Freedom: Expanded Book 1—The Old Biology
Part 4:8 Third Category of Thinker: Those who recognised the involvement of the elements of instinct and intellect in the psychosis of our human condition, but who avoided the issue of the human condition by denying we have moral instincts
With the examples set by Marais and Koestler, we can now see very clearly how dangerously, suicidally depressing it has been for virtually all humans trying to confront and think honestly about the issue of the human condition. It is now very clear why virtually everyone has been committed to avoiding the subject—a practice we will see undertaken in earnest in the remaining two categories of approaches to the all-important issue that had to be solved of the human condition.
The third variety of thinkers who recognised instinct and intellect as the key elements involved in our human predicament includes those who, while acknowledging the elements, denied that we humans did once live in an innocent, cooperative, harmonious, loving state. These thinkers were, in fact, not trying to confront the human condition, but avoid it.
Paul MacLean’s recognition of the involvement of the elements of instinct and intellect in the psychosis of our human condition, but avoidance of the issue of the human condition by denying we have moral instincts
In the 1950s the American neurologist and author Paul MacLean (1913-2007) developed his theory of ‘the triune brain’, which states that humans are a mentally unbalanced species because of an inadequate coordination between our emotional old brain and our cognitive new brain. In his books A triune concept of the brain and behaviour (1973) and The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions (1990), MacLean proposed that humans have not one brain but three, each originating from a different stage of our evolutionary history. He said there is the inner original reptilian brain that comprises the brainstem and cerebellum, which tends to be rigid, compulsive and ritualistic, intent on repeating the same behaviours over and over. This brain controls muscles, balance and autonomic functions such as breathing and heartbeat. Then there is the middle ‘limbic’ brain, which comprises the amygdala, hypothalamus and hippocampus and is prominent in lower mammals. Derived, he argued, from survival being dependent on the avoidance of pain and on the repetition of pleasure, MacLean described the limbic brain as being concerned with emotions and instincts, in particular feeding, fighting, fleeing and sexual behaviour. And thirdly, there is the outer neo or cerebral cortex brain of higher mammals, which is concerned with reason, invention and abstract thought. Although all animals have a neocortex, in most cases it is relatively small—the exception being primates, and in humans in particular it is massive, constituting five-sixths of our large brain. Scientists had assumed that the neocortex effectively dominated the brain’s lower levels, but MacLean differed, arguing that having originated from separate stages of evolutionary history the three brains were relatively independent systems. He said that ‘the three evolutionary formations might be imagined as three interconnected biological computers, with each having its own special intelligence, its own subjectivity, its own sense of time and space, and its own memory, motor, and other functions’ (The Triune Brain in Evolution, p.9 of 672).
Because of the independence between these three brains MacLean saw them as frequently being dissociated and in conflict, with the lower limbic system that rules emotions even capable of hijacking the higher mental functions when it so chooses. As such, MacLean perceived great danger in the limbic system’s power, viewing the limbic brain as the seat of our value judgments instead of the supposedly more appropriate advanced neocortex. According to MacLean, the limbic system decides whether our higher brain has a ‘good’ idea or not, whether it feels true and right. MacLean explained this concern in The Triune Brain in Evolution, documenting how, during seizures, certain epileptics experience what they variously describe as ‘feelings of eternal harmony’, ‘immense joy’, ‘paradisiacal happiness’, ‘feelings completely out of this world’, ‘what it was like to be in heaven’, ‘feelings of familiarity or déjà vu’, ‘feeling of enhanced awareness or the feeling of clairvoyance’, of having ‘clear, bright thoughts’, that ‘seem as if “this is what the world is all about—this is the absolute truth”’ and that their thoughts during these episodes or auras ‘seem so much more important and vital than they do in ordinary living’ (pp.446-449). Referring to such studies of epilepsy where ‘a patient may experience during the aura free-floating, affective feelings of conviction of what is real, true, and important’, MacLean was prompted to ask, ‘Does this mean that this primitive [limbic] part of the brain with an incapacity for verbal communication generates the feelings of conviction that we attach to our beliefs, regardless of whether they are true or false? It is one thing to have the anciently derived limbic system to assure us of the authenticity of such things as food or a mate, but where do we stand if we must depend on the mental emanations of this same system for belief in our ideas, concepts, and theories? In the intellectual sphere, it would be as though we are continually tried by a jury that cannot read or write’ (p.453). In the following extract from an interview recorded in the 1986 book The Three-Pound Universe, by J. Hooper and D. Teresi, MacLean elaborated, saying, ‘While the neo-cortex, with its sensory equipment, surveys the outer world, the limbic system takes its cues from within. It has a loose grip on reality.’ The interview went on to describe how ‘In the 1940’s MacLean became fascinated with the “limbic storms” suffered by patients with temporal-lobe epilepsy. “During seizures,” he recalls, “they’d have this Eureka feeling all out of context—feelings of revelation, that this is the truth, the absolute truth, and nothing but the truth.” All on its own, without the reality check of the neo-cortex, the limbic system seems to produce sensations of déjà-vu or jamais-vu, sudden memories, waking dreams, messages from God, even religious conversions…“You know what bugs me most about the brain?” MacLean says suddenly. “It’s that the limbic system, this primitive brain that can neither read nor write, provides us with the feeling of what is real, true and important. And this disturbs me, because this inarticulate brain sits like a jury and tells this glorified computer up there, the neo-cortex, ‘Yes, you can believe this”’…This is fine if it happens to be a bit of food or if it happens to be someone I’m courting - “Yes, it’s a female, or yes, it’s a male.” But if it’s saying, “Yes, it’s a good idea. Go out and peddle this one,” how can we believe anything?’ (pp.48-49). In the electronic book Laws of Wisdom, the author, who is known only as ‘Ralph’, provides this analysis of the above quote: ‘MacLean warns us not to fall for the soul trap of the middle brain. The limbic system is likely to think anything is true, anything is sacred, and to build thought around desires. His insights underscore the need for thinking to not be the slave of feeling; it should stand in its own right. You shouldn’t leave your higher brain out of the value judgment process anymore than you should leave your emotions out of choosing a mate.’
There are some very important points to make about MacLean’s triune brain interpretation. Firstly, citing an inadequate coordination between our old and new brain is on the right track to explaining the upset state of our human condition, but it doesn’t extend to the bottom of the problem. The limbic brain and the neocortex do have their ‘own special intelligence’, their ‘own subjectivity’, their ‘own sense of time and space’, and their ‘own memory, motor, and other functions’, and these differences do produce dissociation and conflict between the two brains, but what is it about the different intelligences and resulting subjectivities and senses of time and space and memories that actually causes the conflict between these two particular brains? The 3,500 year old story of the Garden of Eden recognises that taking the fruit from the tree of knowledge—becoming conscious—led to our divisive, corrupted, ‘evil’ state.
In the 1930s the philosopher George Gurdjieff wrote Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, a novel in which he recognised that man is a ‘three-brained being’—one brain for the spirit (intellect), one for the soul (the emotional instinctive self) and one for the body (the primitive, foundation part of our mind). The outstanding question in all these accounts, however, is what particularly is it about the differences between our old brain and new brain that causes them to be in conflict? Why are they uncoordinated? Humans have known since time immemorial that they have conflicting parts of themselves, in particular a conscience that condemns any divisive behaviour that our conscious mind might put into practice. People have even questioned whether the explanation of the human condition that I put forward is original, citing others such as Arthur Koestler or Paul MacLean or Plato or Gurdjieff as having previously recognised the instinct versus intellect conflict. What is significant is that none of the other accounts recognised that the conflict between our instinct and intellect occurred because instincts are only orientations so when the insightful nerve-based learning system became sufficiently able to understand cause and effect to wrest management of self from the instincts the instinctive orientations would have challenged that takeover, leaving the intellect no choice other than to defy that resistance, with that necessary defiance being the explanation for our angry, egocentric and alienated human-condition-afflicted state. Once seen it is an extremely obvious explanation for our human condition, but as biologist Allan Savory recognised, ‘whenever there has been a major insoluble problem for mankind, the answer, when finally found, has always been very simple’.
