In an earlier post on meeting your personal Jungian archetypes, and discussed in my new Guru book above, I mentioned emotional neural circuits and that the archetypes were closely associated with these. Here I want to expand on that and combine it with my 2009 idea and webpage on n-dimensional emotional hyperspace. In later posts I will relate these to our comfort zone and spiritual growth. In this post I am just laying the foundation for these later discussions.
First, let me review my original idea about n-dimensional emotional hyperspace starting with Fig 1 below:
“n” is the number of basic emotions as shown above and equals seven in this case. Each emotion is in its own dimension, i. e. has its own axis. Being humans we can only “envision” three dimensions of space (length, width, and depth), then add the forth dimension of time. For perspective then, we live in a four-dimensional space-time continuum.
Each of these dimensions is independent of the others, meaning you can move down the axis of say time, without affecting your position along any of the space dimensions. Graphically, we say that they are orthogonal (90°) to each other. In a our two dimensional drawing here, imagine each emotional axis going off into a different dimension. Of course you can not draw that, but you can represent it as I have tried to do in my drawing above.
Mathematically, you can theoretically have any number of dimension. Much of quantum physics’ string theory does this, pointing to the possible existance of up to ten dimensions.
Several additional points about the model:
Rating scale for intensity: Each emotion is scaled on a 0 to 10 scale of intensity. I often have patients do this is in therapy. I have them rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 10 for the intensity of their emotion, such as sadness, where 0 is no sadness and 10 is the strongest sadness they can imagine. Only two emotional axises are so labeled as such in Figure 1.
Also to reiterate something I wrote in earlier posts and discuss in more detail in Guru, “emotions” are our underlying psycho-physiological response to a stimulus, whereas “feelings” refer to our conscious awareness of those underlying emotions.
Again, orthogonality means that the axises are independent of each other in our emotional hyperspace, i.e. they are at 90° from each other.
Can we feel more than one emotion at a time? That is, are our emotions really independent of each other? Can we be both happy and sad, for example? Can we feel happy and shame at the same time? Happiness is the culprit here. It is the only positive emotion. The rest are all negative emotions. We can definitely feel a mix of emotions about something or someone and they are independent of each other as outlined above.
We can have love-hate relationships for example. Or we can love someone, but not like them–our teens often fit into this category at least at times. My brother does. I have not discussed “love” as an emotion. Maybe more on this later. It is worthy of a blog (chapter/book) by itself. Our emotional hyperspace model here is conceptual, not rigorously accurate. It is useful for helping us understand how our emotions affect us. Now let me expand this concept to emotional neural circuits.
Emotional Neural Circuits
I would like to reframe our model above neurologically in terms of our emotional neural circuits. We now know much more about these circuits compared to when I proposed the original model. I spend a lot of time in my Guru book on the emotional neural circuits as they pertain to the archetypes. I thought about presenting this model there, but it was already so full of the science stuff, I decided not to. The reasons this model is helpful is because some of the emotion listed above, e.g. loneliness and sadness, engage more than one neural circuit. Also, it takes our understanding of emotions to the neurobiological level, allowing a more global understanding of what is happening.
Here is the updated n-dimensional emotional neurocircuit model:
Figure 2. n-dimensional emotional neurocircuit hyperspace
Notice that except for the FEAR dimension, there is not much correspondence between Fig 1, the emotional hyperspace model, and Fig 2, the neurocircuits involved in our emotions. For example, sadness and loneliness–there are no emotional neurocircuits for these emotions, although they wil call into play some of the neurocircuits. Sadness results from say when our SEEKING neurocircuit is thwarted or blocked, and we can’t seek or find what we are seeking. Sadness is a results of changes at the neurotransmitter level, most notably serotonin. Loneliness activates the SEEKING and PANIC circuits. Let us take a quick look-see at these neurocircuits and what they do. I go into them in much greater detail in my Guru book.
As McGowen points out there are four primary and three secondary neural circuits that have been identified. (SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, PANIC, PLAY, LUST, and CARE; see Guru Appendix 1 for more details.) Below, I give a slightly condensed summary from Guru:
Our emotions are based in ancient, highly conserved, older brain regions. I want to emphasize again that these circuits come up rapidly and unconsciously, especially the fundamental ones. There appear to be four fundamental motivational circuits: SEEKING, FEAR, RAGE, and PANIC. FEAR and RAGE are linked to our amygdala and are the center for our flight-or-fight response, and of course, our felt emotions of fear and anger. There are also three more specialized circuits: PLAY, CARE, and LUST. Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these….
