4.0 Cognitive-Emotional Wisdom
The success of our teachers in life – whether they are our parents, teachers and other students in school, religious leaders, bosses at work, or the powerful academia, political, and business leaders who set the stage for our lives – is in their ability to empower us with the skills and abilities to think and to feel good, and to help us move our thought and debate up into the mammalian brain. Here, a “what feels-good-is-good” mentality can evolve into broader and greater awareness of both short and long-term consequences, and decision-making and action can mature into greater complexity and imagination. With such education and personal development, what feels-good-is-good can have a compassionate foundation for existence.
To have cognitive-emotional wisdom is to have the cognitive and emotional understanding, skills, and ability to avoid acting from the lower platforms of despair, depression, and anger. It is to have the cognitive tools and agility to move up the emotional staircase and to act from platforms of good feelings where health, clarity, and vigor reside.
The steps to move up the emotional staircase (or emotional hierarchy) vary depending upon the set of emotions involved. One order of progression may be to move from despair, to anger, to frustration, to displeasure, to pleasure, to joy, to delight, to exhilaration, and finally, to ecstasy. Most people do not have the ability to go from despair to joy. That would be too great a leap. But they may go from despair to anger, from anger to frustration, from frustration to displeasure, from displeasure to pleasure, and from pleasure to joy over time.
Development of cognitive-emotional wisdom also helps an individual to develop the desire, courage, and tenacity to do the work necessary to move up the emotional staircase and to continually reach for thoughts that feel better. Poetry, music, dance, the arts, and sports can all be important motivators because successful participation within these disciplines demand action from higher levels of cognitive awareness and a more refined response to emotional perceptions. Every step higher in the level of accomplishment demands an even greater commitment to a cognitive discipline and the emotional bio-feedback mechanism. Every step higher is a movement into greater happiness, joy and passion. Think about it. Physical and cognitive strength, power, agility, cunning, wisdom, intelligence, and every key attributes for an athlete’s success, require the athlete, as a consequence of evolution, to be joyous and passionate within their endeavors (Jackson, 2020).
As individuals mature into adulthood, they should continually be developing new and more intricate methods of utilizing their emotional bio-feedback to create new and more complex harmonies within their minds and bodies and with their external world. The complexities of the mammalian brain need to be utilized to adapt a prehistorically evolved emotional bio-feedback mechanism to the demands, complexity, and nuances of our modern society. Having cognitive-emotional wisdom also means having a broad enough perspective on “what feels-good-is-good” to understand that “what feels good” in the immediate present may have a completely different emotional response in the very near future. Jumping off a cliff may feel great, but the landing leaves much to be desired.
The mind and body exist within a multitude of cognitive conditions and activities, all creating a different symphony of emotional feedback and harmonies (Smith, 2015). It is these harmonies and disharmonies that individuals must bring together as they conduct the symphony of their lives’ creations. The primary goal and objective for society and its members should be to nurture and guide an individual into their own being as a creator of their life rather than being a victim of life. People need to lean how emotions have evolved to aide in human development and decision making. Much too often, societal and individual actions create schisms between individuals and their own personal emotional bio-feedback mechanism, sometimes innocently, sometimes with benevolent intent, but sometimes with malicious intent to manipulate individuals for ulterior purposes, such as exploitation or control.
4.1 The Evolved Emotional Bio-feedback Mechanism
Within the psychology of an emotional bio-feedback mechanism, the naturally evolved response to negative emotions is for a person’s consciousness to use the energy from the correlative negative cognitive/emotional state to pivot the mind’s activities onto activities that bring positive emotions (Jackson, 2020). If emotions are skewing negative, it is the person’s signal to stop and take steps towards a new perspective and to refocus the mind and its activities onto a reframed view of the subject. If these efforts fail, then learning to refocus consciousness onto something entirely different may be the best action to bring a more positive emotional response. As people grow from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, they learn more complicated and sophisticated facets of (1) recognizing and acknowledging the presence of negative emotions, (2) stopping the spiral down the emotional staircase earlier and earlier in the decline (or as in the case of mania, stopping the upward spiral), (3) reframing and refocusing the consciousness into a less negative emotional perspective, and (4) repeating this reframing and refocusing into better feeling emotions until they are back at an emotionally positive, healthy and harmonious vantage point.
Maintaining a healthy and joyful lifestyle requires having an ability to move up (or down in the case of mania) the spiral staircase with ease and fluidity, just as emotions flow up and down with the changing consciousness of watching a movie or reading a book. Issues involved within mental illness, addictions, and violence develop when this more complicated and creative aspect of a healthy cognitive/emotional dynamics are absent, usurped, driven, or even manipulated out of a person’s repertoire of life’s survival skills. The resulting loss of choice to get on or off the cognitive/emotional rollercoaster can leave an individual broken and in need of professional help.
4.2 Development of Cognitive-Emotional Wisdom
The narrowness of myopic mental vision and perspective plays a role in mental illness and aberrant behaviors to strive for action that is not myopic but, rather, integrates the totality of a person’s cognitive and emotional universe. Just as the various sections of an orchestra must be aware that they are playing in the same key to remain in harmony, the various aspects of a person’s consciousness and very being must find harmonious integration for the person to remain whole and mentally healthy. Otherwise the dissonance that can develop within a person to accommodate society’s diverse demands can become so great that it may be impossible for the person to remain whole and mentally healthy. To be mentally well, individuals must have successfully mastered the necessary skills to navigate their cognitive and emotional processes through life’s challenges and adventures. They must successfully integrate the lessons demanded by society and develop the necessary cognitive-emotional wisdom to succeed.
