In the 17th century, the Irish Anglican Archbishop James Ussher published a treatise that identified the date on which God created the world: the evening preceding Sunday, October 23, 4OO4 BCE on the Julian calendar.
His chronology was based on the patriarchal lineages described in Genesis, and while we have long dismissed the good archbishop’s claim as a flight of religious fancy, he wasn’t entirely wrong. Ussher did approximate the date on which the gifts of the prefrontal cortex were becoming available for large sections of humanity at the dawn of civilization.
But this self-awareness didn’t happen overnight; rather, it took countless generations for the prefrontal cortex (the “fourth brain”) to become functional enough to warrant a circuitry connection with the older parts of the brain—the reptilian brain, the limbic system, and the neocortex.
Fossil evidence of the earliest changes in this part of the brain dates back 2.5 million years, to the Pliocene epoch, when an early hominid called Australopithecus africanus lived. The enlarged cranium of A. africanas—a member of the Great Apes family, which includes humans—was more like that of modern humans than his immediate predecessors.
This means that the artists of the Altamira cave and the hunters of the Pleistocene epoch who lived 20,000 years ago had the same brain structures we have today. Yet most members of the species lacked the nutritional support and mind-body disciplines that would allow them to experience artistic creativity and scientific discovery. Only a few isolated individuals awakened to the potential of the prefrontal cortex, and those gifted individuals crafted their great works of art during secretive ceremonies deep inside caves.
With the end of the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago, when abundant and brain-rich food supplies became available, the prefrontal cortex began to stir. During the late Neolithic period, starting around 7,000 years ago, our ancestors initiated horticulture, which ended the need to follow and harvest food from a nomadic herd. They domesticated cattle and sowed grain crops and ground the grain into cereal.
They developed a curiosity for science, exploration, and perhaps, even love. And they conceived of transoceanic travel. Micronesian navigators built sailing canoes in which they navigated the open seas for hundreds of miles, using only the stars for reference and arriving at islands that were not visible from their point of departure. It was around this time in history that writing and city-states emerged in many geographically disconnected societies around the globe.
As civilization emerged in the Fertile Crescent in western Asia and the sprawling city of Mohenjo-Daro rose along the Sarasvati River in what is now Pakistan, the dietary staples of the political and religious leaders came from the Himalayan rivers and the Mediterranean Sea. These were fish and mollusks rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a brain food that has become increasingly scarce in today’s human diet. DHA provided the neuronutrient boost that brought the previously installed prefrontal cortex’s software online. However, while the prefrontal software was already installed in all humans of the time, the masses, though capable of tapping into the wisdom of this brain, were still struggling between two mind-sets—the old and the new.
Located in the front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex takes on critically important significance as our link to the future, our key to enlightenment, and the answers to those ancient
questions: How can we live long and healthy lives, unaffected by debilitating illness and degenerative brain disease? How can we turn the dense lead of human awareness into the gold of enlightened consciousness? How can we program the brain for life, health, and joy? How will we evolve?
The prefrontal cortex is associated with brain functions such as reasoning, invention, science and creative thinking. Many of the functions of the prefrontal cortex remain a mystery, but we know that it is associated with personal initiative and the ability to project future scenarios, and it is quite likely the place where our individuality and sense of self developed.
When our brain performs synergistically, our prefrontal cortex is fully awakened, and we have the ability to develop the very highest form of intelligence and creativity—and remain grounded and effective in the world. We understand who we are in relationship to our village and our history. Able to think originally, we recognize what holds us back from achieving a higher level of consciousness and what will help us to attain it. We recognize how we can survive and thrive.