There is a joke, about a drunk looking in the gutter for his keys. Another man approaches him to offer help and asks him where he thinks he dropped them. The drunk points to an area several metres away, prompting the question “So why are you looking here?”, getting the response “This is where the street light is”.
It’s not all that funny, but I am reminded of it by reading recently about research to discover where different aspects of our thinking are located. Consider this.
Have you ever eaten too much rich food, or drunk to much alcohol? If so you may have noticed that the following day you were irritable and anti-social. Or have you wondered why we have expressions like “pissed off” for being angry, or “butterflies in the stomach” for nerves?
Anyone who has studied mind-body medicine will know the extensive literature, filled with examples of the close relationship between the things we think, the emotions that they connect to and the ways that people can become unwell. The reality is that you cannot disconnect minds and bodies. Bodies are minds all over. There are synchronising rhythms from the heart, organ regulation through messenger chemicals (around 50 different types of hormone”). You can regulate your mood and your performance by rhythmic breathing, inducing heart signal coherence and increasing your natural production of DHEA a performance-enhancing steroid, while reducing the stress hormone cortisol.
When scientists look for the correlation between brain function and thinking systems, they typically use imaging techniques. Or when they don’t they use other data which points to the broad differentiation between the “reptilian” (limbic) brain and the neo-cortex, our later-evolving thinking brain. They do not take a whole-body approach. They are not taking account of the way that the heart regulates the amygdala. They look for what they know they will be able to see. The keys to the bodymind are beyond the brain because the body is mind all over. But the MRI is the street-light, and that is where they see what they see.