A SATISFYING SYNTHESIS OF CONSCIOUS BRAIN FUNCTION
Biological observations show that all life forms seem to operate in such a way as to preserve themselves through time. They do this by sensing the world and adapting to it as well as possible. We can safely assume then, that the brain, which is made up of living cells, is also operating to preserve itself and the larger body and environment of which it is a part. To successfully accomplish this task, the brain has its own unique capabilities, which govern how it functions.
The right hemisphere, as we have seen, has the responsibility of silently perceiving the relationship between the body and the larger world in which it lives. It is the half of the brain which, in human terms, accurately senses the world as it actually looks, feels, and sounds. It integrates those sensations, including how the body itself is feeling at the same time, into one subjectively perceived holistic set of relationships. At the same time the left hemisphere understands the world in terms of a set of fixed relationships consistent with words and grammar and objects and their behavior through time. The fact is that both of these processes are necessary for the human organism and species to adapt, survive, and thrive.
The left hemisphere is the half of the brain responsible for sequencing and ordering our behavior and thoughts such that we can successfully deal with and think about our world and our place in it, that is, the myriad relationships that make up our conscious sense of the world. It's important to remember that this is what it does. It cannot not do this. Its role is to rationalize and order our experience. Doing this in a purposeful manner assumes we have the ability to perceive this world of relationships at any point in time and how they change through time.
Paradoxically, the biological mechanism for doing this rationalizing and ordering precludes seeing the world independently or differently from preconceived linguistic judgments. The right hemisphere, conversely, does sense the world (including our human presence as part of that world) as it is, but this precludes the ability to abstract out and order its perceptions, at least in a propositional fashion. In other words, it precludes the ability to create and use language to think and communicate. Separated from the left hemisphere, its percepts are simply sequenced by the temporal flow of reality itself.
What is required to successfully get along is both the ability to experience the world as it is (including oneself as part of that world) and the ability to internally categorize, analyze, and purposefully order one's behavior in light of these experiences. When the two hemispheres of the brain are connected, they work together as a system where the percepts of the right half are no longer programmed strictly by the passage of time and experience but also by the sequentially functioning left hemisphere.
The right brain is not only perceiving the flow of its experience of the outside world but the conscious internal thoughts of its left half partner now become an intimate part of that experience as well. At the same time, the right hemisphere is providing the left with the immediate experiential feedback it needs to take advantage of its capacity to create and use words and grammar to think about, order, and communicate its thoughts (that is, our subjective understandings) to ourselves and to others.
We might even say that what the right hemisphere does makes what the left hemisphere does rational. It's a feedback system that senses the results of the left hemisphere sequencing in terms of the survival (and much more) of the organism through time. Let's look at a simple example: a young man finds himself in the presence of a pretty young woman and is moved to strike up a conversation. All the time the conversation is proceeding, the right hemisphere is consciously monitoring the progress of the encounter and is having its experience of female companionship modified and developed. At the same time, it is providing the emotional cues that motivate what the young man's left hemisphere is likely to say next. Of course, the exact same thing is happening to the young woman as well. In looking at the brain in this way, we might say it is not, as it has often been characterized, a dual system where, depending on the activity, one or the other hemispheres is dominant. Rather it seems clear that the activity of each is necessary for the purposeful functioning of the other.
So now let's use these ideas to respond specifically to the questions raised earlier:
Q. How does the left hemisphere come to know the meaning of words in terms of function?
A. The left hemisphere comes to realistically understand space and time and therefore the changes through time that objects cause and undergo that we define as function, and thus comes to know the world functionally, through its connections to the right hemisphere.
Q. By what mechanism is the left hemisphere motivated to use its innate capabilities to classify the world linguistically in terms of words, syntax, and grammar?
A. The left hemisphere is motivated to employ its ability to create and use language to classify, order, and effectively deal with and influence the silently and subjectively perceived world of the right hemisphere.
Q. What is the connection between how the right hemisphere relates to the world and how the left hemisphere relates to the same world?
