So momentarily we’re going to return to the basic story.
I want to talk to you today about how your brain organizes your perceptions, and then
I want to talk to you about how that’s represented in mythology.
The first thing I’d like to point out, is we talked about the difference between Darwinian
and Newtonian viewpoints a while back.
One claim that you might make if you were Darwinian is that whatever your brain is adapted
to is reality.
That seems to be the central claim of Darwinian evolution, is that you can’t define reality
any more accurately than that which selects.
I want to tell you about how I think the brain is organized.
Then I want to show you, I hope, that the way fundamental narratives work can be mapped
on to that brain structure.
To me that implies that there’s something right about fundamental narratives, because
otherwise why would they map onto the brain structures that have evolved to adapt us to
People think about reality in objective terms, and they think about it as decomposable into
I think that’s a limited viewpoint, a powerful but limited viewpoint.
I think it’s much more realistic to assume that whatever reality is, is more like a continual
interplay of very, very complex patterns.
I suppose you could make the case that those patterns are ultimately made out of particles,
but even that’s not exactly true because the particles have to be arrayed in space.
That’s part of the atomic theory is that there’s not just subatomic particles and
atomic particles, but that they’re arrayed in space.
If they’re arrayed in space, that means the manner in which they’re arrayed can
And if you reduce the phenoma to the particle, without taking into account the patterning
of array of the particles, then there are levels and levels and levels of information
that you lose.
Those levels of information are – they may not be relevant for our physical understanding
of the make-up of atomic and subatomic particles, but they’re definitely relevant to whether
we can walk across the street safely.
I would say if you’re related to reality properly, the kind of information that you’re
processing is precisely the kind of information that allows you to cross the street properly;
and to do all the other things during your days, your weeks, your months that you have
to in order to stay alive and fundamentally, in some sense, propagate.
Alright, so we’ll start with the neuropsychological argument.
Now we’ve already established the idea that these little frames of reference, or maps,
or stories, or whatever you call them – I’ll call them stories from hereon in, are little
They’re units of conception and emotion and perception and behavior; they’re little
The sub-personality has an initial starting point and a destination point, and then it
implements behaviors to transform the starting point into the destination point.
Then you might say, well what forms these little sub-personalities?
The answer to that is very complex, but one answer is: fundamental motivations.
I arranged the fundamental motivations on this particular diagram pointing out that
you can roughly consider motivations, as those that maintain you, and those that propagate
Now it’s just a heuristic, it’s just a way of thinking about it.
Under self-maintenance there’s thermal regulation, thirst, hunger and elimination, and there’s
all sorts of other things as well, but those will do for the time being.
Under self-propagation there’s affiliative desire and sexual desire.
The things that’s quite interesting about all of this is that there are brain structures
that underlie the manifestation of these fundamental sub-personalities.
Now people tend to think about them either as motivations or emotions, and I think that’s
another useful heuristic.
You can say that, roughly speaking, that a motivation pops up an entire frame of reference
and emotion tends to orient you within that frame of reference.
But that’s only a conceptual simplification, because what you see when look at the actual
brain structures is that there isn’t an emotion center – there are a bunch of micro-units
in the brain, and there are separable micro-units for different emotions and different motivations
and they don’t necessarily have that much in common in terms of their locale, except
that they tend to be relatively deep in the brain.
Some are hypothalamic and some are in the amygdala, and some are in the periaqueductal
grey, which seems to be responsible for pain responses.
So we can classify things as motivations and emotions, but it doesn’t map one-to-one
on the underlying brain structure.
Now I think what we’ll do with regards to talking about the brain is we’ll start from
the bottom up.
It’s appropriate to start from the bottom up because you are more dependent on your
ancient brain structures than you are on your modern brain structures; in that, if you damage
your modern brain structures, and I mean relatively modern, let’s say the ones that have really
evolved in great detail over the last two million years, the cortical cap, in particular,
the prefrontal cortex, a lot of the visual cortex.
If you damage that you can pretty much go on.
Now you’re going to have one impairment or another impairment, but you can still stay
However, there are structures that are lower down that if you damage, that’s the end
So for example, the ascending reticular activating system, which is the thing that wakes you
up when you’re asleep at night, when a noise occurs that shouldn’t occur.
It seems to be the activating center for consciousness, whatever that means.
It’s way deep down in the brain, it’s way deep down at the top of the spinal cord,
If you twist your head in a car accident a little bit too roughly, and you sheer off
the ascending fibers, and you’re in a coma permanently, then nothing can wake you up.
That’s pretty interesting – to know that consciousness, our tendency is to think about
that as a function of the higher cortical systems, is dependent completely on something
that is unbelievably ancient.
So it begs the question, exactly what level of neuronal complexity do you have to be before
you have sub consciousness?
The answer to that is, we don’t know.
The relationship between consciousness and neuronal structure is insanely complex.
For example, you have very neuron-heavy structures in your brain, like the cerebellum, which
has a very rough outer-coating like the cortex, and it has about as many neurons as the cortical
Yet, you can take it out of people and they don’t seem to show any impairment in consciousness,
but they get ataxic and they can’t control their behavior that well.
They have a hard time guiding it – but that seems to be more or less it.
Now it isn’t, because there are other things that the cerebellum does, but my point is
that you can have massively neuron-heavy structures that seem to be related in very minimal ways
to our experience of consciousness.
Your autonomic nervous system is sort of like that – there are a lot of neurons in your
autonomic nervous system, but I think it’s a mistake to say that we’re precisely conscious
of our autonomic nervous system; although now and then we’re conscious of its outputs.
It governs the operation of our organs and all the things that are so complex that we
aren’t allowed to mess with them as conscious beings.
But it’s not conscious, and then somehow some neurons are conscious.
I tell you, we don’t know anything about consciousness.
We really don’t, we don’t have a clue.
I think it’s probably because we’re formulating the question wrong.
There are people who are materialist reductionists, and they believe that consciousness is an
emergent property of the underlying neuronal function.
The problem with that philosophy is that it’s predicated on the assumption that they understand
what the matter is that’s making up that neuronal substrate.
I can tell you that by the time we’re able to reduce consciousness to its underlying
material structure, we’ll think of whatever matter is, in a way that’s completely different
than the way we think of it now.
So there might be an eventual reduction, but at the same time there’s going to be a transformation
of the theories.
It’s clear that we don’t understand material that well, particularly because when you go
down to the tiny underlying substructures at the subatomic level it behaves in a very,
very peculiar manner.
So anyways, all bets are off in regards to consciousness.
It also does seem to be something that’s likely very ancient.
There are people who have attributed consciousness to insects.
Insects, by the way, seem to go out of their way to take hallucinogenic drugs, which is
So the fly agaric, for example, is the famous red and white mushroom that you always see
in fairy tales and in super Mario brothers.
It pops up everywhere.
Flies will come and take a bite of it and they fall unconscious beside the mushroom
and they stay there for ten or fifteen minutes, and then they get up, but they go eat it again.
Reindeer really like them too and they get blitzed out of their mind on amanita muscaria.
There’s evidence for the desire to transform states of consciousness, way, way down in
the animal kingdom, way farther than you’d think.
So God only knows.
Then you think well a big brain is necessary, but if you consider something like Irene Pepperberg’s
African Grey parrot, which died a couple of years ago – a famous animal which could
speak better than a three year old kid.
It had a good vocabulary, more than five hundred words, and it could put together meaningful
It could speak better than a chimpanzee.
They use sign language of course.
This was one smart bird.
If you think about a bird, it has no brain, a bird.
It’s got a brain about this big.
I know a bird isn’t very big, and that actually makes a difference.
The fact that that much intelligence could be compacted in that small of an area, means
as far as I’m concerned, that we don’t really understand very much about how the
We do understand some things, and most of the things we understand have actually been
discovered by animal experimentalists.
Which is a useful thing to know.
Because of course there are a lot of people who think that animal experimentation isn’t
a good idea, or that we could substitute computer models – which is a spectacularly idiotic
Obviously if we had accurate computer models we wouldn’t need to do the animal experimentation.
We’re not going to build a computer model that’s better than our current understanding,
at least not yet; we may in the future.
Anyways you can think of the basic structures that are producing these little sub-personalities
as the output of fundamental biological systems.
They’re either motivations or emotions.
The structure that appears to be most responsible for this sort of thing, at least initially,
is the hypothalamus.
I should show you a little bit about the hypothalamus.
Just so you kind of have a sense of what it is.
It’s not very big, and you’ll see in this diagram that it sits right on top of the spinal
cord and the base part of the brain.
That’s just that little bitty area there.
It looks from the diagram it seems to be about one percent of the entire brain mass or something
I think I mentioned to you before that if you take a cat and you take all of its brain
off, except for the hypothalamus, roughly speaking, as long as it’s a female cat in
a restrictive environment, it can pretty much live a cat life; except that it’s hyper-exploratory.
Which I do think is quite remarkable, because you’d think that it would just lay there
passively, since it doesn’t have a brain.
