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How the Brain Works,
Coherently
 

A multidisciplinary systems
analysis of mind/brain/behavior


Eugene B. Shea

 
 

Abstract:

All neuroscience is based on a modular brain, each component responsible for certain 'functions,' without explanation of how they cooperate in coordinated responses.

This article offers a new theory of neuropsychology—how the brain works, coherently.  It provides an accumulation of authoritative evidence that the Reticular Activating System (RAS), including its ‘sentinel,’ the Reticular Formation (RF), with two-way communications with all of the brain and body, is the perfect candidate for the ‘Command and Control System’ in all sentient beings, the de facto manager and coordinator of all brain and body activities.
 


THE BRAIN - MYStERY OF MATTER AND MIND Endnote

U. S. News Books - 1981

 

The RF, processing 100 million internal and environmental sensory impulses per second, selects ‘significant’ stimuli, resolving many biological imbalances ‘silently.’  Others are forwarded to thalamus and midbrain—the locus of RAS and consciousness—thence to the cortex, the ‘hard-drive’ memory of data, sensory and motor neurons, and sensory and motor sequences.  RAS extracts nine times more information from cortex to thalamus, providing cognition; and registers relevant cortex memory response sequences in the prefrontal lobes for resolution and implementation via the premotor cortex.  The prefrontal cortex is ‘RAM’ workspace, balancing responses until one predominates.

RF/RAS monitors and generates responses (or response-impulses) to any disequilibria in 1) any biological/physiological function, 2) in the innate Social-Animal Needs we share with our cousin, the chimpanzee, and 3) in the hundreds of significant, self-adopted beliefs and affections—conscious and subconscious—which constitute the unique ‘Love/Belief System’ wired in each of our brains, between stimlus and cognition.  These two sets of programs mingle (one can love SA-Needs for food, sex, socializing, etc), continually generating desires and fears representing the great majority of RF ‘significant’ stimuli which engross consciousness.

 
We each see, hear, and read
experiencethe world

through our Social-Animal Needs and the unique

set of elements, conscious and sbubconscious,

of our particular Love/Belief Systems.

 

The Reticular Activating System can be

imputed to generate all our emotions,

and all our psychopathologies


RAS
interprets the world differently to each of us, and triggers our responses or response-impulses.  Those with unexamined, anarchic Love/Belief Systems are, for the most part, on autopilot—not living, but being lived by the Reticular Activating System, programmed by their Social Animal Needs, and by the conscious and subconscious Elements which make up their particular Love/Belief Systems, or what theologians know as our ‘hearts.’
 

Following is the diagram I will propose as illustrative of all cognitive brain  processing: a new theory of neuropsychology.

 


A NEW THEORY OF NEUROPSYCHOLOGY


This diagram is meant to illustrate the theory that all

neurological processes are under the control and

management of the Reticular Activating System.

 

Further, that all brain processing is innervated

by the Reticular Formation or by the superior “I”

 

The “I” at the top of the diagram represents the Agent responsible for the needs and faculties we do not share with our ‘cousin,’ the chimpanzee, and accounts for the superiority of our capabilities. The literature provides us with a wide range of Agents from which to choose.

Although no neuroscientists seem to be represented, many renowned psychologists and psychiatrists have found it necessary to postulate an Agent of our superior capabilities.  St. Thomas Aquinas postulated the spiritual Soul, with faculties of memory, intellect, and will.  Freud’s Agent was “I” (Gernan ‘ich,’ which was translated as
ego), with the faculties of perception, conscious thought, memory, learning, choice, judgment, and action.  Jung referred to a ‘self,’ or ‘God within us;’ Karen Horney to our “real self, ... the central inner force,... which is the deep source of growth, . . the spring of emotional forces, of constructive energies, of directive and judiciary powers;” Roberto Assagioli to our ‘higher self;’ Martin Buber to ‘I’ and ‘Thou;’ Arthur Deikman to the ‘Observing Self;’ Antonio Damasio to a ‘proto self;’ Ernest Becker (See his Pulitizer Prize winning Denial of Death,) refers to our “proud, rich, lively, infinitely transcendent, free, inner spirit;”  And myriad mystics, saints, and sages have claimed an ineffable realization of their ‘True Inner Self.’ Endnote

 

But, whichever ‘self’ you choose, it seems that the failure of biologists to find any significant differences between ourselves and the chimpanzee makes the hypothesis of a non-biological element in humans—a ‘self’ of some kind—mandatory. 

For the first time to my knowledge, I will identify specific

needs and faculties of a transcendent Self, which, coupled

with those we share with the chimpanzee, and this new

coherent brain theory, will shed a beacon of light on all

motivation and behavior, all psychopathologies, and a

resolution of the mind/brain/behavior enigma.

 

(See end of article for Adobe PDF® version)


 

 

How the Brain Works,
Coherently
 

A multidisciplinary systems
analysis of mind/brain/behavior


Eugene B. Shea

 

W
hile neurobiologists have been making great strides in identifying brain diseases and genetic anomalies, enabling them to develop wonderful biochemical products and gene therapy to treat them, cognitive neuroscientists and neuropsychologists are having a much tougher time of it.  They are trying to understand the brain processes in stimulus/response, in hopes of  eventually arriving at an understanding of the enigmatic relationships of mind/brain/behavior.

Many neurologists, biologists, physiologists—even some physicists and mathematicians—are exercising their truly prodigious powers of imagination to justify their conviction that consciousness, reasoning, decision-making, etc.
all our ‘higher’ facultiesmust be functions of some yet to be discovered faculties of the cortex
.Endnote


But since this article will take strong exception to the direction of the research of cognitive neuroscience and neuropsychology, I must devote the following portion to explaining why I believe the great majority are on the wrong track.  Then we'll take a look at how the brain most probably does work
coherently.

First however, I want to clearly and largely exempt Bernard J. Baars, Ph.D., and Nicole M. Gage, Ph.D. from my criticism, based on their marvelously lucid and carefully researched new textbook, Cognition, Brain, and Consciousness: Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience - Academic Press, 2007. 
 

Dedicated neuroscientists, they struggle bravely with such things as metacognition, intentionality, volition, making choices in the absence of inherently correct solutions,” which they boldly admit remains, at least for now, a uniquely human territory,” (with the implication that it’s only a matter of time till scientists get around to explaining it in neuronal terms).  They also find it necessary to ascribe genie-like faculties to the frontal lobes, e.g., having a “coarse map of the entire cortex,” so it can select and retrieve memories relevant to its decision-making processes.  [page 354]

But I am deeply indebted to them for the wealth of current neuroscience research which has been included in and corroborates my theory, and the glaring gaps in their studiesand in all neuropsychology―e.g,, the neural processes between stimulus and cognition/response, which this article will address, and offer a cogent theory.  I think every serious student of cognitive neuroscience should have a copy of this excellent book.

The major problem facing cognitive neuroscientists is that the chimpanzee's DNA is now known to be 99+% identical to ours, so most ‘scientismists’ thought this proved we were only a branch of the chimp family, and that the <1% difference could account for our vastly superior capabilities.
 
But now they have found that the remaining <1% difference is primarily related to hair, skin, bones, blood, muscle, etc.―hardly differences which could begin to account for our superiority.