In a healthy, cognitive/emotional dynamic symbiotic system, emotionally negative activities of the mind must be a source of inspiration and creativity and inspiration for new, emotionally positive, and transformative cognitive activities that are the necessary precursors to healthy physical action. Emotional wisdom brings forth emotionally positive cognitive and physical activities that bring health, vitality, and nurture a constructive, cooperative, and successful personal environment. Emotional ignorance, on the other hand, brings forth emotionally negative cognitive activities that run amok as they externally create destructive physical actions and internally create unhealthy physiological environments susceptible to disease, illness, and injury.
The first step towards cognitive-emotional wisdom is to establish a person’s awareness of the fundamentals of the emotional feedback mechanism. Unfortunately, even the syntax of language misrepresents the mind, body, emotion relationship with consciousness. To say that a person is “emotionally out of control” or having a “fit of rage”, or “acting out in anger” or committing a “crime of passion’ is an incorrect characterization of emotions. The person is not “emotionally out of control” but, rather, they are “cognitively out of control” because it is the cognitive activities that are creating biochemical/physiological changes which consciousness perceives and calls emotions. Emotions cannot be aberrant and destructive because they are but the messenger. It is cognition that can be aberrant and destructive. It is cognition that is creating the biochemical physiology that is running afoul.
The phrase “don’t be so emotional” and the concept of “emotional disorder” do not treat emotions as a perception of mental activities via changes and states of biochemical physiology. This use of language obscures the notion that the display of a person being “emotional” is the direct result of his or her current cognitive activities and it is these cognitive activities that need to be addressed (Jackson, 2020).
Cognitive-emotional wisdom is born when emotionally depressed persons begin to understand and accept the relationship between their depression and the nature of their thoughts. The fall into depression is not their fault but healing demands taking new responsibilities. For depressed persons to continue dwelling upon the people and events responsible for their current condition is to create barriers to understanding and accepting their new responsibilities for their own thoughts and actions. Cognitive-emotional wisdom means to begin taking new responsibilities for one’s own behavior and to change and develop new habits of thought and perspectives. A neuroplastic brain that has the capacity to rewire and reconfigure itself makes all this possible. (APA, 2020; Costandi, 2016, Doidge, 2015).
- Defining Mental Health and Well-being
Mental, physical, and emotional wellness depend on actuating their evolved correlative relationships to mind, body, emotions, and consciousness. Emotions are a perception of biochemical/physiological conditions which are an actualization of cognitive activities. If a person’s emotions are working as they have evolved and are giving an accurate perceptual feedback on their biochemical physiology, then a psychological problem is not an “emotional disorder” it is a “cognitive disorder.” A true emotional disorder would be akin to a sight disorder such as near sightedness, far sightedness, or even color blindness. A distinction must be made between a properly working emotional mechanism – one which gives accurate feedback on the body – and an emotional mechanism with a disorder – one which has a non-associative evolved relationship with the body and mind.
Within the context of emotional bio-feedback, a person is mentally healthy when they can naturally (i.e., without alcohol, drugs or medications), respond to their own emotional bio-feedback and move up or down the emotional spiral staircase by choice (Hicks E. & Hicks J., 2006). A mentally healthy person has the aptitude, skills and capacity to return to the pleasures and harmonies of life from event to event throughout life. Having mental and physical health is being capable to do the work that is necessary to move within the emotional spiral staircase: from a mental/physical/emotional negative state into a mental/physical/emotional positive state of existence.
Well-being and the success of any professional therapy, mental or physical, is not defined by the absence of illness but by the presence of heath, vigor, and joy and the necessary cognitive skills, abilities, and motivation to nurture these conditions with one’s own emotional bio-feedback.
Once a person learns to maintain their own physical and mental well-being by acting from a positive emotional state, then a new learning process begins: one which delves into the ethics of these actions and thus develops a comprehension of right action. We live in an environment where sales and marketing have become very sophisticated and cunning in the manufacturing of feeling good states of being. In this environment of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) and “free speech”, not understanding the pitfalls of a feels-good-is-good evolved physiology can be very costly to the individual and in the long run to the health and well-being of the family, community, and society (see section 6.0 “The Dark Side of the Emotional Bio-feed Back Mechanism).
Additionally, society needs to rethink the meaning of “criminal justice” and reform punishment for crime into a justice system that actually promotes healthy cognitive rehabilitation and healthy neuroplastic development and a return to well-being (see section 4.9 Criminal Justice Reform). Well-being entails health, vigor, energy and vitality with a joyous anticipation for the future and all its uncertainty along with the skills, abilities and awareness to manifest these attributes.
4.4 Depression: Mental Illness or Mental Injury
The physical pain of a hand on a hot stove brings about a very natural reflexive response. The pain is a signal to get the hand off the stove. If the pain is ignored and the hand remains on the hot stove, the biochemical/physiological signature of the hand changes to the degree that the hand burns. The feeling of pain is significant to the health and survival of the body. The issue is the lack of responsiveness to the pain. But is the condition of the hand an illness or an injury?
