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November 07, 2023

Chicken and Egg Paradox

While we assume that the brain moves the muscles, secrete chemicals and prepares the whole body differently under the influence of different emotions, one weird theory proposed by scholars William James and Carl Lange brings a mind-boggling twist or the so-called U-turn in the whole story. This is exactly like the Chicken and Egg Paradox i. e. which came into existence first and caused others to come into existence is really hard to tell.

According to their not so publicly famous James-Lange Theory, all muscular, physiological and hormonal changes are done first by our brain and then it consciously recognizes the same changes as experiences of emotions and feelings. In simple words, the behavioral responses given subconscious by the whole body are later consciously recognized as emotions and feelings by our brain. Body reacts first, Brain recognizes it later.

You might already know that physical responses are entirely subconsciously initiated by most primitive parts of our brain like Reptilian Cortex (Basal Ganglia or Brain stem) and Limbic System (Paleomammalian Cortex) than most recently developed part of the brain Neocortex (‘new brain’). Therefore, identifying the same with a name, label or title is a conscious and slower process which comes under the domain of Neocortex. Hence, it seems perfectly logical!

Let's imagine yourself in a situation. You're walking alone through tall and thick grass in African Savanna. Although you're taller than the grass, you can't see what's hidden inside in. You might be able see far away and up to the horizon but your height might help you in quickly detecting what's around you in the grass below. Still, you're walking upright with a great amount of confidence.

After walking over a few hundred meters of distance, you find yourself on an empty patch of land. On the same patch, you suddenly happen to see an adult lion eating its huge prey all alone. The lion gets alert about your existence, his ears raise and he starts looking right into at your small eyes. What your whole body is telling you to 'RUN!' only to save your precious life.

Image Courtesy: runnersworld.com

If your body was designed to let you think for a moment then consciously choose the appropriate physiological reaction in such certainly fatal situation, you'd have lost the critical window of opportunity to run faster and far away from the lion. Now, you might have understood Why your body reacts first and then your brain finds a word for it, just to communicate verbally.

What we simply can keep in our mind is that both brain and rest of the body can’t at all be separated from each other while experiencing and expressing psychological states. They both seamlessly and thoroughly work together in the dramatic, dynamic and complex process of making internal and external changes, while reacting sharply or responding slowly.

Brain isn’t a wireless remote control which can operate, control and move the entire body by staying physically disconnected from it. It is rigidly connected with the entire body through the long and flexible spinal cord. Any physical movement, expression, reflex or action simply can’t take place or occur without brain and body working together.

During simulated, virtual or real experiences, we might ‘blindly’ assuming that only our brain is running the whole show. However, critical importance of sensory organs like eyes and ears can never be forgotten because they only send the signals to the brain before generating any kind of experience.

James-Lange Theory

Perhaps, you might not be able to remember the entire details of the Chicken and Egg Paradox explained in details above. Just to make it extremely easy to remember, both brain and body are two different sides of the same shining coin. Aren’t they?

By the way, there are two other theories about emotional experiences that are namely called as Cannon-Bard Theory and Schacter-Singer Theory. Both propose two different routes followed inside our brains for generating emotional experiences.

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