The hypothalamus, I’ll show you some more pictures here of the hypothalamus, this is
a rat hypothalamus, and this is a diagram from Larry Swanson, who’s a real genius,
and well-worth reading, although very complicated.
He’s a developmental neuro-anatomist, if I remember correctly, and he’s interested
in how the brain unfolds across the course of fetal development in all sorts of different
Assuming by doing that in part, you can track the evolution, but you can also understand
the relationship between one brain part and another.
What you see here, you see all of these little sub-units of the hypothalamus, they’re indicated
in orange, green and black, and so the first thing that you can see is the hypothalamus
is not one thing, it’s a bunch of ganglia, I think is the correct name for the hypothalamic
So, it’s called a hypothalamus sort of for convenience sake, you can identify it anatomically
and it might be a good short-hand for a rough description of the macrostructure of the brain,
but of course the problem with the brain is, you know, it’s pattern one at this level
and it’s pattern two at this level, and it’s pattern three at this level.
You can go a long ways down before you run out of complexity.
A cell is an unbelievably complicated thing, and you have, God only knows how many of those
things you have in your brain.
I don’t remember exactly what the latest estimates are, but it’s in the hundreds
Each of those cells is as complex as really complex factory, and it’s full of these
little molecular machines and they’re doing things that are so complicated and amazing,
you just can’t believe it when you – I’ve seen computer animations of some of these
structures in operation, and the complexity of what they do to take the DNA molecule apart,
and then to rebuild it little bit by little bit, and to do error correction at the same
time, it just boggles the mind.
I cannot see how you can possibly account for that using a straight, sort of Newtonian
deterministic model of clock ward behavior; the stuff is so sophisticated.
It looks more like advanced robotics than it does the interaction of tiny little molecules.
There are molecules that work with the DNA that can walk, and as they walk they carry
other molecules, and not only can they walk, they can walk over obstacles.
They’re like made out of ten molecules!
What’s going on?
It’s just beyond belief.
Okay, so all of these little nuclei in the hypothalamus, they’re all doing slightly
different things, they’re radically different things, although they have commonality in
So, roughly what you could say is that one half of the hypothalamus is devoted to popping
up little sub-personalities that are devoted to the satisfaction of fundamental biological
It’s not obvious what a fundamental biological requirement is, because that’s a heuristic,
it’s not a category, it’s a fuzzy category, but we can agree on some of its contents.
So of course thirst, hunger and the need to breathe would be in there, and might also
add pain, and sexual desire and the need for play, although that’s a separate circuit
and it’s not mediated by hypothalamic structures, there’s a different circuit for play.
Play slash affiliation.
Roughly speaking what an animal basically chases and requires on a day-today and week-to-week
basis is mediated in large part by the hypothalamus.
And the hypothalamus is also a crucial nexus in the brain for identifying what’s going
on in the body and then telling the brain what to do about it.
So for example the hypothalamus is the thing that makes you hungry and the thing that makes
It does that because it monitors levels of substances such as sugar in your bloodstream,
and also the degree to which you’re hydrated.
You can sustain tiny little bits of damage to the hypothalamus, which has unbelievably
So for example, if you get unlucky, you can develop hyper aphasia or, uncontrollable thirst.
If that part of your hypothalamus is damaged, people just can’t keep you away from water
supplies, you’ll just drink and drink and drink and drink until you drown.
You can’t control it.
So the hypothalamus is no joke and hyperphagia is the same thing, except in relationship
There have been reports of people who developed- I knew a guy in Montreal, who used to work
His name was Frank Irvin.
He did some of the earliest studies in the world on the physiology of violent crime.
Frank had identified the role of epilepsy as a progenator to violent crimes.
The defense rage circuit is part of the hypothalamus and if you’re unlucky you can have a particular
form of epilepsy that will activate the defense rage system.
I knew someone who had a seizure condition like that.
Then they get uncontrollably aggressive.
Now this guy has quite an interesting story.
So it first happened to him when he was about eighteen.
He was out drinking in a bar.
Now, alcohol lowers your seizure threshold.
So he’s out drinking in a bar and all of a sudden he got up and tore his shirt off.
He was in an aggressive stance and backed into the corner, and his friends were coming
He told them to go away or I’ll hit you.
Now he was a very well socialized person, so I think what happened is he went into this
defensive rage state, but because he was so well socialized, he could tell people to stay
away from him, but he couldn’t stop himself from hitting them and attacking them if they
got close enough.
So anyways, I believe at that point he slapped a police officer who came to rescue him.
They took him to the hospital and on the way there he hit his fingers against the hood
of the car and put dents in it, and then when he got to the hospital – now I don’t remember
the particulars of this – but he picked up a kidney bowl, which is like an enamel
covered steel bowl, and twisted it in a figure eight.
It’s like, try that, it’s not so easy.
The next time it happened he was in another bar, so what the hypothesis was then, was
that someone had spiked his alcohol with some sort of drug, but that was never demonstrated.
He got off of all that because he had no record, he was a perfectly peaceful person.
Then the next time it happened he was in another bar, and he did the same thing.
He backed into the corner and he ripped off his shirt, and he told me that when he was
looking, he looked down the hallway and all he could see was fire.
A policewoman came to get him, because the bar called the police, and he hit her.
Then after that he had EEG testing, which showed that he was susceptible to seizures
so he swore off alcohol.
He never had another drink and he’s like thirty-five now.
He never had another drink in his life and it never happened again.
It’s just a good example of – there was a kid at the University of Texas, at Austin,
about thirty years ago, who seemed to have a perfectly reasonable family life and so
far, a reasonable upbringing, and he started to become increasingly violent in his fantasies.
He climbed up onto the tower, because there’s a high tower at the University of Texas at
Austin, and he took at high-powered rifle and I think he shot sixteen people before
they finally got him.
When they did an autopsy, they found he had a high-pressing tumor that was growing on
The hypothalamus is no joke.
For those of you who’s introduction to neuropsychology has made you assume that the cortex is in
control, let me tell you, the cortex is only in control when all of your other basic requirements
Since you’re a modern person, and you live in luxury, that’s unparalleled in the history
of the world, all of your fundamental biological sub-personalities are always satiated.
That’s what you think you’re like.
You’re only like that because you’ve never been anywhere where you weren’t like that.
So anyways, here’s one of the things that’s cool about the hypothalamus.
The first thing is that you have these different sub-systems, these different nuclei that are
responsible for these different sub-personalities.
Oriented towards sexuality, oriented towards hunger, oriented towards thirst, oriented
towards temperature regulation, etc.
I think of them as sub-personalities because they have a viewpoint, they want something
and they want to go somewhere, they want to accomplish it efficiently, and they have emotions
that go along with it so, you know, if you’re going for some water and you drop your glass,
or somebody gets in your way, or the tap isn’t working, you’re going to feel frustration,
anxiety and irritation.
They come fulyl equipped with emotions, they have their own motor outputs, so they basically
prime, and those would be the motor outputs that are aggregations of habits that you have
been able to learn that have aided you previously in your water-searching behavior.
So for us, that would be getting a glass out of the cupboard, which is a gripping issue,
and a transport issue, and then you have to turn on the tap.
Luria, who’s a famous Russian psychologist called those things Kinetic Melodies.
If you think about it from a Piagetian perspective and a Lurian perspective at the same time,
you think how Piaget talked about how children put together basic – they’re not reflexes
exactly, they’re complex sequences of what started as reflexes.
Then those can be linked together in a sort of dance that you’re always doing with your
Each of those little dances, you think water-seeking, you’re going to have a set of water relevant
dances that you can do that your experiences taught you to become an expert at.
When you get thirsty those are likely disinhibited.
That’s my guess, they’re disinhibited and prepared for execution.
Then the specifics of the circumstance that you’re in will determine which ones are
disinhibited enough to actually run.
It’s like you’re full of little machines and they’re all on.
They’re ready to go, but they’re all held in stasis in some sense by some cortical inhibition.
I like to think of the brain sort of like a nuclear reactor.
The core is really active, it’s on, but then you have all of these rods going into
the core to keep it from going critical.
The cortex is sort of like that in relationship to the lower parts of the brain.
Those parts of the brain, man, they’re alive.
They’re like the Titans of mythology.
They’re sitting down there, these fundamental forces and they’re ready to leap into action
at a moment’s notice.
But the cortex basically keeps them inhibited, and it seems to do that – so imagine that
you have a vision of your desired future.
Then a vision of the transformation stages that you’re going to undertake to move from
where you are to that desired future.
Then what you’re doing is you’re comparing your interpretation of the present to your
interpretation of the desired future.
As long as those two things match, which the hippocampus is the thing that’s determining
that, it’s the thing that’s computing the match between your fantasy of what you
want to happen with your fantasy about what is happening.
As long as that matches then the hippocampus basically, now we don’t know exactly how
this works, although it seems to work to some degree through modulation of the reticular
activating system – if the hippocampus matches what you want with what’s happening, then
all these other little sub-systems basically turn off.
