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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions.

Panksepp, Jaak. (1998).
New York: Oxford University Press.

ISBN: 0-19-509673-8

Description: Hardcover, xiv + 466 pages.

Contents: Preface, 16 chapters divided into 3 parts: 1. Conceptual Background, 2. Basic Emotional and Motivational Processes, 3. The Social Emotions, Appendix A: Bones, Brains, and Human Origins, Appendix B: The Brain, Language, and Affective Neuroscience, Appendix C: Dualism in the Neurosciences, notes, author index, subject index.

Excerpt(s): AFTERTHOUGHT: Activities of Neurochemically Characterized Neurons and Hallucinations

In Chapter 6, I discussed the geographies of the major biogenic amine systems of the brain: norepinephrine [NE], dopamine [DA], and serotonin [5-HT]. Since such biogenic amine neurons are tightly clustered in the brains of rats, it has been possible to characterize the neuronal activities of each of these systems during the various vigilance states. The results have been clear and striking.

Brain NE and 5-HT systems exhibit their highest levels of activity during waking. They slow down substantially during SWS [slow-wave sleep], and a few moments prior to REM [rapid eye movement] they cease firing and remain inhibited throughout the ensuing REM period. In short, they are inactive during dreaming. By comparison, DA cells show comparatively little change from one vigilance state to the next, even though they begin to exhibit bursts of firing when animals seek rewards. Otherwise, they fire at a steady rate throughout waking, SWS, and REM, suggesting that they are prepared to perform their function at any time of day or night.

The lack of firing in 5-HT systems during REM is especially intriguing, since this helps explain the hallucinatory activity of dreaming. On the surface, dreaming resembles an LSD-like state, and LSD is an excellent serotonin receptor blocker. As mentioned earlier, we can also generate REM-typical PGO [pons-lateral geniculate bodies-occipital cortex] storms in the waking brain by reducing brain serotonin activity, whether by administering LSD or giving serotonin synthesis inhibitors (e.g., PCPA) in combination with biogenic amine depletors (such as reserpine). Indeed, drugs that reduce the availability of serotonin and other biogenic amines at synapses (e.g., reserpine) also tend to intensify LSD-induced hallucinatory states in humans and animals. Conversely, drugs that promote brain serotonin activity usually attenuate LSD-induced hallucinations as well as REM sleep. In general, it seems that one higher cerebral function of brain serotonin is to sustain stability in perceptual and cognitive channels. When this constraint is loosened by a global reduction of 5-HT activity, the probability of information from one channel crossing into another channel is increased. Thus a mild reduction in brain serotonin activity may be an important ingredient for the generation of new insights and ideas in the brain, while a sustained reduction of serotonin might lead to chaotic feelings and perceptions, contributing to feelings of discoherence and mania.

In sum, perhaps it is this loosening of sensory-perceptual barriers between different brain systems that characterizes dreams, hallucinations, and the florid phases of schizophrenia, as well as normal creativity. Maybe this loosening of information flow between various sensory and perceptual channels is one way in which REM sleep helps initiate the integration and consolidation of information that animals have faced during their waking states. It may also generate totally new permutations of associations. Only more research can shed further light on such intriguing possibilities. But in line with our theme that dreaming is related to emotionality, it is worth nothing that just as low brain serotonin characterizes the dream state, it also promotes heightened emotionality, both positive and negative. It is a neurochemical state that leads to impulsive behaviors in humans, even ones as extreme as suicide. Probably the most striking and highly replicable neurochemical finding in the whole psychiatric literature is that individuals who have killed themselves typically have abnormally low brain serotonin activity. Was Freud right that there is a death wish hidden in the human soul? If so, it must be especially active during dreaming sleep. (page 142)

[footnote] 95. There are many evolutionary stories that need to be empirically evaluated, but we can never experimentally determine "why" something happened in evolution. For instance, we will never really know why all human societies practice religion. Presumably, the human brain contains functions that promote worship, reverence, and the feeling of belonging, but it may be impossible to unambiguously identify how those functions emerged in brain evolution…we should also consider the possibility that religious urges arise partly from our brain mechanisms for social bonding as well as our tendency to interpret correlated events in nature as reflective of causal processes (page 425).

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