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New Mammalian Mind Profile

QM, Tara Westover, and History’s Age of Reason

As discussed in my blog on Temple Grandin and in the Study Guide, quadrune mind is a brain-based model of spiritual consciousness. One of its basic ideas is that our human brain lies on a progressive continuum of brains across the evolutionary history of species, which is tied to the developmental growth of individuals and cultures.

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. This same sequence of mentalities can be recognized in our own personal lives, and in global cultural advances. However, our fourth mind appears to be unique in our evolutionary and historical past: the Human mind. The quadrune mind model helps us realize the full potential of our human brains by developing our Human mind, while also helping us better understand our three pre-Human minds.  

Tara Westover’s experiences, as detailed in her memoir Educated, can assist us in understanding our four minds, as defined by the quadrune mind model, as well as what it feels like to develop from one mentality to the next.

At age 17, Tara Westover moved from a secluded Idaho mountain home to Brigham Young University to begin college. In Educated, she describes the extreme social and academic culture shock she experienced at the BYU campus. It was the first time she was exposed to a world different than the one she had grown up with. It was her first time in a classroom. She found many daily aspects of her new life disorienting. Crosswalk signals, sirens, and even people chattering on the sidewalk “battered” her mind, in contrast to the familiar sounds of her mountain home in Idaho. 

We know that Westover was able to navigate loud, life-threatening machines without fatal distractions for the many years she worked for her father. In the book she had previously described the “thunderous” sound of the shear, a three-ton “pair of scissors” used to fracture angle iron in her father’s scrapyard business. Yet, the sounds of BYU’s campus battered her. Whatever the cause of her severe discomfort, it surely was not the decibels involved. What seems relevant to the quadrune mind model is Westover’s report that she “heard every sound individually.” 1 I speculate that the neurons of her brain did not know how to fire in a neurological pattern that her mind could organize conceptually. The neurons in her brain had not yet learned to “fire together” in order to “wire together” to produce a unified perceptual gestalt of her university world. Consequently, her mind was disturbed by the indecipherable noise. After repeated exposures, and probably because she had an otherwise remarkably healthy brain, it was able to settle into familiar patterns of perception in order to transform the noise into meaningful sounds.

Westover also notes that she had an impaired ability to engage with her education while under continuing economic distress. Her educational future was threatened by a fourteen hundred dollar root canal procedure needed to fix a long-rotting tooth. She observes, “Curiosity is a luxury reserved for the financially secure….”2 It was only after receiving a grant that she could fully embrace her studies. Threatening emotions can affect our ability to learn as well as our creation of memories. An article published in Frontiers in Psychology found that “…mild and acute stress facilitates learning and cognitive performance, while excess and chronic stress impairs learning and is detrimental to memory performance.” Stress is also one of the many afflictions that can prevent us from developing through each of our four minds defined in the quadrune mind model, leading us to get stuck in one of our pre-Human minds. We will not be able to progress to our next mind until we have healing relationships with other people. Yet even then, moving from one mentality to the next involves growing pains. Often, people will remain dominated by the reptilian, old mammalian, or new mammalian mind because of the stressful uncertainty of change. 

Westover’s graphic description of the climactic rupture between her and her family, and its aftershocks, is an iconic example of the turmoil that can come with a changing of minds

Turmoil underlies evolutionary growth, individual growth, and cultural growth.

Below are excerpts from Tara Westover’s self-reported experiences that seem relevant to the quadrune mind model of consciousness. In particular, I will look at what her experiences tell us about individual and societal growth. I recommend the Temple Grandin resources listed at the end of this blog for more information about the turmoil involved in evolutionary growth, which is Grandin’s primary focus. [Disclaimer: This QM-based philosophical interpretation of Tara Westover’s memoir is solely for informational and educational purposes and is not intended to be a professional psychological profile.]

Individual Growth. From a quadrune mind perspective, Educated has much to say about an individual’s mental growth.

