Lisa Feldman Barrett and Karen S. Quigley

‘Right now, as you read this text, it may seem like your eyes are simply detecting words out there in the world. But you’re not detecting—you’re constructing. In every moment, outside of your awareness, your brain constructs a model of the outside world, transforming light waves, pressure changes, and chemicals into sights, sounds, touches, smells, and tastes. Your brain continually anticipates what will happen next around you, checks its predictions against sense data streaming in from your eyes, ears, and other sensory surfaces of your body, updates the model as needed, and in doing so creates your experience of the world. This covert construction of your senses is called exteroception.

Your brain also models the events occurring inside your body. In much the same way that your brain sees sights, feels things that touch your skin, and hears sounds, it also produces your body’s inner sensations, such as a gurgling stomach, a tightness in your chest, and even the beating of your heart. Your brain also models other sensations from movements that you cannot feel, such as your liver cleaning your blood. The construction of all your inner sensations is called interoception and, like exteroception, it proceeds completely outside your awareness.

For a long time, scientists treated interoception and exteroception as completely separate domains of sensation, bounded by your skin. But recent research has revealed that the two might not be as separate as they seem, and their boundary is fuzzy.’ (from the Dana Foundation website)

As part of my work as a meditation teacher, I try to keep up with the kinds of research being done. Along with recent articles on ‘soft fascination‘ and the benefits of nature on the mind, interoception has started cropping up in my reading. Again, the research may just be telling us things that we understand or instinctively know already, just with a quantative spin; the article goes on to posit that the brain does not necessarily recognise the skin as the boundary of the self. But as I always say, if it takes data to convince someone to try meditation, I am not going to say no, even if it just repeats and confirms the Buddha’s understanding from 2500 years ago.


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