Brain Foundational Pre-Human Minds Psychology

Healing the Dissociated Pre-Human Minds of the Afflicted Human Brain


The quadrune mind model of consciousness describes four levels of consciousness, or minds, which can emerge from the human brain. Each level of consciousness, when it is the dominant mind, will produce a distinct pattern of behaviors in our adulthood. These levels of consciousness are associated with different groups of our pre-human ancestors and stages of growth in our own individual development: reptilian-like behaviors during infancy, old mammalian herd-like behaviors in childhood, and new mammalian primate-like behaviors in adolescence. Adult human beings also have new, or more developed, behaviors not seen in our biological ancestors. The quadrune mind model of consciousness identifies the apparently unique human traits of consciousness with spirituality or enlightenment.1

There are many afflictions of the human brain that prevent the development of a healthy adult mind to support the spiritual life of a Human being. These afflictions cause damage to the neurocircuitry and other structures of the brain2 Consequently, instead of one well-integrated healthy human brain, which produces a unified Human mind directing our behaviors, emotions, and thoughts, we have an afflicted brain that produces three dissociated, incompatible pre-Human minds—competing to dominate our minds. Because of the repeated exposure of afflictions to our brains, which can affect any of us from conception until our death, most of us live at a “pre-Human” level of existence, which causes all of the “evils” of the world. It is our life’s work, then, to find ways to heal our brains of their afflictions so that we can be the healing spirit in the world we are meant to be.

A Developmentally Based Neurospiritual Model to Heal the Afflicted Brain

Following are a few suggested ways to help heal a person’s afflicted brain of some of its afflictions. Helping techniques are provided for each level of mental development. This material is drawn from the clinical work of Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D.3 Dr. Greenspan developed a comprehensive therapeutic approach tailored to six levels of ego structure formation as he conceptualized it. His approach was built upon a psychodynamic orientation to treat childhood developmental problems. He also incorporated into his treatment philosophy the ideas of Jean Piaget regarding cognitive development. I believe that Dr. Greenspan’s approach, as we apply it to the quadrune mind model of consciousness, is broadly consistent with current neuroscience.4

Greenspan believed that a patient’s emotional level of development determines the right kind of technique for a therapist to use. The therapeutic relationship that “allows the developmental process to occur (or reoccur) during therapy are conditions that are similar to those occurring in normal childhood development.”5 However, for any help to be ethical and effective, the therapists must also be aware of their own state of emotional development.

Of course, my presentation of this material is not intended to replace professional psychotherapy, or other professionally appropriate interventions, to treat mental disorders. It is provided as an educational guide to understand some of the issues of consciousness involved in our efforts to become more consciously Human. More important than this disclaimer is the philosophy of the quadrune mind model, which says that decreasing suffering and increasing healing is not a role reserved only for professionally trained health care professionals. It is, in fact, the very meaning and purpose of Human life.

Healing the Dissociated Minds of the Human Brain

At each level of consciousness, or mind, I will describe (1) a sample of the developmental goals each mind should achieve as it matures and (2) some approaches that contribute to healing the mind of an afflicted adult. These guidelines are not “10 Easy Steps to a Healed Life.” The examples are from Dr. Greenspan’s case studies used in his developmentally based psychotherapy model. The cases are designed to be used in the training of mental health professionals. Nevertheless, I believe they illustrate how the different pre-Human minds are distinctly revealed in people’s behaviors. These clinical techniques are grounded in the skillful use of empathy. This approach means that the therapist makes an effort to understand the world from the patient’s perspective. It is a philosophy we all need to have if we aspire to live Human lives.6

Pre-reptilian “Mind” 

Developmental Goals. The newborn human is randomly aware of various sensations, such as sights, sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. The mind is not developed enough yet for the newborn to act intentionally in response to these sensations. That is, there is no “mind” that transforms discrete sensations into mentally organized patterns of perceptions from which the mind can gain meaning. External and internal sensations are undifferentiated; consequently, newborns have a “sense” of oneness with their surroundings. The newborn can distinguish mother’s voice from others, but does not seek her out. The newborn has an undifferentiated consciousness consisting of an alert state of affect and reactivity to received sensations.

Healing the Mind. Few of us will ever encounter a person regressed to this very primitive mental state, although in the “Pre-reptilian mind” paragraph of our blog on Tara Westover, we discuss just such an occasion that she describes in her book Educated. A person who is functioning at a newborn-like level of mentality may experience severe sensory imbalance. A helper strives to be aware of how another person physically reacts to each sensory modality, such as touch, sound, sights, and smells, even if the person is unable to say what he or she is feeling.

