A Fresh Look at the Split Brain and the Frontal Lobes

An old friend indirectly led me to the video I’ve embedded at the bottom of the page. It’s a very easy to follow cartoon version of a lecture by Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. When I listened to it for the third time a few minutes ago to get quotes for this article, I found myself transcribing the whole text: it was that good. Mercifully, I’ll refrain from making you read the whole thing, since watching it is much more entertaining and, I think, enlightening, since the cartoons engage both hemispheres of the brain.

We need to use both sides of the brain

Both hemispheres are important

McGilchrist jumps right in and addresses the issue of the “debunking” of the split brain theory, saying that “the division of the brain is something neuroscientists don’t like to talk about any more”; the reason being that it simply isn’t true that one side of the brain is solely associated with reason and the other strictly limited to emotion. After that fact was established, “in a fit of despair” people gave up talking about it. Nonetheless, he argues, “the brain is profoundly divided” and, more worryingly, continues to become more lopsided, until today we live in a left-brain dominated world.

What’s wrong with that? Well, as McGilchrist points out, the right hemisphere “has a disposition for the living rather than the mechanical”, can see things in context, understands metaphor and can grasp implicit meaning. The left hemisphere, on the other hand, “yields a world that is ultimately lifeless.”

After re-introducing us to the split brain, Dr. McGilchrist starts talking about the frontal lobes. This was where his talk got really interesting for me, because I’ve had a frontal lobes dilemma lately. Based on my experience with “amygdala tickling”, I had come to the conclusion that frontal lobe activation automatically made one more compassionate and loving. However, neuroscientists refer to it as the “executive center” and see it as being impartial or amoral. McGilchrist seems to agree, saying that “the purpose of the frontal lobes is to inhibit the rest of the brain.” It stands “back in time and space from the immediacy of the experience.” This results in a decision maker who is able to do either of two things:

  1. It can “outwit the other party” (he calls this the Machiavellian mind).
  2. It can empathise (he refers to this as the Erasmian mind).

This came as a revelation to me and pieces of so many puzzles started falling into place – so many puzzles, in fact, I don’t even want to go into them all here or you’ll die of boredom. However, I do want to mention this (from another article I’m working on):

I learned amygdala tickling from Neil Slade‘s website. He emphasises stimulating both hemispheres by visualising tickling both the right and left amygdala. Most meditation techniques emphasise detaching yourself from your habitual “mind chatter” (a left brain activity) which is always good advice and probably helps bridge the gap between hemispheres, but personally, I think we need to make more active efforts to redress the imbalance. As Dr. McGilchrist says, the left hemisphere is “entirely self consistent largely because it’s made itself so” and “it’s very vocal on its own behalf” while “the right hemisphere doesn’t have a voice.”

Why is this so important? Please watch this video to the end and you’ll see why. Don’t panic – it’s only about 10 minutes long and is very entertaining:

The Amazing and Amusing Amygdala

Forgive my title: I couldn’t resist the amazing and amusing amygdala alliteration opportunity

The only thing I don’t like about Neil Slade’s voluminous Amazing Brain website is the sheer size of it. There are so many gems hidden in there, but without taking the time to wade through all the stuff he’s collected over the years, many of the best of them remain as dormant as the average brain. Fortunately, now and then Neil plucks one or two diamonds out of the mine and offers them to his newsletter readers.

Such was the case last week when Neil provided links to two articles by Marie-Louise Oosthuysen de Gutierrez. In the first article, she writes about Wisdom and Amygdala Clicking. She begins by defining wisdom as “good judgement, empathetic understanding, psychological insight, emotional regulation and discerning and shrewd advice.” She took this definition from the “Berlin Wisdom Paradigm”, something I had never heard of before. I looked it up and found a “Wisdom Quiz” which I took and scored a relatively high 4.3 on. I may have cheated a little, though, since it was pretty easy to detect the answers they were looking for. She then goes on to convincingly explain in neurological terms how amygdala clicking can aid in the attaining of wisdom.

