Early on, when The Village Square was just a glimmer in our eyes, I learned a little something about human nature – and something about reptiles – from my priest Father Melvin Gray of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
It seems that, no matter how evolved we humans might be, there’s a bit of reptile in all of us.
That comes from neuroscientist Dr. Paul McLean’s Triune Brain Theory which posits, more or less, that our complex human brain capable of rational thought is built on the chassis of a lizard brain.
According to McLean, it is the instinctual and reactive part of our brains (the brain stem and cerebellum), simply capable of reacting, not of thought. The second level of our triune brain is the mammalian brain (the hypothalamus, hippocampus and amygdale) which is capable of caring, playfulness, communication, relationships. Think your cat and dog.
And then there is the cortex and neo-cortex, our human brain, which gives us the capability of problem-solving, philosophical thought, leadership, etc.
McLean’s theory views the connection of the human and reptile brains as similar to a driver training car with two sets of controls. Normally, it’s the human brain at the wheel, but when anxiety gets high, the lizard brain jumps on in, all the while the driver thinking their rational brain is still in control.
Lizard brains can be a good thing when used at the right time. Good reads like Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker argue effectively why our snap reptilian judgments can be very accurate in certain circumstances, for instance in assessing danger.
Other times, our human brain should be up to bat, say, when we vote?
Stay tuned for “Of Lizards and Humans, Part Deux” where I’ll develop this idea a bit to ‘splain where we find ourselves right about now.