Is There Hope for Anxiety? with Dr. Joseph LeDoux

Boomer Anderson
November 18, 2020
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Anxiety is fascinating and something I've dealt with my entire life. New York University Professor, Neuroscientist, and Bestselling Author Dr. Joseph LeDoux, explains why the amygdala may not be the fear center of the brain, anxiety vs. fear, and a three-part construction for how to deal with anxiety which differs from the traditional anti-anxiety therapies.

Who is Dr. Joseph LeDoux? 

Joseph LeDoux is the Henry and Lucy Moses Professor of Science at NYU in the Center for Neural Science, and he directs the Emotional Brain Institute of NYU and the Nathan Kline Institute. He also a Professor of Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical School. 

His work is focused on the brain mechanisms of memory and emotion and he is the author of The Emotional Brain, Synaptic Self, and Anxious. LeDoux has received a number of awards, including William James Award from the Association for Psychological Science, the Karl Spencer Lashley Award from the American Philosophical Society, the Fyssen International Prize in Cognitive Science, Jean Louis Signoret Prize of the IPSEN Foundation, the Santiago Grisolia Prize, the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award, and the American Psychological Association Donald O. Hebb Award. 

His book Anxious received the 2016 William James Book Award from the American Psychological Association. LeDoux is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He is also the lead singer and songwriter in the rock band, The Amygdaloids and performs with Colin Dempsey as the acoustic duo So We Are.


[5:40] Differences between anxiety and fear

[7:50] The role of the amygdala

[18:48] Studying split brains

[28:56] The set point of anxiety

[43:33] Understanding consciousness


Anxious by Joseph LeDoux

The Deep History of Ourselves

Synaptic Self

The Emotional Brain

Episode Transcript

Boomer Anderson: [00:00:00]Welcome to decoding superhuman. This show is a deep dive into obsessions withhealth performance, and how to elevate the human experience.

I explore the latest tools, science technology with expertsin various fields of human optimization. This is your host, Boomer Anderson.

Enjoy the journey

on this podcast. We bounce around from topic to topic as itrelates to how to perform better. And from time to time, you'll see that I getinto weeds about a number of different topics. These can include things likemovement, nutrition. And of course anxiety and anxiety is something that I'vebeen researching for a number of years now.

And specifically looking at why is it such an intricate partof the human condition for people like entrepreneurs? My guest today is aperson that I would call a teacher from afar, meaning that he has writtenseveral books that I find very, very valuable on this topic. Joseph E. LeDouxPhD is a professor of neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, and child andadolescent psychiatry at New York university.

He's the director of the emotional brain Institute and haswritten numerous books, including the emotional brain synaptic self andanxious. Joseph LeDoux has received so many awards that it would take me awhile to, to read this, but his book anxious received the 2016 William Jamesbook award from the American psychological association.

Our conversation today is predominantly related to thecontents of that book. And we look at things like amygdalas, the fear center.We talk about his band at the amygdala Lloyds. We look at his three-partconstruction for how to deal with anxiety and how that differs from traditionaltherapeutic forms.

And finally, we talk about consciousness and some of. JosephLeDoux his current work around the topic. You can find all of the show notes slash LeDoux that's L E D O U X. I look forward toyour feedback on my amazing conversation with dr. Joseph LeDoux. There's somethings I can't explain.

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Among the claims that Somavedic makes it helps protect youfrom 5g. It also helps structure water and. What I look at is really the endresult for me. I just feel better. I feel more focused and I have higher levelsof energy. So I enjoy it. And I have the medical ultra green, which issomething that you guys can check out.

But if you want to get yours, head on over to some and use the code boomer, and you're going to get yourself 10% off.Let's get back to the episode,

dr. Joseph. Thank you for being here today.

Joe LeDoux: [00:03:40]Pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Boomer Anderson: [00:03:41]So the 20, 20 and big Deloitte world tour, what's the current status on that?

Joe LeDoux: [00:03:48]well, I don't think there's, I really miss travel. I haven't traveled anywhereand, and quite a long time had all of these. Things scheduled for 2020, interms of conferences and so forth and some of the make Dillard activity withit.

But, I, you know, everything's been canceled step-by-stepand it starting to build up again. So like there all these invitations comingfor more may and June, August, and we'll just have to see, because, you know,I'm not wild about getting on a test due by plane and seeing what happens. But,yeah, we'll see.

Maybe there'll be a vaccine and. feel more comfortable aboutmoving around in the world.

Boomer Anderson: [00:04:32]Yeah. Maybe I'll make it to New York one of these days. but I, I would love tosee you guys play live, but I guess go ahead.

