An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of August 11, 2008
Issued from Mérida, Yucatán, MÉXICO
THE STORY TELLER

In recent Newsletters I've looked at the human "split brain," and neurological research conducted by Michael S. Gazzaniga.

I've thought a lot about the fact that apparently my self awareness is rooted in electrochemical reactions in a computerlike brain whose two halves project "me" as a result of their cooperation in processing information gathered through the senses. This insight introduces into my life profound mystical and magical content, for I regard it as the workings of the Sixth Miracle of Nature.

At http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/bauer/1999/gazzaniga.html we read that...

"The left brain interpreter's job is to interpret our behavior and responses, whether cognitive or emotional, to environmental challenges. The interpreter constantly establishes a running narrative of our actions, emotions, thoughts, and dreams. It is the glue that keeps our story unified and creates our sense of being a coherent, rational agent. It brings to our bag of individual instincts the illusion that we are something other than what we are."

Nothing here is said about where our self awareness comes from -- what "we" are. What the above does say is that the left hemisphere makes up stories that put our self awareness in context. It makes up stories compulsively and irrepressibly, even when the stories aren't necessarily true.

This story-making feature of the left brain suggests answers to several questions that always have mystified me.

Why do people enjoy fictional stories so much? Maybe it's because the left brain craves any story, especially a good one it doesn't have to make up itself.

Why did Germans buy into Hitler's ideas? During my several summers in Germany when I visited local libraries and talked to old Germans I decided that artful propaganda more than anything set the stage for what happened. And propaganda is just a compelling story, often repeated.

I heard an interview with Dr. Gazzaniga in which he said that if somehow all religions disappeared from Earth while everything else remained the same, humanity's left-brain compulsion to create narratives -- to come up with good stories to explain the world around us -- is so powerful that in a matter of weeks new religions would spring up everywhere.

Do other animals "feel"?

Chimpanzee brains, like human brains, are clearly divided into two hemispheres. This suggests that the split brains of primates other than humans create senses of being the same way that human split brains do.

In fact, the two-hemisphered brain arose with the earliest mammals, back during dinosaur times. At first the two hemispheres provided circuitry for smelling, later for vision, and now thinking.

In past Newsletters I've spoken of the "snake brain" or "reptilian brain" we humans inherited from our reptilian ancestors, and which now resides at the bases of our split hemispheres. "Our reptilian brain concerns itself with circulation, respiration, digestion, elimination, mating, territorial behavior, pecking order, defense, aggression and the emotions of anger and fear," I wrote in the September 7th, 2006 Newsletter.

"Our more sophisticated, later-evolved mammalian brain," I continued, "deals with the emotions of love, sadness, jealousy, and hope, and our 'monkey brain,' crowning the other two brains, enables us to manifest the higher functions of imitation, speaking, writing, planning, symbolic reasoning and conceptualization."

Now split-brain insights add detail to how our speaking, planning, and conceptualization come about.

As such, the image of evolution propelling life inexorably toward ever more exquisite powers of discrimination, of understanding, and of imagination, becomes more vivid and powerful. More then ever we can see how Nature through evolution sought ever sharper and more capable minds. Interpreting this evolutionary history as indicating the direction of the "the Creator's Will," we can say that there is a spiritual imperative for sentient, thinking Life on Earth. And that is:

Feel more; learn more; reflect more; imagine more. Struggle to grow, mature and evolve.