Why is breathing both voluntary and involuntary?

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by aaqucnaona, Mar 6, 2012.

  1. aaqucnaona

    aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie

    How is the conscious control of breathing in our close cousins? How about further back to other mammals and reptiles? What is the evolutionary background to this dual control? And why only breathing when heart, digestion, etc are absolutely involuntary?
  2. Fraggle Rocker

    Fraggle Rocker Moderator

    I don't know if this is true of all air-breathers (mammals and birds), but any animal that spends time in the water has to be able to control its breathing consciously.

    This is so important that whales and the other cetaceans (who have no technique to keep their nostrils above water while sleeping, the way aquatic birds can) do not sleep like we do. They only shut down one brain hemisphere at a time, so the other one can continue to regulate breathing.

    I wonder what kind of ritual they have when the sleeping hemisphere wakes up. Do the two furiously exchange information to "catch up"? Or does each hemisphere have a secret "private life"? Now that's what I call schizophrenia. :)
  3. GeoffP

    GeoffP Caput gerat lupinum

    1. Because you always need to breathe.

    2. Because sometimes you need to breathe more.
  4. wellwisher

    wellwisher Valued Senior Member

    You can alter the heart rate with thought. For example, I can meditate to calm my heart and get it down to 60 beats per minute. I then start thinking about a sexy babe and get the heart to cycle quicker. Some yoga masters can get the heart to less than 10 bpm.

    Breathing is easier is control. However, if you don't pay attention to it, it defaults back to normal rate. By controlling breathing we can alter the amount of terminal electron acceptor or the amount of oxygen in the body. If I hold my breath while exercising, I can cause a global change that will cause my muscles to build up lactic acid sooner. But I can also use this technique to cause my muscles to build up an anaerobic energy source, which I forget the name. This explosive energy can be induced by anaerobic training. Someone who does aerobic and makes use of plenty of O2 or terminal electron acceptor, may not have that same explosive energy since that anaerobic pathway is an alternate.

    You can sort of control your digestive system too. As an example, some people are shy about going to the bathroom in front of others. This mental block can lead to constipation. Now the digestive system is altered. It is mind over matter. Sometimes it take a little reverse engineering or ingenuity to do what should not happen.
  5. spidergoat

    spidergoat alien lie form

    I always thought you were the equivalent of a mental laxative.
  6. billvon

    billvon Valued Senior Member

    Because being able to regulate breathing is necessary for survival for creatures that swim, as is the ability to breathe when you are asleep. Thus animals that do not have this ability survive less often than animals who do.

    On the other hand, there is no benefit to having conscious control of heart rate and peristalsis - so there's no reason to evolve it.
  7. wlminex

    wlminex Banned

    Ans. to Thread Title? . . . . dual mode so that if we forget to breathe,
    we don't die! Kind of like paying taxes, I'd guess (<--humor here)
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2012
  8. KilljoyKlown

    KilljoyKlown Whatever

    Control over breathing is only possible to a point. IMO it is impossible to consciously hold your breath until you die. I'm not sure anybody can voluntarily even hold their breath until they lose consciousness. But if you have a need to hold your breath for a minute or two, it can come in handy.
  9. wynn

    wynn ˙

    As I have hard from experienced meditators and also have some experience of it myself, heartbeat and some other processes can be voluntarily affected too.

    This is very useful, to have a way to calm down an agitated body/mind.

    Although by affecting breathing, we affect the flow of energy through the body as a whole; so via breathing, we can affect the heartbeat etc.
  10. wynn

    wynn ˙

    Affecting the process of breathing is about a lot more than just holding your breath.

    Long, short, deep, shallow, fast, slow - these are some of the basic ways in which we can affect our breathing.
  11. KilljoyKlown

    KilljoyKlown Whatever

    Yes you are right, I was just saying our control over breathing has it's limits. One thing I've noticed in movies is when someone wants to hide under water and they grab a reed to breath through. If you've ever tried to get enough air through a straw before you just have to know it has it's limits too, and they aren't much better than holding your breath.:D
  12. Asguard

    Asguard Kiss my dark side

    swimming makes sense except for one thing, you can only conciously control your breathing for about 1 min. Try it, try conciously breathing for a extended period of time, you cant do it and its annoying anyway. Even when you swim certain breathing pattens are automatic, the mamalian diving reflex for instance which is what alows aquatic mamals to stay under water for so long and which also helps us (you can hold your breath longer under water than you can in air)
  13. elte

    elte Valued Senior Member

    There is another body function sorta like that, which is eye blinking.
  14. elte

    elte Valued Senior Member

    The question is interesting. I found the Wikipedia article interesting, too.

    The best answer that I can say based on my experience in electronics is that the nervous control circuits are in two different places, rather parallel, up to some point where they somehow get spliced together before going on down to the diaphragm.
  15. Tiassa

    Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ...