A. Our left hemisphere words and grammar ultimately classify and reflect our human experience of the world as perceived through the right hemisphere. Without the ability to consciously connect up with the changing external world and our place in it in terms of internal drives, feelings, and emotions, there would be no reason or motivation to categorize, analyze, think about, and communicate using words or any other set of symbols that fulfill that same purpose. Our left hemisphere words and language seem to classify our right-hemisphere-perceived subjective functional relationships to those aspects of the world that we have discovered through experience are personally relevant.
Now let's take this idea of the relationship between the hemispheres one step further. Let us say the connection between the two halves of the brain is not different from that which exists between one hemisphere and the other half of the body. We suggested early in this paper that it is only the relationship between brain and body part that gives meaning to either that brain or body part. Perhaps the same can be said of the two hemispheres themselves. We have seen that when disconnected from one another the purposefulness of their individual processing to facilitate successful adaptation to the world falters substantially.
We know that the left hemisphere directs the right half of the body, and the right hemisphere directs the left half of the body. If we think of the nerve fibers of the corpus callosum as being similar to those in the spinal cord that extend out to all parts of the body, and they are, then we may say that, in a like manner, the left hemisphere directs the right brain, and the right hemisphere directs the left brain. They are mutually influencing each other to facilitate coordinated behavior—mental and otherwise—just as the two halves of the brain coordinate, facilitate, and regulate the behavior of the rest of the body in relation to the world in which it exists. It is appropriate to say that each hemisphere is like it is because the other half is like it is—just like my right hand feels and can do what it does because it is primarily controlled by my left hemisphere and vice versa for my right hemisphere and left hand.
We might now address one other question we asked earlier about whether rational thinking is related to intuition or whether there is any logic to intuition. If we understand the functioning brain, the answer is that the rational thinking of the left hemisphere is always based on and a refinement of the intuitive perceptions of the right hemisphere. And intuition is always influenced by rational thought. These two notions do more than complement one another.
Real intuition is rational; it is the clearly apprehended understanding of the body in relation to the world at any point in time and situation. This understanding grows and changes as we move through life generating the evolution and definition of our individual notions of selfhood (or individual versions of reality). Rationality is the ability to reason out, explain, and act on this understanding such that our personal welfare is enhanced. (It is no small point that by understanding the brain's ability to identify that our personal welfare and environmental welfare are inextricably linked, it (we) can also understand that to take care of its individual needs, it must use all its capabilities to look out for, in the best sense of this idea, its world, as well. Most of our problems, sadly, have to do with not enough brains clearly apprehending this understanding of them(our)selves.)
In other words, rationality and intuition are evolving mirror images of each other. Right brain emotional connection to and perception of the world give rise to left brain intellectual reasoning out and explanation of that world. Left brain intellectual explanation likewise affects and influences right hemisphere perceptions and emotional experience of those relationships, which motivates further intellectual/rational explorations. The right hemisphere's ability to consciously perceive the world in its four dimensional reality makes little sense if we can't abstract, order, manipulate, and communicate our understanding of such experiences and their subjective value to ourselves and others. And being able to reason and communicate makes no sense if you cannot perceive the context of your communication and the changes in yourself and the world that take place as a result of your understandings, communication, and behavior.
If we use our brains as a model, it has not been possible for nature to create a being that can verbally explain itself, that is, the relationship it has discovered between its body and its personal needs (both biological and psychological), and the rest of the world, by the same conscious neural processes that that relationship is apprehended directly. That is, it is not possible unless we consider the two hemispheres and the world of which they are a part as one unified process.
Then the brain and nature can begin to make sense. And in the final analysis (undertaken by our consciously operating central nervous system), we might say that the two hemispheres are really extensions of each other. The right hemisphere can think propositionally and speak—richly, literally, metaphorically, abstractly, flexibly—it does so through its left hemisphere extension. And the left hemisphere can experience the world as it is—in all its dynamic environmental, emotional, and contextual subtlety—it does so through its right hemisphere branch. And through the processes facilitated by this remarkable natural system we call the brain, this organ (we) can come to evolve a knowing of the value, capacities, limitations, and possibilities of this system for the benefit of the world it and we are part of and that it and we are creating by our existence on the planet.
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Looking for another good site on the brain. Check this one out. It's outstanding. William Calvin's page. Calvin is a researcher and the author of many well-known semi-popular and scientific books on brain function.