Instinct and Emotion

I’m a few minutes past 40 and occasionally I look back, playing the hindsight game, and wonder what I might have done differently. Of course, there are lots of little things I would change (hurting other people’s feelings and making a fool of myself float to the top of the list). But one of the bigger choices might be that I would have studied the brain, like the Watson of DNA decoders Watson and Crick. We poorly understand how much (or little) our brains influence human nature, decision-making, and personality.

I can’t help wanting to grasp how our brains influence writing, improv, parenting, relationships, and virtually every other outward expression of our being.

When I struggle with any situation, it’s a swirling battle between my brain and my emotions, but then I think, aren’t my emotions created by my brain? Why such conflict? If our brain is the original source of both, why do they have to battle, why haven’t we evolved to a place where instinct and emotion harmonize, where we respond more like the colony of poorly communicating ants that we are?

This morning I read an article What Can Animals’ Survival Instincts Tell Us About Human Emotion? over at Science Daily about a researcher who is trying to tease out these details.

New York University neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux says that we still don’t understand the complex connection between instinct and emotion and that it will probably be some time before we do. Study in this area is slow. We’ve mapped the human genome and found cures for literally hundreds of diseases, but why do we understand the brain so poorly? It’s because you can’t get a reliable, scientifically verifiable answer out of a guinea pig about how he’s feeling today, and because even us “advanced” humans struggle to accurately interpret our own feelings. Did I freak out about my hubby’s inquiry about money because I was angry? Confused? Afraid? Sad? It was more likely a combination of several of these emotions, and it only took me three days of introspection to think I know.

I’m psyched that scientists who took the path that I did not are working on this, I just hope they solve this great mystery before I’m gone.

3 responses to “Instinct and Emotion

  1. Neuroscience is so fascinating! Western has a relatively new behavioral neuroscience program – and if someone ever dropped a bunch of money on my lap I’d quit work and go enroll. With medical science, a doctor can learn how to heal a broken bone or cure an infection – but the brain is so much more complex. How do you heal what you can’t see? Great post!

    • Thanks Jolene! I thought about going back to school, but a lot of neuroscientists are Ph.D.’s and I’m just not feeling the 5+ years and relocation that would take, so I guess I’ll have to settle for the vicarious route. Thank goodness for writers, huh? Good to know there is a local group. At one point I thought I heard they were studying worms! So much to learn!

  2. Interesting. Most of the time I’m convinced that I know myself pretty darn well. Then some unsuspecting emotion will crop up–something ugly that I didn’t see coming–and I’m baffled. I don’t do that! I don’t feel that way! I may think I know myself, but I can surprise myself on a daily basis.

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