Your Three Brains – Left, Right, and Belly Brain

(or, How Many Brains Does It Take To Screw In A Lightbulb?)

This is a quiz for which every answer is correct. Try your hardest!

You have :

• 1 brain
• 2 brains
• 3 brains
• Nobody knows

Please score 100 points for each choice, then pat yourself on the back for doing so well.

Of course, usually we first think: everyone has a brain. One brain.

Right brain or Left brain?

Then, we learn that our brains are divided into 2 halves: left and right. Each half can do many or perhaps all of the functions of the other half. Most people use their left brain for facts and analysis, and use their right brain for intuitive and sensing activities.  But for some people, these are switched, so for example they use their right brain for logic and analysis activities.

Our personalities may be leaning more toward the left brain, or to the right brain. It depends; we are each unique.  In this write-up, we will refer to right and left brain in terms of their typical patterns.

Trust Your Gut

And then there is our “gut”. The English expression “trust your gut” means to believe your intuition, to trust your feelings.

The idiom referred to as a “gut feeling” is a thought, and our conscious thoughts occur in our “head” brain. It is said that these intuitive gut feelings actually originate in our right brain. The right brain has the intuitive and analytical ability to find patterns, to determine what is different or missing, etc.

This old expression started years ago, based on a sense that our bodies could tell us something that our brains (left or right) could not figure out.

And this turns out to be true. Our brains are made up of neurons, and these are linked together to allow us to have thoughts, memories, to learn, etc.  And our bellies have similar linkages of neurons.

Our belly brain has enough neurons to be its own brain.  This enteric nervous system in our guts has 100 million neurons, and it is part of the peripheral nervous system which exists outside of our brain and spinal cord. It has more neurons, for example, than the brain of a lobster (100,000 neurons) or a rat (21 million neurons).  Our main “head” brain has about 100 billion neurons.

Having a lot of neurons doesn’t equal a brain. Our arms and legs have millions of neurons, but they don’t have the structures of a brain.  They sense but do not think.

The belly brain can “think”.  According to research, the human gut does have the structures that make it more than a collection of sensing neurons.  But we can’t really tap into thought “thoughts” because we are not wired that way.

When you first hear this information, you might think it is bizarre – too strange to be true.  Our guts apparently have all sorts of neural activity, but it has a weak connection going up to the “head” brain. There was a statistic (and apologies but the reference hasn’t been captured here yet) that something like 90% of the messages go from the “head” brain to the “gut” brain. So only 10% of the messages are going up, and so the gut brain is a little independent of our larger brain in our head.

And the brain (in your head) also controls your body by releasing substances such as chemical and hormones, causing reactions.

Your gut tells you if you ate bad food. Your gut also can get carried away, allowing your heart to race – perhaps due to adrenaline – while you mind says “please relax”! People who have romantic heart-racing experiences know… this is not fun!

And your brain can control your gut in other ways.  This happens, for example, when someone sees something disgusting and gory, and vomits immediately.  The brain sent a powerful message to the gut, which interpreted it as a signal to vomit.  Seeing – or even reading about – yawning… can be a trigger that causes an uncontrolled yawn to happen just seconds later (but – hot tip! – if you focus hard on something else quickly, you can usually get your mind to block that signal).

But your belly brain also gets some private information from your body.  It doesn’t get to share most of it’s information with your head brain. The belly brain does some control of your functions, and just reports the important parts, such as:

• You’re hungry
• You’re getting out of breath
• There is vibration from a train (or from loud club music)

What we call “jet lag” takes days to overcome, partially because our bodies are on different internal cycles that get out of balance.  Our circadian rhythms are disrupted. And our digestive system, controlled of course by our belly brain, has to slowly adapt to the change in clock, since we can’t tell our stomach we have changed time zones.

How Can This Information Help Me?

This write-up was designed to highlight the probability that your belly brain is an extended part of your overall mind.  The way that our body and brain are connected is still being understood.  You will get to know yourself better if you understand “Platform You” (the body, brain, and capabilities over time that you have).

Wrapping Up

In summary, it may be helpful to think of our brains as multi-part systems. Science and other areas of research continue to explore how the different parts of our bodies interact. Our “brain systems” or “neural systems”, consisting of three brains, may continue to reveal secrets about ourselves and our potential.

About Paul Worsham