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In the Name of God بسم الله
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Limbic system - The frontier to be conquered


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image.png.1291f409319eafadcd54499bb06e1e3f.png

 

I will start by giving a very simplified functional subdivision of the human Central Nervous System. Based on function, human brain can be divided into three areas

1.     Brain stem: Brain stem is an upward continuation of spine. It is concerned with functions like controlling heart rate, regulation of blood pressure, breathing and some digestive functions to name just a few. Some of these are vital functions so an injury to brainstem could mean immediate death. That is why special care is taken to stabilize the neck in road traffic accidents.

2.     Limbic System: This is a group of structures in our brain which together are involved in controlling behavior and emotions- Anger, pleasure, fear and punishment, reward, rage, curiosity, hunger, satiety, sexual drive, motivation and passivity. All of these come from the limbic system.

3.     Cerebral Cortex: This is what we call the higher brain in laymen terms. It performs the ‘executive functions’. The prefrontal cortex(PFC) occupies the anterior portion of the frontal lobes and is thought to be one of the most complex anatomical and functional structures of the mammalian brain.

  • All living creatures have some system for maintain vital body functions like breathing in place of brainstem.
  • All vertebrates possess a limbic system so dogs, cats and other animals are able to feel and express emotions.
  • Amongst vertebrates the only classes to possess the characteristic cerebral cortex are mammals (and some reptiles, lolz, so the conspiracy theories about the world being controlled by an elite group of reptiles could turn out to be true)
  • Amongst the mammals Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) bestowed the humans with the most highly developed cerebral cortex of all its creations on earth. When I say highly developed I don’t mean size or surface area relative to body, I mean functionally development and intellectual capabilities. Humans are probably intellectually highest of all the earthly species created by Allah.

 It is because of this highly developed cortex that humans sit at the top of the hierarchy and have been called ‘Vicegerents of Allah’ on earth. Of course, not any two footed being in human form can be the vicegerent of Allah(سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى). He also has to manifest divine attributes in both his private and social life.

So our cerebral cortex is capable of ‘higher mental functions’ like thinking, abstraction, planning, decision making and controlling the limbic system! This last function is probably its most important function.

The brainstem functions are not under our conscious control. Obviously we cannot tell our bodies increase or decrease the heart rate or blood pressure. Higher mental functions are almost always voluntary.

The limbic system sits on the the borderline between brain stem and cerebral cortex both structurally and functionally (the word limbic means borderline in latin) What does this mean? This means that we can choose to exercise control over our behavior and emotions using the executive powers of cerebral cortex or we can let the limbic system run loose and let it do whatever it wants in which case a human would be expressing a range of unbridled emotions anger, curiosity, sexual drive etc

Let’s look at some differences in capabilities of humans vs animals which are manifested by virtue of an intellectual cortex and are important from a religious perspective.

  1.  Animals are incapable of learning about haram and halal. That’s why Allah(سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) didn’t make it obligatory on them to respect these boundaries.  It is the cerebral cortex and its associated areas which give the humans the capability learn this and differentiate between the two in various life situations. But if the humans choose not to utilize the cerebral cortex for this purpose and let their limbic system(emotions) take over, they lose the differentiation and in those instances they are acting like animals. This can easily be observed in the most primal of behaviours like consuming food and copulating and also in advanced actions like earning rizq through unlawful means.
  2. Animals cannot be taught moral and ethics. If your pet dog steals a piece of meat you can arouse feelings of fear and punishment in it but you cannot teach him why stealing is wrong. This is again due to the absence of the cerebral cortex that humans possess and probably this is the reason why animals won’t get punished for misconducts in the akhirah like humans.
  3.  Animals cannot differentiate between tahara and nijasat. Again this is something which is a function of cerebral cortex. Physical purity is something which is very crucial in Islamic faith.
  4. The principles of mahram/namehram can only be comprehended by humans.

Looking at the above we can see how intellect elevates humans from the level of animals to vicegerents of Allah. Maybe this is why most of things that are counted as sins in islam are in principle limbic system(emotions) overriding the cortex(intellect)

