health because they are cumulative. Normally, DNA is capable of repairing itself efficiently. Through a homeostatic mechanism, cells maintain a delicate balance between spontaneous and induced DNA damage. DNA damage accumulates if such a balance is altered. Most cells have considerable ability to repair DNA strand breaks; for example, some cells can repair as many as 200,000 breaks in one hour. However, nerve cells have a low capability for DNA repair and DNA breaks could accumulate. Thus, the effect of RFR on DNA could conceivably be more significant on nerve cells than on other cell types of the body.
Cumulative damages in DNA may in turn affect cell functions. DNA damage that accumulates in cells over a period of time may be the cause of slow onset diseases, such as cancer. … Cumulative damage in DNA in cells also has been shown during aging. Particularly, cumulative DNA damage in nerve cells of the brain has been associated with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s diseases.
Since nerve cells do not divide and are not likely to become cancerous, more likely consequences of DNA damage in nerve cells are changes in functions and cell death, which could either lead to or accelerate the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Double strand breaks, if not properly repaired, are known to lead to cell death. Indeed, we have observed an increase in apoptosis (a form of cell death) in cells exposed to RFR (unpublished results).
However, another type of brain cells, the glial cells, can become cancerous, resulting from DNA damage. This type of response, i.e., genotoxicity at low and medium cumulative doses and cell death at higher doses, would lead to an inverted-U response function in cancer development and may explain recent reports of increase [Repacholi et al., 1997], decrease [Adey et al., 1996], and no significant effect [Adey et al., 1997] on cancer rate of animals exposed to RFR.
Understandably, it is very difficult to define and judge what constitute low, medium, and high cumulative doses of RFR exposure, since the conditions of exposure are so variable and complex in real life situations.
Interestingly, RFR-induced increases in single and double strand DNA breaks in rat brain cells can be blocked by treating the rats with melatonin … [Lai and Singh, 1997]. Since it is a potent, free radical scavenger, this data suggest that free radicals may play a role in the genetic effect of RFR. [Lai and Singh, 1998].3
Well, isn’t that just fine and dandy!
What did the Cassiopaeans have to say about the use of cell phones and cell–phone towers?
August 15, 1998
Q: (L) Can you give me an approximate number of aliens currently interacting with, or on, or under our planet as a whole?
A: “Aliens?” What constitutes such?
Q: (L) Okay. Well then, non-human beings. Extra-terrestrials, ultra-terrestrials, and so forth.
A: These bases have naturalized the inhabitants. Anomalies occur as much because of where the bases are chosen to be located as any other factor. Magnetic faults and their inherent portals, you know!
Q: (L) This [source on the Internet] thinks that there is a rather limited number of aliens, and that people ought to get together and resist this threat because our numbers are greater. Is that, in fact, correct?
A: Not point. The question of the hour is: what is the motive? Build a house step by step, and when it is finished, you can move into the neighborhood and out of the motel.
Q: (L) Oh jeez. So, these are a bunch of aliens hanging out in motels waiting for their house to be built. That does not sound good.
A: Many of you have recently become “bedazzled” by the “information superhighway,” and its accompanying computer hardware. Gee, we wonder why?
Q: (L) Well, you told us to network. We have been networking like crazy, digging up information, reading and comparing. Yes, there is a ton of garbage out there, but if we don’t ask, how will we know?
A: Point was: who is manipulating thee? Not so much you specifically, but the others? So many kids and kids-at-heart are thunderstruck by techno-sensory toys. Those cellular phones, those pagers and the Christmas toy computers … they are like, so cool!
Q: (L) So what are you implying about these techno toys?
Q: (L) Give me a clue.
A: Fuzzy jello-brained kids.
Q: (L) Are you saying that pagers and cell phones, and techno toys that kids get for Christmas can have effects on them that turn their brains to jello?
A: In a figurative sense. All this technology represents a Brave New World. Like Huxley said: Woe is to those who have been led to eat their brains for lunch.
Q: (L) My kids have pagers. Are pagers, in particular …
A: What do you think comprises the signal content?
Q: (L) I don’t know. What does comprise the signal content?
Q: (L) What do these microwaves do to the individual?
A: Contour brain cell structure.
Q: (L) Do they emit a signal continuously, or only when they are being used?
A: Wave cycle low to high.
Q: (L) Well, that’s not good. How close does the pager have to be to you to have this effect?
A: Four meters. Cell phones too and television and computer screens can be transmitted through thusly.
Q: (L) When you say “contouring brain cell structure,” what would be evidence or results of such effects?
A: Increasingly narrow outlooks and being unable to employ discriminatory thinking.
Q: (L) Confusion?