Our DNA is not similar to that of the chimpanzee,

it is, to all intents and purposes, identical.

 

Then how come we're so different?  Never at loss for figments, most scientists have concluded that our differences, our higher faculties, must be found in the cortex, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, both of which are much larger than that of the chimp, imagining that a larger but physiologically and biologically identical brain, must account for our superiority.  (Also see the new evidence about neanderthal brains.Endnote )


So hundreds of researchers are expending millions of people-hours, centering all their efforts to locate human faculties of consciousness, reasoning,
intentionality, conviction, imagination, volition,  etc, in some as yet undiscovered faculties of the human cortex. 

Professor Sebastian Grossman, Ph.D., late Emeritus Chair of Bio-Psychology, University of Chicago, pointed out “... neuropsychologists’ proclivity to ‘localize’ higher faculties such as consciousness in that part of the brain that has undergone the most obvious evolutionary change... .”   (in a letter to the author)

Note the good Professor's precise use of the word ‘proclivity,’ and quote marks around the word localize.  In other words, they arbitrarily posit our higher faculties in the cortex, not on the basis of any scientific evidence, but because that’s where they want them to be.

And, with all due respect to Dr. Grossman, we now know the larger brain is not at all ‘evolutionary’ in the Darwinian sense, having appeared on the planet in an instant of geological time.


Nor is there any validity to the popular ‘triune’ nature of the brain, as composed of evolutionary development from reptilian to mammalian to primate brains.  The so-called ‘reptilian brain’ is not a brain at all, since it represents only a portion of the reptile brain, which is comprised, like ours, of brainstem, midbrain, and cortex.  Nor, for the same reason, is the mammalian brain a brain.  And as we shall see, their neglect of these specious lizard and mammalian ‘brains’ in favor of the cortex has led researchers to only a perfunctory analysis of their marvelous functions, without which we would be vegetables a few minutes before our demise.


And cognitive neuroscientists are admittedly struggling with a ‘binding problem.’  The various visual characteristics of an object―color, shape, size, motion―are registered and interpreted in different parts of the brain.  So, they wonder, if I see something red, round, tennis ball-size, and in motion, where in the cortex—where they think consciousness must reside―do all of those percepts come together to instantly alert me to the fact that I’m going to get hit in the face with a tomato?  The famous binding problem.


The answer as we shall see, is that they don't come together in the cortex, but in the thalamus, the much more likely home to consciousness.Endnote
 

My first computer 30 years ago, was a Model III Radio Shack running on a Z-80 processor, with 64K of internal memory and two 64K floppy disk drives.  My current Pentium 4 HT 3GHz, 2.99GHz, with 2G of RAM, and a 150G hard drive, operates on exactly the same principles as my old Model III.  The only substantial difference is a faster processor and more importantly, vastly more RAM and memory―data and program storage and work space.


Now consider the lowly rat, whose peanut-size brain, consisting of a brainstem, a minuscule mid-brain and cortex, can generate perhaps only thirty or forty different responses.  But those few responses have insured the perpetuation of the species for thousands of years.  Now looking at the successive anatomical forms of the mammalian brain of the rat, cat, owl monkey, rhesus monkey, and chimpanzee, isn’t it obvious that these are simply sequentially larger versions of the rat’s marvelously efficient brain?  Enlargements which, coupled with a more versatile body and more RAM work space and memory, enable the chimpanzee to generate scores of responses and, by operant conditioning and social learning, to acquire scores more?

And, since our DNA is identical, isn't it also obvious that our brain is simply a larger chimp’s brain, and must also operate with the same components and on the same principles?  Much of what we
know about the human brain has been learned from experiments on primates.

Years ago pioneers working on artificial intelligence realized that for a computer to emulate the brain it must be equipped with many facts: children can’t be as old or older than their parents, shirts are bought at a department store, etc.  They first estimated maybe as many as a million facts; but realized almost at once that they were dealing with
tens of millions of facts.  Where but in the cortex could the brain store all these facts? 


Further, can you imagine the number of neural motor sequence memories
routines, and subroutinesnecessary for a typist to hit 9 keys a second for minutes at a time, without realizing what he has typed?  For sighted words to appear on a page, while he thinks of something else?  Can you imagine the number of subroutines necessary to drive my car through traffic while I’m thinking of something else, and alert me instantly to anything requiring my attention?  For our subconscious morning ablutions?  For a concert pianist to have thousands of musical phrases wired to his fingers’, hands’, arms’, feet, and legs’ motor neurons?  Some of which can be executed continuously for twenty minutes? 

The number of sensory sequence memories to read and absorb information at 400 words, including hundreds of phrases, a minute?  To know thousands of words which I can rattle off correctly in millions of different phrases?  To know the appearance and something about 1,000 people on hearing their names?  To recognize 1,000 people on sight from many angles?  To recognize the voices of scores of people?  To recognize hundreds of songs on hearing one or two phrases?  And on what instrument they are played?  For an idiot-savant to memorize an encyclopedia?

Where could we possibly store tens of millions of facts, and all these sensory and motor sequences
―routines, subroutines, and sub-subroutines―all this memory?  Why, only in the vast association areas of the cortex of course!  We don’t need another operating system; but we humans do obviously need more working space (prefrontal cortex RAM) and more memory, a larger hard drive, provided by the mammoth human cortex.Endnote

 

Note that none of these memories have any use or meaning to the chimpanzee, which does very nicely with a much smaller but identical cortex.

Most importantly, neuroscientists using their fMRI and PET scans, have unanimously limited themselves to a
modular model of the brain, examining each segment (normal, lesioned, or diseased) during different mental activities, as though each is independently responsible for (or independently participates in) one or more of the multiplicity of activities of which the brain is capable.Endnote

 

For example, handicapped by this modular approach, they consider central nervous system activities such as thought, voluntary movement, reasoning, perception, emotions, etc., as functions of the parts of the brain which ‘light up’ when those activities are operant, while those mental or physiological activities are impaired when that part of the brain is damaged or diseased. 

 

But doesn’t my computer hard drive operate exactly the same way―activate relevant sectors when certain programs are run, and fail to run those programs when those sectors are damaged?  Does that mean my computer operations are functions of those segments of the hard drive?  Isn’t the hard drive just a passive memory of operational sequences called forth and managed from somewhere else?  As Baars & Gage warn, we shouldn’t confuse correlative with causal. 

 

Calling mental and physiological activities ‘functions’ of active brain segments is like saying that maintaining an airplane in straight and level flight is a function of the ailerons, rudder, and elevator, because they are active during flight corrections.  But maintaining flight stability is a function of the autopilot or the pilot. 

 

(Incidentally, as we shall see, the airplane is a perfect analogy of this theory: RF/RAS is the autopilot, the “I” is the pilot, and can override RAS responses, and create its own ‘responses,’ but whose images of intent [see below] are executed by and through the autopilot, the RAS.) 


By the same token, I will argue that the ‘function’ of all brain

components is to each act in accordance with the current demands

of the Reticular Activating System, which alone has all the efferent

inputs to appraise all internal and external circummstances, and

the afferent and efferent connections (for control and feedback)

to and from all brain and body components to generate and

execute 'appropriate' responses to those circumstances

and as we will see below, to implement our acts of will.


