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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


From Automation to Autonomy


As well as looking at distinct brain areas that are associated with basic emotions, researchers have paid attention to how areas link together both within networks and along pathways between networks. Extensive studies have yielded evidence that we have evolved two distinct processing pathways.

One; the 'high road' pathway (from the thalamus to the cortex and back to the Amygdala), carries detailed information and gives rise to conscious perception of emotions, but it is slower due to passing through the cortex. The alternative (from the thalamus straight to the Amygdala) 'low road' route is subcortical and unconscious, providing faster but less specific information resulting in 'quick and dirty' processing. Because this direct pathway bypasses the cortex, it is unable to use cortical processing, and can respond only to basic biologically benefit- or threat-relevant signals or to relatively crude features of well-practiced, experience-conditioned stimuli.[32]

Although the cortical route is necessary for learning new emotional associations, once learned, those associations will still be made even if the cortical areas are later damaged, if they have been used sufficiently to become automatic (because they are now stored in cerebellar memory and so can use the 'low road' route).

In humans the high road route is capable of overriding the response initiated by the direct pathway, and can modify or inhibit other responses according to complex and subtle differences in circumstances through learning, but only if the high road is processing data as intended. Excess cortisol shuts down the high road, and 'low road' processing becomes the predominant mode of functioning in both sentiment and certain anxiety disorders -but we'll be talking about that later on.

Different pathways from the Amygdala are responsible for different types or aspects of automatic responses, such as recognition/physical feelings/physiological responses/facial expressions. Other pathways return to cortical areas, such as the visual cortex, modulating by feedback the processing of signals from sensory inputs.

Below is a simplified diagram of the two input routes.



From automation to autonomy: Humans have both these systems. In simple creatures with automatically motivated response behavior, only the 'low road' fast route is necessary. Autonomy requires the 'high road' slow route and much more processing to fine-tune motivation for the specific behavior intended, but the fast route can still get us up a tree at the first sign of danger before we have time to consciously realize why.

We use feedback from emotional responses to help with decision-making [33] and these form part of the experience we call 'intuition', which we'll discuss later.


All creatures live in the same world, all animals have sensory organs and senses, and there are optimal performance parameters for every one of the senses in every creature that help keep it in the green zone. The traditional (first to be scientifically explained) concrete human senses are sight (ophthalmoception), hearing (audioception), taste (gustaoception), smell/ pheromone detection (olfacoception/olfacception), and touch (tactioception), other concrete senses are temperature (thermoception), pressure, vibration/rhythm, kinesthetic sense (proprioception), pain (nociception), balance (equilibrioception) and acceleration/deceleration (kinesthesioception). We also have abstract senses such as direction (magnetoception), distance, time, perspective, aesthetics and humor.

All creatures also exhibit the same core behaviors, "moving towards/ moving away from" in three different ways: stretching/ relaxing, gathering together/ spreading apart, unifying/ separating. All creatures also have the unconscious habits of maintaining balance by alternating them, first learned as control over their own autonomic functions and homeostasis.

These simple core behaviors are combined in different ways and applied in both concrete material and abstract cognitive ways, to achieve all necessary animal behaviors, as shown in the diagrams below:



From three simple behaviors applied in different combinations to both concrete & abstract concepts, all the basic animal behaviors can be seen to emerge in a beautiful congruous symmetry.

Cytoarchitectonics ...is a fantastic word that sounds very complex. It's a good word to say to boring people at parties when they ask you what you do, as it either baffles them and they go away, or you've met someone interesting. It means the study of the way cells are connected to other cells, or the structures that cells form; in short, the cellular architecture of the brain.

In terms of this, it's worth stopping here to stand and stare, at how beautifully the evolving brain has structured itself. The later-evolved frontal networks have incorporated (1) a reverse-image copy of the rear nets' layout: diagonal symmetry; (2) a left/right symmetry of processing and (3) a front/rear symmetry of processing. Consult the diagram above while considering the following:

Diagonal symmetry (reverse-image copy of rear net processing): Stretching behaviors are on the blue diagonal, relaxing behaviors are on the green diagonal. In N1 (concrete, material), 'relaxation + gathering together' means nurturing & developing bodies & brains. In N4 (abstract, temporal), 'relaxation + gathering together' means nurturing & developing minds, constructs & ideas. N1 concerns itself with the duration and integrity of matter (physical longevity), and N4 abstracts the concept to concern the mind with the duration and integrity of buildings, relationships, cultures and information.

In N2 (concrete, spatial), 'stretching + spreading apart' means exploring new places, hunting, seeking and spreading the news. In N5 (abstract, dynamic), stretching + spreading apart means exploring new ideas, seeking the facts and spreading the news.


Up/Down Symmetry: Concrete Behaviors Are at the Bottom, abstract towards the top.

Processes merging l/r or front/back data are on the up/down axis. In N3 (concrete, discriminatory), 'unification/separation' means learn about context and its behavior, to adapt your self to fit in better with contextual needs. In N6 (abstract, interactive), unification/separation means learn about yourself and your abilities, to adapt (creatively change) your context to fit in better with personal needs.

N1 processes individual material objects, N5 processes individual abstract facts. In N1, self care means care of the body. In N5 it means care of the mind. In N2, simple tool use is an extension of the body. In N4 complex machine use is an extension of the mind.

Left/right symmetry: Processes involving individual things (N1, N5) are on the left of the diagram, and those involving group behavior (N2, N4) are on the right. N5 does analysis (taking things apart), N4 does synthesis (putting things together). N1 processes individual material objects, N2 processes the motion of groups of objects in space.

Obviously, from these examples you can see how complex processing is, but we don't need to remember all these details once we know the basic concepts behind all behavior and make the required associations.

