The Human brain is a complex organ, the capabilities of which are still being discovered. So far, we know its ability to recognize patterns, which are essential to Human survival, is unparalleled. If we weren’t able to perceive– let alone remember– relatively consistent patterns from which we infer significance, we wouldn’t be able to navigate the world around us. Our senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) give us information to which we attach meaning. This input allows us to realize the consequences of touching something that’s hot enough to burn our skin, to distinguish food that’s unsafe to eat because it’s spoiled and when to get out of the way because a vehicle with an emergency siren is approaching.
One of the most impressive aspects of our cognition is our brain’s ability to recognize an object that’s similar yet different from another. For instance, a tiny blue egg from a Robin isn’t confused with a brown one from a Chicken, and neither resemble a huge white Ostrich‘s, yet each time we encounter a new variety, we know immediately know it’s an egg. The memory of the taste and texture of whichever kind we’ve eaten before springs to the forefront of our mind when we see it. We may feel excited to eat it, hesitant to taste it, or may even recall getting sick shortly after eating eggs and therefore we associate them with nausea and vomiting. But all these variables, memories and inferences shape our understanding of the world around us.
Recall from my previous post, “Mapping the Mind,” that the temporal lobe is responsible for processing memories. The hippocampus– a thin curved area embedded within this region– controls the the Limbic System. The earliest speculation was a “proposed mechanism of emotion.” Despite conflicting interpretations of current research results, neurologists agree that the Limbic System is an interconnected series of circuits. These regulate autonomic functions (such as heart rate, blood pressure, hormone production and release, hunger, thirst and circadian rhythm), cognitive and social/ emotional processing (anxiety and aggression) and spacial and long-term memory.
That so these particular functions take place in the same region of the brain explains the associations we have with certain stimuli. Whether positive or negative connotations, addiction or post-trauma symptoms, our brain develops patterns as our body responds to input from our senses. Repetition of these patterns strengthens their connections, thus increasing the speed at which autonomic functions respond, which accounts for everything from a chronic outlook of negativity to addiction to PTSD. Conversely, this accounts for everything from a perpetually calm approach to life to recovery from addiction and anxiety management. The Human brain is adaptable; this is either good new or bad news depending on various factors but distinguishing between controlled variables and our own choices is tricky. I’ll break them down in future posts; they won’t fit into a blanket summary.
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