The Reptilian Brain

A 4X4 Nature-Based Context for Existence:

Bruce Eldine Morton, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor,
University of Hawaii School of Medicine

I. REALITY: Four Types of Reality Exist for Everyone:

A. External Reality (What really is happening out there):

External reality is the ongoing, ever-changing, ever-the-same dialectic universe of extremes that surrounds us. The cosmos independently exists without design, plan, or purpose in an eternal cycle of explosion and collapse, it is the sole source of life, death, abundance, opportunity and power.

B. Internal Reality (How I perceive and interpret it):

This is the sense-based model of external reality that each unknowingly builds and improves over their lifetime to survive better in the cosmos. One’s Internal Reality mirror can provide an increasingly accurate Image of External Reality. But like any reflection, it is not the absolute truth. Yet, when personal inner models become accurate enough to cross “The Threshold of Workability”, one can begin to use them to align with External Reality better and tap it to meet human survival needs more effectively, thus avoiding death more successfully.

C. Survival Reality (Origin of Morality):

As expected, organisms with survival as their highest priority have naturally been selected over time as the fittest. They are here with their families today. Survival Reality transforms the apathy of External Reality’s meaningless existence into the zeal of “higher purpose”. Existence becomes an intense conflict between Good (God, Holy, Right), defined as the optimization of the long-term survival of humanity and its living support systems, and Bad (devil, evil, wrong, sin), defined as harm to the long-term survival of humanity or to its life-support systems.

D. Cultural Reality (Source of Memes):

A meme is any idea, model, or belief system that can be communicated into the Internal Reality of another. Helpful memes save us from starting from zero at birth. By preventing each generation from having to reinvent the wheel, they allow us to stand on the shoulders of our ancestors to survive more optimally. Harmful memes are wishful, inaccurate, short-sighted, or selfish ideas that keep humanity wandering below The Threshold of Workability.

Although non-genetic, memes are as immortal as life has been. They cannot readily be destroyed. However, they can be displaced by the evolution of new memes that work better to optimize our survival; just as the car replaced the horse without the need to shoot the horses. Cultural Progress is the development and utilization of memes that more efficiently optimize and balance the Survival of Humanity and its life-support systems. Institutions with selfish memes that harm humanity retard cultural progress.


We exist in a cosmos consisting of an endless series of strata, each level containing unique structural types and laws. The strata of the universe range from the infinite to the infinitesimal. So far, we have detected about six levels of physical structure above and six below us.

Math and logic, including induction and deduction, function well within each level, but not between them. That is, math can neither predict the emergent properties of the composite types assembled by synthesis into the next higher level, nor predict the properties of the subunits dissected into the building block types of the level below. Yet, this does not make the appearance of their unpredictable properties magical, any more than traffic or a muffler are supernatural transformations of an automobile. Different laws predominate at each level. Thus, the laws of electronics may appear dwarfed by those that emerge at the level of economics.


The optimization of the survival of the cell is the source and purpose of all living behavior. There is no life below the level of the cell. Sub-cellular organelles, polymerized in the sea by chemical (RNA) evolution, self-assembled by known physical rules into replicating cells. Powerful genetic homeostatic systems have evolved to maintain optimal cell survival conditions by combating stress at each of the many biological levels, from the molecular, through the physiologic, to that of institutionalized social services. From this cell survival-based genetic determinism there is no escape, except by suicide. However within it, potentially each individual has:

The Four Great Freedoms of Choice:

A. Do I choose to Reject the universe as bad; resist it as a victim (Failure certain),

Or, do I choose to Accept the universe as perfect; go with its flow (Success sure).

B. Do I choose to use Self-Indulgence and take my reward now,

Or, do I choose to use Self-Discipline and defer for a better reward later.

C. Do I choose to serve Myself (Parasitic: personal gain at long-term cost to society),

Or, do I choose to serve my Family-Society (Synergistic: greater personal benefits).

D. I must choose Who my family is. Do I choose My Family Exclusively, thus being forced into Reptilian Win-Lose Violence like Hitler? Or, Inclusively, being forced to use Social Brain Win-Win Nonviolent behavior like Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King?

How each individual makes these choices over their life is unique. They describe all past human behavior and accomplishment, from the most depraved to the sublime.


A. Good and God:

God-Within is our genetic “Higher Intelligence”. Although long acknowledged, God has been misidentified for millennia as external and supernatural. God-Within is the activity of the Social Brain element of the Quadrimental Brain*. Operating independently of usual awareness within the vastness of Primary Memory, it is wise, holy, pure, and true.

