Has Our Brain Evolved Enough To Show Us The Way To a Better Life?

In the last post we looked at how the reptilian brain evolved to solve problems of survival and how we are still influenced by that pattern of behaviour; since what is encoded in our genes cannot be changed, future life forms can only evolve by building onto what we have already inherited from the previous life forms. I also mentioned how the  mammals attempted to adapt to new situations and what some of the drawbacks were  associated with their strategies. Today I want to look at how humans have evolved, what strategies have been adopted by us and if they are working for us to live a good life.

Remember with primitive brain, as I mentioned in my previous posting, there is a quick, aggressive and  automatic response in a given situation; either to satisfy a desire or to protect oneself or to protect a territory . These are strategies that got evolved and developed over millions of years; and have a survival value. That’s why we still carry them in our genes today. They have become like a game plan for life. Overtime these game plans or strategies have become very elaborate and there are components in our minds that are quick to pick on certain types of information and then helps direct our attention, feelings, reasoning and behaviour. These patterns of behaviour can be activated quite fast and sometimes become active before we are even aware of them and you find yourself asking ” why did I do that, what was I thinking ?”

Lets looks at some of the strategies/ archetypes and how they influence us in everyday life. Quite often some of these guiding strategies and archetypes have element of a seductive quality to them because we like the way it makes us feel and its mode of thinking. Let say for example we belong to a particular religion, we like the way we feel about it and its way of thinking. This suggests that we have accepted the archetype of the religion and identify ourselves as belonging  to it. It also means that this religious archetype will fill us with passion and direct our thinking so that we believe and follow all its teaching. So far so good. Now, suppose another religion who we had been working with for many years on joint projects, suddenly started to advocates for having abortion in certain situations and your religion thinks allowing an abortion in any situation is a serious error.We will automatically , without thinking , starts to condemn this new position taken by the other religion because we have already endorsed the archetype of our religion. When we first endorsed  the archetype of our religion no one at that time advised you of the risks of losing your own individuality or the potential of violence due to disagreement with other religious groups. One simply gets infused with the desire to belong, be part of , follow and conform. We forget we maybe limiting our way of being.

Lets take another example of girls with blonde hair. You say “she is starting a new job and she is a blonde.” Immediately image of this person flashes across our minds without even giving it a thought. Or a blonde girl may say I can’t do mathematics because I am blonde and we immediately understand her reasoning. It’s because there is an archetype about girls with blood hair. You can see these strategies and archetype limits our thinking and therefore our behaviour ; but they do communicate information which can either be accurate in certain situation or very distorted in others. We can also see we can easily fall in with archetypes of  feeling and thinking; which doesn’t allow us to think critically about the assumptions we adopt. Knowing this can lead to some very important insight about the whole nature of our minds.

Let us see now see how the human brain has been improved so that our behaviour is not just a destructive reaction triggered by impulses of our desires? The major new abilities are the use of language and symbols, to think things through, to reason, to reflect, imagine new possibilities and even impossibilities. These new abilities allows us  to stand back from and reflect on what is going on in our minds, and in what we are feeling and doing,that we can do things differently then what our impulse dictates. This potentially  gives us a great flexibility in how we choose to enact different desires and motives. For example, we can separate sexual pleasure from the consequence of the act by using contraception; acquire status and put off having children altogether ; or become celibate in pursuit of enlightenment.The point is than that the desires may not have changed that much over time but because of  our human brains, we can invent thousands of ways to act them out or to refrain from them,which is both a blessing and a curse.

So what can we do to improve ours lives so that we are at peace, live without fear and with ease ? We can learn to understand how the old strategies and archetypes influence us. We can then learn to stand back from identifying with any archetypal process and instead, first think of ourselves as sentient life form that owe our current existence, experiences and competencies to the millions of other life forms that have gone before us. Next, we can identify ourselves with other human. We have all ‘simply arrived here’ and are trying to do the best we can with the brain we neither designed nor, to some degree, understand. We can recognize that we have enormous capacities for being benevolent or malevolent,which we need to understand with compassion. Only then should we start to think about ourselves in more local terms, such as our religious or political group. Our mind seems to be wired in the opposite direction, to stir up strong passions of identification with our local group. BUT it is understanding how we work against those passions generated by selfish interests AND by identifying ourselves as human being in the flow of life that can become key to our action for a better life.


The Compassionate Mind  By Paul Gilbert 

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