The other very important point to make about MacLean’s account of the triune brain is that he failed to recognise the significance of the emotional instinctive self that ‘sits like a jury and tells the neo-cortex, “Yes, you can believe this.”’ He said ‘[it] bugs me’ that we have ‘this primitive brain’ that tells us ‘what is real, true and important’, adding that it ‘is fine’ for our primitive instinctive brain to tell us what is a good ‘bit of food’ or a suitable mate, but not what constitutes ‘a good idea’. As has been emphasised, our instinctive orientation was to behaving in an utterly cooperative, integrative, harmonious way. We did once live compliant with this integrative, cooperative meaning of existence. We did once live in an ideal, ‘Golden’, ‘Garden of Eden’, ‘Godly’, ‘heavenly’ state, free of corruption and the agony of the human condition—hence the ‘feelings of eternal harmony’, ‘immense joy’, ‘paradisiacal happiness’, ‘feelings completely out of this world’, ‘what it was like to be in heaven’, ‘feelings of familiarity or déjà vu’, ‘feeling of enhanced awareness or the feeling of clairvoyance’, of having ‘clear, bright thoughts’, that ‘seem as if “this is what the world is all about—this is the absolute truth”’ that epileptic seizures can suddenly give access to through the immensely alienated, denial-committed, cave-dwelling state that blocks ‘normal’, human-condition-afflicted humans’ access to this ecstatic state. Later it will be explained how drugs have been used throughout history to help traditional healers, such as shamans, break through the now deeply habituated overburden of alienation in the human mind and re-access our instinctive self or soul’s original all-loving, integratively-orientated and immensely happy free state. Far from our older instinctive limbic brain being a ‘soul trap’ that has no ‘grip on reality’ and which we have to avoid being a ‘slave’ to, our instinctive self or soul’s integratively-orientated, moral conscience is the only thing that has saved humans from living out their upset anger, egocentricity and alienation to the full! As for our instinctive self or soul not being able to read or write or understand language, it can still sense if a behaviour is selfish or aggressive—after all, we weren’t initially adapted to understanding how to behave cooperatively, only to the effects of behaving cooperatively. MacLean’s inability to properly interpret what he is observing and, above all, to reach the deeper understanding of why there has been conflict between our instinct and intellect was due to his denial of any truths that bring the issue of the human condition into focus, in particular his denial of the truth that our original limbic instinctive brain was orientated to living in a harmonious, fully cooperative, moral way. Most humans are now so alienated it is only through experiencing an epileptic fit, or another equivalent alienation-busting event, that they can access the truth. Indeed, the alienated mind has been absolutely dedicated to not getting to the truth.
So while MacLean recognised that there was a conflict between our old and our new brain and a difference in the natures of the two, he denied that our old, instinctive brain had any moral authority. He determinedly resisted this ‘memory of a lost paradise, of a Golden Age, [that] is very deep in man’ (as Berdyaev truthfully described it) and which gave rise to our instinctive self or soul’s moral conscience—but to deny we have a moral conscience is to deny one of the two basic elements involved in producing the upset state of the human condition. MacLean recognised that we have two different learning systems but he wasn’t prepared to admit that one of those learning systems, namely our instincts, was cooperatively orientated. Since it was our cooperatively orientated moral instincts that caused us humans to have a sense of guilt when our conscious mind defied our instincts, in denying the existence of our moral instincts MacLean was avoiding, not confronting, the issue of our human condition.