A: No. Just lack of depth and breadth to one’s mental and psychic abilities.
Q: (A) Now, about pagers … we were told that pagers emit some radiation, which can be detrimental up to a distance of four meters. As far as I understand a pager is a passive device, a receiver. It is not emitting anything. How can a pager be detrimental?
A: Microwave “bounce effect.”
Q: (A) So, they bounce from the receiver … I see.
A: Cell phones too.
Q: (L) Is there any kind of device that we can build or purchase that can emit a blocking signal?
A: Knowledge protects.
And it is here and now that we are learning how true that statement is in just about every sense of the word! So, let’s get on with it.
Work in the Laboratory of Neurochemistry at the Barrow Neurological Institute principally concerns molecules critically involved in such signaling called nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR). nAChR act throughout the brain and body as molecular switches to connect nerve cell circuits involved in essential functions ranging from vision and memory to the control of heart rate and muscle movement.
Defects in nAChR or their loss cause diseases such as myasthenia gravis and epilepsy and can contribute to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and schizophrenia.
nAChR also happen to be the principal targets of tobacco nicotine. … Nicotine-like medicines show promise in the treatment of diseases such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Tourette’s syndrome and in alleviation of anxiety, pain, and depression, suggesting involvement of nAChR in those disorders.
… We have shown that numbers and function of diverse nAChR subtypes can be influenced by many biologically active substances, ranging from steroids to local anesthetics, and by agents acting on the extracellular matrix, the cytoskeleton, on second messenger signaling, and at the nucleus. We also have shown that chronic nicotine exposure induces numerical upregulation of many diverse nAChR subtypes via a post-transcriptional process that is dominated by effects on intracellular pools of receptors or their precursors.
Some current studies are testing our hypothesis that chronic nicotine exposure, as occurs with habitual use of tobacco products, disables nAChR and the nerve cell circuits they subserve, thereby contributing to long-lasting changes in brain and body function. [Lukas, 1999.]4
Now, notice in the above account how tricky they were when they said that “nicotine exposure induces numerical upregulation of many diverse nAChR subtypes via a post-transcriptional process that is dominated by effects on intracellular pools of receptors or their precursors.” That is jargon for “it increases the number of receptors” as well as the amount of acetylcholine. But, of course, the AMA wouldn’t let them get away with any of their work if they weren’t adding that they have a hypothesis that “habitual use of tobacco products … disables acetylcholine.” Never mind that in the beginning they are proposing it as a therapeutic drug for some of the very problems that have risen to almost epidemic numbers in the present time.
Let’s say it again: research shows, however, that daily infusions of nicotine actually increase the number of acetylcholine receptors by up to 40%. Some researchers, such as the above, brush this finding off by saying “regardless, their function diminishes.” But that is not empirically observed. Most people who smoke find a set point, and once they have reached this, it does not take more and more and more to satisfy it.
How does nicotine act?
There are two major types (or classes) of acetylcholine receptors in the body, and they are commonly named by the other drugs which bind to them: nicotine and muscarine. Muscarinic acetylcholine receptors (mAChRs) can bind muscarine as well as ACh, and they function to change the metabolism …
Acetylcholine acts on nicotine acetylcholine receptors to open a channel in the cell’s membrane. Opening such a channel allows certain types of ions (charged atoms) to flow into or out of the cell. … When ions flow, there is an electrical current, and the same is true in the nervous system. The flowing of ions, or the passing of current, can cause other things to happen, usually those things involve the opening of other types of channels and the passing of information from one neuron to another.
Nicotinic AChRs are found throughout the body, but they are most concentrated in the nervous system (the brain, the spinal cord, and the rest of the nerve cells in the body) and on the muscles of the body (in vertebrates).
We say that nicotine acts like ACh at the receptors to activate them, and both substances are called agonists. The opposite type of drug, something that binds to the receptors and does not allow them to be activated is called an antagonist.
… When a substance comes into the body that can interfere with ACh binding to muscle nAChRs, that chemical can cause death in a relatively short time (because you use muscles to do things like breathe). A class of chemicals in snake and other poisonous venoms, neurotoxins, do exactly that. If you are bitten by a krait or a cobra, for example, and enough venom gets into the blood, there will be enough of their neurotoxin in your body to shut down the diaphragm muscle that expands your lungs. Without that muscle functioning, the person ceases to breathe and dies of asphyxiation.
