Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

MacLean's Triune Brain and the Origin of the "Immense Power Being" Idea

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

MacLean's Triune Brain and the Origin of the "Immense Power Being" Idea

Article excerpt

The author surveys the evolutionary structure of the human brain in relation to the phenomenon of human religiosity, with particular reference to the synthesis of serotonin and the human tendency to search for and recognize a "group leader."

Key words: Triune Brain, Religion (origin of), Theism, Serotonin

Premises Concerning the Biological Basis of Religion Before discussing the problem of the origin of the idea of an "Immense Power Being," we consider it to be necessary to state two premises:

1) it has been established by Kant (1781) that it is impossible to prove rationally the existence or the non-existence of God (= the "Immense Power Being");

2) the idea of some "godly power" has existed in all known human societies in one form or another.

The problem is now to explain how and why such an idea exists, and, since it exists in a natural being, it is pertinent to research such a question by means of the natural sciences, remembering that "Thoughts and beliefs are necessarily dependent on neurophysiological activity of the brain" (Delgado 1969).

Brain activity, in turn, is determined firstly by genetic property, which predetermines brain structures, their possible contacts, and their learning abilities, and, secondly, by environmental influences which, received by the brain structures, may influence the activities and devlopment of the latter.

The brain structures from which physiological capabilities and behavior proceed are the result of a long evolutionary course during which they have been selected for providing the best adaptations to external environment. According to Lorenz (1973), the "glasses" of our way of thinking and seeing (i.e. casualness and constancy connections, space and time) are functions of a neurosensorial organization developed in service of species preservation.

Religious ideas have the peculiarity of being universal: as reported by A. Brelich (1970), "No society has been found, even among the most `primitive,' which was devoid of any faith in divine beings endowed with personal features."

It is thus possible to suppose that religion has a biological basis given that it is universal or near-universal.

According to Leakey and Lewin (1977), we say that when an aspect of behavior is universal to human societies it may be permissible to suspect that it has some kind of genetic basis.

Based on these premises we can surmise that religious behavior and thought may be rooted in a specific genetic predisposition. This does not involve any assumption that the idea of a divine being is "innate", but merely that it is naturally conceivable, thinkable, in the human mind - and that in the human brain there are certain anatomic and physiologic structures which in particular environmental circumstances have favored the birth of religious ideas, and that such ideas often become a part of the cultural heritage.

MacLean's Triune Model of the Brain

Genetic predisposition operates through the development of encephalic structures. P. D. MacLean (1970/1990) elaborated a model of brain structure and evolution. He described it as a "Triune brain", because he located in it three principal phylogenetic structures that have been superimposed and that have become integrated during evolution. He terms these three basic types reptilian (Protoreptilian, R-complex), old mammalian (Paleomammalian, Limbic System) and new mammalian (Neo-mammalian) (Fig. 1). (This subdivision is a simplification, since small nervous centers referable to the Limbic System or to the Neocortex may be found, as primordia, in reptiles).

"The protoreptilian brain is thought to represent a fundamental core of the nervous system, consisting of systems in the upper spinal cord and parts of the midbrain, the diencephalon, and the basal ganglia" [i.e. the olfactostriatum (olfactory tubercle and nucleus accumbens) and structures defined as part of the corpus striatum (caudate nucleus, putamen, globus pallidus, and satellite collections of gray matter) ( MacLean 1985 a, p. …

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