Erich Neumann’s recognition of the involvement of the elements of instinct and intellect in the psychosis of our human condition but avoidance of the issue of the human condition by denying we have moral instincts
Erich Neumann (1905-1960), an analytical psychologist who has been described as Carl Jung’s most gifted student, also recognised the battle and rift between humans’ already established non-understanding, ‘unconscious’, instinctual self and our newer ‘conscious’ intellectual self. In his 1949 book The Origins and History of Consciousness, Neumann wrote that ‘Whereas, originally, the opposites could function side by side without undue strain and without excluding one another, now, with the development and elaboration of the opposition between conscious and unconscious, they fly apart. That is to say, it is no longer possible for an object to be loved and hated at the same time. Ego and consciousness identify themselves in principle with one side of the opposition and leave the other in the unconscious, either preventing it from coming up at all, i.e., consciously suppressing it, or else repressing it, i.e., eliminating it from consciousness without being aware of doing so. Only deep psychological analysis can then discover the unconscious counterposition’ (p.117 of 493). In saying that once the instinct and intellect ‘fly apart’ it is ‘Only deep psychological analysis can then discover the unconscious counterposition’, Neumann was recognising that you couldn’t get back to the innocent state and all the truths that reside there if you were living in denial of all the truths associated with the innocent state. Having denied all those truths you were in no position to think effectively—and for most people if they wanted to try to think truthfully and thus effectively, as Carl Jung did, they faced terrible inner demons—a ‘primeval terror’, as Berdyaev described the horror of facing the issue of the human condition.
Having recognised that denial blocks access to the truth Neumann, hypocritically, went on to adopt just such denial. Just as MacLean avoided the issue of the human condition by denying we have a moral conscience, Neumann avoided the issue of the human condition by denying that we humans did once live in a cooperative harmonious state—a paradisal, ‘Golden’, ‘Garden of Eden’, innocent state from which we have departed, or as Berdyaev said, ‘fallen’ from. While Neumann and a number of other analysts of our human situation, such as Carl Jung, Ken Wilbur and Carl Sagan, did recognise the involvement of the elements of instinct and intellect in our unique human situation, they dismissed the idea that we humans did once live in a cooperative, harmonious, peaceful, loving state as nothing more than a nostalgia for the security of infancy—in fact, as nothing more than ‘a metaphor for the womb’ (Memories & Visions of Paradise, Richard Heinberg, 1990, p.194 of 282). For example, in The Origins and History of Consciousness, Neumann wrote that ‘The dawn state of perfect containment and contentment was never an historical state’ (p.15), this time ‘before the coming of the opposites’ was ‘a prenatal time’ in ‘the uroborus’ or ‘the maternal womb’ (pp.12-13). Ken Wilbur, the popular ‘new age’, ‘human potential’ advocate, similarly wrote that ‘mankind did not historically fall down from Heaven; it fell up and out of the uroborus’ or womb (Up From Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution, 1981, p.298-299 of 372). The truth is that this time when we lived in a cooperative harmonious state did exist—it was an historical state.
As stated, apart from a few like Berdyaev, Marais and Koestler, these thinkers weren’t trying to confront and explain the human condition—they were actually trying to avoid the issue by denying that we have an instinctive moral conscience that was acquired during a time when our ancient Australopithecine ancestors lived in an utterly cooperative state. Their strategy was to maintain that there is no basis for our moral conscience, hence no guilt, hence no real confrontation with the issue of the human condition. Shortly, in Part 4:12, we will see how this same tactic for avoiding having to truthfully confront the issue of the human condition by maintaining there is no basis for our moral conscience was taken to the extreme by biologists, one of whom actually dismissed our moral conscience as nothing more than ‘a euphemism’! The big difference between the presentations put forward by the biologists who will be mentioned in Part 4:12 and those put forward by MacLean and Neumann was that at least the latter two recognised that there was an underlying psychosis involved in our human situation that had to be explained, despite the ultimate dishonesty of their attempts to do so.
As initially emphasised, you could never reach the truth about the human condition from a position of denial, and that is why these thinkers who denied our moral soul couldn’t get to the full truth about the human condition. The impasse and stalling point has been the inability to confront the issue of the human condition.
