Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The man with two brains

with 3 comments

The Man With Two Brains stars Steve Martin (as Dr. Michael Hfurhuhurr) and Kathleen Turner (as his second wife—he’s a widower—who switches from passionate to sociopathic once vows are exchanged). Not a bad movie—I especially like the scene in which he pleads, fruitlessly, for a sign from his dead wife as to whether he should marry Dolores (Turner’s character).

Of course, though we must make do with one brain, we do have two minds, more or less: the conscious and the unconscious. Sometimes they’re in step, sometimes they’re at cross-purposes, and sometimes they seem just a little disconnected.

I was emailing my sister that I seemed to be able to lose weight at a rate (tops) of 2 lbs/week with good compliance to sensible eating, though my actual rate in practice (with some unsensible eating) is more like 1.5 lbs/week. Still, I’m now being extra careful with my meals because I’m just 175.8 lbs and I want to get to 170.

She emailed back to say that was good, that I could reach my goal in 3 weeks.

“Three weeks?!!” I thought. “What the hell? I was sort of thinking by Thursday.” But then I realized: ~6 lbs to lose at 2 lbs/week = 3 weeks.

Clearly my conscious mind—analytic and good at math—“knew” that it would be three weeks, but this had not be communicated somehow to my unconscious mind, so my “gut feeling” (those hunches and feelings that are communiques from the unconscious, as when you “just know” something) was that it would take 5 or 6 days.

That explained why I would get so discouraged: the typical pattern is a plateau for x days, and then amazingly rapid loss for a day or two, then back to slow—averaging out, for me, to around 1.5-2 lbs/week. But my unconscious seemed to be paying attention mostly to the dramatic-change days—naturally enough, those are the days I especially note and enjoy—so it was still with the notion that I could drop pounds rapidly.

Now that I realize the discrepancy and have been back and forth over it, I find that my “gut feeling” is no longer that I’ll achieve goal by Thursday. Indeed, my weight the past three days: 175.8, 175.8, 175.7. And rather than frustrated, I am now feeling, “That’s fine. Progress. It’s going to take three weeks anyway, and a few more days of hovering between 175 and 176 and I’ll suddenly drop to 174 or 173 and hover there for a while. But by mid-October, I’ll hit my 170.”

Live and learn.

So long as we’re talking about minds and brains, I had a little insight last night. Yesterday’s Pilates session was particularly good: I still required almost constant correction, but now I can correct, and am able to quickly adjust. I still can’t quite feel when I’m out of proper form, but on being told what to do, I can make appropriate adjustments. Moreover, my breathing was quite good for the whole session: I was aware of it and could control it, but mostly it just happened, and without effort. And time passed differently: it neither dragged (look at the clock after I feel 20 minutes have passed and see that it’s only been 10) nor went by fast (the reverse). I felt that time was passing at exactly the right rate, so that I felt neither hurried nor that things were dragging along. I’m not sure what being in the moment entails, but I really did enjoy that session.

And the rest of the afternoon and evening, I seemed to move around much better: more controlled, more assured, more economically. Hard to characterize, as you see. And I noticed, as I thought about various things, that I seemed internally to perceive things a little differently, as if from a slightly greater distance or perspective—as if being at a slight elevation, giving me a broader field of view. Again, difficult to describe, but somehow new and different.

It occurs to me that the mind is intimately intertwined with the brain—the mind, near as I can tell, is emergent from the brain’s regular activities (controlling our muscles and bodies and monitoring internal and external stimuli). And it’s perfectly obvious that changes in the brain produce changes in the mind, most notably in brain injuries. One painful example is the personality changes suffered by those whose brains suffered trauma due to explosions, as from IEDs.

Similarly, one expects that new structures, synapses, and networks in the brain would result in some sort of changes to the mind, even if subtle. And changes in the brain’s wiring—new synapses, connections, and networks—regularly occur as we learn new physical skills: those changes are exactly how, for example, we can play fluently a piano piece that was once totally impossible. It takes time to learn the piece because it takes time for the brain to develop the new structures and connections required.

In the case of Pilates, the new connections concern the entire body and a great variety of movements and postures. In addition, Pilates works on specific muscle groups and through the various apparatus helps one locate, train, and control muscles that have been long neglected and over which we had lost conscious control.

With the changes in the brain that result, one would expect some sort of evidence of those changes in the mind. And they do seem to happen—slowly, over time, if one persists.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 September 2011 at 8:56 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness, Pilates

3 Responses

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  1. There’s a far more compelling case for ‘two brains’ than making an appeal to the unconscious. Research into split-brain patients (those with the corpus callosum – the neural bridge between left and right hemisphere – severed, usually in treatment for epilepsy) suggests that we’re far closer to having two brains in a very literal sense. The work of V.S. Ramachandran is particularly striking here, and he’s a very clear author on the subject as well. He speaks about it briefly during a talk that starts here at 38:50, among other fascinating aspects of his neuroscience research. The conference is Beyond Belief 2006, which will set the context for talking about belief.

    Brian D

    24 September 2011 at 9:43 am

  2. Yes, I do know know about the split-brain research. I was actually trying to address something about the mind, rather than the brain. (We in fact have but one brain; it has left and right halves, and functionality seems to be preferentially distributed to one side or the other in most males, less so in females.) My post was rather directed at the experience of having two minds. Probably I should not have led with the two-brain story—I just thought it would be amusing.

    My interest at the moment is the two minds (more or less—the unconscious as well as the conscious seems to throw off—or grow from or depend upon—various semi-independent subroutines, if you will) and how they interact. The movie reference of the first paragraph amounts to a standard format: introduce a talk with a joke to put the audience at ease. The movie popped into my head because I wanted to talk about the two minds we seem to have—a natural connection, and remembering the scene in which Dr. Hfurhuhurr appeals to his dead wife for a sign made me laugh.


    24 September 2011 at 9:54 am

  3. BTW, is there any doubt whatsoever that we do have an unconscious to accompany our conscious mind? This is well established, I believe.


    24 September 2011 at 9:55 am

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