Brain Works, Coherently
(And drives the car while you’re daydreaming)
Eugene B. Shea
All neuroscience is based on the paradigm of a
modular brain, each component responsible for or
participating in, all brain ‘functions,’ without
explanation―nor am I able to find a theory― of how
they cooperate in coordinated responses.
It is also based on the paradigm of ‘neuronal
man’―the conviction that all human capabilities will
eventually be understood in neuronal terms.
Based on these paradigms, neuroscientists have made
great strides in mapping the brain and diagnosing
and treating biological and mental illnesses.
But neuropsychologists, seeking a resolution of the
mind/brain/behavior enigma while adhering to these
‘scientific’ paradigms are having a much tougher
time of it.
I will first present an accumulation of
argument that a modular brain is preposterous, and
an accumulation of multi-disciplinary evidence that the brain operates
I will also argue that since our DNA has been shown
to be 98+% identical to that of the chimpanzee,
which after milllions of years is still living in
trees; and recently 99.7% identical to Neanderthal
man, which after 200-300,000 years was still living
in caves with one tool, a sharpened stone when they
became extinct, that our brains are functionally
identical to theirs.
I will then introduce a new paradigm of the uniquely
human ‘Agent’ responsible for the superiority of our
capabilities over those of the our DNA analogues.
Finally, I will integrate the Agent with the
coherent brain, rendering an understanding of the
full bio/psycho/spiritual nature of humans, the
genesis of our motivations, behavior, and most
psychopathologies, in a resolution of
I will present evidence that the brain, rather than
modular, operates coherently, with all components
under the management of the long-known, but
completely neglected, Reticular Activating System
(RAS), including its ‘sentinel’ and ‘lieutenant,’
the Reticular Formation (RF).
The Reticular Activating System, with its locus in
the thalamus and midbran, is a vast network of
neuronal afferent and efferent connections to the
entre brain and body. Thus it is the
perfect candidate for the brain’s Command and
Control System―the de facto manager and coordinator
of all brain functions. It is dedicated 24/7
365 to maintaining homeostasis in all our
biological, socio-biological, physiological,
environmental, psychological, emotional, and volitonal states.
Here is only the first,
but one of the best evidences of the coherent brain:
Gatekeeper to consciousness,
spark of the mind,
the reticular formation connects
with major nerves
in the spinal column and brain.
It sorts the 100 million
impulses that assault the brain
each second, deflecting
the trivial, letting the vital
through to alert the mind. The
mind cannot function without
this catalytic bundle of cells.
Damage to them results in
coma—the loss of consciousness.
- MYSTERY OF
U. S. News Books - 1981
Although this rendering points to the Reticular
Activating System it does not make clear that
the Reticular Formation to which it refers, is
just a small bundle of unique neurons at the top
of the brainstem, within the System.
Faced with a small brain component―the only
immediate recipient of all the organism’s
internal and external stimuli, processing them
at 100 million impulses a second, selecting the
most ‘important’ stimulus and forwarding it to
the midbrain for further processing―psychoneurologists
seemed to realize they were not dealing with a
strictly neurological problem (e.g., how can neurons
recognize a personal insult and generate instant
rancor?) and dropped further research on the RAS
to concentrate on the cortex.
In a letter to the author, Sebastian Grossman,
late Emeritus Chair of Bio-Psychology,
University of Chicago, wrote: “Your analysis
is quite cogent and logically impeccable - 20
years ago, the only counter argument would have
been the neuropsychologists’ proclivity to
‘localize’ higher faculties such as
consciousness in that part of the brain that has
undergone the most obvious evolutionary change.... the reticular formation has been sadly
neglected by contemporary neuroscientists.”
Note the good Professor’s precise use of the
word ‘proclivity,’ and quote marks around
localize. In other words, they
posit our higher faculties in the prefrontal
cortex, because its proportionately larger size
was the only difference they could find between
our brains and those of the primates from which
they were sure we had evolved.
Although this rendering is meant to illustrate
the human brain, I will argue that it is common
to the brain of all sentient beings. With
DNA virtually identical to Neanderthal and
chimpanzee for example, it’s hard to see how our
brains could have significant biological
Then what is the difference between humans and
our DNA analogues? Here we must part
company with rigid behaviorists and Darwinists
and speak to those who know that we are not just
stimulus/response creatures―that except for
‘knee-jerk responses,’ we have the power to
review, veto, and/or alter our
response-impulses. (I’m not going to punch
out my boss no matter how mad I am!) What
is it that makes us so different? The
question has resounded since the dawn of
The most common theories come from scholars who
have proposed a ‘transpersonal self’ which might
explain our differences; but most without
ascription, others with nebulous
characteristics, none have offered a ‘self’
which could be integrated with known
psychological and neural operations of the
And most neuroscientists derisively dismiss the
idea of a transpersonal self as a mythical
‘ghost in the machine’ (while they accept
millions in research funds to try to tease its
exact equivalent out of some mysterious hidden
powers of the cortex.)
Many theorists have postulated or made reference
to a unique human ‘Agent.’ St. Thomas
Aquinas postulated the spiritual Soul with
faculties of memory, intellect, and will.
