Actual Freedom Library

Please note that the text below was written by the feeling-being ‘Peter’ while ‘he’ lived in a pragmatic (methodological), still-in-control/same-way-of-being Virtual Freedom before becoming actually free.

Simplified Schematic Views

of the Brain’s Circuitry

Peter: Human beings are unique among the animal species in that we have a large ‘modern’ brain – the neo-cortex – capable of thinking, planning and reflecting which overlays the primitive reptilian brain – the amygdala – the source of the instinctual passions of fear, aggression, nurture and desire. This diagram forms the scientific neuro-biological basis of what it is we are doing on the wide and wondrous path to Actual Freedom.

Recent studies by LeDoux and others empirically confirm that the ‘quick and dirty’ instinctual, passionate responses of the primitive brain are primary and automatically over-ride the thoughtful, considered responses of the neo-cortex.

We are, in fact, genetically programmed to be driven, consumed or overwhelmed by the animal instinctual passions that give rise to malice and sorrow. Thus, in spite of all our best and well-meaning efforts to keep our malice and sorrow under control, we are but ‘animal’, at our very core.

LeDoux’s studies concern the relationship between the thalamus, the amygdala and the neo-cortex. The most significant fact of LeDoux’s experimentation is that the sensory input to the brain is split at the thalamus into two streams – one to the amygdala and one to the neo-cortex. The input stream to the amygdala is significantly quicker – 12 milliseconds as opposed to 25 milliseconds to the neo-cortex. Also, less information goes to the amygdala – it operates as a quick primal scan to check for danger, or opportunity, which is why it is described as the ‘quick and dirty’ processing pathway.

This dual pathway not only results in automatic instinctual bodily responses but the amygdala also has a direct connection to the neo-cortex – ie we sensately experience the resultant chemical flow a split-second after the bodily reaction, causing us to ‘feel’ the instinctual response.

These investigations also substantiate the fact that no matter what degree of control is exercised by the neo-cortex in terms of morals, ethics, good intentions, etc., when ‘push comes to shove’ we revert to type – and reverting to type means animal-instinctual.

This flow of chemicals, experienced in the neo-cortex, the heart and the ‘gut’, are the very palpable source of our instinctual emotions of fear, aggression, nurture and desire.

We have produced three more diagrams, based on our initial diagram, showing a schematic representation of the development of the brain’s circuitry and programming at birth, by age 2 to 3 years and at about 7 years. I would emphasize that, while the diagrams are a factual representation of what happens in the initial years of a human’s life, they are purely schematic in neurological terms.

They should be treated as guides only, and although we are well aware of the potential for nit-picking abuse and misrepresentation, I personally find them very useful in order to make sense of the functioning of that extraordinary organ, the human brain.

In new-born babies, the neo-cortex is largely unprogrammed and, still forming and growing for some time after birth. The amygdala comes with a genetically-implanted instinctual self, ready and primed to develop. This primitive self is part and parcel of the survival instincts – they are an integral package.

The instinct is first and foremost for the survival of the species, hence the willingness of the adult to sacrifice his or her own life for the offspring. Then comes self-survival, the survival of one’s self – a physical-only act in non-cognitive animals which is translated into psychic and psychological fear and aggression in humans.

As can be seen, by the age of about 2 to 3 years we have a fully functioning circuitry in action. In the amygdala sufficient events have occurred for the emotional memory to be fully functioning and active. Emotional responses and reactions which have their roots in memories of past events, people and places are clearly observed in infants at this age.

The emergence of a distinct self coincides with increased mobility, socialization and independence from parental dependency. The supposed innocence of babyhood, due to the unformed cognitive faculties and rudimentary-only emotional responses, are a thing of the past – the parents now have an almost fully functional emotional-being on their hands.

With the development of speech, increased socialization, peer group pressure and teachers’ and parental ‘guidance’ around 7 years of age we see the emergence of a social identity. Instilled by reward and punishment, ‘carrot and stick’, the child is taught what is considered good and what is considered bad. Instruction and programming of morals, ethics, values, beliefs and psittacisms are necessary to keep the lid on the instinctual passions and to make one a fit member of the family and of society at large. One is told that it is ‘time to grow up’ and ‘you’re old enough to know better’.

These core values, this identity, will be with one for life, with only very slight adjustments made. A period of rebellion can often arise from this imposition but ‘when push comes to shove’ the child will invariably fall back into line or simply ‘grow up’.

With the kick-in of the reproductive instincts at puberty a certain seriousness, a degree of responsibility, becomes readily apparent; no doubt an integral part of the package of procreation. For with the ability to father or mother comes the instinctual willingness to accept the responsibility involved.

More detailed information

A Down-to-Earth Freedom from the Human Condition – Happy and Harmless in this Lifetime

 Diagrams & Peter’s Text ©The Actual Freedom Trust: 1997-.  All Rights Reserved.

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