I’ve posted something similar to this before.
I consider the story of Adam and Eve to be probably the most important myth in the West – how “evil” came into the world, the nature of men and women, what the attainment of self-consciousness did to us.
What the author does not discuss is that with the attainment of self-consciousness comes shame. Shame comes first for little kids, then comes guilt. And that is what happens in the story of the Garden of Eden.
Some cultures are shame-based and based on what others think of you. Like Eastern ones. But they have no or very little guilt. That’s why it’s okay to steal, the way China steals from the U.S., because it’s considered an admirable thing and nothing to have any guilt about.
Others, like the West, are guilt based. Oddly, guilt-based cultures go much further and shame-based one.
I don’t know who wrote this and I can no longer find a link to it.
Myth is a gateway to understanding the drama of consciousness as it plays out in a grand scale. Joseph Campbell once said, "The images of myth are reflections of the spiritual potentialities of every one of us. Through contemplating these, we evoke their powers in our own lives." This statement was taken out of book detailing his conversations with Bill Moyers entitled The Power of Myth.
One of the most powerful mythological stories is that of the story of the events in the Garden of Eden.
While this story is considered by most people as symbolic rather than historical; it does have unsettling parallels in the physiology of guilt. The human brain has been established to have three levels of functions. The brain as it is today is a product of a series of three biological upgrades. Paul Mclean called it “the Triune Brain” some forty years ago.
The theory states that the brain is made of three parts for three purposes. The Brain Stem, also called the reptilian brain, is in charge of bodily concerns as well as reflex motions that ensure survival. This brain is attributed to more primitive traits like social dominance, selfishness and things our culture labels as "evil". This brain is very similar to the ones that run snakes and other reptiles.
Sitting on top the reptilian brain is the mammalian which is common in birds. Together these two brains form the limbic brain. Through this upgrade, we recognize family. It is in this stage of the brain's evolutionary development that animals began to care for their young. Babies soon began to suckle milk until they weaned to ensure their survival. Protective feelings stem from this region. The mammalian brain is also where memories are processed. It is the part where fight or flight responses are triggered. This part of the brain mediates between the reptilian brain's impulses and the cortex brain's reasoning. The cortex, the most recent upgrade is where we strategize, plan and become objective.
At the very center of the two hemispheres in the cortex is the medial pre-frontal cortex, heavily studied for its role in providing motivation and for such positive traits in humanity such as altruism and kindness.
Paul Mclean decades ago visualized a brain to be made of three archetypal characters. A snake, a woman and a man. This theory suggests a fragmentation of the single brain relegating lower functions to the snake brain and higher functions to the male brain. It was in recent years that we discovered that the brain is not as fragmented in function as it seemed decades back. Rather, the brain are separate parts that function in unison. Although the brain indeed has three levels that clearly show our evolutionary origins, researcher Ned Herrman refined the theory further and re-introduced it as the Whole Brain Theory.
While this is so, Mclean's gender associations to the parts of the brain shows up in myths that persist in our culture. The familiar dynamic of the snake, the woman and the man in the Tree of Knowledge shows that we have subconscious knowledge of the true nature of our own minds. One such myth is The Story of the Fall of Adam and Eve.
Judeo-Christian Mystics identifies the story of Adam and Eve's fall from God's grace as the source of all our hardships on earth. Christian theology calls it the source of original sin when man was born with "automatic guilt". The amazing thing about all this religious beliefs is that in may more real than we think it is. However, it is not from an actual historical point of view, but from an anatomical one.
Daniel Goleman explains this in detail in Emotional Intelligence published around a decade back in a chapter he titled “The Anatomy of Emotional Hijacking.” In this chapter, he explains how the mammalian brain, can be duped by signals of survival threats coming from the snake brain to override logical thought in the cortex.
An example that Goleman used to demonstrate this is a real story about a father shot her daughter in the neck with a pistol. His fears that the sounds he heard when he entered the house were from a burglar blinded him from seeing his own daughter come out the closet to surprise him. This potential for colossal mistakes is an anatomical glitch in an otherwise perfectly engineered brain. It is highly possible for reason to fail when we become slaves of our own fear.
