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How The Brain Works

    It is inconceivable that the brain, with all of its components and subsystems - much more complicated than a battleship - could possibly coordinate each of their functions in effective management of the infinite number of complex physical and chemical activities of the body, providing as it does, instantaneous reactions to circumstances of vital interest, without a command and control center.

    The only viable candidate for the brain�s �command and control center� is the reticular formation. It is the only segment of the brain having access to all incoming information, is known to immediately scan and prioritize that information, and has two-way communications with all of the subsystems is the reticular formation (RF).

    The RF is an uncharted - because un-chartable - amorphous mass of millions of neurons located at the top of the brain stem, about the size and shape of one�s little finger. Even after fifty-plus years since its identification, neurologists have identified only a few of its purposes. It is so complex that research on it has practically come to a halt. Although its centralized location and countless connections would seem to enable it to perform myriad functions, it is impossible, using current research methods, to identify more than a few of them.

    There is a consensus of evidence that the Reticular Activation System is the �inhibitory system;� that the Reticular Formation, �like a vigilant secretary� with the power to inhibit, automatically makes it our very percept selector; but that much more than a secretary, it is also a response selector, the silent sovereign manager of all our vital functions; capable of �selective muscular activation;� now thought by some scientists �to be involved in higher mental processes;� and lastly, to remark that this is all they have to say about this mysterious element in the brain.

    Since the RF is both our percept and response selector, we are all seeing, experiencing, and responding to the world through our reticular formations. Therefore the wiring of our Loves and Beliefs into the reticular formation -- not the creation of a �synaptic self� -- is �how our brains become who we are.�

    The shocking conclusion we must draw is that for most of us the RAS operates exactly like the U.S. government! Like the government, it is a vast and incredibly complex bureaucracy, consisting of scores of open and secret bureaus, departments, and branches -- whose responsibilities often overlap or conflict, and with very imperfect communications between them - each competing for the �boss�s� attention, each with some �priority interrupt� authority, each mindlessly trying to enforce its own little set of rules and regulations, and to justify and expand its authority by encouraging the acceptance of data which validates its purposes and rejection of that which does not - an appalling, but unfortunately, a compellingly exact analogy. Can �cognitive dissonance� be far behind?

    Now if this were the whole story, we would be destined to live out a completely chimpanzee-like behavioral existence. But of course, we don�t, and the reason lies in the uniquely human faculties of the psyche.

    So if a RAS response impulse to act is not too strong, or does not require immediate implementation, we can alter or veto the response. We can be hungry but, because we wish to lose weight, decide not to eat. This is a second faculty of the psyche: the will.

    We need a new paradigm of the human brain, as a brain which starts out physiologically and functionally identical to that of the chimpanzee, but is transformed into what can now be defined as a �mind� by virtue of the hundreds of Loves, Beliefs, Values, and Needs (and their concomitant Desires and Fears), which become wired into the reticular formation by the time we reach maturity.

    We must also conclude that the reticular formation, home to consciousness of humans and all sentient beings, constitutes the Command and Control Center of the brain, and is therefore the Governor, the Manager of the brain. The inaptly named Reticular Activating System should now be considered the brain�s Command and Control System.

    All other elements of the brain can now be seen to represent the �tools� or subsystems of the RF. Their functions -- to recover memories, flesh out the details of our percepts, generate thoughts, emotions, physical and vocal reactions, etc. -- are only enacted in response to response impulses from the RF, or responses enacted through the RF but originating in the person�s will.

    This article from How Our Brain Works, Copyright � 2002 by The Shelton Group, TheSheltonGroup@cs.com, is based on the book

    The Immortal I
    A Unified Theory of Psycholgoy, Neurology, and The Perennial Philosophy

    by Eugene B. Shea

    Originally published by University Press of America