The SEEKING circuitry, a fundamental system found in all mammals, is a dopamine-driven self-stimulatory system of the hypothalamus. In humans, this system engages the higher brain systems and is a major player in forethought as a result. Forethought, looking ahead and planning for some future event, is a very human attribute. It is linked to our pattern-finding circuitry in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus. When activated to extreme, schizophrenia can result—i.e., seeing patterns where none exist. Our brain is a pattern-seeking/making machine. The SEEKING system motivates organisms to explore, be curious about or interested in. It also activates expectancy, corresponding to “intense interest,” “engaged curiosity,” and “eager anticipation.” It environmentally engages our “aliveness.” Activation stimulates theta brain waves associated with information processing and simulates REM sleep. Cocaine and amphetamines stimulate this system. In terms of importance for basic survival and reproduction, next to flight-or-fight avoidance circuitries, is the SEEKING circuitry. It is the most primal on the attraction side of the attraction-avoidance schema. SEEKING-like circuitries are found in fruit flies and roundworms, for example.
Interestingly for our purposes, the SEEKING system is associated mythologically with such metaphors as the wellspring of life and tree of life (remember Adam and Eve of Genesis), and with the lower worlds of shamanic and indigenous peoples, from whence energy, life, power, and animal archetypes emerge. It is the place of creative beginnings and origins.
When we cannot find what we seek, even if we are not sure what we are looking for, that is, when our SEEKING is thwarted, depression and dysphoria can result. SEEKING is also closely linked to the LUST and RAGE systems.
Thwarting of the SEEKING system, along with pain and aggravation, can activate the RAGE system’s circuitry. This system evokes angry, aggressive attack behaviors, and is again located in the hypothalamic/amygdala areas of the old brain. Feelings of intense rage occur when this area of the brain is electrically stimulated. It colors our perception and judgment and calls up related feelings and memories. Anger comes up and plans for revenge begin to be conceptualized. The RAGE system has homologies in other vertebrates. As I think about my long zoological career with everything from fruit flies to fish to lizards and birds, mice, rats, dogs, cats, and horses, attacks and aggression are the norm, except for the fruit flies, when it comes to competition for food, mates, territories, and pecking orders. So, RAGE homologies pretty well cover vertebrates in general.
FEAR, like RAGE, involves the amygdala and hypothalamus, and additionally the lower brain stem and spinal cords, and can result in profound escape and avoidance behaviors. It activates the startle and freeze responses in its extremes—you know, like possums playing possum or deer freezing in headlights.
The amygdala stimulates the hypothalamus to cause stress hormones to be released from the pituitary (cortisols) and adrenal (epinephrine and nor-epinephrine) glands. These kick in the body’s autonomic sympathetic system that controls heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure; voiding the colon and urinary bladder; diverting the blood flow from internal organs to the arms and legs in preparation for flight; and suppressing the immune system. The pre-frontal lobe meanwhile evaluates the danger of the situation, feeding back to the hypothalamus. Fear responses to specific stimuli are quickly learned thanks to the amygdala. When another similar stimulus is encountered, these memories and feelings are quickly brought back up. The pre-frontal cortex is critical in unlearning these responses as well and is what we work with in mental health therapy.
Again, another important evolutionary holdover from our reptilian heritage evolving from reptilian pain circuits is the PANIC circuitry, which calls up feelings of social isolation and separation distress. Not a big deal for reptiles, who are pretty much loners, but a really big deal for humans with their extensive social network wiring.
PANIC is about repairing or building social links, reflecting the tremendous importance of social systems in H. sapienswith our extended infant care. H. sapiens have a highly integrated emotional system for attachments. Reflected in the failure-to-thrive syndrome in newborns and Radical Attachment Disorder, failure to form empathetic circuitry, leading often to Conduct Disorder in teens, and Antisocial Personality Disorder in adults. The PANIC system located in the hypothalamus and other areas of the reptilian brain that involve circuitry running from the amygdala and preoptic area, is closely linked to circuitry for sexual and maternal behaviors as well as pain. Extended social isolation produces panic, anxiety, and eventual depression. When satisfied, the organism releases endorphins, our natural internal opioids.
The PLAY circuitry is very mammalian, motivating mammals to engage in rough-and-tumble activities. It promotes social bonding. As we know from watching children and young mammals, this activity arises spontaneously early in development. It is an innate, hardwired function of the mammalian nervous system. It is the source of exuberant joy and extends to being tickled, along with play sounds, which includes human laughter. Overactivity of this system is implicated in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and mania. With PLAY we have moved from the hypothalamus to the thalamus.
LUST and CARE
These two circuits have to do with the reproductive component of evolution. The others above are mostly concerned with the survival component.
The LUST circuitry is all about mating, i.e., sexual reproduction. While the LUST circuitry is about sex in general, i.e., you just want to have sex with someone, some affective psychologists split it into two sub-circuits, one for general lust as discussed, and a second for lust for a particular, specific someone.
LUST is about sex drive or libido with a craving for sexual gratification and is associated with estrogens and androgens, the sex hormones. In humans, testosterone drives this circuitry in both sexes. Although involving the amygdala and hypothalamus, higher cortical brain centers as well as SEEKING are involved.
CARE is about parental care, primarily, and others, secondarily. Origins in the hypothalamus, parental care examples can be seen from fish (mouth breeders, sea horses) to reptiles (crocodiles), and all birds and mammals. In parental care, the Mother and Father archetypes are embedded. The archetype of the Madonna with child is an example of a CARE archetype.