If the hippocampus detects a mismatch, which is when novelty occurs – something went
wrong, then you get disinhibition of the reticular activating system.
It’s like you wake up, and then everything is primed for action.
That solves the problem of what you should do when you don’t know what to do.
The answer is, you should get ready to do everything.
You should be on alert and ready to implement whatever actions – it’s not even whatever
actions, it’s more like you should be ready to implement whatever sub-personalities the
situation seems to call for, as soon as you’re able to identify what they are.
Otherwise it’s sort of like an army that’s on alert.
You don’t know who’s going to be called on, but everybody should be ready.
That’s a high stress situation.
Okay, so part of the hypothalamus, let’s say for the sake of argument, it’s popping
up all of these little sub-personalities that have to do with basic instincts.
The words are all wrong because they’re not – an instinct sounds like a drive and
people aren’t driven.
We’re not that simple, we’re much more flexible than that.
Even rats aren’t driven.
There’s a very seminal experiment that was done at the height of behaviorism.
So the idea with behaviorists, perfectly smart idea, was that the way a rat learned was,
it would start with a reflex, sort of in the Piagetian sense, and then you could teach
it a new routine which was an aggregation of little, tiny reflexes, you could teach
it a new routine by rewarding it.
So let’s say, here’s what you do with a rat: so you want to teach the rat to climb
the ladder and go across it.
So the rat’s sniffing around in the little rat cage.
Then it gets close to the ladder, so you give it a food pellet.
Then it hangs around close to the ladder.
It’s because you’ve reinforced the manifestation of those micro-behaviors that are associated
with the ladder.
Then maybe at some point the rat puts a little paw up on the first rung, so you give it a
Then the rat is going like this very frequently.
Then the next thing that happens is it puts two paws up there, and you know if you’re
patient, using reward you can get that damn rat to do damn near anything.
Skinner taught pigeons to navigate guided missiles by maps in the Second World War,
They never did use them, but really that’s pretty impressive.
You think pigeons are stupid, they’re not stupid they can read maps, which is pretty
So the idea was is what the animal is doing is chaining together deterministic reflexes.
The thing about a deterministic reflex is that it’s not flexible right?
If it’s a deterministic reflex, it really is a drive.
Action A initiates Action B, which initiates Action C and it’s a fixed action pattern.
Some animals do seem to learn that way.
There are these little animals.
I think they’re moles that do this, it’s shrews.
Let’s say you teach a shrew to go from point A to B by a very inefficient maze-like route.
But the shrew could just walk straight there, but once he learns to do this, but he can’t
figure out that he’s going from here to here.
Whereas if you train a rat to do this the rat will figure out, to hell with all of this
circuitousness, it’s just going to go straight from point a to point b. that finding was
part of what indicated to early neuro-psychological researchers that animals produced a map of
In some sense what we’re talking about when we’re talking about these structures, the
A to B structure, is a map.
That’s another way you can look at it.
So you’ve got this rat and it’s behaviors are all chained together.
So I already told you, I spoiled the story in some sense, because I told you that the
rat could learn to take a short cut.
One of the earlier demonstrations of the independence of rat learning from the reflex of conditioning
was that - so let’s say you’ve trained a rat to run down a maze.
Okay so hypothetically it’s using it’s front legs and it’s back legs and it’s
learned to chain all of that together.
“Front leg, back leg, movement, turn left.
Front let, back leg, movement, turn right.
Etc.” so then, what if you put the rat, you tie up it’s back legs and you put him
in a little rat wheel barrel, so it’s got wheels instead of legs – it’s like the
rat zooms through the maze.
So much for the reflex theory because obviously you didn’t train the rat to use a cart with
it’s rear-end stuck in it, it figured that out all by itself.
So anyways there is a system in you that allows you to chain reflexes together.
It’s a very primordial reflex system and the behaviorists got that right.
It’s fast, very very fast, because it requires few neural connections.
So there are some advantages to simple learning but once you get up to even the moderately
higher cortical and sub-cortical functions, you’re past the point of mere reflex chaining.
Okay so, let’s for the sake of simplicity the hypothalamus says, you need water.
So you’re current state is that you’re thirsty and you’re desired state is you
get to go to the tap.
You can feel your mouth dry and so forth, and some fantasies of drinking water start
to come to your mind, and then all of sudden you’re kind of possessed by that.
So it’s starting to interfere with your conscious goal-directed behavior at that point,
and finally it’s insistent enough like something knocking at the door so you think, man I’m
Maybe you enough think that you’ll work better if you have something to drink.
So you go off to the fountain, and what your hippocampus is doing – you’ve got this
little idea, which is your desired future which is about how this trip is supposed to
go, and then you’re watching to see how the trip is actually going, but that’s an
If there’s a match between the two then the hippocampus just leaves you the hell alone
and you don’t get anxious, you don’t get knocked off the track.
You go there, you have the water, that satiates that system, that’s a form of reward it’s
called consumeratory reward, and then that systems disappears.
It goes back to the dungeons from which it emerged and in all likelihood another one
Now, it’s an oversimplification of human behavior to assume that you just go from one
hypothalamically mediated state to another, although I would say that’s what two-year
In some sense, that’s what animals do.
The two-year old’s doing it because that little creature hasn’t gotten any more organized
You can see this if you watch two year olds.
It’s like they’re laughing and then they’re crying.
Then they’re hungry and then they’re hot and then they need to go to the bathroom and
then they want to play.
It’s just one, pure, motivated or emotional state after another.
It’s quite fun to watch.
They’re also relatively hyper-exploratory and playful.
They’re cycling through those things all of the time.
So you can’t say that that’s really what an adult human does.
The reason for that is that the problem with the pure – the reason you need a cortex
and other sub-cortical structures that aren’t hypothalamic is because the world is too complex
for those primordial systems to solve the problems they’re supposed to solve A, in
every possible situation, and B, across multiple time frames, and C, in an environment that
consists of the interactions between other very complex beings.
So it’s almost like an arm’s race of complexity in some sense that’s driven our evolution
– the smarter you get in some sense the more variable you get.
That’s a problem because as I got smarter, say over the course of evolution, well you
people got smarter too.
We’re all competing and cooperating with each other, so the whole damn system is getting
more and more complex.
You have to grow a brain in order to manage that at least, or you keep it simple – well,
we didn’t keep it simple.
So we decided to grow a brain instead.
I don’t know if you know this but you’ve looked at a chimpanzee – they don’t look
a lot like human beings.
There are obviously some things in common, their hands are quite human and their ears
are quite human, but their forehead comes down to about here, and they’re kind of
shaped like this.
They’ve got a huge, round body, and whereas a human being is sort of like a stick with
two sticks coming out of it, and two more sticks – we’re really, really thin, hardly
Whereas a chimpanzee, it’s intestinal structures are way, way, way longer than ours.
So it has to pack that into this huge gut.
A damn chimpanzee sits around for eight hours a day chewing.
The reason for that is it eats leaves.
You go out into the forest and see how many damn leaves you have to eat before you feel
All the chimp does is sit there and chew leaves.
Then it has this huge gut so it can extract some nourishment out of it.
We figured out how to solve that problem once we discovered fire and hunting, because we
could cook things.
That enabled us, at least in principle, to trade gut for brain, which I think was a pretty
useful trade, all things considered, although it still might get us into trouble.
The brain’s a very energy-hungry organ.
We eat very, very efficient food and it turns out that cooked food is much more nutritious
from a caloric perspective than raw food.
You can afford to sit around and develop a brain if you’ve got high-quality food.
Otherwise you’re out there in the jungle chewing on leaves like an idiot, it’s just
about as bad as pandas.
Do you know why those things are damn near extinct?
They used to be carnivores but all they eat is bamboo shoots now.
That’s it, nothing else, bamboo shoots.
They have no nutrition so they have to eat bamboo shoots all day.
Now and then the bamboo crop fails and there aren’t any shoots.
It’s like, so much for the pandas.
If an animal ever deserved to go extinct it was definitely the panda.
Hunt something, the lazy bastards!
Anyways, now I discovered this about the hypothalamus when I was ready Larry Swanson, it just bloody-well
blew me away, you’ll see why, at least in part.
Half of the hypothalamus, roughly speaking, is sort of devoted to popping up these basic,
primal sub-personalities; the sorts of things that you share with animals.
Then you might say, what happens when one of those doesn’t work?
The answer is, well you get an anxiety response.
Now, the anxiety response is not mediated by the hypothalamus, and neither is pain.
So, if you’re an idiot your body hurts you or tells you or scares you.
What’s interesting about that is the pain systems and the anxiety systems are not in
the hypothalamus, they’re separate systems.
The pain system is old, old, old.
It may be as old as the hypothalamus, it’s way down there in your brain.
But, the anxiety system is a lot newer and that kind of makes sense.
You can imagine the primordial organisms really didn’t stop until they ran into something
that was hurting them.”
They couldn’t think, “oh no, I might run into something that will hurt me.
You can’t think that roughly until you have an amygdala.
The amygdala is responsible for lots of things, and all of these areas are interconnected.
