The 4 dimensions of Human Experience
Hello, how are you today? I propose that this question is the possible foundation for human happiness. How am I today? What is my experience right now? Is it trending towards regulation? Am I feeling open and curious and enthusiastic about what's happening right now?
Or is the fullness of my experience trending towards dysregulation, where there is perhaps some apathy, resistance or even a sense of aggression towards what is happening right now?
We can understand all of this very simply, by noting how our face is doing right now. Thanks to the dazzling discoveries of the polyvagal theory, we can de-mystify the human experience of happiness and consider it in a reasonable way, actually in very practical terms. Might it be possible that experience of happiness is entirely subjective, thus not in any way related to objects? Could it be that human experience consists of dimensions that can be rendered with symbols (language) in quite discrete terms?
Am I really experiencing myself? I here being, for this context, the perceiver of the experiences of the body. The body is a sensor for intelligence. It senses reality through sensory neurons.
What is reality? I offer that it is an experience of perceiving the inner, outer and in-between realms of our lives. These consist of apperceptions, interoceptive bodily sensations, exteroceptive sense perceptions and bodily behaviors
A key proposal of the Somatic Science™ approach is that the very purpose of human experience is to be happy. This contrasts with many societal (for instance the so-called west), tribal (for instance psychology), and individual (personal) beliefs. In most instances, these beliefs are held at an implicit level which is not subject to observation, inquiry or acknowledgement. In other words, these beliefs are a form of superstition which do not hold fast in the light of scientific investigation. The use of the experimental method, which is the behavioral foundation of science, deals with the perceived facts of our experience, not with the beliefs or opinions that we may have about those perceived facts. Somatic Science™ applies the scientific method to the realm of human happiness. I propose that for the human being, happiness is simply the absence of suffering, which is dis-ease. For this investigation we rely on the Polyvagal Theory as proposed by Dr. Stephen Porges.
Here we have created a neurolinguistic, dialectical and metacognitive application of the Polyvagal Theory
We could right now try to mimic these facial expressions to set the stage of our perceived experience for what follows below
How does my nervous system respond to each and every one of these expressions? By attempting them intentionally, we can engage metacognition in a safe way, allowing ourselves to gently observe and track the signals received from the face, the jaw, the throat, the chest, solar plexus, lower abdomen and pelvis. Each facial expression above has a corresponding state of the vagus nerve associated with it. By putting on each face, we can verify the contents of the video example below.
As we have mentioned these are the four dimensions of our experience:
1. Sense perceptions of the environment through the exteroceptive neurons that receive external environmental signals. Examples of this are the sounds that you're hearing or the sights that you’re seeing right now. Other examples are the contact of the chair or surface where you're sitting or lying or standing right now. Exteroception includes the proprioceptive sensory neurons that calculate where the body is located in space, what it is touching, and what is touching it.
2. Bodily sensations through interoception via the sensory neurons within the body that are detecting and calculating the signals that they are receiving from within the body, such as during the process of digestion with peristalsis. Another example would be the contact of the inner organs through respiration, where the movement of compression and expansion of the respiratory diaphragm displaces inner membranes and organ ligaments and sheaths that contain sensory neurons. Then there are other signals such as the contact of my tongue with the inside of my palate and mouth or cheeks. Those are all bodily sensations.
3. Behaviors that occur within the body and also those that cause the body to interact with the external environment such as: right now, my body is writing, and your body is reading these words. Reading is a behavior of intelligence. Seeing the words without reading them would be equivalent to exteroception of the environment, a function performed by a sensor. Absent intelligence, your body sensors (eyes) are just seeing the words and that is an implicit signal. Your body sensor detects the exteroceptive realm of your experience. The apperceptive and interoceptive content that the symbols or words really have for you will remain a mystery.
4. Apperception is a process of abstraction calculated by the central nervous system as a way to determine what has just happened in short-term memory. Apperception is fundamentally structured on what has been experienced and is now past. The body of our experience is then committed to long term memory as the basis for pattern-recognition and the creation of context-based neural modeling. Based on this, the nervous system can develop a projected future. But it's never about what is happening right now unless we are self-related with ventral vagal up-regulation and are open, curious and enthusiastic. So, this is really a key element to understand. What most of us call thinking is simply a dysregulated autonomic nervous system expressing or trying to contain the energies of a latent threat response cycle (TRC).
Please view the video below where all that precedes is mentioned in greater detail.
For our purposes we focus on the ventral vagal complex (VVC) as a pro-social mechanism, which is regulatory of the nervous system. The VVC can manage sympathetic activation in a non-threatening, pro-social manner. That behavior brings it up to date with the current conditions of this very moment right here & right now. All autonomic functions of the body are then able to use the resources previously used by a TRC process to regulate hormone secretion, respiration, digestion, immune function and a wide array of many other essential functions. The system can rest and digest, orienting itself with curiosity towards self and others in the external environment.
Glossary of terms
Cognition: The capacity for the basic processing of information at the levels of attention, language, learning, memory, perception and thought.
Metacognition: The capacity for awareness or analysis of one's own cognitive processes.
Apperception: An abstract imaginal process whereby past experience is compared to itself or other experiences.
The brain generates apperceptions in short-term memory and if they remain useful are later committed to long-term memory.
Threat response cycle (TRC): The key word here is cycle. When faced with a threat or stress, the body responds by mobilizing energy to deal with that stress or threat. This is the activation phase. Then, when the event is over, a similar response occurs, but in reverse. This is the deactivation phase. Letting the energy generated to meet the stress/threat back out of the body and re-establishing a kind of equilibrium: a state of relaxed alertness.
Dorsal vagal complex (DVC): The dorsal branch of the vagus originates in the dorsal motor nucleus and is considered the phylogenetically older branch. This branch is unmyelinated and exists in most vertebrates. This branch is also known as the “vegetative vagus” because it is associated with primal survival strategies of primitive vertebrates, reptiles, and amphibians. Under great stress, these animals immobilize when threatened, conserving their metabolic resources. The DVC provides primary control of subdiaphragmatic visceral organs, such as the digestive tract. Under normal conditions, the DVC maintains regulation of these digestive processes. However, prolonged disinhibition can be
lethal for mammals, as it results in depressed breathing and very low heart rate and blood pressure.
Ventral vagal complex (VVC): With increased neural complexity seen in mammals (due to phylogenetic development) evolved a more sophisticated system to enrich behavioral and affective responses to an increasingly complex environment. The ventral branch of the vagus originates in the nucleus ambiguus and is myelinated to provide more control and speed in responding. This branch is also known as the “smart vagus” because it is associated with the regulation of sympathetic “fight or flight” behaviors in the service of pro-social behaviors. These behaviors include social communication and self-soothing and calming. In other words, this branch of the vagus can inhibit or disinhibit defensive limbic circuits, depending on the situation. The VVC provides primary control of supradiaphragmatic visceral organs, such as the esophagus, bronchi, pharynx, and larynx. The VVC also exerts
important influence on the heart. When vagal tone to the heart’s pacemaker is high, a baseline or resting heart rate is produced. In other words, the vagus acts as a restraint, or brake, limiting heart rate. However, when vagal tone is removed, there is little inhibition to the pacemaker, and so rapid mobilization (“fight/flight”) can be activated in times
of stress, but without having to engage the sympathetic-adrenal system, as activation comes at a severe biological cost.
Exteroception: Sensory detection by an organism of the environment outside the confines of its skin.
Interoception: Sensory detection by an organism of the environment inside the confines of its skin.
The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-Regulation - Stephen W. Porges
Language & Mind - Noam Chomsky