Part 2 of 3
The French philosopher Descartes said “I think therefore I am.” He is referring to the idea of the consciousness. If we are the consciousness, our existence began when we started to think. Before then, the Organism needed to survive in the hostility of nature.
Life in nature is a high stakes game with two rules: 1) find food, 2) don’t become food. Over thousands of generations our ancestors adapted neural paths to help the Organism follow those two rules and keep on living.
The Organism adapted a reinforcement mechanism to prevent harm and encourage behavior helpful for surviving. Pain alerts the Organism that there is something wrong and encourages you to stop to prevent more harm. Disgust also alerts the Organism but about something that might cause you harm and encourages you to avoid it altogether. Pleasure encourages behaviors that are helpful for the Organism’s survival and encourages you to do more of it. Organisms are Pleasure Seekers.
Pleasure is released when new synapses are formed which is why it feels good when you learn something. Those that gained more information about their surroundings are more likely to survive so learning was reinforced.
“Curiosity killed the cat” but it also kept the cat alive. Imagine walking through the woods when suddenly you hear a noise. You are better prepared if you investigate the sound rather than just ignoring it. The pleasure release from synapsing new neurons is called completion. The Organism’s pleasure seeking tendency is what makes us “curious.”
Reinforcement allows functions to develop. Helpful functions are rewarded while harmful functions are avoided. I call the functions adapted by the Organism the Basic Functions and they include selfishness, fear, mirroring, and love.
Selfishness is the most fundamental Basic Function for the same reason that airlines tell you to “adjust your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” You aren’t much help to anyone if you’re already dead. Nature is a high stakes game and if you aren’t looking out for yourself, nobody else will.
Selfishness includes our desire to eat, selfishly prolonging our lives, and reproduce, selfishly prolonging our genetic line. Eating and reproducing are incredibly important for survival and are reinforced with pleasure.
The rest of the Basic Functions are based on selfishness but before we get into them, you need to understand a natural process of your brain. Completion causes us to synapse neurons together in order to get pleasure. While there is a neural path going from your senses to memory, there is another neural path forming in the brain.
We know that time is always going forward which means that any moment in time will eventually change. We use trends and causality in our memory to complete the neural path asking “what will happen next?” This process is called anticipation and organisms do it automatically since it releases pleasure. In fact, the Organism’s tendency to chase pleasure means the anticipated neural path can become more extreme than any possible reality.
Fear is stimulated when the Organism anticipates possible danger. Fear stimulates stress which puts the Organism into “overdrive mode.” To survive a dangerous encounter, the Organism will either run away or fight off the threat: “fight or flight.”
Stress pumps up the muscles and gives the consciousness more access to the motor center but causes the brain to temporarily skip out on other internal functions. Organisms will usually escape or defeat the danger relatively quickly. No danger means no more stress which means brain functioning can return to normal.
Danger doesn’t even have to be present for fear to activate. Imagine you’re in the woods again and you hear a sound. The sound could have come from a predator or a falling acorn. Your anticipation is uncertain of what caused the sound but you fear it because it could be dangerous. Uncertainty is synapsed in the brain to fear and it’s one of the reasons we fear change.
The final two Basic Functions, mirroring and love, involve multiple organisms. Both are caused by reinforcement and both are based on selfishness.
One of the quickest ways to learn something new is to copy someone who already knows how to do it: “monkey see; monkey do.” This process is called mirroring and it likely adapted as a learning mechanism. If you see someone else getting food, you’ll copy their technique to get food for yourself. If you hear a favorite song, meaning you’ve got plenty of memory to anticipate the lyrics, you can release a lot of pleasure if you synapse it the motor center; it’s why we love to sing and dance along.
Beyond learning, mirroring is caused by a pleasure release from synapsing stimulus to the motor center. If you see someone move, you can complete that neural path by making the same movement. The pleasure release from this completion is why you’ll try to sound out a new word or try out a new dance move. Mirroring plays an important role in communicating, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Finally, love is the Basic Function that grants an override of all other Basic Functions. Love is an attraction to self, but self is not the same as selfishness. Self is categorized like any other memory and anything relating to self is synapsed to it. Love adapted to benefit larger groups.
For example, imagine a herd of bison watching a pair of wolves mauling a calf. Each of those bison watching is selfishly safe and fear keeps the group far from the wolves. However, love overrides fear and selfishness and causes the herd to protect a member of “self,” the herd. Similarly, soldiers run into enemy fire to aid their brothers in arms. Love causes the soldiers to ignore their fear and selfish desire to survive. They have love for the squad, which each soldier has synapsed to their individual ideas of self.
Love comes with a huge pleasure release to reinforce a behavior that directly disobeys important functions for survival. Love, as well as all the Basic Functions, adapted over millions of years and are separate from the consciousness, you. This is why feelings like love and fear can sometimes feel overwhelming, yet foreign.
While selfishness is a Basic Function, self is an idea and it is the center of our consciousness. We begin life as babies and behave much like other animals: observing the world and testing out our bodies. We only know the world around self. The first people we meet are in relation to self; after all, it takes time to realize other people still exist when you’re not there. It’s the reason we all have the thought “How will this affect me?”
Self, like any other idea, can be anticipated. Our expectations are anticipated scenarios involving self. Our expectations are products of the consciousness, but they have an interesting effect on the Organism.
The Organism will stimulate emotions based on a comparison between its present reality and the expectations you’ve made. When your expectations are met, you feel satisfaction, a small pleasure release. When your expectations are exceeded, you feel happiness, a larger pleasure release. Completion from synapsing the motor center to an emotion allows even more pleasure to be gained; it’s called a catharsis. Catharsis for happiness includes smiling and laughter.
When your expectations are unmet, but they could be met, you feel frustration. Being frustrated actually causes us pain, a reinforcement mechanism that says something is wrong. If your expectations could be met, it means there might be something you can do about it. Frustration can stimulate stress to help you “solve” the issue. Unfortunately, you can’t solve traffic. Catharsis for frustration is often a yell, or enough body movement to work off the released stress.
When your expectations are unmet and they are impossible, you feel sadness. Pain signals to say something is wrong. Stress can’t help your situation this time; the only thing that can help is the pleasure release from catharsis: crying.
Emotions are brain functions like many others, if you let the Organism complete the neural path, you get a release of pleasure. It’s important to feel your emotions; they are the Organism’s way of telling you how it’s doing.
The Organism works in an understandable and predictable way. If you can learn the tendencies and functions of the Organism, you can have greater control over your own mind. The Organism is going to feel and if you let it, the neural path will complete and you’ll be done with that feeling. If you don’t, the Organism will bring up the incomplete neural path whenever it can to feel the pleasure. This is why sometimes we lay awake at night, rethinking the same thoughts over and over again.
A good friend once told me, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” You are the consciousness and you always have control over the Organism. It’s great when the Organism is productive, but sometimes you just have to let it chase some pleasure.