The Split Brain Phenomenon: On the Outside Looking In

I used to think only I experienced a split brain. Even in childhood, I always had the strange sensation of being on the outside looking in. I watched my peers and marveled at the ridiculous (to me) things they fought about, raged about, lost friends over. I always just figured I was an “old soul” type, plus being an introvert I did not usually place myself in the center of social angst.

But there is more to it than that, as I have found as I grew into adulthood. I have often felt like I am in two places at once—both experiencing my life and observing it. As an introspective type, this observing of my experiences often takes a two step form that most people are familiar with—something happens, and later on in a quiet moment, I examine it. But sometimes I have disconcerting moments where the two happen simultaneously.

For example, as my best friend was dying, I and my friends spent many emotional hours in the hospital. One night another friend and I fell into each others’ arms in a hallway and started sobbing. And my split brain says to me, “This would make a good story.” Seriously, brain? So now one part of my split brain is deeply grieving, while the other is arguing with itself over the inappropriateness of its intrusion.

I am aware that this “removed” feeling in the situation above could have been a defense mechanism against my grief, but that is only one instance where I had this occur. Many times I feel both inside and outside my life, like a bridge with an upper and lower deck—connecting to the same places, but taking different routes. Both observer and observed.

I have since found that other creative people experience a similar phenomenon. So maybe I’m not crazy—or maybe we all are. This ability to see the larger picture, to see beyond our own experiences even while having them is, I think, a part of what makes a creative brain what it is. We interpret as we experience, and are able to then lay that observation over the larger human experience and make it resonate with people.  Rather than being a disconnect, it is actually a unique connection between the intensely personal and the widely human.

It is often said that artists see things other people don’t. That they have vision. The split brain is part of that perspective. We are a conduit, able to extrapolate from our experience to that of others. Our job, our purpose, is to shine a light on the humanity in us all.

That moment of grief in the hospital hallway? That is a story played out in every hospital in every country in every language in the world. It is more than a good story—it is the human story.

And my split brain allows me to see both stories at once.

Comments

  1. Carolee Pastorius says:

    Great piece! I often feel the same way… sometimes, I worry that I don’t get as hysterical as others…. but usually, the emotion comes later. Artists have special faculties to see and experience things that other people cannot… which is why it is often exhausting to be an artist. I often say that we feel things deeply so that others don’t have to.

    • I like that thought about feeling deeply so others don’t have to. And I’m the same way with the emotions Calm in the crisis moment, fall apart later on. Must run in the family.

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