Below is a diagram showing a selection of behaviors achieved by core-behavior combinations:



Some students have asked how to distinguish between behaviors, skills, and abilities. For example, exploration is a behavior, but it needs the abilities of locomotion and sensory awareness. Navigation could be a skill, an ability AND a behavior. Riding a bike, empathizing, or doing mental arithmetic are also both abilities and types of behavior.

Confusion over this sort of thing can slow down NH progress, so we'd like to make a simple rule: For behavior, think Physics. ALL motion (internal and external, microscopic and macroscopic, accidental and deliberate,) is behavior. All behavior requires abilities. Ability means mastery of a particular behavior or set of behaviors (procedure) - we are ABLE to do x or y behavior.

For example we may have the intent to explore right from birth, but we don't have the ability to explore until we've mastered locomotion and sensorimotor behaviors, as these are what enable our exploration abilities.

Abilities are not skills. One can have abilities that one does not want, for example we are ABLE to fall out of trees, but this is not a skill. A skill is an ability we have practiced, directed and refined through feedback.

We can even have skills without abilities. An athlete with a strained leg has not lost her skills, but has lost her abilities; ie, she is not ABLE to use them to perform behaviors.

Automatic responses are still behaviors but they don't require skill; they just happen TO us (often before we even know why we're doing them.) Our ability to perform them is innate; not learned.

When we refer to 'animal behaviors', we mean a range of basic responses that occur in all mammals as one of twelve (two for each network) types of response to circumstances; for example N3 associates with "befriend or defend", and N4 with create and cooperate. Each network has one response for interacting with benefits and another for interacting with dangers.

Not all mammals need the same details in their behavioral responses (we for example don't hibernate, and most of us don't fly south for the winter, but you can see how all of the example behaviors in each group are related to the core behaviors.)

If you now look at the basic emotions in relation to the behaviors they are associated with, you can see how biology is working with intelligence to produce the right ‘moods’ for every interaction (for example, it seems obvious that a creature would need desire to feel lusty and excited (N2) when courting a mate (N2), or s/he would get bored and lose interest. And we can see that desire will also serve to motivate exploration.

In humans, the same basic behaviors are also applied in more abstract ways (for example we can also feel desire to explore an academic subject or a procedure, in order to learn and remember it well.

In automatic motivation, only the first three networks are needed and basic body states are used as indicators modulating motivation for main animal behaviors, as follows:

N1 pleasure/pain, felt as comfort/discomfort indicates sensory load/overload/deprivation.

N2 arousal/startle reflex, felt as desire/alarm indicates hunger& thirst & sexual needs/danger.

N3 empathy/antipathy, felt as cordiality/discord indicates the need for growth (learning, forming allies, mating)/ & protection (defense).


The 'low road' fast route is a dedicated line for this sort of response. If you refer to the diagram above, you can see how the behaviors each network processes serve the animal's immediate needs associated with the sensory input that motivates them. Its not too hard to see how these input experiences associate with the meanings 'nasty' or 'nice', 'like or dislike' in a creature's personal experience (if in doubt, consider which you'd prefer; comfort or discomfort? Desire or alarm?).

In cognitive-directed (autonomous) motivation, all six networks are used, and basic body states are interpreted according to their associations with neurochemically-weighted abstract concepts. Consequently, any basic behavior can be employed in any situation on the level of any network.

In autonomous systems association links networks using a single code, but it is interpreted by different modules in different ways.

If the code signals for pleasure/pain are directed at N1, they will be experienced in N1's context (the concrete material level) as physical comfort/discomfort and prompt N1 behaviors and emotions of happiness or disgust, all the motivation an animal needs for relaxation or self care behaviors.

However, if the same signals are directed at N4, they will be experienced as mental pleasure or pain, and interpreted in terms of N4's context as cultural integration/exclusion. Such a situation would need N4's cooperation and synthesis behaviors, such as sharing skills, nest building and nurturing young, which call for the emotions of levity and gravity (good humor & respect), to interact effectively.

For another example, if the code signals for arousal/startle are directed at N2, they will be associated with N2's context (the concrete spatial level), with emotions of desire/alarm, and will prompt N2 behaviors. However, if they are directed at N5, the same signals will be associated with emotional/mental desire/alarm, and experienced as certainty/uncertainty about what is known and not known. This would indicate the need for N5's resource-management and analysis behaviors, such as assessing and indicating our own status, territory and allies, resource allocation among allies, and assessment of our own and others' abilities, which require exactly those emotions of doubt and certainty.



Physiology, Behavior and Emotion


When emotional and physical states are experienced as nasty or nice, and associated with 'good' and 'bad' memory imagery, free will is not far away. The moment that a creature has associated imagery for the behaviors to change things, we see the beginnings of emotion modulating behavior, and once there is enough imagination and memory to recognize and categorize what sort of nasty and what sort of nice goes with what sort of behaviors, intelligence can start predicting likely outcomes and making conscious behavioral decisions. We have autonomy of motivation.

We can clearly see which physical responses are associated with which emotional responses. Pleasure is associated with the mental concept of comfortable, pain with uncomfortable. Nausea and sickness are nasty, painful, and associated with the mental concept of disgust. Items whose look, smell or taste trigger the memory of these responses or their occurrence are added to the memory database of 'disgusting'. Any system with these basic associations in memory has the potential to develop an autonomous emotionally-weighted, behavior-motivating, semi-conscious value system.

With emotional weighting, anything beneficial not only is good but FEELS good. Excitement comes when we push the boundaries of the known, pleasure comes when we assimilate new things into the 'known', pain & distress come when sensory overload or deprivation happen, and emotionally-weighted memory of these experiences establishes 'like/dislike' as conscious as well as emotional and sensorimotor concepts, providing autonomous motivation for behavior.

