Overcoming the Amygdala Part 74
So we have a conscious being, one who is capable of successfully interacting with an observed environment — in fact, one who continually contributes to the creation of that environment below a conscious level, adding meaning, significance, importance, value, depth, quality, images, colour, and so forth to surroundings which may or may not possess those things independently.
Let’s imagine that this conscious entity is accompanied throughout Life’s adventures by a companion, a guardian, whose function it is to warn, protect, alert the entity to anything that might be regarded as unwanted, dangerous, threatening, unfriendly in its surroundings. Though the biological amygdala is but one part of a complex parasympathetic nervous system which performs this function, it would not be inappropriate to name this companion Amygdala.
Amygdala stands by the conscious entity, ready to act 24 hours a day: she has fast reflexes and can trigger alarms quicker that the entity can think. But she is also intensely loyal: she keeps a watchful eye out for real, physical threats, but also for anything which doesn’t fit exactly with what the entity itself is creating around itself.
So, for example, as the entity makes its way through its world, encountering factors like traffic, arguments with neighbours, weather, relationships with spouses and so on, Amygdala carefully activates nervous and endocrine reactions whenever she sees something that the entity might not like or which doesn’t match its desires: sounds, sights, smells, tastes, feelings, anything which is outside the entity’s self-projected comfort zone are assessed as departures.
How does Amygdala ‘think’? What makes her reach for the alarm switch?
She observes the mental and physical environment around the entity and compares data. By studying and isolating the departures that make a situation undesirable she can then see what it is necessary to warn the entity about. She engages, in other words, in what might be called ‘departure testing’ or ‘departure locating’ but is probably better termed ‘departure analysis’. She subjects data and surroundings to tests which establish any absence, unwanted presence, or any of the other categories of departure we looked at earlier (see also below).
But this is more than a biological flash-judgement. Amygdala has to be able to really think to some degree. Trying to find departures without also having the ability to compare data is impossible: a sabre-toothed tiger would just be an orange shape unless it could be compared to cats, sharp things, fast things, deadly things, and so on, all in a nano-second.
Amygdala is good at obtaining answers. And answers depend on data. Unless she can rapidly test and establish the truth and value of what she sees, she can’t provide useful warnings. She might as well be going off all the time — in which case she’d probably eventually be ignored, like the boy who cried ‘wolf’.
Her road to successful functioning begins with ways and means of determining the value of the data she employs. Without that step she could never arrive at any kind of ideal.
You can assert that two things are equal to each other and a third is equal to them, which means that they are all equal to one another. Like a maths formula, if A equals B and B equals C then C equals A. But this ancient theorem is totally dependent on the data it uses. As an abstract theorem it looks fine; as a practical basis for keeping entities alive, it depends on what A, B and C actually are.
Ships run on fuel, electric motors run on electricity and Amygdala runs on data.
If the subject of departure analysis is neglected or imperfect or unknown or unsuspected as a step, then Amygdala will come up with wild answers — the entity will wake up in the morning to find that Amygdala is screaming warnings about the plain, innocent wallpaper in the bedroom.
For our purposes, then, we will consider that Amygdala is capable of being logical.
But ‘logic’ for Amygdala is not what we might call logic. For her, it’s always this question: ‘Does what I am sensing match with my entity’s projected ideals or not?’
If there’s a match, she stays silent; if she spots something that doesn’t fit, she prods her entity into fight or flight accordingly.
The Steps of Departure Analysis
The two general steps Amygdala has to take to ‘find out what is really going on’ are:
i. Analyse the data, the sensory input from the environment and
ii. Use the data thus analysed, to work out the departure level in the environment. The way she analyses data is to divide it into the five broad categories of departure examined earlier:
1. Things are missing that should be there (or present that shouldn’t be there).
2. Events are out of an expected sequence.
3. Something about Time has changed — either there is too much of it, or too little, or none.
4. An apparent untruth has been added — something which seems out of place when other facts are known.
5. Significance has been exaggerated or reduced in some way.
The way to work out the departure level is to put in its smaller areas each of the data analysed as above. Doing this gives her the location of greatest departure as well as highlighting areas closest to the entity’s ideal.
Example: There is a problem in the workplace. The entity works with three different people. Doing a departure analysis on the whole workplace gives Amygdala a number of categories. Then she assigns these to the three people who work in the unit and finds that one of them has the most departure-points. This indicates that the trouble in the workplace is with that person. This can be sorted out by ringing alarms whenever he comes into the room, or more rationally by the conscious entity if he or she is remotely aware of what Amygdala is doing.
Amygdala’s approach is straightforward: obtain an analysis of the situation by analysing all the input and assigning the departures to its parts. The area having the most departures is the target for alarms.
It’s all unconscious and very rapid, as far as the entity (the human being, the person) is concerned. All he or she feels is a sense of alarm whenever a particular person walks into the room.
This is all very well and has some workability as long as Amygdala’s input is based on sensible departures — but if the human being is projecting various dreams, half-thought-out ideas, images, fears, onto the workplace and its personnel without realising it, things get more complex.
Amygdala doesn’t decide what is being projected; she just looks around and sees if what she sees matches with the projections.
So the human being she’s trying to protect may have an unconscious aversion to someone at work because that person reminds them of their estranged father, for example. They project onto that person images and feelings which aren’t ‘really’ there. But Amygdala, doing her duty, scans and sees that the person is apparently exhibiting departures from her ward’s ideals — and activates alarms accordingly.
Amygdala is fooled by projections too, you see.
How do we 'unfool' her?