The triune brain

The triune brain

One thing that has never failed to amaze me is the fact that, in terms of the brain’s evolution, neurophysiological discoveries have been made revealing our triune nature.

The primary brain, made up of the brain stem and spinal cord, is related to the most primitive brain functioning, or what we could call the first level of consciousness.  This level is characteristic of reptiles, which is why it is also known as the reptilian brain. This is the survival instinct level and houses the instincts needed for the preservation of the species – searching for food, resting, reproduction, territoriality, grouping, storing of supplies, and defense.

Our primitive reptilian brain, whether we want to admit it or not, still directs part of our mechanisms for courtship, getting married, looking for a home, and choosing leaders. It is also responsible for many of our rituals and habits (Abel Cortese).

The midbrain or limbic system corresponds to the second level of consciousness. This is predominant in mammals. This is the level for emotions and feelings, which is why it is also known as our emotional brain.  The limbic system is where memories of the events that have impacted us throughout our lives are stored – memories which make us react according to the primary emotions we experience: fear, anger, desire, happiness, sadness. In a certain way, we could say that it represents the archives of our personal memory (the emotions we feel), upon whose information our personality is based.

An experience can only be memorized if it arouses enough emotions.

The cerebral cortex, or third brain (neocortex), corresponds to the most evolved level of the brain and, therefore, is where the scope of consciousness is greatest. In the cortex, we find the basis for intellectual intelligence (left hemisphere) and the substrates for emotional intelligence (right hemisphere) which allow the individual to observe and perceive, objectively, without prejudices and biases, his or her own internal nature (consciousness of oneself) and the nature of his or her surroundings.  The cerebral cortex also allows for the integration of the three levels of consciousness.

In accordance with their contents and competences, each one of these brain structures provides humans with the ability to judge, or a certain level of consciousness.  The view of reality that an individual may extract using his or her primary brain (instinct) will be little like the vision of reality that comes from the midbrain (emotion), and it will be completely different from the version of reality that may stem from activation of the cerebral cortex (reason and contemplation) – this implies a host of different meanings and values which are quite often opposing in nature.

Daily life requires the expression, to a greater or lesser extent, of these three types of judgment, or levels of consciousness, allowing humans to respond to life not only as automatic, instinctive beings but also as rational, self-aware individuals.

All the choices we make in each of the different facets of life (personal, social, family, work facets) imply, inevitably, a certain level of deliberation between each of these two tendencies.  We can move towards the rashness of our instinct, which seeks immediate satisfaction of impulses and needs, or we can go more towards the self-awareness of the calm that comes with understanding our true potential.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” –Marie Curie

As beings who are predestined to evolve, a priority for us is to take interest in cultivating our best qualities – those things that allow us to move up from the purely mechanical level of existence to lower levels of consciousness related with instinct and survival and the satisfaction of basic needs, moving higher still until we reach more evolved levels in which the individual, through reflection and willpower, is able to transcend his or her mechanical nature and recognize the potential that lives inside him or her.

You are the only one who can decide what brain you want to settle down with for your life project.

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