Overcoming the Amygdala Part 60


Using our experimental model, we can establish that human beings have two basic modes of operation: they look outward, and perceive and measure and experience a set of surroundings (including their own mental ‘furniture’); and they look inward, a mode particularly noticeable in dreams, when the outer world is closed down as in times of sleep.

Looking outward seems to take up most of the ordinary human being’s time and energy, and also appears to require the parasympathetic nervous system as a back-up mechanism to scan that outward environment constantly, looking for potential trouble. Consequently, we tend to assign all the importance to that outward perspective and relegate the inner view to the bedroom or the psychiatrist’s couch.

But what if that inner view were at least as important as the outer one? What if we were to assign equal importance to both modes, in an attempt to better understand what’s going on with our amygdala (apart from anything else)?

Try to put aside the so-called ‘conscious’ outwardly scanning mind for a moment, and imagine that, instead of sweeping your environment constantly like a kind of living radar machine, you were placing your attention on the world inside.

What do we first notice about it?

Well, one of the things that differs most about the inner world that we see when we close our eyes and pay attention to it is that it is relatively unstable — a great deal more about it seems in flux, unconnected, random — or at least not connected in ways that our rational minds understand. Whereas our outward-facing brains connect up the elements in our physical environments to create recognisable ‘rooms’ and other spaces, with floors, ceilings, walls and furniture which seem to maintain secure relationships with each other, our inner intellects find that everything is far more ‘malleable’: we can be walking down a street in San Francisco at one moment, then we’re aboard a pirate ship in the next; we can be having a conversation with an old friend but then a moment later we have lost him in a crowd and are being summoned to an ambassadorial party in Vienna. In other words, the usual causal relationships governed by time and space which are apparently in firm operation in the outer world are suspended inside and just about anything can happen.

Cause and Effect, the principles we learn to adapt to and use while we are still children, have little sway in the inner world: we can drop a spoon outside and expect it to hit the floor, while inside it could turn into a teapot and fly away or vanish.

Another fundamental that we might notice is that the inner world seems to contain a great deal more significance, even though much of it eludes rational sense: a relationship there can seem full of love and passion, a picture on the wall evocative of so much emotion, a doorway opening lead to floods of joy or relief or indescribable sensations — compared to the dry and comparatively dull outer world, where things remain reasonable, motionless and inert most of the time. In the inner world, a friend saying something to us can fill us with anticipation and a sense of impending meaning; that same friend saying something to us outside conveys nothing but words, by comparison. So in one way the inner world is full of riches and depth, but no clear, concise rational meanings, while the outer world is packed with superficiality and predictability to the point of dullness.