Pain is imagined as nasty, pleasure is imagined as nice, but pain also IS nasty and pleasure IS nice because cells that fire together wire together, and these systems (sensorimotor, behavioral and emotional) have been interwired from the moment code was first associated with meaning and a new kind of dynamic associative imagination and memory were born.

Categorizing the details of our individual likes and dislikes comes (or should come) about by our associating items, contexts and behaviors that are currently inside, or outside, the green zone for us personally, by experience and modeling. Biology is all about achieving the necessities and resources for thriving without wasting any energy or coming to any harm, which comes down to 'keeping us in the green zone'. We're meant to experience physical and mental 'good' feelings whenever we're in the green zone because that's where we make optimal use of our energy as the personal power to interact. We are pursuing entelechy. This is what Rogers means by 'the good life'. [68]

Emotions link abstract mental experiences and complementary concrete physical experiences with mutually- associated meanings, synchronizing motivation (intent prompting interaction) with behaviors appropriate to the context, and communicating meaning and purpose in a chemical language that is understood by body, brain and fellow creature alike.

With an automatic response system, creatures are limited to a single context (environment). With a semi-automatic motivation system, adaptation is possible. We are able to do things when we need to do them EITHER because we are automatically impelled to OR because we've motivated ourselves to. With emotion, integrated memory and imagination, intelligence has set itself free from contextual and bio-automation limitations, and can turn around and creatively change both itself and its world.

Metaphorically speaking, at this point in evolution, an ape threw a bone into the air and it turned into a spaceship...and Intelligence sat down firmly in the Captain's chair.



Neurochemistry & Emotion


The Link Between Emotions, Behaviors and Neurotransmitters

There are several aspects to an emotion. There is the “body response” (called the Autonomic response), the physiology of neurotransmission, the mental ‘mood’ or state of mind, as well as the thoughts, beliefs, memories and expectations associated with these.

Autonomic responses are the changes we experience in a direct physical ‘bodily’ way. We have a limited number of these, the increasing or decreasing of our heartbeat rate is one such response. When we are excited or alarmed, our heartbeat will speed up (note this can happen in either excitement OR alarm). Temperature changes, respiration and digestive changes, pupil dilation or contraction, muscular tension or relaxation, and so on are all autonomic responses. All animals have these, and it is easy to see their survival value.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS, aka 'visceral nervous system') is the part of the peripheral nervous system (PNS) that acts as a control system functioning largely unconsciously, and controls our visceral functions.[34] The ANS affects heart rate, digestion, respiratory state, salivation, perspiration, pupil dilation, blood pressure, urination and sexual arousal. Whereas most of its actions are ordinarily involuntary in animals, they can be brought under conscious control in humans; some more easily than others.

The ANS was classically divided into two subsystems: the Parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) and the Sympathetic nervous system (SNS),[34] but more recent research has discovered a third subsystem of neurons that use nitric oxide as a neurotransmitter which are integral in autonomic function, particularly in the gut and the lungs.[35]

The interactions of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems are coordinated by the Hypothalamus, and the interactions between the Hypothalamus, the Pituitary gland and the Adrenal glands (on top of the kidneys) constitute the "HPA axis", a neural pathway that controls responses to stress and regulates many body processes, including digestion, the immune system, mood and emotions, sexuality, and energy storage and expenditure.



A wide variety of species, from the most ancient organisms to humans, share components of the HPA axis. It is the common mechanism for interactions among glands, hormones, neurotransmitters and parts of the brain; a multi-step biochemical pathway where information is transmitted from one area of the body to the next via chemical messengers. These can be hormones, neurotransmitters, or both. The HPA axis is one of the main 'information highways' synchronizing our systems, and the main route for much of the real time integration between emotions, behaviors and neurotransmitters.


Chemical Cascades and Unconscious Priming

Most chemical interactions in the HPA are very complicated and we do not cover them in detail at intermediate level, as we only need to know the basics about how neurochemistry works. But the HPA gives us an example of something very common in neurochemistry -the advent of chemical cascades.

Do you remember the nursery rhyme: "The House that Jack Built", or A.A. Milne's classic poem, "The King's Breakfast"?[6] They describe something common in NH study: a cascade of events.

An example of a chemical cascade: chemical A + chemical B get together and have a little molecular exchange party, their interactions causing chemicals C, D and E to be manufactured. C + D may then cause the release of chemical F, while D + E may merge to make mainly G and by-product H, and so on in various combinations, the results of interactions causing further interactions until keeping track of it quickly turns into something very complicated.

Here's an example from the HPA's repertoire: One of the Hypothalamic nuclei secretes six neurohormones into the capilliary network supplying the Anterior Pituitary. Four of these are 'releasing hormones' that stimulate the release of other hormones from the Anterior Pituitary itself, one is a release-inhibiting factor, and the sixth is the neurotransmitter Dopamine (if a chemical reaches its destination via the bloodstream, it's a hormone. If it's transmitted by neurons, it's a neurotransmitter, so substances can be both). All these chemicals stimulate the release of other chemicals.

Often in biochemistry cascade tranformations result in chemicals A and B being made once more and the whole cycle goes around again, like rechargeable batteries. If this tendency continues in the long term, it is called 'dynamic equilibrium', and this is how a lot of biological life works. It is normally by achieving chemical dynamic equilibrium that our body systems stay in the green zone.

All animal behavior requires specific transmitter and hormone cascades to constantly moderate mood in sync with physical processes and motion, right from the level of gene transcription up.


Unconscious Priming

In humans, different pattern-matches between input percepts and N3's concepts cause different emotional weighting, and hence different chemical cascades, that can get body & mind prepped and ready ahead of time for any eventuality, as well as giving the relevant associated meaning to the memory of the event.

