In the film “The Empire Strikes Back”, Yoda tells Luke;

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

We seem to have an innate quality that prejudices us to see ourselves as a fortress of one with sole conscious authorship over our behaviour. Daniel Wegner called this “The Illusion of Conscious Will” and which Tor Norretranders called “The User Illusion”. Whether this quality has developed genetically or whether through the pervading beliefs in our environment, it is difficult at this stage to say.

A rudimentary understanding of the human brain and it’s structure and geography, reveals just how much of an illusion this is;

The human brain has 2 hemispheres, which, when disconnected can lead to some rather strange behaviour. But that’s not all, there are actually many different parts of the brain, that evolved at different stages of our evolution, similar in some ways to the growth rings on a tree. The most recent and most advanced areas built upon the outside and at the front, just above the eye sockets. This area is called “The Orbitofrontal Cortex”. Injuries to this area have resulted in some unusual and unpredictable behavioural changes. See “Descartes Error” by Antonio Damasio for examples of how brain injuries can affect behaviour.

Essentially, the brain is made of many parts and they communicate to each other. I should say, in an ideal world they would communicate with each other. The brain communicates electrically and through “neural transmitters”; chemicals, hormones and proteins. The brain has pathways and these pathways develop based upon experience and environment. Sometimes pathways develop due to certain requirements, sometimes these pathways die out if the brain determines they are not required. I would hypothesise that the level of our consciousness and self awareness relies upon the quality and quantity of these pathways. When there is dysfunction in our behaviour it reveals dysfunctions in our pathways.

One of the most important pathways is between an area of the orbitofrontal cortex called the “Anterior Cingulate” and the amygdala. The amygdala is a part of the limbic system, a system we share with just about all other animals on this planet. The limbic system is the most primitive area of the brain and the amygdala is the centre for our fear response and survival defence mechanisms. When the pathways between the orbitofrontal cortex and the amygdala are in a state of dysfunction, then there is a breakdown in communication; our conscience and will lose authority over our fear response, and our fear response takes on a level of autonomy, even, at times of fear, becomes it’s own personality, able to enlist other areas of the brain that deal with memory and imagination and able to distort facts, memory and information in order to get it’s own needs met. Needs that are summed up with the term “fight or flight” from anything perceived by the amygdala as a danger to the organism. It is important to point out, at this point, that conscious awareness of danger is not required because the amygdala perceives and responds to danger independently and more instantly than our conscious mind is capable of. The brain, as stated above, has an innate quality, to defend and maintain an illusion of the oneness of our conscious will and this is contradicted by the will of the autonomous amygdala and it’s ability to influence and seize control of our perceptions, interpretations and behaviour, and our responses to it’s perceived dangers. The result is referred to as cognitive dissonance, as the unconsciously influenced behaviour challenges  our illusion of our own conscious authority. This leads to self justification; building a narrative that fits in and helps us maintain the illusion. In essence; we behave badly and then give ourselves an explanation for our bad behaviour that justifies it and maintains our illusion. We lie to ourselves so that we maintain our illusion of singular authority.

In an early post I mentioned how cruelty is the product of fear, but that’s not all. Unhappiness is directly associated to fear levels, suffering is caused by fear, anger is caused by fear, frustration is caused by fear, stress and anxiety is caused by fear, doubt and uncertainty is fear, insecurity is fear. Hate is fear. “Fear is the mind killer” as Frank Herbert put it in his book; “Dune”.

An inability to regulate our fear response is actually a poison to the brain. Too much cortisol, the stress hormone, over prolonged periods actually damages the pathways of the higher cognitive areas of the brain as well as the hippocampus (memory), causing dysfunction in higher cognitive reasoning and our ability for complex thought. Cortisol also damages the areas associated with the regulation of emotions and impulses. Cortisol may also inhibit or defuse oxytocin (this is a current theory of mine and not based upon any known research or study that I am aware of). Oxytocin has a number of roles, including; the female reproductive system, triggering maternal behaviours, orgasms, and some studies have suggested that it plays a strong role in the relationships of animals (including humans) that form life partnerships. It may also play a role in tuning down our stress response, if, ironically, the cortisol doesn’t get in first.

Love is the opposite of fear, and where one holds the power, the other cannot. So if fear rules your life. If the unconscious fear processes of your brain influence and motivate your perceptions, decisions and behaviour, then that life will be one of suffering, either for the individual, or for those in that individual’s close circle, those with an emotional investment in that individual. The inner fear will be projected out as the individual unconsciously seeks to drive out the fear by creating that fear in others. Any deep sense of love will be impossible to this person while their fear rules their lives. they will view other’s love with envy, and even attempt to destroy love. Love requires vulnerability, openness, where as fear requires impenetrable defence. Love is perceived as a threat to our defences because it threatens to tear them down.

Whenever fear influences our behaviour in a negative and destructive way, this is the dark side of the human mind. Fear is the driving force of our dark side. And we all have a dark side.

It may be the quality of these pathways, or it may just be the level of our cognitive awareness of our own inner darkness and potential for evil, that gives us the will and the authority to counter and manage our inner darkness. In the past, religion provided us with the cognitive awareness of our potential for evil, but as religion plays less and less of a role in our lives, we seem to have lost the awareness of our potential for evil, allowing that evil a new autonomy.

Fear really does lead to “The Dark Side”.

related articles:

http://www.biopsychiatry.com/amygdala.htm

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