Co-Creative Opportunities of our Prefrontal Cortex

Online resources for exploring the practical implications of navigating the modern world with the Stone-Age Instincts we all have inherited. The image at right playfully shows:

  • REPTILIAN BRAIN - Lizard Legacy - our physical instincts

  • OLD MAMMALIAN BRAIN - Furry Li'l Mammal - our social instincts

  • NEW MAMMALIAN - Monkey Mind - our interpretive instincts

  • ADVANCED - Higher Porpoise - our executive brain and spiritual instincts

    Higher Porpoise



    The most ADVANCED part of our brain is the prefrontal cortext, which is sometimes called "the executive brain".

    Positioned behind the forehead, the prefrontal cortex is engaged when "we do the harder thing" (as primatologist Robert Sapolsky puts it). Impulse control, delayed gratification, and choosing to act in accordance with one's higher values all depend on this most recently evolved part of the brain.

    "HIGHER PORPOISE" is a playful term for this locus of our higher purpose or "higher power." Because all the great apes also have a well developed prefrontal cortex, the exceptional power of this part of the brain in humans owes to its far more massive connectivity with the rest of the brain.

    This part of the brain is the top of the heap, so to speak. It is only here that conflicts within and between the more ancient parts of the brain can be resolved.

    Thus, HIGHER PORPOISE is responsible for keeping in check the physical urges of our LIZARD LEGACY (Reptilian Brain) and the social drives and emotions of our FURRY LI'L MAMMAL (Old Mammalian Brain).

    "Human beings are endowed by evolution with the capacity to do things that are extraordinarily independent of biology. . .  People are never so human as when they act counter to some of their biologically given inclinations. This may be what truly distinguishes human beings from other animals." — David Barash and Judith Lipton (2009, Strange Bedfellows, pp. 24 & 56.)


    Conditional power of the Prefrontal Cortex


    JONATHAN HAIDT: "The mind is divided in many ways, but the division that really matters is between conscious/reasoned processes and automatic/implicit processes. These two parts are like a RIDER on the back of an ELEPHANT. The rider's inability to control the elephant by force explains many puzzles about our mental life, particularly why we have such trouble with weakness of will. Learning how to train the elephant is the secret of self-improvement."


  • VIDEO: "Why People Don't Believe in Climate Change"
       - 7-min vid in PBS It's Okay To Be Smart series uses cartoon at left.

  • VIDEO: "Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength"
       - by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney (hour-long talk 1/13/11)

  • "'The Sugary Secret of Self-Control" , Steven Pinker, 9/2/11 NYT



       EXAMPLE OF A RIDER IN CONTROL: Captain "Sully" Sullenberger
  • "'Deliberate Calm' Guided US Airways Crew" , Jonah Lehrer, 1/17/09 LA Times

  • "Gin, Cigarettes, Women: I'm a Prophet, Not a Saint"
      by Andrew Billen, 5/10/05 The Times (of London)
  • THE TEEN BRAIN: A Work in Progress
  • "What's Wrong With the Teenage Mind?" - by Alison Gopnik, WSJ, 1/28/12
        AUDIO interview with Alison Gopnik, "Evolution, Modernity, and the Teen Mind"

  • "The Teen Brain: It's Just Not Grown Up Yet" - NPR, 3/1/10

  • "Teen Brains Clear Out Childhood Thoughts" -, 3/23/09
  • ABOVE:

    Porpodile (aka Crocoporpoise) sculpture
    (painted bark, uncut as found, 10" long)
    gift to Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow
    by artist Debbie Happy Cohen


    RIGHT: Steve Torma (of Asheville NC)
    created his own Quadrune Brain cap.




       The PREFRONTAL CORTEX offers us opportunities to become far more than just our instincts. It offers self-awareness, reflection — and therefore impulse control. But those very features also bring us death awareness, which can stifle exuberance if we do not find a way not only to accept the fact of death but even to be grateful for it.

    Here, an evolutionary understanding of the creative role that death plays in the universe offers vital support.

    CONNIE BARLOW, a science writer specializing in evolution, has developed many resources for teaching about and appreciating the role of death in the universe — and for all age groups. Surrounding are VIDEO samples, with more text, audio, songs, and stories accessible through her "Death Through Deep-Time Eyes" webpages.

    Click below for Connie's story for children:

  • AUDIO: "Death Through Deep-Time Eyes" by C. Barlow

  • LITANY: "Yes to the Universe"

  • LITANY: "The Gifts of Death"

  • VIDEO BLOG: "Death, Budgets, and Generational Justice" (31 minutes)

    Not success.

