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The Guardienne: Autonomous, Semi-sentient Protective Region of the Human Brain

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Abstract and Figures

The Guardienne is the brain's emergency center, an autonomous, semi-sentient region which includes the limbic system and bypasses the frontal cortex when activated by a threat. Autonomy and the Guardienne’s midbrain location are necessitated to minimize reaction time in emergencies. The Guardienne’s speed may explain or partially explain behavior anomalies such as: hypnic jerks, deja vu, being “in the zone,” etc. The Guardienne overlaps the brain’s memory regions, explaining or partially explaining eidetic memory, PTSD, and other phenomena. The Guardienne can also take control during sleep or somnambulism, while hypnotized or intoxicated, and possibly while retrieving stressful memories. Unfamiliar surroundings or unsettling thoughts may activate it momentarily. Generally, the larger the Guardienne, the more autonomy it has. The Guardienne’s autonomy explains highway hypnosis and the tendency of alcoholics to relapse, depending on its size. Relative male:female Guardienne size may account for higher alcoholism rates in males. Designed for emergencies only, the Guardienne has no conscience.
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The Guardienne: Autonomous, Semi-sentient Protective Region of the Human Brain
Geoffrey L. Guenther, MS
Independent Researcher
“The Guardienne” is proposed as a label for the emergency response network of the human
brain. This hypothetical network receives input via the optic, auditory or olfactory nerves and
transmits output to the nearby brainstem. The Guardienne probably involves parts of the
midbrain region, such as the amygdala, thalamus, and pons. For fastest response, it is
autonomous, i.e., it has the ability to assume and maintain control of the body upon detection of
a threat. It is semi-sentient, with a will independent of the conscious mind, which it can
sometimes overrule. As a mechanism intended for emergencies, it has no conscience and
generally ignores all but the immediate consequences of its actions. When activated, the
Guardienne’s input and output signals bypass the frontal cortex, minimizing the total signal path
and saving milliseconds. The Guardienne’s interconnections with the temporal lobes are also
short, permitting it to store and retrieve memories faster and possibly in more detail than the
prefrontal cortex. The Guardienne provides (1) low response times, (2) enhanced athletic
performance, and (3) greater emergency strength. The Guardienne Hypothesis may also explain
or partially explain other familiar phenomena: (4) hypnic jerks, (5) high dream speed, (6) sleep-
walking, (7) “Life Reviews,” (8) déjà vu, (9) hypnosis, (10) “ESP,” (11) savant syndrome.
Negative effects of the Guardienne may include (12) alcoholism, (13) alcoholic blackouts, (14)
high alcoholism rates, (15) road rage, (16) denial, (17) insomnia, (18) PTSD, (19) highway
hypnosis, and (20) Freudian slips.
Part I: The Question
Why do alcoholics often relapse, even after 10, 20, 25 years of sobriety? It’s not lack of will
power; alcoholics typically have, if anything, an excess of self-will. It’s as if another will is
present in them, one that knows nothing of reasons for sobriety, knows only that it wants to
drink. The question then becomes, why would human anatomy contain such a potentially
dysfunctional element? To exist, despite millennia of evolution, it must have offsetting survival
value. Perhaps that second will is part of the survival system itself.
Part II: The Hypothesis
Every human brain has an autonomous, semi-sentient protective network that is separate from
the conscious mind and can take control of the body in an emergency. It may also take over at
night in some form. “The Guardienne” is used here for this network.
The emergency center literally has a will of its own because consulting the prefrontal cortex for
permission to take control would delay response. The Guardienne is designed for action, not
rational thought, and once it has taken control, it would be fully autonomous and not necessarily
very rational. Activation of the Guardienne is often accompanied by euphoria or feelings of
invincibility, which may play a large part its addictive nature.
