This article is a hypothesis based on a recent bit of news reported by LifeScience regarding a woman who experienced heightened states of empathy after the removal of her amygdala. This is an interesting piece because prior to this case it was believed that the amygdala was largely responsible for emotional states in the body and this woman has clearly disproved this as entirely true. The hypothesis is to suppose that the amygdala interprets duality, or in other words, labels experiences in a separatist and dualistic manner as in fear, anxiety and distress.
If you look up the functions of the amygdala, you will find that it is largely responsible for emotions of fear including the fight or flight response, anxiety and distress. “The limbic system, especially the amygdala, has long been considered to be directly implicated in anxiety and fear stages.” Apparently, the amygdala gland has the function of both preparing the body for attack and also of determining the realness of such fear. It sends messages to other glands in the body such as the hypothalmus, demanding for a release of certain hormones into the body in preparation for possible flee or fight mode. The interesting thing is, the amygdala sends these same messages whether the threat is real or not, meaning, based on memory alone.
If the amygdala misinterprets a situation, the flaw in the circuitry is that one can not turn the hormonal release off as quickly as it is turned on. Emotions most involved in the functions of the amygdala are largely those experienced when believing oneself to be separate from the situation at hand. In other words, you would not feel fear for something you had empathy for. You would not be anxious about an event that could be emotionally related to as self, or would you?
In the case of the woman with extraordinary empathy following the removal of her amygdala, she reports heightened emotions as well as physical responses to the feelings of others whether in person, on t.v. or in a book. Prior to her surgery, she experienced multiple seizures per day. Post-surgery, the seizures ceased and her empathy increased.
Though many have believed the amygdala to be involved in feelings of pleasure and other positive emotional responses, it seems this woman is causing scientists to reconsider this previous thought.
If the amygdala is responsible for interpreting life in a dualistic manner, this simply means that the input from the environment which tells the brain we are separate entities with our own “separate” thoughts and experiences is processed in this part of the brain – lending to the emotions of fear, anxiety, distress and occasional pleasure, if derived from a separatist attitude. On the other hand, if duality is perceived through the amygdala and it is removed, as with this woman, could the perception of duality be lessened or removed?
This woman, when tested, was able to interpret and “decode” other’s mental states. She passed a myriad of empathic and psychological tests including some based solely on another person’s eyes. How was she doing this when she did not possess these skills before her operation? If one loses the sense of ultimate separation from others and sees life instead from a more unified field perspective, would empathy become a more natural emotion?
Scientists are baffled by this woman’s experience and have their own hypothesis which states that emotions must be experienced in many different areas of the brain, not just one. Well, that’s an easy out, isn’t it. It could be true. But what if we could remove the part of our brains (or simply deactivate) that perceived separation. What if we could instead open our brains and our minds to the idea and experience of true interconnectedness, empathy and compassion? Would this new perspective lend itself to creating peace in this world? How can we truly want to harm another if we can feel what they feel? How could we wish to conquer another or suppress another or deny another’s feelings if we feel them ourselves?
Does the amygdala interpret duality? The answer is uncertain, though we do know one woman has experienced an initiation into unity consciousness to a certain extent by having her amygdala removed. What do you feel?
Written by: Stasia Bliss