One of the reasons we know so much about these receptors is precisely that – plants and people have used substances [acetylcholine antagonists] that cause paralysis and asphyxiation for a long time. Plants use them to prevent being eaten by herbivores. Animals use similar substances to paralyze their prey. At least one human neuromuscular disease is related to nAChRs, and that is myasthenia gravis …
So, as you can see, nAChRs are important to life. … All known nicotinic receptors do share some common features. They are composed of 5 protein subunits which assemble like barrel staves around a central pore. … When the ligand (ACh or nicotine) binds to the receptor, it causes the receptor complex to twist and open the pore in the center. [Pugh.]5
Now, aside from noting that acetylcholine has our magic number 5, did you notice that it says, “animals use similar substances [acetylcholine antagonists] to paralyze their prey?” We have to wonder about the oft-reported conditions of paralysis associated with alien interactions. Keep acetylcholine in mind because we will be coming back to it repeatedly!
Now, let’s go back to alcohol. Alcohol is a great pretender and can fool at least four types of receptors. It blocks the acetylcholine receptors. However, unlike nicotine, which also binds to the acetylcholine receptors, alcohol doesn’t do anything useful while it is there. It simply sits there and blocks the ability to think. It also acts like cocaine in that it blocks the dopamine reuptake, flooding the brain with “feeling good.” Alcohol stimulates the release of endorphins, thus resembling morphine and heroin to a greatly lessened extent, and it modifies and increases the efficiency of the serotonin receptors.
All of that in one brew. It almost makes you want to go and have a few beers!
And, if you could just have a few once in awhile, or a glass of wine with dinner or a single cocktail in the evening, it would not be as damaging. But for some people, it doesn’t work that way with alcohol.
Generally mammals – from monkeys to dogs and cats – avoid alcohol. If you give them a choice, they will drink water instead. In some human beings, there is a genetic variation that results in decreased desire for alcohol. Scientists, however, have managed to breed rats with a taste for liquor. Rats that like to drink also, interestingly, produce abnormally low amounts of serotonin. And, recent research has indicated that human beings who are alcoholic have fewer dopamine receptors genetically. A large percentage of smokers also have an unusual copy of a gene called D2, which causes their bodies to make about a third fewer dopamine receptors. They get their buzz from acetylcholine.
Just saying no to drugs clearly is not going to work, considering our understanding of how they operate in our bodies. And, more importantly, we have to think about the fact that these drugs only work because they imitate natural substances that produce the same states of mind. That emotions or feelings can be so easily imitated chemically should give us pause when we say “I feel it”. Do you really feel it? Or is the feeling being stimulated in you by some signal from your environment. And what kind of signal, how it was programmed, and where it might come from are open to all possibilities.
Our inability to control our emotions is as difficult as saying no to drugs. And it lies not in personality defects, but in the sheer strength of the physiology – the Predator’s mind. The golfer, John Daly, was willing to pay three million dollars for a drink. A crack addict who had been arrested 31 times, who had been subjected to repeated fines and imprisonment, said, “Once that compulsion is there, it doesn’t matter what the penalty or threat is.”
Subtle differences in the way our brain is wired make us more or less susceptible to chemical manipulation. Most of us don’t go to the extremes of paying three million dollars for a drink, nor are we willing to risk prison for drugs, but our inner cravings for the fix of emotions leave us helplessly at their mercy.
Because our internal chemicals are used to stimulate the genetic pleasure pathway, the battle we fight is within. When our neurons experience the euphoria of a dopamine bath, our brain is in heaven. Never mind that whatever it is we are doing will lead to disaster or, at the very least, another day of heartbreak and misery in a miserable relationship; or a faith that takes our money, gives us promises, and leaves us unable to cope with real life, we come back for more.
How can we stop the behaviors that provide our brain’s highest reward?
Neuroscientist, Dr. Joseph LeDoux, professor of Science at New York University Center for Neuroscience, has examined the way the brain shapes our experiences and our memories. His studies have unraveled the workings of emotions in general. He discovered that many neural pathways bypass the higher thinking parts of the brain.
The brain mechanisms that generate a given mental state, or what we choose, for the sake of convenience to call emotion, also give rise to certain measurable physiological states, such as pulse rates or brain waves, as well as observable behaviors such as running away or smiling. Feelings, by contrast, are a conscious, subjective labeling of the individual’s state. One person may say, “I feel excited,” and another may say, “I feel afraid,” and both will exhibit the same physiological symptoms and characteristic brain waves. So, trying to work backward is problematical. Dr. LeDoux writes:
… [F]ear is pervasive. … fear is a good emotion to study [because] it’s at the root of many psychiatric problems. The so-called anxiety disorders – panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder – make up about half of all the psychiatric conditions that are treated every year, not including substance-abuse problems. …
… [T]he brain system that generates fear behavior evolved to help animals stay alive and has been preserved for millions of years, across a variety of species. The way that we act when we’re afraid – the way the body responds – is very similar to the way that other animals act when they’re afraid, even though we aren’t reacting to the same things. A rat would never be sent into a panic attack by the news that the stock market had crashed, and a human is not, ordinarily, afraid of a cat. But the way our body responds to the news of a stock market crash is very similar to the way the rat’s body responds when it encounters a cat. This is critically important, because it means that we can study the behavior of other animals, and the processes in their brains, to learn how the human fear system works.
