Sunday, November 8, 2009

Help! There is a Reptile In My Head.

Here is what I need help on. We know about the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain, etc. That means that the remnants of those animals still reside in our heads. Isn’t that strange? And in sleep and in Primals we go back and meet those animals. But why? Why in deep sleep and in first-line Primals do we have to visit our reptilian brain? And also, when we discuss whether man is basically this or that, good or bad, we need to find out which brain we are discussing. But the reptile still runs our energy, lightening fast responses, terror and impulsiveness. If we want to understand us humans we also have to understand that reptile. And then the reptile has to talk to the chimp brain which then has to communicate with that human brain, the neocortex. So complicated.


  1. This is due to evolution of course. You don't have to dig very deep inside a dolphin to uncover its history of life on dry land,as Richard Dawkins points out in his latest book "The greatest show on earth" ( excellent book). We have our evolutionary history written all over us. Sometimes it does not produce the best design as for example the retina installed backward but must tinker with what existed beforehand.

  2. Art, when you start asking "why" you are only going to get useless theories (like the one coming up). Those sorts of questions cannot be answered properly until we have advanced nano-technology to study the brain in extreme detail.

    My useless theory:

    The brain takes advantage of sleep time to automatically send electricity through important neural networks, for the purpose of keeping them strong and reliable. The conscious mind will see what it wants to see while this automatic maintenance work is carried out.

    This is why neurotics are able to access perfectly preserved networks which have remained unconscious or semi-conscious for decades.
    Perhaps a primal is like a dream which has been allowed to complete it's mission; the automatic maintenance work is carried out beyond the most important pathways, right up into the neocortex. Thus the neocortex is endowed with stronger, more automatic truthful connections which starve the untruthful connections.

    What exactly causes this automatic maintenance function? (if that's what it is) How exactly does conscious awareness play it's part in this function? We might be able to answer that to some extent by sending millions of nano-bots into the brain and retrieving them to collect information, without interfering with normal brain functions. My brain might need a nano-inspection in the year 3000. Until then, primal therapy will suffice.

  3. Sleeping brains are taking advantage of the opportunity to rest and to not jeopardize itself (or the brainy individual or the central and the peripheral "Actention Selection Serving" system) during day-time or night-time hours. For any given animal species the period being slept within tends to be the one to which the animal is least well adapted to survive by being active. IOW sleep tends to be entered into within the half of the 24hr period in which it is most futile and least profitable to be out and about and alert.

    This simple hypothesis may be closer to - or a greater part of - the truth about why we sleep than most people would like to think it is.

    However, there may of course also be more to it. Such as, that it can be advantageous to survival to during sleep not only take the opportunity to restore - to whatever less than ideal extent - neurochemical/psychophysiological balances but also to dream up solutions to different kinds of problems or opportunities that are naturally (meant in an encompassing sense) "on offer".

    Apropos nightly sleep: Deeper dormancy during longer periods of likewise regularly occurring similarly adaptively met lifetime challenges - i.e. during periods adapted to by hibernation, aestivation, or likewise seasonal egg incubation - *should* be referred to as "general hibernation"!
    This only so that room would be made in people's minds for the concEPT of "specific/synaptic hibernation" (or SH, for short) - in preparation for what the concEPT of "AEVASIVE". %-]

  4. I wish I understood half the letters I get. AJ

  5. I usually like reading the comments here but, I must admit, that , like Dr Janov, I have found those following this short article incomprehensible and not to the point. What then should more clearly be the point of all discussions here , in my opinion? On a day when I am experiencing much anxiety and fear, and need some orientation and reassurance amidst the confusion, it is more clearly apparent that the point is to deal directly and simply with our basic needs for love and peace , deep feelings, and inner stability. One advantage of experiencing this turmoil today is that anyone who has anything REAL to say ( a rare occurrence in our society) can get through to me to a greater extent today. Thus reading a passage from "The Primal Scream" a few minutes ago was reassurring because I felt a connection to someone who has something important and relevant to say and says it clearly.On the other hand, being in this state of vulnerability can lead to some hurt: thus, also a few minutes ago, I walk up to a pretty female librarian, whom I have chatted with many times, and flirt by telling her that she has some nice tights on her slim attractive physique ( I only mentionned the tights , but the flirtatious intent was clear). It was all just innocent and respectful, but she just cut me off with a harsh "Yeah". That hurt and surprised me. It touched off all my preoccupations and insecurities with respect to my capacity to attract females, a basic need. It also has made me wonder if I reacted too excessively to the rebuff , and what that might have triggerred in the Primal sense inside me as far as my relations with women. But I do not know because I have never plunged into the depths in the Primal sense. In sum, I am just suggesting we keep it simple, relevant, and to the point. Marco

  6. Jay says: most of the letters you get are so heady and devoid of feeling no one would get it !! I wish you would write in the style of the Primal Scream, so your words would make us cry !! as they did so many years ago !! warm regards, your patient of 8 years, Jay snyderman..irvine ca. fashion designer

  7. Hahaha I agree with Richard's 'Useless theory' I was thinking along similar lines. E.g. sleep's function in mammals being like a skewer holding the different pieces of a kebab together.