Freud‘s Agent was “I” (German ‘ich,’ translated
as ego with faculties of perception, conscious
thought, memory, learning, choice, judgment, and
action. Carl 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 an undefined but influential ‘higher self;’
Martin Buber to ‘I and Thou;’ Arthur Deikman to
an ‘Observing Self;’ Antonio Damasio to a ‘proto
self;’ Ernest Becker 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,’ or spiritual Soul.
For a scholarly and thoughtful review of some of
these theories, see
My lifetime study of human nature (see
Bibliography) has culminated in the book The
Immortal “I” - The Converging Evidence of the
Existence Needs, and Faculties of the Soul.
In the book I have adduced and delineated the
Agent responsible for our superiority as a
spiritual Soul―manifest in our uniquely human
existential Needs to Exist, to Love and to Know,
which account for our myriad motivations beyond
gratification of the Social-Animal Needs
(SA-Needs) we share with our DNA analogues.
The Soul’s unique Faculties can be seen to be
Imagination, Conviction, and Commitment,
yielding our preternatural Free Will, which
accounts for our creativity.
Needs to Love and to Know cause each of us to
develop and maintain a unique Love/Belief
System (forming the ‘Heart’ of theological
considerations), and which ultimately consists
of thousands of Loves, Dislikes, Beliefs,
Disbeliefs, Values, Needs, Opinions. etc., and
millions of 'Facts' and poignant Memories.
Many of these Elements of our
Love/Belief Systems are subconscious or
repressed; and/or erroneous, generalizations,
obsolete, conflicting, devitalizing, etc.
Most of us think of ourselves as objective,
and believe our belief systems represent the
standards we apply to evaluation of our
cognitive percepts as to their meaning,
significance, veracity, etc.
But I will introduce the concept that both the
inherent Social-Animal Needs we share with our
DNA analogues, and our Love/Belief Systems
become wired in our brains, forming two sources
of continuous stimuli to the brain, with the
environment providing the third source.
The Love/Belief System also serves as a ‘refrence data
base,’ which RAS uses in the interpretation,
evaluation, and often modification of all
cognitive stimuli, and generation of ‘relevant’
emotions and response-impulses before they reach
consciousness. Thus neurologically, we each see
the world through our unique ‘hearts.’
Following for reference throughout this book is
the diagram I propose as illustrative of RAS
processing of all sentient beings.
The Social Animal Brain Processing
Instincts have been left blank, since we seem to
have very few and they vary among Social
Animals. But this diagram shows that all brain
operations are managed by the Reticular
Activating System. The Reticular
Formation, monitoring the environment,
instincts, and Social-Animal Needs, forwards
selected stimuli on to the RAS which extracts
from cortex memory 9-10 times more information.
This yields cognition and relevant responses.
These are then forwarded to the prefrontal
cortex (PFC) for resolution (described later),
then back through RAS processing for a
‘feasibility check.’ Ambiguous responses
‘hang up’ in the PFC until additional RF
environmental stimuli or
cortex memory input causes one to prevail and is
executed or the stimulus abates.
The Social-Animal Needs which we obviously share
with our DNA analogues are illustrated as
THE SOCIAL-ANIMAL NEEDS
The following diagram is the same brain, but of
the human, with Instincts replaced by the
individual’s Love/Belief System, and introduces
the “I” Needs and Faculties responsible for all
our higher powers.
HOW THE HUMAN BRAIN WORKS,
A New Theory of Neuropsychology
This diagram illustrates the theory that all
neurological processes are under the control and
management of the Reticular Activating System.
Further, that all RAS brain processing is
generated by the Reticular Formation or the “I”,
with Responses ultimately under the control of
the superior “I”-Faculties indicated by the
Integrated with the coherent brain
we have an understanding of the full nature of
man, the genesis of our motivations and
behavior, and a resolution of the
mind/brain/behavior enigma. The theory
also yields a firm foundation for new schools of
psychology, psychotherapy, and cognitive
Absent only neurologists and strangely,
cognitive psychologists who know most about what
the brain does,2
many theorists, including even
some intrepid physicists and mathematicians, far
out of their fields, are exercising their
prodigious powers of imagination to justify the
concept that consciousness, reasoning,
decision-making, etc.―must be some hidden purely
neuronal functions of the cortex.
Since I am taking strong exception to this
universal direction of research (alone as far as
I know), as well as to neuronal man, I must
devote the following portion to pointing out
some of what appear to be the most flagrant
fallacies, contradictions, labored conjectures and
impasses inherent in these paradigms. Then
we’ll take a look at how the brain most probably
First however, I want to largely exempt Bernard
J. Baars, Ph.D., and Nicole M. Gage, Ph.D. from
my criticism, based on their lucid and carefully
researched textbook, Cognition, Brain,
and Consciousness: Introduction to Cognitive
Neuroscience - Academic Press, 2007.
