How The Brain Argues With Itself

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Errol Morris continues his mediation on anosognosia:

[V.S. Ramachandran] has used the notion of layered belief the idea that some part of the brain can believe something and some other part of the brain can believe the opposite (or deny that belief) to help explain anosognosia. In a 1996 paper...he speculated that the left and right hemispheres react differently when they are confronted with unexpected information. The left brain seeks to maintain continuity of belief, using denial, rationalization, confabulation and other tricks to keep one’s mental model of the world intact; the right brain, the “anomaly detector” or “devil’s advocate,” picks up on inconsistencies and challenges the left brain’s model in turn. When the right brain’s ability to detect anomalies and challenge the left is somehow damaged or lost (e.g., from a stroke), anosognosia results.

In Ramachandran’s account, then, we are treated to the spectacle of different parts of the brain perhaps even different selves arguing with one another.

We are overshadowed by a nimbus of ideas. There is our physical reality and then there is our conception of ourselves, our conception of self one that is as powerful as, perhaps even more powerful than, the physical reality we inhabit. A version of self that can survive even the greatest bodily tragedies. We are creatures of our beliefs. This is at the heart of Ramachandran’s ideas about anosognosia that the preservation of our fantasy selves demands that we often must deny our physical reality. Self-deception is not enough. Something stronger is needed. Confabulation triumphs over organic disease. The hemiplegiac’s anosognosia is a stark example, but we all engage in the same basic process. But what are we to make of this? Is the glass half-full or half-empty? For Dunning, anosognosia masks our incompetence; for Ramachandran, it makes existence palatable, perhaps even possible," -