Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Two Camps in my Brain

Harry got my wheels turning with his post on vow and intent

For my own sanity I've been starting to look at the origin of emotion, and its links to the "sub conscious" (or to put it in less Freudian terms, the activities of our minds/brains not available to our awareness). What I have found so far is that these two camps he speaks of are co-resident and struggling(?) in our minds.

Both camps are skills that have given us evolutionary bumps (advantage)and engendered survival. One (grossly simplified) is the cortex by which we do complex "what if" pondering and detailed analysis in attempting to predict the future. The other is a "lower", or more evolutionarily aged brain system that tends to function outside of awareness, but whose decisions, (or, acknowledging a less conscious driver, "outputs") get thrown "up" to the cortex. Those decisions, I think, tend to feel like direct knowledge or intuition.

The cortex activity tends, I think, to get in our way. It takes real input, mixes in a fountain of imagining, and yields unhappiness, or euphoria, or other "false" state.

What interests me (and what I seem to currently understand the lesson of Buddhism, or at least zazen) is that it seems to take a cortex to quiet a cortex. We are hooked by logical arguments to us, or within us, about the value of zazen, and strive to learn how to drop such value decisions, to stop picking and choosing.

The low brain knows to reach back for the pillow at night, and the cortex is troubled to know what rules or values make that the right thing to do.

But the high brain (cortex) also has some value added tricks up its sleeve in addition to the intellectual curiosity that gets most people hooked in zazen to start with. Things like compassion are very high brain constructs, and very beneficial.

We often like to simply think of the brain as one organ with a uniform purpose. It seems that it really is a complexly evolved layering of systems, some which have a long history in other animals and mammals, and some which are rarely seen in other species.

Perhaps enlightenment will be revealed as the suddenly developed ability to see the action of the cortex in our lives and not be pulled along in its tide of anticipation, worry, and picking and choosing. Perhaps it is the ability to have an identity that is a more holistic composite of all the brain systems and events rather that just the hyper analytical cortex. Perhaps it is like the story of Helen Keller who suddenly one day just "got" what all that input was indicating.

Early ideas, but exciting for me.


Jordan said...

Hi Lauren,

Glad to see you posting again.

I don't really know so much about the science behind what you have written in this post. But I would like to ask, why split the camps?

Lauren said...


Hey! The "split camps" was Harry's metaphor I was just riffing off of. he was speaking of hoe you can slice Soto into the "just zazen" and the "vows and precepts" camps, but acknowledging that both were valid/needed.

That sync'ed up for me with this learnin' I've been doing on brain structure and it's possible relationship to what we experience. To my understanding there is a part of the brain that excels in abstraction, which I see as a strong affinity to rules.

"Two camps" is a bit artificial, but serves a purpose for now.

Uku said...

Hi Lauren,

nice to have you back in posting!

Yeah, life is truly in here. Sometimes we feel like shit, sometimes we don't. It's all about the practice.

Take care, man!


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