PFC and Central Executive Network

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The pre-frontal cortex is the latest stage of evolution of the human brain.  It is our crowning glory.  It is what really sets human beings apart from animals … when we actually use it, that is.

The PFC is part of the frontal lobe – see extract below from the full brain diagram:


It includes:

  • Short term and working memory.  This is like the CPU in a computer.  It holds that information on which we are focused, our current attention.  Modern psychology research suggests that this part of the brain can process 40 – 50 bits (chunks) of information per second.  This is pretty good, but is much less than the 11 million bits of information the Limbic brain is dealing with each second.  The rest of the brain pre-filters out the sensory information so we only deal with what is critically important here – our immediate area of focus.
  • Cognitive reasoning and thinking – concrete and abstract
  • Planning, goal setting
  • Inhibition – decide when and when not to respond in social situations.  This includes the ability to lie.  It actually requires a high degree of brain development in order to lie.
  • Pure, cold, unemotional rational thought

Manas and Buddhi

The important point to understand here is the difference between the “thinking” in the Central Executive Network, and the “thinking” that goes on in the Default Mode Network which is where we spend most of our waking hours.  In the CEN there is no indecision, and no long drawn-out cogitating.  The CEN knows instantly what to do.  Typically what happens is that the DMN is in charge; it gets an immediate answer from the CEN, and then the cogitating starts.  This is not real thinking.  EEG and MRI imaging of the brain is helping to show how this happens.

The ancient Hindu traditions understood this difference.  The words they used were:

  • Manas – the normal thinking mind, or “monkey mind” (DMN)
  • Buddhi – the higher intellect (CEN)

Refer back to the section on neural networks to understand how we switch between the DMN and CEN.  The PFC is the domain of the Buddhi.