  • Anger- limbic system taking charge,
  • Zina and haram lust – limbic system taking over humans,
  • Consuming haram food and even stuffing yourself with halal food- limbic system satiety centre gone out of control,
  • Curiosity-  Even though the mechanism behind curiosity isn’t very well understood because it is difficult to differentiate curiosity from information seeking but what research has discovered so far is that a part of the limbic cortex is involved in both regulation and reward that is associated with curiosity(1). In Surah Hujraat (49:12) Allah forbids us from spying and ‘Tajassus’ but if limbic system is not controlled the person could be snooping around other people’s affairs, just like an animal would sniffs and examines any object in vicinity.
  • Gambling – During gambling intellectual areas of the brain like prefrontal cortex show less activity than limbic areas depicting a link between gambling and limbic system(2) What’s interesting is that in an animal study conducted on gambling ,some species of animal demonstrated the same choices and psychological behavior as pathological gamblers. So, when Allah(سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى) made gambling haram it was probably to not let humans reduce themselves to animals.
  • Drinking –Alcohol impairs functioning on the prefrontal cortex, disrupts normal pattern of neuronal activity required for decision making and thinking and hence leads to limbic system taking over. This is manifested a as lack of inhibition in people commonly observed in people who has ingested alcohol.(3)

If we look at Jihad bil nafs in medical terms it’s just a battle between limbic system and cerebral cortex.

Looking at the lives of Ahlulbayt (عليه السلام) we won’t find any instance where we see limbic system ruling over them. There is a famous incident where in the battle of Khandaq, where Imam Ali(عليه السلام) was on Amr bin abde Wud’s chest and about to kill him but then he abused Imam Ali(عليه السلام). At this Imam Ali (عليه السلام) moved from Amr’s chest and walked away. After the battle was over people asked Imam Ali(عليه السلام) the reason why he had spared Amr’s life when he had first overpowered him. At this he replied,” When I had floored him, he abused me, as a result of which I was overcome by rage. I feared that if I were to kill him in that state of anger, it would be for pacifying my anger. So I stepped away from him till my fury subsided when I returned to sever his head from his body only for the happiness of Allah and in obedience to Him.” (Manaqib Al Abi Talib by Ibn Shahrashub)

In Sahifa e Sajjadiya, Imam Sajjad (عليه السلام) has described three types of worshippers

        i.  Those who worship Allah because of fear of hell

       ii. Those who worship Allah to get to Jannah

      iii. Those who worship Allah because they find Allah worthy of worship.

He(عليه السلام) says the third is the highest form of worship. Why? Because the first two are worship of punishment and reward (limbic system worships) while the third is the worship of intellect (Prefrontal cortex). 

So if we learn to control our limbic systems through reflection and worship gradually, we gain power over our nafs and then no amount of worldly temptation and desires can then take us away from out true purpose, that is submission to Allah(سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى).

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4635443/

(2) https://neuroanthropology.net/2009/05/23/gambling-and-compulsion-play-at-your-own-risk/#:~:text=For gamblers%2C the gambling references,high” from an emotional response.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3593065/

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  • Advanced Member

As salaamun aleikum sister, 

SubhanAllah, sister! Wow! Thanks so much for sharing this information with us and in such a simple to understand manner. I think this knowledhge has the potential to really help people to raise their level of behavior many notches higher. Sometimes just knowing whats going on and why we experience what we experience can help a person to change things about themselves for the better, and maybe even with less stress and hardship.

Thanks again!