A woman had visited a therapist’s office on several occasions. She frequently sat down in a corner of the room hugging the wall. She wouldn’t look the therapist in the eye. She sat in silence for long periods of time. Nevertheless, she was able to keep her appointments and would get up and leave at the end of her appointment. Her first therapist interacted with her verbally, describing her behavior as passive-aggressive. The woman would look offended and hurt, and would react by performing more peculiar posturing. The therapist became more frustrated and hostile. A second therapist did not try to get through to the woman with words. It was clear that the woman was not able to process language in her state of mind. This therapist was able to determine that the woman had a hypersensitive reaction to touch. For some of these individuals; for example, people with autism, the deep pressure of walls and corners can be comforting. 

The second therapist and woman explored together how nestling in the corner felt comforting. Because of the collaborative approach, she was then able to describe to him how she felt when she didn’t comfort herself and that she sometimes didn’t know where her arms were. She felt somewhat depersonalized from “her” body. The second therapist arranged the office environment so that the woman could expand her sense of security. He placed pillows on the floor. He muted the overhead lights and lowered his voice to a level she found more soothing. He made the changes in the environment he reasonably could to make concrete his empathetic understanding of what she needed to be able to regulate her level of attentiveness to the external world. As her confidence increased, he began to discuss with her times when she felt she was able to look directly at him—and when she was not. For example, he learned that when his voice was too loud or his facial expressions were too animated, she felt overwhelmed by sensory overload and had to divert her eyes from him. 

Sometimes adults enviously comment on how babies can sleep in the midst of a loud environment, such as a party. But we shouldn’t think that this means that they are “relaxed.” Babies can often be overloaded by sensory stimulation. Too much noise, for instance, can cause a baby to “sleep” or “shut down.” Helpful therapists and parents continually monitor a patient’s, or baby’s, reactions to the environment for clues to his or her state of mind.

Reptilian Mind

Developmental Goals. Infants are vaguely aware of the existence of an external-to-self world. Their behavior becomes more interactive with the external world by intentional planning and behavioral objectives, such as seeking a toy to play with. Happiness is no longer fragmented, but is beginning to be associated with experiences, such as playing with the dog. Infants can identify the self as an object in the world; the “me” who wants a kiss from mother. However, the “me” is still fragmented, with the “angry me” experienced as a disjointed self from the “happy me.” 

Healing the Mind. This case study from Dr. Greenspan shows a person functioning out of a reptilian, behavioral mind, as evidenced in the way the man operates through behaviors (gestures, body language, tone of voice) rather than logic (words) as well as his preoccupation with establishing his personal power rather than establishing a social bond with the therapist (as we would expect to see if he were operating from an old mammalian, group-minded mentality). To help him move past the reptilian mind, the therapist must help him feel safe on a reptilian, behavioral level so that he can move toward accessing his old mammalian, emotional mind. Jumping straight into talking about emotions would not work with someone operating from a reptilian mindset, who would not be able to understand emotional language and might interpret the intimacy as an affront, similar to breaching the individual’s territory (protecting territory is essential to the reptilian minded individual).

A therapist saw a young man whose behavior and gestures indicated problems regarding dependency and emotional closeness. The man used bossy, controlling behaviors in order to appear independent and establish a dominant relationship with the therapist. Each time he met the therapist, the man tried to control the rhythm and tone of their interactions. The therapist tried to verbally interpret the man’s behavior to the man; of course, to no avail (as the reptilian mind is pre-verbal). The man approached each meeting with a “stare down” competition to dominate the therapist. He would speak in a domineering loud voice, often cutting off the therapist from speaking. The therapist became aware that he was also performing competitively dominant behaviors, although more subtly. Finally, the therapist began to take a developmental approach to the man’s behaviors.

The therapist had tried to comment about the man’s apparent attempts to control everything, but his words had little meaning for the man. The man was not yet able to verbally represent what motivated his behaviors. The therapist noticed that the man initiated no gestures expressing warmth or closeness. When the therapist asked about emotions, the man adamantly denied missing any experience of feelings. The therapist tried new behavioral approaches to the man’s determination to be dominant. The therapist adopted a fairly neutral stance: not passive or competitive. He maintained a more equal vocal tone, a neutral facial expression, and a relaxed body posture. When the man interrupted, the therapist asked him if he wanted the therapist to continue expressing his thought—or stop. The man later reported that when the therapist took this direct approach, the man had felt more “viscerally connected” to the therapist because there was “more going on.” 