Part III: Previous concepts
Popular culture, science, religion, and literature contain analogues for the Guardienne, though
none of them are truly equivalent. They include (a) Hitler’s “Voice,” which he believed guided
him infallibly; (b) convict culture’s interior embodiment of a demonic tattoo reputed to protect
the wearer; (c) the familiar whispering “devil on your shoulder” image; (d) Emanuel
Swedenborg’s similar four guiding angels, two good and two evil; (e) Jack Trimpey’s “Beast;”
(f) psychology’s “lizard brain” or “reptilian brain,” which some use as a synonym for the
amygdala; and (g) abnormal psychology’s “voices in your head.” None of these concepts
includes all the features of the Guardienne, nor a specific location in the brain, except for the
Part IV: Location
The emergency response region has high probability of an in- or near-midbrain location, with
connections to the amygdala, thalamus, and pons. The involvement of regions distant from the
midbrain, such as the cerebellum, are not ruled out, but might reduce the Guardienne’s
effectiveness because of the longer signal path(s). The Guardienne probably straddles the plane
of the longitudinal fissure, not far from the brain-stem, to minimize output signal distance.
Similarly, it would have direct access to auditory, visual, and olfactory signals, bypassing the
frontal lobe.
The midbrain is known to handle visual and auditory signals that are necessary sensory inputs to
the Guardienne. The amygdala is a center of emotion and aggression, the latter being likely
involved in emergency response. The thalamus is an intermediate receptor of incoming signals
related to consciousness, sleep, and memory. The lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus
connects signals to the visual cortex. The pons, further down the brain stem, is a nerve bundle
serving different parts of the brain and carrying sensory information. Also of potential interest
are the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus, which connects to the visual cortex at the very
back of the brain, and possibly even the reticular formation, fibers which carry signals related to
sleep and stimulation through the brain stem.
None of these regions are very large, but as an emergency mechanism, the Guardienne wouldn’t
require much volume or complexity. It probably contains no memory neurons, relying instead on
the adjacent temporal lobes for any memory requirements. Fischer et al[1] found that a small
area of the brainstem was strongly associated with consciousness, so Guardienne components
may be similarly sized.
Because of its shorter average path from the midbrain to the temporal lobes, compared to the
average distance from prefrontal lobe to temporal lobes, the Guardienne’s memory access may
be superior in speed and detail to that of the prefrontal lobe. The Guardienne probably has few, if
any, prefrontal lobe features, such as a conscience.
Part V: Guardienne Features and Effects
Primary Features
The Guardienne provides (1) low response times, (2) enhanced athletic performance, and,
apparently, (3) greater emergency strength. Explanations:
(1) Low response times: Very roughly speaking, under normal circumstances, a visual stimulus
travels backward from eye to midbrain, to the visual cortex, forward again to the motor cortex,
and finally to the brainstem for implementation. If the Guardienne is activated, it may minimize
the signal path, using supplementary areas, such as the fusiform gyrus (see link), instead of the
frontal cortex. The internal speed of the Guardienne, itself, may be inherently higher than other
(2) Enhanced athletic performance: When an athlete is “in the zone,” the Guardienne has taken
over. Performance, both speed and agility, is improved when the body is controlled by the
Guardienne instead of the frontal cortex. With sufficient training, self-hypnosis may enable the
Guardienne to take control as required.
(3) Greater emergency strength: There are numerous stories of people moving very heavy
objects, even automobiles, in an emergency.
Secondary Features
The Guardienne concept may also explain or partially explain other phenomena: (4) Hypnic
jerks, (5) High dream speed, (6) Sleep-walking, (7) “Life Reviews,” (8) Déjà vu, (9) Hypnosis,
(10) “ESP,” (11) Savant syndrome. The details:
(4) Hypnic jerks: When the conscious mind falls asleep, the Guardienne may take over or
reassign motion control from the primary motor cortex. The resulting faster reflexes may
generate a transient spike to the brain stem, resulting in the muscle contractions known as a
hypnic jerk.
(5) High dream speed: Complex dreams that seem long to the sleeper can be measured as lasting
for only seconds. This may reflect the difference in speeds between the conscious mind and the
(6) Sleep-walking: The Guardienne has access to the body’s locomotive, visual, and cognitive
regions and can perform complex actions while the conscious mind remains sound asleep.
(7) “Life reviews”: A near-death experience, out-of-body experience, or extreme danger may
activate the Guardienne, which could then draw on detailed, nearby temporal lobe memories to
rapidly retrieve important events in the subject’s life.
