Behavioral Science

Self-Improvement and the Neuroscience of Freemasonry: Part I

FREEMASONRY’S unique approach to human development is difficult to explain to the uninitiated. As discussed in an earlier article, the Craft has often been described as a “peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,” which is about as clear as Mississippi mud to the average person. Such a definition, without additional explanation, offers little in the way of clarity or increased understanding. It is my hope that by applying modern scientific research particularly by viewing the subject through the lens of neuroscience, those seeking to understand how Masonry works to improve individuals, and subsequently humanity as a whole, will become easier to understand. 

What Masonry seeks to do is to free its members from the chains which bind us to a mundane existence – a life of disappointment, disillusionment, and unnecessary suffering. As Bro. Edmund Burke (1729-1797) stated:

“It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate passions cannot be free; their passions forge their fetters.” 

~ Bro. Burke


FREEEMASONRY teaches the importance of the inculcation of virtue and self-directed moral action for the Brother striving towards true freedom. The first integral task required of the newly initiated Brother is to subdue their passions: an antiquated phrase that requires some research and investigation into the historical definition of the term.

In and prior to the 18th Century, when Masonic rituals were formally codified, the conceptualization of “passions” meant a lack of self-control and inability to apply reason and logic to guide one’s actions. Unruly passions were seen as analogous to being intemperate in one’s behavior – governed by animal-like instincts and the need for immediate self-gratification. In order for the new Mason to improve and progress on the golden path, he must develop and apply the Masonic Cardinal Virtue of Temperance.

Intemperate individuals are not free; they are more animal than human, for they allow their base nature to control their lives. Unable to properly self-regulate their emotional state, they swing from one extreme to another and exist in a state of perpetual reaction to external stimuli. When provoked by another person or some external, stressful situation, such an individual allows their “passions” to rule.

What Freemasonry works to achieve is a stoic level of self-control where the Brother is able to control himself when exposed to difficult or intense external stress. In essence, the individual moves from living a world of reaction to a world of proactive, self-creation.

The Temperate Mason is free because his passions, or uncontrolled limbic system, are no longer in control. His rational mind takes hold of the reins, establishing executive functioning and the willpower to overcome.

This is done vis-à-vis the development and strengthening of the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC), the most forward and exterior portion of the front lobe (here displayed in pink). This part of the brains allows us to plan, make decisions, take action to accomplish larger goals, and moderate social behavior; it is internal “command central” for moral, upright, and free-thinking individuals who possess maturity and sound judgement. 

Check out Part II of this series to learn more about neuroscience and how Freemasonry develops and improves the human brain…

7 replies »

  1. The mental muscle of memory work and repeating the 30,000 words in the degrees certainly helps establish a better rote memory and the ability to recall everything in life that people say and do over long periods of associating with them. When actions fail to match the words people say, it gives you clear insight into their own heart and intentions. Then you know what you’re dealing with and some people have to be kept at a distance from you and dealt with accordingly for peace of mind and harmony to flourish in your own life and the lives around you.

    Liked by 2 people

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