Brain Philosophy

Thoughts On How We Got Here & The Evolution Of Our Brains

Creationism is a dramatic story. The Supreme God commands the universe into existence, touching the earth to make humanity. But I think a more powerful story is the extraordinary evolutionary force that brings a universe into existence and gives rise to stars, life, and human consciousness. Every atom in our bodies was once stardust. Biblically, angels were called “stars,” so one might say we are made of angel dust.

As Jalal al-Din Rumi wrote, “I died as mineral and became a plant, I died as plant and rose to animal, I died as animal and I was human….” Creationism denies mankind its purpose and meaning of existence: to be co-creators of spiritual love out of a material base through long, drawn-out and difficult “natural” processes.

I believe creationism trivializes life and makes people prone to be zap-happy. That is, a certain expectation of sudden epiphanies at critical lifetime moments is instilled into people who approach life from a creationist point of view. But there is a great deal of life that needs to be lived between “miracles.”

To me, it is more impressive and dramatically appealing to believe the narrative of the God of evolution rather than the narrative of the God of creation. It is the long struggle of animate matter to become more conscious and, finally, spiritual, in the face of repeated catastrophe and setback. Not to mention the highly dramatic concept of inanimate material becoming animate in the first place.

Evolutionary and developmental spirituality is inclusive rather than righteously exclusive. Humanity is just one piece of an extraordinarily grand journey toward spiritualization of the material world. This inclusiveness applies across the human species in the quadrune mind model. No one is excused by virtue of any group membership or individual excellence from the responsibility to reduce suffering and increase healing. All are responsible for the advancement of all.

The quadrune mind model of neurospirituality implies a dynamic evolutionary imperative; a teleological attraction toward which all creation is directed. Life cannot be preserved in the status quo. When life’s growth toward spirituality is thwarted, there are always negative consequences, as well as positive consequences unrealized.

People and other animals are able to affect their own evolutionary course by reworking their physical and social environments in each generation. By changing their minds, they change their brains!

Evolution has given us a neurologically “plastic” (adaptive) brain that allows us to use old evolved functions to develop newly intrinsic traits to bring us into greater harmony with our changing environment. Stephen Jay Gould (no fan of an evolutionary teleology, as we discussed in our blog on the quadrune mind, creation, evolution, and panpsychism) used the term “exaptation” to mean the “coopting of previously evolved functions to do new things.” 

From an evolutionary perspective, the quadrune mind model states that at each stage of brain evolution, a new set of behaviors become available to the organism. The previous behaviors remain, but the organism is neurologically equipped to go beyond the limits of the species at the previous level of development. At the last stage of development (so far), we come to people, who have the most highly developed prefrontal cortex, which is the organ of spirituality in the quadrune mind model.

Each evolutionary stage and its respective set of behaviors are fairly distinct from one another. The reptilian mentality allows for hunting, homing, mating, establishing territory, and fighting. The old mammalian mentality produces maternal care, play, and the isolation or separation call. The new mammalian mentality results from the recent frontal lobe brain expansion and provides for increased intellect, increased vocalizations, and the enhanced cultural transfer of learning.

The reptilian part of the human brain, the brain stem, evolved about 335 million years ago. The old mammalian limbic system evolved about 220 million years ago. The cortex was the last part of the brain to have evolved. According to current estimates, substantial increases in brain size relative to body size occurred in the ancestry of mankind between 800,000 and 200,000 years ago. It is the substantial neocortex that sets people apart from the other earthly creatures. However, it is often trapped into serving the old brains (minds) in us, which reduces our daily behavior to that of the lower animals. Its servitude is often so complete that the thinking brain is not capable of recognizing itself as behaving animalistically, perhaps for a person’s entire lifetime. On the other hand, the prefrontal cortex is much tougher to fool, which results in some degree of existential suffering by a person who has become aware that life seems to lack a deeper meaning (because the person is not operating from his or her Human mind).

It is often true that the human brain is a more powerful tool than people have the skill to use well. But that is the task we have: to learn how to live up to the potential of the highest human mentality of compassion, empathy, and love for the “other.” In order to do that, each person must learn how to reduce physical and emotional suffering in his immediate world. Not to do this is to live a neurotic or addicted life out of the lower mentalities. All subhuman lifestyles, if unexamined, can successfully distract a person from realization of his failure to live a fully Human life—until he dies. For example, alcoholism sedates the highest mentality first, leaving the more primitive mentalities blissfully unaware of the person’s existential failure as a human being. As it has been said, “We forget ourselves.” We might say that our purpose in life is to remember ourselves—or maybe meet ourselves for the very first time.