With Half Your Brain Tied Behind Your Back

Unihemispheric Sleep; Unihemispheric Waking

Half-Brain Sleep is Common in Many Animals Source
Half-Brain Sleep is Common in Many Animals

Whales and dolphins live underwater but must come to the surface periodically to breathe. They cannot allow both hemispheres of their brains to drop into deep sleep, else they may not wake to surface in time. Similarly, many birds undergo long migrations and other flights of long duration when they are unable to fall into deep sleep for long periods of time. Their brains are adapted to allow one hemisphere to stay awake while the other hemisphere gets much needed rest.

Can Humans Sleep With Half Their Brain Open?

The human brain, it turns out, is endowed with a less dramatic form of the unihemispheric sleep found in birds and some mammals. For humans, familiarity with a place breeds a deep night’s sleep.

__ Christof Koch

When humans are sleeping in a strange environment — which happens very regularly to people who travel as a matter of course — it seems the left hemisphere is more vigilant to the environment, allowing the right hemisphere to snooze more deeply. More

The sleep scientists who discovered this unilateral phenomenon used advanced brain scanners, which allowed subjects to sleep inside them all night long.

… they found that the sleeping brains showed asymmetrical patterns of sleep activity, with one hemisphere humming along while the other slept. And while the sprightly hemisphere wasn’t fully awake, it was much more active than the other—even responsive to external stimuli. Subjects in the study experiencing FNE, for example, were jolted awake by “deviant” sounds. A creaking door perhaps. Or a shrieking animal. For most of the subjects, the night watchman hemisphere of their brain was the left side, for inexplicable reasons. __ PopSci

More on sleep

Interesting, But So What?

Even during their awake time, animals — and humans — often move through the world “half asleep.” The image of dolphins above shows how the brain allots its sleep/wake time according to three general hemispheric states: L awake/R asleep, R awake/L asleep, and both L and R awake. As mentioned above, as a matter of survival for dolphins, both L and R cannot sleep simultaneously, except for very short time periods. This means that casual observers may not notice whether a dolphin is half awake, or fully awake.

You might think that humans do not have this problem, since humans can usually sleep with both hemispheres at specific, designated times, leaving both hemispheres fully awake to deal with the world at the proper time. Except, it doesn’t always work that way. Individual (left or right) human hemispheres can exhibit signs of sleep while a person is nominally awake, for short times. Most people — even those who have not been forced to stay alert for very long stretches, or for odd hours — will be able to recall brain misfires and somnambulations while awake which are very difficult to explain.

Is Anyone Ever Completely Awake?

The video clip above from the movie “Limitless” is entirely fictional, and yet . . . anyone who is curious and pays just a little attention to the world will have experienced epiphanies — startling moments of exceptional awareness that emerge unsolicited from the depths. How can we seem awake, and then suddenly find ourselves watching our worlds from one or more levels higher up?

These states never seem to last very long, but they suggest the existence of a higher and deeper ocean of experience, in which most of us have only managed to dip our toes.

Split Hemispheres https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/split-brain-patients-reveal-brains-flexibility/
Split Hemispheres

It is easy to imagine unihemispheric sleep in humans when the two hemispheres have been surgically disconnected from each other — as in “split brain patients.” Patients with uncontrollable epilepsy were sometimes “cured” of global seizures by severing the corpus callosum. Once disconnected, the two hemispheres will often go in different directions, attending to different things.
After the right and left brain are separated, each hemisphere will have its own separate perception, concepts, and impulses to act. Having two “brains” in one body can create some interesting dilemmas. When one split-brain patient dressed himself, he sometimes pulled his pants up with one hand (that side of his brain wanted to get dressed) and down with the other (this side didn’t). Also, once he grabbed his wife with his left hand and shook her violently, so his right hand came to her aid and grabbed the aggressive left hand. However, such conflicts are actually rare. If a conflict arises, one hemisphere usually overrides the other.[1] __ Wikipedia Split Brain

A fascinating topic to be sure, but something similar can take place even when all anatomical connections within the brain remain intact. Such interhemispheric asynchrony has been observed in hypnosis — and anything that happens under formal hypnosis may also tend to happen spontaneously in ordinary life.

The Corpus Callosum is Larger in Women than Men

The more strongly the two hemispheres are connected to each other, the less likely that they will act independently of each other. It has been found that the two brain hemispheres not as strongly connected in men as they are in women.

