[note: this article started out recently as a comment elsewhere in this Web site. But it is a topic that should have some more exposition than can be comfortably placed in a comment.]
Last night, I had one of those enjoyable philosophical discussion with a friend, a discussion on a significant topic but approached with curiousity and an open mind.
After some discussion, we had agreed that we humans have an evolutionary part of the brain that is dedicated to survival, reproduction, and comfort. That is the "reptilian" part of the brain, and that idea is not new.
In addition, I promulgated the thought that we have a part of the brain that is higher. The higher brain is not controlled by survival or other comfort issues, although it is aware of those issues. The most advanced part of the brain is controlled by wisdom, which is by definition the greatest good for all.
I believe that we humans have, through various efforts and practices, the unique capability of moving the center of both conscious and unconscious control from the reptilian brain through levels of the higher brain, until ultimately the wisdom brain controls action, including speech. This is also not wholly original, although there are only a few scattered studies where scientists have started to measure the brainwave patterns of deeply meditating monks to start learning about how our brains can become wiser, usually after years of effective training and effort.
The area of knowledge focused on improving our own brains is well-developed in Eastern religious writings, but has not been discussed at length in a Western context, as far as I know (and I would be interested if any reader has sources on this topic). Western culture as a whole is still far from coming to grips with the methods and implications of deep personal development and its effect on the individual and society.
I would now like to make the connection to the debate about what kinds of actions will help avert ultimate suffering due to shortages of clean and adequate food and water supplies; those shortages would be caused by climate change, energy depletion, and a variety of other forces. If we know the nature of human behavior and the brain, how do we use that information as a basis for policy and strategy?
Seeing the need for rapid improvements in the treatment of the world's environment, and based on the limits of what we can expect the majority of humanity to achieve in the near future as far as personal development, the challenge for us is both 1) to help more and more people strengthen the wisdom brain, where possible to do so rapidly, and 2) to implement incentives and laws and changes in social structure and infrastructure that will convince enough additional people (even using the reptilian or using combined parts of the brain) to follow constructive ways of living.
This second part is necessary due to time pressure for finding solutions to our environmental challenges, as well as to help create the model for a better way of living. Positive models and results can lead more people to see and experience the benefits of wiser actions, and to adopt some of the thinking behind the more effective models.
There is much unknown ahead of us on this planet. But I know that we can improve that future, without doubt, through the best individual efforts that we each make to strengthen the widsom brain.