One of the things it seems to be responsible for, at least impart, is anxiety.
When your hippocampus detects a mismatch between what you want to have happen and what is happening,
it disinhibits the reticular activating system, and one of the things it activates is the
The anxiety system says, “stop, you idiot, you don’t know where you are or what you’re
doing and so you should quit before you get into trouble.”
We don’t like that feeling very much, that freezes us, but it’s better than pain.
You feel anxiety so you don’t have to feel pain.
Pain seems to occur when you encounter a stimulus, let’s say a situation, where the stimulus
magnitude is sufficient to damage those parts of you that are encountering it – so too
bright a light, too hot a flame, too cold a piece of metal, too hot food, whatever.
If it’s of sufficient magnitude to damage you, you get a pain response out of that.
The pain response is supposed to teach the part of you that moves forward, not to do
The anxiety system responds to cues of pain.
The pain system is pretty complicated as well.
Frustration is a pain-like stimulus.
Disappointment is a pain-like stimulus.
Grief and loneliness are pain-like stimuli.
Depression is probably a pain condition.
So even though the pain system is quite primordial, it’s grown up like a complex tree, and it
consumes many different functions.
It’s still a very ancient system, whereas the amygdalian system, which is newer, you’ve
developed over time to tell you what might hurt you so that you can avoid contacting
You’ve got your hypothalamus and it’s telling you – it’s laying out these little
sub-personalities that are helping you deal with the fundamental necessities of the word.
The pain system is there to tell you when you have encountered a situation that’s
harmful, the anxiety system is there to tell you when you might going to encounter something
That’s the thing that’s activated when there’s a mismatch.
The mismatch says you don’t know where you are or where you’re going, and so you might
The other thing that happens, roughly speaking, is that when the hippocampus disinhibits the
reticular activating system that turns the other half of the hypothalamus on.
This is quite cool because the other half of the hypothalamus is the place where the
ventral tegmental area is located.
The ventral tegmental area is the part of the brain where the dopaminergic tracks emerge,
and those are the tracks that you use A, to explore, and B, to respond to cues of consumatory
So what that means in non-technical language is that when you encounter mismatch you get
anxious, which is what you should do, you should stop, something’s wrong.
As long as nothing else happens that’s painful or threatening, than that system starts to
acclimatize, partly because you’re looking around and thinking.
People often talk about this as habituation.
That’s a stupid idea.
It’s habituation if you’re a sea slug.
It’s not a habituation if you’re a person, except that in very, very primordial reflex-like
levels of the nervous system.
At the higher order levels that we’re talking about, it’s learning.
If you stop and you’re anxious, what happens?
Well, generally speaking, you start thinking, what the hell might be going on?
You’re running through all of these different theories and part of the way that works is
that it’s partly a consequence of state-dependent learning.
If you’re anxious you’re going to be primed to remember situations that you were anxious
Why should you do that?
The reason for that is that “things that make you anxious” is a category.
It’s actually a category.
We tend to think of categories as something that exists in the objective world.
That is not how your brain categorizes things.
You have to learn that really painfully to make objective categorizations.
As far as your natural nervous system is concerned all things that go “bump” in the night
are the same thing.
What is that?
It’s some bloody, horrible predatory, crocodilian, dragon-like, monster that hides under your
bed and comes out and bites you when you’re three.
I just read a little paper today about this kind of cat that lived back when were still
figuring out how to use spears.
This was a particularly nasty kind of cat, and it preyed on us, roughly speaking.
We didn’t get eaten by too many cats because cats really can’t bite through the skull.
They could go for your neck but they didn’t necessarily kill you.
This cat had a mouth that fit right around your skull and it had two teeth that went
in here and two teeth that went in here.
It was a silent killer.
There is evidence that even children are capable of recognizing the motion in pattern of a
predatory cat, and one of the hypotheses is that we still have all of our primate ancestors
that didn’t get eaten by that particular cat.
We’re pretty damn good at detecting cats, at least of that type, and we seem to have
conserved that ability at least to some degree.
You think about a category, you might think well there’s fish and there’s birds and
there’s mammals and there’s reptiles, those are Linnaean classifications, they’re
based in some sense on Evolutionary divergence.
Where they’re not, on morphology.
Who cares about that?
Things that eat you, that’s a category.
You need that category.
The other category is also things that might eat you.
So things that eat you, those are things that can hurt you and the things that might eat
you are things you haven’t classified yet, but might be dangerous.
That’s your brain’s natural category; one of them.
Then you might think well if that’s the natural category, see that’s the sort of
thing that the guy that wrote An Ecological Approach on Vision Perception, he talked about
as an affordance.
An affordance is something who’s meaning you instantly perceive.
So you might say, “No, no, no, you see a cat.”
Then you infer that it might eat you.
No, you see something that might eat you, and then you might be able to figure out that
it’s a cat.
It’s the “might eat you” that you see first, no the damn cat.
This is a fascinating phenomenon because it suggests, like the Heidigerians proposed,
that what you perceive first in the world is meanings and out of the meanings you extract
It’s not the other way around.
If you look at the way your brain is organized, that’s how it works folks.
The more primordial your brain system is, which means the more ancient it is, the more
its perception is action predicated.
So for example, if you hear a loud noise behind you and you startle, that’s your response.
So you’re going into a crouch where it would be difficult for a tiger to bite your neck.
You do that, man that’s way before your thinking.
It’s before your perceiving, consciously.
You’re not getting images or sounds at that point.
It’s so quick.
That’s a category: things that make you go like this.
That’s a good category.
The reason I’m making such a case about that category is because that’s one of the
mythological categories: Things that go bump in the night.
One of the things that primordial people were trying to figure out is – you could think
of any old animal as figuring out how to escape from a predator.
That isn’t what human beings wanted to figure out.
Not once we were able to abstract.
What we wanted to do instead was to figure out how to escape from the class of all things
that could eat you; not just any particular old thing, but all of them at once.
That’s the advantage to categorization.
Can we arrange things so that nothing could eat us?
How do you go about doing that?
Believe me, we’ve been working on that problem for a very, very long time.
One of the answers we came up with, we’ll get into this later, is the idea of sacrifice.
Sacrifice is a very, very ancient idea.
I’ll just give you a bit of a preview.
It took me like twenty years to figure this out.
Human beings discovered sacrifice a long time ago.
They acted it out before they understood it.
We act out lots of things before we understand them.
The idea is sort of well we can make a bargain with God.
You might say, well what’s God?
We’ll approach that problem later, it’s a very complicated problem.
One thing you could think of God as, is, God is the anthropomorphic representation of the
entire social structure across time.
You might say, well God will reward you if you behave properly.
What does that mean?
Imagine you could conceive of everyone that wasn’t you as one metaperson.
Imagine that that metaperson is God.
You can make a deal with that thing.
You can say if I behave properly that metabeing will respond positively to me in the future.
It’s true, right?
You know that.
If you make a promise to someone and you keep it, something good is likely going to happen
to you in the future.
So that’s a God the Father derivation – it’s far more complicated than that, but that’s
not a bad point.
We kind of figured out that we could bargain with it across time and that would work.
I read a really interesting paper by someone who’s actually a former student of mine,
Azim Shariff, and he analyzed the relationship between criminal behavior and belief in Hell
across a whole set of countries.
I don’t know if it was an exhaustive analysis, correlational analysis.
It’s way more peaceful in countries where people believe in hell.
You think should you believe in hell?
Yes and no.
Atheist arguments aside, we’re not even going to bother with them because they’re
kind of moronic.
The idea here is that there are certain action patterns that if you undertake, you will be
viciously punished in the future.
You try lying to everyone you meet and see how well you’ll do in a twenty-year period.
You’re going to be in such trouble by the end of that twenty-year period that hell will
be the only accurate way to describe where you’re situated.
So it’s no joke these are real things and people came up with these ideas for a reason.
Hell isn’t only where other people put you if you’re bad, it’s a lot more profound
a concept than that.
That’s not a bad start.
Anyways, the sacrificial notion was something like we cannot do what we want to do right
now and do something else, and that will make things better in the future.
Think about that people.
That’s the most brilliant idea human beings ever came up with.
There’s this old story, which is probably not true, about how to catch a monkey.
You get this jar that’s got a pretty thin neck.
Just big enough for a monkey to put its hand in, and you fill it with things monkeys like
Let’s say hard candy for the sake of argument.
So you put that out there and the monkey goes and sticks its hand in and grabs a bunch of
It can’t get its damn hand out because it’s only big enough for it to put its hand in.
so then you can just go and pick up the monkey.
Well, what’s the problem with the monkey?
It can’t sacrifice.
It won’t sacrifice its grip on the damn candy for its future existence.
That’s what your parents have been teaching you ever since you were little kids.
Let go of the candy so that you can live.
That’s delay of gratification, right?
That’s contentiousness, that’s the discovery of time and its relationship to the social
It’s so brilliant.
