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How the Brain Works Coherently,

under the management of

The Reticular Activating System

Eugene B. Shea



All neuroscience is based on the paradigm of a modular brain, each component responsible for, or participating in each brain function—with only one impeccable but completely neglected explanation of how they work together in coordinated responses.

It is also based on the paradigm of ‘neuronal man’―the conviction that all human capabilities will eventually be understood in neuronal terms.

Based on these paradigms, neuroscientists have made great strides in mapping the brain and diagnosing and treating biological and mental illnesses.

But neuropsychologists, seeking a resolution of the mind/brain/behavior enigma while adhering to these paradigms are having a much tougher time of it.  Cognitive neurology was launched with great expectations about 50 years ago, and now, after spending billions of dollars and hours in elaborate ‘brain labs’ in prestigious colleges and universities around the world, is still at the starting gate.  The American Psychological Association Division for Behavioral Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology is admittedly ‘dying.’ 

I will present an accumulation of problems with the modular brain and purely neuronal models which have prevented neuropsychology research from even getting off the ground, and to be derisively described as merely “the expensive branch of philosophy.”  Cognitive neuroscience has become an oxymoron.
I will also present an accumulation of multidisciplinary evidence that the brain operates coherently, and an alternative to neuronal man in a theory with doctoral appraisals of  “.. a cogent and intellectually impeccable analysis,” and ".. a breakthrough of insight and a comprehensive unification of the relevant sciences."  

I will argue that since our DNA has been shown to be 98+% identical to that of the chimpanzee, which after millions of years is still living in trees; and recently 99.7% identical to Neanderthal man, after 200-300,000 years still living in caves with one tool, a sharpened stone, when they became extinct, that our brains are functionally identical to theirs.
I will present evidence that the brain of all sentient beings operates coherently under the management of the long-known, but completely neglected, Reticular Activating System (RAS), including its ‘sentinel’ and ‘lieutenant,’ the Reticular Formation (RF).

The Reticular Activating System, with its locus in the thalamus and hypothalamus, is a vast network of neuronal afferent and efferent connections to the entire brain and body.  Thus it is the perfect candidate for the brain’s Command and Control System―the de facto manager and coordinator of all brain functions.  I will present substantial evidence that RAS is dedicated 24/7 365 to maintaining homeostasis in all human biological, socio-biological, physiological, environmental, psychological, emotional, and volitional states.
Finally, I will integrate the coherent brain with the needs and faculties of a uniquely human 'Agent' which explains our differences with our DNA cousins; an understanding of the full bio/psycho/spiritual nature of man; the genesis of our motivations, behavior, and most psychopathologies; and a resolution of the mind/brain/behavior enigma.

Here is only the first, but one of the best evidences of the coherent brain:

Gatekeeper to consciousness, spark of the mind,
the reticular formation connects with major nerves
in the spinal column and brain.  It sorts the 100 million
impulses that assault the brain each second, deflecting
the trivial, letting the vital through to alert the mind. The
mind cannot function without this catalytic bundle of cells.
Damage to them results in coma—the loss of consciousness.

U. S. News Books - 1981

Although this rendering points to the Reticular Activating System it does not make clear that the Reticular Formation to which it refers, is just a small bundle of unique neurons at the top of the brainstem, within the System.  Also it shows only the Ascending Reticular Activating System (ARAS) and not the Descending Reticular Activating System (DRAS) which extends throughout the entire body, and most likely includes the central and peripheral nervous systems.   For a detailed description of DRAS neurological functions, see .

Here is a more detailed rendering of ARAS

Faced with the bewildering powers of the RF/RAS—e.g., to recognize a personal insult or compliment and instantly generate feelings of resentment or pleasure—psychologists apparently, as Alan Bloom observed in The Closing of the American Mind, began to disappear from the theoretical world to concentrate, like the family doctor, on therapies for individual pathologies, where they were meeting with great success [demand?] rather "than to the founding of a theory of the psyche. appears the self alone had nothing more to tell the social sciences.  This leaves open the question of what the solid ground is on which therapy stands, and where its newer ideas come from.  Serious academic psychology is left with the segment that has to all intents and purposes fused with physiology.”  [pg. 361]
This article will present a theory of the psyche appraised by Sebastian Grossman, late Emeritus Chair of Bio-Psychology, University of Chicago in a letter to the author, “Your analysis is quite cogent and intellectually impeccable - 20 years ago, the only counter argument would have been the neuropsychologists’ proclivity to ‘localize’ higher faculties such as consciousness in that part of the brain that has undergone the most obvious evolutionary change ... the reticular formation has been sadly neglected by contemporary neuroscientists.”

Note the good Professor’s precise use of the word ‘proclivity,’ and quote marks around localize.   In other words, they posit our higher faculties in the prefrontal lobes, because their proportionately larger size was the only difference they could find between our brains and those of the primates from which they were sure we had evolved.  (And a large brain doesn't seem to have provided any benefits to Neanderthal.)

Although this rendering is meant to illustrate the human brain, I will argue that it is common to the brain of all sentient beings.  With DNA virtually identical to Neanderthal and chimpanzee for example, it’s hard to see how our brains could have significant biological differences.

Then what is the difference between humans and Neanderthal?  Here we must part company with rigid behaviorists and Darwinists and speak to those who know that we are not just another social animal―that except for knee-jerk responses, we have the power to review, veto, and/or alter our response-impulses.  (I’m not going to punch my boss out, no matter how mad I am!)  What is it that makes us so different?  The question has resounded since the dawn of recorded time.

The most common theories come from scholars who have proposed an Agent or  ‘self’ which might explain our differences; but most without ascription, others with nebulous characteristics, none except perhaps Freud have offered a ‘self’ which could explain our differences with our DNA analogues, or could be integrated with known psychological and neural operations of the brain, all of which are included in this new theory.

And most neuroscientists derisively dismiss the idea of a transpersonal self as a mythical ‘ghost in the machine’ (while they accept millions in research funds to try to tease its exact equivalent out of some magical hidden powers of the cortex.) 

Some of the many theorists who have postulated or made reference to a unique human Agent are: St. Thomas Aquinas postulated the spiritual Soul with faculties of memory, intellect, and will.  Freud‘s Agent was “I” (German ‘ich,’ translated as ego) with faculties of perception, conscious thought, memory, learning, choice, judgment, and action. Carl Jung referred to an undefned ‘self,’ or archetypal ‘God within us;’ Karen Horney to our “real self, ... the central inner force, ... which is the deep source of growth, ... the spring of emotional forces, of constructive energies, of directive and judiciary powers;”  Roberto Assagioli to an undefined but influential ‘higher self;’  Martin Buber to ‘I and Thou;’ Arthur Deikman to an ‘Observing Self;’ Antonio Damasio to a ‘proto self;’ LeDoux to our 'synaptic self;' Ernest Becker refers to our “proud, rich, lively, infinitely transcendent, free, inner spirit.”  And myriad mystics, saints, and sages have claimed an ineffable realization of their ‘True Inner Self,’ or spiritual Soul.  For a scholarly and thoughtful review of seven of these theories, see