The Second Brain and the One That’s Missing

January 25th, 2016 by elaine

The second brain is the stomach and the intestines and the whole digestive system.  Some thirty-five years before I heard it referred to in that way, as a practitioner of bioenergetic analysis, a form of psychotherapy,  I tried to convince people that whatever happens in the body happens in the mind and whatever happens in the mind happens in the body.  That was the basic tenet of the approach to mental and physical health  at the the institute in New York City where I trained with the two medical doctors, Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos who founded this body/mind way of working, and where both of them were active and enthusiastic mentors.

I  have to say, I was easily convinced of this simple truth; it just seemed obvious – it seemed like something I had always known.  You know how you get butterflies in your stomach when you’re nervous, I mean, like anticipating something big, like having a speaking part in a play or singing a solo on stage or jumping out of an airplane. (A more graphic expression just occurred to me, but I’ll spare you that one, it’s about how real serious fear can express itself in something other than words.)

Highly qualified medical doctors, as my mentors were, who have a different approach from the accepted one can have a hard time convincing their colleagues of its merits.  So I, not medically trained, was not surprised to get blank looks or skeptical pronouncements from colleagues in other fields of psychotherapy and from just about everyone in the general public – friends, relations, strangers on a plane when I tried to explain what I do.

And then, as time went by, slowly, I would come upon articles in The New York Times science section  headlined like this one:  The Other Brain, the One with Butterflies, Also Deals with Many Woes.

Whoa!  That got my attention!  It was official!  A man by the name of Michael D. Gershon, M.D. who was Chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, had written a book about The Scientific Basis of Gut Instinct…. and he named it The Second Brain.  I couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough.  It was 2005.  There was nothing out there in the 1970′s or 80′s, perhaps a few hints in the 90′s.  It was about time!

I bought the book and tried to read it.  It wasn’t a medical treatise, it was aimed at the general public.  On the back cover lots of medical people praised it for how readable it was, how Dr. Gershon writes with authority and clarity laced with….irony and wit…might have been written by Woody Allen, but it is none the worse for that.

I just couldn’t get into it.  It seemed like it was working too hard to convince me of something I already knew.

Ten years later, 2015, I read about a book written by a young German woman, Giulia Enders, who, at 17,  had developed a skin problem and started her own research program to find out what it was. That led to a study of her own digestive system and she got so intrigued she pursued a medical education. In 2012 she won the first prize at the Science Slam in Freiburg, Berlin and Karlsruhe with a talk she gave called Darm Mit Charme (Charming Bowels) and subsequently wrote the book with that title.  It was an International bestseller before it was translated into English as GUT, and it is a charming, informative book with playful and useful illustrations provided by the author’s sister, a graphic designer.

Someday I will read Dr. Gershon’s book and I will give it all the credit it is surely due, but for the moment my praise is for GUT just because the fact of its existence illustrates something important about the lost art of communication in the era of computer programmers who torture us with websites that are NOT intuitive (a word they love to throw around) except to themselves.  They leave us screaming and swearing at a screen in frustration and rage.  Does this affect our second brain?  Of course, but there is a remedy and I have found it… it’s the brain that’s missing, the one I mention in my title.

Last week the Royal Bank of Canada foisted upon its online clients a brand new website design.  Instead of the practical and easy to navigate one they had before, the new one is  big and flashy, impractical, and contradictory.  On it there is all the information, all the numbers, the amounts, etc. everything I would not want to pass along voluntarily or mistakenly to anyone.  It requires several clicks before I get to the specifics of what I want to do, and some of the possibilities that were available before are no longer there. For those who panic, look to the right, see the comforting words NEED HELP? There is  a tiny box just below into which you may pop a question, click the arrow and off it goes?  NO!  Instead, a flashing message appears on the screen:

Security Warning!  The information you have entered on this page will be sent over an insecure connection and could be read by a third party.  Are you sure you want to send this information.”  (Option: Cancel or Continue)”

Are you crazy?

I phoned them up, of course.  I tried to be nice (my family used to caution me with those words.)  I’m sure I failed even though I did not raise my voice.  This is after I had tried to take their suggestion and send my question instead via a secure email account – which I could not find!!  The site is a masterpiece of flaws and omissions.  I will not elucidate further.

My point is this:  before those techies in their jeans and T-shirts think they are ready to foist their digital machinations, their ones and zeros, on the public they should be required to hire a freelance brain, a mere human person, preferably female, perhaps a grandmotherly type who knows something about communication to sit down and try it out in their presence.  They would feel superior, they would think Grandma is fuzzy-brained, but ultimately as they follow her, they would discover she does indeed have one and it is very clear and very logical.  I can hear them in my mind, they would say it quietly  Duh, yeah, I guess we shoulda thought of that,…..

Those people know too much about programming just as the doctor knows too much about cells and physiology.  They have lost their minds when it comes to understanding understanding like ordinary people do.  We don’t speak the same language.  They know the code but we know what we need to know to make our way in a foreign country, and this Granny has the guts to tell them they are failing to get us there.

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2016

Posted in Book Reviews, Eighty and then some..., Letters to the corporation, Uncategorized, We Don't Talk About That...


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