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Blog item: Reptilian Brain and Wisdom Brain... What's Going On Today

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9 comments, last: Aug-7-2009   Add a comment   Author:  PT (Aug-3-2009)    Play a Video
Category: Philosophical & Quality of Life

Western science has started seeking the brain's center of wisdom[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.

Related PlanetThoughts.org reading:
  "Civilization is in a race between education and ..." (Feb-24-2016)
  Five Popular Untruths NOT To Live By (Jul-2-2011)
  Enough! (Nov-3-2010)
  "A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man se..." (Apr-28-2010)
  Urbanitemares (Jan-14-2010)
  What Makes Europe Greener than the U.S.? (Oct-2-2009)
  The Guardian Institutions of Hierarchy (Jul-23-2009)
  The Importance of Enlightenment (Jun-25-2009)
  The Message of Overconsumption (Jun-14-2009)
  "It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned ..." (Apr-18-2009)

Click one tag to see readings related specifically to that tag; click "Tags" to see all related readings
  
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Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Aug-7-2009)   
Sorry that was long. I'll let it go now...;-)
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Aug-7-2009)   

Yes, Hartmann gives credit for it to Maslow.
As for the Newtonian vs. Einstein thing: you don't really want to go there with me. I liked old Albert, but I think he was an unwitting tool of the Secret Keepers. Time doesn't exist as a dimension: human beings invented it, and everything related to imaginary dimensions and spiritual 'immortality' is probably a scheme to increase our belief systems beyond what we need in this Here and Now. We have allowed the non-Reptilian brain half to run amok with the planet and that oversized ego keeps coming up with 'reasons' why it's ok to 'be imaginative'. When you add up all of the things that we THINK we have created on purpose, and then look at the real activity that created those things, you find that they are just minute steps and coincidences (read James Burke's "Connections") done in the moment to solve "in the moment" problems. We have done some things on purpose, but the ones that really have helped us have been the things that STOP the left brain from acting, such as laws, communities, and real social need-based mores.
The more we tell ourselves that we can achieve immortality through our works or deeds or religions, the more we justify consuming to do so (transferred conscience). (It's ironic that the opposite of pro-science is CONscience).
Yes, I AM a 'rocket scientist', and I have seen the systems in place to promote the systems of 'progress' that almost always work against the small and local in favor of concentrating resources to those who already have more than they need. The harder we use our 'reason' brain to solve these problems, the easier we fall into their trap of 'spiritual awakening' which usually means "awakening to how much money you are going to donate to your particular greedy god/cause/government program"
There is no such thing as "super"-natural. If something exists, it is natural. There are massive forces at work to keep us from seeing and understanding much of nature's gifts, and those all-too-human forces are successful with manipulation of our desires and beliefs (especially in our own independent ego).
Question everything, especially the questioners.They can always get you to think you came up with the answers.
We are like teenagers that think we are better drivers than everyone else, even though our amygdala hasn't developed yet.
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Aug-7-2009)   Web site

Thank you, AG, for the pleasant words.

I looked up the book you mentioned (found here at Amazon.com). The idea of the pyramid of priorities sounds like one that was originated by Maslow.

As far as the pyramid of priorities, I think it is like Newtonian physics, which is accurate enough for daily life but not beyond that -- it works until one presses on the boundaries. For more extreme aspects of human life, I don't believe we are captive to the pyramid i.e. our higher brain can throw away the lower levels and make a choice based on principles. However, that only happens, like Einsteinian physics, under extreme conditions such as traveling near the speed of light, or more relevantly for this discussion, when society can no longer cope with conditions as they exist and we are pressed to our limits.

Such conditions already exist in some parts of the world, and may be coming soon to a "theater" near us.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Aug-6-2009)   

Maybe it's an off-the-cuff article, Dave, but it was a good one and a good topic.
WH: Thom Hartmann's new book ("Threshold") has a page with the "pyramid of needs vs. happiness" in it. I'm not sure it is called that, but the idea is that there is a pyramid which starts out with food, water, shelter for the base, then security, social needs, etc. toward the top, with the discussion of how much 'happy' comes from each level being satisfied.
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Aug-6-2009)   Web site

Thanks for the thoughts, WH.

I wrote this from experience of human nature while training myself in meditation and martial arts for a long time. However, I will say that I don't know some of the details of research into brain structure, so I don't know from direct experience whether these are precise physical sections of the brain. What I DO know is the difference between cerebrum (especially the neocortex) and the medulla and cerebellum. There is a reasonable and concise review of this here.

The primary clear physical division is between the cerebrum and the primitive (so-called "reptilian") brain, based in the medulla and cerebellum and a few smaller structures. A more detailed description of emotions and other functions of the brain is here. Animals with no cerebrum still have the survival instinct, so it seems likely that the bulk of that instinct in humans also resides in the more primitive brain, although of course human nature includes additional layers on top of that basic instinctive behavior.

