The Reptilian Brain

Deviancy Brain Evolution

Why We Need a New Biology

It has become politically incorrect to talk about biology in liberal circles. Speaking to sociologists about biology one is likely to notice the eyes glazing over of the listener, or be subject to a polemical attack against the association between biology and conservative ideas.

The problem here is that liberal sociologists assume that their thought that is politically correct is really non-racist and not conservative. However, in a previous volume, it has been shown that liberal sociology is really just the liberal version of the equality of opportunity racism doctrine of American laissez-faire capitalism. Thus, liberal sociology is itself tainted with racism. It is not biology that is the backbone of American racism, but rather equality of opportunity doctrines. And backing up American racism is American moralism. Sociology has a version of moralism because its sociological determinism stresses the racism compatibility doctrine that people can change their ways of life if they just try hard enough or they get a little assistance from others. This idea plays into the hands of the racists who say that those people in poverty are there because they just do not try hard enough or do not seek the proper help.

Sociological moralism needs to be destroyed so that on the one hand Americans can stop being so unnecessarily cruel to people they have traditionally labeled "deviants." Sociologists like this idea of deviancy because they have a sociological determinism that says it one need not suffer from deviancy if one just applies a little willpower and seeks help or just stops doing the deviant act.

If we acknowledge that sociology is racist and moralist, then the debate over biology takes an entirely new look. We need to look again at the doctrine of evolution. There has been a biological revolution since the 1960s. This has provided the basis for a radical biology that backs up the radical biology of Darwin. Darwin was right all along, but was too radical for American sociologists to accept. And now we need to promote a new radical biology that can serve as an antidote to the moralism of American sociology.

Biological Research into Psychopharmacology

Biological research continued despite the fact that it was not regarded as being appropriate for social science application. More specifically, research continued into the physiology of the brain and psychopharmacology. Much of this research went on in Europe.

Psychiatry made considerable advances in England and France in the early nineteenth century. A classification of mental illnesses based on observation and statistical comparison was developed by Ph. Pinel (1745-1826) and J. E. Esquirol (1772-1840). In his textbook of 1838, Esquirol spoke of "mental illness" instead of the previously used term "alienation," and thus showed the victory of the medical model over spiritualistic concepts. With Wilhelm Griesinger (1817-1868), the German school of psychiatry then underwent a similar transformation. Griesinger devotes only little space to the use of medicaments in the treatment of mental illness.  (Spiegel, 1989:31-32)

Under Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926), a psychiatric classification was created, essential features of which still remain valid today. His textbook on psychiatry (1899) makes various references to the use of pharmaceuticals in the treatment of the mentally ill. There were several preparations available with which it was possible to sedate raging, anxious, restless, or sleep-disturbed patients. Kraeplin was also the first to formulate a scientific description of manic depression. (Spiegel, 1989:32-33) Apart from minor technical modifications, almost all the methods described by Kraepelin are still used today in pharmacopsychological and other psychological experiments. (Spiegel, 1989:49)

Very little progress. The textbooks of Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939) show little improvement in the list of drugs used to treat mental illness. His texts appeared between 1916 and 1949. (Spiegel, 1989:32)

The first demonstration of a chemical neurotransmitter was acetylcholine. Otto Loewi did this in 1921. In 1929, the physiologist Walter Cannon pointed out that the same pattern of physiological arousal accompanies a number of emotions.

In 1937 anatomist James W. Papez said that emotion is a function of circuitry. This later proved to be what is now called the limbic system.

H. H. Dale (1934, 1954) proposed a biochemical classification of nerves as either adrenergic (releasing noradrenaline) or cholinergic (releasing acetylcholine) to indicate the chemical responsible for transmission across their synapses.

In the early 1950s, W. R. Hess conducted pioneering studies using electrode placement. He showed that when he stimulated a specific area of a cat's hypothalamus, it showed behavior typical of aggression in the face of threat.

The big breakthrough came with the discovery of modern psychopharmaceuticals. Pharmacopsychology in the present-day sense of the word has been referred to since the time of Kraepelin and yet this field of research only really began to acquire importance in the years following the discovery of chlorpromazine. In 1948/49 came lithium followed in 1952 by chlorpromazine. This started a flood of discoveries of new drugs. Meprobamate in 1955, imipramine in 1957, and chlordiazepoxide in 1958. (Spiegel, 1989:43)

In Aberdeen, Scotland pharmacologist Dr. Hans Kosterlitz, whose results were published in 1975, identified the brain's own opiates, enkephalins. They found a morphine-like material, a peptide. (Restak, 1988:130-131)

New Research in Genetics

Another crucial area of improvement in biology came in the area of genetics. Biology started to make a comeback with the 1953 discovery of the structure of the DNA molecule by James Watson and Francis Crick. The unity of the genetic code seemed to establish the fundamental unity of all life and thus appeared to challenge the belief in human uniqueness.

According to Robert Plomin (1990:111) genetics has been found to play an important and substantial in all examined behaviors including IQ, specific cognitive abilities, school achievement, reading disability, mental retardation, numerous personality traits, attitudes, vocational interests, schizophrenia, affective disorders, delinquency, crime, and alcoholism. In some cases genetic influence explains as much as half of the variance, a rare amount in the behavioral sciences. "Genetic influence is so ubiquitous and pervasive in behavior that a shift in emphasis is warranted: ask not what is heritable; ask instead what is not heritable." p. 112 So far, the only domain that shows little or no genetic influence involves beliefs such as religiosity and political values; another possibility is creativity independent of IQ. p. 112

Three Additional Areas of Biological Research

There are three additional areas which have contributed to the furtherance of the importance of biology to the social sciences. The first is an improved understanding of the role of physical evolution in the development of the human brain. In 1970 Paul Maclean published an article on the triune nature of the brain. He argued that the human brain is really an composite of three brains and that these brains had definite animal origins. A second area has been that of sociobiology and the understanding of social evolution in affecting human behaviors. And, finally, the third area is that of the role of neurotransmitters in mental illness. The biological and chemical bases of many mental illnesses has renewed interest in the biological bases of human behavior.

Each of these three areas will be investigated in a separate chapter. However, two introductory chapters are necessary. The chapter on the nervous system presents the basic concepts one needs to understand in order to understand the progress being made in the chemical and biological understanding of the brain. Crucial issues in brain (and the closely linked sexual) research are presented in a following chapter. These issues are the ones that are discussed in the third part of the book that deal with the subjects traditionally treated as deviancy in sociology.


There has been a revolution in thought about evolution as applied to the human brain. And it confirms Darwin's basic thesis of evolution as applied to man. Dr. Paul McLean (1972?) provided evidence that the human's brain evolved from the animal brain, and, more importantly, the human brain still contains components derived from these earlier animals.

In the process of evolution, when a new species arises in a particular genus, the changes are usually small ones. An important item to stress is that the change is usually an addition to the previous species. In other words, it is usually a small change. What needs to be stressed is that other parts of the new species not involved in the modification are exactly like the older species prior to the modification.

This is important in biology because many people seem to be absolutely incredulous when confronted with the idea that the human brain consists of additions over older animal brains. Therefore, in a sense the human brain contains elements of fish, reptiles, and more primitive mammals.

Evolutionary Theory Applied to the Brain

The R-Complex are those parts of the human brain that correspond to those parts found in the Reptilian brain. In humans this consists of the upper brain stem and the thalamus. In reptiles the thalamus is the main relay station where information is perceived. The R-complex controls behavior routines for self-preservation and the preservation of the species; feeding, aggression, and mating. Also found here is the responsibility for breathing, heart rate, swallowing, and vomiting.

The dinosaurs had small Reptilian brains. Reflex circuits here account for primitive expressions of emotion, such as the rage of newborn babies.

Some new developments. This new portion of the cortex is the neopallium. It consists of tracts of nerve cell bodies involved with the receipt of sensations other than smell.

It contained all the familiar neurotransmitter systems. It used GABA, norepinephrine, serotonin, endorphin, dopamine, and all the rests.

And it's clear from the limited behavioral repertoire of modern lizards that the chemical tides and the connecting axons are very specifically programmed in the genes.

There are obviously too many decisions to be made to gear up a body for a fight for survival. So these are largely controlled by reflexes. The consciousness comes from additional brain tissue, and its duty is to modify the reflex actions somewhat as circumstances change. Strickland, 112

The reptiles keep many of the brain circuits of the fish -- circuits that controlled things like swallowing and elimination, for example. 112

Sex without love or tenderness also exists in humans as part of the archaic vertebrate heritage of the species. Therefore, an understanding of (a) sex without love, i.e., before love existed, in the human phylogenetic past and (b) the means by which love entered adult/adult sexual relationships during human evolution can shed light on many of the unusual and atypical aspects of sexual behavior that are found in human societies today. Suggestions will be made that vestiges of a sexuality based on dominance-and-submission relations without love are still present in some human sexual behaviors and that, if these sexual behaviors are not under the control of love, this dissociation may predispose some individual to engage in one type of adult human sexual behavior with children and adolescents. (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1987:150)

The marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) of the Galapagos Islands are gregarious but unable to interact in an affiliative and/or friendly way. Anyone familiar with birds and mammals can observe in representatives of both groups a rich repertory of friendly or nurturing behaviors. Birds groom each other in friendly encounters, such as during courtship. They exchange gifts of nesting material during rituals of greeting and feed each other during courtship. Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1987:152)

In marine iguanas the only social behavior that can be observed consists of threat displays, fights, and submission. Males fight one another during the breeding season in a highly ritualized manner. Males use the same intimidation display they use in fighting with other males for courtship. The male approaches the female in full threat display. If she is ready to copulate, she simply assumes the submissive posture, whereupon he grasps her at the nape of her neck with his jaws, pins her down, mounts, and copulates. One can describe their sexual behavior as an agonal, hierarchal sexuality based on male-dominance and female-submission behaviors. Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1987:152)

In most of the fish in which the courtship of individuals occurs, the situation is similar. Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1987:154)

Friendly or nurturant behavior is a relatively late addition to the repertory of vertebrate behavior, and it most likely developed out of parental care provided to infants. Once these behaviors between parent and child had evolved, they were used in reinforcing parent/child affiliation and also were extended to other relationships. They were a preadaptation, so to speak, enabling adults to form affiliative relationships. Indeed, they are used in this way. If one observes courtship and greeting rituals in birds and mammals, one soon becomes aware that the patterns by which a friendly affiliation is established, upheld, or strengthened are basically derived from maternal behaviors and infantile appeals that trigger these patterns. When European sparrows court, they employ, among other signals, infantile appeals. Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1987:154)

Kissing probably arose out of kissfeeding, where food is transferred from the mouth of the adult to the child. Eibl- Eibesfeldt (1987:156)

The Reptilian complex in its internal organization and chemistry corresponds to a certain area of the brain of reptiles. Dopamine, which acts as a neurotransmitter, is concentrated here in reptiles, birds, and mammals. Human aggression is believed to be rooted in the Reptilian brain. Valzelli and Morgese (1981) and Bailey (1987) interpret pathological aggression as a regression to the Reptilian level associated with cessation of the cortical control. This regression can happen under the influence of alcohol or by active indoctrination.

Sex without love or tenderness also exists in humans as part of the archaic vertebrate heritage of the species. Therefore, an understanding of (a) sex without love, i.e., before love existed, in the human phylogenetic past and (b) the means by which love entered adult/adult sexual relationships during human evolution can shed light on many of the unusual and atypical aspects of sexual behavior that are found in human societies today.

Each evolutionary change kept the brain circuits that were still useful. In fact, each step keeps all the brain circuits that become merely useless. Remember Dollo's law, which states that features that once evolve in a species will not be lost to the species, unless a changed environment makes those features handicaps! 113

The thalamus is currently believed to represent the level in the central nervous system at which sensations are first consciously experienced. Sensory and motor-related pathways passing up the brain stem synapse in the thalamus before proceeding on to the cerebral cortex for more elaborate integration and analysis.

The second part of the brain consists of the limbic system. This was developed by early mammals. If one thinks about how early mammals arose and how they survived, one comes to understand the volatility of this complex. For mammals survived primarily by being very scared. Their quickness and nimbleness, and their alertness, is primarily kept them alive against the larger animals such as the reptiles (which dominated the earth for over 200 million years). Its output, directly or indirectly, affects all endocrine, visceral motor, and somatic motor effectors. The limbic system contains parts of the thalamus, the hippocampal formation (hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, and dentate gyrus), cingulate gyrus, amygdala, septal area, hypothalamus (especially the mamillary bodies), hypothalamus, anterior nucleus of the thalamus, and other nuclei of the thalamus.

Mammalian Brain -- limbic system. This system deals with the emotional feelings that guide behavior. After destruction of part of the limbic system, young mammals cease to play and there are deficits in maternal behavior. It is as though these animals regress toward a Reptilian condition.

The next major step in the evolution of the brain was the growth of brain tissue over and around the Reptilian brain. Dr. MacLean calls this addition the limbic brain because, like a limb, it surrounds and embraces the oldest and much smaller, Reptilian part of the brain.

The limbic brain includes the deep gray and white matter that is the core of the fully developed brain of animals and humans. It therefore includes the deep clusters of nerve cells that form the basal ganglia and the hypothalamus.

Nerve cell clusters deep in the limbic brain are mainly responsible for elaborate emotional reactions and feelings that include pleasure and even ecstasy. These clusters include the amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus. Emotions may be triggered by sensations of various kinds, ranging from scents, scenes, and sounds to bodily sensations.

