Dr. Sigmund Freud concluded that we had an ego and an id. The ego was conscious but the id harbored hidden thoughts. While some of his conclusions were off target, his basic idea was sound. New brain imaging techniques are able to study brain activity based on blood flow within the brain. As a result, we are learning much more about our thought processing than was ever before possible. The results, however, suggest that Carl Jung was closer to the truth of brain functioning than Freud. Carl Jung believed we made decisions using symbols, which he called archetypes, rather than simple rational thought.

Brain imaging began in the 1990’s. In 1998 Dr. Daniel Amen wrote Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. His brain imaging studies revealed which areas of the brain were associated with different activities and how head injuries altered normal brain functioning. Interestingly, Dr. Amen created lists of activities that would help ‘fix’ the problems. Some involved medication. Many did not. They involved normal, positive activities that helped change the brain’s functioning thus fixing the problem.

Since that time the field has blossomed into full-blown scientific activity. Doctors and scientists are tracking not only which functions are associated with which brain areas, they are also performing tests while patients are undergoing brain imaging to see how we think. The results are amazing, but also disconcerting since they tend to disprove our belief that we are primarily rational decision makers.

Our senses feed data to our brain at a rate of 12 million bits per second. Our conscious brain is only capable of handling 18 to 50 bits per second. That’s not thousands of bits. It is 18 bits to 50 bits per second. Our conscious brains would be overwhelmed if they had to handle all the sensory data. We simply could not and can do it.

Here are two quotes about our brains that come from experts in the field. The first comes from David Eagleman, a neuroscientist (www.pbs.org/video/2365594887): “Decision-making lies at the heart of everything. Neuroscience shows that you are not an individual. You are made up of multiple, competing drives. Your brain is locked in a great power struggle with itself. Do we ever act in a purely rational way? Or is that simply an illusion that we cling to?”

The second comes from Leonard Mlodinow in his book Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior: “Philosophers have for centuries debated the nature of “reality” and whether the world we experience is real or an illusion. But modern neuroscience teaches us that, in a way, all our perceptions must be considered illusions. That’s because we perceive the world only indirectly, by processing and interpreting the raw data of our senses.”

I know you find this disconcerting. I did. Don’t despair. Mankind has managed to survive and thrive in spite of this issue. In fact, it turns out our conscious brain and unconscious brain were designed specifically to insure we do live and thrive. More to come …