W/s

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      General Information
      Period: The Abbasid Caliphate, 132-218 H/750-833 AD,
      Ruler: Abu Ja‘far ‘Abd Allah al-Ma’mun ibn al-Rashid, (194-218 H/810-833 AD)
      Place of Mint: Samarqand in Central Asia (present-day Uzbekistan)
      Date: 202 H (817-818 AD)
      Metal and denomination: Silver dirham
      Weight and measurement: 2.87 g / Ø 25.5 mm
      Legend and Design
      OBVERSE
      Field
      la ilah illa / Allah wahdahu / la sharik lahu / al-mashriq 
      “no god but God, unique, He has no associate, East
      Inner margin
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      “in the name of God this dirham was struck in Samarqand the year two and two hundred”
      Outer margin
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      “Muhammad is the messenger of God who sent him with guidance and the religion of truth that he might make it supreme over all other religions” 
      Sura 9 (al-Tawba), v. 33 (in part)
      REVERSE
      Field
      lillah / muhammad rasul Allah / al-ma’mun khalifat Allah / mimma amara bihi al-amir al-rida / wali ‘ahd al-muslimin ‘ali ibn musa / ibn ‘ali ibn abi talib / dhu’l-riyasatayn 
      “for God, Muhammad is the messenger of God, al-Ma’mun is the Caliph of God, among the things ordered by the Prince al-Rida, Recipient of the Oath of the Muslims ‘Ali ibn Musa ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, Possesser of the Two Headships”
      Margin
      muhammad rasul Allah arsalahu bi’l-huda wa din al-haqq li-yuzhirahu ‘ala al-din kullihi wa law kariha al-mushrikun 
      “Muhammad is the messenger of God who sent him with guidance and the religion of truth that he might make it supreme over all other religions, even though the polytheists may detest it” 
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      Part 1 - The IRC (#Shia) Days!
      Sit children, gather around and let me speak to you of tales of times before there was ever high-speed Internet, Wi-Fi, YouTube or Facebook; a time when the Internet was a much different place and 15 yearold me was still trying to make sense of it all. 
      In the 90s, the Internet was a very different place; no social media, no video streaming and downloading an image used to take anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on how fast your 14.4k monster-sized dial-up modem was.  Of course you also had to be lucky enough for your mom to have the common courtesy not to disconnect you when you’re in the middle of a session; that is if you were privileged enough to have Internet at home and not have to spend hours at school or libraries, or looking for AOL discs with 30 hour free trials..(Breathe... breathe... breathe) -  I digress.
      Back in 1998 when Google was still a little computer sitting in Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s basement, I was engaged in endless debates with our Sunni brothers on an IRC channel called #Shia.  (Ok, a side note here for all you little pups.  This is not read as Hashtag Shia, the correct way of reading this is “Channel Shia”.  The “Hashtag” was a much cooler thing back in the day than the way you young’uns use it today).
      For those of you who don’t know what IRC was (or is... as it still exists), it stands for Internet Relay Chat, which are servers available that you could host chat rooms in and connect through a client.  It was like the Wild West where anyone can go and “found” their own channel (chat room), become an operator and reign down their god-like dictator powers upon the minions that were to join as a member of their chat room.  Luckily, #Shia had already been established for a few years before by a couple of brothers I met from Toronto, Canada (Hussain A. and Mohammed H.).  Young and eager, I quickly rose up the ranks to become a moderator (@Ali) and the chatroom quickly became an important part of my adolescent years.  I learned everything I knew from that channel and met some of the most incredible people.  Needless to say, I spent hours and dedicated a good portion of my life on the chatroom; of course, the alternate was school and work but that was just boring to a 15-year-old.
      In the 90’s, creating a website was just starting to be cool so I volunteered to create a website for #Shia to advertise our services, who we are, what we do as well as have a list of moderators and administrators that have volunteered to maintain #Shia.  As a result, #Shia’s first website was hosted on a friend’s server under the URL http://786-110.co.uk/shia/ - yes, ShiaChat.com as a domain did not exist yet – was too expensive for my taste so we piggybacked on one of our member’s servers and domain name.
      The channel quickly became popular, so popular that we sometimes outnumbered our nemesis, #Islam.  As a result, our moderator team was growing as well and we needed a website with an application that would help us manage our chatroom in a more efficient style.  Being a global channel, it was very hard to do “shift transfers” and knowledge transfers between moderators as the typical nature of a chatroom is the fact that when a word is typed, its posted and its gone after a few seconds – this quickly became a pain point for us trying to maintain a list of offenders to keep an eye out for and have it all maintained in a historical, easily accessible way.
      A thought occurred to me.  Why not start a “forum” for the moderators to use?  The concept of “forums” or discussion boards was new to the Internet – it was the seed of what we call social media today.  The concept of having a chat-style discussion be forever hosted online and be available for everyone to view and respond to at any time from anywhere was extremely well welcomed by the Internet users.  I don’t recall what software or service I initially used to set that forum up, but I did – with absolutely no knowledge that the forum I just set up was a tiny little acorn that would one day be the oak tree that is ShiaChat.com.
      [More to follow, Part 2..]
      So who here is still around from the good old #Shia IRC days?
    • By Muntazir e Mahdi in Bayaan e Muntazir
         0
      کتنی بار تو انسانیت کو مارے گا بتا؟
      کب تک تو کائینات کو رلائے گا بتا؟

      کعبة سے تو کرارؑ کو کرپایا نہ ختم
      کب تک تو دیواروں سے مٹائے گا بتا؟

      نامِ حق سے باطل تیرا کام ہے منافق
      کب تک تو حق کو جھٹلائے گا بتا؟

      تیری سیاہ روح، نہ کوئلہ، ہے جہنم کا ایندھن
      کب تک تو جلتے در سے منہ موڑے کا بتا؟

      آتا ہے بقيةللّٰهؑ اور دَورِ عدل و انصاف
      کب تک تو اپنے انجام سے بھاگے گا بتا؟

      تو  نے بہایا نہ صرف آب تو نے بیایا ہے لہو
      کب تک تو منتظر کو اس سے لکھوائے گا بتا؟
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