From the perspective of emotions-as-effect theory, the biology of a biochemical/physiological “abnormality” associated with emotional pain (such as depression) is analogous to the biochemical/physiological “abnormality” associated with the hand’s physical pain on a hot stove. The more the emotional pain is (1) ignored, (2) suppressed or usurped, (3) biochemically blocked or sedated, (4) blocked by neurological damage, or (5) unacknowledged for any other reason such that the individual’s thoughts and the activities of his or her mind remain on the ‘hot stove,’ the more the associated biochemical/physiological signature and neurological processes will differ from that of a ‘normal’ healthy person (Raison, Jain & Maletic, 2011). The issue is the lack of responsiveness to the emotional pain which calls out to get the mind off a potentially damaging mental stream of consciousness. But is this biochemical/physiological abnormality an illness or an injury?
The illness in mental illness arises when healthy responses to the emotional system are absent and the individual does not have the mental/emotional capacity, agility, or wisdom to respond to their emotional bio-feedback in a natural and healthy manner to get their mind off of the hot stove. But is this lack of emotional responsiveness an illness or an injury?
Cure an Illness, Rehabilitate an Injury
The observation that people with mental illness have a biochemical/physiological abnormality compared to from the mentally healthy people is well documented (Maletic & Raison 2017). But there is, by evolutionary design, supposed to be a biochemical/physiological anomaly when a person’s mental activities are unhealthy, that is, when cognitive activity dwells upon unwanted, emotionally negative aspects of life. When a person’s mind remains on the hot stove, they are activating a completely different neurological network. There should be a different biochemical/physiological signature. The fallacy is in the attempt to pharmaceutically normalize a patient’s biochemical physiology without also removing that person’s mind from the cognitive hot stove and rehabilitating healthy neural network activities between cognition, body, emotions and consciousness.
Where well-being and a natural emotional responsiveness exist, no medical attention is needed. But if the mind ‘burns’ a little, maybe some simple medication accompanied by supportive psychotherapy would promote healing and a return to a naturally functioning neural network of the healthy mind, body, and emotion correlative relationships that can be utilized by consciousness.
However, in acute cases where such a natural emotional response, awareness, or behavior is lacking, and where healing is not occurring, supportive medication and hospitalization may need to be more invasive. Extensive rehabilitation therapy will be needed to take advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity to recreate a new neurology of healthy mental responsiveness to its emotional bio-feedback system. Supportive pharmaceutical intervention should be an aid to the patient, as a crutch, to help him/her regain healthy responses to their emotional bio-feedback system. The crux of the problem for those suffering to this degree began with their disregard, or ignorance of, a wondrous and highly evolved emotional awareness of healthy biological conditions.
- Responding to Emotional Bio-feedback
There is great power within the activation of the emotional negative neural network and the realization and conception of that which is not wanted nor desired. But this power is only actuated if the opposite end – the positive, pleasurable end of the spectrum – can be known, that is, perceived, recognized, conceived, and reasoned and then acted on (Encyclopedia Britannica, Cognition: Thought process).
People who are healthy, happy and successful in life use their power of consciousness to pivot off the emotionally negative aspect of a scenario and into a more emotionally positive, re-framed scenario. They have learned and developed the necessary skills that are essential in our society to manage their focus of attention in response to their own emotional feedback. They have developed a robust cognitive dexterity and ability where disruptive cognitive events only temporarily upset healthy biochemical/physiological balances. They have the motivation, drive and, most importantly, the proficiency to cognitively create a scenario of that which is wanted and desired – which initiates a balanced and a healthy biochemical physiology activating the correlative, emotionally-positive neural network.
The development of the extreme biochemical/physiological signature of mental illness that requires psychiatric drugs is the result of a chasm that developed between the cognitive activities within the brain and the individual’s responsiveness to an evolved emotional bio-feedback system. Severe mental injury or illness that may never fully heal may have resulted from neurological damage, disease, drug abuse, prolonged and extensive use of medications, trauma, birth defect, or some other inherited condition. On the other hand, more treatable conditions may have developed through life from a person’s inability to process the indoctrinating effects of life’s significant characters. Parents, religious figures, teachers, peer groups, or the constant barrage of information in this new age of technical wizardry can lead to a breakdown between cognition and consciousness’s responsiveness to its own evolved emotional bio-feedback system. Less dramatically, such a breakdown may be caused by the many interactions life presents while growing up – where others’ emotional bio-feedback systems have usurped, instead of enhanced, a person’s natural emotional responsiveness.
Whatever the dysfunction is called – illness, disease, disorder – and however the symbiotic ties between cognition, physiology, emotions, and conscious were disrupted, the objective in psychological and pharmaceutical therapy should be to reestablish the evolved and symbiotic relationship between these constructs where a person can enjoy and thrive in life with its many exciting challenges. The neuroplastic capacity of the brain to establish new neural circuits takes time. The psychological and pharmaceutical rehabilitation methods to reinforce this new neurological growth with emotions as a perception of biochemical physiology have yet to be properly identified and researched.