    Minor illustrative value

    In a broader sense I would suggest it is the evolutionarily advantageous arrangement. It allows greater flexibility in how one's body responds to demand.

    To the other, imagine wars if people couldn't control their own breathing.

    Extreme, I know, but hopefully of some minor illustrative value.
  16. aaqucnaona

    aaqucnaona This sentence is a lie




  17. wynn

    wynn ˙

    I take it you have little or no experience with meditation.

  18. elte

    elte Valued Senior Member

    Oh cool, Aaqucnaona.
  19. Fraggle Rocker

    Fraggle Rocker Moderator

    Yes, but it's not the same kind of direct control via the CNS that you have over breathing. You can take control of the muscles that move your lungs. You can start them, stop them and reverse them at will. You can move them faster or slower.

    You don't have that level of control over your heartbeat. What you do is calm your mind, at the same time sending conscious signals to all your motor nerves to relax. Your heart senses a reduced need for blood so it slows down.

    Your heart rate is controlled almost entirely by the concentration of CO2 in your blood. You have indirect control over that, which gives you an even more indirect ability to modify your pulse.
    Indirectly, as I noted. It's qualitatively different from the way we can affect our breathing. You can be seriously out of breath and still halt your breathing: as an obvious example, because your head is under water. At the other extreme you can be well supplied with oxygen and still breathe at a furious rate. This will result in hyperoxygenation, a sort of "cheap high." (And I may not have spelled that word correctly, if it's even the right word.)
    If you mean simply holding your breath, then that's true. Your animal brain overrides your forebrain for the sake of sheer survival if you attempt to stop breathing long enough to lose consciousness.

    But if you mean controlling it in general, it's not true. Singers and musicians who play wind instruments have to have very disciplined control over their breathing in order to perform. Reed and horn players have developed a technique called circular breathing. They (well not all of them, just the experts) can continue exhaling into their mouthpiece for far longer than any human can hold his breath. They do it by slowly inflating their cheeks while blowing. Then they close off their glottis when it's time to breathe. There's enough air trapped in the cheeks to force it out between the lips and keep the instrument playing... yet meanwhile they are inhaling through their nose. Then when their lungs are full again they open the glottis and blow the regular way--once again slowly inflating the cheeks.

    If this sounds impossible, it is an art that has to be mastered. Saxophonist Kenny G holds the Guinness record for circular breathing. He held an E-flat on his instrument for 45 minutes. Don't ask me what made him try that!

    Native Australian didgeridoo players use circular breathing, as well as players of traditional instruments in other countries. It long predates modern Euro-American music.
    That's not what the mammalian diving reflex is. The mammalian diving reflex is the constriction of blood vessels in non-essential regions of the body, allowing a larger portion of the oxygen in the blood to flow through the brain. This is how many partially aquatic mammals (like seals and polar bears) are able to stay underwater for so long. (As opposed to fully aquatic mammals like cetaceans and manatees who simply have proportionally bigger lungs.)

    This is said to be a vestigial trait in humans that most people lose in their first year or two of life. Supposedly (I have not done any research into this, or even Snoped it) every now and then a baby sinks into the water and it takes five minutes or even longer before somebody spots him down there. They bring him up and discover that his heart is still beating even though he's deeply unconscious. They revive him and find that he's perfectly fine, although it takes a while to restore his body temperature to normal and to reactivate the circulation in his arms and legs.
  20. Asguard

    Asguard Kiss my dark side

    FR no actually your wrong, circular breathing is a type of rhythm true but its no more a conscious deliberate control than breathing while swimming is. Its an automatic rhythm. However just for you I will check that in a couple of days when i see my brother, he is a tuba player so he knows how to use circular breathing. I'm not talking about holding your breath, do an experiment, while your doing the dishes or whatever boring task make yourself breath at a rate of 12-20 per min which is whats required to maintain life. Do this continuously and you wont find it comfortable. Why do you think we are taught that it doesn't matter if people know you want there respiratory rate past 1 min? because in the first 30 seconds or so they will maintain it consciously but pasted that it will fall back to automatic control.

    And no, the mamalian diving reflex is present in ALL mamals including adult humans and it most certainly isn't a "vestigial trait". The Navy seals and there like are those who use it the most but everyone who swims uses it to an extent. Hold your breath and then swim around in the sea for a while, dive under and hold your breath for a while and see which is longer. Garentiee its under water because of the drop in heart rate vaso contriction etc. Children have the STRONGEST MDR but everyone has one.

    Now you once told me that I shouldnt talk in your area of expertiees because i looked like an idiot and that you would stay out of mine. Well you look like an idiot when a simple wikipedia search will show your wrong.


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