Be ye transformed by the renewing of….your brain? (II)

So, in an effort to do anything but my paper for the Sermon on The Mount class, I’ll finish out part two of my mind/body/drugs blog. Here I’ll aim to mention, with some detail, ideas I have about how the mind and brain interact. These ideas sprouted from my recent experiences of introspecting while on Celexa, one of the most popular antidepressants perscribed today.

Following are some of my ideas and observations that seem reasonable to me that would effect how we think of the mind’s relationship to the body:

1. Our emotions most often involve a PHYSICAL feeling and a relevant mental state (most often a belief). For instance, if I seem extraordinarily happy or sad (the feeling) when you see me, you’re likely to wonder (or ask, if you’re genuinely interested in me) what’s going on in my life and, accordingly, what’s going on in my head (the mental state).

2. The beliefs most often (if not always) precede and seem to cause the feelings. So, if you ask why I am happy, I may say something like “I just found out I was accepted to the UC Boulder summer philosophy program” (I haven’t yet, but I’d appreciate your prayers). You would almost certainly assume that this event (my acceptance) preceded my good feeling and was also somehow the cause of it.

3. An emotion then is a combination between a mental state (such as a belief) and an accompanying feeling that is dependent upon this mental state.

4. People can often have feelings that are not connected to mental states but brain states. These physical feelings are real and can be as crippling (no dopamine or seratonin in the brain) or exuberant (lots of THC in your system from pot or a spike in other hormones) as the feelings linked to the beliefs. It is the feelings that are the part of the emotion we normally try to deal with today.

5. People can also have mental states that should, but fail to, produce physical feelings.

So what are the implications of this?

For one, since I am first suggesting that the part of our emotions that we feel are actually physical states, that needs to be wrestled with I think. My reasons for thinking this are many. First, our language is pretty suggestive – we say we FEEL sad and happy. Second, I often experience emotions without any clear link to a belief or thought; I just feel bad. And third, I can actually feel it in my body when I’m very sad or happy. It’s often in my stomach or chest that I feel the pain or gladness – and every culture has some link between emotions and body parts. The hebrews said kidneys and liver, we say heart, etc….
So if the part of the emotions that we feel are actually physical, but are most often caused by mental states, then the best solution is obviously not physical, since that is just an effect of a belief.

Second, I have a suggestion about what the roles of the brain and mind are in the context of emotions. Since I don’t think that anonymous feelings linked to no belief or thought are not genuine emotions, and bad thoughts to which we are numb aren’t either, they don’t figure in here. So, it could be that I have, in my mind, a system of beliefs (a noetic structure or worldview), and a ladder of values that some of these beliefs fit on that show their importance to me (my beliefs about football are exquisitely low on the ladder, while my beliefs about the wrongness of adultery are very high) and my mind does all my thinking and dealing with these beliefs, only interacting with my body, using my brain as a contact point, when these valued beliefs warrant interaction with the physical world. So an emotion then would occur when my mind encounters a belief (or maybe a thought) that is pretty important to me and seems to have some sort of bearing on my life, my mind then has my brain produce an appropriate physical state that I can sense ( beacause, no matter how important reasoning is, most of my life is saturated with info from my five senses) and my mind relates the intense physical state (that yucky feeling in your stomach when you’re embarassed, or the light, free floating feeling when you’re overjoyed) with my belief. This relating provides me with a very tangible reason to act and move. If I feel hot and agitated by a belief I have about my neighbor having stolen my lawn mower, I will be internally incouraged to go confront him about it. This physical feeling shows me my value system that is otherwise (possibly) unknowable. It seems that if no one ever felt anything no one would ever do anything either, regardless of their beliefs. If you couldn’t feel that angry feeling, you’d probably be much less likely to do anything about it.

So, when we have emotions we need to figure out what beliefs or thoughts or ideas they’re linked to. If after much introspection and even counseling we find no link, then we are not obligated to entertain or act on it. We can simply call it stupid and go about our business probably still feeling it, but with the confidence that it doen’t own us. This actually helps over time to alleviate the pain very significantly because we can feel it, and go on knowing not to dwell on it. If we do however find a link to a belief we need to ask if the belief is true. If not we need to find the truth regarding whatever the belief was and adopt that. If it is true we need to ask if we’ve given appropriate weight to it. If you find yourself on the brink of killing someone over a football game ending unfairly, though your belief about it’s fairness may be true, you’ve obviously given far too much weight to your beliefs about football, because it’s just a game. Here is where prayer comes in. When we locate true, but inappropriately weighted beliefs we should ask our Father to move them to a healthy spot for us, and help us only entertain them at such a level. (The same goes for inappropriately low beliefs such as apathy about genocide in africa or starving homeless people)

If I am even close to all this, it will be a powerful step toward being a whole, aware, functional person, and such things are wonderful.

  1. #1 by Josh on 4.1.07 - 3.28 pm

    Have you ever heard that you can always *choose* to be happy? The concept still messes with my mind a bit, but I think it relates a lot to what you’re talking about.

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