(8) Déjà vu: Since the Guardienne operates faster than the conscious mind, it can store memory
of an event before the conscious mind can. When the conscious mind tries to store that same
event milliseconds later, it finds the record already there, startling the viewer with a strong
feeling of “this has happened before.”
(9) Hypnosis: Hypnosis involves putting the conscious self to sleep, leaving the Guardienne to
follow the hypnotist’s suggestions.
(10) “Extrasensory” Perception (“ESP”): Signals from the optical, auditory, or olfactory nerves
may be processed or filtered in the Guardienne before reaching the conscious mind. For example,
peripheral vision may alert the Guardienne of a danger not yet seen consciously. This would
appear as if due to ESP. Similarly, a faint sound or one lost in background noise may be
perceptible by the Guardienne.
(11) Savant Syndrome: The Guardienne may be linked to computational areas of the brain and
set them the task of performing complex arithmetic without conscious control. How “savants” do
this is not known, but it may be related to having an uncluttered mind, better memory for
intermediate calculations, less tendency to be distracted, and the fact that they simply don’t know
they can’t do it.
Side effects
Negative effects of the Guardienne may include (12) Alcoholism, (13) Alcoholic blackouts, (14)
High alcoholism rates, (15) Road rage, (16) Denial, (17) Insomnia, (18) PTSD, (19) Highway
hypnosis, (20) Freudian slips. In more detail:
(12) Alcoholism: The Guardienne enjoys being active and will seek to repeat situations where it
can take control. Intoxication is an emergency, and if the Guardienne has enough power, it will
take over after even a single drink is consumed. The Guardienne probably plays a part in other
forms of addiction—raging, gambling, self-pity, compulsive sex, etc.
(13) Alcoholic blackouts: Intoxicated people under the control of the Guardienne can continue to
talk, move, drink, fight, rage, and drive in a manner similar to sleep-walking, after the conscious
mind has passed out.
(14) High alcoholism rates: In a culture characterized by constant tribal warfare, survival will
favor those with the most powerful Guardiennes. Evolution will result in the entire culture
having larger than normal Guardiennes, which could be a factor in higher than average
alcoholism rates.
(15) Road rage: When activated while driving, the Guardienne may take control. This is often
accompanied by an inability to disengage, resulting in a dangerous vehicular confrontation.
(16) Denial: Because visual and auditory signals go to the Guardienne before they reach the
frontal cortex, the Guardienne may be able to filter any input it regards as dangerous or merely
unnecessary, inconvenient or unpleasant. For a possible example of filtering, see the famous
observation video from Simons and Chabris:
(17) Insomnia: The Guardienne may interfere with sleep by over-reacting to and replaying
memories of minor stimuli.
(18) PTSD: Under some circumstances, the Guardienne’s enhanced access to memory in the
adjacent temporal lobes may produce such detailed recollections that it is unable to distinguish
between the memory and the actual event.
(19) Highway Hypnosis: Drivers often go “on automatic” and continue to drive under the
guidance of the Guardienne, with little or no recollection of the route taken. This can be either
good or bad.
(20) Freudian slips: These slips of the tongue are too apposite to be accidental. The Guardienne,
instead of completing the intended statement, rapidly substitutes a truth for a euphemism. Maybe
it just likes to pull pranks on us.
Part VI: Anecdotal Examples
The Motorcyclist
A long-time alcoholic, after many relapses, crashed his motorcycle and lay in a coma for months
with significant brain damage. When he unexpectedly awoke, he noticed immediately that he felt
no urge to drink. Damage to the Guardienne might be one explanation for the cessation of his
alcoholic cravings. (Damage to habit memory may be another.)
The Leaf Burners
Two brothers were burning leaves when embers flew to the barn roof and set it on fire. The next
thing they knew (literally), they were atop the barn, ladling water onto the fire from a galvanized
tub. When the fire was out, they found that the tub was too bulky to carry and they had to toss it
to the ground. They wondered, How did we get this tub up the ladder full, when we couldn’t get
it down the ladder empty? Neither could remember.
The Hutchley Case (names and details have been altered).