… [We study fear with behavior tools] techniques and methods for studying such specific behavior … and we also need good neuroscience tools, method that allow us to study what is going on in the brain when the animal is behaving in a fearful way.
One important behavior tool is known as classical fear conditioning, which is a version of what Pavlov described as the conditioned reflex. The process of classical conditioning involves pairing, or associating, an innocuous stimulus – a sound or a flash of light, something that is essentially meaningless in itself – with something that is meaningful to the animal. In the case of Pavlov’s dogs, the meaningful stimulus was food; the meaningless stimulus was the bell. Food is not a useful stimulus if we’re interested in studying fear, however. So, using laboratory rats as subjects, we might pair a sound with, for instance, a mild foot shock. (We keep the shock as weak as possible to allow the experiments to be performed, and we administer it as infrequently as is feasible.) (LeDoux 1999, 126–127)
I don’t know about the reader, but I don’t believe this last remark for one minute. Not after reading about Candace Pert decapitating orgasmic guinea pigs. But, even if we are repelled by what they are doing, we need to realize that this is the knowledge that the other side has and uses; and the only way we are going to deal with our situation on this planet is to learn what they know. Meanwhile, back to Dr. LeDoux:
On the basis of these kinds of pairings, the sound becomes something that the rat learns is associated with danger. Thus when the rat hears the sound, it reacts immediately: It freezes in anticipation of danger. This is a conditioned reflex, as is Pavlov’s dogs’ salivating at the sound of the bell, in anticipation of food.
An animal in the wild usually doesn’t have the luxury of trial and error in learning what’s dangerous; it doesn’t get to practice until it gets things right. If it’s lucky enough to escape once, it had better remember the sight of the predator, the smell of the predator, the sound of the predator, and so forth. In the laboratory, we need to apply the shock with the sound only once if it is sufficiently aversive.
When something like this occurs – the sound that’s been paired with the shock – it activates a variety of responses that are identical to those that would occur in a real-life situation. Television tapes of the bombing during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, for example, reveal that when the bomb went off the first thing that happened was that everyone flinched; this was the startle reflex. But then the next thing they did was freeze: they just hunkered down and held still for about two seconds. That’s evolution buying us a little time … predators respond to movement … so we freeze when we’re in a dangerous situation, because our old evolutionary fear system detects danger and responds to it in an automatic way.
… In a situation of danger, a variety of physiological responses occur. Blood is redistributed to the body parts that are most in need (the muscles). This results in changes in blood pressure and heart rate. In addition, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal, or HPA, axis is activated, releasing stress hormones. In addition, the brain activates the release of natural opiate peptides, morphine-like substances that block the sensation of pain. Called hypoalgesia, this reaction is an evolutionary carryover that allows a wounded animal to keep going. It’s often seen in wartime, where wounded soldiers don’t react to their injuries until they’re off the battlefield. All of these things happen in the rat when it perceives a natural threat such as cat, or when it hears the sound that’s been paired with the shock. And all of these fear responses are easily measured.
In addition to behavioral tools, we also need the tools of neuro-science to understand how the brain’s fear system works. … One is called a brain lesion, a small hole made in brain tissue to interrupt the flow of information between neurons. (pp. 127–129)
Well, we knew it was coming. He went from “mild shocks” to poking holes in rats’ brains. Next he is going to be decapitating them …
By blocking the flow of information in a given pathway with a lesion, we can determine whether that pathway is involved in the behavior we’re studying. That is, lesions in some areas will have no effect on the behavior, and lesions in other areas will interfere with the behavior, thus implicating that area. People with strokes or tumors have natural lesions, which typically are not very precisely localized. (p. 129)
And we are sure there are some folks who are certainly studying humans with precisely localized lesions – to use the jargon. Knowledge protects!
Considerable research has produced precise maps of the brain of the rat, and of many other animals as well. (p. 129)
No doubt. And I expect that some of those animals stand on two feet.
As a result, we can go into a specific region of the rat brain on the basis of three coordinates – left/right, up/down, and front/back – and make a lesion by releasing a small amount of current or injecting a chemical.
The brain maps are also useful when we want to measure the electrical activity of a particular region. Because communication between neurons is based on electrical activity, we can insert electrodes attached to amplifiers to record responses in a given area of the brain. … If neuron A activates neuron B, neuron B will fire … which tells us that neuron B is part of the brain circuitry involved in the behavior we’re studying.
