The Thinking, Feeling, Evolving Brain

Evolution Blue


Millions of years before we were thinking organisms, we were in our evolution collectively and individually sensing, feeling, and intuiting organisms.

The brain’s frontal lobes and their executive functions emerged only much later.

In other words, we had a thalamic feeling/sensing/intuitive brain for millions of years before the thinking functions of the frontal lobes and their executive functions evolved.

We have not, however, evolved nearly so far as some science would lead us to believe. Our frontal lobes have not replaced, by any means, the feeling, sensing and intuiting functions of the thalamic brain.

However, the evolutionary task today, in which we are all engaged, involves a balance or ‘coming into alignment’ of the proficiency of the frontal lobes with the “earthy” power of the thalamic brain.

In our tendency to “over think,” the thalamic brain reasserts its claims to deeper and different functions of the integration and action process.

It is important to understand the need to quiet the frontal lobes and to listen more deeply and differently to the messages of the rest of the brain, as in meditation.

Even our science has not caught up with this balancing, evolving brain.

Thinking, as we define it narrowly today, certainly has a strong role in our consciousness.

Feelings Circle

But the emotions you are used to feeling and the emotional patterns which you are used to, and in some cases even addicted to, also affect both thought and feeling.

The core issue in addiction, for example, is recycling and being unable to let go of an emotional pattern, far more based in the old brain than managed by the new brain.

Trigger the beginning emotion of an addictive cycle and you set in motion a series of emotions that lead to addictive behavior.

Thinking has little to do with it. In fact, in the addictive process (and in other times in life), thinking is the slave of feelings and reasoning has little to do with the process.

New findings show the old brain to be much more involved in addictive behavior than previously considered.

Our emotions are the most fundamental way that we measure our lives.

We want most to “feel good.”

© Dr. William K. Larkin 


About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • James

    Our thinking and feeling are connecting in our ever-evolving
    brain. Our thoughts impact our feelings and our feelings, thoughts. In fact,
    our emotional states are the most fundamental way that we measure our lives and
    create meaning. And so it follows than that that’s what the Upspiral enables us
    as NeuroPositive coaches and our clients to do is feel good more of the time
    and thereby create lives full of meaning and thriving.

    As a career coach who works with clients going through the
    often scary transition of job change, this neuroscience work continues to be of
    exceptional value to me and my clients. For example, when, as a coach, you can
    normalize transitions as feeling unsteady by describing them to clients as
    their brain making new neuropathways and connections, it takes a known
    psychological experience and makes it easier to talk about with analytical
    individuals or people who put faith in science.

    Further, as I reflected further on this post, my attention
    was brought to the benefits of meditation and I began to brainstorm different
    ways that my clients could incorporate meditation into their job search
    strategy and tool box.

    After my attention went to my clients, my focus went to my
    experience in the last few weeks of running my business. I found myself
    periodically getting anxious about where my next client was coming from or if
    the bills were going to be paid for the month. Both of these thoughts come from
    a place of scarcity and lead me to the DownSpiral of doom. Instead, I took my
    attention to identifying what my goals were for the day, believing that they
    were achievable, and acceptance that a force greater than myself would bring
    these things to pass.

    Infact, today, I asked for 3 new clients and out of the blue
    – from LinkedIn, Google, and a previous colleague all reached out to me to pursue
    a coaching partnership. I sat back and smiled, because I could get addicted to
    these different patterns of thinking, feeling and responding.

    Much gratitude.

  • Audrey Sloofman

    I’ve been in an ongoing dialogue with a friend of mine around which comes first, thinking or feeling. He insists that feelings are the result of thoughts. However, I have all too often found myself feeling something and then gone searching for (i.e., thinking about) why. This diagram of the cyclical nature of Thinking and Feeling makes much more sense to me. At times I have fallen into this cycle of negative thoughts and feelings, one feeding upon the other. As I work on my positive affect with deliberately generating positive thoughts and feelings using the tools I have been learning in class, I am discovering the power I have over my thoughts as well as my feelings. Having been around many addicts in my life (I have a few of my own, chocolate for one!), I have witnessed the driven, illogical behavior of these people who could not pull themselves from the pull of the addictive behavior with logical and sensible thinking. In every case, where I have seen transformative behavior in my addicted loved ones, I have seen a shift that has come from some deep emotional place first, and then the thinking merged with that. In addition, there has usually been a spiritual component to the addicts’ recovery. I suspect this is one way to accommodate “the need to quiet the frontal lobes and to listen more deeply and differently the messages of the rest of the brain.”

