The brain primary function was to manage bodily functions.
Little by little, more functions have been added to its job description, such as emotions in Brain 2.
Then came the latest addition, Brain 3, which with its reasoning skills, solved major survival problems.
A sample division of labor in the brain
For the feeding issue for instance:
- Brain 1 handles digesting the food or throwing up what was poisonous.
- Brain 2 handles the desire to find food, feeling of hunger, and fear of hunger.
- Brain 3 handles improvements: finding food by hunting, planting crops and social organization, so not everyone has to hunt or grow food.
Brain 3 is also our conscious brain and the center of willpower.
Please note: in the below, I refer to the evolution of a finished adult brain compared to another finished adult brain millions of years earlier, not to the growth from embryo to finished adult brain today (although the process has some similarities).
The connection between Mind and Body
The subsequent versions of the brain were built on top of each other and are physiologically intricate.
We know that some areas are more active than others in some circumstances or that some functions are heavily impaired when one area is damaged, but each piece of the puzzle needs to be connected to some of the others to function.
The consequence is that both what we call conscious thinking and emotional feeling is still connected to bodily functions and vice-versa.
As explored in another article (We are still Cavemen), the current configuration of the brain is relatively recent and one unintended consequence is that it can be easily confused by the information it gets and is especially unable to sort out the various sources of information.
Motion sickness is a typical example. A common hypothesis says that the handling of the perception of motion by the internal ear gets in conflict with other information systems such as eyesight that does not detect anything abnormal.
The interpretation is resolved as a hallucination, and Brain 1 knows only one source of hallucination and that is poisoning.
Throwing out is triggered so to get rid of the supposed poison.
Nature did not anticipate that someone would come up with means of transportation and did not prepare for that. It may take another few million years to fix that problem.
When in danger
When in danger, or in a position of weakness, one of the survival instinct of the brain is to shut down nonvital activity, reduce oxygen consumption, call back the fluids toward the core.
As a result, the chest caves in, the body retracts, the limbs are gathered around the trunk. We are bracing for impact, protecting the core from harm.
All that is commanded by the oldest part of the brain, Brain 1, often based on information provided by Brain 2 (Fear) which itself reacted to information Brain 3 fed it.
And in an age when saber tooth tigers no longer roam around, the trigger may rather be an awkward social situation.
Only Brain 3 can perceive embarrassment, shame and social inadequacy (these concepts are actually fed by one’s Beliefs, also maintained by Brain 3).
But the resulting perception of danger (social death in a Paleolithic society meant being on your own in the Wild – not good) is passed to the Brain 2 (the Limbic, manager of our emotions) which decides a retreat; Brain 1 calls for the emergency position to be assumed.
The body goes limp, the head bows, the eyes look down, breath becomes shallow.
You are beaten.
A nasty email can do that to you.
The above example is showing what happens when Fear has been selected as the core emotion by the Limbic system. Anger or another emotion could have been selected and acted upon. Our personal history, Personal Narrative, and Paradigm are influencing the Limbic system in its choices.
The various segments of the brain being interlocked imply that Consciousness can also influence Emotions and Bodily Functions. The famous Power of the Mind over Body.
One easy way to experience the Power of the Mind over the Body is the use of the Power Poses.
Mind over Body
In a competitive environment, humans and many animals will try to look bigger than their opponents so to deter them. A classic move in primates is to inflate the chest, getting as upright as possible, outstretching arms out. Before that happened, the brain had discharged various hormones and other fluids to stimulate and support that attitude of defense (or attack). All that was triggered by a sense of urgency due to outside circumstances detected as a threat. To be able to commit to battle, the organism as a whole needs to be impervious to fear and pain, basically to feel invincible so not to retreat.
Brain 2 perceives a threat, generates Fear and orders the necessary arsenal for battle; that is a commanding posture and some chemical backup. Brain 1 produces the testosterone and adrenaline to feel strong and insensible to pain.
Back and forth
This entire process is actually reversible and has been scientifically observed by the American social psychologist Amy Cuddy who introduced the concept of Power poses in her 2012 TED talk.
If you voluntarily pump up your chest and correct your back so to be as tall as possible, open your arms and clench your fists, the brain will produce the necessary hormones. Why? Because they both work together.
Brain 1 is a hormone producer, not a strategist.
It does not know this posture was artificially commanded by Brain 3, the conscious brain. It has been fooled into thinking that battle was on the brink and did what it does best: provide chemical backup.
As a result Brain 2 feels ready for battle although no danger is really present. The overall feeling is confidence, and increased levels of the confidence hormones have been measured after a few minutes assuming a Power Pose.
Like a Boss
Walk around, assume the posture and demeanor of a Warlord willing to inspire his army to die in battle. Or just mimic bossy attitudes, back straight, hands on your hips, chin up, strong stare, chest pumped up or feet up on the desk and hands behind your head. Observe your internal changes.
Hence psychosomatic disorders are not fiction, people can really think themselves sick if they believe in it hard enough. The opposite is also true, one can heal oneself (to some extent) with sheer will.
Chronic physical pain has been demonstrated to be directly linked to negatively charged memories and emotions. That is the topic of another article.
Our brain is an organ
The fact that it is also the center of our consciousness of being does not change the fact that it is primarily our bodily function manager. What happens inside this gray bulb is directly linked to what happens everywhere else in the body.
We call the Mind over Body a new Power because we tend to let things happen from the Body toward the Mind. Now we know that Mind and Body actually are linked and we can work at reversing that order.