Explaining Neurochemistry & Emotions: An Interview with Lisa Feldman Barrett, Ph.D.

Explaining Neurochemistry & Emotions: An Interview with Lisa Feldman Barrett, Ph.D.

What follows is a transcript for the podcast HomeGrown Humans - Lisa Feldman Barrett, Ph.D. - Neurochemistry - Hosted by Jamie Wheal

Topics within the interview include the following:

  1. How Emotions Are Made
  2. The Primitive Lizard Brain
  3. Different Kinds of Neuroimaging
  4. It's a Whole Brain Event
  5. Insights from William James and Sigmeund Freud 
  6. Most Serotonin Is Made From Your Gut
  7. That Feeling of Poo-phoria
  8. The Functions of Dopamine, Serotonin, Endocannabinoids and Opioids
  9. The Chain of Causation in Dopamine
  10. The Consumptive Reward Versus Anticipatory Pleasure
  11. Your Brain Is a Predictive Organ
  12. Increased Heart Rate Hinders Your Ability to See What’s Actually Happening
  13. The Role of Amygdala
  14. The Role of Cortisol and Effects of Adrenal Fatigue
  15. The Brain Is a Top Down Organ
  16. Everything We See, Feel and Hear Is Through the Brain
  17. Taking Charge of How We Experience the World
  18. Seven and a Half Lessons on the Brain

How Emotions Are Made

Jamie Wheal: I’d like to welcome Lisa Feldmann Barrett, distinguished chair of psychology at Northeastern University holding appointments at Harvard University and Massachusetts General as well. The author of the global best selling, high impact book, How Emotions are Made, and the author of the newly upcoming book, Seven and a Half Lessons about the brain. Lisa, welcome to home grown humans.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Oh, it's my pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Jamie Wheal: Yeah. Just in getting to review some of your work, I'm continually struck by how the combination of iconoclastic and methodical your work is. In reading How Emotions are Made, you literally go through the field of sort of neuroscience and psychology, just blowing up sacred cows left and right, and doing it with evidence, doing it with a considered perspective on what you're seeing in the data, and what you're seeing both in the lab and in the classroom.

So I know you've been doing this for the last several years, unpacking the central thesis of how emotions are made, but talk to us a little bit how you see emotions, basically, and that notion of constructed emotions, the fact that we don't necessary just go wandering through life having feelings, that they actually emerge from a complex layer of neurophysiology, energy management, prediction, and a host of other factors. Because you've really, I think, done, more than almost anyone I'm aware of, an amazing job at unpacking and demystifying our interiority, and at the same time, holding up real hope and possibility for what we can do with that insight.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate those kind words. I guess as a scientist, I'm really compelled by data, and I find I the really exciting when experiments and observations challenge deeply held beliefs, even my own deeply held beliefs. So I would summarize the message of how emotions are made somewhere like this: really since the beginning of psychology as a science. Psychology was a field in mental philosophy for hundreds if not thousands of years, in Western philosophy, but it became a science in the 19th century when scientists and philosophers began using the methods of physiology and neurology to try to find the physical basis of mental life, of your thoughts and feelings and imaginations and memories and actions and so on.

In the 19th century, if you think about what was happening in physiology, they would have a muscle cell that was lying dormant, and they would stimulate it, and it would react. So the assumption was that this was also how the mind worked and how the brain worked, that around the turn of the century, we discovered that the brain was not a solid mass. It was made of little cells that were connected together called neurons, and that these neurons were dormant until you stimulated them.

In fact, in the 1950s, very famous experiments were done where neuroscientists would take a giant squid neuron, which is actually large enough to see with the naked eye. When you disconnect it from the rest of the animal, it just lies dormant until you stimulate it, and then the cell fires, and you see an electrical charge run down the long tail of the neuron, called an axon. So this is the assumption of how the mind worked and how the brain worked, and it fits with our intuitions about how we see, how we hear, that our eyes are a window on the world, that we just take in the information that's there, that we do this with our ears and our nose and so on.

Then emotions work somewhere the same way. The idea was that we must have little circuits in our brain, one for anger, one for sadness, one for fear. They lie dormant until stimulated by something in the world. So you see a snake or someone scowls at you. One of your circuits triggers, and then this causes you to have a feeling, and maybe to react in a particular way, causing you to do and say things that you yourself might regret later. Right? This is still actually, this model of the mind is still the basis in most Western legal systems, and in economics and so on. The idea is that the rational part of your mind evolved to control this sort of inner beast that you have, which is constantly reacting to things all the time.

The Primitive Lizard Brain

Jamie Wheal: That's the sort of St. Augustine. Right? I mean, we sort of have our better angels and our baser natures.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Right. So actually, the whole idea that you have a lizard brain somewhere lurking inside your brain, and that your very human rational brain will clamp down on this lizard, this inner beast, and prevent it from causing you to do all kinds of regrettable things, this is an idea that really goes all the way back to Plato. You can trace the roots to this all the way back to Plato and his horses and the chariots [inaudible 00:10:30] metaphor that he used to describe the human psyche.

It's almost as if, neuroscientists in the 20th century took Plato's metaphor and kind of tattooed it onto the brain. I talk about this in Seven and a Half Lessons a little bit.

Jamie Wheal: Just to clarify folks, didn't both Carl Sagan and Dan Siegel both kind of pick up that story of the triune brain? The lizard brain, the limbic brain, the executive functioning cortical brain.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Oh, yes. Exactly. So the idea that you have a brain that evolved kind of like sedimentary rock or I like to think of it as the birthday cake metaphor of the brain. You have layers, and then the last layer, the icing is laid over, the rational part is laid over the already baked cake. So you've got really this lizard brain, which is supposedly for instincts, and then a limbic system, which is supposedly for, with in map of all the mammals, which is supposedly for emotion, and then you've got this rational neocortex, which evolved at its pinnacle in humans.

The irony though is that by the time Carl Sagan wrote about the triune brain in the 1970s, in a book that won a Pulitzer Prize, the Dragons of Eden, neuroscientists already knew at that point that that model was incorrect. The way that they know is because they have methods for peering into the internal workings of cells and looking at the molecular genetics, the molecular structure of cells. They can trace the evolution of the brain using these molecular methods. So when you just look at different animals, and you look at their brains with the naked eye, it looks like a lizard doesn't have a cerebral cortex. It looks like a bird doesn't have a cerebral cortex.

But they have neurons that are identical to the neurons that we have. Our neurons array themselves in a cortex like shape. Theirs don't, but the neurons are identical, actually. They just array themselves into slightly different form. In fact, research now shows that for every mammal, I think, who's ever been studied. So I think it's like 18 or 19 mammals now, we know that all of the developmental stages in brain development are identical across all the mammals who's ever been studied. I think scientists have studied something like 200, I can't remember exactly how many. More than 200 stages.