  • Dr. gloria wright


  • Dr. gloria wright

    In a recent situation that was upsetting, I found myself obsessing about it. Intellectually, I knew that obsessing was to no avail. As I examined more closely, I realized that this was old brain, old family tapes working overtime. Being misjudged, misunderstood and scapegoated was an old pattern. I remembered the familiarity of how I felt as a child.
    It took great focus and meditating on positive thoughts, feelings and beliefs to eventually get my brain back on track. I understood that these old patterns were a challenge to change, and that it was possible. I re-remembered that I have a choice – in how I react to life and what it brings me.
    I think sometimes when we feel overwhelmed or fall into a temporary state of being a victim, we feel as if we have no control. In a course that I am taking on Happiness and Life Fulfillment, there was a section on being over controlling. When we try, in vain, to control the outcome of life’s circumstances, we are not in control of our internal thoughts and emotions. The class reinforced that we must take personal responsibility of our own happiness. To do this, we must first be in control of our thoughts, emotions and beliefs.
    Sometimes this is an uphill battle for me, especially when I am upset. I am committed to do whatever it takes to be happy in my life. I choose to accept that are things outside my control and that I truly only control myself. When take responsibility for my happiness, it means I must choose how I feel and react and that when I manage my thoughts, feelings and beliefs, I am much better able to stay in a state of being grateful, loving and happy.
    It’s no different than choosing to eat right, exercising and getting plenty of sleep and rest. It’s a way of life – not a temporary diet or exercise program. I did, however, make a batch of homemade Ghirardelli chocolate chip cookies! 🙂

  • Sandra Lintz

    When John Lennon was a child he responded to the question about what he wanted to be when he grew up by saying happy. He wanted to be happy. I’d say that’s pure emotional intelligence. We measure our success in life with the emotion of happiness. When we are “happy” we are where we want to be. Society measures success in achievements and collections of material wealth and tells us if we have these things we will be happy. That puts many people on the wrong trail of achieving and collecting in hopes of finding happiness. Some people get things and have achievements and then feel empty; these things did not result in the happiness promised. Through ANI we’ve learned how we can be happy for no reason, with nothing but our internal presence within ourselves. We generate our own happiness within ourselves. Happiness along with a multitude of other positive emotions are always within us. It’s not all that far fetched to make a career of happiness. In fact, that is advisable. Be happy first and foremost. From that happiness create your life filled with relationships and career. Be in your relationships with happiness. Do your work with happiness. If you are unhappy find the happiness before making other life changes. The changes of themselves will not bring lasting happiness.

  • jeris hollander

    It is fascinating to learn about the different systems of the brain as they relate to thoughts, emotions, instinct, intuition, and achieving a sense of balance. Our most primitive “reptilian” brain acts on basic instincts such as hunger, fight or flight, and temperature control. As we evolved, we formed what is known as the limbic system or “mammalian brain.” It is here where we developed the capacity to feel various emotions and record them in our memory. The 3rd brain system, the neocortex is the most highly evolved area of the brain, enabling us to engage in more complex thinking, understanding of emotions, planning and social interaction. Although our brains have evolved tremendously, our oldest and most primitive reptilian brain is hard at work regulating our instinctual behaviors and defenses, such as aggression and dominance. As Dr. Larkin said, “We have not, however, evolved nearly so far as some science would lead us to believe. Our frontal lobes have not replaced, by any means, the feeling, sensing and intuiting functions of the thalamic brain.” When we engage in practices such as meditation, we are creating more stillness in the frontal lobes, decreasing our stress response, and allowing for more harmonious integration of the 3 brain systems. In doing so, we also increase our chances of breaking the cycles of addiction and negative behavioral patterns by creating a quieter, balanced brain. Additionally, when we use the tools to create and maintain positive emotions, we are promoting the development of a healthier, happier brain while diminishing the old addictive patterns. The combination of meditation and living in an upspiral seem to be to most effective way to achieve the balance, alignment, and peace we all desire in our lives.

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute