YOUR THREE BRAINS
According to various researchers for example Paul Maclean, during 1978 .Proposed the idea that we have three brains and not one. This is a difficult notion to grasp, but stay with it for a moment. Imagine you can reach forward and remove the two outer brains: they will come away quite easily and you will be left with an apricot-sized object (see Figure 1). This is sometimes called your primitive or reptilian brain; as its name suggests, it is the bit that even simple creatures like reptiles have. It governs your most basic survival instincts, for example whether, if threatened, you will stay to fight or run away.
It seems also to control other basic functions such as the circulation of your blood, your breathing, and your digestion. Now retrieve the smaller of the two “brains” that you took off earlier. It is shaped a bit like a collar and fits around the reptilian brain. It is sometimes referred to as your limbic system. This is the part of your brain that you share with most mammals. Scientists think it deals with some of the important functions driving mammals, for example, processing emotions, and dealing with the input of the senses and with long-term memories.
Finally, pick up the outer, third brain. This is the part that sits behind your forehead and wraps around the whole of your mammalian brain. (Think of one of your hands held horizontally and palm downward, gripping your other hand that you have clenched into a fist.) You probably recognize this bit! It is the stuff of science fiction movies to see its crinkled and lined shape swimming in a glass jar of liquid. It is the most advanced of your three brains, you’re learning brain. It deals with most of the higher-order thinking and functions. In evolutionary terms, your small, reptilian brain is the oldest and the outer, learning brain is the most recently acquired.
Thinking about the brain in this way helps us see how human beings have progressed from primitive life forms. It also helps to explain in a very simple way why we cannot learn when we are under severe stress. In such situations it is as if a magic lever is pulled telling our outer learning brain to turn off and retreat, for survival’s sake, to our primitive brain. Here the choice is quite simple, flight or fight.
It leaves no room for subtlety of higher thinking.In fact, it is much more “plastic” and fluid in how it deals with different functions. Many parts of the brain can learn to perform new functions and there is much unused capacity.
YOUR DIVIDED BRAIN.
Imagine you are a magician doing a trick with an orange, which you have secretly cut in half beforehand. You tap the orange and it magically falls neatly into two halves, a right and a left hemisphere, before an astonished audience. Imagine your brain falling into two halves, with the same startling effect. The ancient Egyptians first noticed that the left side of our brain appeared to control the right half of our body, and vice versa.
More recently and more significantly, during 1960s, Roger Sperry discovered that the two halves of the brain are associated with very different activities known as the corpus callosum. For many centuries before this, scientists thought that we had two brains, just as we have two kidneys, two ears, and two eyes. Work on stroke patients, however, where parts of their brains have been damaged, gives us some interesting further clues.
It seems that the left side mainly handles sequential, mathematical, and logical issues, while the right is more creative and associative in the way it works. The left is literal, while the right enjoys metaphorical interpretation. The two sides perform different functions, the left side, for example, dealing with much of the brain’s language work.
Roger Ornstein, in the Right Mind, has gone further in showing how the two halves actually work together and how the right side has a special role in dealing with the more complex overall meaning of many of the issues we face today. Indeed, the idea of being left- or right-brained is becoming more commonly used in business.
Ned Hermann, while working at General Electric, translated much of this into useful insights for the workplace, exploring how each of us has inbuilt preferences toward the left or the right side of our brains.
The left brain is the more logical and rational half. It makes judgments and relies on the intellect. It likes to do things one at a time and plays by the rules. The right side is the source of our intuition and imagination. It is playful and likes to take great leaps of thought. It enjoys creating new patterns and solutions.
Hermann takes the idea that our brains have two halves and adds to it a theory that we have already met, that higher-order thinking takes place at the top of your “learning” brain, while the more basic emotional functions are located at the bottom, toward the “reptilian” brain. Hermann suggests that your instinctive characteristics will be different depending on which side and which “quarter” of your brain is dominant. Your brain is, in a sense, hot-wired to lead you to want to act in certain ways.
I have deliberately used two kinds of words in this Figure. The first set of words is neutral, while the second and third are more obviously biased, the kind of things you might hear in an office or from teenagers at home!.
Throughout Power Up Your Mind, you will be finding out about ways of analyzing yourself as a learner. It is very important to realize that there are no right or wrong ways of approaching life and learning. Each is equally valuable.
Each characteristic is capable of being described positively and negatively. And the most important thing of all is that you can change the way you do things. You can learn to work and live smarter!
In many workplaces, left-brain characteristics appear to be the ones that are most valued. Increasingly, however, the more creative elements offered by right-brain thinking are being acknowledged as just as important. If you have developed the capacity to use your brain effectively, then you will be able to use positive words from all of the segments to describe your behavior at work. In other words, you will have learned how to acquire a range of different characteristics.
Dividing our brains up into imaginary quarters in this way is another huge oversimplification, although it is biologically true that we do have two hemispheres in our brain connected by the corpus callosum.
We now know, for example, through the work of Stanislaus Dehaen, that a simple mathematical sum, which you might assume was a leftbrain function, is much more complex. If you express a problem as “What is two plus two?” you are probably using the left hemisphere.
But if you reframe the question as “2 + 2 = ?” it is likely that you will use brain areas in both the right and left sides. In fact, as Roger Ornstein and others have pointed out, there is almost nothing that we do that is governed by only one side. Moreover, we have found out that stroke victims can learn to use their undamaged side for tasks previously undertaken by the other side.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to think of the different approaches that seem to be dominant in the two different halves of the brain. With a mental model like this we can begin to explore apparently conflicting approaches to life, the dynamic tensions between the logical and the intuitive.
Of course, it is never a simple question of “either/or,” just as neuroscience shows that it is rarely a simple issue of “right” or “left.” . And just as our extraordinary brain demonstrates its plasticity and flexibility, so we can learn to adapt and change our behavior beyond the quarter that may instinctively dominate for each of us. As with the idea that we have three brains not one, thinking about your brain’s two halves gives you a visual model to help you begin to understand why certain people behave in different ways.