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Neurohacking - Tutorials
Written by NHA   
Friday, 20 July 2012 21:37
Article Index
Neurohacking Tutorial 9 - Emotional Stability & Unconscious Mind
Structure, Function and Behavior
From Automation to Autonomy
What Happens If Things Go Wrong?
The Unconscious Mind
NHA Guide To Methods and Technology
Getting Into The Garden
The Most Important Bits to Remember
Hacks and Exercices
Notes, References and Answers
All Pages



Neurohacking: Tutorial 9

Emotional Stability & the Unconscious Mind

(Updated: July 2012)

In this tutorial we’ll look at emotional stability and the nature of the unconscious mind, exploring further the connections between physiology, neurotransmission, psychology and behavior. To improve or upgrade emotional stability we need to understand these links and the nature of unconscious processing in N3.

We are also going to look at the core skills for emotional stability, the factors that emotion can provide for intelligence, and begin exploring unconscious programs.





Follow the Right Habit


“BE SENSIBLE” Reminder:

We are reaching a level in the tutorials where the theory will become ever more difficult to understand and the practice ever more difficult to approach, if anxiety levels are high.

If you know or think that you may have a high blood/cortisol ratio and you do not practice any anxiety-reduction methods, or if you don’t know what any of that means, it is not sensible to approach NH at this level. To do so could slow down your progress, rather than assist it, so please catch up on the basics before joining us here.

As always, the choice about what you study and when is entirely up to you, because we respect your intelligence and autonomy, but if you’re unsure, this is your forewarning that there is subject matter in this tutorial that those who cannot initiate the relaxation response may find psychologically upsetting. People can have especial difficulty if they are unbonded themselves or have unbonded children; particularly if they have high anxiety to start with, and this can cause snapback. This is why we should do things in the right order and reduce anxiety before approaching these issues from a calm, steady, centered and objective point of view.

Remember at all times that emotional and relationship probems are solvable and we are here to understand how and why they arise and what techniques enable us to solve them. Keep an overview on how you’re feeling and if you start to feel stressed out, stop reading and practice anxiety reduction before proceeding.

From time to time, you will forget all this : )


Practice Makes Networks

In tutorials 7 and 8 we looked at the processes of imagination, memory & learning and how new concepts get incorporated into what we know already via comparative association.

In abstract cognitive terms, the brain's plasticity enables us to learn new associations and remember new facts. In concrete behavioral terms the same plasticity enables us to learn how to do new things, and in concrete anatomical terms plasticity is what builds new connections between neurons and ultimately increases network density. The more connections we have in regular use, the faster and more adaptable intelligence can be.

The principle of plasticity, ie being pliable and receptive to adaptation, won't improve the brain, behavior or mind on its own. In studying memory consolidation, we learned that it takes a brain a critical mass of practice to get memory categorization perfect. Initially, networks grow connections in a similar manner to slime molds [1] -extending all possibilities in all directions for possible association, and then trimming connections back to the more accurate ones, as we assimilate the details of association (usually in sleep). It is looking like the neurotransmitter norepinephrine causes prolific connections to form, and acetylcholine that trims them down to the most experient network.

...How does a mindless brain chemical choose which connections to leave alone and which ones to trim away? It doesn't. USING new network connections prompts myelination (the insulation of axons by the protein myelin), which makes used connections resistant to pruning, whereas unused, unmyelinated connections will be exposed to the dismantling chemical and recycled.[2]

Use/nonuse/wronguse are thus the ultimate controllers of network architecture, cellular architectonics, and memory power.

Repetitive use (good or bad) is what ingrains unconscious habits of thought and makes behaviors automatic, both on the concrete physiological level of establishing new brain connections, and on the concrete behavioral level of human beings going about their everyday lives.

Using the brain as biology intended is what triggers the gene transcription factors needed for our ongoing healthy mental growth & development, as is so often the case in biology. Nonuse and wronguse simply don't trigger them. It really is that simple.

Use means receiving input. The unconscious mind expects our input (reasonably enough) to consist of an ongoing sampling of real world relevant events so that we can fine tune our awareness to reflect and respond to reality in real time, and in order that biology may adjust gene switching appropriately.

Remember, the overall directive of N3 is to adapt the organism -in this case ourselves- to better fit in with the needs of the environment, and a lot of this needs gene transcription. To this end, our minds will try to incorporate anything given as input ('what's going on now') into our already established and ever-expanding database of associated concepts about 'how things work' on N3's inner map. That's how it learns how things fit together and how the world (reality) works.

Obviously if 'what's going on now' percepts don't make sense when compared with 'how things work' concepts, congruent association can't happen and we hit an ideological dilemma and get confused. One obvious example of this happening in real life is people who claim to believe in heaven crying at funerals, another is your parents telling you to stop fucking swearing.

