Brain Old Mammalian Mind Profile

QM, Temple Grandin, and Our Evolutionary Brain

Quadrune mind is a brain-based model of spiritual consciousness. One of its basic ideas is that our human brain lies on a continuum of brains over evolutionary time. The evolving brain carries over structural characteristics from older species to newer species. This progression of brains results in identifiable changes in minds, as well. A mind can be classified by the kinds of observable behaviors it supports. QM describes three types of minds we have inherited from our evolutionary past: reptilian-like mind, old mammalian-like mind, and new mammalian-like (primate) mind. Our fourth mind appears to be unique in the biological history of the world: the Human mind. 

Temple Grandin is the famed animal scientist who has revolutionized the cattle processing industry nationally and internationally. She also has an autism spectrum diagnosis. She believes that her autistic brain lies on a continuum between the animal brain and the “normal” human brain. She uses her brain to understand the minds of animals and the autistic minds of people. Grandin is able to give very enlightening subjective descriptions of her mental growth from childhood to adulthood. 

Her experiences can help us have a better understanding of autism, how animals think, and the quadrune mind model. (Educated: A Conversation with Tara Westover is another excellent source of subjective descriptions of a “mind-in-development.” Westover, like Grandin, gives a vivid subjective testimony of her mental processes. These accounts may be understood from a quadrune mind perspective, and help us use the model for greater benefit in our own “thinking about thinking.”)  

As part of the functions of her autistic mind, Grandin develops mental concepts from the “bottom up,” from specific details to general categories. In addition, she is a visual thinker; she thinks in pictures, not words, just as cattle and horses do. Consequently, in forming categorical concepts, she first recalls a visual memory of a specific object; for example, a church steeple she has seen. She uses several such individual memories to build an understanding of what a general class of church steeples means. She then associates verbal language with the pictured memory. As a result she is able to use these word associations in sentences to discuss church steeples generally. 

Grandin describes the high specificity with which cattle and horses also file memories. She points out that these animals also do not think, or remember, in abstract words, but in very specific pictures. For example, horses do not “think” about a general verbal construct of “men wearing hats.” Instead, a horse sees a man wearing a white hat and a man wearing a black hat as two completely different “things.” Consequently, a horse that has been abused by a man wearing a white hat may react fearfully to another man wearing a white hat. However, a man wearing a black hat would not be a problem. Similarly, cattle react to unexpected movements and shapes in their environments that people would think of as a natural part of the stockyard world. Cattle, however, can be startled by something as “natural” as sunlight reflecting off a puddle in the pen. For them there is no mental “gestalt” to account for specific sensory events, which are experienced without a conceptual context. (See Grandin’s Livestock Handling Systems, Cattle Corrals, Stockyards, and Races)

In the quadrune mind model, the old mammalian mind—the mind that would be closest to the mind of a horse or cow—is considered the emotional mind. It reacts emotionally to stimuli without rational thought, which develops later with the new mammalian mind. Likewise, the old mammalian mind struggles to create a cohesive world view based on a complex reality—the Human mind is the most effective mind for handling complexity and uncertainty. Therefore, the understanding of the herd animal mind that Grandin gives us can help us better understand the old mammalian mind that we see exemplified in the way some people think and act. 

The old mammalian mind explains why a person can explode with rage or burst into tears when the slightest little thing—some small matter that many people would think is no big deal—goes “wrong” or not as planned. Similar to the cow being startled by sunlight on a puddle, the old mammalian mind reacts emotionally to anything that is unexpected, without being able to rationally place the unexpected thing into a larger world view where it becomes insignificant in the grand scheme of things. 

The lesson that Temple Grandin teaches us is that animals do not “think” in the same way that most people do—although some people, like herself, can better understand their own way of thinking in the context of the animal mind. The quadrune mind model would say that is because people do not all think the same way, depending on which mind is dominant at the time. Grandin is in the unique position of being aware that she is operating from two different minds with the added advantage of having language to describe them both to us. She becomes an “interpreter” between the worlds of people and animals—and between the new mammalian and old mammalian minds. In this way she is able to awaken us to a more humane way to treat the animals that she loves, as well as a more understanding way to view our own old mammalian mind.

For fascinating and enlightening presentations of Temple Grandin’s insights, and related material, see the resources listed below. 

Selected Resources. 

BOOK TV. (P. Slen, Interviewer). (2009, November 1). In depth with Temple Grandin. C-SPAN.

Grandin, T. (2010, February 24). The world needs all kinds of minds. TED. 

Grandin, T., & Johnson, C. (2005). Animals in translation: Using the mysteries of autism to decode animal behavior. New York: Scribner.

Grandin, T., & Johnson, C. (2009). Animals make us human: Creating the best life for animals. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Jackson, M. (Director). (2010). Temple Grandin. [Motion Picture]. HBO Films.

Mattson, M. P. (2014, August 22). Superior pattern processing is the essence of the evolved human brain. Frontiers in Neuroscience.

McNabb, K. (2019). Ken McNabb horsemanship: Discovering the horseman within. Pagosa Springs, CO: High Horse Video Productions. [McNabb is a horseman who understands, describes, and works well with the mind of a horse. His episodes on how to soften horses to being ridden, and conditioning them to saddles, bits, and other horse tack, are especially related to Temple Grandin’s material and the quadrune mind model of consciousness. His show appears on RFD TV and Cowboy TV].

Temple Grandin School. (Lynch, J. M., Chm. of the Bd.). (2018, July 20). Neurodiversity, women and the spirit of courage. Third Annual Meeting of the Minds with Dr. Temple Grandin, Liane Holliday-Willey and Alix Generous. Boulder, CO.