Reply To: Encounter in the Wild from an LH/RH Perspective

  • Peter Barus

    December 5, 2022 at 4:54 pm

    I haven’t met a grizzly, and hope to miss that experience, thank you! But I imagine you would not trade it for anything.

    The following is an excerpt from a book I wrote in the context of Japanese martial arts (Matters of Life and Death: Essays in Budo). I’m adding it here as it seems to fit the topic. However, it was written in 2013, long before I knew about Dr. McGilchrist’s amazing work. So it’s in the context of the triune brain and the idea of the fight-or-flight response.

    In the hemispheric lateralization context it seems to me that we are unlikely to be able to put words to events seen from the right-brain perspective except as a kind of after-action report. In my present work, a book about–well, the title is “Surviving Extinction at the Dawn of the Attention Age”–I’m finding it very difficult to deal with what is generally called the conclusion. Iain’s work has been most helpful in this regard, in that at least I may suspect it isn’t merely the onset of dementia. At any rate, here’s my example:

    I once found a baby raccoon in the snow, half its face bristling with porcupine quills. It would die unless they were removed. I had extracted quills from dogs; what did I have to fear from this cute little ball of fluff? Seeing myself as a compassionate being, I decided to capture the tiny creature. I managed to corner it, and moved in – and it launched itself at me with teeth bared, hissing loudly, every hair standing on end! I lost all sense of proportion. My skin seemed to shrink all at once, and before I knew it I had retreated a good ten feet, heart pounding, gasping for breath. My physical reaction would have been more appropriate had it been a charging bear, although we are advised, here in bear country, to stand our ground when it comes to charging bears. I doubt whether I will have any say in the matter. My endocrine system will probably take over.

    On another occasion my mid-brain triggered the “fight” response. I was not expecting a fight; I wasn’t even in a bad neighborhood. I was at work outdoors when a rifle bullet buried itself in a piece of timber near my head. Then I heard shots. When I understood what this was – but not what it meant, apparently – I flew into a rage and ran in the direction of the shooter, shouting something about his ancestry, never thinking about taking cover. I was sure I could see the tracks of the bullets cutting through the tall grasses, inches to the right and left. I had no sense of danger. When the man saw me running toward him, he dropped the weapon and threw his hands up. He had been adjusting the sights on his deer rifle.

    This was not bravery, any more than my retreat from a baby animal was cowardice. The lizard-brain reacts instantly. Other parts of the brain explain what happened later, most likely inventing a heroic story. A charging baby raccoon got the flight response and I back-pedaled before I knew it. Flying bullets elicited the opposite response, and I charged just as thoughtlessly.