Which brain am I using?
You will have no doubt heard of the left brain - right brain and how the right is the arty one and the left is logical. To further our anatomical understanding of the brain I wanted to shed some light on what Richard Bergland (a neuroscientist, avid tennis player and father to the triple ironman world record holder) dubbed the Up brain, Down brain.
The Up Brain Down Brain and its differences have enormous parallels to that of the conscious unconscious. Although the structural storage of the unconscious isn’t yet fully understood it is widely recognised that it’s control centre is the cerebellum, whilst the Up Brain refers to the cerebrum. Before this gets too anatomical let's look at the differences.
Up Brain - Down Brain
Conscious - Unconscious
Big - Small
Primate - Reptilian
Thinking - Behaviour
Deciding - Doing/Feeling
Rational - Emotional
Intellectual - Intuitive
Human - Animal
Directions - Autopilot
Conscious - Unconscious
Voluntary - Proprioception
Lyrics - Music
Modern - Primitive
Super Ego - Id
Reality - Dream
Knowing - Knowing without knowing
Ethics - Urges
Sportsman - Survival of fittest
So with these differences laid out in front of us, we could ask the question, which is in control? This has been debated countless times by philosophers and psychologists since the Ancient Greeks although it wasn’t really until Freud that an organised model and the true power of the unconscious was pronounced.
Following the evolution of technology, we are able to understand them both more. Ernst Mayr and Richard Dawkins, two leading evolutionary biologists in 1976 described us as “Open-ended Systems”. That is, we are born with a set of behaviours that have been forged over millions of years that will best prepare us for survival (Down Brain) although these instructions are abstract and extremely general in nature.
We, therefore, have an extended part of our brain openly available to “fine-tune” our survival depending on the specific environment or situation, this is our conscious (Up Brain).
How these two interact is becoming more clear. We know from studies on skill acquisition that we can consciously perform a skill so much that becomes instinctive, thus influencing the Down Brain. We will have all experienced this when learning to drive a car or riding a bike, the key to this is attentive repetition. It is also thought that the same applies to goal pursuits and motivation in general via contextual priming. i.e. The mere presence of certain people or events can automatically activate our response, without thought.
On the other hand, the influence of the Down Brain on our lives is more apparent such as when we get scared watching a movie or the same reason we can get emotional listening to a piece of music. Jordan Peterson suggests that during these times we are experiencing a lesson that resonates with our core values.
At times we may be controlled entirely by the conscious, very thoughtful and methodical although paralysed by analysis or we can suddenly switch to the unconscious behaving with passion and instinctively although in a primitive reptilian manner. So, which is in control?
Humans have an ability known as meta cognitions or thinking about thinking, this does require attention and effort. This third brain serves to balance the two in a very similar manner to Freud’s concept of an ego between the Id and Superego.
We should be able to use both the Up Brain and the Down Brain to our advantage, to serve us. We can influence the Down Brain with attentive repetition although we must always listen to our intuitive responses when they are triggered.
Overall, other than the application to sport, the Down Brain isn't purposely utilised enough and too much time is focussed on developing the thinking, Up Brain. The cerebellum is at the top of our brain stem and every one of our senses communicates the outside world to us before we are even aware of it, it is up to us to use this fascinating resource to our advantage but also listen to it, its the source of our emotions, a playful nature, our feelings and a lesson about the rel you. We can’t think ourselves happy that is only achieved by doing.
See if over the next few weeks you can think and reflect about which brain you have been using in different situations and see if you can tailor them to work for you.