A long time ago (decades) I watched a NOVA science documentary on the Mind. The program covered leading edge research in this area and a number of aspects and discoveries were visited.
Once of the researchers covered was Dr. Michael Gazzaniga. His research involved a very unique group of humans and it allowed for experiments and observations not possible with just you and me. And what he and his group of researchers found points to us as being far stranger beings than we think we are. Oh, and that we are all psychotic. All of us, all the time.
How could he make this observation? (and note I use the term observation and not prediction or opinion or judgement)
His patients’ special circumstances allowed him to go ‘inside a human mind’ in ways that showed we are all living unaware of the reality within all of us. Those patients had all undergone a radical surgical procedure in which the bundle of nerve tissue that ties the left and right lobes of the brain together, the Corpus Callosum, had been cut. It wasn’t something he did to them – the surgery was a last resort in the treatment of Grand Mal Seizure (severe epilepsy) patients whose ailment had not responded to other treatments. (it is called Split-Brain or more officially commissurotomy)
As a result of this surgery the brains in these people no longer had a hard wired communications channel between the two halves of the brain. And that meant they were uniquely suited to research into how the mind / brain works. Research that asks questions like: What part of our mind resides in which part of our brain? Is there really a difference between the two halves in how thoughts occur and sensory stimuli are processed?
Experiments conducted included ones where different images were shown to each eye and then the patient was asked to explain what they’d seen. Both verbally and using coloured pens. From these and other experiments a number observations showed some verifications of theory and some new discoveries.
Yes the two sides of the brain are responsible for sense and action of the other side of the body. Your left brain processes what your right eye sees. And it controls your right arm and hand. Similarly the brain’s right side is concerned with the body’s left side.
Yes speech appears to be sourced in the left side of the brain.
But what was somewhat unexpected was what else they found …
Show the patient two different images with each one only visible to one eye. That means the left brain is given an image of something through the right eye but that is not what the right brain sees through the left eye. Then ask them to draw what they saw but using the hand from the side of the body (left) that is NOT controlled by the same side as the speech comes from (left). Then ask them to tell you what it is they drew … what do you think happened?
The patients exhibited some confusion but worked real hard at trying to reconcile what they saw drawn before them with what they had seen with the right eye. Given the option of ‘fixing’ the picture with the other hand they end up with a graphic mutation combining elements of both pictures. And then they are better at deciphering what they have drawn. The important part is this: During the exercise the patient cannot divorce themselves from the notion that there must be something slightly off in their recollecting because this is something that they did. When in reality it is something that another did … that ‘other‘ resides in a completely different physical space (right brain) from the ‘me‘ that is trying to explain this behaviour to itself (left brain).
This and other experiments yielded enough observations that Gazzaniga was able to state that we, all of us, are collections of ‘agents’ of various capabilities and not individuals. The persistent, unshakable, belief that there is a single ‘me’ or ‘I’ inside in the face of evidence to the contrary is psychotic by definition (psychosis: A severe mental disorder, sometimes with physical damage to the brain, marked by a deranged personality and a distorted view of reality). ‘Self’ is much more complicated than ‘I’.
Now “I’m” not a researcher with labs, education, funding by any stretch of the imagination. Or am I?
Stretch that imagination for a second. Granted “I’m” not in the proper environment and lack a lot of the resources and background BUT I live in a brain, or rather there is a brain in my head, and I observe a lot of other peoples’ behaviours. So I began to think about it and, like any good armchair scientist, developed my own extensions to the theory. Eventually I came up with my own version of a Theory Of Mind. It’s a work in progress but I like it, or rather that should be ‘we’ like it.
This TOM explains a lot and sort of makes predictions.
Can it generate falsifiable, testable predictions? As in Scientific Experiments?
That’s not something I’ve fleshed out enough to say yes to. But I/we suspect it can.
What has attracted me to it is that, using it as a model, things we learn about human psychology on an individual and societal level can be explained.
While I’d love to get into it more (I will at some date) I’ll address the reason for this blog entry now.
The idea of ‘Belief in Self is Psychotic’ came up once again while I was reading a NewYorker article on “I Don’t Want To Be Right“. In that article I read this line and kept coming back to it again and again until I understood why.
“persistently false beliefs stem from issues closely tied to our conception of self”
As mentioned above, research in neuroscience (Gazzaniga et al.) tends to show that ‘self’ and belief in singular self identity is a falsehood that is built into the system and results in all of us living a psychotic existence all the time.
It is ‘psychotic’ because we cannot see through our incorrect beliefs to the underlying reality within us.
So we are living a lie, that there is only a singular ‘self’ inside us, and whenever something threatens that lie (or supporting world view) that something is resisted at a level we are unconcious of and therefore unaware of (the resistance).
I believe that the mechanisms at work here are some of the same ones that allow us to have a sense of self in the first place. Part of the structure of brain/mind that is US.