All brain components can’t each be immediately apprised of

 existing internal and environmental circumstances, instantly

appraise those circumstances, and each independently 

play its own variable part in a relevant response,

as all neuroscientists seem to assume. 


Further, believing that the cortex is home to all our higher powers, researchers have concentrated their analyses on the one-way upward course of information from the senses through the reticular formation and thalamus up to the cortex, where they think consciousness, processing, analysis, and decision-making must take place.  But according to Erich Harth in The Creative Loop - How the Brain Makes a Mind, they have “studiously ignored” the instantaneous downward passage of ten times as much information from the cortex to the thalamus!  Baars & Gage recognize this phenomenon, but say these “neurons are running the wrong way (i.e, from V1 downward to the visual thalamus)!” 
(sic, pg. 66)


I will try to prove that a much more efficient brain processing, and
a binding problem solution, lie in considering consciousness, in both
animals and humans, to be centered in the thalamus,
the brain's

Central Command and Control Center, which then uses the cortex

to retrieve relevant memories and identify and feed ‘appropriate’

motor response routines and subroutines to prefrontal cortex RAM

for processing (as explained below), until the intensity of a given

response reaches an ‘enact level,’ and is forwarded to the premotor

cortex and relevant brain components for implementation,

or the stimulus abates and the PFC reverts to inactive RAM.

For example, when I am attending to the voice of someone who says, “Marilyn Monroe” (O.K., I'm 91), I suggest that those words pass in neural networks through the reticular formation to the thalamus/RASand non-cognitive consciousnesswhich forwards it up to auditory cortex regions.


But 9-10 times as much information is returned from the cortex to the thalamus, enough information to give me a picture of a beautiful blonde in a white dress and high heels standing over a subway exhaust grille trying to hold her skirt downa picture which would require scores of thousands of computer bytes.  Isn't it obvious this picture was simply retrieved to thalamic consciousness from the cortex?

On the other hand, presented with that picture, it is sent in neural networks through unknowing consciousness to visual cortex V1 through V3, and returns the name “Marilyn Monroe” to consciousness in the thalamus, together with highlights of her life.
Endnote
 

Researchers who concentrate their efforts to understand cognitive neurology while confining their search for our higher powers to some mysterious, yet-to-be-discovered faculties of the cortex, while ignoring our unique metafaculties (explained below), the remarkable functions of the Reticular Activating System, and the vast range of its influence on human cognition and behavior are, I believe, heading down a one-way dead-end road.

Some neuroscientists agree, at least in part: “From modern neuroanatomy, it is apparent that the entire neocortex of humans continues to be regulated by the paralimbic regions from which it evolved.”  [A General Theory of Love, Lewis, et al., pg; 33]

 

As Dr. Grossman puts it, “. . . the reticular formation has been sadly neglected by contemporary neuroscientists, .”  (in a letter to the author)

 

In view of the above, it is a major thesis of this article
that although we use the brain differently, e.g., for
 everything from language to putting men on the
moon, and therefore develop different capacities of
its components, the human brain, in and of itself,
has no inherent functional capabilities which
differentiate it from the brain of the chimpanzee.

 

The rest of this article will be devoted to a new paradigm of the human brain, one which can resolve the binding problem, explain from a systems standpoint how the brain does work, and shed a beacon of light on the neurology of human motivation and behavior—a unified theory of psychology, cybernetics, and neuroscience, and a resolution of the mind/brain/behavior enigma.

 

How the Brain Does Work:

Coherently!

 

To understand human behavior, and identify the locus of consciousness, a multidisciplinary systems analysis of the brain may prove to be a more fruitful approach.

 

Look at it this way: if beings from another planet were smart enough to get to earth, and simply observe an automobile for a day or two without raising the hood, but listening, examining the gas, the exhaust, etc., they would undoubtedly be able to tell, without a design of each part, exactly what components were at work inside the car.  They would know that there must be a fuel vaporizer, combustion chambers, ignition devices, a transmission, etc., etc.

 

Now, with ever-increasing analytical skills and data, we have been observing each other and ourselves for more than three thousand years, and apparently no one seems to be trying to analyze the brain from a systems standpoint―to postulate the components and their functions which must be at work ‘under the hood,’ in order to explain all the rational and irrational physical, mental, and emotional responses which biologists, physiologists, neuroscientists, and particularly cognitive and existential psychologists, know the brain can generate and/or implement.

 

 

A multidisciplinary systems analysis. . .

  

Drawing on the disciplines of psychology, cybernetics, and neurology, and painting with a broader brush in a systems analysis, we can perhaps begin to develop a schematic of the human and chimpanzee brain components and their functions in all mammalian behavior.Endnote
 

From a systems standpoint, we know that every complex mechanismand so too, every complex organism made up of multiple subsystems, a mechanism whose subsystems can operate in varying combinations, and each to varying degrees, to accomplish a number of different tasks―like a battleship for example―must have a command and control system which manages and coordinates the functions of the subsystems. 

To operate effectively, a command and control system must have:

1.  Immediate access to all available internal and
     environmental circumstantial information,

2.  A means of rapidly assimilating, evaluating, and

     prioritizing that information,

3.  A means of selecting and implementing
     appropriate responses to the information, and

4.  Immediate two-way communications, for control

     and feedback, with all of the subsystems.

Now of course the body is a complex mechanism with many subsystems, capable of operating in a coordinated way.  So it must have a command and control center, which all agree is the brain.  But the brain itself is a very complex organism with many subsystems capable of operating in a coordinated way. 

 

It is inconceivable that the human and animal brain,
with all of its components and subsystems
―much more
 complicated than a battleship―could possibly
coordinate
 each of their functions in effective management of the
thousands of complex physical, mental, emotional, and
 biological activities of the body, providing as
it does,
 
instantaneous, coordinated reactions to

considerations of vital interest, without a

central priority evaluator and responder to
its internal and environmental
stimuli

i.e., a command and control system. 

 

But then where is it?  What is it? 

 

The only viable candidate for the brain’s
‘command and control system’ is the
Reticular Activating System, centered,
with consciousness, in the thalamus,
which sends and receives signals to and
 from all parts of the brain and body.

 

The only known system of the brain which has access

to all incoming information, is known to immediately

scan and prioritize that information, then select and

implement some ‘appropriate’ responses, and

has two-way communications with all of the

subsystems, is the Reticular Activating System,
including its ‘sentinel,’ the Reticular Formation.

 

Although scientists have known about some of the
properties of the Reticular Activating System/
Reticular Formation for over 50 years, none of them,
to my knowledge, has suggested they form a command
and control system for all operations of the brain.

 

The key to a cogent systems analysis of the brain was provided many years ago by the renowned Jerome S. Bruner, one of the fathers of cognitive psychology, when he observed,

“The human mind has an ‘inhibitory system’ which routinely and automatically removes from perception, reason, and judgment over 99% of available fact.”Endnote  

I propose the Reticular Formation (RF)―in both humans and all sentient beings―as the perfect neurological candidate for Bruner’s ‘inhibitory system.’  The RF is an uncharted—unchartable?—amorphous mass of millions of neurons, whose responses are uniquely unspecific,Endnote located inside the brain stem, about the size and shape of one’s little finger.  In 1958, physiologist H. W. Magoun described some of its functions in The Waking Brain.  Together with its millions of communication pathways to and from the brain and the body, it was named the Reticular Activating System (RAS), because stimulation of the RF caused sleeping subjects to awaken, while damage to the RF resulted in coma.

