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MYSTERY and PASSION Neil GreenbergDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of Tennessee
We are born into a world of mystery The infant’s world is one of relentless curiosity, exploration, and transformative discovery Ambiguous feelings are “clarified” by social referencing
We are born into a world of passion The infant’s world is one of strong feelings, lively or eager interest … an unusual excitement and a strong positive affinity …
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. --Albert Einstein
Our Lives, our Selves have a PAST – PRESENT - FUTURE The PAST is memory (but are they real?) The PRESENT is slippery ("Let anyone try, I will not say to arrest, but to notice or attend to, the present moment of time. One of the most baffling experiences occurs. Where is it, this present? It has melted in our grasp, fled ere we could touch it, gone in the instant of becoming.“ – James) FUTURE (our gift of foresight, mediated by the brain’s prefrontal cortex)
MYSTERY Two neurobehavioral phenomena are at work here; the first is 1. The need for accurate models of the world within us and confidence in our beliefs. 2. This derives from the “essential tension” between “reality testing” and the fining validated percepts into a narrative: “story telling”
High confidence = “truth” Confidence in a belief is grounded is grounded in the interaction of two reciprocal processes: • CORRESPONDENCE: our sensory experience of the world. Does it match reality? [“reality testing”] (Novelty evokes stress – it is anxiogenic – it evokes the stress response) • COHERENCE: our reasoning experience of our sensations. Do they fit in with all our other experiences? [“Story-telling”] (Familiarity mitigates stress – it is anxiolytic – it relieves stress)
MYSTERY The costs and benefits of engaging mystery are very delicately balanced The balance between UNANSWERED QUESTIONS and UNQUESTIONED ANSWERS creates an "essential tension" that is firmly founded in the biology of consciousness. This tension reflects a balance which is, at either extreme, dysfunctional, even pathological.
CONFLICT is wired into us: paths to action compete and the outcomes reflect the optimal (estimated) solution to meeting a real or perceived survival need The relative urgency of the need evokes more-or-less of the stress response
essential tensions The reciprocity between cerebral structures creates a tension that easily allows one side or the other to be rapidly reconfigured and activated in varying proportion to cope with specific needs.web link tradition and innovation (Thomas Kuhn, the known and the knowable, past and future) The heart and mind(Pascal, affect and thought, passion and reason, theory and practice) The senses and the understanding (Kant) The conscious and the non-conscious (Freud) Unquestioned answers and Unanswered questions (?)
MYSTERY • DEVELOPMENT: The amount of curiosity expressed changes during development • EVOLUTION: Different amounts of curiosity can characterize different species. • ECOLOGY: Curiosity can have varying costs and benefits in different environments • PHYSIOLOGY: Curiosity is very sensitive to stress hormones acting in specific parts of the brain.
MYSTERY • EXPERIENCE (including ideas) unlike anything before is intrinsically attractive: novel percepts or ideas are also a MISMATCH between the unknown and the known and the dissonance will automatically invoke the circuitry of STRESS
MYSTERY • In physiological terms STRESS involves the neural mechanisms help us maintain stability • maintenance of sympathetic tone to be prepared for genuine challenges to meeting our needs. • The real or perceived threat to needs is registered as more-or-less activation of the sympathetic nervous system, usually indicated by affect, feeling, emotion.
KNOWING and REALIZING A French philosopher walking with his companion bumped into a telephone pole and bloodied his nose. "of course," he said, I knew that telephone pole was there, but I never realized it before!
KNOWING and REALIZING “REALIZING” is a term of convenience to refer to the fullest possible understanding of phenomena This invokes affective and cognitive modes of representation in the mind. An “emotional” connection mediated by more-or-less expression of the STRESS response, recognized by activation of the autonomic nervous system.
Small mysteries are echoes of the GREAT MYSTERY • MYSTERY excites curiosity, invites exploration, begs for an answer – it begins as a NEED… • Infants are born into a world that is ALL MYSTERY – solving them is critical for survival • The biologically based DRIVE to solve mysteries is recognized as CURIOSITY • Like all behavioral traits it exists in a spectrum of intensities and is affected by a diversity of circumstances including other drives competing for expression
There are mysteries and then there is MYSTERY The mysterium tremendum et fascinans is overwhelming and in Rudolph Otto’s view, the mainspring of all spiritual sentiment It is Otto’s way of characterizing the numinous –a term that cannot be defined because it is beyond all experience and categories
The contemporary approach to the mysterium tremendum is to press reason as far as it will go
MYSTERY • When the boundaries of reason are pressed, a variety of responses may occur: denial, acceptance, often intense stress. • If and when either stress or circumstance evokes the almost overwhelming but ambiguous feeling of a “religious experience,” its meaning may be provided by our SOCIAL REFEREES: People in whose judgment we have FAITH