The therapist continued relating to the man’s behavioral style in a more direct way; for instance, by stating, “You just took charge of what we were talking about,” without offering any psychological interpretation of that behavior. The man was “disarmed” by the therapist’s direct statement. Although he wasn’t able to verbalize feelings of pleasure, fear, or excitement, he began expressing his emotions through his gestures. For example, the man displayed a faint grin of pleasure in taking charge. Over time, with the help of the therapist’s measured behavioral encouragement, the man was able to enlarge his emotionally-related gestures; e.g., nodding heads toward each other and exchanging smiles. From that point, the therapist and the man were able to explore and experiment with the affects and gestures related to the man’s issues with dependency and pleasure.

Old Mammalian Mind

Developmental Goals.  During childhood, the discrete “me’s” of infancy become more able to coexist within the same sense of self. The “angry me” can coexist with the “happy me” to form a more emotionally complex sense of self. Children may begin to develop the capacity to hold a conception of “mom” across space so that thoughts of her are emotionally comforting even though she is not physically present. The sense of self has larger and more coherent parts, but significant gaps within “selfhood” remain. Over time, emotional integration of a whole “self” occurs. Children can then experience—if their caregivers can tolerate it—a broad spectrum of feelings as appropriately belonging to one person.

Healing the Mind. In this case study, we again see a man who is unable to fully access his old mammalian mind, as seen in his inability to express emotions and lack of engagement with other people. Allowing the man to form a relationship (an old mammalian ability7) on his own terms (in other words, from his currently dominate self-focused reptilian mind) again kept him from feeling threatened in his reptilian mind and opened the door for him to develop his old mammalian mind.

One of the most common emotional problems people have is with feelings of intimacy and a sense of emotional engagement with others. A man began seeing a therapist with an eager expression that she was “the right therapist for me.” However, he established a pattern of missed appointments. He left long, complex messages telling her how the meetings at work kept him from coming in. Repeatedly, he assured her that he was eager to come in for the next appointment. When he did come in, he spoke at length about the day’s events or how work meetings sapped all of his energy such that he could not break away to see her. He even cancelled five consecutive meetings, but he never hesitated to pay for last-minute cancellations. 

The therapist suggested that the man was missing appointments because she was not meeting his needs. Although he said there might be something to that, he assured her that he was happy to have her as his therapist. Nevertheless, the pattern of missing appointments continued. She became more and more annoyed with the man.

It became evident that the man had maintained relationships with significant people in his life only as long as they cared for his concrete needs. People mattered as far as they could entertain him, feed him, or share athletic activities with him. He never spoke of feelings of sadness, anger, or jealousy regarding those relationships even though he was capable of being charming and people tended to like him. The therapist realized that she had overestimated the man’s ability to represent emotions within his level of consciousness. She realized that the man functioned at a very shallow level of awareness—with the perception of people as things. After the therapist dealt with her own fears of inadequacy in the relationship with the man, she was able to empathize with his need to keep his time commitments conditional to be free to decide what he wanted to do in a particular moment. She accepted that an immediate need to see a client at work was more important to him than to keep an appointment with her. 

The man proposed a couple of innovative plans, including talking by telephone as an alternative to meeting in her office. The therapist initially balked, but then realized that the man had never before had a consistent relationship with anyone. The man began to call the therapist faithfully. She was able to appreciate that their unconventional therapeutic relationship was evolving toward a deepening sense of relatedness with an increased number of contacts between them each week.

New Mammalian Mind

Developmental Goals. During adolescence, communication for communication’s sake becomes more valued than just using communication to get a need met. We learn to enjoy symbolic expression as much as concrete actions. Reading, writing, poetry, mathematics, the arts, and the sciences can become profoundly satisfying. The emotional pleasures of relationships become attached to communications with other people so that shared ideas are as satisfying as shared actions. Caregivers who also enjoy communicating help the adolescent to become a more reflective person. Reflective adolescents are able to use symbols and, in general, to think. They are able, for example, to think before acting. Thoughtfulness becomes valued for itself. Memories become richer, consisting not only of past actions, but also containing history of emotions, goals, and desires. Memories are thus able to provide adolescents with meaning and purpose in their lives, an essential part of our sense of humanity. 