Dedicated neuroscientists, they struggle bravely
with such things as metacognition,
intentionality, volition, and “making choices
in the absence of inherently correct solutions,”
which they admit “remains, at least for now,
a uniquely human territory,” with the
implication that it is only a matter of time
until scientists get around to explaining it in
neuronal terms. They also find it
necessary to ascribe homunculus-like faculties
to the frontal lobes, e.g., as having a
“coarse map of the entire cortex,” so they
can retrieve memories relevant to their
[B&G page 354]
But I have made good use of their neuroscience
research which corroborates and has been
incorporated in my theory, and also of the gaps
and impasses in all neuropsychology, e.g,, the
‘binding problem,’ and the brick wall they face
in finding a neuronal explanation of
intentionality and volition. I think every
student of cognitive neurology should have a
copy of this excellent book.
The problem facing neuroscientists was that the
chimpanzee’s DNA was found to be 98+% identical
to ours, followed by finding that the <2%
difference was related only to “hair, skin,
bones, blood, muscle, and the like”―hardly
differences which might account for our vastly
And in 2010 they found that our DNA is 99.7
identical to Neanderthal man, which, after
200-300,000 years on the planet were still
living in caves with one tool, a sharpened stone
when they became extinct; lending even stronger
evidence to my theory.
Our DNA is not similar to that of
chimpanzee ― it is, to all intents and
Then why are we so different? Most
scientists have concluded that our higher
faculties must be found in the cortex,
particularly in the prefrontal cortex (PFC),
both proportionally larger than those of the
chimp, assuming that a larger but biologically
identical brain, can account for our
superiority. I haven’t heard
anything from them about Neanderthal, whose
brain was at least as large or larger than ours.
So hundreds of researchers are expending
millions of people-hours, devoting all their
efforts to locate human faculties of
consciousness, reasoning, decision-making,
imagination, conviction, etc., as originating in
some yet-to-be discovered neuronal capabilities
of the cortex.
Nor is there any validity to the popular
‘triune’ nature of the brain, as composed of
evolutionary development from lizard to
mammalian to primate brains. The so-called
lizard brain is not a brain at all, since it
represents only a portion of the lizard brain,
which like ours, is comprised of brainstem,
midbrain, and cortex. Nor is the mammalian
brain a brain.
And as we shall see, their derogation of the
importance of the lower and mid-brain in favor
of the cortex has led researchers to only a
perfunctory analysis of their vital and
Also neuropsychologists are admittedly
struggling with a ‘binding problem.’ The
visual characteristics of an object―color,
shape, size, motion―are registered and
interpreted in different parts of the cortex.
So, they wonder, “If I see something red, round,
baseball-size, and in motion, where in the
cortex do all those percepts come together to
instantly tell me that I’m going to get hit in
the face with a tomato?” The famous binding
The answer is that they don’t come together in
the cortex, but in the thalamus and midbrain,
the much more likely home to consciousness.
My first computer 30+ years ago, was a Model III
Radio Shack with a Z-80 processor, 64K of
internal RAM and two 64K floppy disks. My
current Pentium 4 HT 3GHz, 2.99GHz, with 2G of
RAM, 150G hard drive, operates on the same
principles as my old Model III. The only
substantial differences are a faster processor
and, more importantly, vastly more RAM and
Now consider the rat, who can generate perhaps only 40 or 50
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 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
larger brain―more RAM work space and
memory―enable the chimp to generate scores of
responses and, by operant conditioning and
social and experiential learning, acquire scores
Since our DNA is identical, isn’t it obvious
that our brain is just a larger chimp’s brain,
operating on the same principles and components?
Much of what we know about the human brain has
been learned from primates.
Also, pioneers in artificial intelligence
realized that the computer must be equipped with
many facts: children can’t be as old or older
than their parents, tools are bought at a
hardware store, etc. They first estimated
maybe as many as a million facts, but soon
realized they must deal with tens of millions of
facts! Where does the brain store all this
Further, imagine the sheer number of one's memories
and neural motor
sequence memories―routines ―necessary for a
typist to hit 8 keys a second for minutes at a
time, without realizing what he has typed―for
words to appear on a page while he thinks of
something else. Imagine the number of
memory routines necessary to drive my car
through traffic while I’m day-dreaming, and
alert me instantly to anything requiring my
attention; or for our thoughtless morning
ablutions. For a concert pianist to have
thousands of musical phrases wired to the motor
neurons of his fingers, arms, feet, and legs;
some of which can be executed continuously for
Imagine the number of visual sequence memories
to read 400 words a minute. To know
thousands of words which can be rattled off
correctly in an infinite number of phrases.
To know the appearance and something about
people on hearing their names. To
recognize hundreds of people on sight from many
angles. To recognize the voices of scores
of people. To recognize hundreds of songs on
hearing a few 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 a much larger cortex of course! We
don’t need another operating system; but we
humans obviously need more work-space (PFC RAM)
and memory, a larger hard drive; both provided
by the vast association areas and depth of the
Further limiting themselves to a modular model of
the brain, examining each segment (normal, lesioned,
or diseased) during different mental and physical
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.
Handicapped by this modular approach, they consider
activities such as thought, reasoning, perception,
emotions, etc., as functions of the parts of
the brain which ‘light up’ when those activities are
operant, but activities which are impaired when that
part of the brain is damaged, lesioned or diseased.
But the computer hard drive operates exactly the
same way―activates relevant sectors when certain
programs are called for, and fails to execute those
programs when those sectors are damaged. Does
that mean computer operations are functions of
the hard drive? The hard drive is just a
passive memory of operational sequences called forth
and managed from somewhere else. Correlation
should not be confused with causal.
