from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme(s) #18


#18A: Acting on impulse means responding immediately to a triggering stimulus with little or no conscious control or direction.  Most fundamentally, our brains—and those of all animals—are structured to do this in response to danger.  We have an "alarm system" (centered in the amygdala, part of the limbic system, Figure #18b) that can instantly prepare our bodies for fight, flight, or (less dramatic) appeasement responses.  A quarter second or so later, the brain's cortex can evaluate the alarm it receives, put it into context with other information, and more consciously, rationally decide whether to activate a full blown survival type response, or to dampen those preparations.  Indeed,  our most basic instincts—and most powerful emotions like anger and fear—can operate without the conscious mind intervening.  

     In non-emergency situations such emotions are held in check by the higher functions of the brain—regulation which works better in some than in others.  Some suffer from impulsive behavior disorder—especially dangerous for those unable to resist temptation to engage in behavior known to be risky or harmful.  The behavior of teenagers is of concern in this regard.  Since prefrontal lobes aren't fully developed until a person reaches his or her mid-twenties.  It's been speculated that young brains are directed more by the limbic system than they eventually will be.  (The cortex will assert itself as they age.)  Studies suggest that children who resist instant gratification and are able to delay rewards have better adult lives.

     Researchers have long hypothesized a link between neurotransmitters—the chemicals released as the cells responsible for brain activity (neurons) fire—and human personality types. Robert Cloninger has suggested that the brains of extroverted individuals high in "novelty seeking" (described as quick-tempered, curious, easily bored, and impulsive) rely more on the dopamine behavioral activation system than other neurotransmitter modulated behavioral systems.  While this has not been demonstrated, research does suggest that how our brains respond to environmental stimuli is more dependent upon personality than once thought.  It suggests that, to the extent to which a person is extroverted or neurotic, his or her brain will amplify certain experiences over others.

#18B:  Like our "fight or flight" reaction to danger, many basic bodily functions, needs and urges can be met without the conscious mind's intervention—rather they involve unconscious, automatic responses to environmental stimuli.  For example, if the hypothalamus in your brain's limbic system indicates a "hungry" condition, upon seeing food you will automatically eat—unless conscious, higher brain functioning suppresses this urge.  (Perhaps you're on a diet!)  How much of what we do is the result of conscious, deliberate decisions and how much originates in unconscious automatic directives?  Research


suggests that generally the contribution of the unconscious component of our behavior is greater than was once thought—but again this seems to vary with personality.  

     Some people are much better at suppressing urges, deferring gratification and patiently waiting as necessary to carry out plans they've formulated to meet goals—plans with subgoals and sub-subgoals.  David Stephens, University of Minnesota Professor of Ecology, has studied animals "discounting the future"— doing or consuming something now, rather than waiting.  He believes animals have "a hardwired rule that says, 'Don't look too far in the future.'  Recognizing  humans are physically not much different from their ancestors—foragers who were not penalized for taking resources impulsively —Stephens thinks he understands why many people have such difficulty suppressing their "have it now" urges. 

     Human ability to control emotions like anger varies greatly.  A few become so violently out of control that their passionate rage leads to murder!  Reportedly one in three murderers claim they remember nothing of their crime.  Some neuroscientists accept this and say it fits their belief that the killers weren't really there: their conscious mind was absent when they killed!  Some better control letting their emotions out: expressing anger constructively, being objective, blaming or not blaming others as appropriate.  Still more "dispassionate" are those who fit the  ideal espoused by ancient stoic philosophers.  They taught the importance of self-control, reason, and courage in maintaining clear judgment—especially during tumultuous times when one might otherwise succumb to destructive emotions.  In general, stoics seek to maintain inner calm, have their lives flow smoothly and evenly.  Like Buddhists, they believe life is potentially full of suffering brought on by passions and desires.  They believe that removing these—especially distress, fear, lust, and delight—is the key to having freedom. 

Figure #18a: Stoic Serenity

"Tranquility is a certain equality of mind which no condition of fortune can either exalt or depress. There must be sound mind to make a happy man; there must be constancy in all conditions... True joy is serene. "            Seneca in Letters from a Stoic 
"It is in the power of the soul to maintain its own serenity and tranquility and not to think that pain is an evil."                                from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book VIII
"This is the proper goal, to practice how to remove from one's life sorrows and laments, and cries of "Alas" and "Poor me", and misfortune and disappointment."    Epictetus  in Discourses
"Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one's desires, but by the removal of desire."    Epictetus
"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."    prayer adapted from Reinhold Niebuhr



Figure #18b   above: parts of the brain

                         below: a nerve cell (neuron)





Figure #18c

Emotional Intelligence Quotient

(according to Daniel Goleman) ideally is measure of one's competency with respect to:




Social Awareness

Relationship Management





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