The chimp attack in Connecticut had a very disturbing outcome. What set off the animal? Fight or flight? Animal behaviorists say monkeys display aggressive acts of behavior if they feel threatened by a stranger, or to protect kin and territory.
Fight or flight is a human instinct as well and in real danger it protects us. It can save our lives. But we also can move quickly into that mode over reacting to an insignificant event. Let’s say someone innocently bumps in to me, makes an innocuous comment, or even writes an email that I mistakenly interpret as a threat. In that split second, if I think I’m being attacked I may react in an irrational, aggressive way. My response would be inappropriate because I misunderstood the situation, and blame you as the aggressor. You might even say I was “behaving like an animal”. What happened? What can we learn about animal and human consciousness to make sense of behavior?
A 3- in- 1 Brain?
In the fifties, neurologist Paul MacLean proposed the human brain is comprised of three brains in one each representing a distinct layer of evolutionary stratum, from most primitive to modern – behavioral, emotional and rational called the Triune Brain:
Reptilian Brain – Basic instincts, primitive life functions – breathing, heart rate, fight/flight mechanism, territorial. Self- preservation. Repetition of the same mistakes.
USE YOU HEART
Limbic Brain – Seat of emotions. Feelings of attachment, lust, anger, fear.
Experienced based recognition of danger. Emotions facilitate relationships, community, family. A mammal will risk and sometimes lose its life to protect a child or mate from attack. (Paleomammalian)
USE YOUR HEAD Neocortex – (cerebral cortex) Most developed in humans enabling language, visualization and symbolic skills, future plans – the functions that distinguishes man from animal. Our intellectual capacity for complex rational thought enables us to clarify ideas: categorize, generalize, and paraphrase. Also we think in abstractions. (Neomammalian) Yes, Matrix fans — Neo…
While it was thought that the rational brain ruled, MacLean’s hypothesis held that when we are out of control, our lower brain systems overrides our rational brain components with unpredictable behavior. Raging overreactions to minor stimuli may be motivated by intense fears and emotions, setting off brutal actions to control the fear.
And even our most modern brain has it’s down side. Taking too cerebral an approach to ideas and problems may result in only more abstractions and not solve problems. Star Trek fans understand that Spock’s highly logical suggestions are not always enough for a resolution.
Awareness in our perception and interpretation of other people’s behavior may impact how we react to them. The Triune brain model enables us to look at our behavior and reactions in an objective way, which may minimize conflict. Elaine de Beauport, Mead School Founder, said it enables us to see emotions as energy as we learn to feel it, sit with it, but not act on it. Instead experience the impacted energy as “a symphony or jazz inside you” without expression of violence. Watch your emotions, let them cool.
TanDao 3-in-1 Martial Art Philosophy
At Tandao we focus on a similar holistic model – Triharmony: the warrior (reptilian brain), scholar (neocortex), and monk (limbic system). The goal is the integration of all three components. We have that unique capacity. This is an aspiration for all of us, but in particular, for martial artists – where self defense is an act of protection, not aggression. Your knowledge and training holds responsibility. Balance is essential. Use your heart, your head and your physical power wisely.
The chimp was bound by limitations of its brain system. In adjusting our own perceptions we have to learn not to anthropomorphize animals. We have the responsibility of a greater awareness.