Triune Brain: How to Switch Off Anger, Scarcity Mindset and Fear

Triune Brain TheoryTriune Brain theory can give many answers to people who started to connect the dots about why they get angry or emotional. It certainly connected many dots in my life, and so I must share this brain functioning explanation with you.

A neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean was the person who revealed this theory after years of research in 1960s. He proposed that our brain was not one, but three interconnected brains, each one representing a distinct evolutionary step and each one possessing its own intelligence.

Each brain is connected to one another by the nerves and operates with a distinct intelligence, subjectivity, and memory. Emotion and thought, therefore, comes from two different but inter-connected brains – limbic brain (emotion) and neocortex (conscious thought).

Paul MacLean disproved the brain theory popular at his time stating that the highest brain, neocortex, was always in charge. He arrived at the conclusion that the two lower brains, limbic and reptilian, can take over in certain cases, like when a person is scared. That’s when the person starts acting on auto-pilot.

MacLean’s three-brain theory was also in harmony with spiritual teachings of some traditions, which assigned the neocortex to the Spirit, limbic brain to the Soul, and reptilian brain to the Body.

The reptilian brain

The reptilian brain is the oldest one, the primitive brain. In animals such as reptiles this brain dominates. It causes the behavior typical of snakes and lizards.

This brain can be described as:

  • crude
  • obsessive
  • compulsive
  • ritualistic
  • paranoid

People operating mainly from this brain keep making the same mistakes over and over again, never learning from them. Also people who suffer from disorders such as always checking if they have keys in their pockets although they know that they have, operate from this brain.

This brain controls muscles, balance, autonomic functions like heartbeat, blood circulation and breathing. This part of the brain remains active even in deep sleep as it’s necessary for the proper functioning of the body, though its activity lies below our conscious awareness at most times.

The limbic brain

Our middle part of the brain corresponds to most mammals’ brains, especially the earlier ones. This brain is responsible for our…

  • emotions
  • instincts
  • motivation
  • feeding
  • sexual behavior

People operating through this brain see everything as either black or white, thus being unable to think about situations from different points of view. Also people who try as much as possible to avoid something that causes pain or discomfort and keep engaging in activities generating pleasure operate mainly through this brain.

Paul MacLean explained that emotions can overtake our thinking because the emotional brain has a different, more primitive language, and it cannot clearly communicate with the newest, neocortex brain though it’s connected to it through nerves. That’s why sometimes it seems that we have to decide to either make a decision using our thinking, or emotions.

The limbic brain is also the seat of attention and emotion-charged memories. It produces emotions such as joy, rage, fear, pleasure and pain.

Paul MacLean saw this brain as a big impediment to the development of humanity, because most people’s actions are tinged with it, producing feelings of being lesser than others, making judgements based on immediate gratification of senses, and being unable to see the situation objectively.

Self-preservation function, procreation, parental care, vocal communication is also caused by the limbic brain. It’s divided into a few integral parts:

  1. Amygdala (emotional response)
  2. Anterior cingulate cortex (emotion formation/processing)
  3. Orbitofrontal cortex (decision-making)
  4. Hypothalamus (sex, hunger, thirst)

Limbic system gives us a sense of personal identity. Many people operate mainly through this brain.

The neocortex system

The neocortex is slightly developed in primate mammals and quite well-developed in humans. This brain initiates functions which distinguish a human being from an animal. It enables people to come up with novel ideas and think in abstract ways.

The neocortex system allows us to verbalize our inner states. The more a person can describe exactly what’s going on within, the more such a person operates through the neocortex. Some people, however, never analyse or verbalize what’s happening within, and this shows that they mostly operate semi-consciously through the limbic brain.

Paul MacLean quoted other scientists’ research done on animals about what happens when the neocortex is removed. It was found that in such a case animals lose any wish to explore. Also, if such an animal is disturbed, it would try to get the balance back as soon as it can. For example, if a frog would sit in one place for a long time and then someone would disturb it and push it aside with a stick, it would try to get back to the same spot as quickly as possible.

Neocortex also is responsible for…

  • memory of details
  • problem solving
  • learning

Lastly…

MacLean explained that people whose brains were well-integrated, expressed empathy. He also concluded after years of intense research that human brain seems to be developing towards concern not only for the human species, but for all living things.

The most empowering part of his research, in my opinion, was the conclusion he made that we can be in charge of our two lower brains by asserting our will. That means we can switch off fear, scarcity mindset and other problematic traits just by asserting our will. By doing this we train our highest brain, the neocortex, to always be in charge.

Willpower has been long associated with Soul in many spiritual traditions and was the main theme of great authors of the past such as William Walker Atkinson. It seems that willpower is the soul power, and this power seems to operate the newest brain in animals and humans – the neocortex.

Nobody could prove or disprove this theory even till today, though MacLean formed it in 1960s. Many scientists attacked the theory, but without any real evidence to bring it down. I think MacLean’s theory should be paid attention to, especially by the people who want to evolve. Because it can show what behaviour causes the activation of lower brains, as well as which behaviour promotes the development of the higher brain, the one operated by the Soul.

References: 1.2., 3., 4..