Finally, we can trace actual connections in the brain – determining whether area X sends its axons to Area Y or to Area Z – by tracking chemical activity. … We inject a tracer substance into Area X … The tracer is taken up by the neurons in the area injected, then hitches a ride on molecules that are being shipped down the axon. We can then stain or dye the brain to see where the substance appears next; the region will stain brightly enough so that we can see it under the microscope. This tells us which areas Area X talks to.
Once we have conditioned the animal to respond to a sound – or that the sound produces freezing behavior, changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and so forth – the next step is to trace how the sound, coming into the ear, reaches the parts of the brain that produce these responses in the body. The strategy is to make a lesion in a certain part of the brain to determine whether damage to that area interferes with the fear conditioning. If it does, we then inject the tracer substance there to see which areas that part of the brain communicates with. Then we systematically make lesions in each of those downstream areas to see which one interferes with the fear conditioning, inject tracer substance at that point, look to see where it goes, and so on. We can then record electrical activity to see how cells in the area respond. In this way, we can walk our way, point by point, through whatever pathway of the brain we want to study.
… Years of research by many workers have given us extensive knowledge of the neural pathways involved in processing acoustic information, which is an excellent starting point for examining the neurological foundations of fear. The natural flow of auditory information – the way you hear music, speech, or anything else – is that the sound comes into the ear, enters the brain, goes up to a region called the auditory midbrain, then to the auditory thalamus, and ultimately to the auditory cortex. Thus, in the auditory pathway, as in other sensory systems, the cortex is the highest level of processing.
… Does the sound have to go all the way to the auditory cortex in order for the rat to learn that the sound paired with the shock is dangerous? When we made lesions in the auditory cortex, we found that the animal could still make the associations between the sound and the shock, and would still react with fear … since information from all our senses is processed in the cortex … the fact that the cortex didn’t seem to be necessary was both intriguing and mystifying. We wanted to understand how something as important as the emotion of fear could be mediated by the brain if it wasn’t going into the cortex, where all the higher processes occur. So we next made lesions in the auditory thalamus, and then in the auditory midbrain. … What we found was that lesions in either of these subcortical areas completely eliminated the rat’s susceptibility to fear conditioning. If the lesions were made in an unconditioned rat, the animal could not learn to make the association between sound and shock, and if the lesions were made on a rat that had already been conditioned to fear the sound, it would no longer react to the sound.
But if the stimulus didn’t have to reach the cortex, where was it going from the thalamus? Some other area or areas of the brain must receive information from the thalamus and establish memories about experiences that stimulate a fear response. To find out, we made a tracer injection in the auditory thalamus and found that some cells in this structure projected axons into the amygdala. This is key, because the amygdala has for many years been known to be important in emotional responses. So it appeared that information went to the amygdala from the thalamus without going to the neocortex.
We then did experiments with rats that had amygdala lesions … we found that the amygdala lesion prevented conditioning from taking place. …
So the amygdala is critical to this pathway. It receives information about the outside world directly from the thalamus, and immediately sets in motion a variety of bodily responses. We call this thalamo-amygdala pathway the low road because it’s not taking advantage of all the higher-level information processing that occurs in the neocortex, which also communicates with the amygdala.
… say that a hiker is walking through the woods and sees something on the ground. The image gets to the thalamus, which sends a very crude template to the amygdala; the amygdala, in turn, activates the heart rate, gets the muscles tense and ready to go. At the same time, the stimulus is making its way through the cortex, which is slowly building up a complete representation of – a snake. Now, the thalamus doesn’t know if it’s a snake or just a stick that looks like a snake, but as far as the amygdala is concerned in this situation you’re better off treating the stick as a snake than you are treating a snake as a stick. The subcortical brain is over generalizing for the opportunity to stay alive in the presence of the snake. By getting the amygdala going instantly, it buys you time. If the object turns out to be a stick instead of a snake, nothing’s lost; you can turn the fight-or-flight system off. But if it turns out to be a snake, you’re ahead of the game: you’ve activated the amygdala, and your body is ready to respond effectively.
The low road, or the thalamo-amygdala pathway, is a quick and dirty system. Because it doesn’t involve the cortex at all, it allows us to act first and think later. Or, rather, it lets evolution do the thinking for us, at least at the beginning, buying us time.
The cortex – the high road – also processes the stimulus, but it takes a little longer. You need the cortex for high-level perception in order to distinguish one kind of music from another … or to distinguish between two speech sounds. But you don’t need the cortex to carry out some of the emotional learning involved in the fear system. Thus we can have emotional reactions to something without knowing what we’re responding to – even as we start responding to it. In other words, we’re dealing with the unconscious processing of emotion. This is a neurological demonstration of at least part of what Freud was trying to get at when he talked about the unconscious emotions.