4.5 Psychological Therapy: Cognitive-Emotional Rehabilitation
There is a need to develop an understanding of emotional bio-feedback and cognitive regulation in the discipline of psychological and pharmaceutical therapy. Emotional regulation is a misconception and a false construct of actual bio-physiological events (Jackson, 2020). To pharmaceutically regulate emotions is to obscure cognitive behavior from the very consciousness that needs to comprehend its own behavior. Emotions are a perception of biochemical/physiological conditions within the body precipitated by cognitive behavior. It is cognitive behavior that must be emotionally accessed by the individual. A psychologist can aide this understanding and can teach the individual how to use emotions-as-effect theory to regulate cognitive behavior. Any emotionally undesirable cognitive activities can be used as a launching pad to reach for less negative and, eventually, positive and productive cognitive activities that result in a healthy biology and associated positive emotions.
Cognitive rehabilitation must help individuals to use the neuroplastic capacities of the brain to develop new and emotionally positive cognitive habits of thought, perception, and imagination. Such a discipline would help a person develop internal powers of choice and creativity to move the mind towards activities that result in associated harmonious emotional responses. Besides the cognitive activities of recognition, conception, reason and imagination, there are the perceptual activities of the senses – touching, seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting – as well as the physical activities a person may engage in. All cognitive activities associated with these activities also give rise to associated emotional responses to be heralded and empowered into well-being through encouragement by the psychologist.
There is a need for a psychotherapy that fortifies a person’s desire to stay on the road toward a natural state of health and well-being: a discipline where a person’s own emotional bio-feedback mechanism is acknowledged, validated and reinforced. This implies empowering a person with the ability to reach for and chose cognitive activities that feel better, so they actually do feel better in the present, rather than reaching for some goal to be realized in the future. These cognitive activities may simply change emotional experiences from painful to less painful, but eventually they will result in a change from feeling good to feeling even better. The successful caregiver will develop a person’s cognitive ability to find cognitive activities that feel better now, in the present, in this therapeutic session. The goal is for a person to feel even better by becoming mentally and physically well through leading a life responsive to their own emotional bio-feedback mechanism. “Wellness” ultimately means to have a life without therapy and without medications. A person may never reach a state of mental health that is without therapy or medications, but just demonstrating with them that they have the ability and the power to feel better now creates hope. Hope can make all the difference between staying with or leaving a program. It can make the difference between staying with or leaving life itself.
Within cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) (Beck, 2011), mindfulness (Farb, et al., 2014), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression (Segal, et al, 2013), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) (Shapiro, 2018), forgiveness therapy (Enright, & Fitzgibbons, 2015), positive psychology (Lopez & Snyder, 2009), emotional intelligence (EI) (Salovey, et al., 2004), and interpersonal psychotherapy (Stulberg, et al., 2018) are the bases of emotions-as-effect theory. These therapies change cognitive behavior to achieve a desired emotional and behavioral outcome. Emotions do change. Behavior does change (Kolk, 2015; Barlow, 2014). However, they all understand emotions as potentially aberrant and destructive with the need for emotional regulation, management, and control because of emotional disorders. Emotions-as-effect theory and its cognitive-emotional process flow chart provide a different answer (Jackson, 2020). If these therapies would recognize and acknowledge their foundation within an evolved emotional bio-feedback mechanism, the efficacy of these therapies would greatly improve.
Therapy that acknowledges the evolved symbiosis between cognition and emotions reaffirms an evolved biological awareness mechanism where emotions are used to evaluate cognitive behaviors. In stark contrast to emotional regulation, within emotions-as-effect theory emotions are not regulated but rather are used instead to regulate, that is, to guide cognitive behaviors. Additionally, in this context, emotions are not viewed as “out of control,” nor is there a concept of “emotional dysregulation” (Barlow, 2014). In contrast, it is the cognitive mind that is “out of control,” and the therapeutic process addresses a “cognitive disorder.” Deviant emotional perceptions are reflections of this aberrant dysregulated cognitive behavior. Emotions are not treated as dysfunctional; rather, they are understood as very functional in that they bring to consciousness the dysfunctional aspect within the mind’s cognitive activities that is creating the aberrant biochemical physiology a person perceives as negative emotions. It is these irregularities in cognitive behavior that need to be addressed. Emotions are but the messenger.
- Psychiatric Therapy: Pharmaceuticals for Healing
Any attempt to understand and affect the internal human environment must be taken with an understanding of the changing biochemical/physiological conditions of that environment as indicated by an evolved emotional neurocircuitry of the human body.
If there is a need for psychiatric treatment, then the use of drugs and medications should be such as to help and aide consciousness to regain its own power and responsiveness to its own emotional bio-feedback mechanism. These medications should also help consciousness break away from a narrow and myopic world view which can spiral cognition out of control. There is a need for pharmaceuticals that can help create a biochemical/physiological environment where the personal powers of an individual’s consciousness can start making attempts to be more responsive to their emotional bio-feedback mechanism. These new agents must also augment the brain’s neuroplastic capacity.
