top of page

The Dance Between the Emotional and Rational Brain

It was during a serene evening when my mother and I, with cups of hot chocolate in hand, wandered into the mysterious realm of human emotions and the science behind them. You see, I teach about the intricacies of the human brain, specifically the limbic system and the neocortex, in some of my workshops.


In this conversation with Mom, I was attempting to explain a situation from earlier in the week and was so full of emotion that I was unable to put into words what I wanted to express.


It's at that moment that I said, " I know exactly what is happening in my brain, right now."


Understanding the Limbic System

I started by explaining to Mom that the limbic system is like the grand conductor of our emotions. Nestled deep within our brain, this system is a complex set of structures that govern our feelings, memories, and many of our involuntary physiological responses.

"It's where our raw, unfiltered emotions reside," I told her. "Think of it as the heart of our brain."

However, there's an intriguing catch. The limbic system operates predominantly on a pre-verbal level. In other words, while it helps us feel emotions intensely, it doesn't have the language to articulate them.


That's why when we are overwhelmed with feelings, we often struggle to put them into words.

Enter the Neocortex

On the other hand, the neocortex, the most evolved part of our brain, is the seat of rational thought, problem-solving, and yes, language. It's where information is processed and decisions are made, often based on the emotions sent from the limbic system.

"The neocortex," I explained, "is like our brain's think tank. It's where we plan, dream, analyze, and communicate."

Mom's lightbulb moment came next. "So, when I'm trying to tell you how much I love you, and I can't find the words, it's because my limbic system is feeling all the love, but my neocortex struggles to convey it?"

"Exactly!" I exclaimed, thrilled that she had connected the dots. "Our brain is continually dancing between feeling and articulating. Our limbic system provides the raw, genuine emotion, while our neocortex attempts to translate it into language. But sometimes, words fall short."

When Words Fail Us

We all have moments where words seem insufficient. Watching a mesmerizing sunset, standing atop a breathtaking mountain range, or feeling an overwhelming surge of love – these are instances where our limbic system is in overdrive.


Our neocortex, despite its brilliance, sometimes can't keep up, leading to that universal feeling of being "lost for words."

My mother nodded thoughtfully, her eyes reflecting a mix of understanding and wonder. "That's why words can never truly capture some feelings," she mused. "It's the dance between these two parts of our brain."

I agreed.


The beautiful interplay between the limbic system and the neocortex is a testament to the complexity of human beings. We are, at once, emotional and rational creatures, always striving to find harmony between our feelings and words.

The next time you find yourself speechless in the face of beauty, love, or any profound emotion, remember the intricate dance inside your brain. And perhaps, take solace in the fact that sometimes, feelings are too vast, too profound, to be confined by language.


Ah, the complexities of love and feelings. While poets, novelists, and songwriters have grappled with this challenge for centuries, trying to encapsulate the depth and breadth of human emotion into words, the reason might be rooted much deeper.

The Science Behind the Limbic System and Emotion

The limbic system is an intricate collection of structures in our brain responsible for a variety of functions, including our emotions, memories, and arousal. Key components include the amygdala, the hippocampus, the thalamus, and the hypothalamus, among others.

When we experience emotions—whether it's the rush of love or the sting of jealousy—the limbic system plays a central role. It processes our reactions, creates emotional responses, and stores associated memories.

Why Words Fall Short

For every human being, there are times when words fall short of explaining the emotion we are feeling, the beauty we are seeing, or the sounds we are hearing.


There are many reasons why that may be, but science - and perhaps even anthropology - helps explain a part of it.


1. Pre-verbal Processing: The limbic system operates on a level that is largely pre-verbal, meaning it functions and processes experiences before they get translated into language. This is why, for many, feelings can often be felt intensely, even if they can't be immediately or adequately described.

2. Complexity and Uniqueness: Emotions are multifaceted. Even a single emotion, like love, can have layers of feeling, each influenced by personal experiences, cultural backgrounds, and individual brain chemistry. This makes a one-size-fits-all verbal description nearly impossible.

3. Physical Reactions: Feelings often come with physiological responses, like a racing heart or butterflies in the stomach. These physical sensations are processed by the limbic system and are an integral part of our emotional experiences. Describing these sensations in words can sometimes diminish their intensity or significance.

4. Cultural and Linguistic Limitations: Language can be restrictive. Different cultures may have words for emotions that don't exist in other languages. For instance, the Portuguese word "saudade" roughly translates to a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for someone or something. Such nuances highlight the limitations of language in capturing the full essence of feelings.


A Constant Pursuit of Expression

While the limbic system's pre-verbal processing makes expressing emotions challenging, humans have forever been in the pursuit of expressing the inexpressible.


Through art, music, poetry, and other forms of expression, we continually attempt to bridge the gap between the raw emotions of the limbic system and our ability to communicate them.


Our quest to articulate our emotions is a complex interplay between ancient and evolved parts of our minds. While science sheds light on the 'why' behind our struggles with expression, it also illuminates the beauty of our persistent attempts to understand and convey what we feel.


As I sat with my mother, sipping our hot chocolate, it was a moment of realization that sometimes the silence between words, the shared glance, or the simple act of trying to communicate our deepest sentiments, speaks volumes more than language ever could.


In silence, we both took a moment to appreciate the intricate dance of emotions and articulations, where sometimes the most profound sentiments lie in the unspoken.


Comments


bottom of page