Brains basically build themselves from an embryo in exactly the same way in all mammals who have ever been studied, and probably also in most vertebrates who have a jaw. If you believe the sort of traces of evidence from molecular genetics. What neuroscience brings us to is a very different way of how brains work and how your brain really is constructing all of your experience, including what you see and what you hear and what you feel in a way that is very, very different from the way that we experience it. Right? So our experience is not a good guide of actually what our brains are doing. Brains, you can think of them as sort of tricky organs. They create experience, and they do it in a way that makes it seem like the products actually reveal what's happening, but they don't.

Jamie Wheal: Just one sec. Because we're about to jump into this, and this is like the absolute heart of it. Help me understand. You basically said, "Hey, that idea of the birthday cake model, that idea that we have this primitive lizard brain, and then a limbic brain and then a sort of cortical, functional, executive conscious brain. That idea is bunk." It was popularized by several very compelling writers. It's sort of been a persistent myth that's never gone quite away entirely. In fact, you still see it all over the place.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Oh, yeah, especially in very expensive executive training programs and so on. Yeah.

Jamie Wheal: Yeah, and I even wonder. Is that the same, I don't know what I would say, almost philosophical DNA as the, "Hey, there's the Jennifer Aniston region," or the God region of the brain. As we get into neuroimaging, is that similar, that kind of mechanistic A location for a thing, an emotion, or a sensation?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. That's exactly right. I should point out, I mean, a given neuron doesn't do everything, but it can do more than one thing, and it does more than one thing on a fairly regular basis. There really are very few parts of the brain where you can say, you can specify what an area's function is biologically, but not psychologically. The psychological phenomena that we experience, even our actions, are really whole brain events.

If we were having a methods talk, I could explain to you why it looks like there's an island of activity in one part of the brain that's responsible for seeing or hearing or anger or perceiving Jennifer Aniston. But it's really a combination of scientists designing studies that are consistent with their assumptions and then finding evidence that's consistent with their assumptions.

Different Kinds of Neuroimaging

Jamie Wheal: And the available tools, right? I mean, everything thinks that MRIs are some sort of God x-ray, and a lot of it's just blood flow and what's happening in different parts and correlating blood flow with the activity that we think we're measuring. Is that right?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Well, yes and no. So I will say that there are different kinds of methods of brain imaging, or neural imaging, and what you're referring to is functional magnetic resonance imaging, FMRI, and FMRI is measuring changes in blood flow, which have been shown to be related to neural firing. But that relationship is very complicated, and when I say complicated, I mean, in our lab, we now are looking at cellular respiration, which is how neurons utilize glucose. It turns out neurons utilize glucose like all other cells in your body in at least two different ways. What neuro firing means, and what bold signal means, really depends on how neurons are achieving the have goal.

So not all bold signal means the same thing, I think is the main point here. But that's sort of a technical point which eventually will make its way into the literature, and then some day into popular culture. I think the thing for us to remember is the brain images that you see are curated images. They're images of an indirect measure, blood flow, of an indirect measure of neuro firing, and scientists have done all kinds of things to that signal in order to give you that beautiful colored image.

So for example, if you believe that there's a part of your brain. You've taken me now on a very different direction than answering your original question, but it's an interesting point, I think, and that is, if you look at how people talk about the brain, they'll talk about the visual system or visual cortex. Right? This is the part at the back of the brain, the occipital cortex. Occipital lobe of your cortex, where information from your retina makes it way here.

If you do a brain imaging study that is mainly focused on vision, doesn't test any other modalities like hearing or touching, say, and when you're doing brain scanning, somebody's head is stuck in kind of a claustrophobic like, very small kind of tunnel.

Jamie Wheal: With hammers banging away.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yeah, exactly. So maybe you keep them there for an hour, and so maybe that gives you, we usually think about, we present images to people, and they somehow respond, and so we call that a trial. So maybe you have 50 trials in an hour, something like that. But what if you bring people back four or five times and scan them? So instead of having 40 or 50 trials, you've got 250 to 400 trials. Really you're densely sampling that person. What if on some of those scans, you give them visual input, like images, and then in others you give them sounds, and in others you give them tactile stimulus, like you're touching their skin.

What you can find is that visual cortex routinely, those neurons actually code for touch and they also code for hearing. Actually, if I were to blindfold you, within about an hour, your visual cortex, the neurons would start robustly firing to touch and hearing, within an hour.

It's a Whole Brain Event

Jamie Wheal: Is that kind of a build on Bucky Rita's work at Madison and even David Egelman's stuff of the sort of Mr. Potato Head theory of neurology?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Actually, David has a really nice book out that just came out called Live Wired, which just reviews a lot of this work, and I review some of it in How Emotions are Made, because it's relevant to understanding the nature of emotion. The point is that, when you see something, it's a whole brain event. There are some neurons that are focally important, and then the rest of them are kind of like helpers. When you are hearing, it's a whole brain event. There are some neuron that are focally important to hearing, but then there are a whole bunch of helpers. So you can think about visual neurons, they're part of the auditory system, but they're helper neurons.

The same thing is true for emotion. It's not that you have circuits for emotion in some lizard part of your brain. You have circuits for breathing, to control your heart, and to control your muscles. Those things change in episode of emotion, but they also change in episodes that are not emotional, otherwise you'd be dead. So when you have an instance of anger or fear or sadness, it's a whole brain event. There are some core neurons, and then there are some helper neurons.

To make things more complicated, there's a principle in the brain, like in all biological systems, which is that, when something's really important function, you don't leave it to one set of neurons because if they get damaged, you're screwed.

Jamie Wheal: Yeah, you need sort of redundancy and adaptability.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yes, but redundancy just means that the same causes are repeated over and over, as opposed to something called degeneracy, which is a horrible name, but what it means-

Jamie Wheal: It does have certain connotations.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: It does. I did not coin it. But there's a wonderful paper that was published in the preceding to the National Academy in 2001 by Gerald Edelman and Gally, I don't remember his first name, on degeneracy. What this means is that basically there are many ways to skin a cat. Every biological system that's ever really been studied has multiple ways to make the same function. Genes work this way, your immune system works this way, and so does your brain.

You can think of it kind of like the London tube. There aren't redundant paths to get from point A to point B. There are degenerate paths. If one path fails, you have lots of other paths. Right? So redundancy would be, you can drive from point A to point B in the same path, you can walk that path, you can take the tube in that path. Degeneracy is there are different paths that you can take. That's what preserves function, and it also helps for the evolvability for a species, but that's a whole other conversation. Degeneracy is a good thing. Evolution likes it. Natural selection usually selects for it. It helps the robustness of the species to not go extinct, and it also helps the robustness of a human to not die.