Calling mental and biological activities functions of
brain segments which light up, is like saying that
controlling an airplane’s flight attitude is a function
of the ailerons, rudder, and elevator, which are active
in flight corrections, but which are functions of
the pilot or autopilot.
Still further, believing all our higher powers are in the
cortex, scientists have concentrated on the one-way
upward course of information from the senses to the
reticular formation and thalamus up to the cortex, where
they think processing, analysis, and decision-making must
But in The Creative Loop - How the Brain Makes a Mind,
Erich Harth says neuroscientists have “studiously
ignored” the instant downward passage of ten times more
information from cortex to thalamus. B & G recognize
this phenomenon, but say these “neurons are running the
wrong way! ” (sic!)
I will offer evidence that a much more efficient brain
processing, and a binding problem and other solutions, lie in considering
consciousness, in both animals and humans, to be centered in the
thalamus, the brain’s Command and Control Center, which accesses
the cortex to retrieve relevant memories and identify and feed
relevant motor response routines to the prefrontal cortex RAM
for processing (see below), until the intensity of a given
response reaches an ‘enact level,’ and is forwarded to the
premotor cortex for implementation, or the stimulus abates and
the PFC reverts to inactive RAM.
And further, that RAS uses the whole brain to manage the
implementation of RAS selected or Soul initiated responses
For example, when one hears the words, ‘Marilyn Monroe,’ they
pass in neural networks through the reticular formation to
uncomprehending consciousness in the thalamus and up to auditory
regions in the cortex.
But ten times more information is instantly returned from the
cortex to thalamic consciousness ― enough information to yield a
picture of a beautiful blonde in a white dress and high heels
standing over a subway exhaust grille trying to hold her skirt
down―a picture which would require scores of thousands of
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 a vision of Marilyn Monroe to
consciousness in the thalamus, together with what the listener
knows of her life.
Researchers who confine
their search for our higher powers to some yet- to-be-discovered genie-like
faculties of the cortex, while ignoring both our unique Needs and Faculties, and the
remarkable functions of the Reticular Activating System (or ERTAS, the
extended reticular-thalamic system― which Baars & Gage mention in passing,
and suggest may be just a ‘black-board’ by which other components of the brain
could be informed of current
cortex activities) are I believe, heading down a one-way dead-end road.
Some neuroscientists agree, at least in part: “From modern
neuro-anatomy, it is apparent that the entire neocortex of
humans continues to be regulated by the paralimbic regions from
which it evolved.”
In view of the above, it is a major thesis of this book that
we use the brain differently, e.g., for everything from language
putting men on the moon, and therefore develop different
of its components, the human brain, in and of itself, has no
functional capabilities which differentiate it from the brain of
chimpanzee or Neanderthal.
have two distinctly different schools of thought: the “Modular Brain/Neuronal
Man” (MB/NM) school, and that of the “Soul/Coherent Brain” (S/CB). The
thoughtful reader will find many more problems, speculations, and contradictions
in B/NM in this article and
notes, and hopefully appreciate the far-reaching explanatory powers of S/CB.
The rest of this article
will develop a new paradigm of the human brain, explain from a broad
muti-disciplinary systems standpoint how the brain most probably does work,
resolve the binding problem, and reveal the genesis of our motivations and
behavior in a unified theory of psychology and neuroscience, and a resolution of
the mind/brain/behavior enigma.
How the Brain Works, Coherentlly
Look at it this way: if
beings from another planet got to earth, and simply observed 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 there
must be a fuel vaporizer, combustion chambers, ignition devices, a
transmission, etc., etc.
Now with ever-increasing
analytical skills, and ever-increasing data, we have been observing ourselves
for several thousand years, and 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,
neuroscientists, and particularly cognitive psychologists know the brain can
generate and/or implement.
From a systems standpoint,
we know that every complex mechanism―and so too, every complex organism―made
up of multiple subsystems, a mechanism whose subsystems can operate instantly in
a coordinated way, enabling the mechanism to accomplish hundreds of different
tasks―like a battleship for example―must have an ‘autopilot;’ 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 circumstantial
2. A means of rapidly
assimilating, evaluating, and pioritizing
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.
The human brain is the most
complex system in the world, with
inconceivable that the human and animal brain, with all of
many subsystems capable of operating in a
components and subsystems―much more complicated than<
a battleship―could possibly coordinate each of their functions in
management of the thousands of complex physical, mental,
biological responses of the brain, providing as it
instantaneous, coordinated reactions to circumstances of
without an ‘autopilot’—a priority evaluator and
to our internal and environmental stimuli, i.e.,
command and control system.
Fortunately, we have the perfect candidate for the
command and control system in the
System, centered (with consciousness?) in
with connections to and from all of the brain and body
and immediate access to all internal and extermal stimului,
known to scan and prioritize that information,
implement relevant responses,
System with its ‘sentinel,’ the
scientists have known about some of the
properties of the Reticular Activating System/
Formation for over 50 years, none of them,
knowledge, has suggested they form a command
and control system for operations of the entire
One of the keys to a cogent
systems analysis of the brain was provided many years ago by the renowned Jerome
S. Bruner, one of the fathers of existential psychology, when he stated,
"The human mind
has an ‘inhibitory system’ which routinely
and automatically removes from perception, reason, and
judgment over 99% of available fact.”
