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Overcoming the Amygdala Part 72

A Vaccine Analogy

We have all heard much these days about how viruses work and how they are combatted with vaccines.

Basically, a vaccine works by training your body’s biological systems to recognise and battle against foreign invaders like viruses. The vaccine is composed of bits or copies of the real peril and the body builds its defences accordingly and then forgets about it all until such a peril manifests itself in the future.

Simple, right?

Astute readers of this series might spot a parallel with what we have been discussing.

In our lives, we encounter a myriad of situations, many of which contain departures from what we would like, or prefer, or consider ideal. Over time, we develop individual responses to each of these situations. These are then ‘forgotten about’ — we don’t normally use our trained-in responses for dealing with bad traffic during rush hour, for instance, until the same or a similar situation crops up again. Next time we are in bad traffic, it’s as though we contain mental ‘anti-bodies’ which rush to our defence: ‘Here you are,’ says our inner mind, ‘here’s what kind of worked last time, try that.’ And so we launch into whatever behaviour seemed to get us through that situation last time.

We do this all the time, with traffic, with jobs, with relationships, with everything ranging from dealing with shopkeepers to dealing with friends and family. We call upon what has worked (or seemed to work, even partly) in the past, just as our bodies call upon the virus-trained antibodies to defeat the invader. Those trained-in responses are waiting to be used, below the level of our conscious mind, just as our rush hour driving habits ‘wait’ for when we are in heavy traffic before being activated.

We call this ‘Life’.

A Social Media Analogy

We’ve been looking at how human beings project their innermost dreams, wishes, images, desires and so forth onto the outer world as part of being human, distinguishing themselves from machines by painting their environments with all kinds of things, from beauty to ugliness, horror to wonder, good and bad. But that’s a difficult concept to get our heads around, partly because we’re trying to look at ‘looking’, a bit like a book trying to read itself or a piece of music trying to listen to itself.

One analogy with might be a little bit useful is that of social media. Most of us are part of some major social media facility like Facebook. Our Facebook ‘feed’ and our interactions with it form a kind of loose parallel with this activity of projection.

We open up our smartphones or computer screens and there, played out before us, is a scrolling series of posts: articles, news items, pictures, and so forth, representing a kind of reality as we scan over it. But the thing that we lose track of when we interact with social media in this way is that all of those things have been pre-selected by us, either consciously whenever we have clicked a ‘like’, or through the machinations of a social media algorithm which detects and records all our tiny preferences and presents a scrolling newsfeed accordingly. Even the ads which appear have been chosen by algorithms in this way. So in effect, what we experience when participating in social media is a type of projection: what we are looking at on or screens does not represent ‘objective truth’, but only those parts of things which we have subjectively chosen and then forgotten that we had.

It’s the same with the experience we call ‘Life’: through our senses we are perceiving the ‘newsfeed’ called ‘reality’. A great deal of what we go through each day has been subjectively chosen by us in the past — where we live, our journey to work, our workplace, the people we interact with, the material which passes across our desks, the scenes, the images, the sensory moments.

Of course, while much of this has been selected, and is projected by us as a set for series of expectations onto our surroundings as we move through them, some of it isn’t: there are surprises, unexpected twists, bits of events and scenes which we didn’t quite think would turn out the way they did.

Enter the amygdala, measuring and reflecting departures — points where things didn’t quite match our projected expectations or desires: the snow blocking the car in the morning, the traffic jam, the work colleague who didn’t show up, the argument with the loved one, the missing wallet or the swerving car, all triggering to some extent the parasympathetic nervous system responses which we then feel as anxiety and even mounting panic.

If we could live inside our pre-programmed Facebook feed all the time and only experience things which were well within a set of projected parameters, we would be quite comfortable — but Life isn’t like that. We can strive to project as much as we can onto it to try and make it fit us, but things are going to happen which appear as departures from our subjective wishes, and these things create anxiety and other flight/fight responses accordingly.

Hopefully those two little analogies will help you appreciate what’s going on a little better.

Next time we’ll start looking at what we can do about it all.


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