But now, even after fifty-plus years, neurologists have identified only a few of the RF purposes.  It is so complex that research on it has practically come to a halt.Endnote 
Although its centralized location and countless connections would seem to enable it to perform myriad functions, it is impossible, using current research methods, to identify more than a few of them.

What little
is known about the RF/RAS raises questions which no one in the neuroscience community seems prepared to address.  For example,

“Nature appears to have gone to great pains to cause essentially all the incoming and outgoing communication channels of the brain to pass through the reticular system.” Endnote


[The reticular formation] is well placed to monitor all the nerves connecting brain and body.  It ‘knows’ what is going on better than any other part of the brain. Endnote


[The reticular formation] alerts the brain to incoming information from the senses, and from the centers of thought, memory and feeling.  More than that, it adjudicates the relative importance of that information. ... In a way the RAS is like a vigilant secretary, sorting out the trivia from the incoming messages.” Endnote


“The reticular formation is, in essence, the physical basis of consciousness, the brain's chief watchguard. ... The reticular formation continuously sifts and selects, forwarding only the essential, the unusual, the dangerous to the conscious mind. ... The reticular formation can both send and receive messages.  If it suddenly spots one that merits attention, it shoots up an alert through ascending RAS pathways to receiving areas in the cortex.  Timed to arrive simultaneously with the impulses sent directly from sensory receptors, [ ! ! ! ] the RAS alerts the cortex to these impulses.” Endnote


“The RAS determines which of the many bits of information are important enough - or novel enough - to report to the higher portions of the brain. ... Normally, the information relating to automatic actions, such as the heartbeat and digestion, is dealt with directly by the RAS, which sends out regulating impulses when they are needed without allowing any awareness of them to filter through to the conscious brain.” Endnote


“Researchers have a relatively clear picture of the physical underpinnings of consciousness.  Information streaming in from nerve receptors in the skin, muscles, tendons, joints, eyes, ears and mouth passes first through the thalamus and/or the reticular formation - a group of nuclei in the brainstem.  Thus, before even reaching the cortex, impulses have passed through a series of processing regions that behave somewhat like secretaries in an office who screen phone calls, mail and visitors before passing them on to the boss.

 

“The reticular formation, sometimes called the ruler of consciousness, stands at the critical junction — both in terms of anatomy and function — of the senses and the higher brain. Vigilant day and night, the neurons of the reticular formation sort all incoming impulses.  By some unknown means, they determine which deserve further attention, and having done so, flag important impulses so that the cortex will take note of them.  At night, while the cortex is deep in sleep, the reticular formation keeps tabs on the senses and in times of possible danger is first to sound the alarm.”Endnote


“There is also direct evidence that the RAS is able to produce the kinds of effects on the operation of the muscles and glands that would accompany the role of a response-selecting mechanism.  It seems to be able to sensitize or ‘awaken’ selected nervous circuits and desensitize others.  This is sometimes accomplished by selective muscular activation:
electric signals sent over reticular nerve fibers down the spinal cord to terminate on the relay nerve cells whose axons pass out to the muscles achieve a sort of ‘volume-control’ action that increases or decreases the magnitude of the muscular response.”  ! ! Endnote


“The reticular formation monitors incoming stimuli and chooses those that should be passed on to the brain and those that are irrelevant and may be ignored. ... In addition to being a filter, the reticular formation controls respiration, cardiovascular function, digestion, awareness levels, and patterns of sleep.

 

“In recent years, the reticular formation has been discovered to be more significant than previously thought.  Scientists now believe it to be involved in higher mental processes, in particular the focusing of attention, introspection, and reasoning.” Endnote

        Finally, since a picture is worth a thousand words. . .
 


THE BRAIN - MYSTERY OF MATTER AND MIND

U. S. News Books - 1981

I quote all these sources (with emphasis added) to show the consensus of opinion that the RF is Bruner’s inhibitory system; that the RF, “like a vigilant secretary,” with the power to inhibit, automatically makes it our very stimuli selector (and ipso facto is responsible for all our repressions!); but that much more than a secretary, its associated RAS also selects and implements responses to those stimuli; that together they form the silent sovereign manager of all human and animal vital functions; are also capable of “selective muscular activation;” are now thought by some scientists “to be involved in higher mental processes;” and lastly, to remark that, remarkably, this is all they have to say about this mysterious element in the brain.  All of these authors then go on to discuss other parts of the brain, with apparently no curiosity about how the RF is able to decide what and what not to inhibit―how it decides which of the great multiplicity of available sensory stimuli it will select for further processing. Endnote

 
 From all the evidence, the human and chimpanzee RF/RAS
can only be characterized as a computer/servo-organism
which receives all incoming sensory data, scans and
prioritizes that data for further processing in accordance
with its ‘programs;’ and, through the Reticular Activating
System, generates and controls Responses or Response-
Impulses ‘appropriate’ to its iterations of the data.


It is a second major thesis of this article, representing a
 new paradigm of the brain, that in all sentient beings, the
 brain constitutes a coherent computer-servo organism
 which, under the direction of the Reticular Activating
 System, and at the instigation of the Reticular Formation,
 uses the whole brain to try to maintain physiological and
 biological homeostasis; in social beings to also try to
 maintain stasis of bio-sociological needs; and in humans,
 to also try to maintain stasis of our uniquely induced
 psychological, emotional, and volitional states.
 

(Hereafter I will use the term ‘RAS’ to include all the processes of the RF.  Also, since the RAS can enact responses, e.g., knee-jerk and 'silent' vital sign corrections, or only a response-impulse, e.g. hunger pangs, the word ‘response’ will be used to indicate response or response-impulse, or both, as the context requires).

 

What then, are the programs on which the RF/RAS is operating?  Well, as we have seen above, the RAS is known to control all our vital functions, respiration, pulse, sleep/wake cycles, etc.  But the chimpanzee, without higher powers, also gets an immediate response to any disequilibrium in any of its biological, physiological, and bio-sociological needs, its Social-Animal Needs.  Responses to these Needs must also be generated by the RAS. 
 

And since our DNA is 99+% identical to that of the chimpanzee, we must assume that our basic RF/RAS  programs are the Social-Animal Needs (SA-Needs) we so obviously share with the chimpanzee―Needs which are continually moving into operant and quiescent states.  Functioning as priority-interrupts, any Need can be primary at any given time.
 


 

The Social Animal Needs Endnote

 

 

So it is the Reticular Activating System which motivates children and chimps to imitate others, to seek belongingness, which makes us sleepy when we are tired, and generates an instant mind/body fight, flight, or freeze reaction to a threat, etc., etc.  Of course, both animals and humans learn from experience and improve their performance, so the RAS must have access to all of the organism's Memories, in order to generate the best, or most common precedent response for need gratification or fear assuagement.