A veteran trained in hand-to-hand combat, Hutchley engaged in a long argument with his wife
that turned physical while he was holding their infant. Angry, he put the baby down and wrestled
with the wife, getting her in a choke-hold from behind. According to him, she grabbed a nearby
knife, reached back and tried to stab him. He got control of the knife and stabbed her multiple
times, killing her. He was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to a long prison
term. Had he still been in the grip of his Guardienne? Was there sufficient diminished capacity to
make a verdict of manslaughter more appropriate?
The Soldier
A soldier in France was eating dinner with his friends one night when a voice in his mind
ordered, “Get up and go over there.” He complied without thinking, carrying his rations to a
point 70 feet away, where he sat and continued eating. Seconds later, an artillery shell exploded
near where he’d been less than a minute before. He was the only survivor. It's conceivable that
his Guardienne detected an explosion several hundred yards away, followed a minute later by
another half as far away in the same direction. The soldier was not aware of either sound, but his
savant Guardienne may have extrapolated that the next shell was likely to go off where he was
sitting, and warned him to move.
Part VII: Conclusions
The Guardienne is a necessary feature of human physiology, neither monster nor superhero,
angel or demon. Designed for emergencies, it has no conscience and generally disregards the
consequences of its actions. Guardienne size probably correlates positively with intelligence,
athletic performance, alcoholism, and frequency of deja vu and sleep-walking. Size may not be
the only factor in its power; differences in interconnection with other areas of the brain may be
relevant. Frequent exposure to emergencies may stimulate the Guardienne to take over additional
neurons or alter its interconnections with other regions, and become more powerful.
Part VIII: Proposed Studies
Searches for strong correlations among sleep-walking, PTSD, insomnia, reaction time, deja vu,
and alcoholism might be fruitful.
The Guardienne’s independent decision-making ability may be a factor in the disparity between
the time decisions are made and awareness of the decision, though there are indications that the
frontopolar cortex is involved therein.[2]
The Guardienne’s possible role in hypnic jerks and savant syndrome might be worth
The location, function, and interconnections of the Guardienne with respect to other regions of
the brain may have implications for abnormal psychology, particularly in regard to DID/MPD
and bipolar disorder.
Further study of the Guardienne’s location, structure, and role in alcoholism and PTSD may yield
better treatments or medications.
References [partial]
1. A human brain network derived from coma-causing brainstem lesions; David B. Fischer,
Aaron D. Boes, Athena Demertzi, Henry C. Evrard, Steven Laureys, Brian L. Edlow, Hesheng
Liu, Clifford B. Saper, Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Michael D. Fox, Joel C. Geerling; Neurology Dec
2016, 87 (23) 2427-2434; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000003404
2. Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Soon, C.S., Brass, M., Heinze,
H., & Haynes, J. (2008). Nature Neuroscience, 11, 543-545.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
There has been a long controversy as to whether subjectively 'free' decisions are determined by brain activity ahead of time. We found that the outcome of a decision can be encoded in brain activity of prefrontal and parietal cortex up to 10 s before it enters awareness. This delay presumably reflects the operation of a network of high-level control areas that begin to prepare an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness.
Objective: To characterize a brainstem location specific to coma-causing lesions, and its functional connectivity network. Methods: We compared 12 coma-causing brainstem lesions to 24 control brainstem lesions using voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping in a case-control design to identify a site significantly associated with coma. We next used resting-state functional connectivity from a healthy cohort to identify a network of regions functionally connected to this brainstem site. We further investigated the cortical regions of this network by comparing their spatial topography to that of known networks and by evaluating their functional connectivity in patients with disorders of consciousness. Results: A small region in the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum was significantly associated with coma-causing lesions. In healthy adults, this brainstem site was functionally connected to the ventral anterior insula (AI) and pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC). These cortical areas aligned poorly with previously defined resting-state networks, better matching the distribution of von Economo neurons. Finally, connectivity between the AI and pACC was disrupted in patients with disorders of consciousness, and to a greater degree than other brain networks. Conclusions: Injury to a small region in the pontine tegmentum is significantly associated with coma. This brainstem site is functionally connected to 2 cortical regions, the AI and pACC, which become disconnected in disorders of consciousness. This network of brain regions may have a role in the maintenance of human consciousness.