We also get an ideological dilemma when experience conflicts with information. For example if we know from experience that something feels good, and makes us feel happy and well, others telling us that it is wrong or bad without providing any sensible reason why, throws us into the same confusion. The only way to cope with this sort of chaos for the unconscious mind is to make false concepts and try to tie them in as coherently as possible with what we know already.

Networks are kept wired by practice (use). The helpful or harmful nature of that use is irrelevant to an automatic system, just as you can use an automatic weapon to catch dinner for your kids, or to kill someone, and it won't notice. It's up to us. We know that repetition prompts myelination (which is how both good and bad habits become permanent and addictive). But we also know that healthy use is the fastest way to rewire the brain.


We Start with Basics, Culture Provides Details

Loss of congruity is always a problem, but it is a particular problem in emotion. In adaptable systems such as emotion, diet, aesthetics and language, the mind has at birth only the basics, relying on input from culture and individual experience to fill in the details later. With language, for example, N3 starts off with basic expectations of some kind of language acquisition from its culture, whatever that culture happens out to be.

In most systems of this sort (eg language, emotion, behavior, diet) we find unity in the basics and separation in the details. The items are different, the events are different, because these are the details of an individual's circumstances in space and time. The basic needs and the basic processes (IF this happens = THEN do this) are the same regardless of spacetime.

This is one of the ways N3 helps us adapt to 'fit in' with our surroundings, so it doesn't have any details of what language it will need to learn, it just has an intent to learn one; and just like body language, verbal language only needs a model to interact with in order to learn.

This was interestingly although somewhat immorally explored recently by the doctor who taught his baby son to speak only Klingon (the language of a fictional alien race in Star Trek) for the first three years of life.[3] The child happily mastered Klingon, but as soon as he observed multiple others around him speaking English, he switched automatically to learning that (simply -and only- because that input was experienced much more often and triggered more congruent results).

Imagine what would have happened if the child was raised in a closed community for fourteen years surrounded by people only speaking Klingon.

Well, he would have only spoken Klingon, just like some people only ever speak some rare tribal languages, so no big deal you may think, but let's look at the facts behind that obvious truth: the Klingon language doesn't cover very many concepts or fields that humans interact in and its vocabulary is currently limited. He would have grown up using the wrong input to equip him with the language terms needed to grasp many common concepts and consequently common procedures.

On top of that he would have a database full of associations with concepts that did not, in his everyday concrete reality, produce useful results (such as, asking the local farmer to eject the warp core and fire phasers, going to the drug store for "something for Klingon 'flu", or explaining to the police that you were fulfilling the Klingon Blood Oath, maybe had too much blood wine, and may have been using the matter transporter without due care and attention.)

Of course, we know that ALL human languages were ultimately made up by humans, but every culture's natural language emerges intuitively from necessity of serving the purposes biology intended, ie to describe reality and the world and to communicate beneficially with our here-and-now culture. In short, Klingon would equip us well for living in the 23rd century Star Trek universe with Klingons, but not for living in the here and now on planet Earth with humans, because it refers to concepts outside our reality and doesn't adequately describe or communicate in it. A hardly incidental side effect is that this person can only communicate with others who speak Klingon.

A similar expectation of N3 to that of being given language details, is that of emotion/behavior details acquisition. Again, it only starts off with the basics to play with and relies on culture to show by example what sort of emotional/behavioral set it will need to learn in order to behave, interact and communicate successfully.

It has an inbuilt intent to learn such a system and will automatically copy any model given just as it will with language, taking as 'the norm' whatever behavior and responses (or reactions), whatever emotions (or sentiments) it observes in others and learning what names are given to the responses that it experiences most often and most intensely.

If we are raised in a culture where everyone feels alarmed at seeing snakes, we will feel alarmed at seeing snakes. If that culture calles alarm "glorying", we will call that feeling glorying. If our culture calls it "alarm", we will call exactly the same feeling alarm. Such is the plasticity of response to modeling and we automatically assume that others all feel the same way about the same things as we do, until we are developed enough to grasp the concept of diversity. We automatically assume that everyone feels the same things we do, in similar circumstances. After all, we are learning our own emotion set from modeling others.

We also get unconscious confirmation from the senses. There's more to modeling than meets the eye; in fact quite a lot of it meets the nose. We do not copy only outward behavior and appearances, our physiology also partakes in unconscious quorum sensing by picking up signal chemicals from each other, all the time.

