The following is excerpted from Power Up Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Enlightenment, by David Perlmutter, FACN, and Alberto Villoldo, PhD, published by Hay
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Thousands of years ago, our
ancestors faced a neurological opportunity similar to the one we face today, an
opportunity that facilitated an evolutionary leap forward. With the awakening
of the neocortex, our forebears acquired a new brain structure that nature had
wired for joy, creativity, and innovation.
To access that potential, our
ancestors required specific nutrients to provide fuel to run their
neurocomputer. Once they added brain-enriching foods to their diet, the
faculties of certain individuals, the visionaries of their day, came online and
began to create great works of art, devise written language, establish
civilizations, and lay the foundations for our modern human experience.
During this time, ancestral shamans
described Creation as a web of life in which we are all interconnected. This
was a kind of Indra's Net, which the mythology of ancient India describes as a
web with an infinite number of intersecting strands and a precious jewel at the
intersection of every strand. Each of the infinite number of jewels reflects
every other jewel perfectly. Within this mythical net, all beings are
interrelated, and all of our actions, no matter how slight, affect everyone
else. Within this net, prophets converse with God and interpret His will, while
mystics search for the elixir of immortality and alchemists attempt to
transform lead into gold. These sages, mystics, and alchemists shared the same
preoccupations as seers of today. They asked, as we do now: How can we live
long and healthy lives, unaffected by debilitating illness and degenerative
brain disease? How can we turn the dense lead of human suffering
into the gold of enlightened
In the scheme of history, the quest
for metaphysical answers about the origin of life died when Charles Darwin
published The Origin of Species. The popular understanding of the time was that life is
a perennial struggle for survival, that humankind is governed by a harsh Law of
the Jungle where only the fittest win.
But, fortunately, after centuries
of scientists' dismissal and ignoring of the ancient teachings, people in all
walks of life are once again asking the mystic's questions about the
significance and potential of human consciousness. Could evolution have also
been favoring the survival of the wisest?
Ways of Fear, Ways of Wisdom
The history of human consciousness
is marked by the battle between the older awareness, the ways of fear, and the newer awareness,
the ways of love. When the newer
awareness prevails, we discover a God of love and compassion, express religious
freedom, and practice generosity. When the older awareness dominates, we tend
to worship an angry god who scourges his enemies with plagues and who sends his
chosen people on so-called "holy wars" to ensure his dominance. With the older
brain, greed and intolerance prevail.
Lower awareness views everything,
even nature's beauty and bounty, as a commodity, valued only as a means to
generate profit. Water, one of the essential elements of life, is seen not as a
home of aquatic organisms and a natural means of transportation but as a liquid
to be bottled and sold. Air, another essential element, is seen not as a vital
substance indispensable for breath but as vacant space in which to emit industrial
waste products. Soil is seen not as a necessity for growing food but as
property to be owned, fenced, and contaminated with agricultural chemicals and
industrial and domestic waste. Mountains are seen not for their majesty but as
places to be stripped of minerals and ores. Forests are seen not as animal
habitat and places for spiritual retreat but as potential planks and boards.
Even space beyond the sky above is seen not just as an opportunity for galactic
exploration but as a place to dump planetary trash and spy on our global
Even human beings are viewed as a
commodity when our thinking is fettered to the ways of fear. Children in
developing nations, for example, are seen as labor pawns in sweatshops or, in
developed countries, as future rank-and-file employees. Senior citizens, at
least in Western societies, are not revered for their wisdom but warehoused in
"old people's homes" until death finally gets them out of the way. People of
ages in between, according to Darwinian protocol, are often trained in warfare
or programmed to "get even," if not "get ahead," even at the expense of other
fellow humans. But perhaps the worst dismissal of human value occurs in the
spinmeister term "collateral damage," which would have us heartlessly gloss
over the killing of innocent civilians who happen to be caught in a war zone.
And while the new, higher awareness
offers us the ability to think on a sophisticated and grand scale-to see Earth
from space and to comprehend that, as the health of the planet goes, so goes
our own health and well-being-we find societies, whether developed or emerging,
returning again and again to seemingly inevitable violence in order to resolve
conflicts and impose values on others.
While arguments wage over global
warming-whether it exists or not and, if so, who is to blame, and what is the
cause and the cure-and whether or not the world is perched on the edge of
ecological disaster, many individuals are beginning to realize that human
society is also standing on the brink of an extraordinary leap in
In the previous chapter, we
carefully looked at the characteristics of the brain's first three evolutionary
stages: that is, the reptilian or R-brain, the limbic system, and the
neocortex. Now, to understand this extraordinary leap and to better manifest
the opportunity at hand, we need to look more closely at the development of the
fourth brain-the prefrontal cortex.