Julian Jaynes’ recognition of the involvement of the elements of instinct and intellect in the psychosis of our human condition, but avoidance of the issue of the human condition
While his analysis of our human situation was flawed in a different way to that of MacLean’s and Neumann’s efforts, the American psychologist Julian Jaynes’ (1920-1997) theory of the breakdown of what he called the ‘bicameral mind’ (as presented in his 1975 book, The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind) should be included in this Part on those thinkers who recognised the elements of instinct and intellect in the psychosis of our human condition, but avoided the issue of the human condition.
In his 1985 book Bone Games, the American author and journalist Rob Schultheis provided this good summary of Jaynes’ theory: ‘According to Jaynes, humankind was once possessed of a mystical, intuitive kind of consciousness, the kind we today would call “possessed”; modern consciousness as we know it simply did not exist. This prelogical mind was ruled by, and dwelled in, the right side of the brain, the side of the brain that is now subordinate. The two sides of the brain switched roles, the left becoming dominant, about three thousand years ago, according to Jaynes; he refers to the biblical passage (Genesis 3:5) in which the serpent promises Eve that “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil”. Knowing good and evil killed the old radiantly innocent self; this old self reappears from time to time in the form of oracles, divine visitations, visions, etc.—see Muir, Lindbergh, etc.—but for the most part it is buried deep beneath the problem-solving, prosaic self of the brain’s left hemisphere. Jaynes believes that if we could integrate the two, the “god-run” self of the right hemisphere and the linear self of the left, we would be truly superior beings’.
Using Schultheis’ terms, Jaynes did recognise that there was a time when ‘modern consciousness’ ‘did not exist’ and humans were purely ‘intuitive’ and that later the logical, ‘conscious’ ‘brain’ usurped management from and ‘killed’ the ‘old’ ‘prelogical’, ‘radiantly innocent’, ‘god-run’ ‘intuitive’, instinctive ‘brain’. However, it wasn’t a switching of dominance from the more lateral and imaginative right side of our brain to the more sequential, logical left side of our brain that caused the upset, corrupted, alienated, sensitivity-destroying human condition, but rather the difference in the way genes and nerves process information.
In the human brain, one side (the right) specialises in general pattern recognition while the other specialises in specific sequence recognition. One is lateral or creative or imaginative while the other is vertical or logical or sequential. One stands back to ‘spot’ any overall emerging relationship while the other goes right in to take the heart of the matter to its conclusion. We need both because logic alone could lead us up a dead-end pathway of thought. For example, we can imagine that for a while our thinking mind could have assumed that the most obvious similarity between fruits was that they were brightly coloured. However, with more experience the similarity that proved to have the greatest relevance in the emerging overall picture was their edibility. Similar processes occurred in genetic ‘thinking’. Dinosaurs seemed like a successful idea at one stage, but due to changing influences, possibly the effects of a massive meteorite hitting Earth, they ultimately proved to be a wrong idea, prompting ‘nature’ to back off that avenue of approach and take up another, namely the development of warm-blooded mammals. When one thought process leads to a dead-end our mind has to back track and find another way in: from the general to the particular and back to the general, in and out, back and forth, until our thinking finally breaks through to the correct understanding. The first form of thinking to wither during alienation was imaginative thought because wandering around freely in your mind all too easily brought you into contact with unbearable truths such as Integrative Meaning. On the other hand, if we got onto a logical train of thought that at the outset did not raise criticism of us there was a much better chance it would stay safely non-judgmental. Children have always had wonderful imaginations, but often not as adults—the reason being that children had yet to learn to avoid free/ open/ adventurous/ lateral thinking; they had yet to resign themselves to living in denial of the issue of the human condition. Edward de Bono, who attempts to re-train people to use their imagination and has popularised the process under the term ‘lateral thinking’, once said that ‘often the pupil who is not considered bright will be the best thinker’ (The Australian, 3 March 1975). Because mental cleverness is what led us to defy our instincts, it follows that the cleverer we were, the sooner we challenged our instincts and became upset and alienated. Cleverness and alienation have been linked, hence the less clever have tended to be the least alienated and thus the most truthful and thus the best thinkers.