In 1958, physiologist H. W. Magoun described some of the RF/RAS
functions in The Waking Brain. The Reticular
Formation was found to be a small bundle of short-axon neurons
at the top of the brainstem, whose responses are uniquely
With its millions of neuronal pathways to and from the brain and
the body, the whole system was named the Reticular Activating
System, because stimulation of the RF awakened sleeping
subjects, while damage to the RF resulted in coma.
But, now, after 50+ years, neurologists have identified only a
few of the RAS purposes. (Google ‘Reticular Activating System’
to see the paucity of information about it, and the few
powers attributed to it.)
Although its centralized location and countless connections
would seem to enable it to perform myriad functions,
neurologists have no tools to investigate the remarkable
functions of the Reticular Activating System; how it can process 100
million impulses a second, and select the most ‘significant’ to
the individual. It is obviously not a strictly
Drawing on the works of scores of geniuses in biology, cognitive and
existential psychology, cybernetics, and neuroscience in a
systems analysis, we can now develop a schematic of cognitive
Information about RAS is scarce, but by scouring the literature,
we find scores of clues to a coherent brain managed by its
marvelous powers. Following is substantial evidence
that the Reticular Activating System, in both humans and
animals, is the perfect neurological candidate for the brain’s
Command and Control System. For example:
[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.”
[The RF] “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.”
“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
“The RAS determines which ... 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 heart-beat and digestion, is
dealt with directly by the RAS without allowing any awareness of
them to filter through to the conscious bran.”
“Researchers have a relatively clear picture of the physical
underpinnings of consciousness. Information ... 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 brain-stem. Thus,
before even reaching the cortex, impulses have passed through a
series of processing regions that behave like secretaries who
screen phone calls, mail and visitors before passing them on to
“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 flag important
impulses so that the cortex will take note of them. At night,
while the cortex is asleep, the reticular formation keeps tabs
on the senses and in times of possible danger is first to sound
“The reticular formation monitors incoming stimuli and chooses
those that should be passed on to the brain and those that ... may
be ignored. ... In addition to being a filter, the reticular
formation controls respiration, cardio-vascular 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.”
But I have saved the best proof for RAS implementation of our
responses for last. This comes from the genius Dean Wooldridge,
Ph.D. physicist and President of Thompson Ramo Wooldridge working on
missile development and control in 1963 !
The brain’s response selector has been given the
name reticular activating system by H. W. Magoun
and his coworkers at U.C.L.A. The reticular
activating system consists of a mass of
undifferentiated neurons that extend from the
top of the spinal cord through the brainstem on
up into the thalamus and hypothalamus. These two
structures are at the extreme top and forward
part of the brainstem and are well inside, but
not a part of, the surrounding cerebral cortex. The hypothalamus, part of which is included in
the reticular activating system, appeared in our
earlier discussion as the seat of temperature
control of the body. The reticular formation
gets its name from the fact that it looks like a
more or less homogeneous network of cells; it
shows little evidence of organization into
anatomically distinct ‘nuclei’, although it
passes through and around a number of nuclei in
traversing the length of the brain-stem. Close
examination of the reticular formation shows
that it consists of a mixture of large and small
neurons, many, but not all, having short axons.
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. This is done by
means of ‘collaterals.’ For example, a main
nerve coming from the spinal cord and carrying
sensory information to the cortex does not go
directly through the reticular formation, but as
it passes by, its main fibers send off smaller
branches to terminate on reticular neurons. A
collateral arrangement is also found in the
motor nerves as they pass by the reticular
formation on their way from the higher centers
of the brain to the main cable of the spinal
cord. Similar branches are displayed by the
nerves running to and from the cerebellum. But
the reticular activating system does not content
itself with wire taps on the communication lines
that pass by it; it also has direct lines of
command to the stations of interest to it. These
receiving stations include half a dozen major
areas of the cortex and probably all the nuclei
of the brain-stem. The reticular activating
system also sends its fibers down the spinal
cord, where it exercises its influences on the
peripheral sensory and motor systems.
Electrical measurements made by means of fine
probes placed within the reticular activating
system reveal an interesting property: the
response of its neurons is ‘unspecific.’ A
single neuron in this region may respond to
stimulation of a touch receptor in the foot, a
sound receptor in the ear, a light receptor in
the eye, or a chemical receptor in the stomach.
The reticular neurons appear to perform some
kind of summation of the overall nervous
activity of the organism. Such integration would
be of limited usefulness if all reticular nerve
cells were to perform it in the same way.
Fortunately, this does not appear to be the
case. Although many neurons in the RAS system
may respond to the same set of nervous stimuli,
their responses are not quantitatively alike.
One neuron may be more sensitive to optical
stimuli than to pain; another neuron may show
the reverse emphasis. The resulting weighted
averages would appear to be just what is needed
to monitor the incoming stimuli for patterned
relationships that might indicate the necessity
for one or another type of response by the
muscles and glands of the body.