The other article, Frontal Lobe Stimulation, starts with a detailed explanation of Paul MacLean’s triune brain theory, which was the basis of TDA Lingo’s theories. In it, she makes the connection between wisdom and stimulation of the frontal lobes via amygdala clicking, saying that in “the absence of an emergency, the prefrontal cortex has the capacity to modify the response of the amygdalae.” What I found most interesting about this sentence was that, intentionally or unintentionally, de Gutierrez was saying that the prefrontal cortex, not the “I” who imagines it is the boss is the one who does the modifying.

Somewhere in the mish-mash of neural activity in our brains is the capacity to make conscious choices. That’s why, after reading Neil Slade’s and TDA Lingo’s “far fetched” theories, I was able to make a decision to try amygdala clicking. What is amusing to me is that, as far as I can tell, the response that follows a successful “foward click” into frontal lobes nirvana, is no more conscious than the reaction that follows a backwards click. Let’s say I didn’t cheat and my 4.3 score indicates that “I” am a relatively wise person. Am I really? Why, for instance, do I feel empathetic when I do? Empathy is not an emotion you can fake and it is often contrary to the much vaunted survival instinct. It just happens, just as an outburst of anger just happens.

Good judgement, too, does not come as a result of some complex intellectual exercise, it seems to come from elsewhere. It just happens. In my case, at least, it often happens in spite of myself. Sometimes, when I’m really “switched on,” I do things that are contrary to what my intellectual perception of “good judgement” is and they turn out to be “my” wisest decisions. On other occasions, I’ve seen “miracles” occur that definitely fall outside the realm of neurology.

We live in interesting times. Between the successfully manufactured fear that fuels the War on Terror, the fear of global warming and the fear of economic collapse, the American collective amygdalae in particular are really working overtime. Some, like yours truly, believe all of these fears are manufactured ones. Who orchestrates them I can’t say for sure, but one thing I strongly believe is that the solution is individually and collectively simple. See the amygdalae for what they are and discover how easy it is to make the simple decision to flip the switch from fear to freedom. That is the only decision you have to make. After that, just let the “still, small voice” of wisdom whisper in your ear.

How to Activate Your Frontal Lobes

I hope I’m not being presumptuous here by offering a brief “How to” manual and I cringe at the thought of sounding preachy, but for what they’re worth, here are some ideas for frontal lobe activation:

Remember the title above, Frontal Lobe Stimulation? That’s a little different from amygdala tickling and may be closer to the mark. Tickling the amygdala with a feather worked brilliantly for me, but since my conversation with Neil, I’ve been rethinking things, as, I believe, he has. Instead of imaginatively switching the negative energy of a “clicked back” amygdala forward, I’ve just been either turning off the switch or, when its voice is too loud, turning down the dial. By reducing amygdaloid activity, I can let my frontal lobes (or perhaps the non-neurological intelligence that runs their show) take over without conscious interference.

However you choose to do it or whatever method you use, the important thing, I think, is to create a space between consciousness and amygdaloid activity. Ramana Maharishi suggested doing this by asking yourself, “Who am I?”  whenever thoughts cropped up. Mantra repetition also seems to “short circuit” amygdaloid activity. Visualisation has the added benefit of being non-verbal.

I believe it’s only when the pesky voices that come from the Dante’s Inferno of the reptilian brain are stilled that we begin to see the Light of wisdom. Do whatever it takes, but “just do it.” You’ll be glad you did – and so will those around you. Who knows? You just might save the world.


A Random Musing about Meditation

I did something unprecedented yesterday: I meditated. By that I mean I sat down with my hands folded together in my lap, closed my eyes and watched my breath go in and out while repeating a “secret” mantra I learned almost 45 years ago. Back then, I meditated almost fanatically, but as the years passed, I gradually eased off on any sort of formal or regular practice.

Yesterday morning I felt completely scattered and torn between work, breakfast and a bike ride. Recognising my lack of focus, I took the previously mentioned steps and meditated for about 15 minutes. When I finished, I felt focused and refreshed and wisely chose a morning ride instead of jumping straight into work.

As I road to the beach, it struck me just how transformative a simple exercise like that can be. Colours and sounds are in sharper focus, with greater depth and clarity. Feelings seem to be more benevolent and compassionate. Thoughts become more optimistic and altruistic. In other words, meditation seems to have the power to make one a better person.

On the downside, in my case, at least, it can be hard for me to shake off that feeling of peace and get back to my “real” life. That’s one of the reasons why I rarely meditate anymore. Amgdala clicking or whatever you want to call it works like a kind of active meditation for me, so I usually stick with that.

Anyway, yesterday passed with hardly a shred of work getting done, so I’m behind today and don’t have time for a long post, but I wanted to share my musing with you. I reckon the best medicine is whatever works to make you happier personally and wish for the happiness and wellbeing of others. If we all did that, imagine what a wonderful world this could be.

An Objective Look at Medical Marijuana

Note: this article was inspired by a Hubpages article, Did the Illegal Criminalization of Marijuana Lead to the Downfall of America? Within a couple of days of publishing, the author received a flurry of comments, so obviously it’s a subject people are interested in, as they should be.

Marijuana leaf

Photo by somethgblue: Is marijuana the evil weed or is it the kind bud?

As part of what seems to be an unfolding process of waking up from a lifetime of brainwashing, a few years ago I was asked to write a series of articles about THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) as a cure for cancer. At that point in time I still bought the line that cancer was incurable and could only be treated with conventional medications (chemotherapy, etc.). However, I looked into it and discovered that it is far more likely that THC can cure cancer and many other diseases and that the medical establishment knows it.

The first article in the series of ten that I ended up writing starts out like this:

Back in 1974, a short clip appeared on the evening news on a few television stations about a study at the Medical College of Virginia. Researchers there discovered that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana, shrank lung and breast tumors in mice. Naturally, viewers who saw the clip were intrigued, but when no more news was forthcoming, most assumed that the study must have come to nothing. They were wrong.

The Virginia study was just one of many that have proved that THC cures or controls not only cancer but a host of other major diseases. The reason why no one heard more about the study was because the FDA shut down the Virginia study and the NIH withdrew its funding. Why did they do this? It was because the NIH gave the researchers the funding to find evidence that marijuana was a harmful substance that damaged the immune system. Their accidental discovery that it was a potential cancer cure was not what they wanted to hear.

A quarter of a century later, a team of researchers in Madrid conducted a similar experiment. According to lead researcher, Manuel Guzman, they had heard of the earlier study, but had been unable to find any documentation on it. 45 rats with confirmed cancers were divided into 3 groups. One group was given THC, a second group was given a synthetic compound similar to THC and the third group was given nothing. The results? “Nine of the THC-treated rats surpassed the time of death of untreated rats, and survived up to 19-35 days. Moreover, the tumor was completely eradicated in three of the treated rats.” Source: http://americanmarijuana.org/pot.shrinks.tumors.html

The news gets better or worse depending on which angle you look at it from. As I wrote in one of my original articles:

In 2006, Scripps Institute released news that a study they conducted showed that THC was more effective than any of the available prescription drugs for the treatment of Alzheimers Disease. The press release was very positive in tone, but also included the disclaimer that they were not advocating the use of illegal drugs. The most disturbing part of the article, however, was the subtitle: “Discovery Could Lead to More Effective Treatments.” What was disturbing about this was that an objective reading of the article led one to the conclusion that there already was a more effective treatment: THC.

This was further corroborated in an article I stumbled across this morning on the ProCon.org Medical Marijuana site, Can marijuana help treat Alzheimer’s Disease?

The good news is this: there are safe and effective natural treatments for cancer and many other “incurable” diseases (marijuana is not the only one, as I recently discovered here in Cambodia). The bad news is that the powers that be don’t want us to know about them. Why? I’ll go into that in a later post, but basically, it boils down to money. You can’t make money if you don’t hold a patent for a medication and you can’t make a killing if you come up with an effective cure.

I’ve just added a PDF to my list of free books and articles. CANNABINOIDS: POTENTIAL ANTICANCER AGENTS, by Manuel Guzman outlines the results of the Madrid study mentioned above. Click on the title or find it on the sidebar. Some of the language is dense, but even dumb laymen like me can get the gist of it.