Priyank Sharma

The triune brain theory.

Jan 29, 2006

OK, now whatever follows is one of the most astounding facts I’ve ever come across. But I would suggest the believers NOT to read this as it may generate feelings of blasphemy in the little and restricted heart of theirs. This is a pretty lengthy post, so sit back and behold. Okay, not to waste any more time, here it is – THE REAL FACT!

The idea is called “The Triune Brain Theory” and was coined by Dr. Paul McLean. Triune referring to 3 parts! And it goes a little something like this…

The human brain has evolved gradually, but through stages which this theory separates into three distinct phases – each of which has been traced to a particular physical component of our brain. This theory also reveals the idea of the consciousness we usually think of as our whole mind, which IS INDEED influenced by other parts of our mind which are hidden from the conscious.

The earliest stage is the ‘reptile brain‘. This part of the brain handles our physical selves such as movement, responses and all the physical activities. Just like a lizard running away when it senses a threatening shadow, we automatically recoil from physical pain. We react instantly when we feel pain moving away from the source which resulted in the pain. This is the part of the brain that regulates all the unconscious physical processes continually at work in our bodies, such as heart beat, breathing, digestion, etc.

The middle stage is the ‘mammal brain‘. This part is responsible for our emotional responses. Our emotions are obvious to us, but you can also see them in your pet dog’s energetic tail-wagging when you come back from vacation. This emotional part of our brain is what associates good feelings to positive memories and bad feelings to negative ones. While the reptile brain pulls us away from negative stimuli and towards positive stimuli that are programmed instinctually, the mammal brain OR emotions give us the ability to develop quickly the appropriate response to new situations we encounter in life.

Emotions are a way to carry pain and pleasure inside of us. Instead of relying solely on physical responses, we also use related emotional responses to guide our reactions. We avoid people who hurt us, feel disgusted by foods that make us sick, express gratitude for those who help us, and feel confident about things we can do successfully.

The final stage of the brain is the ‘thinking brain‘ or the rational / logical part of our mind, which is where our consciousness and reasoning abilities are found. Extremely versatile, the thinking brain lets us evaluate in advance the desirability of an experience. We can learn to avoid electrocution by being warned about it or seeing someone else suffer this fate, and we can learn to hunt or cook from the explanation and examples shown by others.

The reptile brain (physical) is responsible for what we commonly think of as ‘body‘. The mammal brain (emotional) we typically consider ‘heart‘, and the thinking brain is what we’re really referring to by ‘mind‘.

Now, each level is just a more complex evolutionary reaction to dealing with stimuli. First we developed basic responses to current body sensations like hunger and touch, then we developed the more complex response to past sensations in emotions like happiness and sadness, and finally we developed the startling ability to respond to the possible future with thought.

The three brains are actually built around each other in our heads. Unfortunately, these three levels or brains don’t communicate with each other very well. Conflicts between the different drives of the parts of our brain often cause us inner conflict. “I want to talk to that hot woman over there, and I know that there’s really no risk but I feel fear coming from somewhere and I can’t control it.” This is so typical of us guys!

We believe that the logical, thinking part of our brain is in control, but it’s actually the older brains that control the newer brains for their own ends. Where there’s no conflict, we can exert a fair amount of conscious control. When a more basic brain wants something contrary to a later one, however, it usually tries to get its way. Consider how difficult it is to leave someone you’ve loved for a long time.

So the mind, body & soul as spirituality proudly defines in its own chapters is actually a bunch of evolutionary traits. Hard to digest isn’t it?

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