Despite our stunning systems upgrade on the evolutionary path, everything we do still associates at core with one or more of the basic animal behaviors. N3 knows which one is likely to be dominant in any situation because it recognizes the patterns for the contexts which different types of events arise in (we'll explain how later), and knows which networks are currently being used. The behavioral patterns are narrowed down to just a couple of choices, one for each network's 'nice'- related pattern and one for its 'nasty'-related pattern.

This makes it a simple matter for N3 to 'prime' the network/s predicted as most likely to be needed for appropriate behavioral responses ahead of time, and to anticipate and pull up memories that may be called upon for the procedures involved, into a RAM cache.

For example, if we have just accidentally stepped in something nasty, the Amy has automatically attached Serotonin- and Cortisol-triggering patterns to the experience (because 'those patterns' go with 'this one'), associated the event with the core concept 'matter', and sent its data to the matter-related coordinates on the inner model. These will in this case indicate the area representing N1 because network 1 processes all material substance initial data and is on a special lookout for dangerous substances. The Amy's message of disgust will motivate N1 to pay immediate attention to this event.

When its attentively-gathered input goes around the 'high road' back to N3 and the substance is consciously identified on the way as animal feces (all this happens extraordinarily fast), N2 is already primed for (and possibly already carrying out) appropriate motor behavior for dealing with dangerous substances; (sharpening of the senses, initial movement away from the danger, a 'disgusted' facial expression, and vocalization designed to warn others of the nature of the hazard (such as swearing or 'yuck!' noises)), while N1 is simultaneously primed for its own behaviors; (probably fastidious cleaning of the foot, and if it's in the home or local territory, removal/ burial of the substance.)

All the memories necessary for carrying these behaviors out are ready and waiting, because the behaviors were predicted and expected. We'll be looking more closely into how N3 predicts what's needed, later in this tutorial.





See which network automatically takes on a puzzle

You will need: 8 pens or pencils or short sticks or anything light and firm, all of equal length around 20cm, and a small amount of blutack or plasticine or similar substance.

Arrange the sticks to form the following pattern:



Using only the same equipment, make a pattern of four equilateral triangles all the same size.

Answer at end of tutorial.


Giving Us the Basics: Stretch and Relax

Acetylcholine and Norepinephrine (ANS)

The two main Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) transmitters in humans are Acetylcholine and Norepinephrine, and in the ANS basically Norepinephrine is the accelerator and Acetylcholine puts on the brakes. They provide a complementary balance of physical opposites: stress and relaxation maintaining our homeostasis, keeping everything working in synchrony at just the right rate for the current conditions.

Norepinephrine and Acetylcholine act on the body to set up a general state of ‘excited or relaxed’, the “whole body” stress-relaxation responses that underlies all emotion.

Please note that this is what they do in relation to the physical body; they have other functions in brain neurotransmission. Biology won't waste energy producing more chemicals than it needs, and many of them are multifunctional, doing different tasks as hormones or neurotransmitters.


Glutamate and GABA

In the brain, the main stress-relax system is run by Glutamate (makes it easier for neurons to fire) and GABA (makes it harder for neurons to fire).

We can already see how these systems are able to coordinate a brain and body for automatic motivation. Alone, however, these transmitters are not sufficient to determine what emotions are experienced. Indeed, as we have learned, the body can use them for automatic control without ANY emotion being involved.

However, these responses do also correlate with the experience of emotion, and at the bottom of all emotion there is a similar polarity of stress-relaxation in our moods and related behaviors or benefit-seeking and hazard-avoiding (spreading apart & gathering together, unification and separation).


Filling in the details: sex or drugs or rock & roll?

We experience 'stretch/relax' chemistry for many different reasons; for example we need it to mate, to run away from things that want to eat us, to defend ourselves, to learn, and to chase things we would like to eat. After successfully stretching to achieve any of these, our bodies and minds will need to relax.

When our brain releases norepinephrine and ‘hits the gas’, the bodily changes will serve us equally as well for sexual excitement as they will for alarm, so our own interpretation of events -our perception, including memory and prediction- as well as the circumstances themselves, our current neurochemistry and the behavior of others, modulates the next burst of transmitter release. Ultimately these variables determines both what we will experience (emotion or sentiment) and also which type of emotion or sentiment.

The unconscious mind assesses what it thinks is going on and ‘fills in the details’, prompting the release of the relevant neurochemicals to motivate appropriate behavior and establish a particular emotion as relevant to a particular situation and the particular type of behavior likely to be required in it.

These result in the many different ‘moods’ or ‘states of mind’ we associate with different emotions, and people sometimes use recreational or medicinal drugs to induce similar states.

“Uppers” and “downers” like amphetamines, sugar, caffeine, benzodiazepines or barbiturates signal the brain to hit the gas or put the brakes on, and chemicals like MDMA, cannabis, prozac, SSRIs, LSD and alcohol also cause the increase of some transmitters that induce particular moods or states of mind, so can be used for input control in various circumstances.

In short, multiple variables affecting our own perception and interpretation of events modulates the details of what we feel, what we do, and what neurotransmitters we release.


Dopamine and Serotonin

For example if your heart is racing and your neck hairs are standing on end because the hottest person you have ever seen has just taken off their clothes and said, 'let’s have sex', as long as association is congruous you’ll release (amongst others) the transmitters norepinephrine, dopamine and oxytocin, and interpret your body’s arousal signals as being a healthy and pleasant physical response, and the accompanying emotion as lust; sexual desire.

If you are chasing your dinner, dopamine and norepinephrine are still released, but you interpret the excitement as eagerness for the hunt and anticipation of dinner for your family.

Dopamine just contributes the command 'seek' to behavior; it doesn't mind what we're seeking (and this is how it can be coopted by the brain so successfully into seeking abstract goals such as solving a maths problem).