This happens without conscious awareness. Many organisms use quorum sensing to coordinate gene expression and behavior, according to the density or activities of their local population.[4] In healthy contexts, quorum sensing can function as an adept decision-making process in any decentralized system, as long as individual components have: (a) a means of assessing the number of other components they interact with and (b) a standard response once a threshold number (critical mass) of components is detected.

This is another way N3 helps us 'fit in' by adapting to our context. We constantly adjust our own chemistry and physiology to be more like those around us in response to quorum sensing; via the unconscious feedback of odors and pheromones we inhale in air and absorb through skin (for example when shaking hands) as well as information from other senses.

This is how we can end up feeling more anxious in the company of anxious people! Our chemistry also responds to the tone of voice, appearance, attitude and behavior of all those around us. We are constantly on the lookout for better ways to fit in, because it's evolutionarily built into our biology to do so. Biology's (and our) success, however, depends on healthy input.

Learning responses (or alternatively, reactions) in this flexible way is all part of the mind and brain’s natural plasticity in helping us to adapt and ‘fit in’ with whatever circumstances we live in, just as we learn to speak different languages and develop different skills.

In exactly the same way we can be taught only Klingon, we can be taught only sentiments.

For example, if our society teaches us to feel ashamed about nudity, or guilty if we disobey the elders, or afraid when we forget to pray to the Great God Boom, the brain will do its best to make us feel, think and do whatever it thinks is ‘normal’, and these sentiments will become habits. Plasticity ‘wires our brains’ and tunes our behavior to be more like those around us because it expects what we are taught by others to be accurate and true and genuinely working for our benefit. It doesn’t expect to be taught a load of anxiety-based nonsense by those (theoretically) mature enough to know better, so this is not biology’s 'fault'.

Intelligence assumes everyone is able to be pretty intelligent, because in reality this is true, so it doesn’t expect that potential to be blocked or unfulfilled.


For You and Against You: Emotion versus Sentiment

In grasping an understanding of emotion, we clearly cannot think of it as only "our nature" (a personal, private, ‘inner’ state), because we have also experienced it as a dynamic system of moods responding to events and our environment, easily communicable, and adaptable to "our nurture", ie cultural norms. We know for example that things outside ourselves can “cheer us up” just as we know that we can cheer ourselves or others up. In fact, science now knows that emotion is neither just ‘nature’ (brain wiring) nor just ‘nurture’ (context) but that it emerges from the interaction between both, as does mind overall, and as with most emergent phenomena emotion becomes more than just the sum of its parts.

It’s pretty obvious even without the science that any intelligent creature should be sensibly equipped with a basic set of responses that are evolved to benefit rather than harm the species and the individual. We can observe the survival benefit of emotional responses in all animals (such as alarm or curiosity); but we won’t see any survival benefit anywhere in anxiety or sentiments; the behavior prompted by such reactions usually leads to harm and ill health for the individual and the species.


For You

Emotion is a mind/body state induced by hormonal and neurochemical triggers based on healthy (accurate) perception of contextual changes in reality, and resulting in the motivation to perform behavior that is likely to benefit the organism, life and intelligence itself.


Against You

Sentiment is a feeling induced by hormonal and neurochemical triggers based on faulty perception disabled by anxiety, resulting in automatic repetition of behavior that is likely to harm the organism, life and intelligence itself.

Sentiment views the world through anxious eyes and interprets input as much more threatening than it actually is, ironically shutting down the frontal lobes that assist in predicting and assessing real dangers.

Some harmful sentiments that can lead to mental (not to mention social) problems are: guilt, anger, jealousy, fear, shame, arrogance, possessiveness and obsession.

Immediately on hearing this most students ask:

Q: "Surely it's appropriate for a creature to feel fear or anger when shit happens?"

A: And the short answer is, no it isn't. It's appropriate to feel alarm, concern, offense, disgust, or defensiveness. These are real emotions, working for you, and the responses they cause will get you out of trouble. Fear and anger will result in shock, shutting down blood supply to the conscious brain and leaving the body on automatic to copy whatever aggressive action-reaction behavior it saw on television in similar circumstances. The morgue is full of unsuccessful automated puppets whose last words were unconsciously plagiarized soap-opera scripts.


A very common problem for neurohackers is initial difficulty distinguishing emotion from sentiment. This is understandable since most of us since children have been taught that they are all the same thing, so we may assume we have been experiencing only healthy emotion all this time and be unable to tell if we are mistaken.

Also, due to lack of a role model we may not yet have even experienced some of the healthy emotions. For many people there has been no example as yet to show or tell them about the distinction between emotion and sentiment. Key necessities for avoiding sentiment and enabling emotion include the ability to identify and recognize healthy emotion, and that is partly what this tutorial is for.


Healthy Emotion: Where Does Emotion Come From?