The Prefrontal Cortex: Key to
In humans, the prefrontal cortex,
located in the front of the brain, takes on critically important significance
as our link to the future, our key to enlightenment, the answer to those
ancient questions: How can we live long and healthy lives, unaffected by
debilitating illness and degenerative brain disease? How can we turn the dense
lead of human awareness into the gold of enlightened consciousness? How can we
program the brain for life, health, and joy? How will we evolve?
The prefrontal cortex is associated
with the loftier brain functions such as reasoning, inventing the alphabet and
music, discovering science, and engaging in creative thinking. Many of the
functions of the prefrontal cortex remain a mystery, but we know that it is
associated with personal initiative and the ability to project future scenarios,
and it is quite likely the place where our individuality and sense of self
When our brain functions
synergistically, our prefrontal cortex is fully awakened and we have the
ability to develop the very highest form of intelligence and creativity and remain
grounded and effective in the world. We understand who we are in relationship
to our village and our history. Able to think originally, we recognize what
holds us back from achieving a higher level of consciousness and what will help
us to attain it. We recognize how we can survive and thrive.
Which Brain Are You Using?
Is your life a struggle for
survival? Are you forever trying to make ends meet financially? Are you living
hand to mouth? If so, then your reptilian brain is in the driver's seat of your
Do you learn your lessons through
difficult love relationships? Does your prince turn into a frog with a drinking
problem after the honeymoon-just like your previous prince did? Are you always
ending up with abusive bosses or business partners who never seem to appreciate
your contributions? If so, then your emotional mammalian brain is predominantly
in charge of your consciousness.
Does your intellect get in the way
of your passion and joy? Are you forever analyzing things in your head? Do you
fail to listen to your instinct and your intuition? Do you mistrust anything
that is not proven scientifically? Are you disconnected from your feelings and
insensitive to the feelings of others, even when you try not to be? If so, then
you are strapped and bound to the fiendishly logical aspect of the neocortex.
Or are you flighty and ungrounded,
with your head up in the clouds? Do you walk into a room and forget what you
went there to do? Are you more conversant about quantum physics, the bloodline
of Mary Magdalene, and international conspiracy theories than about your
children's homework or what is happening in your neighborhood? If so, then your
consciousness is probably in the grip of the prefrontal cortex.
If you are experiencing a
predominance of any one of these brains, it is a sign that the parts of your
brain are not acting in concert with each other, that those in the background
at the moment are allowing another part to dominate and exhibit only its limited
In actuality, to experience brain
synergy, it's necessary to be aware of your financial situation and your
relationships; it's good to think logically and to dream with whimsy; and it's
vital to keep all of these mental activities in balance with each other.
Awakening the New Brain
In the 17th century, James Ussher,
Anglican Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, published a treatise
that identified the date on which God created the world: the evening preceding
Sunday, October 23, 4004 b.c.e. on the Julian calendar. Although his chronology was
based on the patriarchal lineages described in Genesis and inaccurate from a
scientific perspective, the Archbishop was not totally wrong. Today, while we
dismiss the good Archbishop's claim as a flight of religious fancy, he did
approximate the date on which the gifts of the prefrontal cortex were becoming
available for large sections of humanity at the dawn of civilization and the
invention of writing
But this self-awareness didn't happen
overnight; rather, it took countless generations for the prefrontal cortex to
become functional enough to warrant a circuitry connection with the older parts
of the brain. In fact, fossil evidence of the earliest changes in this part of
the brain dates back 2.5 million years ago, during the Pliocene epoch, when an
early hominid called Australopithecus
africanus lived. The enlarged cranium of A. africanus-a member of
the "Great Apes" family, which includes humans)-was more like that of
modern humans than his immediate predecessors.
This means that the artists of the
Altamira cave and the hunters of the Pleistocene epoch who lived 20,000 years
ago had the same brain structures we have today. Yet most members of the
species lacked the nutritional support and mind-body disciplines that would
allow them to experience artistic creativity and scientific discovery. This is
why only a few isolated individuals awakened to the potential of the prefrontal
cortex. Indeed, the gifted crafted their great works of art during secretive
ceremonies deep inside caves.
With the end of the last Ice Age,
around 10,000 years ago, when abundant and brain-rich food supplies became
available, the prefrontal cortex began to stir. During the late Neolithic
period, starting around 7,000 years ago, our ancestors initiated horticulture,
which ended the need to follow and harvest food from a nomadic herd. They
domesticated cattle and sowed grain crops and ground the grain into cereal.
