Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Unless You Become As Little Children, You Shall Not Enter The Kingdom" Part One

Understanding why Stage IV spiritual people are so few and far between only comes through understanding which parts of our brains are in play at which stages of our childhood development and how that effects our sense of self. The above graphic shows which parts of the brain are in play at any given time in our youthful development.

As I give a short abbreviated description of these areas, keep in mind that most of our survival oriented defense mechanisms are concocted by areas of the brain which are not being influenced at a particular given time by the higher functioning cognitive aspects of the brain.

As an example, the left hemisphere, which I have gone on about at some length, only begins to come on line at about age 7. Interestingly enough the very age at which the Church has determined we enter 'the age of reason', and the age at which we really begin to get our educational training. Previous to this age, all kinds of habits, patterns, and ways of relating have been uninfluenced by higher forms of reasoning. This is a crucial thing to understand.

We begin our lives with a functioning "R" system which refers to the Reptilian brain or hind brain, and contains the nerve endings of our sensory motor system, the spinal cord, the vast endings of our peripheral neuro network, and the primary neural systems in the heart.

It is the part of the brain which operates in an habitual and patterned response, mostly in connection with survival needs, but can also take on the physical parts of a learned skill such as riding a bike. It will also drive our cars while we use our neo cortex to solve all the problems of mankind.

It is the earliest evolutionary stage of the human brain, and although the graphic shows it petering out as other systems come on line, the graphic is misleading. Rather than petering out, it serves as the foundation on which the other stages are built. Remember this key concept, it is repetitive and habitual in it's operation and it is the foundation on which all the rest is built.

The second system which comes on line, about the age of one year, is the old mammalian limbic system. It's called limbic because it curves around the R system like a limb. It is also called the emotional/cognitive brain. It is here that the additional senses, not part of the reptilian world are added, which really raises our sense perceptual abilities.

Here at this stage is added the staggering world of relationships. The language of relationships is biochemically induced states of emotion. This is a pre verbal language having little to do with the neo cortex and it's sense of time and reason. The next time some three year old gets on your nerves don't expect to reason with her, just hold her. She's not experiencing her relationship with you verbally, she's experiencing it emotionally.

The reptilian brain may sense something in it's limited black and white blurry vision and ask these questions: can I eat it, will it hurt me, can I mate with it? Once the old mammalian brain comes on line, relationship questions explode and give us a sense of an inner subjective world relating to an outer objective world. This is the beginning of the concept of ego I versus the not I 'other', but at this stage this developing understanding is mostly emotional in nature.

This is a critical stage of development and is characterised physically by the young human standing up and walking, rather than crawling on it's belly. It's also the time the young human realizes one of those 'others' in that outer world not only takes care of it, but can answer the ubiquitous "WHY" when language starts coming on line.

That next system comes on line around the age of four and that's the right hemisphere of the neo cortex followed in step by the left hemisphere. The new brain takes up five times the capacity of the previous two systems on which it physically sits and surrounds. It will eventually have the capability of integrating the other two systems for it's own use, but here evolution runs into a snag. Although the right hemisphere is capable of understanding only the present tense, the left hemisphere understands future and past.

This lack of ability to think outside of the present moment is why toilet training can become a real issue. Until the left hemisphere develops enough neuro pathways to the R system, toilet training ain't going to happen on the parental time schedule. It will only happen when the left hemisphere has developed sufficient neural connections with the R system.

The left hemisphere's capacity to imagine the future can conjure up all kinds of fantasy futures by using the "What if" syndrome and that's the evolutionary snag. A seven year old may think, "What if daddy comes home drunk and beats me again?" The lower, repetitive levels of his brain will react to this future thought exactly as if daddy had come home and was presently beating the seven year old. Hence at a very early age we introduce the concept of self promulgated anxiety based on learned repetitive patterns. It's also important to understand that the R and limbic systems don't have the capacity to imagine anything, they just react to everything as if it's real and in the present. This is why the 'what if' syndrome causes so many problems with excessive anxiety.

Along with the "what if" scenario comes curiosity and the drive for the novel, or the creative imagination. This appears to be evolution's new concept in creating and transcending itself through homo sapient. It could be that this exists so that the God who imagined us can in turn be imagined by us, a kind of mirror to mirror phenomenon.

I'm going to stop here for today, at the beginning of the age of reason, where nature has introduced the concept of time and the drive for creative imagination.

Depending on how our Hypothetical Young Human has experienced life and his relationships to this point, that experience will have a great deal to do with how HPY's conscious ego self will be experienced and develop as maturity continues.

If a lot of garbage has gone into HPY's formation, from here on a lot of garbage will come out. HPY will have developed numerous unconscious maladaptive defense strategies which will supersede his higher cognitive functions. Given enough garbage, the higher functions will serve only as a phenomenally creative source of keeping the maladaptive strategies in place and functioning.

If HPY has had a benign experience of life, HPY will have far less difficulty with the tasks of adulthood because HPY's brain will not contain a whole spate of maladaptive anxiety reduction defense strategies. HPY will be far more likely to achieve Stage IV spiritual thinking and experiencing.

Jesus said if we "cause one of these little ones to stumble, it were better a millstone be tied around our neck and we be dumped in the sea." I think it might be easy to see why He said this because trauma at these early ages of neural development have huge and sometimes permanent repercussions. Repercussions like passing on to our children the very same maladaptive strategies we learned. Until tomorrow when I take on part II.

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