… what we’re saying is that unconscious emotions are probably the rule rather than the exception.
We all know that there are many times in normal, day-to-day experience when we don’t understand where our emotions are coming from – why we feel happy, sad, afraid. For example, let’s say you’re in a restaurant having a meal with a friend and you have a terrible argument at the table, which happens to be covered with a red and white checkered tablecloth. The next day you’re walking down the street and you have this gut feeling that the person walking toward you is someone you don’t like. You’ve never seen the person before, but you know you don’t like him. We often hear about gut feelings and people say, “You have to trust your gut.” But maybe in this case the reason you feel you don’t like this person is simply that he’s wearing a red and white checkered tie. This visual input is going in through your low road, activating your amygdala and causing you to have an unpleasant reaction to the person. You might attribute your reaction to the way this person looks or walks or acts, but in fact it’s just the low road … the unconscious activation of the amygdala.
Some of the time … these low road reactions are useful. Certainly that was the evolutionary goal: to protect us from danger. But these can also be harmful, or at least counterproductive. As in the case of the red and white checkered tie/tablecloth, an unconscious response may not be revealing some sort of inner truth but may instead be doing nothing more than reviving past emotional learning. “Listening to your gut” … might simply mean you are responding to past learning.
… Other areas of the brain provide input to the amygdala as well. Information about what we might call sensory objects – visual objects such as apples, or complex sounds like music or speech – come from the sensory cortex.
Other parts of the cortex are involved in higher cognition. For example, a cortical area called the hippocampus is involved in such higher order aspects of cognition as long-term memory and the processing of the context of events, that kind of information that allows us to say where and when something happened, along with other elements of the scene, such as whether it was raining. If you damage or remove the hippocampus in rats, for instance, the animals are no longer able to recognize a familiar place; they are unable to distinguish whether the test chamber they’re in is the one where they’ve been conditioned to mild foot shocks. As a result, they express fear responses in all similar chambers.
Let’s say, for example, that you regard all snakes as dangerous, but you know that you needn’t fear a snake in the zoo as much as you might a snake that you happened upon in the woods. Ordinarily, your hippocampus and cortex would recognize the context (are you in the woods or at the zoo?), and you would react appropriately to the sight of a snake. But if you had a hippocampal lesion, you might have trouble suppressing a strong fear reaction even at the zoo.
Another important player in the fear response is the prefrontal cortex. In rat studies, as well as in human experiments, when you give the sound over and over again, without the unpleasant event occurring, it eventually loses its ability to elicit the emotional fear reactions. This process is called extinction. But if the medial part of the prefrontal cortex is damaged, emotional memory is difficult to extinguish. So, for example, a rat that has a lesion in the prefrontal cortex tends to continue to respond to the sound as if it were still associated with the unpleasant event; the learned response is resistant to extinction
However, it’s important to know that even without damage to the prefrontal cortex, fear memories are hard to extinguish completely. Many studies show, for example, that weeks after a rat has ceased to react to a sound that had been paired with a shock, it might suddenly react fearfully to the sound again. Or if the animal goes back into the chamber where it had the conditioning experience, the fear behavior can be reactivated. Stress can reactivate extinguished fears in humans as well. A patient with a phobia can be treated, apparently successfully; then something happens – say the patient’s mother dies – and the phobia comes back.
What certain types of therapy can do – and what the extinction process does – is train the prefrontal cortex to inhibit the output of the amygdala. This training doesn’t eliminate the unconscious fear; it simply holds it in check.
Therapists find this both depressing and informative; they now understand that fear memories can’t be completely eliminated, but at least they know what battle they’re up against. …
… I don’t know of any animal that can’t be conditioned … and in any animal that has an amygdala, that structure seems to be involved in fear conditioning. The fear system, therefore, is probably a very basic, fundamental learning mechanism that’s built into the brain.
In this sense then, we’re emotional lizards. We’re running around with an amygdala that’s designed to detect danger and respond to it. This system is very efficient, and it hasn’t changed much in terms of how it works. What has changed, of course, are the kinds of things that will turn it on, the things that humans have learned [taught and conditioned] to respond to that have the same effect on us that seeing a cat has on a rat.
… the hippocampus is involved in the system whose job is to create the memories we mean when we say, “I remember.” You remember your first day at school, your vacation last year, Sunday dinner last week, and so on. These are your memories and they involve the hippocampus. (pp. 129–140)
LeDoux then gives an example. Suppose you’re driving down the road and you are involved in an accident. The horn gets stuck and is blasting while you are suffering pain and thinking that you might die. Sometime later, a horn sounds and stimulates you to remember the accident. The whole scene of where you were and the series of events parade through your mind as a series of facts. It happened. But these facts are cold and hold no emotion. This is a memory about an emotional experience, but it is not the emotion.
