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Lectures for a New Year: The Divided Brain

In this eleven-minute animation, psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist explains how our notion of the hemispheres of the brain being ultra-separate is a drastic oversimplification, and has had consequences for how we think about our behavior, our culture, and our society. This talk complements Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's talk (posted in this series two weeks back), in which she discusses the profoundly different minds present in her own hemispheres -- and how she experienced the world differently during and after her stroke. McGilchrist comes across in this condensed animation as exceedingly academic -- I frankly felt a bit lost at times -- which is why, under 'Bonus Points' below, I've included the somewhat longer original talk, which isn't condensed, and thus does a better job of making these points without hurrying. My advice: if you watch this animation and find it intriguing but confusing, just switch to the next video. You'll get a lot out of it.

Topics: why the brain isn't actually symmetrical, how and why the frontal lobe inhibits us, empathy, why "simpler is better," lefties and tool use, the Berlusconi of the brain, how our society puts incorrect values on different types of thinking, and how you must use both sides of the brain each task...even if one side is "dominant" in that arena.

For: people willing to devote their full attention to this talk's super-smart/super-dense content; you might want to go ahead and watch the half-hour version (which isn't quite as densely packed).

Viewing Note: the video is very detailed; you might want to go fullscreen and turn on HD.

Representative quote:

[Initially quoting Einstein:] "'The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant.' We have created a society that honors the servant but has forgotten the gift."

Further Reading

McGilchrist wrote a book on this subject called The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. There's an incredible Wikipedia page summarizing the book.

Transcript

Oddly, I couldn't find a transcript of this video, though other RSA talks have nice PDF transcripts and even dotSUB transcripts. Anybody out there have better luck?

Bonus Points

Here's the original half-hour RSA talk from which this animation was produced. I was taken by this YouTube comment:

Perhaps it's germane to the topic that I cannot grasp this lecture when it is presented in the RSA Animate way...too dense, too? distracting, too tightly edited and rapid. When Machiavelli is mentioned, I know the connotation intended, to have a tiny picture of Machiavelli drawn for me at the same time is irrelevant. This pertains to the lecture point about the utility of a map when one doesn't need/want to know all information about the area. To come watch the original lecture was a relief. -clif9710

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out!

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Animals
How a Pregnant Rhino Named Victoria Could Save an Entire Subspecies
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Sudan, the last male member of the northern white rhino subspecies, while being shipped to Kenya in 2009
Tony Karumba, AFP/Getty Images

The last male northern white rhino died at a conservancy in Kenya earlier this year, prompting fears that the subspecies was finally done for after decades of heavy poaching. Scientists say there's still hope, though, and they're banking on a pregnant rhino named Victoria at the San Diego Zoo, according to the Associated Press.

Victoria is actually a southern white rhino, but the two subspecies are related. Only two northern white rhinos survive, but neither of the females in Kenya are able to reproduce. Victoria was successfully impregnated through artificial insemination, and if she successfully carries her calf to term in 16 to 18 months, scientists say she might be able to serve as a surrogate mother and propagate the northern white rhino species.

But how would that work if no male northern rhinos survive? As the AP explains, scientists are working to recreate northern white rhino embryos using genetic technology. The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research has the frozen cell lines of 12 different northern white rhinos, which can be transformed into stem cells—and ultimately, sperm and eggs. The sperm of the last northern white male rhino, Sudan, was also saved before he died.

Scientists have been monitoring six female southern white rhinos at the San Diego Zoo to see if any emerge as likely candidates for surrogacy. However, it's not easy to artificially inseminate a rhino, and there have been few successful births in the past. There's still a fighting chance, though, and scientists ultimately hope they'll be able to build up a herd of five to 15 northern white rhinos over the next few decades.

[h/t Time Magazine]

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entertainment
Why Our Brains Love Plot Twists
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Getty Images

From the father-son reveal in The Empire Strikes Back to the shocking realization at the end of The Sixth Sense, everyone loves a good plot twist. It's not the element of surprise that makes them so enjoyable, though. It's largely the set-up, according to cognitive scientist Vera Tobin.

Tobin, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University, writes for The Conversationthat one of the most enjoyable moments of a film or novel comes after the big reveal, when we get to go back and look at the clues we may have missed. "The most satisfying surprises get their power from giving us a fresh, better way of making sense of the material that came before," Tobin writes. "This is another opportunity for stories to turn the curse of knowledge to their advantage."

The curse of knowledge, Tobin explains, refers to a psychological effect in which knowledge affects our perception and "trips us up in a lot of ways." For instance, a puzzle always seems easier than it really is after we've learned how to solve it, and once we know which team won a baseball game, we tend to overestimate how likely that particular outcome was.

Good writers know this intuitively and use it to their advantage to craft narratives that will make audiences want to review key points of the story. The end of The Sixth Sense, for example, replays earlier scenes of the movie to clue viewers in to the fact that Bruce Willis's character has been dead the whole time—a fact which seems all too obvious in hindsight, thanks to the curse of knowledge.

This is also why writers often incorporate red herrings—or false clues—into their works. In light of this evidence, movie spoilers don't seem so terrible after all. According to one study, even when the plot twist is known in advance, viewers still experience suspense. Indeed, several studies have shown that spoilers can even enhance enjoyment because they improve "fluency," or a viewer's ability to process and understand the story.

Still, spoilers are pretty universally hated—the Russo brothers even distributed fake drafts of Avengers: Infinity War to prevent key plot points from being leaked—so it's probably best not to go shouting the end of this summer's big blockbuster before your friends have seen it.

[h/t The Conversation]

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