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The Threat Response in Primates

A deeper understanding of fight-or-flight consciousness

The human brain functions like a machine, and our life experiences result from that function. However, the brain functions you inherited, adopted, or even created are not definitive of your full potential. I’ll say that again. Your current or past brain functions do not represent your potential future brain functions. We can all improve how our brains perform.

To do so, we must first understand that our experiences as humans begin with a chemical reaction. Whether the experience is bliss, pain, or anything in between, a chemical drives it. If you’re happy, it’s one chemical reaction. If you are angry, sad, or insecure, it’s another. It could be our perspective of the world or even our sense of self. Everything that is human experience is the result of a chemical reaction.

When we understand the fundamental principle that every thought, feeling, and emotion we have is the result of neurotransmitter activity, we can see that it is not the experiences we must address if we want to change our lives. Controlling the mechanism that triggers our chemical reactions is a more efficient process, but before we address the mechanism itself, it’s important that we know how it works.

The unconscious mechanism that drives experience begins with sensory information—sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell—that stimulates data stored as memories to create chemical reactions. To fully understand this concept, we must no longer think of our memories as videos from our past. While they can seem like videos when we access them, memories are more like individually stored records. The videos we imagine to be memories are instances of combined data presented in a way we can comprehend. Let’s call those memories recall.

The memories stimulated by sensory information are stored data points the brain uses to keep us safe, and they fall into the following three categories:

  • ancestral memory
  • personal experience
  • and environmental information

Let’s begin with ancestral memory. It is important to remember that memories are not bound to your recall alone. You also have the stored memory of your ancestors, which can go back thousands of years. We experience these memories as our genetic tendencies. They might be primal fears or even abilities at which we are naturally adept. This information shapes the foundation of who we are.

In addition to ancestral memories, we have memory stored of personal experiences. Whether it was an experience of great joy, pain, or even trauma, our neurons retain information from our life experiences for future decision-making. With personal experiences, we store new memories by adapting the primal memories we adopted.

When we have impactful experiences, our subconscious minds also measure the environmental conditions occurring during those experiences, like the time of day, time of year, or even barometric pressure. We continually process information we don’t recognize at a conscious level, like pheromones or the low hum of electronics.

Whether it is a phobia, the experience of seasonal depression, the scent of freshly baked brownies, or the comfort of a warm bed, any of these memory sources—conditions of the environment, personal experience, or ancestral data—can combine with incoming sensory information to form a sensory trigger. We perceive that release as a state of consciousness. Whether it is positive, negative, or even neutral, nothing is inherent. Triggers are always the predecessors of the chemical reactions that become our life experiences.

Questions for Contemplation
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