Pre-reptilian mind. Westover describes what she calls a panic attack (and I would say more closely resembles Post-Traumatic Stress disorder) in the following way: “I had pressed myself into the wall and was hugging my knees to my chest, trying to keep my heart from leaping out of my body. My friend rushed toward me to help…. It was an hour before I could let her touch me….”3

The quadrune mind model can also help us understand Westover’s symptoms in a new light. The most relevant point for the quadrune mind is Westover’s inability to feel comforted by her friend’s touch. It fits a hypersensitive, pre-reptilian “somatic” state. Shock stuns the thinking (new mammalian) and even the emotional (old mammalian) minds, leaving the person reactive only to sensations, unable to recognize anyone as another person, much less that the person is a friend wanting to help. The only information that the brain is processing are the internal physiological sensations of extreme biological threat. The mind is almost completely unable to take in any information from the external environment. 

Someone who completely shuts down and is hypersensitive to any sensations appears to be functioning in the pre-reptilian state. Although discussed on page seven of the Study Guide, we do not include the pre-reptilian state as one of the four minds in the quadrune mind model because it is not an organized mind. It is rare to see an acute regression to the pre-reptilian state in adults. However, it’s hallmark sensory reactivity is readily evident in very young babies (those between birth and two to four months of age), where it is developmentally appropriate and the only mental state available. 

Reptilian mind. Much of Educated is devoted to Tara Westover’s efforts to survive, and live with, the rituals, rules, and roles of her survivalist, possibly bipolar father, even after she physically moves out of his home. Survival is the only goal of the reptilian mind. For any group, including families, which holds survival as its essential purpose, traditionalized rituals, rules, and roles are instinctively felt to be vital for its continued existence. Everything a person in such a group does, says, or thinks must be done in service to preserving the homeostatic functioning of the group. To act contrary to the needs of the group, even in seemingly minor ways, is not tolerated. Depending on the group, dissidents may be labeled, for example, as ingrates, radicals, or heretics.

Old mammalian mind. Westover describes a scolding email from her mother: “The bulk of it was a lecture on loyalty….”4 The implicit message to Westover was if you are not loyal to the family you will be cast out (and die, or at least be dead to us). A person’s psychological, and even physical, survival may be emotionally attached to an almost unlimited variety of groups: biological family, tribe, cult, religious tradition, political party, gang, nation, skin tone, ethnicity, or any other social construction of a person’s essential identity. Westover understands that “I could have my mother’s love, but there would be terms…that I trade my reality for theirs, that I take my own understanding and bury it….”5 The choice, as a member of a group the person believes is necessary for her survival, such as family, is either to reject all thinking that threatens the “sacred” teachings of the parents, or be cast out into the wilderness. A homeless journey in the wilderness is almost unavoidable for the person who is expelled from her family/tribal home. Westover wanders in the wilderness for many years.

New mammalian mind. As Westover writes later in her book, “The distance—physical and mental—that had been traversed in the last decade nearly stopped my breath, and I wondered if perhaps I had changed too much.”6 After completing her Ph.D. and returning home, Westover writes that she came back to her father’s house “as if I were a troublesome calf who’d wandered from her herd.”7 Her statements clearly describe the feelings a person might have who chose intellectual freedom over emotional bondage, and payed the price for her choice.

Human mind. This discernment of mind cannot be made with any confidence from reading a memoir. It can best become apparent within the context of an ongoing, personal, mutually inspiring relationship. Westover’s testimony of herself is that she is “a changed person, a new self.”8 Interestingly, Steve Taylor, a senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK, lists a “new self” in his “18 unmistakable signs of spiritual awakening.” He also mentions a “lack of group identity” as part of spiritual awakening, which supports the quadrune mind’s proposition that we cannot find spiritual fulfillment from our old mammalian, group mentality, but only through our fully-realized human consciousness.

Cultural Growth. In her academic work described in Educated, Westover appears to have recapitulated the Age of Reason of Western civilization, which makes sense in light of the journey the QM model suggests she had from a reptilian-minded childhood to a new mammalian-minded college experience. By leaving her family to attend college, Westover began the long and hazardous journey of learning to think for herself.

She was “gripped” by the song lyrics of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/None but ourselves can free our minds.” She copied those lines onto the margins of essays she was writing for her “formal” education at Brigham Young University, the first school she ever attended. She began to experience some measure of freedom for her mind when she read utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill’s observation regarding the nature of women: “It is a subject on which nothing final can be known.” Westover found much comfort in this “absence of knowledge.”9 These two sharp-pointed ideas began to chip into the carved-in-stone identity she had as a woman, pronounced upon her by her father and older brother. While at Cambridge, she learned to tour Rome as a person who could “[E]ngage with the great thinkers of the past, rather than revere them to the point of muteness.”10 Her doctoral work culminated in a Ph.D. dissertation in which she was able to research the letters of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young through the eyes of an academic thinker rather than as a Mormon disciple. Her age of reason was maturing.