But we have some metaneeds and metafaculties absent in our ‘cousin’ the chimpanzee.  One of these is an insatiable metaneed, our need to Know, and its corresponding metafaculty, Conviction, i.e, knowing or believing.  Unlike simple animal curiosity, we want to know who, what, where, when, how, and why about everything. 
Aristotle said, We must know.”Endnote

Herein lies one of our major human problems: in our need to know, we readily adopt
become convicted ofliterally thousands of beliefs (some estimates run in the hundreds of thousands!) based on our interpretation of our experiences, or on inference, assumption, probabilities, deduction, induction, syllogisms, the reports of others, and a host of generalizations.

This led Joseph Jastrow to conclude that the mind is a belief-seeking rather than a fact-seeking apparatus.  One needs only follow a four-year old around for a few hours to confirm this idea.  We humans have an insatiable need to know, causing us to avidly adopt beliefs by the thousands as we mature.  Even things we know as facts act as beliefs, as do all our doubts, disbeliefs, memories,Endnote
values, and our self-adopted ‘needs’ additional to the SA-Needs.
 

But the major things we need to know are “Who am I?  What am I?  Why am I here?  What is the meaning of my life?  I am a completely unique personwhere do I belong?”  In answer to these fundamental questions, we do what everyone else is doing; we look for things with which we can identify ourselves.  We start building a self image—we identify ourselves with our body, our mind, our family, our friends, a significant other, and later, our  profession, possessions, religion, nationality, reputation, gender, or a cause, etc.—a seemingly infinite number of things.


The beliefs and accompanying activities which make up our self-image thus serve two purposes: they give us a sense of self identity: “I am an American, a boy or girl, a Jones family member, a student, a group member, etc.”  And they are necessarily, per Assagioli (see below),  accompanied by activities
representative of those self-identifications; activities in which we can temporarily ‘lose ourselves,’ and, as long as we are so engaged, repress the nagging questions of
“Who am I?  What am I?  Why am I here?”

As Roberto Assagioli states in PsychoSynthesis, “We are dominated by everything with which our self becomes identified.”  Each self-identification carries with it the responsibility of assuming all the characteristics we
believe are representative of, or applicable to, that appellation.  These self-identifications engender many beliefs, including Karen Horney’s tyrannical ‘shoulds,’ which constitute Freud'
s 'super-ego,' or what we know as our conscience.  Our self-image becomes perhaps the  most powerful element in our belief systems and beomes a very prolific generator of beliefs.
 
As noted, we can simultaneously identify ourselves with a number of things.  Aldous Huxley describes it best:

. . . since the mind-body is capable of an enormous variety of experiences, we are free to identify ourselves with an almost infinite number of possible objects—with the pleasures of gluttony, for example, or intemperance, or sensuality; with money, power, or fame; with our family, regarded as a possession or actually an extension and projection of our own selfness; with our artistic or scientific talents; with some favourite branch of knowledge, some fascinating ‘special subject’; with our professions, our political parties, our churches; with our pains and illnesses; with our memories of success or misfortune, our hopes, fears and schemes for the future; and finally with the eternal Reality within which and by which all the rest has its being.  And we are free, of course, to identify ourselves with more than one of these things simultaneously.  Thus a man can be at once the craftiest of politicians and the dupe of his own verbiage, can have a passion for brandy and money, and an equal passion for the poetry of George Meredith and under-age girls and his mother, for horse-racing and detective stories and the good of his country—the whole accompanied by a sneaking fear of hell-fire, a hatred of Spinoza and an unblemished record for Sunday church-going.

So starting at birth (or possibly in the womb) we each haphazardly develop a unique belief system in the brain.  But since most of our self-image beliefs and many others have an emotional or affective component, I suggest it is better described as a Love/Belief System.  Eventually this System is comprised of scores of thousands of things we believe, and an ever-changing group of purposes or people or ideas with which we have allowed our Selves to become identified—all of them capable, as we shall see, of giving rise to Desires and Fears.
 

Now most of us think we receive sights and sounds in their pure form, which are then evaluated against relevant elements of our Love/Belief Systems. 

 

But our instantaneous, involuntary reactions to

 contradictions of our beliefs or derogation of things with

 which we are identified, and positive reactions to their

 support, are autonomic, and those responses must

 therefore have been generated by the RF/RAS. 

 

 As William James wrote many years ago:

“It is clear that between what a man calls ‘me,’ and what he simply calls ‘mine,’ the line is difficult to draw.  We feel and act about certain things that are ours very much as we feel and act about ourselves. Our fame, our children, the work of our hands, may be as dear to us as our bodies are, and arouse the same acts of reprisal if attacked. ... In its widest possible sense, however, a man’s Self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body, and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and his works, his land and horses and yacht and bank account.  All these things give him the same emotions.  If they wax or prosper, he feels triumphant, if they dwindle and die away, he feels cast down - not in the same degree for each thing, but in much the same way for all.”  
 

We humans uniquely respond autonomically to hundreds of circumstances other than those related to the Social-Animal Needs, but significantly related to our Loves and Beliefs, and must therefore have been selected and interpreted by the RF/RAS prior to entering consciousness.

 

So we have for example, the ‘cocktail party phenomenon,’ the instantaneous, involuntary shift of our attention when a loved one’s name is spoken, even in a babble of sounds.  (The RAS instantly reduces the volume of all other sounds!)  Or when someone criticizes our church, or our children, a feeling of resentment is instantly generated, and one or more of our perceptual defenses are brought into consciousness.  We autonomically generate the same reaction we would to a kick in the shins.

 

All our sights and sounds come to us preselected,
preevaluated, and processed before they fully enter our
consciousness.  Favorable stimuli are rushed intact to our
 consciousness; but stimuli in conflict with elements of
 our Love/Belief Systems are, failing complete repression,
modifed, justified, rationalized, etc., to make them
conformable to elements in our Love/Belief Systems.

We don’t see things as they are;
we see them as we are.

     ANAIS  NIN


Further evidence of RF/RAS response-impulses:  Haven't we all heard snippets of words or glimpses of something which instantly registered as ‘important,’ without knowing what it was until the stimulus was replayed in our consciousness for identification and cognition?  And really bad news can instantly cut off the supply of blood to the brain and cause us to faint before it fully penetrates consciousness.  RAS is our shock-absorber.


Can these responses also be a function of the RAS, or do they involve some other brain function?  Obviously the RAS autonomically selects and implements responses to our vital functions: respiration, heart rate, digestion, arousal, adrenalin level, etc.  And if we share the Social-Animal Needs, it's easy to understand how the RAS would generate an instant response to a threat of pain or isolation or the taking of one’s food.  But although again,
the RF/RAS is the only viable candidate, how could it also pick out from the environment and generate instant responses to the sound of a loved one’s name, or a diminution or enhancement of James’
“reputation and his works, his land and horses and yacht and bank account?”


The answer lies in the fact that Dr. Gary Lynch of the University of California at Irvine has proved that “learning involves a physical change in the circuitry of the brain.”  When we learn something, new synapses are formed in our brains, or existing connections are strengthened, sometimes in as little as ten minutes.  (Aside: perhaps in geniuses and idiot-savants, much faster?) 
The brain is now known to be plastic.

