PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
BETTER TIMES AHEAD IN CNMI - IF WE USE OUR HEADS
By Rik and Janel Villegas
SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 2) – We've noticed an interesting phenomenon lately as the tension rises in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Recent budget cuts, reduction in hours, or job losses have been the obvious cause of anxiety. During these stressful times, emotions flare and relationships are strained. We have noticed that people who are normally rational and compassionate have made choices that do not seem to consider the feelings of others, nor the long-term consequences.
While preparing for a study skills workshop, I recalled an interesting theory by neurologist Paul MacLean, which might have some bearing on why people do what they do during stressful times. MacLean believes that humans actually have three brains in one. His "triune brain" consists of the R-complex, the Limbic system, and the neocortex, which act like three interconnected biological computers, but they each seem to operate as its own brain system with distinctive capacities. It's interesting to note that some spiritual traditions, such as Kabbalah, Platonism and the Chakra paradigm teach the idea of three planes of consciousness and even three different brains for the spirit, the soul, and the body.
The R-complex comprises the brain stem and cerebellum and it controls basic, instinctive survival behavior and thinking. It is similar to the behavioral programming of snakes and lizards, and it keeps repeating the same behaviors over and over again, never learning from past mistakes. The R-complex is obsessive, compulsive, ritualistic and paranoid. This brain controls balance, muscles, and autonomic functions, such as breathing and heartbeat. It is always active, even when you are in deep sleep. It physically looks like a golf club turned upside down with the handle representing the spine and brain stem, and the club represents the cerebellum.
The Limbic system is similar to the brain of lower animals and is the source of emotions, feeding, fighting, fleeing, and sexual behavior. MacLean believes the Limbic system is the seat of our value judgments, instead of the more advanced neocortex. It decides whether our higher order brain has a "good" idea or not, and it takes over when in a survival situation to decide whether we will take flight or fight. Survival depends on the avoidance of pain and the repetition of pleasure. This surrounds the R-complex, and it could be illustrated by a thick sock covering the golf club.
The neocortex, or cerebral cortex, is similar to the brain of higher mammals, and it controls reason, speech, and higher-order thinking skills that distinguish humans from animals. It takes up two thirds of the total brain mass, and MacLean referred to it as "the mother of invention and father of abstract thought." This is the wrinkled mass of grey matter that we usually associate with the brain, and in our illustration it would look like a biker's helmet on top of the thick sock covering the golf club.
MacLean’s research argues that most of our behavior is the result of cooperation between the three systems of the brain. This hypothesis has caused many scientists to rethink how the brain functions. The highest level of the brain, the neocortex, was believed to dominate the other, lower levels; however, MacLean has shown that the physically lower limbic system, which rules emotions, can take over the higher mental functions when it needs to.
Now, in better times our neocortex allows our "humanness" to demonstrate our humane-ness in situations. However, when times are bitter and we sense danger, the Limbic system can kick in to subvert an individual's humanity and engage their animal instincts of survival. Animals are born in fear, live in fear, and die in fear. This is not bad, because it allows them to constantly be aware of danger and react instinctually to keep out of danger.
What is bad, though, is that decisions are made that do not take into account long-term consequences. Relationships are ruined, and once the dust settles, the situation could be worst. When the "animal brain" dominates we question actions, second-guess common occurrences, and dissect casual comments. Internal voices can be heard saying: "What did she mean by that?" "Why is this being changed?" or "I think he's up to something!" Unfortunately, a person who is operating from their animal brain has difficulty recognizing it. You could have them read this article, and they would just respond: "So what?"
If you have been hearing yourself make similar comments, you are reacting from a survival stance, and preparing for any danger you sense coming your way. Carefully consider the comments or decisions you make while you are in a survival mode. They may not consider the impact on people and what would be best for everyone involved with a situation. The human brain operates from love and acceptance, and it nurtures relationships because it strives to find harmony and peace. People who operate mostly from their human brain have great relationships; while people who operate from their animal brain struggle in their relationships. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is in need of better relationships and good decisions. Many are taking flight. Those of us who are staying for the fight, just might realize better times if we use all of our brains.
[Rik is a business instructor at Northern Marianas College and Janel is the owner of Positively Outrageous Results. They can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org]
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