Joe LeDoux: [00:04:42]I'm using, I don't know what's going to happen to live music, all the littleclubs in New York that at least to be able to play and had been sort ofdisappearing one by one and.

there was maybe one or two left and they're, you know,they're closed now and nothing's happened, so,

Boomer Anderson: [00:05:01]mm. let's take it. Yeah. I mean, Amsterdam, we may be able to host you. So it'sjust a matter of getting you on that tube over here to potentially potentiallyplay, but let's see what 2021 brings, on another topic, which is the reason whyI wanted to talk to you today.

I've had this. I guess lifelong fascination due to my ownissues with anxiety. And when I start researching anxiety, of course, Chromeacross your work. So I'm really grateful for your time today. And I just wantto start by just looking at the differences between anxiety and fear, because Iwant to make sure that we're clear on what anxiety is before we go a little bitdeeper.

Joe LeDoux: [00:05:45]Okay. Well, the, I mean, these, this way to describe it, and I think the mostconventional scientific way is that anxiety, let's start with fear. Fear is a,an experience that you're having, to, and immediately present stimulus andanxiety is a worry about something that hasn't happened yet. Now. That seemspretty straightforward.

But the fact is that as soon as you're in a dangeroussituation, there's something threatening at your feed, says snake or a mugger,or, you know, whatever the bothers you on the. You are, you have the suddenfear that's brought upon by the sudden arrival of, of danger. but that almostinstantly turns into anxiety about worrying about what that thing is going todo.

And will you be okay when it, does it say it's a snake? Youknow, can you find a doctor let's say walking in the woods, it's a naked bite.You, can you find a doctor with, they have anecdotes and on and on. So, anxietyand fear, or kind of conjoined twins, as soon as fear starts, turned intoanxiety, but even anxiety morphs into fear because you start worrying aboutsomething and you see threats out there that then elicit fear in you.

So it's kind of like, A big happy family.

Boomer Anderson: [00:07:09]Let's talk about the, the amygdala here for a second. Cause we alluded toearlier your band, the amygdala Lloyds, but also in your book, anxious, youtalk about perhaps a misunderstanding of what we classically think of the roleof the amygdala is. And so it just, in terms of the amygdala, do you mind justexplaining sort of.

Where it is in the brain and what we thought the role is.And now what you foresee the role of the amygdala is in terms of fear andanxiety.

Joe LeDoux: [00:07:37]Okay. Just for a point of disclosure, I have a very minority, view on thiswhole topic. but you know, I think there's some value to it. So I'll tell youwhat it's about.

Well, first of all, the, you know, the amygdala is kind ofeasy to imagine where it is because. Yeah, let's say you just thrive an arrow.So in one of your eyes, a narrow through one of your ears on the same sidewhere they would meet. Would be kind of roughly in that spot? Not exactly, butgives you a rough idea.

It's kind of behind your ear and behind your eyes there movea little bit towards the center. Not all the way. I'm just kind of like in alittle bit, it's in the part of the brain called the temporal lobe and it's inthe part of the temporal lobe called the medial temporal lobe. So could thinkof the brain as like a hot dog bun where the two pieces are together.

And you pull them apart. And the white and toasted part onthe inside is where the medial part of the brand is the medial cerebral cortex.So on the outside here, you have the Brown toasty part. That's the new reportof the cerebral cortex, where we have art. conscious thoughts and perceptionsand all that good stuff.

And then on the medial side, a more traditionally what Ithought to be older areas, but it's a little bit of a misleading thing to callthose new and old it's kind of an antiquated terminology that was carried forthfrom the 19th century. but there it, I think it's better to think of those as,areas that, that have, How should we put it?

Well, the, the, the cortical areas are in general involvedin our higher cognitive processes. like even the medial areas, which used to bepart of the so-called limbic system and thought to be like the center ofemotion and all of that, those medial areas are involved in many of ourcognitive processes.

There are the enter senior with cortex, for example, isinvolved in attention and, cognitive control. the medial prefrontal cortex isinvolved in, cognitive schema. other areas over there on the medial and themedial cortex are involved in self representation. And the hippocampus, whichis part of the medial temporal lobe, rather than prefrontal cortex, the medialtemporal lobe it's involved in, storing our most complex, cognitive memories.

So the limbic system idea would started out as a theory ofby an emotion, is really, you know, it was, it was a kind of misdirection aboutwhat those older. So-called older areas. we're doing the media, the, the limbiccortex, all those medial areas do a lot in cognition, but the limbic systemtheory said they were only involved in emotion, not cognition.

So it's, it's kind of like an antiquated idea, but it got,you know, it was a clever idea. It was very popular. And once something getsin. Besides the mind of the scientists and the minds of the public and soforth, very, very hard to change it. So we're stuck with this limbic systemidea, which I think is wrong in terms of emotion.

There is we can call that area of the medial cortex andareas like the amygdala and so forth that are connected with it, limbic areas,but we just don't want to call it a limbic system. Because it does, it's notdoing one thing like the system would do. So I like the visual system they'llto see the limbic system.