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
accom-pany 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. Sometimes the
reticular activating system works on the input
side of the response mechanism; it turns down
the volume control of certain input stimuli and
lets others come through.
Concurrent with the selection by an organism of
one of several alternate behavior patterns,
there is often need for adjustment of some of
the oper-ating parameters. In our missile
example, the shift from mid-course to terminal
guidance usually must be accompanied by changes
in the dynamic response characteristics of the
steering mechanism. During the final approach to
the target, a tighter kind of ‘muscular’ control
of the missile is required. ...
The reticular activating system includes among
its capabilities this kind of adjustment of the
dynamic response characteristic of the body
mechanism. In fact, an almost exact analog of
our ‘servo-tightness’ guided-missile example is
provided by one of the prevalent theories of the
so-called gamma-efferent mechanism of motor
control. In this process, the muscular command
emitted by the brain does not act directly on
the muscle effector nerves, but instead appears
to adjust the ‘zero point’ of a
stretch-sensitive receptor attached to the
muscle so that its firing rate will be at a
minimum when the muscle subsequently achieves
the degree of stretch desired. The actual change
in the stretch of the muscle is then believed to
be accomplished through a spinal reflex circuit
that connects the output of the
stretch-receptor nerve back around to the
muscle-effector nerve. This reflex circuit
automatically causes the muscle to seek out just
the degree of contraction that will minimize the
firing frequency of the stretch receptor. In the
language of the computer engineer, this is an
effective position-control servo-mechanism,
useful when the controlled organ needs to hold
its position despite external deviating forces
of a varying or unpredictable nature.
seems to employ this control mechanism to
maintain suitable postural inter-relationships
among the parts of the body in the presence of
complex and disturbing effects such as those
caused by walking or running. This
gamma-efferent mechanism appears to be neatly
analogous to the part of a missile guidance
system that brings the missile heading back into
alignment with the direction of a gyroscopic
element if deviations are produced by gusts of
wind or other extraneous influences. The
‘tightness’ of this kind of control system—the
magnitude of the force that is brought to bear
to counter a deviation from the desired
position— will be increased or decreased if the
amount of the ‘error signal’ produced by a given
deviation is increased or decreased. In this
context the chart below is most interesting, for
it seems to display exactly this kind of
tightness-control effect: the frequency of the
signal sent out by a stretch receptor to
indicate a given degree of extension of the
attached muscle can be either increased or
decreased by electric stimulation of the
reticular activating system!
Here I believe Dr. Wooldridge has provided compelling evidence that RAS manages
our responses, puts to rest the concept of response resolution as a
of the prefrontal lobes, and confirms the coherent brain.
I quote all these sources to show the consensus of evidence that the RF is Bruner’s inhibitory system; that “like a vigilant secretary,” with the power to inhibit, automatically makes it our very
stimulus-selector; but that much more than a secretary, it also
works with RAS implementation of relevant responses to those
stimuli; that together with RAS, they form the silent sovereign
manager of all our 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 remarkable
component of 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, or on
what basis it decides which of the great multiplicity of available
stimuli—sight, sound, reading, touch, biological needs, etc.—it
will select for further processing.
Also this book contains almost all the information I can find on
RF/RAS and shows the lack of attention scientists are directing
to it. Unbelievably, most books on the brain have only brief
references to the biological and physiological control functions of RF/RAS—the majority have no references to RF/RAS.
From all the evidence, the human and animal RF/RAS
can only be characterized as a marvelous cybernetic 'autopilot'
which receives all incoming data, scans and prioritizes that data
for disequiibria based on its ‘programs;’ continually selects and forwards
the most significant to RAS for further processing; and RAS,
retrieving memory data from the cortex, generates and controls
responses or response-impulses ‘appropriate’ to its iterations of
It is thus a major thesis of this theory, representing a new
paradigm of the brain, that in all sentient beings, the Reticular
Activating System, given an RF-selected or Soul-initiated stimulus,
uses the whole brain to generate and try to implement a response to
maintain biological homeostasis; in social beings to also try to
bio-sociological stasis; and in humans, to also maintain stasis of
uniquely induced psychological, emotional, and volitional
All of our Loves and those Beliefs with an emotional or affective
component are not additional facts to be stored as data. They are
processed differently, with some representation in the amygdala and
hippocampus and, together with the Social Animal Needs, represent
the principles or programs which determine how all cognitive data is
I maintain that the RF/RAS is the entire organisms’ equilibrium
sensor and balance restorer of all biological and physiological
functions of all sentient beings, and, in the human it is the
RF/RAS, programmed with our SA-Needs and Love/Beliefs System, which
generates responses in an effort to maintain stasis of our uniquely
instigated emotional, psychological, and volitional states.
Based on our autonomic responses it is apparent that the human RF/RAS has taken on responsibility for the programs of the Love/Belief
System, the hundreds of our significant conscious and subconscious
Loves and Beliefs. This transformation of the RAS together with our
uniquely human metafaculties, makes of each of our brains what we
have been calling the ‘mind’―a human brain, a brain with a ‘Heart.’
but subject to the Soul.
The RAS Domain
In addition to all its other functions, the RAS works
continuously to bring us equanimity, even if it
has to prejudge and/or rationalize to do it.
