The brain as an information processor

Ideas are a form of information and as such are formulated in the brain. The brain has two cerebral hemispheres - a left and a right. The primary mental processes of these hemispheres include vision, hearing, body senses, reasoning, language, and non-verbal visualisation. Within each hemisphere is to be found one half of the limbic system. This is a control centre that governs such things as hunger, thirst, sleeping, waking, body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and emotions. The limbic system plays an important role in transferring incoming information into memory. The two cerebral hemispheres and the two halves of the limbic system make up the four quadrants of the brain. The upper quadrants represent the cerebral hemispheres, while the lower quadrants represent the two halves of the limbic system.

Fibres connect the two cerebral hemispheres, and these fibres carry communications both within and between the two hemispheres. When solving complex problems or other intricate work, different thinking methods are required. The brain switches signals back and forth very rapidly between different areas within the two hemispheres via the fibre links. Switching thinking modes within the cerebral hemispheres (within each of the two upper quadrants) is simple, but switching between the two lower or upper quadrants is more difficult. Diagonal switching is most difficult because there are no fibre connections between diagonally opposite quadrants of the brain.

The Whole Brain/Four-Quadrant Model

Herrmann (1990) showed that it is possible to build a model of the human brain with two paired structures, the two halves of the cerebral system and the two halves of the limbic system. This permits one to differentiate between not only the more popular notions of left/right brain, but also the more sophisticated notions of cognitive/intellectual which describe the cerebral preference, and visceral, structured, and emotional which describe the limbic preference.

Herrmann’s Whole Brain Model also made use of the concept of dominance. Evidence indicates that, wherever there are two of anything in the

Theoretical frameworks 5 body, one of them is naturally dominant over the other. For example, we may be right- or left-handed. We can also be thought of as predominantly right- or left- ‘brained.’ The implications of this for the way in which we prefer to do things are important. Indeed, sometimes our preferred way of doing things may well be counterproductive. Predominantly left-brained thinkers may experience more difficult relationships with colleagues than right-brained thinkers because they are not as sensitised to other people. On the other hand, it may be that predominantly right-brained thinkers need to have goals and a schedule set for them to help them be more efficient.

The Whole Brain Model (Figure 1.1) presents four distinct thinking styles:

1 The upper (cerebral) left

A - analytical, mathematical, technical, and problem solving

2 The lower (limbic) left

B - controlled, conservative, planned, organised, and administrative in nature

3 The lower (limbic) right

C - interpersonal, emotional, musical, and spiritual



Figure 1.1 Brain theories - the Whole Brain Model (Hennann/Wallis)

  • 6 Theoretical frameworks
  • 4 Upper (cerebral) right

D - imaginative, synthesising, artistic, holistic, and conceptual modes

Among other things:

  • • Predominantly A-quadrant thinkers prefer organising information logically in a framework, listening to lectures and reading textbooks, studying example problems and solutions, thinking through ideas, doing scientific/academic research, judging ideas based on facts, criteria, and logical reasoning, dealing with reality and current problems
  • • Predominantly B-quadrant thinkers like finding practical uses for knowledge learnt, planning projects, practising new skills, writing practical guides about how to do something
  • • Predominantly C-quadrant thinkers like to be very organised and precise in their work
  • • Predominantly D-quadrant thinkers like to take an overall view of new topics (not the detail), to take the initiative, ponder on possible outcomes of actions, use visual aids, solve open-ended problems, enjoy wild ideas, experiment, rely on intuition rather than on logic, synthesise ideas, approach a problem from different angles

From the point of view of undertaking creative problem solving activities, type-D thinkers seem to have the most favourable frame of mind for this activity.

During the 1960s, research on the brain caused scientists to conclude that both hemispheres are involved in higher cognitive functioning. It was found that each half of the brain produced different modes of complex thinking. The main argument to develop was that there appear to be two modes of thinking - verbal and non-verbal - which tended to be conducted separately by the left and right hemispheres, respectively. This in mm led initially to a number of ‘brain’-related theories concerning creative thinking, notable amongst which was Roger Sperry’s Left Brain/Right Brain Theory. According to this theory, the left brain is used for logical thinking, judgement, and mathematical reasoning, while the right brain is the source of dreaming, feeling, visualisation, and intuition.

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