These new types of pharmaceuticals would aid individuals in their capacities to use their own cognitive skills, abilities, and reflexes to co-function with their emotional bio-feedback mechanisms. As a person’s new skills are developed and new neural circuits are cultivated, the need for and the types of pharmaceutical assistance change. There always should be the goal to eventually remove pharmaceutical assistance entirely. But, like the hand on the hot stove, the neurocircuitry within the brain can be “damaged” so extensively that no amount of training and development will ever succeed because entire functions of the brain may have been irreversibly programmed into destructive patterns. In such cases, there is the possibility that the mind/body/emotion chasm may be permanent, resulting in a need for permanent pharmaceutical intervention and, in some cases, hospitalization. Nevertheless, new pharmaceutical research is required to address a new paradigm in which cognition drives the biochemical physiology that emotions perceive.
There is a danger of medications masking destructive cognitive behaviors that normally are exposed through erratic, abnormal, and convoluted emotional feedback. If these emotional reflections of aberrant mental and physical behaviors are ignored or camouflaged with pharmaceuticals and if irregular cognitive behavior is left unaddressed without proper psychological counseling and therapy, cognition may fester unabated and create a myopic vortex of circular mental and physical behaviors. This psychosis can break out with disastrous consequences to the person and to others, who may become characters in a manically conceived tragedy played out in real life.
The approach proposed in this book does not negate the importance of pharmaceutical therapy, rather, it redefines its purpose, which is to target the brain’s neuroplastic environment and to help individuals redevelop a healthy cognitive activity in response to their perceptions of emotional feedback about their biochemical/physiological states of being. As discussed earlier, a person has an evolved emotional bio-feedback mechanism that promotes cognitive behavior that feels good emotionally. Negative emotions promote avoidance behaviors. Mental illness may be defined as the inability of consciousness to constructively respond to its own internal dialog between cognition and emotional perceptions and the inability and power of consciousness to actively engage in emotionally positive activities that are useful, healthful and life-giving. Pharmaceutical therapy should augment psychological therapy to create conditions for redeveloping the neural networks that reinforce evolutionary design.
4.7 Cognitive-Emotional Wisdom in Education
What is the purpose of education if it is not to provide the tools and training for a successful adult life? And where is success without joy and passion? Can education be called a success if it does not provide the understanding and training of a personal cognitive-emotional mechanism which has evolved for the actualization and maintenance of mental and physical health and well-being? Education should not be confined to developing a student’s cognitive skills without also understanding the emotional connection to happiness and joy needed to succeed in life. Cognition, physiology, emotions, and consciousness have evolved together as a synergistic team. The nature and effective employment of these synergies should certainly be part of our educational curriculum. This means teaching and developing the students’ skills and abilities to be happy and joyous within their endeavors.
Education must also be about training students to develop the wisdom necessary to function with an emotional mechanism that has been evolving hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of years. The biochemical/physiological response to cognitive activities of our reptilian brain are far different than the biochemical/physiological response from cognitive activities to our mammalian brain. To ignore the intricacies of an emotional bio-feedback mechanism is to disregard thousands of years of survival on the savannahs of Africa by our original human ancestry. This emotional bio-feedback mechanism now needs to be prepared, cultivated, and nourished for successful operation within today’s technological world. This modern environment requires a new awakening and acceptance of an individual’s abilities to emotionally guide his or her own life.
The importance of physical education, sports, and even recess in school is that it nurtures the cognitive-emotional relationship to physical health and well-being. We evolved to be active and these school activities reinforce the correlation between positive emotions and physical health and well-being. Encouraging healthful activity with the feeling of joy is to promote this evolutionary correlation. Seeking joy and the feeling of well-being within physical movement reinforces the physiological and emotional connection that has evolved over millions of years.
Performing arts such as dance, theater, and music especially ask each participant to connect with and to discover their emotional awareness. These disciplines require an exploration into emotions (Smith, 2015). Instead of a society promoting a culture of emotional ignorance, these activities promote a culture of emotional understanding and appreciation. This emotional awareness is a vital factor in comprehending the alliances between cognition, emotion, and physiology for human development and successful decision making throughout life.
Basic lessons in the understanding of and the application of one’s own emotional mechanism are vital. This means that our youth need education about how to develop joy in their lives. Emotional wisdom is about taking healthful actions in joy rather than taking destructive actions in anger. The capacity to perform the mental gymnastics necessary to pivot from destructive to healthy mental and physical actions should be developed within early childhood education to take full advantage of the brain’s neuroplastic behavior to reinforce these habits.
Students must receive the cognitive/emotional dynamic training and skills necessary to climb up the emotional staircase from the lower emotions of rage and anger, to the higher emotional levels of frustration and irritation, and finally to the pleasurable feelings of positive emotions. The failure to develop this cognitive-emotional wisdom, where emotional evolution is ignored, can be directly tied to our society’s violent behavior where movement up the emotional staircase is never learned, developed, nor practiced. Like successful students in school, successful people in life know how to use their emotions to guide their cognitive activities towards achieving their goals and agendas.
We, as a society have failed to develop the necessary education and training of a unique and wonderful emotional bio-feedback mechanism. Many home environments don’t provide even the basic emotional bio-feedback understanding and training which creates a huge challenge to our educational institutions. The consequences of such an ineffective emotional understanding within our cultures, society, and educational institutions can be readily seen in our prisons, our hospitals and the perpetuation of dependency on our welfare institutions. Violence and a failure to succeed in life are the result of an individual’s lack of understanding and appreciation of how their emotional bio-feedback mechanism has evolved for human development and for effective and successful decision making.