We also have the power of the strange ‘metacognition.’ Baars and Gage recognize metacognition
(without ascription, nor am I ready to speculate) as “our unique self-consciousness and
cognizance of our mental processes ... the ability to know our own
cognitive functions, and to be able to use that knowledge;” and say the prefrontal cortex is
“necessary for metacognition.” (??) I believe metacogntion is
our cognition of PFC functions,
the weighing of altermative acts, responses, or 'ambiguous
situations' (see below).
Cognitive psychologists, e.g., Merluzzi, et al., have long
recognized the 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 of one’s own cognitive machinery and the way
Both metacognition and commitment are manifest in the well-known
Benjamin Libet experiments. From Kenneth Klivington:
This proves that, having committed ourselves to an act or procedure, the
RF/RAS then generates the appropriate response-impulses to the PFC, to
metacognitive Soul awareness, and subject to our veto power. Now in
both human and social-animal, these responses, if unambiguous and
uninhibited (see feasibility analysis below), are forwarded through a ‘pass
channel’ of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), to the premotor cortex and motor
cortex for execution of the response. (The prefrontal cortex doesn’t ‘light
up’ for unambiguous, uninhibited or habituated responses.)
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.”
But if precedent responses 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 motor
sequence memories―each weighted by their associated results―are registered
in the PFC, where, accompanied by continuous additional sensory input from
thalamic consciousness regarding the significance and imminence of the
threat―and additional relevant memories from the cortex―the momentary weight
or urgency of each response is adjusted until (in the animal) one response
prevails and breaks through to the conveniently contiguous premotor cortex
for implementation, or the threat abates.
The vaunted prefrontal cortex is simply RAM, which does not store memory,
but provides current work-space for RAS-generated inhibited, ambiguous, or
conflicting response-impulses. When the stimuls is resolved, the PFC is restored to inactive RAM.
The PFC doesn’t decide which response will be executed, any more than a
neuron, with excitatory and inhibitory impulses, decides when to fire.
Only the Soul can decide which response will prevail.
But this simple PFC function―also active but not determinate
in humans―has led neuroscientists to ascribe our unique
executive powers of reasoning, analysis, and decision-
making to some mysterious powers of the prefontal
because that is where most brain
activity occurs prior to a response.
So except for knee-jerk reactions, if a RAS- or Self-generated response is
even slightly ambiguous, conflicted, or inhibited, and does not require
immediate implementation, we can either allow it to be executed, or we can
imagine the effects of that response, review alternative responses and their
potential effects, select a preferred response goal-image, and commit if to
RAS for execution. This is indicated by the black arrow in the diagram.
Unfortunately, even in a considered decision, our analysis of alternative
responses is limited to consideration only of our
conscious memories and SA-Need/Love-Belief System Elements, but 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.
And we can creatively will to do things. How do “I” Will something to
happen? In going to the store, first, I create a goal-image of myself
at the store,
run the idea through a feasibility check, and if there is a problem, the
response hangs up in the PFC, where it can be resolved per above; then
Commit myself to the trip. This process authorizes RAS to execute the
motor neuron programs from cortex memory which take me to the store, while
I’m free to think of something else if I wish. Autopilot RAS takes me
Creative Will is the sequential use of the Soul’s Faculties
of Imagination, Conviction, and Commitment.
How does the brain do this? I submit that when furnished with
a clear picture of a result, a goal-image, a feasibility check
resulting in belief in its attainability without conflict with more
important SA-Needs, Loves, Beliefs, or purposes, and a commitment to
achieve it, the RAS is presented with a disequilibrium: “I'm here―I
intend to be there.” In response the RAS, holding that image
until it is realized, identifies relevant neuronal motor sequence
memory response routines and forwards each in turn to the PFC where,
given a subconscious ‘pass’ to the premotor cortex executes
subliminal adjustments―steering, braking, accelerating, based on
thalamic visual input―RAS takes me to the store, leaving my mind free for
This principle applies to long-range goals, “I will be a doctor,
lawyer, wife and mother, teacher, millionaire, missionary, etc.” Any
goal image, firmly held, creates a disequilibrium in the Reticular
Activating System, and it constantly brings to our attention from
the recesses of the memory and from the environment the jigsaw-like
pieces of the elements and opportunities which can contribute to
actualization of the intent.
Although it required a lot of innovation, the parts of Gutenberg’s
printing press were all in existence when he decided to build one,
and his RAS led him to the pieces of a solution. The parts necessary
to make an automobile were all in place when Henry Ford decided to
make one. And for Bill Gates to make a personal computer.
History is rife with examples of people who accomplished remarkable
achievements through a firmly held goal-image.
Returning to the PFC, it is not only ambiguous responses to
situational stimuli which must be resolved in the PFC. Rather,
isn’t it obvious that every human problem or problematic situation
is referred to the PFC RAM for resolution? As Baars & Gage
say, “the frontal lobes are critical in a free-choice situation,
where it is up to the subject to decide how to interpret an
But most of us live in a sea of ambiguous situations. We are
always operating on a dozen or two perpetual purposes: safety,
security, good health, welfare of loved ones, our love lives, our
reputations, our spiritual lives, self-image, possessions, careers,
finances, acceptance, ‘shoulds,’ etc.?
