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Tom Evans : The Devil on Your Shoulder

The Devil on Your Shoulder

This is a sample chapter from The Art and Science of Light Bulb Moments by Tom Evans.

Angel DevilThe functions of our left and right brains are pretty much entrenched in popular psychology. In many a Tom and Jerry cartoon you see a devil appearing on one shoulder and an angel on the other. You may not have noticed but it is common urban mythology for the devil to be on the left shoulder and the angel on the right shoulder.

If you get a great idea, the devil might whisper things like, "Don't be silly, it will never work" and "Isn't this just like every other invention you've come up with?"

We are brought up with seemingly intrinsic knowledge that left brained thinkers are logical and even cold and calculating. Yet the right brained amongst us who are creative and intuitive are almost dismissed as dreamers having their heads in the clouds. Clearly this division and rough functional classification for the brain hemispheres isn't fruitful and reeks of a 'glass half full' mentality.

Great art, music and literature have been produced by right brained artists, musicians, and writers. It is thought that all those amazing scientific advances and leaps of understanding of our physical world have been made by those left brained thinkers.

In actual fact, it is a safe bet that all significant works of art, discoveries and inventions came into being when the progenitor was using both hemispheres in harmony. This is a mode referred to as Whole Brain Thinking.

More specifically, if your 'thinking' is biased to one side or the other, it has the tendency to block light bulb moments and their subsequent development.

The brain is just not so simple a structure for such a broad classification to be applied. The human brain contains about the same number of neurons as the stars in our galaxy — about 100 billion.

This statistic in itself triggered a light bulb moment in me that it's too coincidental not to deserve some further study.

Much of the understanding of our brain's functions comes from the study of damaged brains or the mentally ill. There are numerous research papers on the performance and capabilities of people suffering from strokes, psychosis, accidental trauma or degenerative diseases.

As a result, neurologists have a pretty good idea of what most regions of the brain process in terms based on all types of external sensory stimuli we receive through our senses. They can also see from magnetic resonance imaging which areas run the subsequent 'thought processes'. Then based on these 'thoughts' it can be deduced which other areas of the brain control our bodily movement and vocal chords.

At the same time, our unconscious mind regulates our biochemistry to keep us alive without our conscious awareness. We also have a good idea which parts of the brain are involved in these processes.

The Mind Map below shows the conventional model of how our brains interact with our environment and our bodies.

Mind Map

In this simplistic model, everything we do is predicated on an external stimulus. There is no space for random, unrequited thought to appear, as might happen in meditation, while having a shower or when you are out for a walk — these being typical of the types of conditions from where light bulb moments appear.

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