In the entire sample (n= 316), controlling for brain size and age, the average CCA [corpus callosum cross sectional area] was significantly (P< 0.03) larger in females. The difference favoring females was more pronounced in the young adults cohort (P< 0.0005). These results provide strong additional evidence that the CCA is larger in females after correcting for the confounding effect of brain size. ___ http://cercor.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/08/09/cercor.bhs253.full

More, persons who are easily hypnotised — and can readily block pain perception under hypnosis — have been found to have larger corpus callosi, at least in the anterior portion.

Only the highly hypnotizable subjects (HHs) who eliminated pain perception were included in the present study. These HHs, who demonstrated more effective attentional and inhibitory capabilities, had a significantly (P < 0.003) larger (31.8%) rostrum, a corpus callosum area involved in the allocation of attention and transfer of information between prefrontal cortices, than low hypnotizable subjects (LHs). These results provide support to the neuropsychophysiological model that HHs have more effective frontal attentional systems implementing control, monitoring performance and inhibiting unwanted stimuli from conscious awareness, than LHs. __ http://brain.oxfordjournals.org/content/127/8/1741

The anterior parts of the corpus callosum also seem to be enlarged in meditation practitioners, suggesting that meditation may alter the actual morphology of certain parts of the brain via the brain plasticity of selective use.

Hypnosis vs. Meditation

Although superficial similarities between hypnosis and meditation are readily apparent, we should be aware of the important differences between the two things. Hypnosis can be thought of as a highly focused “spotlight,” while meditation more closely resembles a broadbeam “floodlight.” A hypnotic trance blanks out peripheral phenomena, including ordinary sensations such as pain, discomfort, or embarassment. Meditation — particularly mindfulness meditation — opens the portals of awareness to allow an “eagle’s eye view” of one’s internal and external setting.

Using hypnosis, one can “disconnect” different circuits of brain activity from each other, functionally, on a subconscious level. Mindfulness meditation enlarges the borders of consciousness to allow normally suppressed stimuli to reach mental awareness. At that point, the conscious mind can often sort the relevant from the irrelevant, and alter subsequent consciousness.

Who Wants to Bother with All This Hocus Pocus?

Very few people indeed. Most would rather pop a pill, swallow a draught, lose themselves in a social setting, or otherwise avoid the question of whether they are entirely sleepwalking through their lives — or only doing so halfway. But shouldn’t we want to train our children differently, to be less slaves of our trance states and more aware of their own decision making and life choices?

Fortunately, for the Tech-Oriented Parent, There is Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback uses brainwave and other neurofunctional real-time metrics to allow a person to shape the workings of his own brain. Neurofeedback has proven exceptionally effective for treating ADHD and for brain rehabilitation after injury. The technique has also been useful for treating addictions, depression, autism, migraines, and a range of other dysfunctional states.

And although there has not been much written on the use of neurofeedback for enlarging conscious awareness, a number of neuroresearchers are doing work on that very project. Although this is not exactly what I am referring to, consider:

A recent development in the field is a conceptual approach called the Coordinated Allocation of Resource Model (CAR) of brain functioning which states that specific cognitive abilities are a function of specific electrophysiological variables which can overlap across different cognitive tasks.[47] The activation database guided EEG biofeedback approach initially involves evaluating the subject on a number of academically relevant cognitive tasks and compares the subject’s values on the QEEG measures to a normative database, in particular on the variables that are related to success at that task. __ Wikipedia Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback has also been used to improve the performances of musicians, dancers, actors, athletes, and other persons who make a living from highly focused skills.

Neurofeedback is readily distinguished from ordinary hypnosis and meditation by neurofeedback’s ability to monitor real-time brain activity in particular brain circuits and anatomical centres. “Conscious” influence on normally unconscious brain processes can then be observed and modified to suit the goals of clients and their parents.

The Objective is to Learn to Achieve States of Highly Functional Awareness

Dangerous Children learn to achieve heightened situational awareness (and mindfulness) as part of their training. This allows them to anticipate and deal with problems before they happen. The parents of many Dangerous Children in training may also opt for neurofeedback training, where it may be helpful.

The neurological signs of “sleeping while awake” can be too subtle for most available intruments used in everyday neurofeedback training. They also tend to be too fleeting and unpredictable to be easily addressed in most conventional programmes of neurofeedback.

But a careful human observer can usually catch another person who is falling into a trance, in most situations. That is where “life coaches,” parents, and mentors who have some training in Ericksonian hypnosis and similar trance-aware disciplines can make their mark on a Dangerous Child’s future ability to choose his own path on multiple time scales.