Part of what people were trying to figure out when they were developing these rituals
of sacrifice is – okay, so you think about society as a meta-person, it’s usually represented
as male by the way, but not always, it depends on the circumstances.
So what does this meta-person want?
You have to try to figure that out.
Part of what it wants is – don’t eat all the damn grain today, save some for next year,
Act as if the future exists as part of the social contact.
God, that’s such a discovery man.
It’s only people who figured that out.
I mean squirrels have kind of got it in some sense because they store nuts, and squirrels
They just kind of got the inkling of it.
I think what squirrels do is they eat all of the nuts they can possibly eat right now,
and then they store the rest of them.
It wouldn’t go hungry if you store nuts for the future, human beings will do that
– don’t eat the seed grain, right?
Then you’re going to die next year.
Alright, so back to the hypothalamus.
Now, you’re doing something you want to do and you’re tracking how that’s going
– both of those are hypotheses, by the way.
All of a sudden something happens that you don’t want to have happen, like you live
in Flint, Michigan for example.
So you decide to go have some water and it turns out that it’s not water at all, it’s
I don’t know if you guys know about that, but it’s just the sort of thing that makes
your jaw drop.
The state is in big trouble – Michigan.
So they appointed an auditor to control finances, I believe at the state level.
It might have been only at the city level, but it doesn’t matter.
Let’s say the state level.
So the auditor was looking for ways to save money and one of the ways they decided to
save money was to hook up Flint, Michigan’s water supply to a river instead of to the
great lake, which is what it’s right beside.
Turns out, since Flint was an industrial center forever, that the water’s just full of led.
So now they have something like fifty thousand led-poisoned people living in Flint, Michigan.
That is not a good thing.
Led lowers your IQ rapidly and it makes you violent.
For the ten thousand dollars they saved they probably cost themselves half a million dollars
It wasn’t actually that there was led in the water it was that the water was more acidic.
Oh, it took the led out of the pipes, yeah, good point.
Well I’m not here to complain about Michigan politicians, the point is, is that just because
you think you’re out for a drink of water that does not necessarily mean that’s what’s
That’s why I said that you’re comparing your vision of the future to what you think
is going on right now.
Now if you read the neuropsychologists like Vinagradova, Sokolov and Jeffrey Gray, they’re
So what they tell you is this – and this is different – what they tell you is you
have this little expectancy map that’s like the rat has of its surroundings – it’s
a spatio-temporal map.
So when you’re doing something, you expect a certain outcome, okay.
What you compare that to is reality as it unfolds.
So you could say, so you’ve got this map and then stimuli appear to you, and those
are objectively real.
No, that’s wrong.
It’s interpretation everywhere.
You think you know what’s going on right now and you think you know what you want.
The reason I’m making such a big deal out of this is because look, if you’re a rat
and you’re going about your business and something you don’t want happens, according
to the Gray Behaviorist model, you have to revamp your expectancy map.
According to the model that I’m proposing it’s way worse than that, because you don’t
know where the damn error is.
It might be in the map of what you want, not what you expect, that’s a different thing,
but it also might be in the map you have that’s of the present.
So it’s not just the map that you have that’s a prediction of your actions that’s at fault,
it could easily be the way you’re construing the world right now.
It could be error at any level of behavior and so what it means is when an anomaly occurs,
it spreads doubt through the entire hierarchy that we were describing including the future,
the present and even the past.
You know this, you know this perfectly well.
You can see it when you encounter complex anomaly.
So a complex anomaly would be you have a long-term relationship and you get betrayed.
So betrayed means you’ve trusted someone and they enticed you to do so, and then they
exploit that trust and hurt you.
For Dante, the betrayers were in the lowest circle of hell.
So it’s a particularly nasty thing to do to people.
If you think about trust as the precondition for interpersonal relationships, which it
is, then if someone acts towards you in a way that violates your trust in trust, then
they’ve done you the worst disservice that someone could possibly be done.
Okay, so you get betrayed.
Alright so, bang!
That’s an anomaly.
What does it imply?
That’s the wrong question.
The right question is, what doesn’t it imply?
It implies that you just don’t have the foggiest notion of what you’re doing or
what human beings are like.
Especially if it’s a particularly vicious betrayal, maybe you’ve been suckered by
a psychopath, it’s like, okay, update your model and account for that – good luck,
especially if you’re naive.
The probability that you’ll be able to reach down into the depths far enough to come up
with a coherent explanation for why someone would do that is very, very low.
What I’ve discovered in my clinical practice is that if you get betrayed badly enough,
the only language that you can use to describe it is fundamentally religious.
At some points of betrayal it’s good versus evil.
It’s the malevolence that really traumatizes people.
It’s the fact that that person was out to hurt you.
What’s a human being like when they’re capable of that?
It’s an age-old question.
I’ll tell you something weird and interesting.
There’s this old idea in Genesis, one of the first ideas in Genesis, is that God made
people a paradise to live in.
Let’s just be wild about this for a moment, and assume that your little model when it’s
going well is a little paradise, right?
The world’s turning out the way you want it to.
There’s a snake in there somewhere, and that means – well, why is there a snake?
There’s a bunch of things you’re not paying attention to while you’re going about your
In fact, there are almost an infinite number of things that you’re not paying attention
The problem is that one of those infinite number of things that you’re not paying
attention to can shift on you all of a sudden.
So there’s always this snake in the garden.
Then you have to figure out what to do with it.
The thing is, if you interact with the snake you get more conscious.
The problem with that is you lose your little paradise.
Okay, well it’s worse than that, because that story is really old.
We have no idea how old it is.
It’s disseminated all over the world, or it emerged independently in different places,
we don’t really know.
In any case it doesn’t really matter.
It’s a fundamental enough story – tree plus snake plus people – that no matter
where you go some people have tree snake stories.
I think that’s because we lived in trees for like thirty million years and we got eaten
by an awful lot of snakes.
So it’s a story that really appeals to us.
Every bloody science fiction movie you go to most of the time if the aliens are bad,
they’re always reptilian.
You don’t get furry little koala aliens that are chasing you around, it’s like the
one’s an alien.
A reptile inside a reptile, they’re nasty beasts, and they come out inside of you even.
Which is another symbolic idea.
Okay, so you’ve always got the damn snake, and it’s popping out all of the time, and
there’s nothing you can do about it except getting ready to deal with snakes, no getting
rid of them.
So that’ the first lesson, you’re not getting rid of the damn snakes.
You better learn to deal with them.
Then the next question is, what is the worst possible snake?
One of the things that happened in Christianity, and this was influenced in part by Zoroastrianism,
was the idea of almost an independent evil arose.
In fact there was a branch of Christianity called Manichaeism, that construed the world
as a battle between good and evil where good and evil had equal reality.
They were in this eternal battle.
Now that got wiped out by the standard Christian theory that evil was actually just the absence
of good, which anyways you could have a big debate about that and people have for thousands
As Christianity developed, there’s this weird mythology that grew up around the weird
myth of Genesis.
The weird mythology was that the snake in the Garden of Eden was also Satan, and that
he’s the king of all evil.
Okay, what does that mean?
It’s pretty straight- forward.
What’s the worst predator?
Well that’s easy, the worst predator is a human being.
The worst of all possible snakes is the most malevolent possible being.
That’s exactly right, and that’s why that association was made.
It’s so interesting because it took people thousands of years to make that association.
It wasn’t really put together well until Milton formalized in Paradise Lost.
We kind of observe this in action, that there were bad people.
Okay, so bad is a category.
What does bad entail?
Mythologies of evil center in on what constitutes bad.
Carnivorous might be one of the things; malevolent, out to hurt, right?
Betrayal, lying, and all of the cardinal great sins.
That’s the worst snake.
It’s a psychologization of the idea of the predator.
It’s even more sophisticated than that, because one branch of that theory is that
the worst predator is the evil force outside of you, but the next branch of that is that
the worst predator is the evil force within you.
Yeah, well that’s when it gets really psychologized.
You think, well is that superstition?
Hey, that’s not superstition boys and girls, it’s a lot more intelligent than that.
It’s the most sophisticated theory of the way things work that we have and it’s correct.
Now what that means from a metaphysical perspective, we’re not going to talk about that because
we can, but we can certainly talk about what it means in practical Darwinian terms.
You better know what’s after you, and the worst thing that could possibly be after you
is a fully motivated and completely malevolent human being.
Skull-crushing cats be damned.
All they want to do is eat you, they’re not going to torture you; whereas if you fall
into the hands of the wrong human being man, you could be in excruciating pain for the
next twenty years.
So people are very imaginative if they figure out how to hurt someone.
They can keep it up for a long time, and they’re fully motivated to do so under some conditions.
So you really got to watch out for that.
Alright so back to the hypothalamus.
So when you have a mismatch between what you desire and what you’re after, then the hippocampus
says, “uh, we don’t know where we are.”
That’s what it says.
You no longer know where you are.
Okay, what should you do when you don’t know where you are?
You should stop moving.
Then you should – well then what?
You should prepare to do a lot of things.
Okay, then what?
Then you should explore.
