Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spock was right... mostly

A reading group on campus is reading a book on How God Changes Your Brain. It's not written from a Christian perspective but has significant data from the neurosciences that Christians will either need to incorporate or respond to.

I'm just dropping in on the group today; I haven't read the whole book. But one thing that stuck out to me in the chapter I read is the fact that the authors claim that the limbic system in the center of the brain is more primitive and older from an evolutionary standpoint. It is where primal emotions like anger, aggression, and fear are seated. By contrast, the frontal lobes and the anterior cingulate just below it are considered younger from an evolutionary standpoint and are the places where empathy, reason, logic, and compassion reside.

The chapter likens these two parts of the brain--the inner primal and the front outer rational--to two wolves that fight inside of us. Which one wins depends on which one you feed. This description is of course ripe with theological parallel--flesh versus Spirit, the yetzer hara or evil inclination of rabbinic Judaism, the id versus the superego of Freud.

But one of the most interesting things in the chapter (7) was the sense that the emotions of anger and fear actually inhibit good thinking. Such negative emotions can apparently even damage the anterior cingulate. So Spock and the Stoics were half right. The negative emotions of anger and fear do apparently impair our ability to reason well. But they were wrong to try to do away with all emotion. Apparently compassion and empathy can coincide with good thinking.

P.S. Note the implication for the general accuracy of Rush Limbaugh's thinking... and me when I'm on one of my rants ;-)

P.S.S. I'm not sure what "good thinking" means in terms of the frontal lobes. Time to finish reading Philosophy in the Flesh.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"...the sense that the emotions of anger and fear actually inhibit good thinking. Such negative emotions can apparently even damage the anterior cingulate...The negative emotions of anger and fear do apparently impair our ability to reason well."

So did this impact the ability of Jesus to "reason well" when he overturned the tables?

Live long and prosper.

Rick

Ken Schenck said...

He had it all planned ahead of time... It was a symbolic action :-)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I had just been thinking recently about emotions and reason. How they "interact"...

Good counselling doesn't ignore or suppress emotions of the "client", but helps them to deal with them appropriately. There is nothing wrong with anger, but it needs to be expressed after all the info is in and time has been given for reflection on what is appropriate. Unfortunately, most of those who have "caused" us to be angry do not allow the time for reflection, as they are oblivious to how they impact our lives...all of us can be guilty of this from time to time.

Without anger or fear, humans are prone to be "prey" to another's appetite(s). And the lessons are expensive ones that have "butterfly effects"....

Christians are good at denying what is true about themselves, because they want to be "more" than human (which inevitibly means "unemotional").

I think that humans are more than "robots" (and even robots nowadays are suspected to "have emotion").

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Anger always accompanies trespassing of boundaries.

Boundaries are necessary for definitions of separateness, which is a healthy "adult" formation of "personhood". It is not healthy for humans to ignore proper boundaries, whether these be personal, organizational, or national.

The problem sometimes is that people do grow out of previous convictions, opinions or identifications and then, they are "not in line" with the organization or society's purpose. Then, it is time to leave, or seek to change the purpose of the organization, society, or person in an appropriate way.

Usually, though, cultures are set in stone over years of re-inforcing conditioning, which is really "swimming up stream" on an issue. Better to move on, unless the issue is one of imperative importance and one has backing of the "powerful" in the organization or society.

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