The emotional bio-feedback mechanism has evolved to constructively guide individuals so that violence is a last resort response to the threat of immediate physical danger. The overhaul of our criminal justice system must start with an overhaul of our educational system and cultural values pertaining to understanding millions of years of emotional evolution and the nurturing of cognitive-emotional wisdom.
4.8 Military Personnel Decommissioning
The power of the brain’s neuroplastic capacity to adapt to the demands of a new environment by changing and developing new neural networks is also demonstrated by the successful migration from civilian to military life. Unfortunately, this neural network change, which is developed to succeed in military life, is not later reconfigured for civilian life. There must be a structured decommissioning period for military combatants that accounts for the neural network changes that allowed for success within a militarily structured environment designed for war.
This wartime neural network must be reconfigured for a successful civilian life. Military life starts with a very well-developed boot camp that prepares a civilian for the rigors and demands as a combatant. Where is the basic re-training that deprograms and alters the neural networks that formed while in active military service and that are now detrimental to civilian life? Where commissioning personnel into military service has a long and rich tradition to produce successful combatants, surly it makes sense that the decommissioning of military personnel with the new knowledge of the brain’s neuroplastic adaptive behaviors must be explored.
Successful decommissioning of our military personnel can be measured when we no longer hear of homeless veterans or veterans who have given up hope and committed suicide. Military personnel are offered the most advanced and best training in the world to succeed in the most brutal of environments. They should also be trained to become the most advanced, best trained and most capable to succeed within the harsh realities of civilian life.
4.9 PTSD/Trauma and Addiction Corrupting the Cognitive-Emotional Relationship
The recollection of trauma memories is a reenactment of events which differs from the malleable story telling nature memories of normal events. With trauma, almost any awareness can trigger a cascade of very real events within the cognitive mind that reenacts critical and specific parts of the original horror. The key to healing is to bring this traumatic reenactment out of the dark depths and hidden awareness into the story telling nature of memories where new cognitive activities of understanding can modify the horrors into a palatable memory. Traumatic events stamp and imprint a neurological loop within the brain that corrupts the natural cognitive-emotional relationship and continuously affects the body and decision making throughout life unless interceding therapeutic work disrupts the process. (Kolk, B. 2015)
All traumatic events can surreptitiously affect decision making and behavior to where behavior and decisions are not based within a joyous freedom of being and desire but within the confines and restraints of fearful avoidance. Traumatic events can covertly initiate behavior from unreasonable outbursts and aggression upon oneself and others to seemingly reasonable and rationale decision making to paralytic depression. Traumatic events disrupt a natural harmony of being to where an individual dissociates one’s self from emotion’s evolutionary function to promote health, prosperity, and well-being.
The correlative relationship between mind, body, emotions, and consciousness has evolved to promote individual health and well-being. Trauma may be defined as an experience – or series of experiences – so severe as to short circuit the normal harmonious and healthy flow of electro-biochemical activity within and between neural network areas within the brain and body that disrupts a person’s evolved reaction to seek and maintain cognitive activities that feel good. Human beings have evolved to be healthy and joyous. Culturally this may be far from the norm and be an indication of a broken culture and society rather than an indication of natural human character. A cultural lack of awareness and understanding of the natural cognitive-emotional relationship to produce joy may promote dubious and insidious behavior that only continues the chain of pain, suffering, and trauma upon the next generation.
Self-prescribed remedial behaviors in response to traumatic events can easily become addictive rather than healing. Self-medication with alcohol, tobacco, and other “recreational drugs” may also – and very quickly and drastically – disrupt natural cognitive-emotional activity beyond its elastic capacity to return to normalcy. As a hand that was forced onto a hot stove may forever be scarred and may even become functionally impaired, trauma may severely impact internal biochemical physiology and adversely affect natural cognitive and emotional behavior as well as the physical expression of that behavior.
Adaptive behavior modifications, street drugs, and even properly prescribed medications used to cope with trauma are addictive for two reasons. One is that they buffer consciousness from the pain of the traumatic event and, two, especially with drugs, withdrawal symptoms can be so painful and severe as to prevent any cessation of use. If adaptive behaviors to cope with trauma are innocuous, any traumatic injury may never be acknowledged nor the need for any remedial action be recognized. Only when adaptive behaviors become disruptive – or even destructive and criminal – to self or others, does the need for cognitive-emotional rehabilitative therapy become a serious consideration.
The nature of what constitutes a traumatic event or addictive behavior is highly individualistic. Common to post traumatic and addictive behavior is a lack of a natural responsiveness to an evolved emotional bio-feedback mechanism designed to guide cognitive behavior towards individual health and well-being. Any lack of joy and well-being within a supposedly healthy and constructive lifestyle is an indication for the need of cognitive-emotional education and/or rehabilitation intervention.
Society has a moral obligation to provide the necessary education and training within its schools, hospitals, and prisons to establish individual awareness and responsiveness to heathy cognitive-emotional behavior. Section 5.3 “A Student’s/Athlete’s Super-Hero Toolkit” provides a descriptive list of possible rehabilitative activities. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. has written a wonderful book on trauma, The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014), New York, NY, Penguin Books. Part Five, Paths to Recovery provides a series of healing avenues that should be explored by anyone suffering from trauma as well as by anyone who may have an interest in societal and individual well-being.
