That’s basically our situation. We inherit a brain that evolved to work well for the Stone Age. Our brains were made for days that were mostly uneventful. Without romanticizing the hunter-gathering lifestyle, it’s fair to say that prolonged portions of their days were bucolic and placid. Then, when something did need to grab attention – a charging mastodon, a raid from an enemy tribe – or a dangerous place where some sort of threat might lurk – our brains had good systems for grabbing our attention. Adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones, kicked up, and gave us the energy for fight or flight without which we would not have survived as a species.
I think the last time I actually needed either to fight or to run away was in 7th grade. Yet I’ve got this biology that gears me up for physical aggression or speedy evasion whenever I’m in traffic and someone cuts me off, or I get a certain kind of email, or I hear certain political opinions expressed on the news.
Our world has gotten faster-paced. Knowing that fear grabs our attention, the news, politicians, and advertisers unleash a barrage of things to make us scared. If we don’t take some intentional action to lower our stress response, it’s easy in this modern world for the stress response to be almost constant. Chronic stress is a threat to our health in a variety of ways.
That’s just one way our brains are out to get us.
Even a super-high-powered left-brain-type system, like a souped-up computer, can’t keep up with the accuracy of holistic right brain in some ways. Andrew Newberg gives an example:
“Does holistic thinking offer a more accurate or integrated view of the world? A few years ago, our radiology staff had a chance to test this hypothesis in a very particular way. We compared the differences between human and computer evaluations of brain scans, thinking that a computer might more accurately quantify which parts of the brain were not functioning normally, leading to a more precise diagnosis. To our surprise, humans, using their intuitive holistic skills, did slightly better than the computer, most likely because we derive information from various patterns in the entire scan that help us in our diagnosis.” (Why We Believe What We Believe, 2006, 94)Because your left brain has the language, it likes to tell you that it’s perceiving reality – but it’s more fabricating it that perceiving it. Sometimes left and right brain provide helpful “reality checks” for each other. Generally, though, they're each off in their separate worlds, from which each occasionally lobs a bomb at the other.
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This is part 1 of 5 of "Making Peace with Your Brain."
Next: Part 2: "Don't Believe Anything You Belive"