The Brain is an Amazing Thing (Reading Notes)

Leaving aside for the moment that I agree with the people who dismiss the left-brain/right-brain distinction of analysis/logic vs. creativity/innovation, the fact remains that brain scans do allow for observation of activity within the brain.

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One of the things Shadow Syndromes brings up is how brain activity changes as a person moves from sadness or grief into an actual (say, clinical) depression.

In sadness, and in any normal emotion, PET scans reveal an active left-brain (I found this alone fascinating, as some proudly “right-brained” individuals straw-man “left-brainers” as dull intellectual robots).

Dr. Mark George (a psychiatrist and neuroscientist) has done PET scans on grieving and depressed individuals, and has an interesting theory about sadness becoming (morphing into) Depression.

As a person moves into depression the left-brain activity shifts from more-than-usual (in sadness) to less-than-usual.

“The overactive left brain of the sad person, he believes, eventually burns itself out, becoming the underactive left brain of the clinically depressed,” (p. 86)

This makes me think of the commonly designated role of the left-brain (thinking-workhorse) and Chesterton’s observation that it is the logician, not the poet, who goes mad, and King Solomon’s solemn warning that with increased knowledge comes increased sorrow.

It makes me think of the college worker’s observation that depression after the semester ends is attributed to mental fatigue.

But as I continued to read, and the book described the (measured) tendencies of the Right-brain, and I’m forming a new theory.

I wonder if the book will discuss this eventually.

The Right-brain, tied in public consciousness to creativity and innovation, is somewhat responsible for the negative part of our understanding.

A stroke that damages the right side of the brain, to the point of paralyzing the entire left side of the body, is taken surprisingly well, according to observation. The jaunty, we’ll get through this, and Its only temporary, override even medical advice.

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In the same way, Bi-polar (disease? syndrome? pick your terminology) manifests on PET scans as “White spots” within the right brain. Dead spots. Places where communication is impaired.

What this looks like to me is a finely balanced sharing of duties between the left and right brain.

There is a bit of “redundancy” within the brain. Both left and right sides are involved in most tasks, and if one side gets weak or overworked the other side appears to compensate.

But what these scans (and resulting behaviors) seem to indicate is that the side does that additional job entirely in its own way.

The consistency-craving left-brain will explain away reality to avoid change or negative emotion (fear or confusion), as with the stroke victim, or the risk-taking bi-polar.

The possibility-laden right-brain will impose it’s less-rosy view of reality on the depressive, opening the door to the frequently-accompanying anxiety.

Research has shown that the slightly-depressed have a more literally accurate view of the world, perhaps from their proportionately stronger right-brain overriding the optimism that is more encouraging than accurate.

For example, most drivers surveyed affirm they drive “better than average” in their perception. As this is mathematically impossible to be accurate, the researchers marked it up as the overly optimistic left-brain asserting itself.

As I said, depression and mania (a temporary and enthusiastic sense of well-being, in its best manifestation) are described in this book as showing up as a deficiency on respective sides of the brain.

And just now it seems to me that it isn’t the lack of activity producing these results so much as it is the brain ceasing to hold itself in-balance, allowing (say) the more problem-hunting right-brain to do more of the work (resulting in a depressed person) or the stability-seeking left-brain overriding the under-active right brain to produce a person/behavior pattern that seem to ignore the negative possibilities, or even realities.

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It’s a fascinating look at how the whole is designed to be whole, even when malfunction doesn’t mean utter destruction.

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