Emotions and circuits

Posted on June 6, 2008
Filed Under alchemy, Experiments, identity, mystical journeys, neuroscience | Leave a Comment

I’m reading The Emotional Brain by Joseph LeDoux. It’s a fascinating book, which so far has mainly looked at how psychologists and neuroscientists have tried to explain the role of emotions and where emotions reside in the brain. What I find rather interesting is that LeDoux argues that the notion that the emotions are based in the Limbic portion of the brain is inaccurate…and the reason I find this interesting is because if this was true it would torpedo the Leary-Wilson eight circuit model of psychology that many an occultist refers to, which is at least partially based on the idea that the Limbic portion of the brain controls the emotions. In fact, where you get your reptilian brain, mammalian brain etc is from that concept that the emotions reside in the limbic portion of the brain.

So if LeDoux is correct (and I imagine as a neuroscientist who has spent a good portion of his career focused on exploring the role of emotions in neuroscience that he might at least have an inkling of what he is talking about) the eight circuit model might be in need of revision. And this is not such a bad thing really, because the eight circuit model is as much a sacred cow for some occultists as Crowley is for others and challenging that sacred cow is much needed.

One of the many reasons I decided to start reading up on neuroscience was to get a better idea of how contemporary science understands the workings of the brain. I’ve never found the eight-circuit model wholly satisfying, particularly because it seems to compartmentalized and rigid for my tastes. While I think it can offer a better model for understanding the psychology of one’s internal workings than say Freud, it still seems to overly mechanize how it all fits together.

And what I’ve found looking into neuroscience IS fascinating because it provides a unique view of the universe that is a human body, and offers aspiring magicians a different medium to explore magic in. When combined with psychology it can also explain some of the mental disorders people can experience, as well as offer a potential way to heal or mitigate those disorders via medication, but also I think through magical practice (as I’ve discussed in some depth in Inner Alchemy).

Of course a lot of the thrill is what still can’t be explained…mysteries abound, and where there’s mystery, there’s magic.

Anyway back to the eight circuit model…a lot of it is based on neatly compartmentalizing what part of the brain is the Reptilian brain and what part is the mammalian brain etc. In fact there’s a lot of categorization that occurs with the end result being behaviors mapped out like correspondence tables to the different circuit types. And y’know on the one hand that is an awfully handy system, when you can say “That behavior is the first circuit acting out” It has its uses to be sure…and it can provide a useful model for diagnosing behaviors, though not necessarily a model for changing said behaviors. And while knowledge can be good, application of that knowledge is essential to making it useful when it comes to manifesting significant changes in behavior. And that’s where the other hand comes down, because the eight circuit model is just one model among many and yet curiously those other models are seemingly ignored much of the time (though NLP and memetics are becoming increasingly popular models for the occult movement). I think if we can balance the eight circuit model with other ways of knowing…make it one among many, it’ll still shine, and in fact might prove a better model when it can be intermixed with other models and consequently practically applied (something which Antero Alli does).

As I continue to read up on neuroscience and apply my magical practices to it, I’ve increasingly become convinced that the psychological models that are used in occultism need some substantial revision, partially on a bio-genetic level, and partially just to keep up with the current studies in psychology and related disciplines. I’ve some half-baked ideas of where some of this revision needs to occur (for instance considering the role of identity in magical acts), but as I continue to explore, experiment, and research I will post more about where I think some of those revisions could be applied. Certainly it’s proving to be an interesting journey so far in terms of considering just how much we have yet to experience the miracle of our own bodies, let alone what else is out there.