    What ever else it does I think it's main purpose it to allow a point of reset of the linkage between the reptile, chimp and neocortex. Without this they seem to drift further and further apart.

    If I am awake for thirty six hours, it shows. I am physically clumsy, and less aware of bodily sensations (e.g. hunger) I am less aware of my feelings (feels blank and hollow), and therefore less in control of them, e.g. snappy and irritable outwardly.

    My neocortex is hopelessly fragmented, my attention deficit soars. I have less awareness of what I feel or need so there is nothing effective 'driving' my intellect any more.

    Then I lie down...My exhausted consciousness blinks off. The reptile and chimp work out any differences, kiss and make up. With the neocortex less active, the lower levels work out a truce over eight hours or so with it.

    I wake up, I am hungry. Once I eat, I decide to do something enjoyable and It feels good because sleep has glued all three pieces of me together again for another day at least...

  8. Hi Doc.Janov ,was Your last comment sriously meant as some kind of complement or are "we" all that stupid ?!.. I had the v e r y first laughing this morning!! Thanks.. emanuel

  9. Hi Dr Janov and all...

    Well, here's my take on a "good" brain.

    Freud reckoned that we had an "id" that had to be controlled and moderated by a "super ego"*. In a sense he was right I believe: when you suffer from a neurotic and therefore pathological (or potentially pathological) id (id = feeling centres) then you need to control it with moral programming, or some other socially-derived device.

    By my outlook, that is the difference between morality and humanity. A truly humane person does not suffer from a pathological id - that is, they don't want to do "evil" even if they're allowed to, because their reptile brain is already basically "good", because it does not have the need to kill its hated parent-symbols...or whatever.

    I think morality, by comparison, is an unreliable substitute for humanity, because the moralistic person is always only one or two convenient rationalisations away from satisfying their pathological urges via some kind of abstract re-interpretation of the difference between right and wrong. The guys in Catholic Church can tell you all about it!

    *I think one of the advances of Primal Theory is that it clarifies what this basically means, and likewise allows us to do away with Freud's silly language.

  10. Art,
    I think you're not asking the right questions. Why is it strange that "the remnants of those animals still reside in our heads"? It's no stranger than any other structure in our bodies which evolved through complex evolutionary processes. In sleep, since science has no answer yet, I think we process information and store it for long range use. Because in waking our senses are constantly bombarded with endless information, our system shuts down the input mechanisms, and starts to work on what has been accumulated during the day. The reason for "strange" things "coming up" at this time may be simply that there is less of a load on the information channeling systems, hence also less repression.
    Functionalism and structuralism are good up to the point where you need to see the whole as something other than the sum of its parts. The gestalt is a powerful concept. I think the future understanding of the brain lies in that concept. So, it's a whole system trying to put away important information that's been gathered all day, and the way it does that is by networks of associations. These networks must always begin in the most primitive survival functions and end in the highest input/output ports. The higher brain structures function as a sophisticated method of information gathering, classification and storing. All of that happens for the sake of the "primitive" survival brain.
    Why do we "visit" those parts?
    When those areas are reached, after they've been detached neurologically in part from the network, those neurons are activated and they release the information that was stored away unreachable. In order for us to "make sense of something", we need to process it with our higher brains – 'no words' means no awareness, and if the goal is learning and survival, we need to classify all information that has entered the system (after the initial screening) with its corresponding verbal meaning.
    I haven't gotten around to reading about the neural network function as a whole system, so this is the best I can do right now.

  11. Delphi: Well the good as I can do is fine with me. Very well thought out but I don't know what you mean by "All that happens for the sake of the primitive brain". AJ

  12. well, i don't fancy Dawkins' hypothesis about the selfish gene, but since existence is all about survival of some sort, i see the higher brain functions as serving that cause rather than existing just for the sake of our being able to pat ourselves on the back for being so smart. if the primitive brain was there first, everything that came later is a form of improving add-on. we can survive with that brain alone, but not the other way around (just the higher functions). John Medina has an interesting book on the matter, called "Brain Rules". the real stregth of our brain according to him is it's plasticity - the ability to adapt quickly to changes in the environment. that's why humans have done so much better than any other species. we are constantly changing our neural networks to adapt to the external changes. he explains what is known about long range memory - it is not constant - it too changes every time we use it. what starts out as one memory, is ever changed to fit the information recieved at the time of recall whenever it is used. there is no real past, even in our i tend to agree with Carl Rogers' claim that the healthy pesron lives in the here and now.