Jaynes truthfully recognised that humans have lost access to a seemingly magical, all-sensitive, and inspired original instinctive self, but to try to explain it by claiming, as he did, that the capacity for self-awareness and introspection emerged with the development of language and then writing only some 3,000 years ago, and that prior to that people were not capable of introspection—that, for example, the writers of the Iliad and sections of the Old Testament lacked the ability to be self-aware—is absurd. The denial-based, immensely alienated upset state of the human condition is a deeply ancient condition. All the psychosis and its resulting upset in us that led us to using sex as a way of attacking the innocence of women, to covering our lust-inspiring naked bodies with clothes, to hunting animals because their innocence unjustly condemned us, to women seeking to adorn their bodies to make them more sexually attractive, to men becoming so angry that they went to war against each other, to the emergence of humour to lighten the load of the extraordinary extent of the dishonesty in our lives, etc, etc, all reveal, if we are prepared to be even slightly honest, that the upset state of the human condition is an extremely ancient, in fact two-million-year-old, condition.
Jaynes’ theory does not represent a profound analysis of the human condition. In fact, it is so superficial as to be dishonest and human-condition-avoiding. So although Jaynes doesn’t deny our all-sensitive and loving moral soul, like MacLean and Neumann did, his treatise does belong in this category of those who recognised the elements involved of instinct and intellect but avoided the issue of the human condition.
Robert A. Johnson’s recognition of the involvement of the elements of instinct and intellect in the psychosis of our human condition but avoidance of the issue of the human condition
In his 1974 book He: Understanding Masculine Psychology, the American Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson (1921-) described the agony of adolescents having to resign themselves to a life of denial of the unconfrontable issue of the human condition. In doing so, Johnson recognised the ‘unconscious perfection’ of the pre-conscious ‘Eden’ state that humans had to suffer the ‘pain’ of leaving in order to eventually achieve ‘a conscious reconciliation of the inner and outer’ worlds. He wrote: ‘It is painful to watch a young man become aware that the world is not just joy and happiness, to watch the disintegration of his childlike beauty, faith, and optimism. This is regrettable but necessary. If we are not cast out of the Garden of Eden, there can be no heavenly Jerusalem…According to tradition, there are potentially three stages of psychological development for a man. The archetypal pattern is that one goes from the unconscious perfection of childhood, to the conscious imperfection of middle life, to conscious perfection of old age. One moves from an innocent wholeness, in which the inner world and the outer world are united, to a separation and differentiation between the inner and outer worlds with an accompanying sense of life’s duality, and then, hopefully, at last to satori or enlightenment, a conscious reconciliation of the inner and outer once again in harmonious wholeness…we have to get out of the Garden of Eden before we can even start for the heavenly Jerusalem, even though they are the same place. The man’s first step out of Eden into the pain of duality gives him his Fisher King wound…Alienation is the current term for it’ (pp.10-11 of 97). (The ‘Fisher King’ is a character in the great European legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table.)
Johnson has here accurately described the psychological journey that the human race has had to go on from ‘innocent wholeness, in which the inner world and the outer world are united, to a separation and differentiation between the inner and outer worlds with an accompanying sense of life’s duality…to satori or enlightenment, a conscious reconciliation of the inner and outer once again in harmonious wholeness’ through the finding of understanding of the human condition. But that is not Johnson’s meaning. He’s not talking about the actual finding of understanding of the human condition that leads to the end of the human condition, but of individual humans arriving at an intuitive reconciliation of the imperfections of human life as it has existed under the duress of the human condition. He is counselling young men about the journey they have to go on while living under the duress of the human condition, telling them they have to strive towards eventually achieving a mature, sophisticated appreciation of the complexity of life under the duress of the human condition, not of the human race eventually solving the human condition. In giving his counsel what Johnson has inadvertently done is describe humanity’s real journey from ignorance to enlightenment. He has unintentionally, not intentionally, let the truth out about the true nature of the human journey. He’s misrepresenting the ‘tradition’ about the true nature of humanity’s ‘psychological development’.