When the physical signals on the inside correspond with a recognizable beneficial opportunity on the outside, biology’s intent meets a suitable content, all is congruous, and a healthy mind releases the relevant combination of transmitters needed for the appropriate behavior and mood to do the beneficial thing; in the cases above, mating or hunting. Completion of either of these behaviors results in the release of serotonin, and the feelings of relaxation and satisfaction; This is the stress/ relaxation response in healthy individuals.

The systems using dopamine and serotonin are often confused, as until very recently, dopamine was thought to be the brain's 'reward' chemical and many researchers have not caught up with the fact that dopamine is much more aptly described as the 'desire' chemical.

Of course, desire can be rewarding and enjoyable in itself, but only when it leads to satisfaction, and that needs successful completion of the stress-relax cycle in the release of serotonin and opioids, providing the 'reward' half of the pleasure circuit and makes us feel happy, contented, satisfied and comfortable during the relaxation response.

This prevents us releasing more dopamine for a short time unless a new stimulus is presented that is worthwhile enough to follow up. For example if you've just caught half a dozen rabbits and are secure in the knowledge that your family will eat well today, you may well lie around in the sunshine feeling pleased with yourself, before heading back with the goodies. You don't feel any desire to carry on hunting, but suddenly an antelope appears -a great opportunity- and a fresh surge of dopamine et al gets you back on your feet and aiming your spear within seconds.

If a predator is spotted, excitement quickly turns to alarm, and you yell to your friends, "Crocodile!" (or whatever). Dopamine can serve for both desire and alarm, since we can desire to get away from something just as much as we can desire to chase something, as we all know from experience. Dopamine simply produces desire; the details of what you desire to do (run towards, run away from, make love to, learn about) depends on your perception and interpretation of your context, the way your body feels, and what is happening around you.

The same transmitters can be used in lots of different contexts, because basic behaviors underlie all complex behaviors. Desire is basic in nature and complex in application. Neurochemistry just coordinates our responses, it is unconscious weighting by emotion that allocates them meaning. Dopamine's associated emotions are desire and alarm; it's associated behaviors are seeking and warning of danger ('seek and squeak'). Serotonin's associated emotions are happiness and disgust; it's associated behaviors are relaxation and self care ('serene and clean').


Oxytocin and Cortisol

If a large human-eating creature chases YOU, you'll release norepinephrine, dopamine + cortisol, interpret the body’s signals as defensive, and if you’re wired for emotion proper your good old fight/flight response will kick in automatically and save your ass. (If we’re wired for sentiment, and have overwritten that response, we may panic or faint).

When the physical signals on the inside correlate with a recognizable threat to survival on the outside, a healthy mind interprets the chemical responses in the context necessary to enable you to do the most beneficial thing; in this case shooting the monster with your missile launcher (if you’re Arnie), or getting up a tree fast/ running like a bat out of hell (if you’re not.)

Oxytocin and cortisol are the “benefit/danger” determinants in situations. Oxytocin = benefit, Cortisol = danger. The associated emotions are amity and offense, and the associated behaviors are unity and separation (befriend or defend).

Acetylcholine and Norepinephrine (CNS)

Outside the ANS, both these transmitters play a role in memory as we have seen, but they also modulate emotion and many other processes including learning and decision-making.

Norepinephrine is a natural anti-inflammatory in the cortex and N3. Functionally it shifts attention to respond to environmental stimuli that have behaviorally-relevant, motivational, or attention grabbing properties. [69] In practical terms this enables us to assess a variation of options or possibilities within an overall context by looking at differences between known and current input; good for assessing probabilities of success versus energy-expenditure and risk versus hazard in a hurry. NE spikes when unexpected uncertainty arises in predictive circumstances. [70]

NE increases spontaneity and willingness to take measured risks for greater gain. NE is important for the exploratory behavior essential for learning relations between sensory input, decision processing, motor output, and behavioral feedback. [71] The associated behaviors are assessment, analysis and display, and the associated emotions are certainty and uncertainty (confidence and doubt.)

In the CNS, Acetylcholine functions as a neuromodulator in plasticity, arousal and reward. ACh also has an important role in the enhancement of sensory perceptions when we wake up [72] and in sustaining attention and increasing mental focus in the presence of distractors by looking at similarities between known and current input. [73]

Increases of ACh during visual, auditory and somatosensory stimulus presentations have been found to increase the firing rate of neurons in the corresponding primary sensory cortices, increasing responsiveness to sensory stimuli and the duration of attention during long-term behavioral strategies (such as tracking prey or completing a time-dependant task such as nest-building, learning, solving problems, games and play, cooperation, complex tool use procedures and categorization). [74] The associated behaviors are creative synthesis and cooperation, and the associated emotions are levity and gravity.


Endorphins and Substance P

Endorphins are natural opiates and in the body they reduce sensitivity to physical pain. In abstract processing they reduce sensitivity to emotional pain, as they make us feel comfortable, cared about and loved, which makes them a great anxiolytic (they reduce cortisol). They're also responsible for a lot of 'spiritual' feelings or profoundly blissful feelings of absolute joy. They enable bonding behavior between individuals and large groups of people and encourage group cooperation and unity like nothing else can.

Substance P is necessary in the body for our immunity as it causes an inflammatory response to infection and makes us sensitive to pain if injured. Substance P and its receptor (NK1) are widely distributed in the brain and are specifically found in brain regions that regulate emotion. [75] It's necessary to enable us to grieve healthily, recover from, and adapt to loss or separation such as the loss of a loved one, and for infant-adult bonding, when separation brings the pain of distress because it's dangerous. The associated behaviors are coordination and communication, and the associated emotions are joy and sorrow.

