My life is a constant struggle against the primitive part of my brain – and the forces designed to exploit it
I experience frequent, urgent cravings for very specific things and act on them immediately. As soon as I open my eyes I often know exactly what I want: to wear a particular little outfit, buy a sandwich of a certain heft and filling from this shop in this postcode, eat it (for instance) on a bench under a tree. It’s a shame that the place in me capable of conjuring these whims also regularly churns out other, much more boring urges, and occasionally dangerous ones too. My brain is a constant game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, my dopamine receptors snapping noisily at an alarming rate, urging me to do things that actually bring me very little pleasure at all. Why do I want things that don’t make me feel good? I’m at the mercy of my lizard brain and the mechanisms of society designed to exploit it.
The concept of the three-tiered brain – a primitive reptilian brain nestled like a living fossil in the clay of our most recently evolved, superior brains, was proposed in the 1960s by the neuroscientist Paul MacLean. Its scientific credulity holds about as much significance to me as that of the astrology app that sends me notifications each morning – it just provides a structure for me to think about my habits and how to change them. In short, the reptilian brain is the most primitive part of the brain. I visualise it quite literally as the lizard-like baby from Eraserhead, mewling and requiring constant attention from the other parts of the brain, the parts that have evolved over 10m years to quieten its cries.
Eli Goldstone is the author of Strange Heart Beating