Well that’s where the other half of the hypothalamus comes in; that dopamanergic circuit
that mediates positive emotion, right?
Almost all the positive emotion that you experience in your life, the kind you like, which is
hope and curiosity and expectation and surprise and that’s all mediated by the dopamanergic
It’s a major-league contributor to the totality of your being, especially in a positive direction.
That’s rooted in the hypothalamus, so what that means is that, it’s quite cool, you
got your fundamental motivations, you know your basic biological motivations, “bang!”
they fail, that’s anxiety, that’s a newer system, and exploration.
That’s an older system.
That damn exploratory system has been there forever.
Now if you look at classic hero mythology, which we’re going to do in great detail,
what you see is that the typical myth of humanity is we live in a place, we’ll say.
We have to live in a place, and the place is doing quite nicely, thank you very much.
The Hobbits and Frodo.
So you’ve got the little shire there, right?
It’s all peaceful, it’s full of these little people who are a little on the arrogant
side, they’re kind of dopey, they have no idea what the hell’s going on in the outside
world, but they think that’s okay, they think you know, peculiar people are concerned
about that sort of thing.
They’ve got their little happy paradise going, they live a long time, they eat a lot,
they party a lot.
Unbeknownst to them, which is a very interesting feature of the story, the only reason they
have any peace at all is because they’re descendants of old kings, continually patrolling
the borders, right?
Those are the striders.
Aragorn, he’s the member of the race of old kings who patrols the borders.
Those are ancestral figures, it’s like you can all sit here in your little happy paradise,
but the only reason you can do it is because the sons of great kings have put borders around
It’s funny because in the Hobbit, the Hobbit’s basically despise the Strider, they’re very,
very suspicious of him.
He’s kind of dirty and dusty and he looks like he’s been banged around all over the
He’s sort of like a tramp.
They don’t know he’s the son of a great king, good thing for them that he is, however.
Okay, so then you’ve got the little shire, what happens?
Evil things are stirring.
What is it?
Well, fundamentally it’s a great dragon.
Well that’s a snake, except it’s like a meta-snake.
It’s snake with fire.
You can be sure that fire was not only one of our greatest allies, but one of our greatest
enemies, especially when we lived on the blank in Africa.
That thing would burn now and then.
So, get the hell away from that.
So anyways, one hobbit, who’s woken up by a wizard – the wizard is the symbol for
the self from the Jungian perspective.
So there’s one hobbit who’s a little bit more creative and exploratory than the rest
and everybody has a little respect for him but they think he’s pretty damn peculiar.
He decides that he’s going to, under the tutelage of the wizard, he’s going to go
check out this dragon.
So he leaves the borders and goes out into the unknown.
Then the rest of it is an adventure and one of things that’s very interesting, again
from a Jungian perspective, is that, what does the Hobbit have to become in order to
conquer the dragon?
Now that’s pretty weird, because you think hey man, this guy’s out being a hero, so
he should be a hero.
No, he turns into a thief.
Well it’s because if you’re going to conquer a dragon you better be a hell of a lot tougher
than you are naive.
So, partly what happens is, for the hobbit to masker up the forces that are necessary
for him to confront something that is that fundamental, he has to transcend the cowardess
that he describes as morality.
Okay, so Nietzsche for example, Nietzsche’s often viewed as a critic of morality.
That’s not true.
Nietzsche identifies morality with cowardess, but that’s not what he does.
What Nietzsche says is this: if you’re too afraid to do something, so you won’t do
it, then you’ll say that the reason you don’t do it is because you’re moral.
That’s not the reason.
The reason is that you’re too damn afraid to do it.
You might want to, but you’re too afraid.
That doesn’t make you moral.
So what happens to the Hobbit, for example, once he gets outside of the kingdom, he has
to develop a whole array of potentials that he never developed before, because they were
either not necessary in his civilized place, or because they were forbidden as immoral
by the cultural situation that he grew up in.
You have to be touched by the snake in order to defeat the snake.
Where else have you seen that motif?
Harry Potter, right?
Harry Potter’s a strange character because he’s not obedient, not at all.
In fact, he’s quite disobedient.
He breaks the rules in the service of higher morality.
The higher morality is that he faces down the dragon that paralyzes you, and he frees
That’s what happens with Ginny – Virginia, Virgin, it’s the retelling of Saint George
and the dragon.
And interesting enough, the reason that Harry Potter revivifies, is because Dumbledore’s
phoenix comes by and cries in his wounds.
Well the phoenix is something that dies and is reborn and so the meta-myth underlying
the second-volume of the harry potter series is that the part of you sustains you through
an encounter with a dragon that paralyzes, is the part of you that can die and be reborn.
What that means in a sense is if you’re wrong about something, and you fall into a
pit, then you should let go of what you’re wrong about, so that something new can arise.
So it’s better to be the thing that transforms in response to catastrophe, than it is the
thing that’s static.
That’s another big discovery of people.
We’re agents of transformation, which is of course why kids are so bloody obsessed
with magicians and wizards, which are agents of transformation.
That’s all embedded in the mythology, it’s all acted out.
Nobody understands this sort of thing to speak of.
Certainly the kids don’t, it just hits them.
They can recognize the pattern.
They know that there’s something magical about them, even though they’re living in
a cupboard in a London suburb, where everything is boring and flat and under control.
That’s not the real world, and it’s true, it’s not.
Is that why we have more patience for people, including criminals, who admit their crime
and do their punishment and redeem themselves?
Oh not only patience, we often have admiration for them.
Oh yeah, how many movies feature attractive bad guy?
Well or for that matter, attractive bad woman?
It’s because of the Nietzchian observation.
The people who are good aren’t good, they’re just cowards.
Whereas the guy who’s bad, well at least he’s not a coward.
Well then you might say, well you know, yeah he could stop being a coward and also become
a good guy, but that’s often but not always the actual plot of the movie.
That’s the redemption of the bad guy.
It’s also what woman fantasize about in relationship to the beauty and the beast mythology.
They don’t want a coward.
He’s the guy that wants to be the friend.
It’s complete bullshit.
The bad guys going to advance over that – but not a big enough advance because he’s a
The best thing you want is a civilized bad guy.
That’s what you want.
Well no wonder, because it’s only a civilized bad guy that’s going to be capable to be
dealing with the dragons.
Lloyd Axworthy, when he was the minister of Foreign Affairs for Canada, we know the massacres
were going on in Yugoslavia.
It was front-page news at one point.
He said, “I don’t have the imagination for that kind of evil.”
Oh well, that’s really impressive mister minister of foreign affairs, did you ever
read about the Holocaust?
It’s like, it’s time to wake up a little bit!
These things happen, but he said it as a moral claim.
I just couldn’t imagine that sort of thing happening.
Well, you’re a little on the naïve said, aren’t you?
And parading that around as morality is not a reasonable thing to do when you also happen
to be Minister of Foreign affairs.
You should be looking out for the snakes all of the time.
They’re definitely out there, and Milosevic was definitely one of them.
So if a naive person meets someone like that, the naive person loses.
That’s not good because there’s lots of people like that and it would be better if
they didn’t win.
So anyways, the fact that the exploratory circuitry is embedded into the hypothalamus
way down there with lust and thirst and hunger, it’s so great because it shows you how the
It basically says, okay, here’s a bunch of things you’re doing now and then they’ll
You need a system to deal with things when they go wrong.
What’s the system?
Well it might kill you, bang!
You better have some pain and anxiety to protect you.
You better figure out what it is.
Okay, better have an exploratory system so that you can go out there and gather some
Well that’s the human story: gather information in the face of danger.
That’s the human story.
That’s what we do.
So that’s the hero myth.
The hero myth is redemptive, and that’s because it is redemptive.
That is what works, or at least what we’ve stated our being on.
Maybe all of this exploration will just get us in trouble.
That’s another part of genesis, right?
Poke around and see what happens.
Well you know you’re doing that all of the time.
You‘re in your little paradise, beedling away all happily, and then you just can’t
stop yourself from pulling on a thread somewhere.
Then you find out, oh my God, then maybe that’s when you get suspicious about your partner
cheating on you.
You think, maybe this person’s cheating on me, and you can’t leave it alone.
You can’t leave it alone, you got to go look at the snake.
Turns out it’s there!
Down you go into the underworld.
You might think, maybe the bliss of ignorance would have been better.
Well, it’s not like psychologist don’t tell you that.
All those positive illusion people, that’s there whole shtick.
It’s better to be a little bit dumb about how things work, because otherwise there’s
no way you can be happy.
That’s an idiotic theory on two accounts.
A, happy isn’t the point, and B, dumb is not the goal.
So it’s so ignorant that it’s actually corrupt.
Which is really saying something, because you have to be pretty damn ignorant before
you get to corrupt.
So it’s a hell of a thing to teach people.
You have to delude yourself in a minor way otherwise you can’t stand being alive.
Oh my God, that’s awful, that’s really awful.
Here’s a different story, maybe you’re tough enough to open your eyes.
That’d be a much better story.