Parents of Dangerous Children Must Learn to Pay Attention

Raising a Dangerous Child is an exhausting prospect. Fortunately, Dangerous Children begin to take up the slack of their own training at a surprisingly early age. Even so, parents, coaches, mentors, and helpers need to keep their eyes open so as to be able to intervene at key developmental bifurcation points.

Unconscious Learning

Some readers question whether very young children can truly learn simple rudiments of The Dangerous Child Method well before they are able to talk or form verbal concepts. This betrays a society-wide “tyranny of language” which has held human societies back for so long. Today we will begin to scrape the surface of concepts in pre-verbal, unconscious learning.

In Lower Animals, All Learning is Unconscious

The same is true of most learning in infants and toddlers. Children are born with instincts and rudimentary mental mechanisms, but these are unconscious. Before conscious awareness can develop, a scaffolding of unconscious learning must be built, at the same time as the brain itself is going through critical and sensitive periods of development. Young humans must undergo similar forms of early learning as animals — such as lab rats or pigeons — experience. This type of early unconscious learning is often referred to as “conditioning.”

Unconscious Conditioning

Behaviourist Psychology dominated the field of psychological research and theory during the first half of the 20th century. Behaviourists felt that animals — including even adult humans — were largely unconscious, and their minds a jumble of conditioned reflexes and automatic responses. Two different — but related — types of conditioning were devised by Ivan Pavlov and BF Skinner.


Classical Conditioning

  • First described by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist
  • Involves placing a neutral signal before a reflex
  • Focuses on involuntary, automatic behaviors

Operant Conditioning

  • First described by B. F. Skinner, an American psychologist
  • Involves applying reinforcement or punishment after a behavior
  • Focuses on strengthening or weakening voluntary behaviors

___ Source

Importantly, classical conditioning creates a paired link between an artificial stimulus and a preexisting innate response — bypassing the original natural stimulus. A good example of classical conditioning is Pavlov’s experiment pairing the ringing of a bell with the exposure of a dog to appetizing food. Soon, only the ring of the bell was necessary to make the dog salivate.

Operant conditioning seizes upon a particular behaviour (such as an animal exploring part of a maze), and either rewards or punishes the behaviour, depending upon the response the experimenter desires.

Consider “The Little Albert Experiment” and decide which type of unconscious conditioning is involved:

The Little Albert Experiment

Before the experiment, Albert was given a battery of baseline emotional tests: the infant was exposed, briefly and for the first time, to a white rat, a rabbit, a dog, a monkey, masks (with and without hair), cotton, wool, burning newspapers, and other stimuli. Albert showed no fear of any of these items during the baseline tests.

For the experiment proper, Albert was put on a mattress on a table in the middle of a room. A white laboratory rat was placed near Albert and he was allowed to play with it. At this point, Watson and Rayner made a loud sound behind Albert’s back by striking a suspended steel bar with a hammer each time the baby touched the rat. Albert responded to the noise by crying and showing fear. After several such pairings of the two stimuli, Albert was presented with only the rat. Upon seeing the rat, Albert got very distressed, crying and crawling away… In further experiments, Little Albert seemed to generalize his response to the white rat. He became distressed at the sight of several other furry objects, such as a rabbit, a furry dog, and a seal-skin coat, and even a Santa Claus mask with white cotton balls in the beard

… Albert’s conditioned fear was never extinguished. Although he probably continued to fear various furry objects for a time, he would likely have been desensitized by his natural environments later in life… __ Wikipedia “Little Albert Experiment

The experiment described above is often described as an example “classical conditioning” or Pavlovian conditioning (see Wikipedia article above). More rationale attempting to describe this experiment as classical conditioning.

Cognitive scientists at the Al Fin Institutes assert confidently that Little Albert is actually an example of operant conditioning, with the loud clanging used as an aversive stimulus or a form of punishment used to influence behaviour. The logic behind this claim is much cleaner and simpler than the convoluted argument in the link above.

Enough About Conditioning

Unconscious learning is far deeper and more complex than the elementary forms of conditioning introduced by Pavlov, Skinner, and Watson. Conditioning is about programming reflexive and involuntary behaviours in animals. But unconscious learning goes far beyond, involving complex cognitive mechanisms that the behaviourists could not have imagined. Example:

Here is a typical experiment that supports Reber’s theory of implicit learning. It comes from Dr. Pawel Lewicki of the University of Tulsa. He had volunteers try to predict where an X would appear on a computer screen, selecting one of four quadrants. The subjects pushed a button corresponding to the quarter of the screen where they predicted the X would appear next. The X followed a pattern determined by 10 simultaneous rules.