It's a mountain cognition has got some contributions tobehavioral regulation, to visceral control a lot of stuff, but it's not reallywhere our emotions are made per se.

Boomer Anderson: [00:11:25]Okay. So before we go a little bit deeper into this, I, I just am alwayscurious how somebody like yourself, you know, there's so many different aspectsof the brain than somebody can study, but you got, you dove quite deep and evenwrote a book on anxiety.

What made you interested in this?

Joe LeDoux: [00:11:45]Well, I got started, See, I don't know, deep to go into how I got started, butlet's start with like a direct answer to your question. So in the 19 early1980s, I. had been seventies, I'd been doing human research on so-called splitbrain patients. And we can talk about that because it's very interesting, butlet's answer your question first.

and the research I was doing on the, on the, on thosepatients led me to an interest in emotion and the role of cognition andemotion. so again, we can talk about that later, but let's, that's why I turnedto, Hmm. More studies to study emotion because there were no good techniques tostudy the human right in 1980.

So, I said, well, some of these basic processes, you know,limited doing limbic system theory, I had no reason to question that back then,while the limbic system like the amygdala and so forth is supposedly involvedin these emotional responses. These are very kind of primitive responses, but Iviewed them as unconscious responses.

So what the amygdala was doing was processing danger andcontrolling behavior and physiology in an unconscious way. Conscious fear. Ialways thought of, because of that. Work did I haven't discussed yet about thesplit brain patients led me to the idea that consciousness, it often involvesan interpretation of the situation that we're in.

And so in a dangerous situation, we consciously wouldexperience the fear at, through these higher cortical areas. but we would bebehaviourally controlling, our responses through the amygdala. And the subcorticalareas of the medial cortex there, that are going to generate, you know, likefreezing behavior and increases in heart rate and blood pressure.

So I said, I can study these kinds of primitive behaviors,like freezing and, and physiological changes in animals because it's likelythat those parts of the brain involved, have. I have been conserved andmammalian evolution. but if I want to study the experience of emotion, I haveto study that in a human because of the cerebral cortex, areas that I felt wereinvolved with being relatively new in evolution.

So, I started studying, rats and, and studying how theydetect and respond to danger. again, thinking of that as an unconscious processin 1996, I summarized the work I'd been doing that work had taken me to theamygdala. I didn't go looking for the amygdala. The research took me therebecause I started out asking how does a sound that's paired with a shock.

Change the value of the shot of the, of the sound, theshock, the shock changes the value of the sound when they're associated. Andthen that sound goes into your ear, obviously. And again, it goes through yourauditory system and somehow goes through the brain in a way that causes the ratto freeze and it's blood pressure and heart rate to increase in stress hormonesto be released.

So I wanted to know how that flow through the brain tookplace. And at the time there were new techniques available for mapping pathwaysin the brains of animals. So we're able to, for example, make a lesion in thoseauditory areas and, you know, different groups of animals, a vision in onearea, at least in another area.

And what we found was that the auditor stimulus could hadtwo, w w w. Didn't have to go all the way to the auditory cortex. And that wassurprised because everybody thought the auditory cortex would be involved inany psychologically meaningful kind of auditory response. so what we found wasthat it had to go to the next level down, which is the auditory thalamus.

And when we put these tracing chemicals in the auditorythalamus, sure enough, it went to the auditorium. That was expected, but italso went to the amygdala. So that told us that the auditory thalamus couldconnect directly with the amygdala. And so we lesioned the amygdala and it didthe same thing as lesions of the auditory.

Talbots it prevented the learning conditioning from takingplace. And from there, we were able to work out which parts of the make thelower involved and how they, the information fluid flowed through the amygdala,how it came out to different response systems, to control behavior with oneresponse to control the parasympathetic nervous system with another response.

the sympathetic nervous system of another output pathway,and then finally the stress hormone system through even another pathway. Sothey make the Lewis is kind of a funnel through which all of the environmentalinformation from the senses would be channeled. and then a kind of, a floodgate with all that, all these responses would go down different.

Rivers to flow out so that I, I wrote about all that in, theemotional brain in 1996. that book was very successful. It's still in printafter all these years, how many years I've been on 25, 24 seven. and. So, that,that, that led me to continue to read research and, and I wrote another book in2002 calls, the haptic self that took the, basic ideas about the circuitry.

And now started asking questions about the plasticity andhow all of that connectivity would put, allow us to put ourselves together as acoherent, whole involving, you know, implicit or unconscious aspects of who weare as well as the more conscious aspects. And then I didn't write books againuntil 2015, when I wrote anxious, which was to pursue one of the threads thathad become more important than my work, which was the clinical threat.

And, you know, the possibility of using all this researchabout the brain and, threat detection and so forth. To better understand andpossibly, suggest how to treat fear and anxiety. So that, that's where we gotto, that's how I got that anxious. So

Boomer Anderson: [00:17:55]let's talk about that role of split brains, here, because I'm very curious,like, what did you observe in studying split brains that, that kind of changedyour thinking if you will.