Comments

  1. Todd MacDonald says:

    I wonder how active Neo-Cortex is when former explorations become non-exploratory routines, like when SOME piano techniques become too automatic and boring for me; it seems detailed conscious memories can become detailed unconscious memories.

    Simona I like how you relate spirit-soul to the Neo-Cortex being exploratory and freewill. It’s nice to know we are semi-beyond our limited imaginary will’s ability to sense; such a mystery how our limited will cannot become too automatic in sensing our true will…

    • In Steps to Self Mastery (one of my favorite books) S. R. Parchment says that we can learn something so well that the body automatically does it whilst the soul takes care of more essential matters. Like karma yoga, when you do a job perfectly without any attachment, sacrificing the fruits, whatever they be, do the Universe.

  2. Hi Simona,
    The article is very interesting . The Neocortex is just a six layered covering over the Cerebral Cortex.. Science should have revealed a ” TRUINE BRAIN ” having seven layers and not six in its neocortex.. In fact Science never bothered to examine the brain of Saints,
    dedicating only to study the brains of important politicians, artists or scientists …
    Examining the brain of Saint Theresa or Mahatma Gandhi may have revealed the existence of a ” TETRAUNE BRAIN”

    • Thank you, George. Be careful quoting “Saints” acknowledged by the politicians and the media:)) True saints are not on TV.

      • Tru tru. Right on point. Even the ‘revered’ “mother theresa” had a horrific side. Google it. Ppl promoted by the media are to be carefully studied

        • Exactly, Love. All people promoted by the popular media should be carefully studied and the question should be asked WHY they are so highly promoted, what’s the agenda behind it?

  3. This is a good breakdown of the brain. The brain has specific areas in each of the three that control different parts of how we act. Yes we can assert our will over the other two, but often times will power is weak and can not last long term without training. Much of people’s compulsions and emotional problems come from an imbalance of brain chemical in certain areas of the brain. They can be changed through meditation, therapy, and medication, which could be called will power.

    You can’t “switch” off fear and anger. You can feel it and embrace it and reframe it and not let it affect you in an ineffective way, but that doesn’t mean you will never not feel it. It is normal to feel these emotions. Trying not to will only make them come back stronger. You will feel things but you do not have to act on them and that can be considered willpower.

    • Yes you can, Sebastian. You can make sure it doesn’t arise in the first place, which would be like switching it off for good. Again, the clue lies in growing willpower. Yes, fear and anger is a very usual body responses; fear is more primal. Anger can surely be transcended, although most people never will. If you suppress anger, of course it will be devastating. By developing yourself anger gradually disappears. Your last sentence is correct and that can be applied to fear.

  4. Greetings Simona
    I am always changed by your articles.. May you continue the wonderful job. Thank you

  5. HI Simona,
    I really appreciate for such a nice article. However, there is no mention of left brain and right brain and the coordination between them which in general is talked about. Hope you will enlighten us on this aspect as well.

  6. This is a great insight for me thanks Simona

  7. The Brain Operating system is unleashed Simona !. Thank you for this topic. Not many are aware how our brain operates. This post really explain every thing that i needed to understand how the brain operates. I do was operating in limbic and reptilian mode for a long time. After awaking – the way i see and think is totally different – with spirituality – Neocortex activated, i am much in control over what going inside. I think it takes time to develop the Neocortex Brain to achieve full capacity.

  8. Kelly-Anne says:

    Love reading everything you write! ❤️ Truly fascinating :) you are amazing!

  9. Hello Simona,
    It’s absolutely true .. The article highlights about the savage man who lived in the caves, killed animals for his survival … The limbic region represents the old stonage man who was a pagan, used a barbaric language, with long nails, unshaved , dishevelled etc.
    He was hardly utilised logic and got emotional.. But the neo-cortex part of the human brain focuses our attention to the modern man, one who applies logic and not carried away by emotions..

  10. Simona, wonderful article. I am absolutely fond of the triune brain theory as I think it explains a lot. I agree with you that most people operate through their limbic system… I believe I did until I was about 26. Then I noticed things starting to change – I didn’t feel like going out all night, I started to eat healthy, I started learning how to really solve problems at work & get the big picture instead of mindlessly getting things done without understanding their significance, I started to get less defensive and realise my faults and how others were different from me, I learned to care about others unconditionally, I became more spiritual. I guess there’s something to the saying that brains don’t fully develop until you are 25. The rational neocortex must be the last to fully develop. I’ve also realised in my life, my career motivations driven by the limbic brain. But when I first had my dream career, my neocortex was not developed yet for such a complex career, so I went back to grad school for a few years and took another career I thought was easier but didn’t love. Then after years of doing that, I realised my first choice was correct, and I was now ready to contribute to that career full force with all my resources. I think things are right for you when they are in natural alignment with all three brains, and it is then that you can truly be creative & contribute to society.

    • Thank you for sharing, Anna. Yes, that’s true, the newest part of the brain is the last to develop in humans. Many people make wrong choices in life because of our foolish education system which pushes mere children spiritually speaking, to choose their life-time careers. It’s always wise to have a break and once you feel mature enough, to make decision what to study, if to study at all. I’m glad to hear you’re now doing the work you’re supposed to do.

  11. I greatly appreciate this article. Very clear and true !

  12. frank a silvey jr says:

    Simona,excellent blog,I look forward to reading more of your work!

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