Thinking is a mechanism that enables an organism to create a virtual simulation of itself and its environment. It allows it to predict opportunities and threats resulting from its potential interactions with its environment. During the process of thinking the mind creates a series of mental scenarios of its interactions with its environment and chooses the best one. But how does the mind know which scenario to choose?
It turns out that the so-called somatic markers are the mechanism necessary to choose the right scenario defining the set of actions to be undertaken. A somatic marker is a change in the body (an emotion) that occurs when you mentally act out a scenario.
The concept of somatic markers was first introduced by the Portuguese professor of behavioral neurology Antoni Damasio. In the book “Descartes’ Error”(which basically changed my life), he presents how the existence of somatic markers is essential to undertaking any rational decision. According to the author, the mistake that Descartes made was to assume that the rational mind works in isolation from emotions. Damasio shows that it is the emotion or somatic marker that is necessary for the body to make any decision regarding its well-being.
In simple terms, the mind plays out several possible scenarios and at the same time feels the physiological changes (emotions) that occur in its body. On this basis, it selects the scenario related to the most pleasant or least unpleasant physiological change.
If the virtual body experiences danger in the virtual world, an emotion of stress will arise in the real world, i.e. in the real body.
In the article on stress, we saw that stress is a state of the body’s readiness to take action to avoid danger.
So now we can see that the body reacts with a real somatic change to a virtual threat. In this way, the virtual world becomes the real world from the point of view of the body. The word becomes flesh. Events that are merely simulations cause reactions similar to those that would occur in the body if these events were happening in the real environment of the organism.
Thanks to this mechanism, the body can react much faster to a possible threat. If a mere thought image of a predator prepares the body to act, it will significantly shorten the reaction time when a real predator jumps out for the bushes.
However, this solution works well only when a thought about a threat concerns a very near future (next second, next minute). The situation becomes much more complicated in the case of projections concerning more distant events.