Lewicki offered $100 to anybody who could report the rules (after the experiment was over) but nobody could specify them. However, the volunteers became more and more successful with their predictions as the experiment went on. They sensed the pattern, whatever it was. Their predictions became more accurate until Lewicki suspended the rules and moved the X randomly, whereupon their performance dropped to pre-learning levels again (Goleman, 1992).

How did brain scans change as people practiced a simple motor skill?

At some point a person may grasp a pattern or make it conscious. This process can be traced in brain scans. Pascual-Leone, Grafman, and Hallett (1994) used a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to study this. They used a motor (movement) task and looked for changes in the motor cortex as subjects practiced.

The transition from unconscious knowledge to conscious knowledge and then automaticity showed up as a progression of changes in the brain scans. Initially, while subjects tried to figure out what they were supposed to do, cortical areas devoted to the task grew larger. The enlargement of these “output maps” increased until subjects achieved explicit knowledge of the task, becoming conscious of the pattern. After this, their reactions became more automatic, and the areas of brain activity shrank so that only a smaller area of cortex was active. __ http://www.intropsych.com/ch03_states/unconscious_learning.html

Implicit Learning

The more common term used for unconscious learning is “implicit learning.” Learning to speak one’s native language — at least in the early years — is an example of mostly implicit learning, as the basic “rules” of language are internalised without conscious intent by very young children. More:

Examples from daily life, like learning how to ride a bicycle or how to swim, are cited as demonstrations of the nature of implicit learning and its mechanism. It has been claimed that implicit learning differs from explicit learning by the absence of consciously accessible knowledge. Evidence supports a clear distinction between implicit and explicit learning; for instance, research on amnesia often shows intact implicit learning but impaired explicit learning. Another difference is that brain areas involved in working memory and attention are often more active during explicit than implicit learning.[4] __ Wikipedia Implicit Learning

Note: The distinction between “consciously accessible knowledge” and “unconsciously accessible knowledge” is not always so clearcut, leading to intense but often meaningless arguments between psychological researchers.

Modern educational systems tend to focus on verbal learning styles, at the expense of visuo-spatial, musical, physical kinetic, pattern maths, and other forms of learning that can often lead to more innovative and disruptive destinations. It is no accident that female humans tend to — on average — do better at verbal tasks than do the masses of male humans. This is not true at the very highest levels of accomplishment, but that is another story that goes beyond the simple statistics used in modern educational research.

Dangerous Child Training Focuses on Pre-Verbal and Non-Verbal Forms of Learning

Much of the difficulty in explaining The Dangerous Child Method consists in the challenge of using words to describe non-verbal phenomena. Each child is unique from the outset, requiring much variety, careful trial and error, and close personal observation in the training of Dangerous Child foundations and skills at different levels of development.

To be continued . . .

Raising a Dangerous Child is One of the Most Difficult Things One Can Do

Dangerous Children master at least three ways of supporting themselves financially by age eighteen. They are expert with a variety of methods of self and group defence. They speak at least three languages fluently, play multiple musical instruments, understand basic banking / investment / finance / trade / taxation, and will be able to make their own way through life and higher education without outside assistance.

Getting To That Point is Difficult, Since Parents Must Learn to Improvise

There is no single curriculum which will serve to educate every Dangerous Child. Nor is there any one single approach to child-rearing, discipline, or talent development that will serve everyone. This means that if parents decide to raise multiple Dangerous Children, they will need to adapt the method to each child as he reveals himself in development.

Parents must be prepared to offer a large number and variety of experiences, experiments, and projects to each child. And they must also be prepared to follow up on particularly promising experiments. Some experiences will cause the child to come alive and want to do nothing else. Such “golden” experiences can be very useful for motivating the child to do other experiments and projects which may not move the child nearly so well, at first.

Young children do not always see the need for variety, particularly when they have discovered something they already know that they like. Using “preferred activities” as rewards for doing more exploratory activities — or for delving into projects whose early stages are a bit tedious — will accomplish multiple ends.

First, using one skill-building activity to motivate another skill-building activity helps reveal to the parent more about how the child’s mind works. This will be useful for future structured explorations into skills training.