Insights from William James and Sigmeund Freud 

Jamie Wheal: Yeah. Before we're done myth busting, which I absolutely love and deeply appreciate, because to get to actually ask somebody who has the subject matter and the perspective to give thoughtful answers, I find it invaluable. So the other two that come to mind. I forget who it is. It was a professor back in the 70s at Princeton who came up with that idea of the bicameral mind, so your throwing back to Plato made me think of it, that idea that back in the day, before our executive function knit together, we would hear voices. That was the realm of the gods. That kind of explains the persistent mythologies around the world of before the fall, we were at one with nature. We communicated with the spiritual realms, et cetera, and then it all got stitched together again.

That got shot to ribbons in the academic sphere, but lived long in people's imaginations and popular culture. Then Ian McGilchrist's recent idea of the master and his emissary, where again, he breaks the brain basically into the classic kind of left brain, right brain idea, and sort of says there's the master of the left brain, and there's the emissary, and then he kind of does a historical analysis of different people, different movements, and which were driven by what.

What I find is often that gifted, thoughtful people will often have really useful insights about the human condition, whether that's William James, Sigmund Freud, you name it. These guys. But that in their search for particularly a mechanistic explanation, that's where they jump the shark. So their insights about human nature may be more true than the mechanism of action that they couple it to to make their argument. So just talk a little bit, especially for many viewers and listeners, who might have heard these things and might have taken them at face value. What is your understanding of that neck of the woods?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yeah, so I guess I have a lot to say about that. But before I do, I just want to also say, it's not like in my career I went looking to bust myths. I think it's just, I really am dedicated to understanding what data say, and I'm not convinced by the authority of anyone's opinion. I guess that would be the way to say it. So in my view, no one's opinion, not even mine, is untouchable, not even Darwin. No one. No one.

Jamie Wheal: Although to your credit, you're not a rebel outside looking in, I did just recently note that you were among the top 1% cited academics in peer review papers, which is astonishing. That's an amazing thing.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yeah, I found it astonishing too, actually. Are they sure? Okay. I mean, I'm not looking to destroy anything. I actually think that there are people who are kind of contrarian just by nature, and I think it's okay to do that, as long as you also contribute to building something. You can't tear something down and then not have any insights to put in its place.

So to get to your point about James and Freud and so on, I'll give you one example of Freud that I think is a perfect example of what you said, which is Freud had many insights about phenomenon that were important. So Freud was one of these people, like James, and others, who they observed things that are important, that other people just gloss over and really miss. In day to day life, there are many, many things that can demand your attention.

So here's one that I found really interesting about Freud. So Freud, is explanation for this was completely wrong, but the phenomenon is interesting. That's the following. He came up with this idea of psychosexual stages for where you derive pleasure, depends on your developmental stage. So babies have an oral stage where they derive pleasure out of putting things in their mouth. Then toddlers derive pleasure from going to the bathroom because bowel movements are pleasurable.

Then he sort of moved things along, and he chose bowel movements for toddlers because one of the things that toddlers have to do is learn to control their bodies in line with expectations for voiding in a culture. Well, it turns out that your gut, we now know, is one of the body's major sources of serotonin actually that your brain uses. Most of the serotonin in your body, your serotonin is a chemical which is important. It's a metabolic regulator. It's also the neurochemical that is most often tweaked in medication for depression.

Jamie Wheal: And in the entire psychedelic renaissance. I mean, the 5H [crosstalk 00:30:55] receptor site. The whole bit.

Most Serotonin Is Made From Your Gut

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Absolutely. But the point is that, where does most of that serotonin come from? Some of it's made in your brain, but most of it's made in your gut. It's made actually in your gut, and your gut is a major regulator of your brain through serotonin and other means.

Jamie Wheal: Now, are you saying, because last time I checked, there was that observation of gut serotonin, but it hadn't been decisively proven that that was addressing or fueling serotonin supplies in the brain, and you're actually saying they are connected.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: I'm saying they are connected. I don't think people know exactly, all of the mechanisms are not worked out. There are three kind of organs that you can think of them as kind of battling for control of you: your brain, your gut, and your heart. Your gut and your heart have their own oscillations. If you remove them from your body and you give them enough energy, they can continue to oscillate on their own, whereas something like your lungs or your liver would just stop working if it was disconnected to you.

So we usually think of the brain as entraining the heart and entraining the gut, but now it looks like, it's actually more like a two way conversation, maybe a three way conversation. The gut turns out to be really, really important. For example, immune cells in the gut signal up to the brain by a pathway call the vagus. So there's a lot going on, actually, in your gut that's regulating your brain. I guess my point is that when you have a bowel movement, when you void. When it feels like a relief and comfortable, it's because there's a flood of serotonin.

So Freud didn't have the mechanism right, but he noticed something that most people don't notice, or if they do, they don't want to talk about it. It's kind of cool because fast forward a 100 years, and we don't understand everything that's going on, but we actually understand that there's a mystery there that is really probably really, really important to understanding energy regulation and mood and several disorders, like Parkinson's disease, for example, begins now scientists think in your gut.

That Feeling of Poo-phoria

Jamie Wheal: There's a Princeton gastroenterologist that even calls that feeling poo-phoria. The idea that sort of the goose bumps, the drop in blood pressure, the feelings of relaxation or peak experience, and you're saying that that is coming from a boost in vagal nerve tone, and where is the serotonin going in the gut? Is it release and a priming, and then getting taken up in the blood stream? What's happening with the mood enhancing?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Well, certainly some things are being taken up in the bloodstream, but there's also signaling up the vagus nerve. So the vagus nerve is this big nerve bundle that brings sense data from your body to your brain, and it's carrying some of this information. So to your point, so the first point that you made I think is absolutely right. It's important to distinguish between someone's observation and their explanation for that observation. Sometimes the observations are very, very useful, even if their explanations are wrong.

As far as breaking the brain into parts and saying, "Who's the boss?" I think people do that based on what they value or what they're interested in. If you read the literature on people who study vision, they'll tell you the visual system is the thing that's running the brain. If you read people who study emotion, they'll tell you that those mythical little circuits for emotion, that's what's running the brain. If you read people who study motor behavior, they'll tell you that's what's running the brain. I think that the point is, the brain is a complex system, and depending on what you're interested in, you can start there and see how what you're interested in affects everything else in the brain. But the fact is, it's a big system.