Research studies are revealing new realizations and understandings of a neuroplastic brain designed to rewire itself (APA, 2020; Costandi, 2016, Doidge, 2015). The neuroplastic brain makes it possible to establish new, healthy, and constructive awareness and behavior associations. Everyone has within them an amazing capacity to change, adapt, and to thrive within a wide variety of conditions and environments. The concept of the neuroplastic brain has awakened new and exciting possibilities for individuals and cultures now being destroyed by traumatic and addictive behaviors. When should the education and training to heal generation to generation traumatic behavior begin? When should the chain of pain onto others stop? How about now!
4.10 Criminal Justice Reform: Justice Founded upon Falsehood Is Itself False and Unjust
If law is ignorant of what drives human behavior and decision making, how can there be but laws of ignorance and injustice (and disorder, conflict, and crisis). Justice founded upon falsehood is itself false and unjust.
The mental skills and agility that most people have developed since birth to navigate successfully through the societal nuances and intricacies of what feels-good-is-good and what feels bad is bad is largely absent in the millions of incarcerated people. Here, as a result of reinforcement of negative thought patterns with a misunderstanding of emotions as a bio-feedback mechanism, cognitive activity has never moved up the emotional staircase into the pleasures of successful and compassionate decision making and living.
Any successful and sustained rehabilitation is dependent on understanding the brain’s neuroplastic nature by our teachers, our parents, our schools, our religious figures, and by our politicians who are blindly, or maybe purposely, setting up rules and laws with punishments that only further degrade human intellectual and emotional wisdom and well-being. Our criminal laws and justice are not designed to rehabilitate but to punish and tend to reinforce the neuroplastic development of a dysfunctional mind. The brain can be rewired from an emotionally negative decision processing that accentuates destructive behavior to an emotionally positive decision processing that accentuates rewarding, useful and constructive behavior, and results (Begley, 2013).
Why does society respond to unwanted behavior via punishment? Why is “spare the rod and spoil the child” such an ingrained euphemism within our culture? Why is punishment for “crimes against society” considered to be just and humane behavior? Our current criminal justice system tends to only further desecrate our humanity and continue the cycle of self-destruction. Why is the justice? Why is this humane? Why is this constitutional?
It is time to stop the individual, cultural, and societal downward spiral into hell. Discussion and debate must move our concepts, systemic practices, and institutions out of our reptilian brain and into our more compassionate mammalian brain where reality not only seems different, it is different. Different neural networks can assemble a different world of compassionate and constitutional justice (Benko, 2015).
Within this new world, punishment is not justice and human degradation is obscene. In this new world, empowering an individual to create their own, unique and wonderful world of joy is paramount. Here, society nurtures cognitive-emotional wisdom, the wisdom that finds a thought that feels better within a process that developed over tens of thousands of years of evolution and that is now etched in our DNA.
Where is the society and culture that promotes cognitive-emotional wisdom education and training within our schools and prisons? Every person has an emotional bio-feedback mechanism; its understanding and training must be part of our evolving moral culture.
We have a justice system entrenched in punishment to bring justice. This is not justice. Our system should be about justice, to be sure. But where is the justice if there is no understanding, education, and training to employ a very ancient emotional bio-feedback mechanism? Where is our government that was designed to protect our unalienable rights? How can our government perform its Constitutional mandate to promote the general welfare if it is not promoting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? To achieve this aim, we must promote the necessary understanding, purpose, and importance of an individual’s emotional bio-feedback mechanism – a biological mechanism necessary for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Decision making and action from a negative emotional base has its evolutionary foundation within the reality of actual and immediate physical danger. To act from fear and anger within an emotional storm is to act without the benefit of the mental clarity and purpose found within an emotional calm. Reptilian life-and-death cognitive reflexes are for the natural and artificial battlefields that have little to do with most behavior requirements within our modern societies.
A person’s power of decision making comes not from the emotional negative places of fear, anger, and despair, but from the emotional clarity found within peace, joy and hope. There can be no criminal justice without also providing the cognitive/emotional rehabilitation needed to succeed in society. This means teaching a prisoner the cognitive/emotional wisdom in the pursuit of happiness. It is a crime of society to believe that punishment without a rehabilitative program is justice for criminal behavior. The rule of punishment reinforces and propagates an emotionally negative and destructive way of living. Is that to be society’s intent for our current criminal justice system? The lack of ethical decision-making skills within the cognitive/emotional abilities of incarcerated adolescents does not mean these people should not be provided with the education, understanding, and training to practice and develop their own evolved emotional bio-feedback mechanism for their future life of freedom.
Who can predict the motivation, drive and desire of a person to return to the life of freedom and the life of well-being, joy, vitality, and enthusiasm for another day’s adventures even after years or even decades of imprisonment? Within a climate of doubt and disbelief of reform possibilities there may still exist within many individuals a flame of hope and the necessary drive to work and develop his or her cognitive-emotional wisdom and return to the freedoms and harmonies of joyous well-being.
