What are we going to do about all this Lizard Brain behavior? I mean, really, it’s getting out of control.
If you’re not familiar with that term, according to Psychology Today magazine, “‘Lizard brain’ refers to the oldest part of the brain, the brain stem, responsible for primitive survival instincts such as aggression and fear.”
Dr. Joseph Troncale explains, “Many people call it ‘The Lizard Brain’ because the limbic system is about all a lizard has for brain function. It is in charge of fight, flight, feeding, fear and fornication.”
So, I guess that means whenever I’ve just finished a large meal and consumed enough calories to sustain me for at least three days, and then blurt out, “Hey, what’s for dessert?” that’s my Lizard Brain talking. That’s the part of my brain that was programmed to think, “You know, Bill, this might be your last meal. The food supply might dry up. You’d better have a piece of pie. No, make that two pieces. And some ice cream.”
My Lizard Brain does not understand that our refrigerator and cupboards are full. My Lizard Brain never pays attention when I go to Stop & Shop, so it doesn’t notice aisle after aisle of tasty food just a couple miles from home. It also never notices the many fast food places I drive past on the way home from Stop & Shop, any one of which could nourish me if I was feeling faint. Most of all, my Lizard Brain is completely oblivious when I stand on the bathroom scale in the morning, and it doesn’t understand that I have to crane my neck to peer around my gut in order to see the numbers. As a result, my Lizard Brain just keeps telling me to chow down. (I think it’s also my Lizard Brain that tells me the bathroom scale is probably broken.)
The Lizard Brain is what compelled Harvey Weinstein and all the other creeps we heard about last year to do what they did. Whenever you see someone do something really foolish, most likely the Lizard Brain is the culprit.
In short, the Lizard Brain is what makes us act impulsively. The entire history of civilization has been one long struggle to have the cerebral cortex — the thoughtful, rational part of the brain — take control and suppress the wild urges of the Lizard Brain. Think of your entire brain as the driver’s seat of an automobile. The cerebral cortex part of your brain has two hands on the wheel (at 10 and 2 o’clock, of course), and maintains the posted speed limit while carefully keeping an eye out for other vehicles. Meanwhile, your Lizard Brain is a heavily tattooed teenager in the back seat who constantly yells, “C’mon, c’mon, how fast can this thing go?! Hey, let’s get off this exit — right here! Go ahead, cross over three lanes of traffic! You can do it! I’m sure there’s no one in your blind spot!”
For a while there, as a society we did a pretty good job of resisting the urges of the Lizard Brain. But then in recent decades our culture decided that suppressing the Lizard Brain was unhealthy and unfulfilling. The results have been, to put it mildly, chaotic.
Just think about some of the terrible problems we’re facing these days: substance abuse, obesity, STDs, senseless violence, the U.S. Congress, and reality TV shows. What do all these destructive things have in common? They are caused by Lizard Brain thinking.
I’d like to continue this discussion, but I have to go now because my Lizard Brain just told me there’s a leftover piece of pie in the fridge. Make that two pieces. And some ice cream.