Jamie Wheal: Complex, adaptive. Basically, if you could sum it all up, it's like, "We're complicated, and it depends."

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Pretty much. But getting under the hood and trying to put some scientific teeth to that is what's really interesting, right?

The Functions of Dopamine, Serotonin, Endocannabinoids and Opioids

Jamie Wheal: Let's do that, and for folks watching know, we're coming in the side door, of Lisa's much bigger overarching theory of constructed emotion, and we've just kind of jumped in to start talking about the different parts of bodies and brains that provide the data inputs and the sense making that then boils up to some of the levels of emotion. So we'll come to that, but I think you highlighted something that intrigues me, which is you said, "Hey, there's effectively three parts: our brain, our heart, and our guts." And that they are in connection, coordination, and communication, and that that is really providing, I don't know what you would call it, but the sort of Grand Central, the control system for the rest of our experience.

You mentioned the vagal nerve, and lately I've been doing some research on the endocannibanoids system, and it feels to me that there's a stunning amount of overlap between, and its responsibility for everything from inflammation to organ [crosstalk 00:36:53], it's bilateral signaling system. Do you have a relationship between the endocannibanoids system and the vagal nerve, because they sure seem like they provide a biological, it's not thermoregulation, but it's almost sort of like dynamic regulation of our whole system, and I've never heard anybody provide an integrated model of the two of them and how they work together.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: To answer your question, I would like to take a step back and say, listen, just in the same way that there is no single part of the rain that is dedicated to any psychological function, there's also no single neurochemical system which is devoted to any. They have biological functions, but they don't have any specific psychological function, meaning for example, people talk about dopamine being reward neurotransmitter. It's not a reward neurotransmitter. Actually, dopamine is a chemical that's about more than 500 million years old, and it evolved, and its basic function is as a metabolic regulator. This is also true for serotonin, and my guess is it would be true also for endocannabinoids.

Jamie Wheal: Metabolic regulators.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: They are metabolic regulators.

Jamie Wheal: Basically you're saying that the mood impact that we often latch onto and identify with is a symptom, not causal [crosstalk 00:38:24] systems.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: No, what I'm saying is that whatever functions that dopamine and serotonin and endocannabinoids and opiods and so on are playing in your mood, they play that role because they are regulating your metabolism. That's what I'm saying, actually. So for example, dopamine does not track the reward history of anything. Dopamine is what is secreted when the brain is preparing to expend effort to get a reward. It's the effort that dopamine is needed for. If you think about, what are the two most expensive things your brain can do, it's move your body and learn something new. So you get a dopamine rush when your brain is preparing you to either move or learn. That requires effort, meaning that you have to spend some glucose and other resources to get those things. That's what dopamine is doing, people think.

Serotonin, for example, people think, the best guess right now is that it's allowing you to spend, when there's no immediate reward. So you can explore. It's tracking your reward history so that it knows how much you can kind of invest before you need to have another deposit.

Jamie Wheal: Is this the marshmallow test winners are higher on serotonin than dopamine? I know that's a massively problematic study.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: No, we're talking at a metabolic level. The marshmallow test, I can see how you can ask that [crosstalk 00:40:32].

Jamie Wheal: In the sense of it, is dopamine shorter time cycle and serotonin longer time cycle delay of gratification?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yes, it's not just delay of gratification, but yeah, sure. I'm sure serotonin is involved. I mean, all kinds of neurotransmitters are involved, but my point is that, and they also tend to overlap in neurons. So it's very, very unusual for a given neuron to be, so when a neuron fires, and there is an electrical charge that runs down its axon, and then there's a release of chemicals at the bottom into the space between that neuron and the next neuron, and the next neuron, the chemicals latch on to the branches of that neuron called dendrites, and that's how neural transmission happens.

It's very rare for a synapse, that's the space between two neurons, to only involve one neurotransmitter. So what you're asking me about the vagus, and you're asking me, do endocannibanoids have a role to play in the vagus, I should just say up front, I'm not an expert on endocannibanoids. But I would imagine is, that it works the way it works for all the other neurotransmitters, which is, you really can't think about one without considering what the other ones are doing.

So for example, the whole literature, there's a wonderful paper by Howard Fields, who is a neuroscientist, and in 2015, I think, in Trends in Neuroscience, where he talks about the history of research on dopamine, and he shows that actually the rewarding properties of dopamine probably come from opioids.

Jamie Wheal: Yes! Okay, so I was just reading a story, and I don't know if it's the same one.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: One is modulating the other, just like serotonin modulates dopamine.

Jamie Wheal: Yeah, because the study I read, they were imaging people. They were injecting a painful solution into their jaw, and they were first tracking the release of endorphins to modulate and buffer the pain, and then dopamine was coming through the same circuit or system, and that was the idea of how pleasure/pain gets [crosstalk 00:42:59].

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yeah, so the really important thing is, you can think of synapses as spaces for very complicated cocktails of neuro chemicals. So if you tweak one neurochemical, you're probably tweaking the others too indirectly.

Jamie Wheal: Yeah, it's almost always the case.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Complex system.

The Chain of Causation in Dopamine

Jamie Wheal: Complex system, yeah. So there's almost a post hoc proper hoc question with what you said about dopamine and serotonin. Because if I heard you right, you were saying dopamine gets released in order to provide addition oopmh, encouragement, a nudge, to move the body or to seek novelty and learn something. I always thought that it was effectively the cherry on top reward. Whether that's orgasm, or it's as a hunter gatherer finding the red berry. You eat it, you pop it, and then you get your dopamine hit. So help me understand the chain of causation.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: That's actually, I think not correct. You see an increase of dopamine when something unexpected happens. Why is that? Because when something unexpected happens, and your brain takes in that unexpected information, that's called learning. So we haven't really talked about the brain. We started sort of inch up to this idea that the brain is not really reacting to things in the world. It's actually using your past experience to predict.

If you predict wrong, there's an opportunity to learn. So you will see an increase in dopamine in certain cases when the brain is attempting to learn. Remember, it's expensive to learn, so you need an up regulation in metabolism locally in certain parts of the brain in order to learn.

Jamie Wheal: But it's ahead of success. Is that right?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Well, it's complicated. First of all, it depends on where you're looking. So dopamine isn't in one place, it's in multiple places. So it depends on where you're looking, and it also depends on, I don't think there's a global answer to that question.

Jamie Wheal: On Freud's notion, that idea on he had some insights, but he might have had his mechanisms wrong. I think AA Milne with Winnie the Pooh, right? It brings to mind that idea where Winnie the Pooh's like, "You know, I think it's the moment right before you have the honey that's even better than the moment that you get to have the honey." So you talk about anticipatory reward.