There is a moral and a Constitutional mandate for society to give those imprisoned a chance to return to a natural and healthy life of freedom. There is a Constitutional and societal duty to explore, develop and learn about the mind-body-emotion-consciousness connection. Likewise, there is a Constitutional and societal responsibility to understand cognitive-emotional wisdom and the brain’s neuroplastic ability to change and to develop new neural networks that can redefine new perspectives, new alternatives, and new possibilities for successful living by our incarcerated brothers and sisters.
Where is our government that was created to protect our inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Where are the protectors of our Constitution for the welfare of all of humanity? (See Appendix D: “Criminal Justice: A Constitutional Challenge.”)
4.11 Reframing Antisocial Personality Disorder
Because of the brain’s neuroplastic nature to develop alternate networks, more advanced mental constructs of wanting and desire can develop as a person matures. The combination of internal physiological behaviors and the external physical exertion for survival also means a more complex development between the biological body and emotions. Movement to gather food or even to hunt on the African savannahs during humanity’s beginnings meant survival. Thus, a correlation between emotional pleasure and physical activity would be evolutionarily advantageous.
Although the joy of the hunt and the pleasure of gathering may produce the food needed for survival, during the heat of the day continual exertion risks heat exhaustion, dehydration, and death. Rather than being a mere pawn of pleasure and pain, the individual must make decisions whether to continue to hunt in such adverse conditions with survival of self and family as one possible outcome and the death of the hunter and those dependent on the hunter’s survival as another. Or, maybe the hunter’s lone survival becomes evolutionarily advantageous.
Thus, neuroplasticity of the cognitive and emotional networks to rewire and reconfigure themselves (APA, 2020; Costandi, 2016) involves a complexity that permits cognitive reflection about the conditions for physical exertion and weighing of conflicting factors of feeling good while getting food versus feeling bad because of the day’s heat. The success or failure of these reflections and choices might spawn different genetic lines with different values and behaviors, such as one emphasizing the survival of the self and another emphasizing the survival of the family. One genetic line may care about other people; another genetic line may not. Therefore “antisocial personality disorder” would not be an actual disorder, rather, it would be a natural part of an individual’s evolution. Any successful interaction with these individuals – whether individually or as a society – must recognize and respond to their lack of any capacity for compassion, understanding, and kindness except when it pertains to their own well-being and interest.
4.12 Emotions in the 21st Century
The purpose of life from a biochemical/physiological perspective is to find joy. An evolved correlation exists between joy and the biochemical/physiological balances found within the brain’s neural networks and the body that makes for a strong and vigorous being. That has been the evolution of the emotional bio-feedback mechanism. A false/positive correlation between joyous emotions and lethargy, weakness, and ineptness would only make a being vulnerable and easy prey within the survival of the species. Joy, happiness, and wonderment associated with biochemical/physiological harmony of strength, confidence, skill, and agility, on the other hand, would clearly enhance the survival of the species (Jackson, 2020).
Genetically, humans are wired to feel good emotionally. The very strength and survival of the individual depends on striving for better feelings and what those feelings represent within the body. It is our evolutionary nature. But we do not thrive as individual beings without the societal strength to create and empower the development of cognitive-emotional education where individuals learn, develop, and know how to respond to their own individual emotional bio-feedback with healthful and joyous actions and behaviors.
It is necessary to elaborate on some important distinctions which need to be made in our 21st century consumer-focused society. Sugar may have wonderful feels good associations but gaining weight is probably not one of them. Shopping may feel good but getting the bills may not. Having a brand-new car feels great, but the consequences of it being a stolen car does not. The same feels good but know the bad goes for drinking, drugs, medications and all of human behaviors. Knowing what actions may feel good and knowing what consequences may feel horrendous is a product of the cognitive mind and the emotional perceptual mechanism of the body’s biochemical physiology. On the other hand, society’s acceptance of such action often impacts a person’s attention to their own emotional bio-feedback; what if a person’s behavior aligns with emotional bio-feedback but this behavior is contrary to accepted societal norms? And conversely, what if a person’s behavior aligns with emotional bio-feedback but this behavior should be contrary to accepted societal norms?
Where is the emotional wisdom in a feels-good-is-good behavior model? The correlation between the better one feels and the healthier one is began evolving millions of years ago. In question are emotions’ guiding relevance in the 21st century and beyond. Emotions are only reflections of cognitive activities via their correlative relationship to biochemical physiology. Therefore, it is not emotions, but cognition that is in question. The power of cognitive-emotional wisdom lies within one’s abilities to meet the challenges of today’s complex societies by transmuting life’s pains and failures. This requires cognitive work and imagination.
Thoughts and actions, that feel good and that are integral and harmonious to self, do not demand the obedience and subjugation of others but promote the welfare and empowerment of others. This means moving out of the more reflexive reptilian brain and into the more compassionate and complex mammalian brain. Joy and happiness, if dependent on the requirement and demand for specific behavior in others, is an attempt to appease a false ideology. It can never succeed. Emotional bio-feedback and cognitive-emotional wisdom are self-management tools. To make joy and happiness dependent on others’ behaviors is to deny the evolutionary role of the emotional bio-feedback mechanism.
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Andrew O. Jackson
MS Technology Education
MS Management Technology