These are purposes to which the environment or our Love/Belief
Systems continually provide relevant stimuli. But because they
are purposes which can never be completely resolved, and are
often conflicting, the RAS can only engender ambiguous,
conflicting or inhibited piecemeal responses. So most of
us are worrying our poor PFC’s almost every waking moment.
No wonder they are so large. And why so many of us live
‘lives of quiet desperation,’ and cognitive
“That’s me; that’s the way I am.”
Too many of us become reconciled to LeDoux’s ‘synaptic self,’
and allow our brains to “become who we are.”
Most unfortunately, as we ‘mature,’ many (most?) of
our RAS responses—which include all our emotions—tend to become
conditioned responses, and it’s much easier to accede to these
responses with the attitude,
We need a new paradigm of the human brain, as a brain which
starts out physiologically and functionally identical to that of
but is transformed into what we have been calling the ‘mind,’ by
virtue of our faculties of metacognition, imagination,
conviction and commitment, as well as by the thousands of our
Self-adopted Loves and Beliefs and their concomitant Desires and
Fears which constitute our unique Love/Belief Systems and
provide most of the ‘significant’ stimuli to our Reticular
We must also suspect that the thalamus is the avidly sought locus of
consciousness, certainly the locus of the Command and Control Center
of the brain; and RAS the de facto Manager of the brain. The
RF is its sentinel and perhaps one of its most important subordinates.
The inaptly named Reticular Activating System should now be
considered the brain’s Command and Control System; and must be seen
to exercise its influence throughout the entire brain and body.
All other elements of the brain then represent the subsystems or
‘tools’ of the RAS. Their functions―constantly contributing
new sensory input and feedback to the RAS iterations, recovering
memories, fleshing out the details of percepts, generating emotions,
responses, etc.―are only enacted when generated by RAS/RF
iterations, or purposes enacted from thalamic consciousness through
the RAS, but originating in the Will.
Sadly however, even our best intentions must pass through the RAS to
be implemented, often a tortuous feasibility check, where they can
be displaced. They just don’t get done.
All the involuntary response-impulses of us ‘normal’
people, whether or not they are assented to, are
a perfect RAS reflection of our Social-Animal
Needs and the Loves and Beliefs and their
concomitant Desires and Fears arising
from our Love/Belief Systems or Hearts.
We experience the world through our Hearts.
To live in a different, better world, it has been said,
Nothing need change but our Hearts
If cognitive scientists are to understand the brain, they must
suspend their search for uniquely human faculties of the cortex
and expand their studies of the Reticular Activating System.
They must also hypothesize an Agent―call it “X” or
“Franistan” if you will―which can account for our unique
Obviously, I’m with Aquinas, Zimbardo, Assagioli, Horney,
Becker, and thousands of mystics, saints, and sages.
We have both a heart, or Love/Belief System, and are a Soul, a
higher self; Becker’s ‘proud, rich, lively infinitely
transcendent, free, inner spirit, ’ Horney‘s
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'—a
spiritual SouL, with Needs to Exist, to
Love, and to Know, and Faculties of Imagination, Conviction, and
Commitment―Faculties which, acting in concert, yield free will,
and account for all our accomplishments.,
and the Soul's Commitments. It doesn't do magic or
miracles, but it can be trained to activate the body and mind in
an infinite number of remarkable ways. But most of our
Hearts are constantly stimulating the Reticular Formation with
scores of unrealistic, incompatible, egoistic, petty, conscious
or repressed Desires and Fears. With the RAS, like a
computer, it's 'garbage in, garbage out.'
The Reticular Activating System is best seen as an incredible
organic cybernetic machine, at the command of both the Heart's
These concepts explain from a systems standpoint how the brain
works, and explains not only all human behavior commonly
considered normal (as well as our potential for
enlightenment!), but also psychoses, neuroses,
obsessive-compulsion, character disorders, perceptual defense,
cognitive dissonance, displacement, repression, split
personality, 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-Needs―many
magnified by becoming Love-objects―and a seething set of Desires
and Fears arising from our haphazardly wired Hearts, and the
often misdirected Commitments of our Souls.
And autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, ADD/ADHD,
and even some physiological, biological, genetic, and chemically
induced pathologies can all be the result of 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
The drugs must have the effect of impairing RF functions.
Since the RF is the ‘gateway to consciousness’ anything can come
through, from terror to bliss. It can also release repressions
which the RF/RAS functioning normally suppresses, and on occasion,
some purification of the senses―a “cleansing of the doors of
perception”―and rendering the experience enlightening. ‘Bad drug
trips’ result from release into consciousness of painful or shameful
memories which a normally functioning RF keeps repressed.
Also one of the obvious derivatives of this concept is that a
malfunctioning RAS could yield schizophrenia, and indeed, recent
autopsies of a small population of chronic intractable patients who
had lived as schizophrenics revealed anomalies in the Recituclar
Copyright © 2002, 2012, 2015 by The Shelton Group
derived from the book
The Immortal “I”
Converging Evidence of
the Existence, Needs and
Faculties of the Soul
Eugene B. Shea
The Shelton Group
eleemosynary division of Intromation, Inc.
Cape Cod Court
Lisle, Illinois 60532
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