Because we define worldview as one’s beliefs, attitudes and values, it is helpful to understand the role of the belief component in determining human behavior. In balancing nature and nurture as influences in explaining today’s irrational and self-destructive global society we come to see that we create our own reality according to what we believe; but what about the biological component that we cannot “see”? What about the electro-chemical dimension of human psychology?
The people of the global village live in a context where Social Darwinism (survival of the fittest) seems to dictate that the smartest and strongest have the best chance of survival. Or, in other words, we believe it is better to have lunch than to be lunch. This dog-eat-dog belief naturally results in elevated levels of anxiety around the world which also helps explain the high levels of violence and other neurotic human behavior. This anxiety is more problematic for adolescents than other segments of societies worldwide. Why is that?
How can it be true that the most anxious segment of the population which contains the highest number of risk-takers, those willing to flaunt societal norms and authority, can at the same time challenge their own fears? The brain and how it functions reveals at least part of the answer.
The principles of the science of the brain relevant to our purpose in this essay are these: First, the prefrontal cortex is the seat of reasoning, the intellect; secondly, the amygdala is the area of the brain that processes fear; and finally, these two areas of the brain mature at different rates. Combine these functions with the fact that during adolescence, there is an increase in anxiety and fearfulness.
“It turns out that the brain circuit for processing fear—the amygdala—is precocious and develops way ahead of the prefrontal cortex, the seat of reasoning and executive control. This means that adolescents have a brain that is wired with an enhanced capacity for fear and anxiety, but is relatively underdeveloped when it comes to calm reasoning.”
Irrational teen behavior is further explained by the sensation energy center of the false-self survival strategy and its conditioned behaviors. These behaviors also stimulate a region in the brain that matures earlier than the prefrontal cortex. “That reward [pleasure] center drives much of teenagers’ [and adults] risky behavior.” The top three killers of risk-taking teens are accidents, homicide and suicide, in part, because they lack the judgment found in the prefrontal cortex.
Here is where we transcend mainstream science and rely on an insight found in the paradigm of Simple Reality. Adolescents are behaving as they do because their fears are out of control and they have no viable coping strategy. But so are adults. In effect, we have a planet inhabited by almost 7 billion adolescents and when we look around at the behavior of most people on the planet today that is what we see—fear-driven, self-destructive behavior. We are waiting to grow up but it isn’t happening because we are developmentally suspended without a functioning prefrontal cortex, so to speak.
This brings us to the Simple Reality principles of reaction and response. In the classic Buddhist parable a person is frightened when seeing a rope in the dimly lit barnyard and jumps (a reaction) only to realize that it wasn’t a snake and relaxes (a response). The amygdala’s fear alarm happens too quickly for any immediate conscious evaluation of the situation but then the prefrontal cortex kicks in to do a more accurate assessment of reality. Because the prefrontal cortex is one of the brain’s last regions to mature, adolescents have less control over their emotional reactions.
Once we see that the snake was only a rope we ideally are able to suppress our conditioned fear associations and reactions. “People with anxiety disorders have trouble doing this and experience persistent fear in the absence of threat—better known as anxiety.” Unfortunately today, many people without realizing it, are constantly seeing ropes as snakes. They sense that they live in a snake-filled P-B, snake-pits to the left (global warming), snake-pits to the right (immigrants and terrorists or immigrants as terrorists) and invisible hissing serpents (the other), but we know they are there. No wonder anxiety is ubiquitous. The only serpent that can bite us, however is the one that we see baring its fangs in our own mind.
Sadly today, anxious adolescents are frequently treated with psychostimulants like Ritalin and Adderall. Sales of stimulants increased more than fivefold between 2002 and 2012. “Stimulants, just like emotionally charged experiences, cause the release of norepinephrine—a close relative of adrenaline—in the brain and facilitate memory formation.” In other words, the creation of anxiety is ironically supported by the drugs.
“One of the most widely used and empirically supported treatments for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavior therapy, a form of extinction learning in which a stimulus [rope] that is experienced as frightening is repeatedly presented in a nonthreatening environment.” In the Point of Power Practice, the conditioned stimuli in the context of P-A (a nonthreatening environment) produce a response rather than a reaction until the stimulus is no longer experienced as a snake. In this way the fear associations are gradually extinguished.
Deeper than either the amygdala or the prefrontal cortex is the “brain” in the heart of humanity. This center of wisdom is capable of response, the only truly rational behavior that would make the creation of a sustainable human community possible.
We use various so-called survival strategies like the pursuit of plenty, pleasure and power to deny the reality that the lion on the savanna is even now gnawing on our benumbed extremities. Our self-medicating denial will never work. We are lunch, we just don’t know it or want to admit it yet.
References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry:
Who Am I? The Second Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Where Am I? The First Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival