What are memories? How are they connected to emotions and feelings?
Feelings And Reason In the Brain
The common view previously of the brain was that there were two areas that of feeling and that of reason. Scientists have now come to see that this dichotomy is wrong. We now know that all our rational or irrational decisions, are based on what emotions are connected to them. In older philosophical systems, especially based on the enlightenment or in the typical simplified view of how scientific discoveries are made, emotions were seen as a hindrance to objective clear thinking. But neuroscientists are not discovering that emotions are an absolutely essential component of every decision we make.
"We are not thinking machines, we are feeling machines that think."
According to Dr. Anthony Damasio, professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California and director of the Brain and Creativity Institute, every decision we make, is based on a precious decision which is connected to an emotion, which then appears to us as a "gut feeling" which we follow. He stated, "It is emotion that allows you to mark things as good, bad and indifferent..." so to the brain scientific objectivity as it is normally misunderstood by many, is totally fictitious. Damasio further states,
We're constantly being swayed in what we do, by just a little teensy change, something that comes for example from our past experience with a certain kind of situation. But what we remember from a previous situation that is like that, is not just the fact, not just the outcome that it may be good or bad, we also remember whether or not what we felt was good or bad...when you are making decisions every day of your life, you do not only remember what the factual result is but also what the emotional result is...most of what we construct as wisdom over time, is actually a result of cultivating that knowledge of how our emotions behaved and what we learned from that.Feelings are our conscious notifiers of our emotions. The emotion has already happened, and we only know about it by our feeling. Emotion is non-conscious by definition. One does not learn fear or joy, but according to to Dr. Damasio, one can understand the causes of emotions. One can interfere the expression of emotion, but we cannot interfere with the emotion itself, since it is a unconscious physiological event.
No matter how much we know about what is going on in the brain, the mystery remains. We have to be modest and realize that we don't even understand how life is produced...if you are working on something like the brain, and you are aware of what is going on, not just on the surface of the brain, but on neural systems, on certain regions made up of cells, hooked in a certain way and aware of the cells themselves, what we find is a world of marvel. No matter how much we know about what is going on there, in terms of what is going on in the nucleus of the cell, in the cytoplasm, and the marvelous relationships between this unit and the other units, the only thing you can be is in awe...you have to be in reverence of the incredible complexity that you're dealing with...if most of our activity is mostly non-conscious that we have this little aperture of vision over what we are, you have to realize that whatever we know is small and that we have plenty of mysteries to last hundreds of Aspen Festivals of Ideas...Einstein was very aware of his emotions, when you think about Einstein with his brilliant work of physics and mathematics and you think this is obviously a hyper-cognitive person, concerned with facts, measurements and numbers, not so. He was a person who talked of equations as being beautiful or ugly. He talked about his mode of thinking as being muscular and related to emotional states.
"..there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon..."Emotion-Control Technology
Brave New World
Brave New World
There is a highly choreographed hardwired between the thinking areas of the brain and the feeling areas of the brain. One affects the other at all times. Sometimes in the case of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) the brain cannot let go of the emotions of an experience with life-disruptive results. James McGaugh, professor of Neurobiology and Behavior at the School Of Biological Sciences at The University of California - Irvine, is considered an expert on how memory works in the brain. He has been involved along with Roger Pitman a psychiatrist at Harvard University, in experiments at the Massachusetts General Hospital emergency room on victims of traumatic accidents to use beta blockers to reduce the amounts of adrenalin naturally sent out by the brain to prepare the individual for a frightening experience. It is hoped that this will reduce the chances of PTSD in these patients in the future. His research has not been well received by some. In a paper produced for the President's Council on Biotethics in 2003, titled Beyond Therapy, misgivings about McGaugh's research and proposals was expressed. In chapter 5 of this report many things are discussed that would remind one of the of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World novel. The report states,
...drugs may become available that will enable us not only to soften certain powerful memories but to detach them from the strong emotions evoked by the original experience. Propranolol and other currently available beta-blockers may not be able to do the whole job,xiv and, until more evidence is acquired, we do well to regard them as weak precursors of subsequent drugs that might be more powerful and effective. Yet the prospect of such "memory numbing" drugs has already elicited considerable public interest in and concern about their potential uses in non-clinical settings: to prepare a soldier to kill (or kill again) on the battlefield; to dull the sting of one's own shameful acts; to allow a criminal to numb the memory of his or her victims.6 Some of these scenarios are perhaps far-fetched. But although the pharmacology of memory alteration is a science still in its infancy, the significance of this potential new power-to separate the subjective experience of memory from the truth of the experience that is remembered-should not be underestimated. It surely returns us to the large ethical and anthropological questions with which we began-about memory's role in shaping personal identity and the character of human life, and about the meaning of remembering things that we would rather forget and of forgetting things that we perhaps ought to remember.We include a useful summary about memory in the brain by Dr. James McGaugh. If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link: http://youtu.be/wXKuXOPrKZY.
The implications for such biological technologies is enormous and far reaching. Like all revolutionary technologies they can be used for good or evil. There is already research into being able to erase certain memories. Dr. Hillary Klein professor of Neurology & Psychiatry at Saint Louis University Hospital has been working on a "trauma pill." Dr. Roger Pitman working along Dr. Klein, has received a federal grant to expand this project. The drug being experimented with is Propranolol which is a beta blocker known for its reduction of adrenalin surges. The research is still non-conclusivem but it is promising. Some have expressed great reservations about a magic pill that will eliminate or reduce fear. Their view is that "...you need psychotherapy to heal your hurting." We are not certain just how large a history of success psychotherapy has had in this area. We doubt they have much room to brag. The criticisms were directed at an article published in 2009 in Nature Neuroscience, by Kindt, Soeter & Vervliet. A pertinent section of the paper states,
Since the dawn of psychology at the end of the nineteenth century, psychologists and psychiatrists have tried with dozens of pharmacological and psychological treatments to change undesired emotional memory. However, even the most effective treatments only eliminate fearful responding, leaving the original fear memory intact1, as is substantiated by the high percentages of relapse after apparently successful treatment2. Once emotional memory is established, it appears to last forever. Froman evolutionary perspective, it is extremely functional to never forget the most important events in life. However, the putative indelibility of emotional memory can also be harmful and maladaptive, such as in some trauma victims who suffer from dreadful memories and anxiety. If emotional memory could be weakened or even erased, then we might be able to eliminate the root of many psychiatric disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Recently, it was rediscovered that fear memory in animals is not necessarily permanent but can change when retrievedThe research would aim at removing traumatic memories that lead to PTSD by reversing their "permanent storage" status through the use of Propranolol. At this point, they explain,
Reconsolidation of fear memory can be influenced by neurobiological manipulations during or shortly after the reactivation period. These manipulations are thought to alter protein synthesis directly or by interacting with the release of neurotransmitters (for example, norepinephrine) in the amygdala. At the behavioral level, this may lead to changes in later expressions of that fear memory. In particular, infusion of propranolol into the amygdala of rats shortly after the reactivation period of a previously acquired fear association impaired the fear expression on a long-term test.We include a video of Dr. Damasio at foraTv. If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link: http://bit.ly/lEIInJ.
We continue with the PBS series The Secret Life Of The Brain. If you cannot see the embedded video here is the link: http://bit.ly/izb0VS.
In our next installment of this series we will discuss the proposed militarization of memory and emotional control.