It’s possible too because people are really, really, really tough.
It’s just that they live in these little protected places and they never get out there
and hammer themselves out against the world, so they never discover that they’re tough.
You might thing, well that’s your opinion.
Well no, it’s not my damn opinion.
We know that if you take someone who’s naïve and paralyzed by anxiety, and you put them
in psychotherapy and you expose them to the things that they’re afraid of and disgusted
by and avoiding, that it isn’t that they get less afraid, they get more confident.
That’s what generalizes.
If you bring someone in who’s got a mouse phobia and you treat the mouse phobia, then
they’re not as afraid of a bunch of other things.
Why does that happen?
They weren’t afraid of the damn mouse, they’re afraid of their own inadequacy.
Then you teach them that they don’t have to be afraid, and then they think , “hey,
I don’t have to be afraid.”
Then they’re not afraid of a whole bunch of things.
So you get generalization from behavioral exposure.
There’s no question about whether or not exposure to the things that you avoid is curative,
it’s the fundamental axiom of psychotherapy.
That and figuring out what you’re going to do with your future.
Even in psychoanalysis it’s face what threatens you.
It’s just that the psychoanalysts go after past traumas.
It doesn’t matter as far as your brain is concerned.
A dangerous thing in the past is exactly the same thing as a dangerous thing in the present.
It seems to be partly because the amygdala doesn’t have any sense of time.
it’s interesting because one of the things Jung observed was that there’s no time in
the collective unconscious.
It’s like everything is an eternal now.
So let’s say you got traumatized when you were a kid, your amygdala grows; maybe you
got bitten by a spider.
You’re afraid of that spider then and now and in the future.
It’s the same.
It’s outside of time.
The hippocampus is the thing that’s dealing with time.
So, you know, if you really learn a lesson it’s supposed to be timeless.
You can still help people overcome their phobias, but you can’t get their damn amygdala to
So, you can just get it back under control.
Okay, so that’s pretty cool.
Then, we could say, let’s go up a level or two.
Well, let’s look at the amygdala for a minute.
Things about the amygdala have probably changed since I updated my knowledge, but it doesn’t
really matter because the fundamental systems I’m telling you about exist.
They keep moving around in the brain because we don’t know exactly how they work, but
at a system level of description and using slightly vague neuropsychology, we can localize
these sorts of things in the brain.
Okay so the amygdala gets inputs from everywhere.
Basically what it’s looking for are things that might threaten you.
You could say in a sense that the amygdala has an inbuilt sense of the monstress.
Let me show you, this is a good time to show you a comic.
This is a great comic.
Someone stoned came up with this comic.
They really did.
I really like this comic because it shows you what’s going on perfectly.
Okay, so there are these hippies.
They’re all friends of this guy named Fat Freddie.
They’re basically useless hippies.
They don’t pay rent and all they do is smoke pot.
Anyways, at one point they make a bunch of money on some cocaine deal and they buy this
home out in the country.
They think they’re going to go out there and live in paradise, so they bring their
cat along, which is Fat Freddie’s cat who has his own adventures with cockroaches and
Anyways, if you’ve ever had a cat one thing you know about cats is they don’t like to
It makes them very upset and nervous, and if you put them in a new house they’re not
happy about it.
The reason for that is you’ve blown their map, right?
The cat will slink around in a new territory and map every single place and every hiding
place, obsessively, until it knows what the hell’s going on, and then it will finally
A cat in a new place is not a calm cat.
A cat in a new place is a nervous cat, which is also an indication that you don’t have
to learn to be afraid.
What you have to learn is how to be calm.
That reverse the way that psychologists generally talk about anxiety, because they’re all
hobbits and they think that life is safe.
So because they think that life is safe, you have to learn to be afraid.
The natural condition is terror and curiosity.
If you’re really lucky now and then, you’re somewhere safe enough so that you don’t
have to be afraid.
That’s tenuous and delicate.
So what you have to learn is how not to be afraid.
Not, how to be afraid.
Anyways, they got the cat.
So he’s in his box and they take him out of the box and the cat thinks, “so this
is the country.”
So the cat goes really low and starts sniffing, and that is what animals do when they first
Both of those things: they crouch down because that makes them less visible to predators,
and they sniff.
The reason they sniff is because most animals have their whole brains built around their
sense of smell; unlike us, where most of our brain is built around vision.
Anyways, the cat’s slinking around there and it smells something that it doesn’t
It thinks, God only knows what this thing that I don’t know is.
It would freeze first and then it would hastily retreat.
So now it’s underneath the porch.
One hippie says, “where’d the cat disappear now?”
The other one says, “under the house.”
The cat’s down there shaking, which is what cats do when they’re freaked out like that,
and it’s got it’s little fantasy going.
You’d hide to if you smelled what I did.
Then it imagines up this monster.
A monster technically is the amalgamation of unrelated parts.
So what’s the monster?
Well its got duck feet and bare arms and its got a skunk tail and its got kind of a wolf
head, and its got antlers.
You think, well that thing doesn’t exist.
That thing exists.
In fact it’s a really accurate representation of what’s out there in the forest.
Any one animal wouldn’t look like that, but the set of all possible animals looks
exactly like that.
Then you might think, well what do you want first, when you’re analyzing something?
Do you want quick and dirty representation of what to be afraid of?
Or do you want to hang around trying to figure out whether that thing has hooves and teeth?
It’s like no, you want a quick and dirty representation of just what might be lurking
That’s intelligent hypothesizing.
It’s the kind of hypothesizing that would be evolutionary driven.
Did you ever see the far side cartoon, Monster Snorkel?
I love that cartoon.
There’s this little kid in his bed, it’s dark and he’s under cover.
He’s one of those ugly little kids that Gary Larson always drew.
He’s got this snorkel that you use for scuba diving.
Snorkeling, not scuba diving.
All that’s sticking out from under the covers is his snorkel so that he can breathe.
Of course in his imagination there’s some reptilian dinosaur sitting beside his bed.
That’s what he’s hypothesizing.
Because that’s what’s in the dark.
You can tell your kid, there’s no monsters in the dark.
Then you tell your kid to never talk to a stranger.
Well get your story straight people.
It’s so dopey.
Yes there are monsters in the dark.
What do you tell your kids?
No, there’s no such thing as monsters.
First of all they’re driven half crazy because they think what am I afraid of then?
Second, you tell them all of the time that there are monsters in the dark.
In fact you’re probably more paranoid about the things than your damn kid is.
So what do you tell them?
There are monsters in the dark but you can probably handle them, especially with our
Okay, so now I’ll tell you a story.
So my nephew, he was six, and he had night terrors.
Night terrors are this strange phenomena where all of a sudden you wake up screaming.
It’s quite unpleasant.
You might say, well why is this happening?
The answer is that we really don’t know but there was some instability in his household
at that point.
A, he was just going off to kindergarten, so that’s a big transition.
It’s out of paradise and out into the world.
B, his parents were in the throws of approaching divorce, so there was that sort of undercurrent
in the house.
You know what that’s like.
You walk into a house like that and you know something’s up.
It’s like the air is frozen.
It’s probably something you can smell, I think.
Whatever, it doesn’t matter, but you can certainly tell.
So anyways, he’s waking up at night screaming away.
He’s a very verbal kid.
During the day he’s running around, I guess he was about four, not six.
He’s got this little night hat that he wears.
It’s a plastic night hat.
So he zooms around with that all of the time, and he’s got this plastic sword, and he
zooms around with that too.
So you think what’s he up to?
He’s playing knight, which is kind of weird in a way.
Because you’d think why would being a knight be attractive to a kid?
We weren’t knights for that long.
Whatever, it doesn’t really matter.
He was running around playing knight.
He goes to sleep and he puts his knight hat and is sword right beside his bed.
So fine, I watch that.
I’m watching what’s going on with them and I’m figuring out what’s going on in
His mom is worried because he’s having night terrors.
Yeah, it’s horrible he wakes up screaming.
So okay, nighttime comes.
He wakes up screaming, we’re all sitting at the breakfast table the next day.
I said, did you dream about anything?
He said, yeah!
He got right into this dream and he said okay, this is what happened: I was out in a field
and all of these little dwarfs were around me.
They only came up to my knees but they had big beaks, they didn’t have any arms, but
they had big beaks.
They were covered with hair and grease, so they were all greased down.
There was a cross-shave at the top of their head, and wherever I went these beaked dwarfs
would jump at me with their feet and bite me.
Everyone stops eating breakfast to look at this kid, thinking, wow no wonder why you’re
Then he said, yeah, and it was worse than that because there was smoke and at the back
of the dwarfs there was this dragon and the dragon was breathing out smoke and fire and
the smoke and fire would turn into the dwarfs.
Oh my God, what do you do about that?
Wiping out some dwarfs, who cares, but the dragon will just breathe up some more.
That’s life man.
I’ve got this excellent picture, let me show it to you because it’s worth finding,
even though it’s going to interrupt my story a little bit.
Well I’m not going to find it because it will take too long, but I’ll tell you what
It’s a Greek amphora.
