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.