Biologically Programmed to Narrate the Story of our Lives…

We all live in our own worlds with our own narratives to some extent. Our narratives may coincide with others, at times, whilst, at others, it may not. we are each forging a path narrating where we are at, where we have been and where we think we might be. We are biologically programmed to do this according to Antonio Damasio.

Damasio (2000) talks about two different types of consciousness: core and extended. Core consciousness is a continually re-created pulse of present awareness that lasts a fraction of a second. It is tied into our physical sense of our selves, an ever-changing biological map of what is happening in our bodies at any given time (in the hypothalamus, brain stem and insular cortex). More specifically, it is how we transfer the brain maps of our perceptions of the world onto the maps of this changing bodily state, and the feeling or awareness that arises as a consequence. How does this particular sight change my body etc.? The sense of self is, therefore, created anew every fraction of second in this feeling of knowing.

Extended consciousness is the crowning glory of consciousness for Damasio (2002) as it goes beyond the here and now of core consciousness. This is because it requires memory in the construction of an autobiographical self, able to narrate our lives moment by moment… I am such a such person with these kinda likes and loves and so on. It is still based on the core sense of self. However, through memory, this self can exist for the duration of short-term memory, seconds and minutes, and so allow us to comprehend the span of our lifetimes. It is in place by eighteen-months old.

How does this relate to yoga? It suggests the reasons why quietening the mind is hard: we are biologically programmed to monitor the environment and categorise although we often over do that. It also shows that we can influence the way that we relate the story of our lives. And here, I want to make an important distinction. This does not mean that we do not face up to realities and difficulties in our lives, but it is to acknowledge that we each interpret situations and events differently. Other people’s realities may not be our own, and our own may not be other people’s, and maybe we exist somewhere in the vague space inbetween.

I presented at a conference in Amsterdam, March 2017, on the biological underpinnings of narration with David Baboulene, and how this relates to education:

Damasio’s book is here:

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