Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature and that is because, in the last analysis we ourselves are part of nature. Therefore part of the mystery we are trying to solve.
- Max Planck
Why do You Need Three Brains?
We’re living in a golden age for neuroscience, and every aspect of human behaviour is being linked to brain activity. It doesn’t seem like the time when there’s a prejudice against the brain, but there is.
The classic division of the brain divides it into three parts. The lower or reptilian brain goes back hundred of millions of years to our animal ancestors. Next in evolutionary time appeared the emotional brain, and finally, the higher brain or neocortex.
To an evolutionary biologist, what sets humans aside is the dominance of the higher brain, where the facilities of reason and judgement are located. This implies, however, that the “irrational” brain, being older and therefore primitive, should take second place. Compare the two phrases “I’m acting rational” and “You’re being emotional.” Which one seems to come from a higher place?
Science reinforces the bias in favour of the higher brain, dictating that subjectivity and emotions have no place in understanding reality. But this worship of pure reason is not only false, it’s a blind prejudice. The facts tell a different story, as follows.
Each of our three brains serves a vital purpose. The lower reptilian brain focuses on survival, instinct, self protection, and so-called animal drives like sex and aggression. The middle or emotional brain tunes us to the feeling of the world, to love, intimacy, intuition, and bonding. The higher brain therefore is only one part of the whole, it’s the whole brain that creates the fullest, richest life.
Studies have shown that decision-making is never completely rational and cannot be turned into a completely rational process. So the real question is whether you are aware of your emotional tendencies – lack of self-awareness has caused more bad decisions than any lapse of rational logic, because without emotion a decision is being made in a vacuum. The human element is mostly emotional and intuitive – it tells us how others feel, how we ourselves feel, where our level of discomfort lies, how well or badly we are communicating, and more.
The prejudice against the lower brain is even stronger, particularly in the twentieth century when the terms “unconscious” and “subconscious” came into vogue to describe a dark, irrational underground that drives us to war, aggression, rebelliousness, crime sadism, and various sexual transgressions. So powerful is this irrational “It” (the literal meaning of the Freudian Id) that by the end of his life, writing under the shadow of Nazism, Freud believed that civilization was a fragile compromise between social bonding and the naked desire for sex, aggression, selfishness and ultimately death.
What this excludes, unfortunately, is the validation of higher consciousness, which until recently was considered a delusion or myth among most psychologists. After all, if human beings must struggle every day to repress the monster of the unconscious, there’s no room left for a real connection to God, the soul, or the purity of truth, beauty, and love. These are the thin veneers of civilization, ready to be destroyed when our lower nature runs rampant.
The way to get past such a pessimistic, even fatalistic view of human nature is to embrace evolution, not purely as a physical process but one that takes place in consciousness. The greatest flaw in the elevation of scientific objectivity is that all of life consists of experience, and experience is subjective. There is no getting around consciousness, to paraphrase the great pioneer of quantum physics, Max Planck. Only by exploring consciousness can you see the value of all three brains, to fear no part of yourself, to evolve and expand your awareness.
Expanded awareness has always been the linchpin of human evolution, and the physical structures that support it in the brain are secondary. If you have a complete mind, so to speak, you will be using your complete brain. There is no reason to hold a prejudice against any aspect of consciousness, not when you are expanded enough in your awareness to see the bigger picture. Art, beauty, truth, love morality, philosophy, music, invention, curiosity and creativity are not rational, and it’s deeply unwise to dismiss them as irrational as if that must be a derogatory term. If you value insight, if you aspire to wisdom, if you want to make better choices and seek lifelong fulfilment, the starting point is awareness and the holistic brain that supports it.
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We’re living in a golden age for neuroscience, and every aspect of human behavior is being linked to brain activity.
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