Joe LeDoux: [00:18:07]Yeah, well, you know, I was, Green graduate student that, that time of justcoming into the field, I have no, prior real experience in science or, took nocourses in any kind of science in college or high school, maybe a chemistrycourse here or there or something, but you know, never was inclined so muchtowards science.


Boomer Anderson: [00:18:27]that's fascinating. And now you're one of the thought leaders in the field.

Joe LeDoux: [00:18:33]Well, you know, life, life takes you in different directions. So I was,studying actually, business administration. I had two degrees in business, fromLouisiana state university sounds familiar and the process of, of, getting themaster's degree.

I was taking a course and I was getting interested in kindof like consumer psychology, why consumers buy stuff. And I was trying to learnmore about. The mind and psychology and behavior and so forth. And the, I tookthis course with a guy who was studying a reference and, you know, and learningand memory.

And, you know, I had no idea that actually study the brain.So that was like eyeopening aside. I said, we're going to work in your lab. Andhe said, sure. And so I worked in his lab a bit. We published a couple ofpapers together. and I said, you know, I think I want to like do this for mycareer. And so after I finished the master's, I applied to graduate programswas admitted at the state university of New York at Stony Brook out of longIsland.

Boomer Anderson: [00:19:35]So your master's was in business or was your mess? Yeah,

Joe LeDoux: [00:19:38]Mark. and so, I ended up out on long Island at Stony Brook and yeah. Met aprofessor there named Michael  who haddone all of this split brain work, in California for his PhD 10 years earlier.And he said, sure, you can work in lab. And so I, I started testing split brainpatients with him.

And, you know, the, the, kind of standard story with thosepatients is they have epilepsy they're none of the methods or treatments havebeen working, so they try something else. And the most radical thing that wastried was this kind of like splitting of the brand down the middle. Yeah. To,prevent information from crossing between the two sides.

and that seemed to help medications control the seizures,not sure who first came up with that idea and why they thought that was a goodidea. But, yeah, it's kind of

Boomer Anderson: [00:20:33]along the lines of things like, what was sort of the, when we used to drillinto brains and that kind of stuff. Right. It just seems, it seems like a veryfar fetched idea, but I mean,

Joe LeDoux: [00:20:45]yeah.

But th these patients, you know, we're desperate. many ofthem, you know, teenagers who had been living for years and isolation andhaving seizures so bad that families would have to hold them down on amattress. Nothing was helping. And so the families decided, well, that's, youknow, that this is no life.

So let's see if we can have some kind of life for the child,if this is what we do. and the, the general consequences are rather mild interms of everyday life of the surgery, which is kind of surprising. But anyway,so the brain is split and the original studies showed that. You know, if youpresent a stimulus to the left visual field that goes to the right hemisphereand the right hemisphere doesn't have language.

So the left hemisphere normally would be able to talk aboutit because information crosses over. but, as am I, is my left and ride crossed.I think it is on the video there, so it doesn't matter. But anyway, so, the. Theinformation going into the, the left side of space goes to the righthemisphere, no language there left languages and left hemisphere.

So the left hemisphere speaks, and, and comprehends, but theright hemisphere is holding the information and it needs to talk about. So whenyou ask the patient, what did you see the patients is? I didn't see anything,but if you then, let's say you had shown a picture of an Apple to the leftvisual field.

The patient's left hand connected to the right hemisphericand reaching a bag. Fondant several objects and pull the Apple out. So theright hemisphere perceive the stimulus and could control the behavior, but hecouldn't talk about it. So the big question was, you know, is there like aconscious mind over there on the right hemisphere or was it just more like akind of stimulus response machine?

and because it couldn't talk, you're really good. And,answer that question. But in For my dissertation, we were studying a patientthat we had kind of in the process discovered, could read in his righthemisphere, even though he could only talk, he could read and talk on the left,but in the right, he could only read, but that was an opportunity to probe theright hemisphere with kind of verbal questions about who he was.

And what's going on over there, which had never beenpossible without, any kind of access to a language, communication system overthere. So we would put information in the left side of the, his visual world,flash a picture on the screen. Then we have letters, which said, for example,who are you?

And so then we had a, A set of Scrabble letters that wearranged up there and he would systematically pull out the letters. P a U Lwith his left hand to spell his name. Paul. So here we had a right hemisphere.Couldn't talk, could respond to stimulant. But he knew his name. So obviouslyother kind of sense of self over there.

And we were able to ask the right hemisphere, you know, whatdo you want to do when you grow up? And it said it wanted to be a race cardriver. Spelling out with the scramble bikers. Meanwhile, the left hemisphere,when you talk to, it said, well, he wanted to be an architect or draftsman. soknow, I don't want to make too big a deal out of these little observationsbecause they are just observations.