They developed a curiosity for science, exploration, and perhaps even love. And
they conceived of transoceanic travel; for example, Micronesian navigators
built sailing canoes in which they navigated the open ocean for hundreds of
miles, using only the stars for reference and arriving at islands that were not
visible from their point of departure. It was around this time in history that
writing and city-states emerged in many geographically disconnected societies
around the globe.
At that time, as civilization
emerged in the Fertile Crescent in western Asia and the sprawling city of
Mohenjo-Daro rose along the Sarasvati River in what is now Pakistan, the
dietary staples of the political and religious leaders came from the Himalayan
rivers and the Mediterranean Sea. These were fish and mollusks rich in docosahexaenoic
acid (DHA), a brain food that has become increasingly scarce in the human diet
of today. DHA provided the neuronutrient boost that brought the previously
installed prefrontal cortex's software online. Is it not possible that the
benefits of a DHA-rich diet explain why a great Master-Jesus of Nazareth-chose
simple fishermen as candidates wise enough to be his apostles, his "fishers of
However, while the prefrontal
software was already installed in all humans of the time, the masses, though
capable of tapping into the wisdom of this brain, were still struggling between
two mind-sets-the old and the new.
The Old Mind-Set versus the New
To truly understand the conflict
inside the human mind, let's compare the power of the prefrontal cortex, or
new, higher brain, with the prowess of the old brain. This comparison is akin
to "the ways of fear and ways of wisdom" presented earlier in this chapter.
However, there we explored fear and love from the software
perspective, that is, emotions that come from our belief systems. Here we are
examining fear and love from a hardware perspective, that is, the physical brain that
processes those emotions.
The old brain perceives the world
as a frightening place, filled with rivals competing for the same scarce
resources. To this brain, what matters most is survival, and it is always ready
to fight or to flee. Considering that the old brain developed in mammals at a
time when large, stomping dinosaurs still roamed, it is no wonder that these
survival mechanisms were firmly embedded in the core of those small, fuzzy
creatures that we developed from.
The old brain in humans gave rise
to the belief that the spirit world is populated with fierce gods who demand
sacrifice and that the physical world is prey to invisible forces that are to
be appeased. In many mythologies, the earth was populated by titans, giants
with extraordinary powers, who had to be defeated. The early Greeks, for
example, identified 12 Titans who ruled the earth during the legendary Golden Age.
In the King James Bible, God tells Moses of "a land of giants [who] dwelled
therein in old time."1 In Greek mythology, the Titans were a race of older
gods whom the Olympians banished to the darkest depths of the underworld in the
War of the Titans.
The old brain seeks magical and
religious explanations for natural phenomena, be they the formation of mountain
ranges or the course of rivers or the tempest of storms. Legends of the Inca
tell of the four original beings who could move mountains and establish the
course of rivers with their bare hands. Zeus, the king of the sky, wielded a
thunderbolt that he periodically used to wreak havoc on the earth.
With such mythic precedent, the old
brain righteously claims, "My god is stronger than your god," and believes that
only those of "our faith" have been chosen for salvation, while everyone else
is a pagan or a heathen destined for a hellish experience in the afterlife.
The new brain, however, understands
that we do not have to live in a continuous state of threat. It knows that we
are not struggling to survive in a hostile world haunted by death. It
comprehends, rather, that we are all interconnected, that we can practice
compassion by "turning the other cheek" and "loving our neighbors as we love
ourselves," and that physical "death" is really an opportunity to return to a
heavenly realm-a precept that lies at the core of the three Abrahamic
religions, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
But even this mind-set is a matter
of consciousness. At first, only those living in monastic communities and among
religious orders attained this insight of the ways of wisdom. Meanwhile, the
older mind-set in the majority of the populace continued to be tempted by the
ways of fear. This mind-set continued to seek wealth and justify greed, while
the newer, higher mind-set called out to the ways of love. These two, seemingly
opposite callings have plagued humanity for millennia-and continue to do so.
The disparity will only be resolved when we can turn on the truly beneficial
neural programs inherent in the prefrontal cortex.
It is clear that our reasoning
abilities, rooted in the more evolved brain, are not enough to prevent our
suffering or give us the opportunity to create a more habitable, peaceful, and
sustainable world. Indeed, if reason had ever prevailed over passion, the story
of humanity would not be written in blood.
At this point in history, our
species is in need of the next great opportunity offered by our prefrontal
cortex, which will allow us to entertain the ancient notion of a web of life in
which all creatures, and even inanimate matter, are interconnected as part of a
field of information and energy. To experience enlightenment and learn to
interact with this cosmic web, we must begin by healing that part of our bodies
that allows us to dream a new world into being: our prefrontal cortex.
Teaser image by Janet Anderl, courtesy of Creative Commons license.