Exploring the concept of survival circuitry

*This post carries a thinking through writing warning*

To explore the survival circuit concept we are better to start from the inside out, or bottom up, literally. To make full sense of that you will have to read the full link to Professor Joseph LeDoux’s article ‘Hubris and The Tree of Life’, in which he informs us that inverterbrates tend to develop, embryologically, mouth first and that verterbrates (including those reading this) develop anus first.

The next extract from the article is the bit that relates to yesterday’s reblogged post concerning LeDoux’s proposed term of ‘survival circuits’ from the Why We Reason blog. LeDoux suggested in an essay last month that rather than try to map our emotional lives onto animals, we map the neurological responses we share with animals. Seems sensible to me.

Body parts change during evolution to help organisms cope with their environment in new ways. There are certain things that have to be accomplished in order to survive. For example, you have to be able to meet nutritional demands, keep your fluids up to date, and defend against danger. And for your species to survive you have to reproduce. This list probably applies to all organisms, and, to some extent, even to simple single cell creatures like bacteria.

We need to eat, drink, have an innate survival response and reproduce to meet the basic requirements of our animal selves. That’s it.

For a while now I have wondered if, rather than dividing emotions into positive and negatives, whilst mapping five (or more) ‘universal emotions’, there is only one basic innate default setting – fear of these survival needs not being met, or the flipside, which is the compulsion to meet them when they are offered. You are either switched on in terms of survival, or your immediate needs are met and you are off.

Everything else we might attribute to the human experience and label as a mood, an emotion, or a feeling is a cognitive, sociological and cultural construction that starts with a threat to survival or the opportunity to ensure survival.

Of course we know it is far more complicated as a subjective experience because our lives have evolved way beyond only getting the needs of the organism met, but it seems perfectly reasonable that on some level, every day, we are subject to the table thumping requirements of our basic organismic self.

This appears, at first glance to reinforce the annoying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but actually it does the opposite and means I can continue to deconstruct that wrong-minded theory later.

However I still need some lunch.

Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt, 1909

Posted on March 7, 2012, in Art, Science and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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