The Consumptive Reward Versus Anticipatory Pleasure

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: I wanted to get back to the endocannibanoids thing, but I just wanted to say, like a lot of things that we think of as having to do with endorphins and pleasure actually have to do with endocannabinoids. So the runner's high that you get. I don't know, that other people get. I've been running for years. I think I've had a runner's high once in my life. I just don't get runner's high. Mostly what I get is just a feeling of being very proud of myself that I slogged through yet another run. But that runner's high is not endorphins. It's actually endocannabinoids that's giving you that pleasure.

But to get to your point about AA Milne, here's the thing. The way your brain actually works, the way all brains work as far as we can tell, is that they begin to neurally prepare your experience before you actually experience it. So the anticipation that you feel, the pleasure that you feel and anticipation, is really your brain preparing you for an expected reward. Actually, if you look at many disorders, you can see that some of them, people don't have problems in what's called consumptive reward, which is when the reward is delivered, they can feel pleasure, it's in the anticipation of it. They don't anticipate it. They can feel pleasure when the reward happens, but they don't have anticipatory pleasure.

Jamie Wheal: Who is that? Is that people with addictions?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Depression, schizophrenia. There's a literature by Ann Kring who studies what's called anticipatory pleasure versus consummatory pleasure. So people who have anhedonia and depression, what's called the inability to feel pleasure, they can perfectly feel pleasure when they actually are delivered a reward. It's just they don't experience the anticipation, and because they don't anticipation, they don't experience pleasure in anticipating, they don't seek rewards. Because they don't anticipate the pleasure of having one.

Similarly, in Parkinson's disease, people are now thinking the problem in Parkinson's disease is not that there's a problem in moving your body. What there is is a problem in the motivation to move your body. So if you take someone who has Parkinson's disease, and you stick them in a burning house, and they need to save a loved one, they can do that perfectly fine, and very, very effectively.

Jamie Wheal: With no tremors with no lack of muscle coordination?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: No.

Jamie Wheal: Wow.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yeah. So the idea is that they have, you would call a problem with motivation to move, which is very, very similar to this. There are problems in anticipatory planning, and the problems in anticipatory planning are causing the symptoms, really.

Your Brain Is a Predictive Organ

Jamie Wheal: I mean, is that like an executive motor function override where they get a dump of norepinephrine and cortisol, and it's an emergent situation, and it temporarily dampens down nervous system tremors? What is that?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: I think that's a great hypothesis. It's not that it dampens down the tremors. I think the way to think about it is this. Your brain is a predictive organ. It is predicting everything that you do, everything that you feel, every action that you take, every thought that you have, arises from prediction. So normally the way your brain works is if we were to stop time right now, just completely stop time, your brain would have some representation of what's going on in your body and what's going on around you in the world.

Based on that, it would ask itself, figuratively speaking, "The last time I was in this state, in this situation, what did I do next? What did I see next? What did I hear next? What did I feel next?" It estimates some probabilities, and it starts to prepare those actions, those experiences. It starts to prepare them. It actually literally starts to change the firing of its own neurons in preparation to receive that input. When it receives that input, if the input matches what's expected, then the actions are just executed, and the experiences are experienced. If there's a mismatch, then it has an opportunity to learn.

So if you have a problem with prediction, then you're not going to have a firm movement, you will have a tremor movement, a movement with tremor. If you have a problem with predicting pleasure, you will not seek reward. If you have this problem with anticipating things, meaning the predictive aspects aren't working as well as they used to, that's one way to think about all these symptoms. It's one way in which schizophrenia and depression and Parkinson's disease and autism, you can think of them as similar in that aspects of the predicative machinery is just not working very well.

Jamie Wheal: So we're sort of living forwards from behind. Always taking the backlog of information of experience and then projecting it forwards into a provisional roadmap of our adjacent future.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yeah, exactly. Your brain is always using your past to predict your immediate future, which becomes your present.

Increased Heart Rate Hinders Your Ability to See What’s Actually Happening

Jamie Wheal: So there was a study at MIT, I think, where they were talking about cognitive buffering, and they were talking about how we basically, we're not paying actual acute real time attention, and there's a sort of, something crazy, like a 15 to 30 second blur or blending of data from our sense perception. We fill in the blanks, the same way we have that gap in our vision, but we fill it in cognitively, there's a temporal version of that, where effectively we leave it kind of squishy and not fully determined for plus or minus 15 seconds. Does that live in this neck of the woods?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: It's actually even shorter than that. So it turns out there's research to show, and I'm going to get this wrong because I never can remember it. But your heart goes through systole and diastole. There's a point where your heart's filling up with blood, and then there's a phase when your heart contracts and squishes out the blood, right? Your vision, your sampling of the visual world is actually tied to your heartbeats. I'm trying to remember, but I think it's that your brain is sampling visual input during systole, during filling. I can't remember.

For one of them, it's paying attention, and for the other one, it's not sampling. So every couple of milliseconds, if your heart is beating 60 beats a minute, for every beat, there's part of the time that you're sampling visually and part of the time that your brain is filling in. That's happening all the time throughout your whole life. So when your heart is racing-

Jamie Wheal: Your sample rate, your frame rate goes up?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yeah, your sampling rate goes up, and if your heart rate goes too high, your actions will be guided by the filling in, what we call the internal model. It will be guided by your beliefs and less by actually what's going on in the world. So here's a thought, right? I saw a presentation that was using physiological tracking of police officers in training, while they're training for maneuvers that they would use out in the real world. In training, when police officers believe that they are tracking an assailant, their heart rate is up around 170, 180 beats a minute. Even though you can't look at them and know that, but that is actually what's happening under the hood.

So in those moments, the hypothesis would be that their actions are being guided largely by their prior beliefs, and not so much by what is going on actually in the world at that moment. Because their brains probably can't sample that fast.

Jamie Wheal: Well, go ahead. Finish that.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: I was going to say, when you hear one of these news stories, and you think, "What the hell was that police officer doing? Why weren't they paying attention to this obvious thing that's right in front of their eyes?" The answer might be, well, that person's heart rate might have been so high at that point that their brain stopped sufficiently sampling, and they might not actually have even seen what you are seeing because your heart rate is probably sitting around 70 or 80 beats a minute while you're watching.

Jamie Wheal: Okay, perfect. So this is the moment where a pop science commentator would say something like, "They were in an amygdala hijack, or they had their limbic system override their executive function." So let's just stop the tape right here, and disabuse us of those misconceptions. So are you basically saying that there's a complex dynamic system, sampling rates, frame rates, neurophysiology affecting affect, all of those kind of things, and that it's a full stack decompensation from effective prediction, not a turning off of one zone or region and a hijacking of another, to the exclusion of the whole system's functioning?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yeah, exactly. So what parts of your brain actually decide that we're going to go with this prediction instead of this prediction? We're going to execute this action instead of this action. That's what's called the central executive system in your brain, or it's sometimes called the frontoparietal control network. I just am now hearing. This is not being edited, but I'm hearing someone doing something. Can you hear that? In the background?

