Having Three Brains Can Make Life Far More Exciting And Meaningful
If your brain is a terrible thing to waste, why are you ignoring your two spares?
Most people assume they have only one brain. So naive! (For some people of course, we have to wonder if they actually have less than one brain by the way they act sometimes.) But did you know that your body has two built in backup brains? You probably use them all the time and just don’t realize it. I’m speaking of course of the concentration of neurons in the gut and in the heart. Clichéd expressions of “listening to your gut” or “following your heart” actually have a basis in fact because these neuron centers display activity much like that of the brain in your skull.
You may have heard vague reference to these secondary brains in biology discussions before and not thought much of it. This is because it seems that on the surface, they are very primitive structures that really don’t deserve the definition of “brain" at all. They seem to govern many instantaneous reactions and judgments we have to make in life however, that the larger brain structure - the cerebral cortex, takes an inordinate amount of time to deliberate on. You probably use your heart brain for instance to decide whether or not to watch the Kardashians, something your higher level mind is completely stymied by the illogic of.
There are some big misunderstandings about both the heart and gut neuronal structures. While the gut brain contains about 100 million neurons making it 1,000 times smaller than the adult brain in a human skull, this size alone makes it similar in mass to that of a small monkey’s brain like a lemur, or that of a house cat. Yes, you have a small monkey or a live cat brain living in your stomach, telling you what to do. Well, not really, but close enough.
The gut brain is also directly linked and in continuous communication via neuro-chemical transmitters in the body to the main brain, and often has a faster reaction time to events because of this. Science has discovered that most of this information flow tends to go one way, with the gut acting as a sort of early warning awareness system that sends information to your primary brain before it is aware of it otherwise. Emotional reactions also appear to be highly focused in gut neurons where the majority of mood altering chemicals like serotonin are released in the body.
When it comes to mood and emotions though, we often think of "the heart" as being a sensory organ. This might be largely illusionary as the heart brain is actually much smaller than even the gut brain, containing only 0.0004% as many neurons as the gut does. The heart’s activity is strongly linked to the brain in our skull via various forms of chemical and electrical messengers, which makes back and forth communication more complicated than the largely one-way messenger system from the gut to the brain in your skull.
While research into these two structures is still ongoing, it is now known that around 70% of brain activity at any given time is not a stimulus-response effect based on external conditions. It seems that our gut brain and heart brain are in constant communication with that brain in our heads that we like to think of as our one and only brain. So the next time you have a “gut feeling” or your “heart tells you something” don’t brush it off as crazy superstition. That’s your second and third backup brains trying to tell you something important.