"In a new challenge to the long standing belief that adults never generate new brain cells, biologists at Princeton University have found that thousands of freshly born neurons arrive each day in the cerebral cortex, the outer rind of the brain, where higher intellectual functions and personality are centered."
(The New York Times, 10/99)
The brain consists of three layers, each corresponding to a different evolutionary stage: The deepest layer is called the “reptilian brain.” In addition to basic body functions it controls movement, wakefulness and decisions about safety.
The mid-brain, known as limbic or “mammalian brain,” is in charge of emotions and storing long term memories. (The reptilian and mammalian brain layers are non-cognitive, which means non-verbal, non-linear, and non-logical.)
The outermost brain layer is the most recent addition and is referred to as “the human brain.” Divided into two distinct hemispheres, the left brain and the right brain, this is the seat of abstract thinking, creativity and innovation.
The left brain is the cognitive part: this is where speech, language and reason are located as well as the consciousness of self. It represents only a small percentage of the total brain. There was a time when it was considered superior because of it’s cognitive ability.
The right brain receives input from the lower layers and therefore is associated with emotion, movement and other non-cognitive functions. It also governs intuition, imagination and perceives the big picture. Because of that it has been elevated to the pedestal in recent years as the “creative brain.” The truth is that neither left brain nor right brain can work very well by itself.
People who favor their left brains and under-use the right brains may be good accountants but poor athletes, good with words but unable to express feelings, good with details but unable to keep track of why a job needs to be done in the first place.
People who favor their right brains may be “spaced out,” always late, and full of creative ideas which they may not be able to put to practical use. A person stuck in the mammalian brain may be excessively emotional, disorganized and not able to think. Someone stuck in the reptilian brain may be cold, unable to form relationships, and may refuse to learn anything new.
When parts of our brains do not communicate well with each other, we perceive the world as full of irreconcilable differences and conflicts. It can be hypothesized that the conflicts we see in the outer world are the personification of conflicts within our brains. When our brains become integrated, we may see new and often surprising solutions, where none seem to have existed before. To function at our best, we need to have access to the our whole brains.