Jamie Wheal: Faintly. Now it feels like it stopped.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Okay. I'm sorry. I told everybody that I was taping, so I don't know why they. Anyways.

Jamie Wheal: [inaudible 00:58:05].

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yeah, okay. Let's do that. Let me just... [inaudible 00:58:11]. Guys, guys, I'm being taped. Can we not clean right now? I really appreciate you cleaning, but don't do it now. [inaudible 00:58:28] just do it at 1:30, okay? Thank you, sorry. This is how important you are to me. My daughter never cleans the house, and she's vacuuming right now, and I told her to stop.

Jamie Wheal: But I did hear you do the positive regard, of like, the behavior I like, the timing not so much.

The Role of Amygdala

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: All right. You asked me about the amygdala. Oh, I was explaining the [inaudible 00:59:00]. So that's where we should pick up. So how does your brain decide I'm going to draw my gun and shoot versus I'm going to step back and take a breath? How does your brain decide between two actions that it could predict? Right, that are of equivalent probability of success, or it's not usually picking between just two, it's probably picking between many.

Well, there's a system in your brain that helps to make that decision, and it is at the front. It's relatively speaking, at the front of your brain. It's not just in your cerebral cortex. It actually has all sorts of subcortical components to. It's not clamping down on your subcortical areas. It can up regulate them, it can down regulate them, and it's always running all the time, not just when you do the marshmallow test, not just when your brain has to make a decision in a heated moment. It's always running, all the time, even when you're asleep it's running, come it's tuning out the rest of the world so that your brain can change its state of consciousness.

First of all, it's a little hard to talk about the amygdala as a single unit because it's actually lots of little clumps of cells which do slightly different things. But if we were going to talk about it as a unit, we would say, "It's job is not to cause fear. It's job is not to cause you to feel unpleasant." It's like a sentinel in your brain, and it tells the rest of the brain, "Hey, there's something I haven't predicted here. There's something that we don't know what this is, and we have to learn about it. So we have to learn."

So what it's doing basically, so people who study attention think that the amygdala is an attentional structure. People who study emotion think it's an emotional structure. People who study memory think it's a structure that's important for memory. Basically, the amygdala is basically telling the rest of the brain, "We can't predict what's going to happen next, or we've encountered something, and it's novel, and we don't know what it is, so we have to learn." So it basically increases norepinephrine, it increases all the systems that will allow your brain to take in new information and learn it.

It also regulates your body. So it will increase your heart rate, or decrease your heart rate. It will help to release cortisol, not because you're stressed, but because cortisol is not a stress hormone. Cortisol, again, it is a hormone that is secreted in stress, but it's also secreted when you wake up in the morning. It's also secreted when you exercise. Cortisol is a hormone that your brain, it sort of turns up or down the dial on release, and it increases the release when it's preparing you for a large metabolic outlay. Cortisol is one of the chemicals that get glucose into your bloodstream fast so that your cells can use it.

The Role of Cortisol and Effects of Adrenal Fatigue

Jamie Wheal: In healthy functioning versus perpetual chronic stress or something. So what's happening when I'm stuck in Russia or rehashing that conversation with my boss, or staying awake staring at the ceiling at 3:00 A.M. jacked up and wired, is that a dysfunctional modern expression of excess cortisol? What's happening there with chronic and persistent stress versus periodic?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yeah, so here's how I would say it. I would say cortisol is a normal mechanism that whenever your brain believes that you have a big metabolic expenditure, it's going to release cortisol, have your adrenal glands release cortisol to get glucose to your cells quickly. That happens all the time, throughout your whole life it's happening. There's ebbs and flows, rights? It's not like cortisol isn't circulating at times that aren't really stressful because you would be dead if that were the case. Your cells always need glucose, it's just sometimes they need more.

What stress is, is what we call sort of toxic stress or chronic stress, is that your brain believes that there's a big metabolic outlay that's needed, and it isn't. So you get that flush of glucose when you don't need it. If that happens over and over and over again, your brain believes that you have this big expensive thing you need to do, and you don't actually need to do it, and you don't do it, then eventually cells become insensitive to cortisol. The cortisol loses its ability to do what it needs to do.

Jamie Wheal: Is that what people would colloquially call adrenal fatigue?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yes. It also affects your immune system. So I mean, there are these cascading effects in other systems as well. So I guess the thing to say is that what chronic stress is, essentially, is a slow bankrupting of your metabolic resources. Basically your brain, it's not really a disorder of cortisol, it's a disorder of your brain. Your brain believes something that isn't true, and it's preparing you to act in a way that isn't a good fit to what's going on around you, and that's the problem actually.

The Brain Is a Top Down Organ

Jamie Wheal: Okay, so you've done a beautiful job for us kind of decoupling a known neurochemical with a given emotional outcome. You're sort of walking us through how the systems are complex and interdependent, a lot of it is kind of bottoms up versus tops down, in the sense that it's coming up from our physiology into energy management and prediction systems, that that's often a more central function.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: I think you have to really be careful when you use words like bottom up and top down because bottom up usually means information from the periphery, from the body or from the world. The brain is a top down organ. It builds an internal model of your world and your body in the world, and it runs that model. And it's always checking that model against the information that it gets from the body and the world, and your brain cares very much about your body, because it evolved largely, we should always avoid making teleological statements, but basically brain's most important job is running your body, and everything else it does, thinking, seeing, feeling, it does in the service of regulating your body. So your brain is a very top down organ. It just cares a lot about the sense data from the body.

Jamie Wheal: Okay, so we were using the same directions and implying different things. So for you, your top was the brain. For me, top was self-aware consciousness in real time. Meaning that me, being notice and name things was my top, versus the bottom of physiological process. So I think those reconcile, if what I heard you describe-

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: They absolutely reconcile. It's just in one literature top means consciousness and bottom means biology, and in another literature, top means the brain, and bottom means anything outside the skull. Sense data from the world, sense data from the body. That's why there's this confusion in the literature. 

Everything We See, Feel and Hear Is Through the Brain

Jamie Wheal: That brings to mind, I remember reading, it was a paper a couple of years ago. I'm curious as to how this tracks with your own thinking. But basically saying that that Freudian notion of we're conscious, and then we have repressed and buried feelings and thoughts that we don't admit to anyone, and that that's our subconscious, and that our subconscious is basically, if I lie on the couch and talk to somebody long enough who's smart enough, then they will pull out from my subconscious all of these buried thoughts and feelings.

