The Amygdala Chronicles

Mental Slavery (pt3)

Here is an embarrassing little story that had me in hot water for a long long time.

Years ago I was working behind the bar in my restaurant when my future wife thought it would be funny to give me a “spanking” while I was bent over. The only problem was her aim. It was a little off. She ended up coming in south of the intended target, and making contact with the family jewels.

My body (notice I don’t say me) turned and without recognizing it was her, pushed “the threat” as hard and as fast as possible…Sending my bride-to-be flying across the bar.


What kind of guy was I?

Well in attempting to justify my actions here is what I discovered…

There is a pessimistic bully living in our brains. His name is amygdala. As our brains are flooded with information he is the first to take a look. He wants to know if there is anything dangerous out there. If he detects anything potentially threatening he will hijack the rest of our brains and take over as commander and chief. All reason goes out the window and it is fight or flight.

This was a really important function thousands of years ago, when the difference in a couple seconds of indecision could be life or death. These days, not so much. These days you can get into real trouble when he takes over inappropriately, as I found out.

To see this “amygdala hijacking” in action watch this short video…

Notice the reactions…

First he pushes away the threat and yells. Perfect for defense and scaring away the “attacker” Then he jumps almost three feet in the air all the while keeping his eyes focused on the threat. In this type of situation the brain processes visual information at more than twice the speed as normal. This is why time seems to slow down when we are in a car wreck or something similar. Next the guy notices it is a spider and starts to shake his pant legs in case there are any other spiders crawling up his legs. This is also about the same time he realizes he has been fooled.

When the amygdala kicks in there is zero conscious thought. I was finally able to convince my wife of this, and I moved out of the doghouse.

So why is this important for us to be resilient?

I’m sure you have heard the phrase “If it bleeds it leads”

Why is almost all the news “bad news”?

Because that is what the literal root of our brain is designed to seek out. And the news media’s job is to harness eyeballs. So we are drowning in a sea of bad news. And when the amygdala is stimulated it will be looking for more bad news, and that is exactly what it will find.

It will not see the real opportunities out there. It will not see the abundance. Influencing the root of our brains is a great way to control us. Whether it’s governments (the threat of pervasive and all-encompassing terrorism), religions (you’ll go to a really bad place and it will be really hot forever if you don’t follow these rules) or just someone selling mouthwash (you’ll never get laid if you have bad breath), the amygdala forces you to take reflexive rather than thoughtful action.

When the amygdala is stimulated (which is constantly if you focus like most of us do on bad news) it bypasses the newer, more social aspects of our brains. The part of our brain where we feel trust, compassion, empathy and altruism. This is the part of our brain that helped us develop communities which in turn allowed us to specialize and innovate, which in turn allowed us to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles throughout history.

Here’s an example: The conventional wisdom for most of the recent industrial age has been that our massive industrial food distribution system was the only way to keep large populations well-fed. But our industrial food system is also based on the perverse idea of false scarcity. What does false scarcity produce? Fear… Panic… Worry. A recent amygdala-thwacking article in The Guardian¬†shows how it works. The article quoted scientists as warning that our global food supplies were in dire straits, and that there won’t be enough water available for current croplands to produce food for the expected 9 billion population by 2050.

That’s certainly a possibility absent any innovation in our current monoculture farming environment. But already, really smart folks are bypassing the amygdala and developing completely new and innovative ways to feed ourselves. Whether it’s local rooftop farms, community supported agriculture (CSA’s), food forests, permaculture, or even backyard chickens, we’re beginning to realize that there doesn’t have to be any scarcity at all when it comes to food.

Bypass the amygdala, and we realize that the concepts of decentralization and network aggregation — more robust, resilient systems that aren’t based on industrial-like, grid-based structures, but more closely approximate universal natural laws and patterns — are much less prone to the threat of systems disruption.

If you want to see how this works in practice, bounce on over to Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg Flea & Food Market sometime. Here, local foodies are completely rewriting the rules on the power of local food by participating in a growing (and booming) artisanal food market. The market delivers killer local food products while also serving as an incubator for new entrepreneurs and start-up businesses to test their products, marketing, and brands. The market’s goal is to allow them to get a footing and grow their businesses.

Here the amygdalas have been switched to the “off” position, and the parts of our brains that innovate, develop communities, create alternatives, and overcome obstacles are in overdrive. There will always be bad news because it appeals most to our lizard brains. But the reality is that we have an almost limitless capacity to overcome challenges. And getting out of the amygdala mindset can open up a world of opportunities.


Enjoyed this post? Get updates (It's free!)

One Response to "The Amygdala Chronicles"

  1. Courtney says:

    I didn’t actually fly “across the bar”, but I was airborne. :)

Leave a Reply

Submit Comment

Filed in: Head Stuff

You might like:

A gift A gift
Parents: If you don’t make this one thing a priority, your kids are screwed Parents: If you don’t make this one thing a priority, your kids are screwed
Booze at a kids party? Booze at a kids party?
The key to your health… Be antifragile The key to your health… Be antifragile
© 2017 The Resilient Family. All rights reserved. XHTML / CSS Valid.