Interactions Between Transmitters

Transmitters interact with each other in different ways. This is complex, but we can consider the basics at this stage:



Transmitters used by horizontally 'opposite' networks in this model (eg, N1/N2 or N4/N5) act to cancel each other out (so Serotonin (5HT) reduces Dopamine (DA); and Norepinephrine (NE) reduces Acetylcholine (ACh)). They behave as an axis (raise serotonin, you automatically lower dopamine, and vice versa).

This symmetry of relationships in neurotransmission reflects the symmetry of processing. Networks' complementary processes maintain a dynamic equilibrium of brain biochemistry; all working together to complete 'stage-by-stage' procedures like the learning cycle.

Obviously this presents great opportunities for NH -if you have too much of one transmitter in an overactive network, instead of trying to reduce it by medication you can just enhance its 'opposites' and let the brain do the work for you.

This is a very useful hack for anyone who uses dopamine enhancers and gets panicky or paranoid when they overdo it. In the normal course of events transmitters adjust themselves, but if artificially increased over a long period (for example with drugs or because of anxiety) problems can result. Chronic heavy cannabis or cocaine use can result in serious lowering of serotonin because both drugs usually increase dopamine production). The resulting chemical imbalance causes loss of certainty and consequently paranoia and/or difficulty making decisions.

The problem can be addressed by decreasing the dopamine intake, OR by increasing serotonin. Get some serotonin into your system and those unjustified doubts go back into perspective.

Diagonally opposing networks (eg N1/N4 or N5/N2) tend to enhance each other and are often found to be using the same precursor (eg Tyrosine is a precursor to both dopamine and norepinephrine.)

In networks that use two main transmitters (eg, N3), they counteract each other within the network (so oxytocin is a very good thing for reducing cortisol and vice versa), but in addition to this some transmitters of N3 & N6 can counteract each other as vertically opposite networks do (so Endorphins also reduce Cortisol) AND some can enhance each other (so Substance P triggers the release of more cortisol).


Neurotransmitters and Behavior

Neurotransmission is about as close to software as wetware can get. If you think of the main transmitters as coded instructions for motivating behaviors, you won't go far wrong.

Here are the 12 main transmitters with their basic command lines:


ACh = (body) slow down, decrease activity

NE = (body) speed up, increase activity

GABA = (brain) slow down, decrease activity

Glu = (brain) speed up, increase activity


5HT = relax, gather together, assimilate

DA = stretch, spread apart, seek

OT = modulate unification & interaction with beneficial agents

Cortisol = modulate separation & protection from harmful agents


ACh = (brain) relax, gather together, cooperate, construct, synthesize

NE = (brain) stretch, spread apart, diverge, deconstruct, analyse

Endorphins = modulate unification & bonding with beneficial agents

Substance P = modulate separation & escape from harmful agents





Transmitter/behavior associations

Use what you know already together with the information above and your imagination to do the following exercises:

1. Imagine you are programming a virtual reality eagle. You want it to behave as realistically as possible. Given the above command lines for neurotransmitters, select those which would be appropriate to motivate the creature for the following behaviors:

(a) Self-grooming behavior

(b) Nest-making behavior (clue: eagles build in pairs)


2. Explain why the following behaviors in the eagles might need the transmitters listed beside them:

(c) defending young from a predator : NE (body) + Glu + DA + Cortisol

(d) chasing prey : NE (body) + Glu + DA + ACh

(e) showing young how to fly : NE (body) + Glu + DA + ACh (CNS) + Oxytocin


This should show you how no task uses a single transmitter but must rather contribute to maintaining a balance of the right chemicals at exactly the right time. Any or all of these transmitters may cause further cascades. The end products of cascades are often responsible for gene transcription (turning genes on or off, up or down), producing the specific proteins needed for each new behavior.

Actual cascades of in-vivo neurotransmission are of course a lot more complicated than this, we are using these as examples only to demonstrate the basic process; not the details. There is no need to learn more than this in order to practise successful and effective NH, but if you want to go further into neurotransmission, dive into the site library.


Emotional Communication: There's Something in the Air

Emotion is a major form of communication, and can be expressed synchronously by every network in its own way (N1 facial expression & appearance; N2 behavior (body language & sounds); N3 odors & pheromones; N4 metaphoric language & swearing; N5 formal language; and N6 the overall procedure we call interaction.)

Facial appearance and expression, and the basics of behavior have been explored above. Metaphor and language will be explored in Tutorials 10 and 11. Here we'll consider the olfactory input of odor and pheromones.

Chemical signaling is pretty ideal for communication, as chemicals can be airborne, internally active, adhered to surfaces, and transferred by multiple means including neurotransmission, blood circulation, remote and physical contact.

While humans are highly dependent upon visual cues, because airborne odors intermingle and fluctuate at fast timescales [36] when in close proximity smells and pheromones play a big role in human behaviors.



Conscious olfaction has a powerful command over many behaviors, including memory. Despite such a diverse array of fragrances in the world, the shape of an individual odor molecule is unique to the emitting substance. When inhaled, the odor molecule is absorbed in the nasal passage and binds to chemoreceptors in the olfactory epithelium, which are specific to certain odor molecules. This binding initiates a change in the permeability of the sensory neuron, which transmits data to the olfactory bulb. From there the transmitted signal is sent to N3 (Amy & Hippo) for further processing. Recognition of the odor occurs when the signal is interpreted through comparison to past experiences with the odor and association of the smell with the emitting substance.

N3, which receives information from the chemoreceptors about a particular odor, not only mediates mood and emotion but also serves as a memory assembly area. The inner model, where memories, emotions and odors meet, shows us why smell is often an intense trigger for distinct memories and potent emotions. When perceiving a particular aroma that is associated with a past memory, the recognition of the odor in the olfactory process will simultaneously evoke the associated memory. [60]

In this region, odors initiate the release of neurotransmitters, which can affect our brain and mental state in a variety of ways.

