Breaking the Spell of the Reptilian Brain: From Primitive Brain to Evolved Mind

 “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” ~ Douglas Adams

What do bombs over Iraq, planes crashing into twin towers, drones over Afghanistan, and bombs over Paris have in common? The lizard brain.

Regardless of your ideological disposition, or where you might stand on conspiracy theories, or how you go about weighing the evidence about the rightness or wrongness of it all, we can probably all agree that these acts are lizard-brain acts of violence based on fear and anger.

Knee-jerk reactions to fear and anger usually don’t end well. Especially when outdated religions and xenophobic nationalism is muddling our brains into malleable mounds of gullible goulash.

This is an article about how our higher and lower brain is always butting “heads.” Pun intended. It’s about how our primitive brain is constantly at loggerheads with our advanced mind. How our lizard-brain relentlessly attempts to trip-up our evolved intelligence.

How our inner-believer incessantly uses outdated fear tactics to prevent our inner-thinker from thinking clearly. And how the primitive fear-based reaction of “fight or flight” is a constant roadblock to attaining the progressive crossroads that leads to human flourishing.

The Primitive brain

“You can’t see the universe clearly until you know who you are.” ~ Alexander Joblokov

The good thing about the primitive brain, evolutionarily speaking, is that it got us this far. The bad thing about the primitive brain is that it only gets us so far before we’re fighting over petty-ideals-turned-powerful-idols. Eventually some higher thinking is in order.

When you combine the fact that we are fundamentally social creatures with the fact that we are also fundamentally story-telling creatures, you get a creature that loves to create and tell mythologies and loves to believe in them.

The problem is belief tends to become blind belief, and blind belief tends to get a lot of things wrong. Especially without the evolved mind getting involved and questioning those belief.

My god is better than your god

“Belief is a wound that knowledge heals.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

Another problem with blind belief is that it tends to breed “moral” tribes. But if this moral tribe doesn’t agree with that moral tribe’s morals, then there tends to be an immoral standoff. Suddenly both sides are (immorally) at each other’s throats over a so-called moral belief. Suddenly, otherwise non-violent moral people are creating violent immoral acts. How does this happen?

Here’s an example: let’s say The Divine Order of the Flying Spaghetti Monster clings to the precept that all women must wear colanders in the presence of men. And let’s say that the Tribe of the Divine Wow thinks this is silly and decides to post “sacrilegious” drawings of Flying Spaghetti Monster women defying men without colanders on their heads.

And then the Divine Order bombs the sacred sanctuary of the Divine Wow, killing innocent people but still taking out a few blasphemous artists. But then the Divine Wow counterattacks, killing a few militants but mostly killing innocents. Eventually both sides forget about the petty beginnings of the conflict, and are now focused on the bloody consequences of their violent actions.

But the two warring tribes just keep going back and forth, high on outdated lizard-brain instincts, each considering the other a terrorist, but neither side willing to admit that they’re retaliation is just as much terrorist-like as the others.

Like Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Indeed.

My people/birthplace are better than your people/birthplace:

“Man is the only Patriot. He sets himself apart in his own country, under his own flag, and sneers at the other nations, and keeps multitudinous uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other people’s countries, and keep them from grabbing slices of his. And in the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood of his hands and works for “the universal brotherhood of man” -with his mouth.” ~ Mark Twain

Yet another problem with the primitive lizard-brain and the blind belief it pumps out, is that it tends to make people blindly patriotic as well. When these people over here think they are better than those people over there, and those people over there think they are better than those other people from that other place over there –and just because of where they happened to be born or what they might look like– then there is the tendency toward xenophobia and bigotry.

But this xenophobia and bigotry are just obsolete, lizard-brain, knee-jerk reactions to the unknown. They function on the same lower frequency vibration as the “my god is better than your god” myopic reasoning. They are outdated at best and parochial at worst, based on the outmoded aspects of tribalism. So why not just ignore them? Why not just get rid of them?

It’s not that simple. It’s all tangled up in the foundation of our thought-process. They are an aspect of our lizard-brain trying to keep us “safe” from the unknown. So it’s actually our own responsibility to keep them under control. We just have to learn how to use them as psychological tools, instead of allowing them to use us like sycophantic fools.

lizard3The Evolved Mind

“It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~ Aristotle

Now enter, the evolved mind. It is the mark of an evolved mind to entertain a belief without accepting it.

