The brain myth that won’t die | Lisa Feldman Barrett

From Big Think.

This interview is an episode from @The-Well, our publication about ideas that inspire a life well-lived, created with the @JohnTempletonFoundation.

Subscribe to The Well on YouTube ►
Watch Lisa Feldman Barrett’s next interview ►

Plato famously described the human psyche as two horses and a charioteer: One horse represented instincts, the other represented emotions, and the charioteer was the rational mind that controlled them. Astronomer Carl Sagan continued this idea of a three-layer, “triune brain” in his 1977 book The Dragons of Eden.

But leading neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett challenges this idea of the brain evolving in three layers, instead revealing a common brain plan shared by all mammals and vertebrates. The development of sensory systems led to the emergence of the brain, and hunting and predation may have initiated an arms race to become more efficient and powerful predators.

Despite advances in neuroscience and genetics, the question of why the brain evolved remains elusive. But Feldman Barrett’s fascinating exploration of the brain’s evolution offers insights into the most important functions of this complex organ, and invites us to think more deeply about the origins of our own intelligence.

0:00 What a brain costs
0:21 The triune brain (aka lizard brain) theory
1:24 Plato, Carl Sagan, and the making of the myth
2:35 Debunking the ‘lizard brain’ theory
3:39 How the first brain evolved
5:49 The brain’s ultimate job

Read the video transcript ►


About Lisa Feldman Barrett:
Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett is among the top 1% most-cited scientists in the world, having published over 250 peer-reviewed scientific papers. Dr. Barrett is a University Distinguished Professor of psychology at Northeastern University with appointments at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, where she is Chief Science Officer for the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior. She is the recipient of a NIH Director’s Pioneer Award for transformative research, a Guggenheim Fellowship in neuroscience, the Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Association for Psychological Science (APS) and from the Society for Affect Science (SAS), and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association (APA). She is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of Canada, and a number of other honorific societies. She is the author of How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, and more recently, Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain.


Read more from The Well:
Theology professor: “Ancient Aliens” is fantasy fiction for atheists
Why the search for meaning is not a job for science — or religion
Eastern philosophy says there is no “self.” Science agrees


About The Well
Do we inhabit a multiverse? Do we have free will? What is love? Is evolution directional? There are no simple answers to life’s biggest questions, and that’s why they’re the questions occupying the world’s brightest minds.

Together, let’s learn from them.

Subscribe to the weekly newsletter ►


Join The Well on your favorite platforms:
► Facebook:
► Instagram: