Unfolding our Universe

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The amygdala is a region of the brain associated with fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, and stress. It has a direct neural connection to a part of the cortex called the anterior cingulate, which is associated with memory, learning, decision-making, impulse control, and emotional regulation. The amygdala also underlies our ability to emotionally attune to others, something which affects our social awareness — our ability to perceive what others think about us.

When our amygdala is more active, the anterior cingulate is less active. This translates into memory loss, inability to focus, bad decisions, and uncontrolled moods and behavior. When our anterior cingulate is more active, our amygdala is less so. Because the amygdala is a more primal control center, an overactive amygdala can make us behave like the primal beasts from A Space Odyssey, rendering us incapable of recognizing the humanity in another person, causing us to act like road-raging barbarians and frenzied bargain hunters who have no control whatsoever over their impulses.

Just watch the daily news and you can see what happens when people at the collective level are overpowered by these impulses. Or better yet, watch this video:. When stress is perceived, the amygdala sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus, which acts like a control and processing center for fear. The hypothalamus communicates with the rest of the body, activating either the fight-or-flight response or its opposite, the relaxation response.

It processes the sensory cues for stress and manages the communication between the fear — your primal response — and the prefrontal cortex, your executive decision-maker. Executive attention is our capacity to choose what we pay attention to and what we ignore.

The Unfolding Universe by Lloyd Motz | Basic Books

If you cannot mediate your response to fear, the hypothalamus will transmit the fight or flight signal. The prefrontal cortex is also the area of our brain associated with problem-solving, emotional processing and regulation, adaptation to challenges, and impulse control.

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Chronic stress shrinks neurons in this area, reducing our capability to control our response to fear, whether that fear is an actual threat or a generalized anxiety. Those who are driven by fear are unable to alter their course in life, even when it is damaging. They continue to repeat the same destructive patterns and engage in the same bad relationships, something which leads to neurosis in its most pathological expressions. The hippocampus, part of the feedback control system in the stress response, relays the context of a situation to the hypothalamus.

It also stores and retrieves memories and is possibly the origin of the strong emotions related to those memories. Chronic stress has been shown to shrink the hippocampus, the results of which affect our capacity to accurately perceive the true context of a situation. Inaccurate perception of a situation limits our perspective to that of our fixations where we judge both ourselves and others based only on that narrowed viewpoint.

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Self-limited perceptions restrict and distort what we can see and what we are willing to see, and from that limited perspective how do we even begin to see new possibilities? With exposure to chronic stress, neurons in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex atrophy, whereas neurons in the amygdala actually grow , leading to increased anxiety and aggression. People who suffer from depression and PTSD have a measurably smaller hippocampus. Initial studies of the effects of meditation were done on long term meditators. When the research was extended to looking at the effects after short-term practice , the results are literally mind-bending.

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Most of the research we are looking at is from an eight week study , but some of these same results have been seen in as little as 21 days. After only eight weeks of meditation people reported feeling less stressed, even though nothing about their environment had changed — they still had the same stressful jobs and the same relationship and money problems.

The MRI scans of these participants showed decreased grey matter in the amygdala. That every point of light in the night sky is a planet, a star, a stellar cluster or even perhaps a galaxy of billion stars, with its own creatures - teeming with motion, commotion and life - gives us a sense of the magnificence of our world and its profound organization. At the same time the enormity of space can make us feel insignificant: we are a speck in a dust storm; a drop in a vast ocean.

Insignificant as we may feel in this immensity and vastness of the heavens, in our absence, all things would fade into a shadowy existence, an elusive reality. The plains and the hills, the vast oceans and multitudes of scintillating stars would be reduced to wave-particle plays of the quantum world or the waltzing of multi-dimensional strings - as described by science. In fact the physical universe bears no resemblance to what our senses perceive or our minds apprehend.

Perhaps it is the human mind that interprets, or even in some sense, creates the world and its spatial dimensions, the flow of time, spectrum of colors, songs and melodies, the senses of smell and touch, and beyond that, joy and sadness, love and resentment and a vast multitude of feelings. We are the ones that create a history of the past and anticipate the future, delve into the workings of nature with science and search for meaning through philosophical debate.

In recognizing the enormity of space, we do not need to feel insignificant. Step by step, the volume leads to a complete understanding of astronomy.

Unfolding our Universe

Readers can access the material without referring to any mathematical principles or formulas. The well-designed text allows more ambitious readers to easily delve more deeply into key points and consult basic mathematics found within self-contained boxes. More than full-color photographs beautifully and clearly illustrate all concepts.

The wealth of color illustrations and very readable chapters make this book a delight for the casual reader to browse, while the clear and concise explanations will appeal to anyone with an interest in the science of astronomy. Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages. Published October 28th by Cambridge University Press. More Details Original Title.

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