How often do you argue? All you trim-bearded philosophy majors can go ahead and wipe that superior smirk off your face, please … Yes, you took a class on logic, now stop talking to me. The truth is that we’re arguing constantly — yes, we argue with each other, but most arguing goes on continually, silently, within our own heads as our internal dialogue goes ever on and on. Every choice we make and every struggled decision we deliberate over is an argument with ourselves, but how do we know which choices are the right ones? And how do we make decisions? It turns out, like usual, we are doing it wrong.
We, as humans, have a foolish tendency to see ourselves as individual people with consistent thoughts, beliefs and goals within us — but this is wrong, and understanding that our minds are divided into parts that often disagree with each other is the key to understanding why arguments are impossible to win.
The biggest division within the brain is the physically most obvious one: the corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibers that connect the left and right hemispheres. This connection allows the two hemispheres to communicate, which turns out to be extremely important for us. We don’t know why, but the brain is wired contralaterally, meaning the left side of your body is controlled by the right side of your brain and vice versa.
This is important to know in order to understand that each side of your brain has specific things it is good at — nothing as obvious as creative vs. scientific, that’s just urban myth. But it has been shown that language is specific to the left hemisphere. This means that if your corpus callosum is severed and the two sides can’t communicate, when you see something in your right visual field and it can’t reach your left hemisphere, you won’t be able to verbalize what it was you saw. However, you would be able to point it out with your left hand.
This important discovery in psychology and brain science led to another important discovery — what can be called the ‘confabulation module.’ It turns out that when the subjects with ‘split brains’ pointed to the object they claimed to not have seen before, their confabulation module would confabulate, or make up a ‘logical’ reason for their choice. When seeing a chicken and a rake, one in the right visual field and one in the left, a subject would be able to say he saw a chicken, but when asked to point to something he would point to a rake out of a list of objects. When asked why, the subject explained that he chose the rake because you need a rake to clean the chicken coop. His left brain made up a reason that seemed logical for his actions.
But it’s not just split brain patients … We all do this constantly, seeing our actions and confabulating our justifications for them.
We argue all the time. But unfortunately, when we argue, our reasons for our positions aren’t always as concrete as our stances. Often our feelings about subjects or positions are based around immediate ‘blink’ decisions and we don’t have concrete logic for them. This is true for politics and just arguing with your roommates or partner. Because of this, our confabulation module will take over, becoming a figurative and ineffective lawyer, turning arguing about something into arguing about arguing itself, which is always tragic. Our brain goes on autopilot, and we let our verbal self (which often doesn’t understand truly why we feel how we feel about things) take over.
When we speak, we don’t think of specific nouns, pronouns, verbs, subjects, predicates, etc. in order to form sentences grammatically and then communicate ideas logically. We just have some idea of what we want to say and the language we express is vomited out. Our points are often lost because we can’t quite penetrate through that continual, internal confabulation that you and I are doing at every moment.
Daily Nexus columnist Kevin Ferguson’s confabulation module wrote this article.