The paper was arguing that that's a very romanticized notion of what lies below conscious awareness. There's not sort of hidden thoughts I have but won't admit to myself or don't know how to access. It's all of what you have been describing of interception. It's a bunch of different things: sense signals, data input, reactions, predictions. But it's not a bunch of thoughts I would have had but didn't let see the light of day. Does that track with your understanding?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Absolutely.

Jamie Wheal: Because that's a major disassembling of, I would say, 20th century Western psychology.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Absolutely. I mean, here's the thing. Your brain does not store memories. Memories are not fully formed like files in file drawers, and your brain just plucks one out. Your brain memories are reconstructed. They are reimplemented in the conversations between neurons. So every time you have a memory, the brain is constructing it anew, from a dynamic conversation between neurons that are being tuned by chemicals.

So the idea that you have subconscious or unconscious thoughts or feelings, it doesn't comport very well with what we understand the brain to be doing. There are many things that are occurring, and you're completely unaware of them. Like, are you aware right now of how your liver is functioning? Probably not. Are you aware of your gut continuing to oscillate and contract and expand? Are you aware of your lungs? Probably not. You're probably not aware of any of those things.

But if you were, where would you feel them? Well, you wouldn't be feeling them in your body. Everything we feel is, we feel in our brains. Okay? You see in your brain. You don't see in your eyes. You see in your brain. If you pinch your skin, you feel that pinch in your brain. Everything you experience is in your brain. You're not experiencing a lot of things. You're not aware or have conscious access to almost all of the sensations coming from the sense data from your body, and you're not aware a lot of the time of your control network doing its thing. Sometimes you are, but not always. In fact, most times not.

So you're also not aware of your brain constructing selection of predictions. They're like partial plans for action, partial plans for experience. Your brain has to choose, it's not really that your brain is choosing. Your brain is helping to choose, and then the incoming input from the world and the body are also helping to choose which one gets completed and executed. But it's not like somewhere in your brain you have thoughts and feelings that are lurking under the surface, and that someone can excavate them like an archeologist. That's really the wrong metaphor, I think. [crosstalk 01:11:26]. It's not true.

Jamie Wheal: What you were just describing there about we don't have memories, and you don't just sort of take them off the shelf and that's what they are. We're constantly reformulating them, and they kind of get re encoded with the available neurochemistry and tagging signals and markers. That sounds like what MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies is doing on those PTSD/MDMA trials, where they're basically using a compound to increase oxytocin, vasopressin, serotonin, put people in a saturated state of safety and security and belonging, and then deliberately going back and either doing a fear extinction process or some other form of reformatting of previous traumatic memories. Is that the same mechanism of action that you're describing?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Absolutely. I think the [inaudible 01:12:15] to think about it is, I heard someone say this morning that the insight that he came to from reading my books is that we're constantly cultivating our past. I thought that was a very poetic way to put it, that everything that you experience, that you're exposed to, your brain the potential to learn it, and use it in the future as a prediction. So when we refer to predictions, in one literature what we call predictions other scientists call simulations or perceptual inferences or even concepts or memory. Right? So when your brain is constantly predicting, you don't have the experience of remembering, but what your brain is doing is it's reinstating past events, past experiences to predict what's going to happen next.

It's using the past to predict the future. You don't experience those memories, but your brain is remembering. To remember is to reinstate neural patterns from the past. When you reinstate neural patterns from the past, they're kind of up for grabs again. You can modify them. This is like a huge discovery that when you reinstate a memory, you reimplement a memory, so the brain takes on the pattern of communication between neurons that occurred originally. It's in an unstable state, and you can change it by new learning. You can modify it.

Taking Charge of How We Experience the World

Jamie Wheal: Yeah, and it's fascinating to me to understand your thesis for the constructed theory of emotions, and to see, if someone was just listening to say, the first half of this conversation, they might think of you as a quite staunch, reductionist, materialist scientist. But then it's not just your colleague who said something poetic about your work, you did. You said, "You're not at the mercy of emotions that arise unbidden to control your behavior. You are an architect of these experiences. Your river of feelings might feel like it's flowing over you, but actually you're the river's source."

That to me feels profoundly empowering and really hopeful for all of us. Let's now kind of change gears and put this into the current moment and the world we're all living in. Because obviously, at Hunger and Humans, the inquiry that we're trying to follow from the realm of neuro anthropology to optimal psychology, to cultural analysis is where have we come from? Who are we, and what do we do now? So this idea of, we're in charge. We're in charge of that river of emotions. That most of those emotions come from us, constantly reworking our memories, and forever trying to predict more and more accurately what's going to happen next.

What are your thoughts on, what do we do now? In a world where most predictions have just completely come unglued, and the intensity and stresses around us, both amygdala, just vigilance and threat detection and predictive mechanisms are in overdrive. That river is threatening to sort of turn into a flood. So what are your thoughts on how to manage the world as we're experiencing it right now, with so much novelty, ambiguity, uncertainty, via taking charge of these rivers that threaten to sweep us away?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: I wish we could spend the whole time talking about this, because there's so much to say. But I'll try to summarize really briefly. I have a brilliant post-doctoral fellow who's working in my lab, and he just published a paper on what's called The Sense of Should. Really he's asking the question, why do people follow social norms? Why do people engage in social norms? Really simple things, like right now, we're falling social rules. We're engaging in a conversation in a way that is pretty predictable, that our brains can predict.

Occasionally we might interrupt each other, or my daughter might turn on the vacuum cleaner. There might be a siren that goes by. There are some unexpected things, but from each other, even though we don't know each other actually very well at all, even for someone that you just meet for the first time, there are certain things that are expected or expectable, because we're all following a certain set of rules. Why do we follow those rules?

We follow those rules because if my behavior is predictable to you, then your behavior will be predictable to me, and the brain likes predictable things because they're less expensive. Remember, if your brain can't predict, your amygdala and a whole system in your brain is going to attempt to learn. That is one of the most expensive things your brain can do.

So what happens when predictability starts to fall apart? What happens when unpredictable things happen? Well, at first your brain attempts to learn them, right? That's what it's going to attempt to do.

Jamie Wheal: As everybody become an epidemiologist in March.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: First your brain attempts to learn, and it will increase cortisol and increase norepinephrine, and you might feel jittery. You might feel all the sort of higher arousal, I don't mean sexual arousal, but I mean the jittery sort of feeling when things are uncertain that we construct anxiety out of, or fear. That's actually, one way to think about it is, high arousal in the service of learning. Your brain's attempting to learn in order to predict better next time.