 

The Plausible Hypothesis:

 

Certainly it is not then an ‘astonishing hypothesis’Endnote to infer that if I love someone, that person’s name becomes wired in or near my Reticular Formation, and the RAS generates a response whenever that name is mentioned; or if I believe that I am an honest, intelligent person, that belief becomes wired into my RF, and any implication to the contrary triggers what is known as a ‘perceptual defense.’ Endnote
 

The point is that all of our Loves and those Beliefs with
an emotional or affective component, are not additional
 ‘learnings’ to be stored in the brain as data.  They must
somehow be processed differently, to be registered in or
near the  Reticular Formation, where, with the Social
Animal Needs, they represent the
principles or programs

which determine how all the data is handled. Endnote

Therefore, until some ‘sensor’ and ‘response generator’ of each of these brain actions is identified, what better candidate than the Reticular Formation and Reticular Activating System?  Why would such a marvelous system be limited to sensing and issuing responses to physiological, biological, and SA-Needs, and not include, as I suggest in this article, our uniquely emotional, psychological, and volitional states of disequilibrium?


The major thesis of this article is that in all sentient beings,

the RF/RAS manages the entire brain, and through the brain,

all biological and physiological functions, as the command

and control system of the entire organism’s homeostasis.

 

In social animals, the RF/RAS programs include the Social-Animal
 Needs, Instincts, and Memories; in humans they are the SA-Needs,
Love/Belief System Elements, and Memories; and thereby include
 stasis of our
emotional, psychological, and volitional states.

 

In addition to all its other functions, the RAS

works continuously to bring us equanimity, i.e.,

 

Peace.

 

 

 

Domain of the RF/RAS


It seems the only plausible hypothesis is that the human Reticular Activating System takes on an additional responsibility for the Love/Belief System, whose programs consist of the myriad significant conscious and subconscious Loves and Beliefs which we all adopt or with which we are introjected, since infancy.  This transformation of the RF, together with our uniquely human metaneeds and metafaculties, makes of each of our brains what we have always known as the mind.


So here is Bruner’s ‘inhibitory system,’ the centralized, indefatigable, quintessential sentinel of the brain, and the Reticular Activating System
the de facto manager of the brainas it says in the illustration above, “deflecting the trivial, letting the vital through to alert the mind.”


But ‘vital’ and ‘trivial’ are subjective terms, different for each individual.  How does the RF know what is vital and what is trivial to each of us, if not in the way this article describes?  As noted earlier, I can find no serious literature which even addresses the question.

Since the RAS is both our stimuli and response-
selector, we are all seeing and hearing the
 world―
experiencing and responding to it
through our Reticular Activating Systems.  

 

Think about it.  This means that we are all wearing diffracting lenses over our eyes and earphones over our ears, which select, evaluate and translate what we see, what we hear, what we read.  Our experiences all come to us selected and modified by the RAS before they reach consciousness.  In each of us our uniquely programmed RAS is interpreting the world to us Remember, the RF not only selects important stimuli, it removes 99+% from our very perception.  And this is why, as all psychologists know (but most seem to think only applies to others):

 

The RF rushes favorable sights and sounds unaltered

to consciousness; but if unable to completely repress

 unfavorable stimuli, they reach us only after having

been colored, modified, or rationalized to be

presented in their most palatable form:

“The grapes were probably sour anyway.”


Therefore it is our endowed Social Animal Needs, accompanied by the wiring of our Loves and Beliefs, which explains the creation of LeDoux’s ‘synaptic self’ - and precisely how our
brains
can literally become who we are.Endnote


The shocking conclusion we must draw is that the RAS operates
exactly like the U. S. Government―a vast and incredibly complex bureaucracy, comprised of scores of open and secret bureaus, departments, and branches, staffed by hundreds of single-minded bureaucrats―whose responsibilities often overlap or conflict, and with very imperfect communications between them, each competing for our attention, each with some priority-interrupt authority, each mindlessly trying to enact its own limited agenda, and to justify and expand its authority by encouraging the acceptance of data which validates its agenda and rejection of that which does notan appalling, but unfortunately, a compellingly exact analogy.  Can cognitive dissonance, and its associated existential anxiety, be far behind?

 

We are living in a post-hypnotic trance,

induced in early infancy.

           R. D. LAING

 

(Further, as we will see, our creative acts of will must go back through the same system for a feasibility analysis before they are enacted, where they are often displaced by conflicting conscious and subconscious Loves and Beliefs.)


In addition to the metafaculty of conviction we also have the uniquely human metafaculty of commitmentThe animal is committed by any RAS-generated response impulse strong enough to pass through the ‘action gate’ in the frontal lobes to the premotor cortex.  But we have the power to commit ourselves to hundreds of things, not only unrelated to the SA-Needs, but even opposed to them: celibacy, solitude, fasting, even suicide, etc.

 

 

Our metafaculty of ‘knowing’ includes the power of metacognition.  Baars and Gage  recognize metacognition as “the ability to know our own cognitive functions, and to be able to use that knowledge; and point out that the prefrontal cortex (where alternative responses are resolved) is necessary for metacognition. 

Cognitive psychologists, e.g., Merluzzi, et al., have long recognized the human faculty of metacognition, which they say
refers to the ability to monitor a wide variety of cognitive enterprises, ... to monitor one's memory and comprehension, or knowing about knowing or an awareness ot one's own cognitive machinery and the way it operates.
Endnote

 

Both metacognition and commitment are manifest in the well-known Benjamin Libet experiments, which clearly illustrate the pre-conscious (i.e., subconscious) nature of RAS-generated response-impulses, as well as the subject’s metacognizance and commitment power over those impulses.

“Benjamin Libet of the University of California, recorded electrical signals generated by the brains of his experimental subjects and looked particularly at a signal called the ‘readiness potential’ that always appears just before a movement.  Using special timing techniques, he found that the readiness potential begins about half a second before a subject begins to move a hand.  This is expected, since brain activity must begin before the brain issues a command to the muscles.  What is surprising, however, is that the subjects do not become aware of deciding to move until only about two tenths of a second before the movement begins, some three tenths of a second after the brain activity began.

 

“. . . to Libet [this] says that the intention to act arises from brain activity that is not within our conscious awareness. . . the brain initiates the impulse to act and the conscious self subsequently becomes aware of it.  Libet also finds that his subjects are able to veto the impulse to act during the few tenths of a second after a subject becomes aware of it.  In this sense, consciousness becomes a gatekeeper for intentions generated by the brain, letting through only those that somehow meet an individual’s criteria.”Endnote

But what specifically are the ‘cognitive functions’ of which metacognition makes us aware?  I contend that these are processes of the prefrontal cortex (PFC).  Any sensory signal interpreted by the RF as ‘significant,’ is brought to uncomprehending consciousness in the thalamus and control of the RAS.  The RAS forwards the signal immediately on to the cortex for identification - what is it?  where is it? - and a search of the cortex for all relevant memories and responses, which are forwarded to the frontal lobes for execution or resolution. 

Now in both human and chimpanzee, these responses, if unambiguous and uninhibited by associated beliefs or memories  (see ‘feasibiity analysis’ below) are forwarded through a ‘pass’ channel of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), premotor cortex, and motor cortex, for initiation of the response.  (The PFC doesn’t ‘light up’ for unambiguous,  uninhibited, or habituated responses.)