  13. Dr Janov,

    I'm not really qualified to answer but it seems that all kinds of life forms start from the simplest to the most sophisticated structures. In the womb the foetus starts to live with a reptilian brain for the basic needs of life. We share that brain with all the animals (reptiles, mammals). And maybe there is something about saving energy too. I guess that a reptilian brain needs less energy to be efficient than a mammal brain or a neocortex. So when we sleep we just switch to the low consumption level of our brain/body. So when we sleep we are still alive (fortunately) but as we are on a low consumming energy level therefore we just save it and "recharge the batterry" for the next day...well not sure it will be helpfull. I read something about the entropic principal (you can't create something out of nothing and energy doesn't diseapper it just become something else)

  14. living in the here and now means that you're not constantly thrashing information back and forth, trying to find the right neural-net for it (the disconnected one). that's what i sense is going on in my brain, and its like a computer processor overloaded. there's not enough "band width" for passing around both that misled internal info. and the constant external input, so the brain gives priority to whatever has more valence (as you call it), and thus ignores the external input - hence not being able to live in the here and now. it has been postulated that schitzophrenia has to do with something like a lack of regulation of input (i can't recall exactly), and that sounds similar to what happens in a state of great sleep deprivation.

  15. Dr Janov,

    I wanted to add that this idea of saving energy when using the reptilian brain is related to the fact that most reptilian animals have cold blood and are living longer than a lot of mammals (I was thinking about turtles for instance). So,I guess that going back to the reptilian brain is supposed to save energy and restore our body, our cells. Then being in touch with that brain (our first brain) bring back all our earliest/deepest traumas. And it seems logical if having a "right/good" primal is a kind of recovery mode of all our system/being...
    If nothing traumatic had happened to our reptilian brain I think we would just sleep peacefully.
    I have seen an interview of a famous yoga master (BKS Iyengar) and a journalist was asking what kind of philosophy was leading his life before he started Yoga when he was a very young man. He answered that he didn't care about philosophy at this moment of his life because he was barely alive (he was very sick).

  16. Yann: thanks for the input. All of the letters have been incredibly intelligent. art janov

  17. Delphi: I studied with Carl Rogers, a most passive ethereal man. art janov

  18. Art,
    what's your point? that nobody's perfect?
    he obviously contributed something to humanity (schools in particular, i think) else he would not be studied in every psych. faculty.
    so we're all reaching out in the dark here, trying fruitlessly to be "heard" by someone. have you ever asked yourself why? why do we keep trying if it's all so hopeless? why do we all bother writing our opinions here, what good does it do? there is something that drives us, so maybe it's not Rogers' "actualizing tendency"...whatever...i still think he deserves some credit. maybe he would not discharge a patient from his care simply for being 7500 miles away and deteriorating into psychosis. like i said...nobody's perfect, let's start there.

  19. I love you 'to death' Art, and am so grateful for your therapy (28 years and currently). However the greatest factor of your work is the theory, IMO. Therapy, at best, attempts to 'mend' the already damaged. Primal therapy does the best job of them all IMO. If your work, Art, is going to have any universal and long lasting effect for us humans, it's the theory and its implications that will effect it. Through you, we now know that it is our child rearing practices that is causing 99% of all our human problems. We can change this, if and when the psychological and medical professions "catch on" and give up there vested interests (egos) and and self promotion. Let's save the children of tomorrow.

  20. Jack:I love the book you wrote. art janov

  21. Yes, Delphi, we are all reaching out in the dark here and there, trying most often fruitlesly to be heard by someone. Marco

  22. Jay: Believe me, I'm trying. art janov

  23. Jay you make an interesting point. I once suggested to Art that he should write stuff that will make people cry, and then hit them with the facts while their defences are weakened. I've been reading this blog for a long time now and have been intrigued by the honesty and vulnerability apparent in many of the writers. I received an email from a woman who said she had been crying after reading my posts (earlier ones). This surprised me because all my life people have never really listened to me. However, I also thought that the woman was acting out with me and I wasn't sure that she was able to listen properly. Perhaps it's not always good to provoke feelings just for the sake of provoking feelings. Some people are very depressed and can't afford to sink too low. I don't really know what I'm talking about! I'm not a psychologist. I just think Art needs to tread carefully, and I think he does.


Review of "Beyond Belief"

This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
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Quotes for "Life Before Birth"

“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
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Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University

Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
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In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction

An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System

A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
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His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
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