Second, piggy-backing on a pre-existing enthusiasm, children discover that new experiments that seemed unexciting at first can turn into experiences that generate a new enthusiasm.

Third, while diverted from the initial preferred activity, the child’s subconscious mind is devising better and more skillful ways to perform the preferred activity, while at the same time learning a new skill consciously.

The early years are quite tricky, since what is very exciting to a two year old can become old hat to a three or four year old. The skills and competencies that are being developed before the age of six or eight tend to be foundational skills. But they are critically important all the same.

Very few Mozarts, Nureyevs, or Michaelangelos reveal themselves before the age of six or eight. Albert Einstein was labled a “slow learner” in grammar school. Several fine symphony orchestra musicians began playing one instrument (often the piano) then switched to another instrument that made them famous. But the musical appreciation, movement training, practise in thinking things through, and the early musical instrument are all critical foundations to later development.

Early enthusiasms should be treated as foundational learning and as motivation for further development. If there is a long-term future in that early gold strike, it should become obvious as the child develops many additional skills, but keeps coming back to the mother lode.

When the child reaches the age of six to eight he will begin to select his own experiments

The prefrontal executive functions do not begin to develop and function until around the age of seven or eight, for most children. They are not fully developed until adulthood, but by age eight the basic pattern has typically been set for that child.

The executive system is thought to be heavily involved in handling novel situations outside the domain of some of our ‘automatic’ psychological processes that could be explained by the reproduction of learned schemas or set behaviors. Psychologists Don Norman and Tim Shallice have outlined five types of situations in which routine activation of behavior would not be sufficient for optimal performance:[13][page needed]

Those that involve planning or decision making
Those that involve error correction or troubleshooting
Situations where responses are not well-rehearsed or contain novel sequences of actions
Dangerous or technically difficult situations
Situations that require the overcoming of a strong habitual response or resisting temptation.
__ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions


Overcoming innate impulses can be almost impossible in children whose prefrontal executive functions are not well developed. In some research, executive function is up to 90% heritable. Compare that to IQ which is up to 80% heritable in mature adults.

Another perspective on the brain’s executive functions:

Executive function skills help us plan, focus attention, switch gears, and juggle multiple tasks—much like an air traffic control system at a busy airport. Acquiring the early building blocks of these skills is one of the most important and challenging tasks of the early childhood years. Their strength is critical to healthy development throughout childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. __ http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/building-the-brains-air-traffic-control-system-how-early-experiences-shape-the-development-of-executive-function/

The above quote suggests that early experience affects the development of executive function. More in this 20 pp working paper from Harvard (PDF).

In the Harvard working group, executive functions primarily consist of working memory, inhibitory control, and mental flexibility.

So You Can See Why Parenting Very Young Dangerous Children is Such an Arduous Task

Parents of Dangerous Children must provide the executive function for the very young child, while exposing the child to the formative experiences and skill-building experiments/projects that will assist in the robust development of the child’s own executive functions. For most reasonably bright, healthy, and balanced children, all of this takes place almost automatically, within an environment of love and playfulness — for the very young child.

Most of a Dangerous Child’s schooling after the age of eight or ten is self-monitored and self-supervised (to a point), development of executive functions within the critical window of ages five to eight is crucial. But just as crucial is the development of basic skills and competencies which facilitate executive function training during the sensitive period.

In The Robinson Curriculum, students are taught to teach themselves

While the subject matter, can be mastered with or without a teacher, the student who masters it without a teacher learns something more. He learns to teach himself. Then, when he continues into physics, chemistry, and biology—which are studied in their own special language, the language of mathematics—he is able to teach these subjects to himself regardless of whether or not a teacher with the necessary specialized knowledge is present. Also, he is able to make use of much higher—quality texts — texts written for adults. __ Teach Them to Teach Themselves

Both Arthur Robinson and his wife were intelligent, self-disciplined persons. Robinson only discovered the “trick” of children self-teaching after his wife died suddenly, leaving the six-child homeschool without a teacher.

From that “sink or swim” experience, it became very clear that the children could indeed swim very well. They learned early to teach themselves.

For Most Bright Children of Disciplined Parents, Executive Function Develops Almost Automatically

But that is no reason to ignore the process. Before the age of four or five, one does not attempt to teach executive functions directly — not before the sensitive period has had time to truly begin. But foundational skills can be taught. More on that later.