Your three brains

In 1978 Paul Maclean proposed the idea that we have three brains, not one. This is a difficult notion to grasp, but stay with it for a moment. Imagine you can reach forward and remove the two outer brains: they will come away quite easily and you will be left with an apricot-sized object (see Figure 1). This is sometimes called your primitive or reptilian brain; as its name suggests, it is the bit that



Figure 1 Three brains

Power Up Your Mind even simple creatures like reptiles have. It governs your most basic survival instincts, for example whether, if threatened, you will stay to fight or run away. It seems also to control other basic functions such as the circulation of your blood, your breathing, and your digestion.

Now retrieve the smaller of the two "brains" that you took off earlier. It is shaped a bit like a collar and fits around the reptilian brain. It is sometimes referred to as your limbic system, after the Latin word limbus meaning border. This is the part of your brain that you share with most mammals. Scientists think it deals with some of the important functions driving mammals, for example, processing emotions, dealing with the input of the senses and with long-term memories.

Finally, pick up the outer, third brain. This is the part that sits behind your forehead and wraps around the whole of your mammalian brain. (Think of one of your hands held horizontally and palm downward, gripping your other hand that you have clenched into a fist.) You probably recognize this bit! It is the stuff of science fiction movies to see its crinkled and lined shape swimming in a glass jar of liquid. It is the most advanced of your three brains, your learning brain. It deals with most of the higher-order thinking and functions.

In evolutionary terms, your small, reptilian brain is the oldest and the outer, learning brain is the most recently acquired. Thinking about the brain in this way helps us see how human beings have progressed from primitive life forms. It also helps to explain in a very simple way why we cannot learn when we are under severe stress. In such situations it is as if a magic lever is pulled telling our outer learning brain to turn off and retreat, for survival's sake, to our primitive brain. Here the choice is quite simple, flight or fight. It leaves no room for subtlety of higher thinking. At various stages throughout this book you will be able to find out how to avoid creating just such an unhelpful response.

Scientists are increasingly sure, however, that Maclean's theories, sometimes known as the idea of the triune brain, are an oversimplification of the way the brain works. In fact, it is much more "plastic" and fluid in how it deals with different functions. Many parts of the brain can learn to perform new functions and there is much unused capacity.


How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave several of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness too much to do and not enough time; the pressure to produce and check off items on our to-do list by each day’s end seems to decide the direction and quality of our existence for us.

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