But the suggestion was that in this mind and this brain, wehad to. Conscious realms. Right? One side, they both knew who they were. Theywere both Paul because they had lived in heard that name and knew how toassociated with their self. but one side had a different goal in life than theother side. So, that was, you know, that was pretty dramatic.

And then they, the last study I'll describe is one in whichwe put. Simultaneously a stimulus on each side of the screen and on, one sidewas a, a picture of some snowy setting, maybe it's this was, the kid lived inVermont, so used to seeing snow. So there was a snow scene and the left in theleft side, and on the right side was, a picture of a chicken.

Oh, chicken claw, I guess. So, and so the two hemisphereseach saw a different picture and so, but each hand then pointed to a differentthing. So the left hand connected to the right hemisphere when saw the snowscene pointed to a shovel and the right-hand connected to the left hemispherewould say, a chicken club pointed to a chicken and.

And so why did you do that? Now? You're talking to the lefthemisphere because that's the one, that's the one that's going to respondverbally. And he said, well, I saw a chicken cloth. So I pointed to the chickenthat all matches. but you need a shovel to clean out the chicken shed. So theleft, the left, the right hemisphere pointed to the shovel because of the snowscene that it's with the left hemisphere, seeing.

The person's own behavior, his own behavior. So he'spointing to a shovel and he had just said, you know, I pointed to the chickenbecause the chicken claw put it together and said, we need a shovel to cleanout the chicken shed. He was a country boy. So he generated a narrative on thespot to make his behavior makes sense.

And so we were, we. We were up in Vermont. We, we had atrailer that we'd go up with a testing trail and then, so we'd see thesepatients, then that night we'd go stay in a motel somewhere, but then we'd goto dinner somewhere and have some drinks and go to the board. And I have a goodtime and talk about it.

And we said, You know, I think Mike probably said itbecause, you know, I was pretty green. I didn't have just in the field and notall this was new, but Mike said something like, well, you know, that'sinteresting. Maybe that's how we, that's what goes on all the time. We generatebehaviors, non-consciously unconsciously and then it, you know, that's verydisturbing if you, your, your conscious mind.

Seize it it's not controlling your behavior. So we had thiskind of cognitive dissonance mechanism involved in consciousness that tells astory, a narrative that makes your life make sense. You're doing all of thesethings all the time that you don't know necessarily why you do them. You justknow that you do them and you generate a narrative to account for that.

So that was a, that was a big deal in terms of my entirecareer, because I've been talking about. That afternoon and Vermont ever sincein terms of, you know, how emotions are made emotions or cognitiveinterpretations or narrations of unconscious processes that, are controllingour behavior and physiology and so forth.

So that's, that's how all the dots came together. but one ofthe other nights at the bar, Mike said, Yeah. We've talked about emotions,being a possible kind of a source of this unconscious information that we needto explain. And so, you know, there's not a lot of research going on in theneuroscience of emotion by now.

You have to consider that and say, yeah, that's what I wantto do. And. So that's when I decided to turn to rats because there are no goodstudies, no waste to study humans. at the time it was no FMR I, or anythinglike that. Just occasionally we'd have some interesting patients that comealong, but it could be a long wait between this interesting patient, the nextone.

All right.

Boomer Anderson: [00:28:35]So there's a natural question that comes here. If we're all producing thisnarrative to justify maybe some dissonance or some. So unconscious actions thatwe're taking are unconscious things that are happening. Can we rewrite thenarrative? And I guess part two of that question is something that youmentioned in the book that, we revert to a mean when it comes to anxiety.

And so if we revert to a mean, is there any point in tryingto address it in the first

Joe LeDoux: [00:29:08]place? We revert to

Boomer Anderson: [00:29:11]a mean with anxiety. So let's say a person has an average level of anxiety.

Joe LeDoux: [00:29:17]Oh, I mean, okay. Yeah. Right, right. So the kind of the set point.

Boomer Anderson: [00:29:20]Yeah, exactly. So I guess, I mean maybe if we break it down part a being, canwe rewrite that narrative?


Joe LeDoux: [00:29:28]yeah. So the, I mean, the, that's what, you know, that's why people go to thetherapy to.

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Joe LeDoux: [00:30:57]rewrite their narrative, or to change the stuff that's making them have anarrative.

And I think that, you know, I, I kind of, at the end ofanxious, I was sort of. Coming to, you know, I didn't quite make it, all theway in terms of my conception of what I wanted to say. But in there, if youread between the lines and the tea leaves, there's the hint of an approach totherapy, would suggest that you have to first tame the amygdala.

and prevented from producing the behavioral responses andthe hyper arousal and all of that, that, that gets in the way. and then onceyou do that, you need to then tame the hippocampus to alter your cognitive memoriesabout your relationship to these kinds of stimulating situations. And then onceyou've done that, you've got a brain that's prepared to do talk therapy.