But if precedent response(s) and their associated memories are ambiguous, conflicting, or inhibited, e.g., a threat generating ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ responses, all responses from cortex memory in the form of their motor sequence memories
each
‘weighted’ by memories of their associated results―are registered by the RAS in the prefrontal cortex, where, accompanied by continuous additional sensory stimuli directly from thalamus consciousness regarding the significance and imminence of the threat, and additional relevant memories retrieved by RAS from the cortex, the momentary urgency of each response is adjusted until (in the animal) one response prevails and immediately breaks through to the conveniently contiguous premotor cortex for implementation, or the threat abates.

In other words, the vaunted prefrontal cortex (PFC) is simply RAM, random access memory, which does not store memory, but provides current ‘work-space’ for ambiguous, conflicting, or inhibited response-impulses, their associated memories, and sensory iterations from the thalamus, until, in the animal, one response prevails and penetrates the
gate
to motor neurons to enact a response.  Naturally, if the threat disappears, the PFC is restored to inactive RAM.

Neither animal nor human PFC
decide which responses will be executed, any more than a neuron, receiving both excitatory and inhibitory impulses, decides when or when not to fire.

But this ‘simple’ PFC function has led most
 neuroscientists to ascribe our unique executive
 powers of reasoning, analysis, and decision-making
to some mysterious, yet-to-be-discovered capabilities
of the PFC and cortex, simply because they are
 larger than those of the chimpanzee.Endnote

 

However, this weighting function of responses in the PFC is not determinant in humans.  As we have seen in the Libet experiment, we have metacognizance of RAS-generated response-impulses, and commitment power through direct thalamic channels to the PFC action gatea metapower executed by the commitment to a consciously generated response which can override the RAS-generated response-impulses.

 

And we have another metafaculty, the faculty of Imagination,  the ability to create and manipulate words, images, ideas, and symbols in our consciousness, and put them together in creative ways.  Most all philosophers and many scientists agree this is a uniquely human faculty, though most scientismists disagree.  I don't think the matter is debatable.  Baars & Gage take imagination for granted throughout their text.

So, except for knee-jerk responses, e.g., avoiding a flying object,
if a RAS- or self-generated response is even slightly ambiguous, conflicted, or inhibited, we can either allow it to be executed, or we can remember the effect of those responses, imagine alternative responses, select a preferred response, and implement that response by committing ourselves to its execution, just as a pilot can override the autopilot..

Unfortunately however, even in making a considered decision, our analysis of alternative responses is limited to consideration only of our
conscious memories and SA-Need and Love/Belief elements,
but is subject to strong insidious influences from subconscious elements.  Which is why we so often have two reasons for what we do: a good reason, and the real reason.

 

But it is not only ambiguous responses which are resolved in the PFC.  Rather, isn’t it obvious that every human problem or problematic situation must be referred to the PFC RAM for resolution?  As Baars & Gage point out, “... the frontal lobes are critical in a free-choice situation, when it is up to the subject to decide how to interpret an ambiguous situation.” Endnote


Don't we all live in a sea of ‘ambiguous situations’?

Aren't most of us, by virtue of our hundreds of significant Loves. Beliefs, Values, Needs, etc., always operating on a dozen or two perpetual purposes?  Aren't we always concerned with longevity, good health, welfare of loved ones, avoiding pain, danger, and disease, our love lives, work and family responsibilities, our spiritual lives, financial security, our reputations, projection and protection of our idealized self-image, observance of our ‘shoulds,’ consistency of our Love/Belief systems, validity of our religious and political persuasions, etc., etc.? 

These are purposes to which either the environment or our imaginations continually provide relevant stimuli, generating desires and fears, and to which, due to their ultimately unresolveable nature, the RAS can only engender ambiguous, conflicting, or inhibited responses.  So most of us are ‘worrying’ our poor PFC’S almost every waking moment.  No wonder our PFC's occupy such a large portion of our cortex!  And why so many of us live
‘lives of quiet desperation’ and ‘cognitive dissonance.’

 

In addition to choosing our responses, we can will to generate acttions independently of RF/RAS impetus, even things we've never done before.  How is this accomplished?  How do we Will something to happen?

 

Let’s suppose I decide to go to the grocery store.  First, I visualize, imagine myself at the grocery store, and of course I must believe/know it can be accomplished (the brain automatically runs each of our ‘images of intent’ Endnote through a ‘feasibility analysis,’ and if it finds a problem, which it often does, refers the conflict to the PFC and our consciousness, where it can be resolved per above), then commit myself to going to the store: “I will be at the store.”  This process authorizes the RAS to execute the motor neuron programs which take me to the store, while I’m free to think of something else if I wish. Endnote

 

Creative Will is the concurrent use of our
metafaculties of imagination, belief, and commitment.

 

How does the brain do this?  I submit that when furnished with a clear picture of a result, a feasibility-check resulting in belief in its attainability, and a commitment to achieve it, the RAS is presented with a disequilibrium: “I’m here - I will be there.”  In response the RAS, holding that purpose until equilibrium is restored, takes it to the cortex where it searches out relevant neuronal motor sequence memoriesroutines―and forwards each in turn to the PFC where all are given a subconscious pass to the premotor cortex and to the motor neurons which, subject to continual subconscious subroutine adjustments―steering, braking, accelerating, etc., based on thalamic sensory inputtake me to the store, leaving my consciousness free for daydreams.

 

This principle applies to long-range images of intent: "I will be a doctor, lawyer, wife and mother, teacher, millionaire, congressperson, missionary, etc. Any image of intent, firmly held, creates a disequilibrium in the Reticular Activating System, and it constantly brings to our attention from the deepest recesses of the memory and from the environment the jig-saw-like pieces of the elements and opportunities which will enable actualization of the intent.

 

Thus a black Elizabeth Train raised by a single mother who told her she could do anything, and who as a young girl fell in love with Don Ameche’s portrayal of an authoritative Naval Intelligence Officer, rose to become a Rear Admiral, the highest ranking female Information Dominance Corps officer, and the only female Intelligence Officer Admiral.  Talk about the power of the Soul!  As Earl Nightingale states in his classic The Strangest Secret, “We become what we think about.”


(Here's an interesting research project:  Subjects have been equipped with a beeper and asked to make note of their thoughts when it goes off.  They've learned how often we think about various subjects.  But now they should add instructions that subjects should also note what they were doing when the beeper sounded.  I believe this would clearly prove that during the majority of the day, our actions were on RAS management while our thoughts were occupied elsewhere.Endnote


Unfortunately, as we mature, many of our RAS-generated responses―which must include all our emotions―tend to become conditioned responses, and it’s usually much easier to accede to these responses with the attitude, “That’s me; that’s the way I am."   Most of us become reconciled or resigned to these specious synaptic selves, and allow our brains to “become who we are.”

 

 

Conclusions


We need a new  paradigm of the human brain, as a brain which starts out physiologically and functionally identical to that of the chimpanzee,Endnote but is transformed into what can now be defined as a ‘mind’ by virtue of our metafaculties of imagination, conviction, and commitment, as well as by the thousands of self-adopted Loves and Beliefs and their concomitant Desires and Fears which form a Love/Belief System, and become wired into our brains. 

