Autonomic Nervous System-2

I’m excited about something I just read about the ANS (autonomic nervous system) and want to tell you all about it but first, a quick review.

As you may recall from earlier posts, the ANS is coordinated in the middle prefrontal area of the brain.  It is coordinates bodily functions such as heart rate, respiration and digestion.  It is comprised of two branches:sympathetic which functions as the accelerator and parasympathetic which works as the brake. Fight or flight (please see earlier post) occurs here.

David Eagleman’s fascinating new book, Incognito,The Secret Lives of The Brain, is filled with scientific studies documenting unconsciousness:there is so much going on in our brains, affecting every aspect of our livest, that we know nothing about.  I’m going to write about some of these studies and facts-let me know what you think.

Antoine Bechara, a neuroscientist, tested (1997) the validity of hunches. Her team placed four decks of cards in front of subjects and asked them to choose one card at a time.  Each card represented a gain or a loss of money.  Slowly, the subjects realized each deck had a theme:two of them were “good,” meaning they would make money and two were “bad,” representing a loss.

As they thought about which deck to draw from, they were interrupted at various points by the investigators and asked which decks were good, which bad. It usually required about twenty-five draws from the decks to make this determination.

At the same time they measured the subject’s skin conductance response, which reflects the activity of the autonomic nervous system (fight/flight). The ANS picked up the statistics of the decks long before the conscious mind did! When the subjects reached for bad decks, there was an anticipatory spike in activity (sympathetic branch)-a warning sign! This was picked up by the thirteenth draw; well before the conscious mind. This information was being delivered in the form of a hunch; subjects began to select the good deck before they knew why!

Studies like this one led scientists (Damasio, et al)  to propose that the feelings produced by physical states of the body guide behavior and decision making. “When something bad happens, the brain leverages the entire body (heart rate, contraction of the gut, weakness of the muscles, etc) to register that feeling and that feeling becomes associated with the event.  When the event is next pondered, the brain essentially runs a simulation, reliving the physical feelings of the event.Those feelings then serve to navigate, or at least bias, subsequent decision making.” Eagleman, 2011)

This makes me think about SE and meditation.  It’s so important to tune inward to pick up the sensations of our body-they come directly from the brain.  There is a wealth of knowledge here on every single level-we only have to turn inwards and listen.