‘The Adult Must Steer The Car’ – Reflections on the Ancient and Modern Brain
Posted on August 24, 2021
In this blog End Animal Slaughter contributor Paul Stevenson writes that the most recently evolved part of our brain is the seat of reason, compassion and kindness. It should be developed if we are to create an enlightened world, and find inner contentment ourselves.
The adult within us dreams of Utopia but we can only manifest Utopia by being fully adult human beings, and not being controlled by our primeval infant ancestors. To put it slightly differently, the adult must steer the car, not the child if we wish to arrive at our destination.
We think we are one person, but are actually several people inhabiting the same body. That is because our brain is made of many different parts which have evolved over immense spans of time. We can think of the annual growth rings in a tree. The earliest rings formed when the tree was a tiny sapling are still there at the heart of the noble forest giant, hundreds if not thousands of years later. The more ancient parts of our brain control basic activities such as breathing, moving, resting, feeding, emotions, and memory, while at the other extreme is the most recently-evolved part of our brain that provides us with the ability to carry out rational thought processes and reflect on what we do.
‘We can think of the annual growth rings in a tree. The earliest rings formed when the tree was a tiny sapling are still there at the heart of the noble forest giant, hundreds if not thousands of years later’.
In reality we see with our mind. That is because everything we do in life is controlled by the mind, and our senses are only its servants. When we hear anyone’s screams, irrelevant of species, we know that they are in trouble. We feel for them and we would not be human if we didn’t. This is why we have words such as inhuman, cruel, inhumane, humane, kindly, caring, compassionate, charitable, unfeeling, hard-hearted, warm-hearted, sympathetic, empathetic, callous, magnanimous, and countless others.
Many people do not think about what they are eating, but increasing numbers are doing just that, hence the vegan revolution. The vegan revolution has important implications for our state of mind. A consequence of behaving kindly is that we are kind to ourselves at the same time, When we help others, when we show them kindness we feel far better inside ourselves. Our heart glows with warmth and we walk tall with pride. However, when we treat others unkindly and callously we shrink inside and become small, mean, hard-hearted. We cannot feel proud of ourselves and we cannot have peace in our heart. At the end of the day ultimate happiness is all about having peace in our heart.
Such is the folly of the unkind life. The thief, the brutal person, the cheat, ends up doing the same to themselves as they do to others. This is basically all about the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When we kind to others we are kindest of all to ourselves (notwithstanding cases where would-be rescuers end up dying themselves). And when we are unkind to others we are unkindest of all to ourselves.
‘Such is the folly of the unkind life. The thief, the brutal person, the cheat, ends up doing the same to themselves as they do to others. This is basically all about the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.
In either case we carry the memory of our behaviour to the grave, whether for good or ill. We may forget or brush aside good deeds we have done, but bad deeds are like an immovable thorn in our foot, a pillow of thistles that accompanies us for the remainder of our days. We can try and make amends for our wrongdoing, but we can never undo what has been done, and it can torment us savagely. To sum up, my belief is that we must reconcile our behaviour to conform to what we know to be right. The human dream is the product of the human brain, the product of the advanced brain that is uniquely human. We yearn for the land of our dreams, but we prevent ourselves from reaching there by our primitive behaviour, behaviour of another time, an ancient time. Thus all our behaviour must be compatible with what we know to be right if we are ever to discover happiness and fulfilment in our lives.
Recently-evolved parts of the mind allow us to examine more rudimentary behaviours and preferences in the light of more evidence. Perhaps this process is akin to that of gaining expert advice when buying a house or car, or seeking specialist medical advice for example. In these cases our poorly-informed minds are not up to the job of making expert decisions, so we consult someone who does have the experience and knowledge. The question is then “what shall we do for the best?” We are now all armed with that inner specialist – the advanced human brain. We have built-in a mind that can make expert decisions of the kind required. We are fools indeed not to heed its advice. If we wish to enjoy the blessings that the human mind craves we must see, hear and behave with our fully human mind, not the mind of our primeval ancestors. Thus the vegan life is not at all about being better than others, but by treating others decently, and being best of all to ourselves.
‘Thus the vegan life is not at all about being better than others, but by treating others decently, and being best of all to ourselves’.