The human brain is made up of 3 parts, the neocortex, the limbic and the reptilian. Each part represents a different stage in our evolution and has a distinct part to play in the function of our brain.
All three parts of the brain have a vital part to play, no one part is more or less useful or important than another. But we face challenges when all three parts do not work together in harmony. When one single part of the brain is allowed to take over we cannot be truly human and we cannot access our full intelligence. With just the neocortex operating we have cold logic, with just the limbic brain we have uncontrollable emotions and with just the reptilian brain we have survival.
The neocortex is the part of the brain that is unique to humans and higher primates. It’s the part of the brain that allows us to use logic and language and is the most recent part of our evolution. It is not fully formed in humans until about the age of 7. The neocortex is the part of the brain that allows all the other parts to function at a higher level. It does that by applying reason and logic to the issues thrown up by the other two more primitive parts. For example, your reptilian brain will go on full alert when there’s a loud noise, but your logic will tell you not to run for the hills, but to find out the cause. Your limbic brain might want to throw an emotional wobbly if you don’t get your own way, but you can be reasonable and try to find a way around it. The neocortex is the part of the brain that we need to be using at all times to allow us to be truly human and to achieve our full potential.
The limbic brain is also known as the “two year old child” brain. It’s the part, which deals with long-term memory, and emotion. It has no ability to use logic or reason, but it has full access to all the emotions. This part of the brain is fully formed by the time a child reaches the ages of two which explains the phenomenon of the ”terrible twos”. At that age a child has full use of all its emotions but no ability to use logic or reason, if you’ve ever tried to reason with a two year old you would know what that feels like!
The reptilian brain is also known as the back brain. It’s the part responsible for our heartbeat, our breathing and everything that our body does to keep us alive. All of its functions are normally beyond our conscious control. Crucially, it is also responsible for our fight, flight or freeze response, a survival mechanism that allows us to respond instantly to danger. The Reptilian Brain’s fundamental purpose is to keep us alive, and it will over-ride all the other systems if it thinks we are threatened.
In times of stress or in times of change our reptilian brain takes over our body and responds instantly, bypassing all the reason and logic parts of the brain. They are not quick enough. If you have ever nearly been run over, or nearly run into something while driving, or picked up something red hot, you will have experienced the reptilian brain at work, its what gave you the ability to pull back, or slam on the brakes or drop something often before you were even consciously aware of the danger. The reptilian brain is totally instinctive and very fast, it will take over completely in a fraction of the time it takes for the conscious brain to recognise danger. It tells our system to pour adrenalin in, giving us almost super-human strength and speed. This is how it saves our life. The reptilian brain functions almost completely without the help of our conscious brain, we have no control over its functions. If you have ever tried holding your breath for more than a few seconds you will know what that feels like.
In stone-age times this response was incredibly useful. For one thing it allowed our ancestors to hunt wild animals for food and to avoid danger. The flood of adrenalin allowed our cavemen ancestors to run, fight and survive and the face of an angry mammoth. But, in modern times, the reptilian response can be lethal. While our ancestors got to burn off the flood of adrenalin running and fighting and hunting, modern man, or woman, sits in an office, or a car and builds up more and more adrenalin. The adrenalin build up tells our system we are under threat, which in turn causes more adrenalin to flow, creating a vicious circle of tension and stress and causing fatigue, depression, illness and eventually death.
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