There is a general consensus across human cultures that experience is constructed or at least facilitated by the physical senses, each of which relay through the brain.
The sentiment of Morpheus, a character from the 1999 cyberpunk action thriller, The Matrix, reflects our current understanding of the brain, and its importance in how we interface with reality:
“What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
Clearly, our experience of the world and our lives relies heavily on our sensations and perceptions of events, and our interface with the world—the (embodied) brain — is a unique blend of genetic information and experiential input. So an individual’s subjective experience with the events in their life accounts for their construction of “reality.”
How you perceive the world is how the world is to you.
The physical reality as we perceive it is neither completely objective nor necessarily an accurate representation of what is actually “out there.”
This is because we have biological constraints on what we can perceive (a pigeon, for instance, can see ultraviolet colors that we cannot see).
This is also because we operate based on implicit or subconscious assumptions and expectations of what happens “out there” (the brain specializes in making predictions) — but these assumptions and expectations may not be accurate all of the time.
It is especially important for us to check their accuracy when they lead to emotional responses and behaviors — because our emotional responses and behaviors shape the way we perceive what is “out there” and directly influence how we co-create events in our life. But just because emotions are influential in our lives doesn’t mean that we need to fear their power.
Emotions have Evolutionary Value
In the past decade science has made extraordinary progress in studying the brain and the brain-body-culture connection — subjects which are of vital importance to our evolution as a species. While our method for studying the brain (cognitive science) is rapidly improving, we still face many questions about the mind, or consciousness and subconsciousness.
With the advent of Affective Science, or the study of emotion, we are now able to explore human emotion and its unique symbiosis with thought. For centuries, emotion has been chastised as the antagonist to reason, but evolutionarily speaking, the limbic system was in place before neocortex arrived, and for good reason.
The powerfully potent, quick response of the endocrine system effectively mobilizes an organism to essentially preserve itself when faced with danger. Additionally, it allows an organism to form social bonds, which then allow for extended caregiving, which then underpin complexities of society, culture, and civilization.
Some Emotions are Implicated in Cultural Practices, Which Don’t Always Have Evolutionary Value
Alternatively, however, socio-culturally programmed subconscious entanglements (i.e. dysfunctional belief systems) can also wire certain endocrine responses, which are potentially maladaptive. Such is the case where anger or fear are not contingent upon actual environmental or internal threats, yet escalate to catastrophic proportions.
But if we blame our “irrational” passions for our inability to effectively work with and manage our feelings — which are not inherently good or bad, but simply signals assigning value to information—we end up alienating ourselves from that which can truly teach us about why we behave in the ways we do!
Our emotions [emotion=thought+meaning(expressed as feeling)] trace back to belief systems entrenched within our subconscious—they reveal to us the programs from which we operate. We need them in order to understand why we act and react in certain ways. If they appear irrational, it’s only because they reflect irrational belief systems.
Where to Go From Here?
While we may not have figured out all the inner-workings of the mind, we can become more mindful of ourselves, our attitudes, our beliefs, and our appraisals — if we are willing and open to take a look at what we think and why we do. If we are willing to realize that our emotions have logic behind them and that they can teach us about the programs from which we are constantly and mostly subconsciously operating, then we see that it is our beliefs and our projections that (a) color the way we see the world “out there” and (b) influence our emotional responses and our behaviors.
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Image by ~PhanthomZtryker