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Primitive “Lizard Brain” or Design by a Genius?

Brain illustration with ideas floating around

[Originally published as Reptile Brain? Or the Complex Seat of Godly Emotion?]

As the story goes–the “primitive” passion brain developed first and then the bizarrely complex layers of the cortex later.

So why are we attempting artificial logic but not artificial emotions?

Passion is essential, and even more complex than thinking.

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Every mother will attest to the powerful emotions of a two year old. We are born with our limbic system at full blast. The purpose of this passion is to get us to pay attention and take the situation seriously and identify what type of opportunity or danger we are facing.

How does this limbic system function?Limbic system diagram: Photo credit Dreamstime: 139569785

Raw data is drawn in through our eyes and ears and goes to the nor-epinephrine cortex to answer the simple question, “What’s up?” This information is forwarded to the limbic system where it is received by the amygdala for the even more complex, mysterious, crucial addition of:

  • anger
  • sadness
  • love
  • fear
  • guilt
  • hate, etc;

The limbic system then throws this passion into a circle:

  • maintaining motivation till the life situation that triggered it is addressed
  • sending commands to the body to dump out adrenaline and cortisol and thyroid for energy and stamina
  • alerting the immune system to prepare for defending the body
  • signaling the gut to keep us focused on the problem and motivated to deal with it
  • signaling the cortex that we are upset and should do something radical about the issue at hand

Next the limbic system responds to moderating signals from the cortex to calm down a bit, still maintaining just the right amount of passion until the life problem has been addressed.

Lastly it records whether the whole thing was fun or not and programs itself to remember the passion and either want to repeat the response or avoid it.

Passion is the essence of godliness

The beginning of all wisdom is to fear God, hunger and thirst for righteousness, shun evil, hunger to do God’s will, flee lust, follow after righteousness, hating:

  • the looking at evil things,
  • the works of evil people,
  • every false way,
  • empty pointless thoughts,
  • pride

meanwhile loving God’s law, and most of all love the God who says

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“I would that you were hot or cold.” God loves passion!

Unlike God, the whole world is trying to find happiness by turning off the amygdala and the limbic system. They try to not see and not care, to drown passion in marijuana, alcohol, video games, or just meditate their passion away.

Passion is a God-given gift. Just like physical emotions (only much more complex). They scream, “Hey there is a nail in your foot, a problem in your life!”

The problem is not the pain it is the nail in the foot.

As if a reptile’s brain could duplicate this wondrous function!

Verle Bell Portrait 2018

Written by Verle Bell M.D.

Verle Bell M.D. is a practicing psychiatrist deeply conscious of the brilliant design Jesus Christ built into the human psyche. Besides holding the role of senior pastor for several years he has been a follower of the biblical creation movement for decades. You can find his thoughts on the Bible, mental health, and living as Jesus' disciples at

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