Whether or not the brain has physical sections that separately control different aspects of behavior as described above, I know that with effective training, one can indeed shift control of the mind from a survival-based understanding to a purpose-based understanding.

A simple example of the latter is the people who fight and sacrifice their lives for a cause, such as independence of their nation. This would be caused by growing up with a thorough indoctrination on the importance of a principle of freedom, and various other attitudes. More subtle and deep understanding is also possible, based on global priorities for advancing of the human condition. Perhaps one could say that Gandhi and Mandela are modern examples of this. Despite great injustices and violence applied against their people, they refused to advocate violent resistance. In Mandela's case, despite decades of imprisonment, he did not gather anger in his mind. How can that happen? It is based on developing parts of the brain, whether they are considered to be physical or virtual, that are centered on other principles, and that look to higher goals.

I hope that is a more clear description of my understanding, WH. Of course, you may still be questioning whether that description seems accurate, but I thought it would be a good idea to elaborate a bit so I could be more clear.
  
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Aug-5-2009)   Web site

I'm not sure that the brain is divided as you suggest, David. Studies have shown, however, that the bit you call the reptilian brain can be satisfied fairly quickly. To the very poorest people, money can bring happiness. When you're hungry, money means food; when you've no shelter, money brings you a place to sleep for the night.

Once the basic needs have been met with a little bit for luxury, however, money doesn't help. Those who are in this happy position and realised the limits of money are called post-materialists. They are more common in Western Europe than North America, but they exist all over the world.

The thing is, if all those with enough money to live comfortably realised that chasing money was the fool's errand that it is, capitalism would collapse.

We would spend more time with family and friends, more time making love or enjoying nature, more time reading and thinking. But we would stop buying things we don't need, stop work such long hours to earn money that won't help us, stop producing so many things others don't need.

Thus, as Auntie Grav says, we have marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising work together to protect the economic system, keep the majority enslaved and ensure the rape of the planet continues unabated.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Aug-3-2009)   

We already have something that strengthens the 'wisdom' brain: it's called "advertising". We use it to exercise that part of our brain and allow it to convince itself that it needs to do or buy something. We fool ourselves all of the time and this preemptive thought thing is one of them. What we DO do, however, that opposes our self-delusions, is to create systems of social control so that we force ourselves to behave for the good of others. This creation of external systems to our brain is the basis of society and laws. The better we are at following rules, the wiser we are. The better we are at questioning the rules, the wiser our society is.
Secondly, you said:
"The most advanced part of that brain is controlled by wisdom, which is by definition the greatest good for all."
In our overconsumptive world, what if the greatest good for all is for many of us to die?
Which laws, which groups, which individuals will have the true societal and personal wisdom to evaluate such a decision without trying to sell their power over others to themselves as godhood?
  
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Aug-3-2009)   Web site

I can answer your question, AG: that which is not in harmony will not last long.

My PlanetThought is not a prescription to solve the problems that exist, and it is not a path; it is a broadcast of a way of thinking in which I have confidence. Each person will respond to these ideas to a degree and in the manner that suits their character and inclinations.
  
Comment by: auntiegrav (auntiegrav) (Aug-3-2009)   

We already have something that strengthens the 'wisdom' brain: it's called "advertising". We use it to exercise that part of our brain and allow it to convince itself that it needs to do or buy something. We fool ourselves all of the time and this preemptive thought thing is one of them. What we DO do, however, that opposes our self-delusions, is to create systems of social control so that we force ourselves to behave for the good of others. This creation of external systems to our brain is the basis of society and laws. The better we are at following rules, the wiser we are. The better we are at questioning the rules, the wiser our society is.
Secondly, you said:
"The most advanced part of that brain is controlled by wisdom, which is by definition the greatest good for all."
In our overconsumptive world, what if the greatest good for all is for many of us to die?
Which laws, which groups, which individuals will have the true societal and personal wisdom to evaluate such a decision without trying to sell their power over others to themselves as godhood?

  
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About author/contributor Member: PT (David Alexander) PT (David Alexander)
   Web site: http://www.insightandenergy.com

Member: PT (David Alexander) My lifelong pursuit, since age 18, has been to live more fully and find wisdom. This has involved studies with Zen masters, Tai Chi masters, and great psychotherapists while achieving my license as a gestalt therapist and psychoanalyst.

Along the way, I became aware of how the planet is under great stress due to the driven nature of human activity on this planet.

I believe that the advancement of human well-being will reduce societies addictive behaviors, and will thus also help preserve the environment and perhaps slow down the effects of global warming and other major threats to the health of human societies.
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