However, it is very unlikely that this will happen in this way because the sound of the horn will also go through the amygdala which will, at the same time that you are remembering from the hippocampus, cause the autonomic system to crank into action; your muscles will tense up and you may re-experience the whole gamut of “fight or flight” right there and then.
The important thing to understand is that these two memory systems are separate, even if they generally operate in tandem.
Patients in whome the hippocampal system is damaged have poor conscious memory. [There is a] famous case of a woman who had severe amnesia. Each day when her doctor walked into her room, he would have to reintroduce himself because the woman never remembered having seen him the day before. In fact, if he left the room for even just a few minutes, she wouldn’t remember him when he returned. One day the doctor walked in and extended his hand to shake hers. But this time he held a pin in the palm of his hand. When their hands met, hers was pricked and she withdrew it immediately. The doctor left the room, and when he came back a few minutes later … she wouldn’t shake hands with him. She had no conscious memory of being pricked by the doctor, but … her amygdala remembered [to] protect herself.
By contrast, patients whos hippocampus is intact but who have amygdala damage are unable to do this kind of pinprick learning, this kind of fear conditioning. They know all the details – that the doctor was in the room, that they were pricked – but they don’t withdraw their hand when the doctor tries to shake. … the amygdala and the hippocampus systems mediate different kinds of memory. Normally, they work together so that emotional memories … and memories of emotion … are fused in our conscious experience so immediately and so tightly that we cannot dissect them by introspection. …
A traumatic [or stressful] situation … has separate consequences for these two memory systems. When … stress hormones [are released] into the body, the hormones (especially cortisol) tend to inhibit the hippocampus, but they excite the amygdala. In other words, the amygdala will have no trouble forming an emotional, unconscious memories of the event – and, in fact, will form even stronger memories because of the stress hormones. But these same hormones can interfere with … and prevent formation of a conscious memory of the event. (pp. 140–142)
This has a strong bearing on our early childhood programming. It is thought that the hippocampus is not fully formed and functional in early childhood, and, as a result, we are unable to develop long-term, conscious memories before that time.
Yet, the amygdala is fully formed and functioning. And it is for this reason that abused children form very strong emotional memories that cause them to react strongly to many things, while having no access at all to any conscious understanding of why they feel as they do. Unconscious emotional memories affect us all our lives, powerfully, and it is extremely difficult to work through them without conscious recall. The mere sight of anything that is associated with an early traumatic or stressful event can activate the emotional response, whether it is of a positive or negative nature.
More than this, these unconscious memories can generalize as we have already described in an earlier section.
Now, all animals have the fear-learning mechanism that enables them to survive. They can detect danger and respond to it appropriately. However, they do not have fearful feelings, the way we do when our basic “fear program” is activated in a brain which also has self-consciousness. Here, a new phenomenon occurs: subjective feelings.
Feelings of fear … are what happen in consciousness when the activity generated by the subcortical neural system involved in detecting danger is perceived … by certain systems in the cortex, especially the working memory system …
A conscious feeling of fearfulness is not necessary to trigger an emotional fear response. The low road can take care of this just fine. That is, we can produce responses to danger without being consciously afraid, as when we jump back up onto the curb to avoid being hit by a car. In a situation like that, as people so often say, we don’t “have time to be afraid.” … At other times we will first have some kind of response in our body and only later be able to name what the feeling was: anxious, sad or angry. In many cases, though, even if we can say that we feel anxious, we don’t know what generated those feelings. Indeed, we see this again and again in the various disorders of the fear system, such as panic attacks and phobias. …
Why is it so difficult to eliminate such fears? Once the amygdala is turned on, it can influence information processing in the cortex from the earliest stages onward, but only the later stages of cortical processing affect the amygdala. In other words, even though communication goes two ways, it’s not equally effective in both directions. In general, the projections from the amygdala to the cortex are much stronger than vice versa. If we think of the routes from the amygdala to the cortex as superhighways, then those from the cortex to the amygdala are narrow back roads. Once the emotions are activated, they can influence the entire working of the cortex, whereas the cortex is very inefficient at controlling the amygdala. So, using thinking to overcome emotion is like using a back road or side street from the cortex, while the amygdala is bombarding the cortex with input via the superhighways. (LeDoux 1999, 144–145)
But thinking with the cortex, it turns out, is basically a way to rewire your brain. It is like working on the back roads to develop them into the commanding interstate system of the brain they were meant to be. Research shows that changes in the brain are the result of learning experiences, and it seems that learning – acquiring knowledge – is the path of rewiring the synaptic connections in the brain.