Consider for a moment where emotion comes from. At first glance, the obvious place to look if we want to understand emotion is inside our brains and bodies. Our real life awareness of the physical and mental effects of emotions tell us that they come from ‘inside’ ourselves. We can also see there is a direct physical link between emotion and the brain, because in some kinds of brain damage or illness, patients’ emotional stability is affected (for example depression, aggression, PTSD).

Yet we cannot deny that aspects of emotion, particularly emotional expression and the behaviors associated with it are also related to our context, to ongoing events and to our awareness of culture –emotion is moderated not just by where we are, who we are with and what we are doing, but also by what we have learned is “the normal appropriate way” to feel and behave and express ourselves about things, learned from modeling the examples of others as we grow.

Emotions largely happen in the context of social interactions with other people or media, and they also shape the course of those interactions. Often, it seems like something that happens outside yourself “makes you” feel unhappy, excited, surprised or pleased, and you notice how your own emotional response in turn affects what others do or say -and seem to feel- next. What’s more, it's obvious that our emotional behavior is regulated and interpreted in accordance with expectations.


What are Sentiments?

Sentiments occur when the brain is miswired and are usually due to anxiety or habitual unconscious copying of other people's anxious behavior (which itself causes anxiety). Neurotransmitters become unbalanced and consequently both mood and behavior (and hence life) may be troubled.

Sentiments take over the networks (and so the processes) meant for use by healthy emotion, using the same neurotransmitters, so a person cannot feel both sentiment and emotion at the same time. It’s very important to remember this, because we can hack sentiment by simply invoking the healthy emotion it has usurped, taking back the network, and discarding a harmful response for a useful beneficial one! That means we don't have to know very much about sentiments in order to get rid of them.

Sentiments are the behavior of a dysfunctional emotional system that is currently out of balance due to unconscious (and often conscious) anxiety and incongruity of association. But once we understand how healthy emotions link congruently with basic healthy animal behaviors, it’s much easier to see how sentiments are distorted reactions from an unbalanced (often under-developed) emotional system and how they lead to harmful, unhealthy behaviors.

From there we can start paying attention to our own behavior for feedback, and adjust our own emotional responses constantly towards the healthy 'green zone' of emotional stability. That’s why we're going to explore healthy emotion and behavior first.






Experience Congruity / Incongruity

1. Sit down for a moment and bring to mind a time when you had a really good laugh at something, and consider WHY it was so funny. What is one of the funniest things you've ever seen? Why was it funny? While considering this, let your mind get caught up in the train of association about funny things, then look at the picture below.



Now consider whether during this exercise your facial muscles have moved into a smile? If association was congruent, they did. If they didn't, deliberately smile while doing the exercise again. This will fire up the association pathway between these funny incidents and congruent emotional responses.


2. Sit in a warm, comfortable place with your feet up or lie down and relax as much as you can, becoming really lazy and floppy and sloth-like. Remaining in the same posture, without tensing any muscles, say aloud: "Wow I'm feeling so energetic and excited right now!"

Don't worry if doing this makes you laugh, this happens to some students.

Then get up and stand erect, preferably looking out of a window, with your shoulders back. Bend the knees and elbows slightly, like you are standing on skis. Now pretend you are about to start skiing. Tense your muscles, flex your fists, Look upwards, smile, and say aloud: "Wow I'm feeling so energetic and excited right now!"

Which posture 'made more sense' together with the spoken words? Did you notice how different it felt saying this in different postures? If someone lounging in the 'slothful' posture said this to you, would you take them seriously or assume they were joking? Why?

Why is the 'lazy' posture associated with a sloth?

Answering these questions will help you to recognize congruity itself, and you can apply that recognition to understanding congruent emotion and how it forms a bridge from inner experience to outer behavior.


3. (Needs a partner):

Stand up and away from any furniture or anything to lean on. Keep your hands apart and out of pockets. Relax. Take turns to explain to each other how to get to the nearest park, library, bar or post office on foot WITHOUT MAKING ANY GESTURES. The listener marks one point every time the speaker makes an unconscious gesture, including suddenly smiling or frowning. See how low you can get your scores! This exercise makes some people laugh a lot, so if affected you may have to take breaks to regain composure.

Use your NH ability: you can significantly lower your score by pretending to be a robot or Mr Spock.


Exercises like these can show you how unconscious our gestures and facial expressions are, and how body posture as behavior synchronizes congruently with emotion; all important for understanding emotional communication and for congruent association in general. It is knowing things like 'smiling makes me and everyone I smile at release serotonin' that give us extra NH options in creative interaction and input control.

There are exercises and hacks for congruent association at the end of this tutorial.



Last Updated on Sunday, 30 September 2012 16:16