The amygdala is a primitive component of the brain responsible for processing emotions that directly influence our behavior. It’s impulsive, angry, racist, sexist, judgmental, deceitful and revengeful. It takes action without our consent and is triggered at even the smallest inconvenience. Detecting the race of person takes 200ms whilst the gender is detected at 150ms and this is all done unconsciously without our awareness.
Fifty-millisecond exposure to the face of someone of another race activates the amygdala, while failing to activate the fusiform face area as much as same-race faces do—all within a few hundred milliseconds. Similarly, the brain groups faces by gender or social status at roughly the same speed.Sapolsky, R. (2019). Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. [online] Vintage Digital, p.322. Available at: https://www.amazon.com/Behave-Biology-Humans-Best-Worst/dp/1594205078 [Accessed 21 Nov. 2021].
The amygdala has earned its place in the brain as our homogeneous ancestors found it helpful to determine the difference between us and them or a friend or foe. Survival instincts originated from this almond shaped brain matter and it’s still helpful to this day. Touching a hot stove with your hand will instinctively trigger your reflexes into flight mode.
There are downsides to this primitive component however. Impulsivity works well when you’re living in the savannah hunting for food trying to make it to the next day. In today’s interconnected world of empty calorie sugar granules, triggering media bias, addictive social media and dopamine depleting porn, chasing instant gratification is counterintuitive to our goal of striving to realizing our legend through altruism.
Rather, the real root of suffering is this never-ending and pointless pursuit of ephemeral feelings, which causes us to be in a constant state of tension, restlessness and dissatisfaction. Due to this pursuit, the mind is never satisfied. Even when experiencing pleasure, it is not content, because it fears this feeling might soon disappear, and craves that this feeling should stay and intensify.Harari, Y. (2011). Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. [online] Vintage, p512. Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23692271-sapiens [Accessed 09 Jan. 2022].
The frontal cortex—taking around 55,000 years to develop, was the savior. This executive functioning part of the brain acted like the brakes to the gas pedal of the amygdala. Being responsible for our ability think rationally, the downside was that it’s takes longer for it to come online and loses out to the speed of the amygdala. The amygdala and cortex are constantly at odds with each other and in the age of synthetic superstimuli, we need a cure to put this parasite into remission.
Ordinarily the executive capacities of the prefrontal cortex enable people to observe what is going on, predict what will happen if they take a certain action, and make a conscious choice. Being able to hover calmly and objectively over our thoughts, feelings, and emotions (an ability I’ll call mindfulness throughout this book) and then take our time to respond allows the executive brain to inhibit, organize, and modulate the hardwired automatic reactions preprogrammed into the emotional brain. This capacity is crucial for preserving our relationships with our fellow human beings.van der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. [online] Viking, p62. Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18693771-the-body-keeps-the-score [Accessed 14 Nov. 2022].
Awareness and compassion, originating from the cortex, gives the people the power to overcome this constant tug of war between our primitive desires of instant gratification and doing the right thing by rationalizing our delayed reaction to anger, impulsivity, triggers and deceptive algorithms. Becoming aware by observing your thoughts without judgement, focusing on your breathing and having ability to count to 10 helps the cortex overpower and tame your shadow helping you to become the best version of yourself.