The key to this is the fact that learning, hard thinking and pondering, requires that certain brain chemicals – usually acetylcholine – be squirted out at just the right place and in the right quantities. It is becoming clear that the molecules of memory are blind to the kind of memory – whether it is conscious or unconscious – that is occurring. What determines the quality of different kinds of memories is not the molecules that do the storing but the systems in which those molecules act. If they act in the hippocampus, the memories that get recorded are factual and accessible to our consciousness. If the chemicals are acting in the amygdala, they are emotional and mostly inaccessible to conscious awareness.
So, even if we don’t know what has triggered a given emotional response until after the fact, we do have an awareness that we are feeling a certain way. This awareness is called our “working memory.”
Working memory, or awareness, involves the frontal lobes of the brain just above and behind the eyebrows. This is what we use when we want to remember a new phone number just long enough to dial it, or to remember what we went to the kitchen for long enough to get it. It is also the place where many different kinds of information are held simultaneously while we are comparing one thing to another. We can have all kinds of things going on there at once. We can look at something and hold this image in working memory along with the memory of something we have pulled from long-term memory that we wish to compare it to. Sounds, smells, and even the ongoing physiological input from our system. And while we do this, we are considering: does it make us feel peaceful, happy, sad, afraid?
All of these elements come together simultaneously. However, this working memory can only do one thing at a time, even if that one task is multi-factored. A classic example is when you try to remember a new phone number and someone asks you a question before you get to dial it. The number flies out the window as you answer the question and you have to go back and look it up again.
It seems that this “working memory” or awareness is – if not consciousness itself – at least a window to it. It is in working memory that conscious feelings occur. In working memory, three things come together to create conscious feeling: present stimuli, activation of the amygdala in some way and activation of conscious memory in the hippocampus.
Present stimuli might include standing inside a church. This would arouse the amygdala so that the unconscious memories of the many experienced in church – the flooding of the receptors with neurochemicals; and this would activate conscious memory of the last time you were in church, or several memorable times will pass through the mind. When all these things come together in working memory, with the body now activated with chemistry and past history, this is perceived as “feeling.”
The same thing can occur in any kind of encounter as we have already described. Something that is present now will turn on the chemicals, which will arouse conscious memories that are related to those chemicals, and then the present moment will be interpreted in those same terms.
Since what we are looking at here is the fact that unconscious, chemical imprints have a much greater ability to influence thinking than vice versa, we realize that we are face to face with an age-old debate between reason and emotion, logic and passion, knowledge and faith.
When you are aroused emotionally, whether by fear or pleasure or sexual attraction, it is a cold hard fact that emotion dominates thinking.
Philosophers going all the way back to Plato have endlessly analyzed this fundamental schism. The body fills us with passions and desires and fears and fancies and foolishness and fairy tales made up to justify these chemical reactions. Plato opined that the true philosopher was one who could master his emotions by the use of reason. Socrates said, “Know thyself,” by which he meant that we had to understand our emotions in order to be able to control them.
The vast majority of philosophers and philosophical writers throughout man’s recorded history have believed that in order to be truly human – as opposed to just an animal – we must activate reason. Descartes didn’t say, “I feel, therefore I am.” Thinking seems to be the distinctly human thing that humans do which separates them from animals. But, as Theodore Dreiser said, “Our civilization is still in the middle stage, scarcely beast in that it is no longer guided by instinct, scarcely human in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason.”
The prime example of this is, of course, Star Trek’s Dr. Spock. Captain Ahab, the hero of Melville’s Moby Dick was just the opposite. Melville wrote: “Ahab never thinks, he just feels, feels, feels.” Perhaps the mindless pursuit of a white whale is a good metaphor for the result of living by emotion.
However, I am not advocating domination of cognition; merely balance. There is, at present, such an imbalance between the amygdala’s input to the cortex and the very sparse control of the cortex over the amygdala. Even though thoughts can readily trigger emotions by activating the amygdala, it is very difficult to willfully turn off emotions.
As it happens, the cortical connections to the amygdala are actually far greater in primates than in other animals. It seems that more balanced cortical pathways are the evolutionary trend. It is my opinion that we will develop them or perish. A more harmonious integration of emotion and thinking would allow us to both know our true feelings, and why we have them, and to be able to use them more effectively.
The key is in learning. Knowledge protects. And if you haven’t already begun to put the pieces of the puzzle together with the advantages of expanding and working the frontal cortex, perhaps what we are going to look at next will finally make the whole thing clear.
Let’s take a walk into the back roads of the frontal cortex