In input control, flower smells are mood-manipulators. Their scents can cause the release of serotonin and oxytocin in our brains. These mood responses have also been reported physiologically. For example, skin conductance, heart-rate and eye-blink rates in response to various liked or disliked scents coincide with the mood the person is experiencing.[65] In the real world, flowers don't grow unless the environment is healthy, so flower scents are reassuring and comforting to the unconscious brain (5HT). A fertile environment also means its a good place to make allies and stay around (OT).

Input for odor begins well before birth and infants tend to like the smells that their mothers experienced most often when they were in the womb (if mom does a lot of fishing, for example, junior will like the smell of fish.) The survival benefits of pre-birth wiring for 'beneficial' smells are very apparent, but they depend entirely on the mothers' ability to respond appropriately by not hanging around dangerous smells and avoiding wrong input. It's not beneficial for survival if someone is born loving the smell of bleach, corn oil, petrol, coca cola or pet poop, for example. However, even if the worst happens, the system is reprogrammable; all we have to do to change it is provide good input, enough times.

This is also true of taste, because flavor compounds from the maternal diet get incorporated into amniotic fluid and are ingested by the developing fetus as initial taste experiences. Moms have a lot of responsibility for our tastes being healthy, but since we are able to rewire ourselves our only concern with this is if we decide to have children ourselves, or want to practise input control and develop our own brain, in both cases we should find out what good input means first.

What matters more than our noses are the central olfactory brain regions that process the input as the basis for smell perception. Rather than being restricted to a tiny part of the brain, human olfactory processing of complex smells has access to N3 and consequently the memories of the entire brain are at its disposal. Different smells are represented by different patterns of olfactory glomerular activity. These patterns function as virtual “odor images”.[63]

It has been hypothesized that these odor images provide the basis for discrimination between odors, analogous to the way that retinal images are the basis for discrimination of visual pattern stimuli. The complex patterns constituting odor images may be considered as analogous to the complex patterns constituting visual images of faces. This makes sense, as N3 uses an image-based format for all processing.

Downstream in the cascade triggered by odors influencing our moods, is the way those moods influence how we think (cognition) and how we interact (behavior). In terms of cognition, mood has been shown to influence creativity with the typical finding that people in a positive mood exhibit higher levels of creativity than individuals in a bad mood. Odors can also produce the same effects. When people are exposed to an odor they liked, creative problem solving is better than it is when they are exposed to an unpleasant odor condition.

A growing body of literature shows that positive mood is linked to an increase in productivity, performance and the tendency to help others. Notably, procultural behavior and personal/group productivity are also enhanced in the presence of pleasant ambient odors.

Pleasant ambient odors have also been found to enhance vigilance during a tedious task and improve performance on anagram and word completion tests. Conversely, the presence of a malodor reduced participants' subjective judgments and lowered their tolerance for frustration. Participants in these studies also reported concordant mood changes. Thus, the observed behavioral responses correlate with the effect that the ambient odors had on people's mood.[65]

Even if sensory input is insufficient to trigger a conscious olfactory experience, subliminal processing still unconsciously prevails and biases perception; indeed studies offer direct evidence that human social behavior is under more influence from miniscule amounts of odor at concentrations too low to be consciously perceived than from odors we are consciously aware of. Unconscious (subliminal) input elicits psychological and physiological changes that suggest that humans get much more information from barely perceptible input cues than previously realized, and that such input influences our perception and decisions.



The scent of sweat is often camouflaged with perfume or deodorant, but pheromones are left unaffected. They don't even activate scent receptors in the nose; they have receptors of their own. It is as though your nose contained an extra receiver for picking up different kinds of signals (like a satellite dish that can receive radio as well as television). The unconscious mind knows, even though the conscious mind often doesn't.

Pheromone reception is like an 'unconscious ' sense of smell. Pheromones are chemical signals that elicit innate behaviors; capable of acting outside the body of the secreting individual to impact the behavior of the self and other receiving individual/s. [37] Pheromones are also used to determine the local population density of similar organisms and control behaviors that take more time to execute (quorum sensing).

There are many different pheromones that affect behavior or physiology, and they may have no consciously-detectable odor. In mammals, these chemical signals are detected by the vomeronasal organ (VNO), [112] a chemosensory organ located at the base of the nasal septum,[38] but they can also be absorbed via the skin and pheromone receptor genes have been found in olfactory mucosa.[39]

Pheromones appear to have evolved in all animal phyla. They enhance empathy, signal sex, health and status, and modulate some archetypal instinctive behaviors among members of the same species.

While the VNO is clearly present in all human fetuses it often appears to be atrophied or shrunk almost to nonexistence in 'normal' adults and the gene for its behavior dormant, suggesting a case of "use it in the right way or lose it". Human youngsters are often shielded from natural pheromone input by the many airborne and skin-absorbed pollutants we use, (for example, air 'fresheners', so-called deodorants, hairsprays, and washing products) that not only prevent the formation of, but also destroy, vomernasal as well as odor receptors.

Three distinct families of putative pheromone receptors have been identified in the healthy vomeronasal organ (V1Rs, V2Rs, and V3Rs). All are only distantly related to the receptors of the main olfactory system, highlighting their different role.[41]

Pheromones are released in our breath, our sweat, our tears and other bodily products such as urine. There are three axillary steroids that have been described as human pheromones: androstenone, androstenol, and androstandienone.[42]

In 2006, a second pheromone receptor sub-class, Trace Amine-Associated Receptors (TAAR), were found in the olfactory epithelium.[48]

In humans, a 2011 study showed that when volunteers were exposed to the pheromone androstadienone, all their brains showed a response, even if they lacked VNOs or had their VNOs blocked. The VNO is clearly not the only pheromone-sensing organ in the olfactory system.[40] Investigations continue into a possible pheromone nerve, known as cranial nerve 0, or the terminal nerve.