There’s no need to accept it when we can just consider it and then move on smartly. Instead of putting all our eggs into just one basket while clinging to it for dear life, we can put a few eggs into a basket at a time, thoughtfully consider each basket using logic, reasoning, and probability, and then move on skeptically with our knowledge in tow.

Seems simple enough. Well, it’s not. Especially when the primitive lizard-brain gets all overly sentimental and intellectually sloppy with the beliefs it refuses to let go of. Better not to cling to any particular basket, or baskets, in the first place. Best to entertain a basket without accepting it as the be-all-end-all of baskets.

Our mythologies (Gods) are all unique and entertaining:

“Nothing is too wonderful to be true, if it be consistent with the laws of nature.” ~ Michael Faraday

The evolved mind has a solution to the “my god is better than your god” quagmire. Treat their god like Aristotle advised us to treat thoughts, and then have the courage to do the same with our own idea of god. That is to say: entertain a god without accepting it. Instead of getting all hung-up on “my god is better,” let that lower-frequency shit go and vibrate on a higher-frequency with an affirmation like this: “My god is just another god, ad nauseum.”

Or, better yet, this: “My god is just my own insecurity about death rearing its ugly head. It wants to feel secure so badly that it created this mythological being I refer to as ‘god’ to make me feel more comfortable.” Have fun with it. Get creative. Just remember: don’t cling to your god, because it’s clinging to gods that leads to innocent people getting bombed.

Like Bradford Keeney said, “Words are only useful in teasing one another. In teasing we are less likely to get stuck in any particular belief, attitude, or form of knowing.” Evolution begins at home. Tease yourself every day, again and again. Then you might earn the right to effectively tease others.

If enough people have a sense of humor about their version of god, instead of taking themselves and their version of god too seriously, then the less terrorism there will be. We just need more people willing to think instead of blindly believe. Remember that petty feud between the Divine Order and the Divine Wow?

Well, if enough people from both sides can learn to entertain a god (both their own and that of others) without accepting it, then nobody gets bombed. Better to think first and believe second. Better to have a sense of humor, and laugh at god, than to be serious and praise god.

As Bradford Keeney also advised, “Tease God. Do not fear God. A fool’s love is what God loves best. It represents the ready and available heart of a child at play.”

Planet Earth is our mutual birthplace and all of mankind is our brethren

“Nobody is superior or inferior, nobody’s equal either. Everyone is unique and incomparable.” ~ Osho I-Swear-To-Drunk-Im-Not-God-Funny-Lizard

The evolved mind understands the importance of diversity within nature and culture. A variety of cultures is always healthier than just a few. Especially when those few cultures are being jammed down people’s throats.

Better to have variation, a multiplicity, and a wide array of arts, of literature, of theater, of mythologies, of gods, and different ways of being in the world.

Human beings are not meant to be pigeonholed into singular ideas, stale ideologies or finite belief structures. We are meant to explore ideas, ideologies and beliefs, while expounding upon them and launching humanity into a further flourishing of its own evolution.

The more we explore, the less likely we are to get stuck in any particular belief, politics, or nationalism. The more we explore, the more compassionate, empathetic and loving we become.

The more we think, and not believe, the more likely we are to come up with better questions instead of clinging to outdated answers. The better questions we have, the more updated answers we get. The more variety and diversity we have, the more connections we’re able to make.

The more connections that are made, the more likely we are to become aware of the majesty of our interdependence. The more aware we become of our interdependence, the more likely we are to be interconnected with all things.

And then we’re finally able to feel with our evolved minds –not know, feel– the following words by Neil deGrasse Tyson: “We are all connected; to each other, biologically; to the earth, chemically; to the rest of the universe, atomically.”

Entropy will always be there, sure. But life will be there too, evening the score, and levelling the playing field. But in order to keep the score even, in order to keep the playing field level, there must be people with evolved minds willing to question things. There must be people responsible enough to keep their own lizard-brain in check.

There must be people willing to control their knee-jerk reactions to fear and anger, and to not be reduced to mere puppets of their primitive brain. There must be people capable of asking questions such as this one by Daniel J. Siegel: “How can we be receptive to the mind’s riches and not just reactive to its reflexes?

How can we direct our thoughts and feelings rather than be driven by them?” How indeed.

Image source:

Homer lizard brain
Lizards in the brain
DNA evolved Man
I swear to drunk I’m not God

Please share, it really helps! :) <3

Gary Z McGee
Gary Z McGee
Gary 'Z' McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.


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