Each cingulate gyrus plays a prominent role in regulating the autonomic nervous system which adjusts the blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, the size of the pupils, and other bodily, or psychosomatic, responses that accompany emotional feelings and reactions. The cingulate gyri are also responsible for primitive feelings and expressions of such emotions as despair and the isolation cry of an infant animal deserted by its parents. These responses are mediated by connections with the hypothalamus, basal ganglia, and brain stem, which are all part of the complex circuits making up the autonomic nervous system.

The third part of the brain consists of the mammalian brain, parts that are primitive and parts that are more advanced. Primate brain. The third brain, the cortex, is most highly developed in humans. It is a kind of problem-solving and memorizing device to aid the two older formations of the brain in the struggle for survival. The prefrontal areas of the cortex are the most highly developed.

Some mammals increase in size and enlarged the area of the neopallium more than in porportion, so they increased in intelligence as well. So that the neopallium would not outgrow the skull the cerebral cortex, which by then had become all neopallium, wrinkled. The surface folded into convolutions thus increasing the amount of area available. Azimov

Whales and elephants have the largest brains known but too much of the brain is taken up in coordination the need to move muscles. Less is left for reason and abstract thought.

The neocortex (neo means new) eventually became the largest and most prominent part of the brain, the command post for the cingulate gyri and other deep, "old" parts of the brain. This made it possible for man and beast to control their emotions (sure!).

The most recent addition to the brain in its evolution over millions of years is its largest, uppermost -- literally, its "upper crust" -- portion, the surface gray matter, or cortex. Technically, it is known as the neocortex. It comprises 85 percent of the adult brain and makes it possible for us to cope with life rationally by controlling our primitive emotions, instincts, and reflexes, and by allowing us to think, plan, talk, act, and behave efficiently, and to understand the significance of all the various sensations sent to the brain.

The cerebrum is divided into two halves called hemispheres. The surface of the cerebrum is the cortex. It is bumpy-looking, these bumps being "humps" known as convolutions or gyri.

The new brain did not take over, however. It was tightly connected to the old one, and most of the data that flowed from part of the mammalian brain to the other had to be relayed through the Reptilian circuits underneath. Thus the reptile kept its scaly thumb on the mammal.

The evolution of the mammalian introduced a new bioprogramming language called emotion. Affection, for instance, was superimposed over the lizard's sexual drive. Fear was superimposed over the programs that instructed the lizard to stay away from bigger creatures.

Importance of Evolution of the Human Brain

The reason why this evolutionary aspect of the brain is so important is that it explains much of human behavior that has remained a mystery to humans. For centuries human have argued that man is evil. In the Christian religion there is even a doctrine of original sin to explain man's difficulties in behaving himself. However, the mystery starts to disappear when we see man as an animal with an animal heritage and, more importantly, an animal brain.

As we shall see certain sadistic sexual practices, such as aggression and biting in sex, may be a fault in the process of cerebral control of the Reptilian part of the brain. Likewise, extreme uncontrollability is related to problems in controlling the limbic system of humans. For if there is not adequate cerebral control over the limbic system, then many of those fears of the early mammals will surface and cause extreme behavioral and psychic problems for the afflicted humans.

Reward System

The limbic reward system first defined by Olds and Milner (1954), using self-stimulation methods, includes the lateral septal area, the medial forebrain bundle (MFB), the lateral hypothalamus, and parts of the amygdala and hippocampus. The most rewarding of these are areas along the base of the brain in the region of the lateral hypothalamus and MFB. The reward system has sometimes been called the "pleasure" area of the brain, although this term is anathema to behavioristic psychologists. stimulation of these areas produces a reztion that competes successfully with other rewards such as food for a hungry animal.

The limbic forebrain system, particularly the medial forebrain bundle region, appears to have developed from an olfactory brain into a general system mediating pleasure and reward. To overstate this position, the hypothalamus is the link between the biological machinery of motivated behavior and the subjective experience of need and pleasure mediated by higher brain regions. The ecological dominance of mammals may be the result not only of more brain cells, but also of a specialized brain system that can drive them to behave even when particular tissues needs are not strong. Thompson(1975:344-345) in (Zuckerman, 1979:359)

MacLean (1970) feels that the paleomammalian or limbic brain, which evolved from a protoReptilian brain, provided the first step toward self-awareness in the sense of awareness of internal conditions of the body.

The scientific study of the brain also illuminates many of the old truths we had about human feelings and actions. For instance, the old distinction between the heart and the brain finds their structural counterparts in the limbic system and the cerebrum, respectively. One can even find support for such highly unscientific parts of psychology such as Freudianism's talk of the superego. The function of the cerebrum is indeed to act as the superego over the more violent Reptilian and the more emotional early mammalian parts of the brain.


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