Emotions&Equanimity.pdf - Peace of Mind Emotions the Limbic System and Equanimity Rick Hanson PhD 2008 Evolutionary Perspectives Daily life is full

Emotions&Equanimity.pdf - Peace of Mind Emotions the Limbic...

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Peace of Mind: Emotions, the Limbic System, and Equanimity © Rick Hanson, PhD, 2008 Evolutionary Perspectives Daily life is full of emotions, from the pleasures of happiness and love to the pains of worry, frustration, sorrow, and anger. While we may take them for granted, our feelings are actually an extraordinary evolutionary achievement, as remarkable in their own way as language and logic. Animals have emotions, too, as Darwin observed in his book, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals , in 1872. But consider the apparent emotions in a spectrum of animals, from – say – snakes and lizards, to squirrels, dogs, and monkeys, and then to human beings. There is a direct correlation between the complexity of social life of a species and the range and depth of the emotions of its members. Because our relationships are so layered, nuanced, enduring, and plain messy, humans have the greatest emotional range of any animal. In our species, emotions serve many functions. They arouse our interest and tell us what to pay attention to. They motivate approach strategies through pleasant feelings and motivate avoidance or attack strategies through unpleasant ones. They enable us to share states of mind with other members of our family, tribe, or nation – and to signal or detect important states of mind such as fear, disgust, anger, or erotic interest. They bond children and parents, lovers and friends. Emotions join us in common cause with other people, whether it’s chatting companionably while gathering nuts and berries on the African savannah 100,000 years ago or it’s circling with spears around a woolly mammoth in Siberia 80,000 years later – or it’s cheering our football team to victory . . . or it’s exulting, alas, while watching our nation’s missiles strike an enemy target. More subtly, emotions make us known to ourselves. Flowing through the field of awareness – perhaps arising, actually, as a modification of awareness – emotions signal the deeper underlying movements of mental activity. Which reflects, of course, the underlying movements of neurological activity. Emotion in the Brain
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2 The major brain regions that support emotional processing include the limbic system – particularly the hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus – and the prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), nucleus accumbens, and insula. Technical note: there are two hippocampi, one in each hemisphere of the brain; the same for the two amygdalae, ACCs, and insulae. Following common practice, we’ll mainly use the singular form. By the way, as an interesting evolutionary detail, the limbic system seems to have evolved from the olfactory (scent) neural circuitry in the brain developed by our ancient mammal ancestors, living around 180 million years ago. They seem to have used their advanced sense of smell to hunt at night, while those cold-blooded reptiles were snoozing – and easier prey.
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