What is Interoception?

We often associate perception with the five senses which orient ourselves to the outside world. Conscious experience during our waking hours relies on these senses. Constricting perception to just sense perception is flawed because it leaves out an often overlooked, but vital part of perception: interoception. In many ways interoception is like the 6th sense we know we have but taken for granted. It is defined by how we sense and feel what is going on inside our bodies and minds. It is our interoception that enables us to say how we feel when we hear, “how are you?” Almost everyone replies, “Good” or some variation restricted to several words we can count on one hand. Verbalizing interoception is simple, however what is actually going on is anything but. Interoception functions to monitor the state of our organs, nervous system, thoughts, and emotions; it basically oversees the whole body. 

The Range of Interoception

Interoception allows us to assess our current bodily and mental states. With this knowledge, we are now primed to act accordingly to survive. Human beings have the most sophisticated form of interoception on this planet because of our thinking mind. Our minds can assess internal states and weigh out options to resolve problems, maintain our bodies, or quit something. More primitive forms of life can assess internal states but have difficulty weighing out the options on how to act which often results in reflexive instinct. Interoception in humans have a seemingly infinite range in terms of what we can feel. Here is a simple diagram of that range:

This does not fully encompass what it means to be interoceptive. However, it does represent the range in which we can perceive our internal states. Perceiving positive and negative thought and emotion is self-explanatory – we all know what it’s like to be down in the dumps or flying high. We also know what it means to be in the middle, operating in what is called the default mode network. This network is a neural circuit that our bodies default to when nothing interesting is going on. Some may call this state boredom, I call it balance. It is literally placed at the fulcrum at which this balance operates. More formally, the default mode network (DMN) is the neural circuits of the brain the operate when we are at rest. Not sleeping per say, but more in a state of content, a state where all our needs have been met. I place the DMN at the middle of the interoception range because since we are content, our brains are not driven towards accomplishing a task. Positive and negative internal states often lead to our nervous systems being driven out of the DMN to alleviate pain, satisfy our needs, or in the case of positive emotion, to relax or prolong the blissfulness. 

Interoception and Genes

The act of perception and interoception can run through our entire being. How deep do they run? Do they run as deep as to influence our genes? Surely sense perception does and also interoception of our physiological states like hunger, thirst, and fatigue. But how about perceiving thoughts, emotions, and/or experiences. Manifestation is popular nowadays, but is there any science that proves that thought alone can change our gene expression? Thinking about how you want to feel or what you want to achieve puts your body in an as-if loop – a concept coined by Antonio Damasio in his book called Decartes’ Error (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Descartes%27_Error)An as-if loop is manifestation in action. You’re not having an authentic experience, but you are “tricking” your body as if you are having an experience. We do this all the time when we relive the past or manifest the future, and it’s not always pleasant due to the pitfalls of rumination and anxiety. If as-if loops are all fueled by the mind, body-loops are initiated by both the mind and body in response to an actual experience in the outside world. Body-loops are more robust than as-if loops; they can literally change you (Example of this in action). Manifesting an as-if loop and having it become an actuality in the form of a body-loop surely changes your gene expression. It is by this mechanism that baffles doctors when we see spontaneous remissions in cancer patients, or someone who has been deemed paralyzed but suddenly regains movement. Explaining how people heal from life threating ailments through the science in this post is overly simplistic. These events are miracles of a natural ordering principle that governs healing. This type of healing only happens by the grace of God and cannot be thoroughly explained by science. 

Joe Dispenza using these concepts to heal himself – A real-life miracle.
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