But eventually, think of it this way. It's like a budget. Her brain is running a budget for your body. If your brain is continuing to make expenditures to try to learn, and it's not receiving any deposits, you're going to bankrupt yourself. If you do that, what do you do when you're running a deficit in your bank account? You stop spending. What does the brain do when it's running a deficit in its body budget? It stops spending. What does stopping spending mean? It means you stop learning. You just go with your internal model. You go with your past experience. You go with your expectations, and you don't adjust. You don't learn anything new.

You might also stop moving. You might feel fatigued. Your brain will stop doing the things that are most expensive. In the very, very, very extreme case, if stopping learning and locking yourself into your beliefs, and not learning the things going around you, and not moving very much, if that doesn't actually reduce the deficit, your brain will start to kill its own neurons because they're very, very, very expensive. That's neuro degeneration that happens for a number of reason, including profound, chronic stress.

So my point is to you, one of the things that's happened really, right now what's happening, is that there are islands of predictability. People who have the same beliefs tend to cluster together, and they only talk to the people who have the same beliefs because it's cheaper and it feels more comfortable. It's not as stressful, meaning there's no big metabolic outlay necessarily that's required to talk to somebody who feels the way that you do, who thinks the way that you do. There's no requirement to forage for new information, to learn about a perspective that's different from yours.

Even if you find it abhorrent, especially when you find it abhorrent, you won't even attempt to have a conversation with someone like that because it's a metabolic outlay that maybe you can't afford.

Jamie Wheal: That's fascinating because that sounds like the exact opposite argument that we're hearing these days. In fact, a friend of ours, Tristan Harris, just released that documentary, The Social Dilemma, which is all about the big tech algorithms, and basically the algorithms of outrage.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Oh, I don't think it's inconsistent at all. I don't think it's inconsistent at all. First of all, I loved that documentary. I think it's brilliant, actually. But no, I think it's very, very consistent because what's happening in social media, that's described beautifully in that documentary, is aligning perfectly with what's happening under the hood metabolically I think.

Jamie Wheal: Is it that the stick is the outrage? That's the sort of visualist response, and the carrot is the comfortable and predictability of coming, finding your in group?

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Try not to reduce things to a simple causes and effects. The situation that we're in has more than one, there are lots of what we would say weak non-linear causes. So it's not only social media, the social media building these, serving people up information based on their own internet use history. That's part of it. That makes it harder for people to access information that is novel and different from what they normally would expose themselves to. But even in cases where they could.

No one is putting a gun to your head and telling you that you can't read a newspaper. Nobody is telling you that you can't go to the New York Times. You can read the New York Times, not the Wall Street Journal, but there are lots of papers where you can look at the headlines for free. I guess my point is that social media, the way it's working, makes things harder to forage for new information, and so that enhances the cost of doing so.

So it alone is not the problem. The metabolic issues are alone not the problem. But they together they cause a perfect storm.

Jamie Wheal: Back to it's complicated and depends.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: But the thing to do, one thing to do is to remember that you are the architect of your experience, and you can curate your life. It's very hard to go back in time and change your past, but you can go forward in time and change your future. If you cultivate different experiences for yourself now, a diversity of experiences now, that makes you more flexible and resilient in the future.

Seven and a Half Lessons on the Brain

Jamie Wheal: Beautiful. Well, that seems like a set of wise and informed words to conclude with. So I just would love to direct everybody to your Seven and a Half Lessons on the Brain, which is coming out this fall in November, if you want to go back and really take the deep cut in the more rigorous science, How Emotions are Made, blew my mind a couple of years ago when I got to read it, and it has all kinds of insights. But yeah, so basically we thought we knew about the intersection of neuroscience and psychology probably isn't, but what may be more true is more nuanced and fascinating than we might have thought. Lisa, you played a huge role to helping bring that to common consciousness. Thank you so much for being with us.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks so much for this very, very fun conversation.

Jamie Wheal: Yeah. Absolutely. All right. Yeah, I would have loved to have asked you about Helen Fisher, and her neurochemistry of love stuff.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Oh, I'm so glad that you didn't have time.

Jamie Wheal: I know, I didn't want to put you in an awkward spot, so that was part of it. There was a moment like two thirds of the way through where I was like, this is where we could segue. Then another one is, there's a new, actually our buddy at Stanford, Andrew Huberman, he's been doing stuff on fear response, and the amygdala rooting to either the xyphoid nucleous or the nucleous reunions, and how the nucleus reunions is basically the fight, it's the sort of courageous fight pathway, and the xyphoid nucleus is flight/freeze. So even that old thing of fight/flight not really being true. That in fact, those are different pathways as well.

Then there's something I just came across. I think the newest edition of Nature just published something out of Stanford as well, which was basically optogenetically stimulating, is that the right term? So it would have been a light stimulation on mice, and then also on human patients suffering I think from schizophrenia. But basically they realized that in ketamine induced states, they were entering delta wave neuro electric activity, and that was creating the disassociative state that was also serving as, that was positively correlated with its antidepressant effect. But then they were reverse engineering it so it took away the chemical and just optogenetically stimulated three hertz delta, and were creating a same sense of disembodiment.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Oh, that's interesting.

Jamie Wheal: Which I find fascinating, because then you're like, "Oh, it's delta waves." Whatever molecules happened to unlock it and prime it is secondary to that actual state [crosstalk 01:27:17].

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Interesting. So that's in Nature this week?

Jamie Wheal: Yeah.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Okay, I haven't seen it yet, but okay, I'll take a look.

Jamie Wheal: Beautiful. Well, I know you've got to jump to your very next thing, so thank you again. I could talk to you always.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: My pleasure, my pleasure. Thank you so much.

Jamie Wheal: Listen, when you do launch or book, I mean, we have a mailing list of about 100,000 folks that are very much interested in these kind of things. Would love to be able to showcase it, put it out, and do anything else. So.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: That would be fantastic. So what do I have to do make that happen?

Jamie Wheal: I think we're in contact via email, so please just loop it back and just give us a paragraph on your timing and what actions you would love to have happen.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Okay, I will, absolutely. I don't know that there's anything I can do with yours, but if there is, definitely let me know, and I'd be happy to-

Jamie Wheal: Beautiful, thank you.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Yeah, great. Okay.

Jamie Wheal: [crosstalk 01:28:07] Lisa, be well.

Lisa Feldmann Barrett: Thank you.

Jamie Wheal: Okay, bye bye.

1 Comment

  • Jones Mereu
    Gripping conversation. Each foray into a topical area is full of aha moments. Lisas' ideas are truly groundbreaking.
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