Our brain is one of the most complex creations in the Universe. It might seem like we just have one but actually there are 3 of them which all influence certain aspects of our behavior. There are many ways how your reptilian brain controls your behavior, without you even knowing it.
The Reptilian Brain Amongst Many
Brain /breɪn/ noun, Cerebrum in Latin – an organ of soft nervous tissue contained in the skull of vertebrates, functioning as the coordinating center of sensation and intellectual and nervous activity.
It’s divided into 3 parts or regions.
- The basal ganglia, also called the reptilian brain is the most primitive part of our brain. It governs balance, territoriality, mating, feeding and other instinctual activities.
- Then we have the center part that comprises the „limbic system“, which consists of the septum, amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampal complex, and cingulate cortex. This the mammalian or monkey brain – the brain of emotions and social hierarchies.
- Finally, at the front, there’s the human brain, the cerebral cortex. This is where rational thinking is, especially at the pre-frontal cortex. It’s the most recent step in the evolution of the mammalian brain and gives the ability for language, abstraction, planning and perception.
The Hierarchy of Needs
The same correspondence can be seen in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
- At the bottom, there are yet again the physiological needs. The first and foremost purpose of any organism is to provide the body with food and shelter. It’s the conduct of the reptilian brain.
- In the middle, there are psychological desires, such as prestige and a sense of belongingness. As you remember, the limbic system governs our emotions and social interactions – the mind. This is as far as the chimpanzees have managed to climb with their group living.
- The next and final step of our current development is self-actualization: achieving one’s full potential, including creativity and fulfillment. Reaching this stage isn’t possible without covering the preceding ones.
Reptilian Brain Function …errr
The reptilian brain governs your physiological processes, such as the need for food and shelter. It’s concerned about the physical plane of existence e.g the body.
In addition to our most basic needs, the basal ganglia also governs several other functions, such as motor control, habits, learning through cause and effect, eye movements etc.
Because it’s only concerned with our survival and the reproductive success of our genes, it will motivate us to always be as efficient with our evolutionary strategies. This means that it determines our decisions, making us find out the most cost-effective solution to our behaviors.
Primal Bodies in a Modern World
In the past it helped us to find as much food as possible and protect our territory from unwanted intruders. Today, calories aren’t scarce anymore nor are we threatened by Neanderthal bullies.
Our bodies suffer from a severe evolutionary time-lag. The basal ganglia and our physiology still live in the savannah, chasing gazelle and running from lions. In reality, the development of our species has undergone a massive quantum leap. Change has happened too quickly for our mind(s) to get accustomed to it, which is creating an unfortunate and unforgiving mismatch.
Because of that, our reptilian brain is still motivating us to act as if our basic needs are still scarce. Food now surrounds us everywhere and calories are more than abundant.
What Your Primal Body Wants
The most precious nutrients for survival are salt, sugar and fat.
- Salt is vital for the chemical reactions and electrolyte balance of our body.
- Fat is the most dense source of calories and is essential for hormonal production and the health of all cells, including the brain.
- Sugar, or glucose, is the body’s default fuel source, but not the best one. It gives us instant energy and lights up certain reward mechanisms inside the brain. Because of its quick absorption, it can be stored very easily as well.
All of these 3 ingredients stimulate our taste buds. They optimize our palate because of the feedback loop between our behavior and the reward mechanisms (dopamine) we trigger. As a result, the reptilian brain will always be motivated to consume them as much as possible.
How Your Reptilian Brain Controls Your Food Choices
By themselves, salt, sugar and fat aren’t harmful. It’s the deadly combination of the three that turns them into an almost addictive substance.
Unfortunately, the food corporations have discovered this as well and are using it to bait their customers, or their reptilian brains, into becoming addicts to their products. It’s called the bliss point, in which the specific amount of satisfaction or stimulation, in which happiness is optimized – that sensory profile where you like food the most.
The reason why certain food tastes better than others has nothing to do with who you are objectively. It’s completely subjective. We’re completely controlled by our reptilian brains, as some nutrients are simply more valuable than others. The taste is nothing else but an illusion that gets created by our impulses and reward mechanisms that happen on the subconscious level.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a total foodie and I love to cook as well. It’s just without us even knowing it, we’re behaving under the influence of an entity who is not in an alignment with our conscious self and the surrounding reality.
How Your Reptilian Brain Controls Your Behavior
When we do an activity that makes us feel good, we release dopamine. Our reptilian brain recognizes that what we just did yielded positive results – we did something that lit up our reward center.
As a result, it creates a pattern of recognition into our psyche, which motivates us to repeat our actions in the future to get the same results. Whether or not the action is actually good for us doesn’t matter, because the basal ganglia can’t consciously correspond with the world.
This creates a vicious cycle that can override any rational thought. Addiction, sex, junk food are all outcomes to this.
What’s more, the idea of duality gets created by this as well. Territoriality is governed by the sheer attempt of the ego to distinguish itself from another entity. This entire notion of “us vs them” is the reason for a lot of suffering in the world.
In the savannah, neighboring tribes would fight each other to death over hunting grounds and gathering locations. Today, the same duality reflects in warfare, sports, business, politics and competing between each other. Wanting to exceed others is your reptile brain telling you that, in order to survive, you have to get rid of all competition.
Consciousness Strikes Back
If our reptilian brain has been controlling us for so long, then how on earth have we managed to develop so far as a species. Well, as you can probably tell from your own experience, our primal physiology is still influencing our behavior to a great degree.
However, what distinguishes you and I from a crocodile is that we possess a much larger prefrontal cortex – the crown jewel of evolution – that gives rise to consciousness and meta-awareness. We’ve managed to figure out the different regions of the brain and have risen above this circuit.
To not let your reptilian brain override your rational behavior, you would have to develop the habit of self-mastery and governance. They’re characteristics of higher levels of consciousness because of the ability to be meta-aware and mindful.
The reptilian brain isn’t trying to cause us suffering, quite the contrary. It’s just that it needs to be trained and conditioned appropriately. Our conscious self has the ability to educate our primal physiology and actually empower it.
Body Mind Empowerment and the Agoge are means of conducting this training. It’s about becoming more conscious as a person, thus being more human. Get the FREE e-book.