This book was a revelation for me. A book to be read and re-read. It is full of insights into the structure and function of human and animal brains. While it was certainly not an easy read, my efforts were richly rewarded.
Jaak Panskepp, the main author, was a pioneering neuroscientist in the field of the neural mechanisms of emotion, and his rich insights are supplemented by his co-author, Lucy Biven, an expert in psychoanalysis. Together they produced a book whose wide scope and depth of analysis is supported by a wealth of experimental results. The book focuses on the seven basic affective systems of raw emotional feelings which are found in the ancient subcortical regions of all mammal brains, and constitute the emotional action network of our brain. Theses primary prcocess are : SEEKING (expectancy), FEAR (anxiety), RAGE (anger), LUST (sexual excitement), CARE (nurturance), PANIC/ GRIEF (sadness), and PLAY (social joy).Together they form a proto or core self, based on the adage "I feel therefore I am". They are considered to be universal ancient value structures because they teach all mammals to evaluate their experience in the world. The seeking system is the powerhouse for all the other processes : it generates dopamine which drives us to engage enthusiastically with the world, looking for ways to satisfy our survival needs (food, warmth) our lusts , our need to care and to play. It also helps us tackle fear by looking for a place of safety, grief by looking for a source of nurture. The seeking system resembles Freud's concept of libido which powers our actions.
Because animals do not have the adult human capacity to inhibit or disguise their emotion, affective neuroscience studies the behavior of animals and infers their corresponding feelings. Panskepp discovered that rats laugh when tickled and chose to be tickled again. It is also apparent that many animals love to play e.g squirrels. The stimulation of animal brains enables us to examine their like or dislike reaction, while the effects of brain chemicals on them can also be tested.
Panskepp believes that physical and social play are vital to mammal development and that a deficiency may diminish the ability to control hyperactive urges. There may also be a connection between REM sleep and play because in both situations (play and dreams) we integrate emotional events.
I learnt from this book, that the gender of the body and the mind develop independently in different chemical processes before birth. This means that homosexuality and lesbianism are simply a mismatch between the gender of the mind and the gender of the body.
In future, new medicines will be developed (a process which has already started), based on the chemistry of our affects and they will be used together with psychotherapy to treat mental illness more effectively and in the reframing and reconsolidation of past experiences. Psychotherapy and affective neuroscience will become partners in the therapeutic process.
What a great read.