Other research has indicated that humans might be using these subtle smell cues to help select our mates. Variation in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), an important set of immune system genes, imbues each of us with a unique “odorprint,” like a fingerprint. With the exception of identical twins, no two individuals are likely to have the same odorprint.

In nature, the sexual union of unlike MHCs yields offspring with more diverse and thus more robust immune systems, so a possible theory is that axillary odors are being used to provide information about the immune system. Researchers found that the artificial odors that people chose as 'most pleasant' are determined in part by their major histocompatibility complexes (MHC) combination.[58]

Information about an individual’s immune system could be used as a way of “sexual selection” so that good genes would be selected for offspring.[44] Both men and women prefer the axillary odors of people whose MHC is different from their own.[59] Instinct may also guide us in this manner: Previous research has revealed that human females preferred the musk of sweaty T-shirts worn by males with suitably different MHC genes from their own.


This brief exploration of what goes on up our noses makes us aware that much of our input is unconscious and affecting us in ways we do not normally consider. We can use this information for input control and for defending ourselves against subliminal programming -for example not getting conned into doing something dodgy because this room or that person smells nice, and not getting anxious just because everyone around us is giving off anxiety pheromones.

Be aware that other senses are just as important, and now that we know there are many more than the original six, we have plenty of considerations for making beneficial changes in our lifestyle and habits to improve input for emotional stability.



The Big Picture


All genuine emotion makes sense when seen in its real biological context of behavior and survival, benefit and harm. This is one of the ways that we can start to recognize sentiment –it induces behavior that is not beneficial to our (or other people’s) survival, behavior that causes confusion and misunderstanding, usually action/reaction, and always obfuscation of the truth.

In the real world of jungles, oceans, deserts and mountains, (things that biology knows about), any creature using sentiment would very quickly be eaten or die of disease or famine, because there’s nothing like natural selection for keeping a lack of interactive abilities out of the gene pool in natural animal populations.

In artificial society, lack of interactive ability has become mainstream because it is actually valued; our societies encourage sentiment, helplessness and dependence in order that huge numbers of insecure people will spend both a lot of money and a lot of time frantically trying to acquire enough to stop feeling anxious.

Artificial systems function like parasites that suck everybody dry to keep the system itself going. Societies eat people, and are skilled at luring them in. Fortunately if we know what we’re doing we won’t get lured in, which is great because artificial reality and sentiment bring a great deal of unhappiness, sickness, danger and hassle to anyone who is reduced by anxiety to being stuck in them.

Without sentiment, and with involvement in a healthy culture, we only have real needs for real emotions to cater for; not greeds, guilts, insecurities or obsessions, and it takes a lot less time, hassle and energy to live that way.

In health terms, experiencing real emotion gives us more energy and better immunity, whereas sentiment exhausts us, reduces our immunity and exacerbates aging. So for those who like the computer analogy, if you’re still running old sentiment programs it’s definitely in your interests to upgrade ASAP.

The diagram below is a summary of networks, core emotion concepts, types of behavior and neurotransmitters. You can copy it into your Captain's Log for future reference.



 Healthy core emotions present in 6 sets, each with an option for ‘benefit’ and ‘danger’. Neurotransmitter abbreviations:5HT = serotonin (comfort/disgust); DA = dopamine (desire/alarm); NE = norepinephrine (certainty/uncertainty); ACh = acetylcholine (levity/gravity). Emotions associated with 'danger' are not ‘bad’; because it is important that people feel disgusted or alarmed when they encounter threats to their health, safety or wellbeing.





What Do you Call that Feeling...

It is the expression, not the experience of emotion that varies with culture. Different cultures and groups have different names for the main emotions and for secondary emotions stemming from them. Below is a table showing the core emotions and some names you may use or encounter for them. Choose all the names that are most familiar to you from personal experience (ie, you personally have experienced feeling them), and put them on the right hand side, making a third column. Be careful NOT to use any sentiment terms for labeling your real emotions:







happiness, sensuality, pleasure, serenity, centerdness, satisfaction, contentment



revulsion, discomfort, repulsion, nausea, grossed out



excitement, lust, interest, attraction, fascination, curiosity



concern, startlement, surprise, dismay



amity, friendliness, liking, cameraderie, amiability, warmth, cordiality, goodwill, geniality, kindliness, affection



offense, dislike, defensiveness, coldness, discord, protectiveness, resistance



mirth, light heartedness, playfulness, jollyness, cheerfulness, good humor, amusement



determination, self-control, stamina, tenacity, rectitude, respect, bushido, dignity, honor, staying power, resolve, rectitude, propriety



confidence, self esteem, pride, assuredness



doubt, suspicion, confusion, incertitude, caution, wariness, prudence



bliss, love, joy, oneness, ecstasy, fulfilment, nirvana, elation, enlightenment



loss, grief, sorrow, distress, anguish, sadness




Put the names of the core emotions in your Captain's Log beside the names you are most familiar with personally for each of them. There are no right or wrong 'answers' here because everyone will be familiar with different terms. For example if someone I loved were to die, I would call what I'm feeling 'grief'. Others may call it anguish, sorrow or sadness.

The important thing to remember is that whatever name you choose for grief, it is based on the core emotion we ALL experience as "the pain and shock of unwanted separation".

For example, if the dude displaying 'separation behavior' in the picture above were an alien who told you his friend had died and he was feeling "SHLazzAAAHHt", you would still be able to associate that percept with a concept in your own memory and empathize with what he was feeling.

You now know some of the benefits to biology and survival that the emotional system provides –this is what emotion is for; it is to help the human species survive and thrive, understand each other, communicate, “do the right thing”, and augment our ability to adapt intelligently by interacting in constantly changing circumstances.


Last Updated on Thursday, 30 September 2021 17:58