NLP and Neuro-Anatomy
An overview and a little bit about language and the brain for NLP Practitioners
Neurologists and anatomists must have had great fun in thinking up the names for the structures they described. Remember it this way – understanding is not about being able to recall all the names and dates of something and to be able to list the charts that are cited in the books. As I always said to the history teacher – all I really need to know which book those charts are listed in; can’t we learn something more useful yet? We all know that the Battle of Hastings was in 1066, but how many of us know what it was actually about?
Do this: Make two fists. Put them together. That is approximately the size of your brain. Each hand is one hemisphere.
The brain is divided up anatomically in various ways – one division that most people are familiar with is the two hemispheres. Now, these two hemispheres have contra-lateral control. This means that the left half controls the right side of the body and vice-versa. Well, this is almost true. Most people working in neurology have seen exceptions to this generalization – but this a generalization I shall stick with for now.
Here’s a list of the general functions of the left hemisphere:
- Control of right side of the body.
- Dominant perception and production of non-emotional language. Reading, writing, spelling, speaking, rules of grammar and syntax.
- A sense of time.
The left hemisphere is the communication hemisphere (well, this is true for the majority of people – some but not all).
One patient I nursed, who had had quite a nasty injury to the left hemisphere of his brain (we’ll look at the specific area later), lost the use of his right arm and leg. The right side of his face also drooped slightly, but this improved with time, whereas the leg and arm did not. Characteristic of a left-brain injured person, he became aphasic and was only able to utter a single syllable. This syllable consisted of 4 letters (“fuck”) and could only be expressed during times of frustration or anger (of which there was plenty of scope for a gentleman plunged into the problems of semi-paralysis and virtual mutism).
Thus this gentleman’s communication range was reduced to, “fuck fuck .. fuckfuckfuckfuck!!!!”
The staff of the rehabilitation centre soon attuned their ears to hear the variation of pitch, tone, speed, volume, duration, etc and assigning or understanding the meaning to this now essentially analogical communication.
Spot the submodalities? Pay attention to these things, they are really, really important. But more about that later.
Now, why could he only communicate via “fuck-ing” whilst he was in an emotional state?
Well, because some of the functions of the right brain are as follows:
- Control of the left side of the body.
- Pressured Speech/Babytalk.
- Sexual drives.
Patients in this position are often reduced to singular syllabic communication, where the syllables reflect terms of an emotional, aggressive or sexual nature.
And no this is not the same as Tourette’s syndrome.
The two hemispheres communicate with each other via the fantastically named structure, “The Corpus Callosum.”
Some time back, some neurologists had a propensity for severing this band of nerve fibres to treat certain types of epilepsy in order to localize the seizures into one hemisphere. Now, considering that the corpus callosum, which contains more than 300,000,000 fibres that connect every part of one hemisphere to it’s corresponding part in the opposite hemisphere, this was a pretty bold move.
This operation, a “commissurotomy”, produced some pretty interesting results, depending on your point of view.
Neurologist V.S. Ramachandran reports an interesting example of a ‘spontaneous commissurotomy’ (my term) in a 59-year-old woman:
More than fifty years ago a middle aged woman walked into the clinic of Kurt Goldstein, a world-renowned neurologist with keen diagnostic skills. The woman appeared normal and conversed fluently; indeed, nothing was obviously wrong with her. But she had one extraordinary complaint. – every now and then her left hand would fly up to her throat and try to strangle her. She often had to use her right hand to wrestle left hand under control, pushing it down to her side – much like Peter Sellers portraying Dr. Strangeglove. She sometimes even had to sit on the murderous hand, so intent was it on trying to end her life.
Now, a question for the group: A client arrives in your office and says, “I try not to worry, Doctor – I do tell myself that I should be happy and grateful, but I cannot help but get this awful feeling of resentment.”
Which hemisphere is doing which part?
My aim for NLP Practitioners: To be able to not only hear the modality and submodality distinctions but to also be able to hear which part of the brain is active during the sequencing of their strategies, processes and meta-programs and to be able to structure your response and intervention accordingly.
Remember, everything you need to know about your client is right there in front of you (assuming you are in the same room as the client, of course) – it is just a question of having the right referential experiences by which to hear them.