In the story of Adam and Eve, the reference to the "Tree of Knowledge between Good and Evil in the midst of the garden" resounds the location of the amygdala at the center the brain. In the beginning of the story of Adam and Eve, "In the middle of it is the tree of life and also the tree of knowledge between good and evil," implying in the way only biblical stories can, that it is the same tree. It is also quite known in esoteric tradition that Tree of Life pertains to the human brain.
The Tree of knowledge between good and evil may be a metaphor for this trap. The Mammalian Brain (or what I like to call the Eve Brain) mediates reasoning between two different kinds of impulses. The one coming from logic (Adam) and the other from reflex (Snake). In our evolutionary history, something happened that triggered the first amygdala hijack. Since then, it became standard fare in our existence. We are now hardwired to tend to act before thinking and do things that we will later regret -- we call this phenomenon, Guilt. So it is true that we are born with this guilt. Only altruistic acts done consistently through generations, could we possibly usher our evolution away from this anomaly.
The practice of rising above fear and letting better judgment reign in our decisions will create corresponding anatomical organs to better facilitate this habit. Our anatomy changes because of our environment the choices we make everyday. Habits of choice become later on embedded in our anatomy so our offspring will be better equipped to make better choices.
Mindfulness means that the cortex is present and functional. Past memories stored in the limbic brain do not interfere with the present circumstances when action in being computed. Lack of mindfulness makes us jumpy. We react before thinking.
The Neanderthal brain is different because of the large occipital bun which may mean a larger reptilian brain.
The Neanderthal brain is theorized to have a larger cerebellum than the brain of modern humans because of their enlarged occipital bun. Modern humans have no bulge at the back of their skulls. Instead the budge is on the forehead, right where the skull is housing the pre-frontal brain.
This shows that evolution favored the reptilian brain to shrink beneath the limbic brain. One passage in the myth of Adam and Eve seems to convey this story."...And its head will be crushed by the foot of the woman.". The phrase is a fitting metaphor. The reptilian aspect of our consciousness has been relegated to the ground, "beneath and apart from the woman who desires only the man who in turn will rule OVER her." It is clear that this story is all internal story all humans share.
In the ending passages of the story, the Creator put the Eden Cherubim in the east of the Garden. Cherubim are commonly mistaken for angelic beings. They actually symbolize Spiritual Truths in the mystical tradition. These spiritual truths are like hidden doors that open to help us transcend our anatomical predispositions.
In order for man to overcome this tragedy in the Garden of Eden, Adam, (the Cortex) must extend his hand (seek) to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is the mystical path to Eternal life. The Tree of life essentially is saying that all of creation is one. Good and evil, light and darkness are parts of the Whole. Christian theology states that the Tree of Life is Jesus on the Cross. The idea of Jesus centers around mystical sacrifice to save mankind from sin. This is altruism and altruism is a pre-frontal cortex activity. Our religious beliefs are instinctive directives of human consciousness to move away from habits that are dangerous to our collective survival.
When we overcome our fears relating to survival constantly, we begin to make use of our more advanced brain. Use cues evolution on which anatomical parts are needed. If it is needed it gets larger and more efficient part of the anatomy later on. The part of the brain enables us perceive harmony and oneness is the pre-frontal cortex. Through this brain, the good Samaritan recognizes his need to help someone who is not his relative, his friend, nor part of his tribe. Through this part of the brain, we can "love our enemies" and are able to sacrifice our own lives for the lives of others. Heroes came to be when this part of the brain evolved.
Today's knowledge of brain functions is now showing us where these stories come from. It comes from our subconscious knowledge of our nature; how we came to be as we are and where we are poised to evolve. These stories that persist in our cultures as myths are in fact (in my opinion at least) events in our physical evolution from the time we evolved from snakes to the time when we began to see ourselves as Children of a Higher Being. These symbols are stories of life's drama. Through them, we remember what consciousness went through on its way to becoming a human consciousness.
Andrew Newberg M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman wrote in conclusion of their recently published book HOW GOD CHANGES YOUR BRAIN: "Go deeply in your contemplation of God because you'll eventually discover yourself. This is how...God and science, when the two come together in the brain, can affect and transform your life".
To evolve into better human beings, our myths urge us toward the small part of our brain that inspires altruism. To do this, we must continuously transcend fears stored in our primitive consciousness until it no longer exists in our anatomy.