You know amphora, it’s like a vase, and people used to keep wine in them.
It’s painted on like a cartoon, it’s sort of black and white.
It’s got this hero, who I believe is Hercules.
Hercules is facing this snake, and it’s a really cool snake.
So first of all it’s tail is curled in a perfect circle.
If you look at dragons and snakes in mythology, their tales are often curled in a circle.
It means something like infinity.
Then there are all these snakes – it’s a hydra.
It’s a snake with eight heads.
Then there’s Hercules with his sword – well, what’s the problem with the hydra?
You cut off one head and eight more heads grow.
Quit cutting off heads – it’s a good piece of foreign policy advice for the middle east.
The hydras keep growing.
Okay, so cutting off heads isn’t going to be of any utility.
Here’s what the story is saying: no matter how many problems you solve there’s going
to be a bunch more problems and it’s even worse than that.
If you have a problem and you solve it that’s going to lead to more problems.
So even the solution is a problem.
That’s the law of unexpected consequences.
That’s why automobiles have destroyed the atmosphere.
Everybody thought an automobile is for getting from point A to point B. It turns out it’s
It’s for turning the world’s holes into jungles.
We didn’t know that.
So that’s an unexpected consequence.
So anyways, the kid is faced with this horrible conundrum.
What am I going to do?
I’ve got these stupid dwarfs and then there’s this dragon.
So I said, what could you do about that?
Now that’s called a loaded question and it would be inadmissible in a court of law
in a sense because it’s a question – but it isn’t because I’m telling him something.
You could do something about that.
Well that’s a hell of a theory.
Well yeah, I should just lay down and let the dwarfs eat me.
No, no you could do something about it, I said.
What could you do?
Then he said, I’d put my hat on, I’d get my sword, then I’d go get my dad and we’d
go up to the dragon.
I would jump on his head and then I’d poke both his eyes out with my sword and then I’d
go right down to his stomach to the place where the fire comes out and I’d cut a piece
off of that and I’d use it as a shield.
And I thought, “right on, kid!
You got it.”
It was so cool because he had the whole thing, eh.
That’s why he was running around playing knight.
He’d almost got it, and all I had to do was drop – there’s this fifth chemical
phenomena called a super-saturated solution.
It’s kind of cool.
So if you take - water can only dissolve so much sugar until the sugar starts to crystallize
If you really slowly cool down then water and you don’t tap it there’s no impurities.
You can get the solution super saturated which means, weirdly enough, it holds more sugar
than it can.
It’s like it forgets to crystallize or maybe it needs a little impurity or shock or something
to get it going, but it’s like it forgets to crystallize.
So then if you take a little crystal of sugar and you drop it in, it’s like it goes “sound”
and instantly it’s all crystals.
So that’s what happened to this kid: he was there, he was ready, he had to answer,
and all I had to do was say you could do something about this and “poof!” instant hero myth.
The cool thing is no more night terrors.
So you get the picture, it’s very, very cool.
Alright so, back to our discussion.
Now, alright so you’ve got the brain here.
This is the brain as conceptualized by Alexander Luria, who was Russia’s most famous neuropsychologist.
So basically he said that there’s a bunch of different ways you can divide up the brain.
It depends on what you want, which is an interesting way of thinking about it.
Because you might say well how should you divide up the world and the answer is it depends
on what you want.
It depends on some degree of the world, but it depends even more on what you want.
So one of the things Luria said was if you go from the back to the front of the brain
– the front’s the grey part here – what you see is, roughly speaking, the back half
of the brain does sensory processing, especially visual processing, and the front half of the
brain does motor processing.
Okay, and so if you look at the back of the brain the sensory unit there, you see there’s
an auditory area and a visual area.
What’s cool is those overlap to some degree.
So there’s some hypothesis that the place where the sensory systems overlap are the
parts that are responsible for your experience of a unified perceptual field.
So here’s an example: imagine the visual cortex and the auditory cortex overlap in
Okay, so it would sort of be here, about there on the left side.
That’s the part you use for silent reading.
Isn’t that cool?
It means your using your eyes as ears.
The way you do that is you use the overlap between the visual and the auditory cortex.
It’s so cool, you can use your eyes as ears.
So the senses aren’t as separate as people think.
I used to wear glasses and I couldn’t hear what people were saying when I wasn’t wearing
The reason for that is I wasn’t watching their lips.
So a lot of what I was hearing in language processing was the expression on their face
and the movement of their lips.
I take off my glasses, and I’m deaf.
So anyways, that’s the sensory unit, half of the brain.
Most of it’s the visual cortex because we’re visual creatures.
The front half is the motor unit.
Well because we proceed and act.
So it’s the part of the brain that’s responsible for zipping you around.
You’ve got voluntary action, right?
You inhabit a nervous system that enables you to navigate your way around the world.
We’re navigators, fundamentally.
We really are navigators.
You know ants can navigate by the stars?
Think about that.
How the hell can an ant navigate by the stars?
They figured that out by watching ants figure out how to get back, and then covering up
the sky, and then the ants would wander around not knowing where they were going.
Yeah there’s lots of things we don’t understand, I can tell you that.
So anyways, the motor unit.
You’ve got the motor strip.
Now if you touch that with an electrode during brain surgery then people will either move
or have the impulse to move and you can map out how the body is represented in the brain
by touching that strip with an electrode, and that was done by Wilmer Penfield at the
Montreal Neurological Institute.
It was a major move forward in the understanding of the brain and he did that on epileptics
before surgery, because he didn’t want to take out parts of the brain that were necessary
so he was trying to figure out what they were doing.
So that’s the part that enables you to act voluntarily, and in front of that there’s
the premotor strip.
In front of that there’s the prefrontal cortex.
Now, what’s cool is that the premotor strip and the prefrontal cortex grew out of the
motor strip over the course of evolution.
So then you might say, well why do we think?
The answer isn’t so that we can come up with accurate, objective representations of
The answer is, so that we can plan what to do.
What you see, fundamentally, is that as you move forward in the brain you go from action
to planning action.
So by the time you get to the prefrontal cortex, let’s say the dorsal-lateral prefrontal
cortex, which is the part of the brain that you use for abstract thinking, what you’re
basically doing is conjuring up avatars of yourself in an imaginary world, running them
as simulations in your imagination, and the collective imagination, that’s what stories
are, running the simulation until the end to see if you live or die.
If you die then you don’t implement the simulation.
If you live and thrive then you do implement the situation.
So – who was it – Carl Popper, philosopher of science said, the reason we think is so
we can let our thoughts die instead of us.
Right, that’s smart.
That also ties into the death and rebirth idea, right?
Are you going to die, or are you going to let your avatars die?
One way of thinking about that is that your current self is just an avatar.
Now if you understand that, that means you also understand the relationship between the
Jungian self and the ego.
The ego is an avatar, the self is the thing.
Now I don’t know if you know this, but the word avatar is actually a theological term.
It’s from Sand script.
An avatar is the form that a God takes on earth.
It’s pretty cool that that turned into the term for the thing you use in a video game.
That’s your little, disposable self.
You throw it out there in the world and it can live or die, and you’re back there like
God just being eternal all along the way.
So, that’s a very, very weird thing.
Anyways, even before we had video games we were doing that.
We had fiction, we had stories, we had imagination, and it’s decoupled from our motor systems.
So we can implement these hypothetical instances of ourselves before we implement them.
That’s kind of how we fight Hydras.
Okay, so you have eight snakes, what do you do about that?
You have eight potential selves.
You multiply potential selves just as fast as you multiply snakes.
That’s what evolution does, right?
Let’s say you’ve got a mongoose.
Mongoose like to eat snakes, they’re really good at it.
They can eat cobras.
So you think, well a mongoose gets killed by a cobra.
Well that’s not a very good mongoose but that doesn’t matter because the mongoose
are generating all sorts of mongoose, and one of them is going to be able to kill the
That’s all that really matters.
There’s a very funny mouse that lives in the desert in Arizona.
I like this mouse a lot, and it jumps.
It’s so cool, this mouse, it feeds on scorpions.
How the hell did it learn to do that?
Anyways, it has to teach its young to eat scorpions, and its quite immune from scorpion
venom, which is quite helpful.
Still it goes out – it’s like you going out to wrestle a blank crocodile – it’s
like a scorpion is a big thing compared to a mouse.
The mouse will hop on to the scorpion and they have this terrible fight, and finally
the mouse tears it a part.
Then it brings it back and feeds it to its mice babies.
Do you know what it does then?
It goes outside and howls at the moon like a wolf.
It sounds like a mouse so it’s really squeaky, but if you slow it down, you know, which is
what you have to do if you want to, for example, hear mouse vocalizations, because they’re
often much higher than your threshold for hearing.
Blank that, to hear a rat’s laugh when you tickle them, you have to slow down their vocalizations
because they laugh at ultrasonic frequencies, so you have to slow down your vocalizations
to hear them laugh when you tickle them.
Anyways, these damn mice go out