Healing the Mind. This case study shows a woman whose ideas and fantasies about how things should be blind her to how things really are. (Which might lead us to think that she is overly reliant on her new mammalian mind.) Healing afflictions that cause us to get stuck in our fantasies involve seeing reality as it actually is, and accepting it—a Human minded trait. However, we see that in many ways this woman, like the people in the previous two case studies, is actually stuck in her reptilian mind—for example, we see this in her inability to feel her emotions and the way her mental script dictates how everything should go (like a routine to maintain homeostasis). Therefore, as with the other examples, she needed to heal her afflicted brain to move beyond her disconnected reptilian mind. Therefore, although she looks to be new mammalian dominated, her ideation is actually serving her reptilian mind. Her therapist is able to help her healthily access her new mammalian mind and understand abstract ideas by helping her connect her reptilian, old mammalian, and new mammalian minds.   

A young woman was angry with her therapist because she thought he had been rude to her by telling her that she “wanted to have her cake and eat it too.” The therapist’s comment was in response to the woman stating that she wanted to keep her marriage while she pursued a romantic relationship with a man who fulfilled her idealized image of what an exciting man should be. She said she loved her husband and he made her feel secure. Still, she fantasized about a “knight in shining armor,” which did not fit her image of her husband. She had been depressed with suicidal ideation. In order to avoid her suicidal thoughts, she had to preserve thoughts of the important people in her life as being perfect. 

Over time, the therapist shifted from assuming the woman could reflectively talk about her emotions to systemically addressing the mental script she had for herself and the therapist. He had to behave “perfectly,” or else she had done something wrong, and she would have to leave therapy to protect him from her “destructive” behavior.

The therapist stopped giving his verbal summaries of what emotions she must be feeling. Although her behavior and facial expressions appeared enraged or despairing at times, she would intellectualize that she “must” be enraged but didn’t “feel” it. The therapist did not challenge this disconnect between emotion and thought, but instead he helped her focus on a feeling she could experience: numbness.

Gradually, by expanding the range of affects that he helped her to mentally associate with physical and behavioral changes, she was able to move from undifferentiated somatic rage to an awareness of a more abstract idea of rage. This mental representation finally allowed her the ability to feel, and consciously process, the emotions of disappointment and sadness in her life.


The human brain can support four levels of consciousness, or minds, not just one. Each mind is experienced subjectively very differently from the others. Each mind interacts with the world in different ways. We can learn to identify which mind is dominant by the behaviors, emotions, and thoughts people describe having. We can use our understanding of these four minds to become a better member of our family, member of society, and steward of the earth.

Additional Resources

Greenspan, S. I. (1997). Developmentally based psychotherapy. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.

Greenspan, S. I. (1997). The growth of the mind: And the endangered origins of intelligence. Reading, MA: Perseus Books.

Greenspan, S. I., & Shanker, S. G. (2006). The first idea: How symbols, language, and intelligence evolved from our primate ancestors to modern humans. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Gupta, S. (2020, August 14). Why do we miss the rituals put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic? These traditions bind us to our groups and can help calm us. Science News. [Article discusses the value of (sub-emotional) rituals to help us feel calmer when we are emotionally stressed].

Levine, S. (1987). Healing into life and death. New York: Anchor Books. [Stephen Levine and his wife, Ondrea, worked many years with seriously ill people. This book provides meditations that relieve physical and mental suffering—and a profoundly insightful philosophy, which distinguishes between a physical cure and spiritual healing].

  1. See pages 5-11 of the Study Guide and our blog “QM as a Model of Spirituality” for additional information related to this material.
  2. For a neuroscientific view of how psychological, biological, and social/environmental circumstances may relate to neuropsychiatric disorders, see Chen, Y., et al., 2014.
  3. Greenspan, S. I. (1997). Developmentally based psychotherapy. Madison, CT: International Universities Press.; Greenspan, S. I. (1997). The growth of the mind: And the endangered origins of intelligence. Reading, MA: Perseus Books.; Greenspan, S. I., & Shanker, S. G. (2006). The first idea: How symbols, language, and intelligence evolved from our primate ancestors to modern humans. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press
  4. For an example of prenatal and early childhood brain developmental research, see a summary by Tierney and Nelson, 2009.
  5. Greenspan, Developmentally Based Psychotherapy, page 262.
  6. For more general examples how the pre-Human mentalities affect peoples’ daily lives, see our blog on working in a nuclear complex and recovering from trauma.
  7. That is to say, relating to members of a group is first available to us in our old mammalian mind. But we do not want to give the impression that the old mammalian mind is the best mind to govern relationships. The old mammalian mind connects to other members of our own “herd.” But the Human mind is capable of far more sophisticated relationships, with those who look different from ourselves or who are not even human beings, such as animals and plants.