 

We must also conclude that the thalamus  and mid-brain is home to consciousness of humans and all sentient beings, constitutes the locus of the Command and Control Center of the brain, and the RAS as the Governor, the de facto Manager of the brain.  The RF is its ‘sentinel.’  The inaptly named Reticular Activating System should now be considered the brain’s Command and Control System; and, until some limits to its jurisdiction are delineated, the RAS must be seen to exercise its  influence throughout the entire brain and body.  

All other elements of the brain would then represent the subsystems
or ‘tools’ of the RAS.  Their functions
―constantly contributing new sensory input and feedback to the RAS processes, recovering memories, fleshing out the details of percepts, generating emotions, physical and vocal reactions, etc.―are only enacted when innervated by responses from the RAS/RF iterations, or purposes enacted from thalamic consciousness through the RAS, but originating in the person’s Will.

 

Sadly however, even our best intentions, originating in our consciousness, must take a reverse path through the RAS and Love/Belief System to reach the actions which will carry them out, often a tortuous feasibility check, where they are very often displaced.  They just don't get done.

All the response-impulse reactions of us ‘normal’
people, whether or not they are assented to, are 
a perfect RAS reflection of our Social-Animal
Needs, and the Loves.Beliefs and concomitant

Desires and Fears arising from our Love/Belief

Systems, or what theologians know as our ‘hearts.’ 

 

To live in a different, better world,

the mystics, saints, and sages say:

“Nothing need change but our hearts.”

 

If the doors of perception were cleansed,

every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.

For man has closed himself up, till he sees

all things thru' narrow chinks of his cavern.

WILLIAM  BLAKE


And since our DNA has no significant differences from that of the chimpanzee, and since DNA is known to determine all the biological and physiological characteristicsall the capabilities of the organismand since we are putting men on the moon and living in homes with all the accouterments of comfort and safety, while chimpanzees are still living in trees, isn’t it also obvious that in addition to a larger but biologically identical brain, we must be uniquely endowed with a non-biological element, an element whose metaneeds and metafaculties enable us to use, override, and even reprogram the Reticular Activating System?―an element which acts as Chief Executive Officer to a RAS Chief Operating Officer as it were?the element whose faculties enable us to generate an infinite variety of responses? 

If cognitive scientists are to understand the brain, they must suspend their search for uniquely human faculties of the cortex, expand their studies of the Reticular Activating System, including its ‘sentinel,’ the Reticular Formation; and they must hypothesize an AGENT—call it ‘X’ if you wilL—of the metafaculties of imagination, conviction, and commitment. 

 

Although neuropsychologists seem to be conspicuously absent, many renowned students of human behavior have found it necessary to postulate an ‘Agent’ of our superior capabilities.  St. Thomas Aquinas postulated the Soul, with faculties of memory, intellect, and will.  Freud’s Agent was “I” (Gernan “ich,” which was translated as ego), with a plethora of faculties, including perception, conscious thought, memory, learning, choice, judgment, and action.  Jung referred to a ‘self,’ or ‘God within us;’ Karen Horney to our “real self, ...the central inner force, ...which is the deep source of growth, ...the spring of emotional forces, of constructive energies, of directive and judiciary powers;” Roberto Assagioli to our  'higher Self;’Endnote Martin Buber to ‘I’ and ‘Thou;’ Arthur Deikman to the ‘Observing Self;’ Antonio Damasio to a ‘proto self;’ Ernest Becker (See his Pulitizer Prize winning Denial of Death,) refers to our “proud, rich, lively, infinitely transcendent, free, inner spirit.”  And myriad mystics, saints, and sages have claimed an ineffable realization of their ‘True spiritual Selves.’ Endnote

 

Personally, I’m with Aquinas, Becker, Horney and the saints: a spiritual “I”, or Soul, in the likeness of God; proud, rich, lively, infinitely transcendent, free inner spirit.  In my book The Immortal “I” - A Unified Theory of Psychology, Neurology, and the Kingdom of God, I have inferred a Soul with Needs to Exist, to Love, and to Know; and Faculties of Imagination, Conviction, and Commitment.  (See  theimmortali.com)

 


A NEW THEORY OF NEUROPSYCHOLOGY


The Reticular Formation continuously monitors stimuli from the World, from the Social Animal Needs, and from the Love/Belief System.  Significant stimuli are forwarded to RAS which retrieves all relevant stimulus/response memories from the cortex.  These responses are evaluated in relation to all Social Animal Needs, Love/Belief System Elements, and other stimuli from the world.

 

The most ‘appropriate’ RAS responses are forwarded with the stimulus to Consciousness, and the responses to the prefrontal cortex, where, if not too strong or not requiring immediate implementation, or if inhibited, ambiguous, or conflicted, on to “I” metacognizance and control, which can select, alter, change, or veto any response―as indicated by the black arrow.   But if unopposed, the RAS-generated response is enacted.  In this way we become habituated to RAS generated responses.  The “I”, the Soul, becomes simply a Deikman 'Observing Self,’ an idle bystander and atrophies; ‘our brains do become who we are.’
 
The diagram also illustrates how “I” can initiate actions or purposes by “I” Faculties of visualization, belief, and commitment (also indicated by the black arrow); but commitments which must go back through the RAS for execution, where they are often ‘displaced.’




These concepts enable us to understand, from a systems standpoint, how the human brain works
coherently, and explains not only most human behavior commonly considered ‘normal’―as well as our potential for enlightenment―but also most psychopathologies including psychoses, neuroses, character disorders, perceptual defense, denial, miscognition, obsessive-compulsion, cognitive dissonance, displacement, repression, split personality, passive aggression, the powers of  the self-image, suggestion, hypnosis, positive and negative thinking, etc., etc

 

All these effects can now be seen to be the result of a Reticular Activating System operating flawlessly on our SA-Needsmany often magnified by becoming love objectsand myriad haphazardly adopted conscious and subconscious Loves and Beliefs, and their seething concomitant Desires and Fears.

And autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, ADD/ADHD,Endnote
and even some physiological, biological, genetic, and chemically induced pathologies could all result from a malfunctioning Reticular Activating System.


For example, all the mood-altering drugs, from crack to marijuana, act primarily on what are called the mono-aminergic neurons, all of which are located in a few discrete nuclei in the Reticular Formation.
Endnote  The drugs must have the effect of impairing RF functions.  Since the RF is the “ruler of consciousness,” anything can come through, from terrror to bliss or anything in between.  It can also release repressions which the RF/RAS functioning normally keeps suppressed, and on occasion, some purification of the sensesBlake's “cleansing of the doors of perception”and rendering the experience enlightening.

Also, 15 years ago, one of the obvious derivatives of this concept was that a malfunctioning RAS could yield schizophrenia, and indeed, recent autopsies of a small population of chronic intractable patients who had lived as schizophrenics showed neural anomalies in the Reticular Activating System!Endnote

 


 

This article, Copyright © 2002, 2012 by The Shelton Group
is based on the book

 

The Immortal “I”
A Unified Theory of

Psychology, Neurology,

and the Kingdom of God

 

by Eugene B. Shea

 

See The Immortal I
 


 

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