As Jill Bolte Taylor was recovering from her left brain stroke, she experienced the amazing plasticity of our brains. When there as been a loss of functionality, the neurons quickly reconnect into new response patterns. We regain motor and cognitive abilities because the brain is predisposed to make new connections. We naturally restore previous abilities and acquire new ones. There was a point in her recovery where she could not say what she was on her mind, but she could sing what she wanted to say. She could type emails on her computer, but not read what she had written or correct her spelling. She could vividly recall what had happened but not get those feelings and images expressed in words.
All these experiences of hers suggest that the right brain rarely functions in isolation. The thick corpus callosum between the two hemispheres provides evidence of heavy traffic between the left and right halves of the neocortex. Any independent right brain functionality can only be sorted out following a lobotomy or severe left brain stroke. We may experience the right brain in isolation when deep in meditation or dream states. Yet, any reductionistic analysis of cognitive functionality is a misrepresentation. Over-simplifying in brain science is as problematic as categorizing components of networks, markets, communities and ecologies. Yet the only way we can form sentences and communicate our perspectives with language lacks sufficient recursiveness and paradox to capture the actual complexity.
Both our stomachs and hearts contain numerous brain cells. The presence of neurons outside our craniums suggest a more networked approach to learning, deciding and responding to situations. The limbic system, below the neocortex, also joins in every reaction. As I've reflected on how our right brains might play into this "whole body cognition", here's a possibility I'm considering:
- Limbic system dominant: When faced with unquestionable danger or opportunity, our limbic system takes control. Faster than we can think about it, we react with strong urges. Our heart and gut are agitated while our left brain thinking cannot explain "what got into us all of a sudden". Our right brain is imagining the best result from the opportunity or worst outcome of the danger. We are "running a routine" that has worked before that may get labeled an addiction, compulsion, fight/fight response, panic attack, limbic hijacking or misdirected displacement of anxiety. We lack emotional intelligence and will probably regret our actions "when we come to our senses" (rehashing it in our left brains after the incident). People experience us as high maintenance, moody or irrational.
- Left brain dominant: When faced with questionable danger or opportunities, our limbic system gets overridden by our left brain reasoning. We logically consider our options and think through the consequences of each alternative. We demonstrate some emotional intelligence by thinking about our urges instead of acting them out. Our heart and gut are agitated by the uncertainty and imposed discipline. We experience being torn between head and heart, logic and emotion, or self control and passionate pursuits. Our right brain pictures the different scenarios and foresees the possible outcomes. People experience us as controlling, rigid or fixated on one right answer.
- Right brain dominant: When faced with like-minded others, our right brain sets up the dynamics. Our pattern recognition abilities get a sense of where others are coming from and how to relate to them effectively. Our creative resources come up with ways to contribute to, care for and empathize with their concerns. Our imaginative abilities visualize possible collaborations and experiences of companionship. Our hearts and guts are energized and congruent while the right brain responds to the situation. We can go with our gut or follow our heart to make wise choices with uncanny timing, insight and comprehensiveness. All the while, our left brains are chattering away with justifications, worries and guilt trips about past encounters, potential dangers and negative outcomes. Our limbic system is contributing emotions to the mix like love, appreciation and enthusiasm. People experience us as compassionate, fluid and understanding.