Historically, it had been as tumultuous for western cultures to experience the age of reason as it was for Tara Westover.  As with Westover, Western civilization experienced very similar severe disruptions between people with an enlightened mind of reason and people with the traditional mind of faithfulness to church and home. In the quadrune mind model, this conflict would reflect the old mammalian mind resisting the growing pains of moving to the new mammalian mind. At a societal level, we see growth from the old mammalian to the new mammalian minds during the Age of Reason in the movement to separate church and state; Isaac Newton’s and John Locke’s scientific and philosophical writings furthering the argument that human reason is man’s best chance to advance human society; and, of course, Immanuel Kant’s credo of the age: “Dare to know! Have the courage to use your own reason” (or understanding or intelligence). Westover’s travails with the process of mental growth are surely commensurate with the experiences of many people living in the West around the 18th century.

At this point Westover’s age of reason appears to diverge from the historical version. The coldly-intellectual Age of Reason did not appeal to a large segment of the population, which pushed back with their own emphasis on emotion. From this, we get the Romantic Era, a period of dark, moody paintings and literature filled with wind-swept moors. Although we believe that in the long term society is progressing toward a more Human environment (no longer are the enslavement of large groups of people or public executions commonplace), in the short term there is often a pushback to progress. This is precisely because of the growing pains we have discussed associated with transitioning between minds. Societies are made up of individuals living from all four minds. As more and more new mammalian-minded individuals fill a society, an age of reason is inevitable. But there will undoubtedly be many old mammalian-minded people who are not interested in making that transition, so they may take back control and return their culture to a more emotional state, at least until their numbers dwindle and the rationalists can lead with less opposition.

As with societies, individuals may stick their toe into the pond of growth only to pull it back out and run home. But Westover does not appear to be reverting to a pre-new mammalian mind by returning to her family or her earlier way of life. When the world supports our exploration into a new mentality–as it seems to have done for Westover by praising her journey into reason with rave reviews for Educated–continuing to live from our new mentality feels far more doable.

And we believe that her growth is not yet done. From what she has said, we think that she is incorporating compassion into her reason, and this is the key to transitioning from the new mammalian mind to the Human mind.

Our hope is that more people have the kind of support that Westover received as they transition to a higher mentality. The only way that society at large will progress past our current age of reason and technology to an age of universal compassion is for individuals to have relationships that support their growth into their Human minds.

For an edifying description of Westover’s developing mind, and related material, see the resources listed below.

Additional Resources.

Aspen Institute (J. Goldberg, Interviewer.). (2019, June 26). Educated: A Conversation with Tara Westover. Aspen Ideas Festival. 

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 is an animal scientist who has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. She believes that her autistic brain lies on an evolutionary continuum between animal brains and human brains. As such, she is in a unique position to use her expertise to translate animal mind thinking to humans in a way that benefits both animals and human beings].

Greenspan, S. I. (1997). The growth of the mind: And the endangered origins of intelligence. Reading, MA: Perseus Books. [This is an excellent resource for understanding what the quadrune mind calls the pre-reptilian somatic state]. 

Mattson, M. P. (2014, August 22). Superior pattern processing is the essence of the evolved human brain. Frontiers in Neuroscience. [A comprehensive review of the developing human mind from evolutionary and historical neuroscientific perspectives. Note: Mattson cites Jensen’s “race” basis for intellectual differences. It seems that Mattson mitigates some of Jensen’s use of race, by referring briefly to the emerging evidence of the epigenetic influences on the cognitive abilities of afflicted populations (see “Afflictions” on page 8 of the Study Guide)].

Westover, T. (2018). Educated. New York: Random House. 

  1. Westover, pages 138-139 and 154
  2. Page 203
  3. Page 313, emphasis added
  4. Page 322
  5. Page 322
  6. Page 312
  7. Page 320
  8. Page 329
  9. Pages 257-259
  10. Page 269

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