God defines anything that optimizes species survival as Good. It motivates use of compassionate Win-Win, Non-Violent Cooperation toward family and society by rewarding pro-family/social behavior as life’s greatest pleasure. It acts independently of our Ego to punish antisocial acts as Bad.

Triadism* demonstrates the impossibility of the supernatural, extra-corporeal, spiritual, and immortal souls. Even as metaphors, these dualistic memes have failed to identify the true sources of human harm and suffering, or of growth, happiness, and joy.

B. Evil and the Devil:

The evolutionary heritage of the life-supporting Reptilian Brain core includes many invaluable ancient genetic survival drives and instincts. From the narrow consciousness of this foundational element of the Quadrimental Brain, there is no past or future, only immediate cell survival right now. To this end, it seeks to control everything and everybody. If resisted, instinctively it can escalate the use of physical force up to the level of killing. In the past, it has provided effective win-lose, violent strategies against alien competitors.

“The Double Standard”: From the perspective of group survival optimization, certain instinctive rules, valid at the Reptilian Brain individual level, such as killing alien competitors, become totally antisocial at the family level. These are seen as bad, evil, even diabolic by the Social Brain, God-Within.

C. The Great Conflict between Good and Evil:

Stress can arouse our Reptilian Brain’s self-survival instincts, including its “Double Standard”, to harm others as aliens and enemies, instead of helping them as family and friends. To counteract this, the Social Brain, God-Within inflicts the “pain of guilt” upon the Reptilian Brain to cause it to reverse attempts to benefit itself by forcibly perpetrating survival harm upon others. From our usual consciousness within the Language Brain, this guilt is felt as “pangs of conscience”.

This mechanism, together with ostracism from the family or group, was once sufficient to cause an individual to remove the harm they had caused, regain the acceptance of the family, and restore symbiosis to the unit.

D. Paradise Lost and Restored. Choices that make a Difference:

With population increases and the migrations of the last few millennia, new possibilities and cultural memes have arisen that tempt the Reptilian Brain to try to bypass the pain and guilt impose upon it by the Social Brain for helping itself at others expense. This social short-circuit began when survival free from familial and social restraint became possible. It became amplified by access to alcohol, hemp, or opium; products that temporarily replace guilt’s pain and anxiety with inappropriate feelings of well-being and euphoria.

However, because of cellular homeostasis, tolerance to pain-killing drugs always develops. As a result, punishments from the Social Brain always return more strongly. This requires increased amounts of drug to suppress the pain, and causes the intense drug seeking that leads to further crimes against the Nature and Humanity. Once obtained, the higher drug levels required inhibit the guilt and pain cause increased intoxication. Consequent drunk driving, alone, brings enormous fatality to us all.

Further, harmful memes also entice the Quadrimental Brain’s Intellect to rebel against the Social Brain’s emphasis on deferred gratification and service, and join the Reptilian Brain’s dark side in indulgence or greed at cost to others. These memes bring conflict, reproductive irresponsibility, waste, suffering, and killing on society. Ironically, they unavoidably backfire to bring personal unhappiness, alienation, and depression. This leads to overdose, suicide, incarceration, and harm to many innocent mates, children, and animals. With the development of massive production of abusable drugs, multilevel marketing, and tempting bad memes, this problem has now escalated to a level that is actively destroying our terrestrial ecosystem and degrading human society.

E. Who We Are and Who We can Become:

This depends on how we balance the powerful 1) Reptilian Brain self-survival element and 2) Godlike Social Brain species-survival elements of our Quadrimental Brain*. This balance is influenced more by the strength of our 3) Executive Ego, than by the rationalizations of our 4) Language-Based Intellect.

Temporary weakening the Executive Ego by fatigue, drugs, or lasting physical damage (Frontal lobe syndrome) removes its ability to inhibit the Reptilian Brain’s destructive powers. This can happen to individuals who intellectually know the “right thing to do”. Thus, Reptilian Brain self-indulgence is the true gateway to the broad path spiraling downward to needless conflict, alienation, depression, drugs, crime, and death.

F. The Balance of our Quadrimental Brain Can be Shifted towards God and Good:

Even for those who find themselves on that dark path, their wisdom-filled God- Within still waits, “closer than one’s breath”. Its alienation against one’s antisocial acts can be reversed; simply by surrendering to It again. Then, “let Its conscience be the guide” to restore of the survival of those harmed. With full restitution, they will freely and delightedly forgive, accept, and trust once more. Then the alienated one can return to the warm embrace of family and again use their many skills in service of humanity.


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