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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Acknowledging the Enteric Nervous System in the Gut To Provide a New Image and New Myth of Humanity

Robert Sterling wrote the following response to my comment on our last post written by him on this blog. I think he brilliantly lays out the underlying basis by acknowledging the ENS for a new myth for humanity that the late Joseph Campbell challenged us to explore and create:

You are correct the old myth doesn’t fit any more. This myth has been so thoroughly institutionalized; so much written about, based upon the various versions of the myth in many cultures; many professions are based on its mystery; and many innocent young people have died for it, that it has become a fact of life in many minds which are not open for discussion. However, the old myth must give way to a new myth based upon new discoveries of clinical psychology and modern medical research.

The old myth temporarily solved the mystery of human nature by looking outward toward another mysterious world, the unreachable unknowable heavens, for centuries. Since space travel, and sensory confirmation, that heavenly place of rest has been brought into serious question.

A new myth has been offered by clinical experience and medical science, this time looking for answers to the mysteries of human nature toward the inner world of the human body. This sensory conformation is made possible through the use of psychology, of electro-chemistry, gene patterns, modern research techniques, scientific instrumentation and, human intuition. As the result of this research effort, the story qualifies as a myth, since there are still many more unknowns-mysteries of human nature-to be examined.

The change of myth for the individual involves a change of images of the human Self. The image of the old myth is a person with one brain with a single central nervous system, which requires an external source of control to manage the duality of its personality-the Self with a dual personality of good and evil.

The new image of the individual involves two sources of intelligence, the upper brain with its central nervous system(CNS), and a second brain with its separate nervous system in the gut, the enteric nervous system(ENS) (Gershon, 1998). This second intelligence center provides the inner source of organismic self-control when properly nourished throughout the growth process. The mystery of this second center of intelligence, involves the DNA/RNA, installed at conception, and entered into every cell as the new organism develops. The concept of good and evil disappears from the image and Self Control and Self Acceptance takes its place when the inner needs of the organism are fulfilled (Love, 2006, 2008). When cultural attention is directed toward a full life for each child in his/her early learning experience, there should be far less concern for his future behavior as an adult.

The new image includes the fact that the second center of intelligence is installed during the development of the fetus and is completed and operating at birth. While only the neurons for potential neuro-sensory growth of the (CNS) are available at birth; the intelligence of the upper brain is dependent on the post-birth development of the externally directed sensory skills (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell are dependent upon the quality or the environments to which the newborn is exposed). Thus, the upper brain cavity is essentially empty at birth and fills as experience is obtained on a “first come first served” basis-pretty much “the luck of the draw.” (Eliot, 1999).

Because of these temporal differences in the development of the human organism — the second brain first and the upper brain last — we postulate that the Second Brain (Gershon, 1998), the gut brain, contains the stabilizing influence — the feed back of its wisdom gathered over eons of time (and of the two brains, it is the most likely link to archetypal human history) and the wisdom of its stability, its experience maintaining the specie. Thus, this feed-back becomes the built-in direction toward the organism’s destiny.

Under normal conditions, the two centers of intelligence work in harmony together sending signals of conditions in each other’s domain. The sensory signals are normally strong and multiple while the signals from the inner gut are feeling and are easily overwhelmed by the senses, and easily ignored without special attention. It is this special attention we seem not to have learned or are loosing, which seems to be the cause of the communications disconnect between the two centers, and this deprives us of our needed directions.

Under conditions of stress, the gut brain can become a disturbing influence to the upper, externally directed brain. When the outside environment fails to meet the needs of the organism, or the upper brain attempts to distort the directions from the second brain, depending on the degree of stress, the inner second brain can reduce the energy available to the organism, thereby causing it to reconsider. There seems to be a constant dialog between the two brains at all times. This constant feed-back produces an interesting set of regulating qualities of behavior and suggest that it is the possible sources of ethics, morality, and the boundary conditions of Acceptance and Control of the Self and of others, and of other forms of life (A Reverence For Life), as described by Albert Schweitzer in the last century published in the periodical Christendom (1 [1936]: 225-39).

We have certainly described a new image if not a basis for a new myth of humanity. We have also taken the liberty to utilize our combined intuitive processes to carefully examine the material on which our intuitions are based-a combination of thinking and feeling intelligence from both centers
relative to the factual material as we understand it. We would welcome a dialog with anyone.


Eliot, Lise, PhD, (1999). What’s going on in there? How the brain and mind develop in the first five Years of life. Bantam Books.

Gershon, Michael D., M. D., (1998). The Second Brain, Your Gut Has a Mind of Its Own. Harper Collins.

We welcome your responses and dialog.

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