Now, you know, I think probably most therapists do thosethree things, but because they don't necessarily kind of separate them andsequence them that way, it might, that may be why it's not quite as effectiveas it could be because, you know, if you don't get rid of the amygdala and thearousal that it produces, no matter how much you change beliefs and memoriesand so forth, that arousal will kind of keep them coming back.

And so, it really got to get that amygdala under control. sothat the beliefs that you change can stay changed and then the consciousexperiences that, that result from all of that, that you talked about, the,the, the, in the regular talk therapy need to be consolidated without thedisruption that's caused by all this arousal and the reactivation of thememories and all of that.

So, you know, I don't know how practical it is to actuallypull that off in any kind of situation. except simple phobias, for example, youhave a spider phobic patient. They don't like to do exposure therapy becauseit's just too stressful to see those spiders, but you can present those spiderssubliminally so that they go directly to the amygdala, but the person doesn'tknow they're there.

So you can extinguish the amygdala by repetitivepresentation of the spider over and over again. and this is hypothesis not, andonce you've done that, then, you know, then you can deal with the memories andthen you can do talk therapy. So, you know, I propose that kind of three stepsequence. I don't think anyone's actually tested it, but, Yeah, and I'm not atherapist, so I'm just kind of arm chairing all this, but kind of makes sense.

Boomer Anderson: [00:33:40]I like it. And I'm just kind of thinking about it in terms of things like,common fears, like public speaking or speaking to, relatively. I guess speakingto somebody who would be perceived as superior to you and getting that nerves,could the same framework work in those situations or is that just,

Joe LeDoux: [00:34:00]yeah, I think just some extent, miss a couple of other things.

if we, if we want to do it, you asked about, set point thatthat's what, Let me okay, here back step one step. So, you know, the way tothink about all this in terms of the brain is that each symptom that a personexperiences is a product of the different brain circuit, you know, it's adifferent symptom.

So for example, Avoidance behavior, which is the classicproblem and anxiety people avoid the situations, you know, hyper avoidsituations that are gonna trigger anxiety. And so they, their social life canget compromised by that. And another problem is hyper arousal where you just feeltoo wired up and tense all the time.

and those two symptoms are products of, you know, Differentcircuits. I mean, they might overlap to some extent, but, you know, forexample, the amygdala is involved in, controlling, freezing behavior and bloodpressure and the hormones and all that. So it's kind of like a reactive system,but avoidance is a more active behavior.

It's you know, you're, you're. Choosing to, it's more of adecision that you make about not going somewhere. You have some control overit, but you choose not to do it cause you don't want the consequences. So, thatalso involves the negative, but also involves another area called the bednucleus.

I'm sorry. this would be the nucleus of companies oftenassociated with reward and positive stuff, but it's also involved in aversivebehavior like avoidance. So the, the, You know, it's all very complicated, butthe bottom line is to think of symptoms as potentially separate targets in thebrain for treatment.

So you need to figure out how to, what the symptoms are andthen ask what are the possible, brain circuits for each symptom. And even ifyou don't know the answer to all the brain circuitry, if you treat each symptomas a kind of a functional module, that has to be. Change. then it, it opens upa different perspective, on the thing rather than like, you got a thing calledanxiety and you can change all of that at once.

You got to it. These are anxiety is a social construct. It'snot a thing, you know, it's something we made up. and so we're not going tofind anxiety in the brain. Same thing with fear. We're not gonna find fear asfear circuit in the brain or an anxiety circuit or depression circuit. Theseare just labels.

For symptoms. I mean, if you go to a therapist and havedepression, you could have depression in seven or eight or maybe a hundreddifferent ways, depending on which things get checked out on the checklist.let's say you've got PTSD. There, there may be a hundred symptoms of pre-job.And how many of them, a bunch of symptoms of PTSD and you only need like maybethree to count as having PTSD.

You could have, let's say there were three that said they'reKen symptoms and you need to have three, those 10 things can be combined in alot of different ways to give rise, to quote proteostasis, not a thing. It'sjust a collection of symptoms that have been kind of socially grouped togetherby a group of psychiatrists.

They call it that.

Boomer Anderson: [00:37:28]So if I'm to approach this more with like a systematic way and kind of an N ofone approach, And just sort of look at my own anxieties around, let's say maybepublic speaking or this fear of superior people, quote, unquote superior peoplethe right way for me to approach it would be to look at some of those symptoms,like getting warmer or sweating while public speaking first and associatingthat with the brain circuit, rather than jumping immediately to the, take apill for my ill kind of situation.

Is that, do I have that right?

Joe LeDoux: [00:38:05]what would jumping to what

Boomer Anderson: [00:38:07]I guess, you know, for lack of a better jumping right into benzodiazepines, forinstance, and I don't know how much you can comment on that,

Joe LeDoux: [00:38:15]but yeah. So, okay. So let's take, you know, some of these physiologicalsymptoms, you know, those are controlled by the autonomic nervous system.

And the, what we also know is that there is. Yeah, this is,it's kind of over statement. oversimplification that, ended up in thescientific literature and probably has been again, further up with simplyoversimplified in the lay literature, but the parasympathetic component of the,autonomic nervous system.

Has some countervailing force over the sympathetic. So thesympathetic is what drives kind of the fight flight and the parasympathetic canslow it down. And what the ancient yogis figured out without knowing anythingabout physiology per se, is that, you know, controlled breathing exercises,activate the parasympathetic system and that.

Slows down the effects of the sympathetic. So that's an all,that's always a really good place to start because that's something everybodycan do. It's just, you know, it's not, you don't have to like go jump into fullfledged meditation, just learning how to control your breath and using that.And the problem with these things is they're hardest to implement when you needthem.

The most. But if you, if you really make an effort to, and Ithink it has to be a practice of practice that practice of learning to control.You're breathing so that you can put yourself at ease, and you know, an instantor two by going through a few breaths, because you've made that a routine thatyour body knows how to do.

So once you do that, then, you know, you've kind of done thework that the, some of the work that, that subliminal stimulation of theamygdala is trying to do, because you just turned off the arousal in a sense,You know, that's not going to be the whole answer, but you know, maybe we canfind other kinds of things like that, that, are, helpful for the behavioralresponses.

You know, if you're less aroused, then you'll freeze less ina Southern situation because the arousal kind of locks you into the situationover time. so it, you know, I think it all starts with kind of good. Breathinghygiene. And being able to use that to slow you down enough, to kind of takeyour perspective and slow your mind down as well as your body, and then makedecisions about what can I do next.

and you know, I, I'm kind of. I work at the level of thiskind of behavior and physiology. So I'm not an expert on telling you what to doto fix the more complicated stuff. but, I do think that, you know, that's oneway to change your set point, right? Yeah. Is to lower the arousal so that theother stuff couldn't be, more effectively changed.

I mean, that's what therapy is, is kind of set pointadjustment. once you, if you can lower your arousal, then therapy can help you,make the cognitive changes. You need to, It'd be less, alert to stimulate andto be, more concerned with, to be more aware of when you need to breathe and soforth.

I don't know. I'm I'm not, this is all BS. I'm just talkingout of it. Oh

Boomer Anderson: [00:41:47]no. I mean, it's, it's fascinating. I think just, you know, what, what isexciting to me about what you said there is that we can. And kind of reset theset point if you will, which is means that there, there is hope for people outthere who are battling stuff like this.

Joe LeDoux: [00:42:03]I mean the set point idea when I wrote about, I think I found out later that,you know, others have talked about this, I talked about at the beginning of, ofanxious. yeah, what I found in myself was that, if, some, nature's aboutsomething. And for whatever reason, something I've done or the world changed orwhatever that anxiety goes away at, just like made room for another one.

And then, yeah. So that was the idea that we, wherever youare on that set point, you move one out and the next one comes up and if you'renot a terribly anxious person, then you know, it's not. It's low, but if you'reanxious, then you got more of

Boomer Anderson: [00:42:46]those. You're always going to search for something to fill in.


Joe LeDoux: [00:42:49]I mean, I think that's the idea that we each have at level. And I guess the goalof therapy should be thought of, is to modify that where we are on that level

Boomer Anderson: [00:43:00]question for you, Joseph. Cause there's a lot of emerging, I guess, researchand work being done in the world of psychedelics and eh, If you're willing topontificate on it, just in terms of how you see psychedelics and their rolepotentially for things like anxiety.

Joe LeDoux: [00:43:20]you know, I don't, I don't really, I haven't followed that, so I don't reallyknow much about it. I think, you know, from what I've seen there looks likethey're promising approaches. but I can't find them in the expertise andexperience in that.

Boomer Anderson: [00:43:33]Okay. Going back to can wrap up now with a question on consciousness.

Cause you brought it up earlier and I know consciousnessesis one of these emerging fields and there's still a lot. We don't know. Wheredo you think we are in terms of the continuum of understanding consciousnessand perhaps using it as a tool to, to address anxiety, if you think so.

Joe LeDoux: [00:43:57]Well, I think that, you know, one of the big disconnects in the kind ofacademic approach to things has been, it's been a kind of resurgence ofinterest in consciousness and through philosophy and cognitive science.

but that has totally ignored, two things that are near anddear to me, one is memory and the other is, emotion. and so it's, it's a bitmysterious that like, you know, all of the work on consciousness that gets anykind of, academic attention has been, on visual perception, you know, how do wesee.

Color red. I mean, okay. That's, that's interesting andimportant, but what people care about is how do our experiences come about?What ha what about those memories that, you know, we want them, we love goodmemories and we hate bad ones. And, so how, but where did those experiencescome from? How to remember our childhood and how do we envision our future?

as emotional beings and that just, hasn't been a major topicin the science of consciousness. And that's what I've been trying to introduceand bring in to that field. it's been a slow process, a slow process because.the field is, is so focused on visual perception. and so I think of it as kindof acute, you know, outside, thing, I think.

yeah. Okay. That's, that's interesting someday. We'll get tothat. but with a couple of philosophers and scientists that I'm, I'm close to.Richard Brown, a philosopher and how Kwan Lauer. Who's both a philosopher and acognitive scientist. We've been doing a lot of writing on the nature ofconsciousness and the role of emotions, especially fear, how consciousness andfear, how fear is a conscious experience and how that comes about.

And what we tried to do is take these standard, visualperception, models of consciousness and. Just expand them by saying, okay, wehave one mechanism of consciousness in our brain. It's a higher order,cognitive processing system involving prefrontal cortex and some other areas ofthe brain. But let's say prefrontal cortex for the sake of discussion and whatit does in the case of visual perception, is it, it re represents the visualstimulus.

The color red say, or a picture of an Apple into somethingthat is a higher order, state, higher order representation. That is the statethat you become conscious of it be because there's no. Visual experience thatis simply, you know, color and isolation, or even a visual stimulus and notisolation. Our experiences are multi-dimensional multimodal.

So it can't just be visual cortex. That's making visualexperience. Visual experience is, you know, you're experiencing a scene. Soit's very complex. And we know that seeing perception involves areas like thehippocampus. So the visual the, you got to enter. Yeah. Right. Say visualcortex and, object, memory, and the hippocampus.

And also maybe some episodic memory about that scene, inthat, campus as well with that all has to be put together somewhere. And, youknow, the prefrontal cortex may be where we can put all that together and. Sowhat about emotion while emotion is simply, you know, your, your processing ofstimulating scenes, but with the addition that your information that your heartis beating faster, that, that your palms are sweating, that your muscles aretense, that you have some manic memory.

The thing you're looking at is a dangerous thing, and maybeeven episodic memories about that kind of danger in your life. And so all ofthat is, you know, Put together as an amalgam and working memory. And out ofthat comes the experience. I mean, yeah. So it's easy to say out of that comesthe experience, but every conscious experience up until the last fraction ofthe second is non-conscious.

So what we can study very well scientifically is that allthat non-conscious processing that we know. And we can, we can determine inpeople, what should those non-conscious processes, the person's experiencing byjust asking them what, you know, did you see the Apple? and we can follow thekind of activity that is generating the content that the report comes from.

and when you can't give a report of what it is, because youdegraded the stimulus or done it, you know, presented subliminally, you get allthat processing, but it stopped short of prefrontal cortex.

Boomer Anderson: [00:48:51]Wow. Okay. Joseph there's there's a lot we can go into, but I want to beconsciously, that's almost an entire, another episode on follow-up questions.

Joe LeDoux: [00:49:01]Let's do another one.

Boomer Anderson: [00:49:02]I want to be cognizant of your time, but thank you so much for, for taking thetime today to, to spend. spend it with me and just answer a few questions, butagain, we'd love to have you back for a round two, but where can people findout more about you, your work, all of your books?

Joe LeDoux: [00:49:18]Well, I think the, the easiest place is, my personal website, which and everything is there in one way or another. All right.Including my music career, such as maybe that's glorifying, it's not a careerI'm with my music, a sideline. I write music sometimes to go with books and allthe make Deloitte songs are about mind and brain and them disorders.

I have a few side projects there. so am I. A colleague andfriend Colin Dempsey, a great guitar player and player and singing bass in megaloads,Daniela Schiller. Who's the drummer. They make the Lloyd's is also a verywell-respected, cognitive neuroscientist. And Tyler vote the biologist and theband is a guitar player and then environmental scientists.

So, yeah, my books are all their music. The. Press about allof this stuff, whatever logs, you know, how whole nine yards,

Boomer Anderson: [00:50:19]well, we're going to link to all of it in the show notes. And Joseph, thank youagain for being so generous with your time. This is a fantastic conversationand looking forward to the next one.

Joe LeDoux: [00:50:29]It's very nice

Boomer Anderson: [00:50:31]to all the superhumans listening out there have an absolutely Epic day.

There are times when we run up on time. And it seems likewe're just getting into a topic and with dr. LeDoux, that is certainly thecase. I hope to have him back soon to talk about consciousness, the latest workaround that, but I really enjoyed the conversation and it shed so much lightfor me on things related to anxiety.

If you enjoyed this one, Head on over to Apple podcasts andleave a five star review because each of those reviews helps enormously withgetting the word out. The show notes are decoding that'sL E D O U X. And thank you so much for tuning in to another episode of thedecoding superhuman podcast.

Have an Epic day. .


Dr. Joseph LeDoux
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