    Not growth.

    Not happiness.

    The cradle of your love of life . . . is death."

    Stephen Jenkinson, subject of the 2010 award-winning Canadian documentary, Griefwalker (Click video LEFT.)

    "I regard death as the end of the illusion of separateness." — Gene Troxell




  • "The Moral Molecules: Why We Do the Right Thing in Love and Work" - blogpost by Jed Diamond on the importance of both oxytocin (the "love" hormone) and testosterone (the "be in action" hormone).

  • "The Empathic Civilization and The Age of Empathy" - blogpost by Michael Dowd on the importance of these two books (by Jeremy Rifkin and Frans de Waal), along with links to related resources.

  • "Scientist (de Waal) Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primates" - report by Nicholas Wade, New York Times, 3/29/07.

  • "The New Humanism" - by David Brooks New York Times, 3/7/11. (Note: This New York Times columnist has been learning and following developments in evolutionary psychology and brain science for several years. This Op-Ed piece is a superb example of how understanding our evolved, 4-parted brain can lead toward more effective governance and policies.)

  • "Khan Academy and the Future of Education" - Michael Dowd links to a TED Talk video where Bill Gates introduces the world to the next generation of video-rich educational tools that key into how our brain actually works, rather than assuming the standard industrial model of education.


  • "Passing It Forward: Attending to Your Evolutionary Legacy" - AUDIO
         by Barlow and Dowd (with Craig Hamilton and Jon Cleland-Host).
         An hour-long synthesis of excerpts from our most important and emotionally rich conversations.

  • "Evolutionary Spirituality: Coming Home to Reality" - BLOG by Michael Dowd






       Evolutionary Activism

    2009 book by TOM ATLEE

    (Available for free download.)

          "Evolutionary activism is an idea whose time has come. In this lucid, engaging book, Tom Atlee shares from the leading edge of his own learning about how to mobilize our collective wisdom to transform our social systems. A must-read."
    — Craig Hamilton, founder of Integral Enlightenment



    SECULAR JEWISH example: Nancy Ellen Abrams

    author (with Joel Primack) of View from the Center of the Universe (2006) and The New Universe and the Human Future (2011)

  • VIDEO 2009 Terry Lectures by Abrams and Primack at Yale University (in 4 parts)

  • Excerpts from books

       CHRISTIAN example: Rev. Bruce Sanguin

    Rev. Bruce Sanguin of Canadian Memorial Church in Vancouver (Canada) is one of the leaders in the worldwide movement to evolve and strengthen Christianity by enthusiastically bringing a mainstream understanding of the 13.7 billion year history of the universe into the religious foundation of the faith. He is the author of a half dozen books, including If Darwin Prayed.

  • BLOGPOST: "The Biology of Sin" - 2011 by Bruce Sanguin

  • AUDIO INTERVIEW of Sanguin by Michael Dowd: "Evolutionary Christian Mysticism"- 2010 "The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity" series

  • AUDIO INTERVIEW for Evolving Faith Podcast: "Evolutionary Christian Spirituality", 2010

       SPIRITUAL ATHEIST example: Michael Scott Earl

    Michael Scott Earl contributes a sobering look at so-called religious morality, in his investigation of Bible passages that are woefully out of step with modern moral sensibilities.

  • AUDIO: "Bible Stories Your Parents Never Taught You" - book-length free audio series

  • AUDIO: "The Ultimate Terrorist" - book-length free audio series

  • AUDIO: "The Platinum Rule": free audio series in 2 parts


  • LEFT VIDEO: Daniel Goleman on Emotional Intelligence - 2007 presentation at Google headquarters.

  • TEXT: An Evolutionary, Whole-Brain Perspective on Gender Differences - 2007 invited address by Roy F. Baumeister at American Psychological Association

  • TEXT: "Evolutionary Origins of Leadership and Followership - 2006 by Mark Van Fugt in Personality and Social Review.

  •      LEFT:
    New DVD
    for sale

    for sale


  • REPTILIAN BRAIN - Lizard Legacy - our physical instincts

  • OLD MAMMALIAN BRAIN - Furry Li'l Mammal - our social instincts

  • NEW MAMMALIAN BRAIN - Monkey Mind - our interpretive instincts

  • ADVANCED - Higher Porpoise - our executive brain and spiritual instincts

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