In writing about the Other Brain, we conveniently slid over a confusion about just what other brains there may be. Just which is the Second Brain and could there be a Third Brain.
Dr. Michael Gershon, an expert in the nascent field of neurogastroenterology, laid the seeds of confusion with his 1998 book The Second Brain. A Scientific American article earlier in the year was a useful recap of what is involved. It was called “Think Twice: How the Gut’s ‘Second Brain’ Influences Mood and Well-Being.”
There is an often-overlooked network of neurons lining our guts that is so extensive some scientists have nicknamed it our “second brain”.
A deeper understanding of this mass of neural tissue, filled with important neurotransmitters, is revealing that it does much more than merely handle digestion or inflict the occasional nervous pang. The little brain in our innards, in connection with the big one in our skulls, partly determines our mental state and plays key roles in certain diseases throughout the body.
Although its influence is far-reaching, the second brain is not the seat of any conscious thoughts or decision-making.
Marghi Merzenich provides more details on this “Second Brain”.
The second brain is a mass of tissue in our intestines that shares many qualities with our brains–millions of neurons, many of the same key chemicals (like dopamine and serotonin). This “second brain” is officially called the “enteric nervous system,” and it’s a fascinating part of the body.
The brain and spinal cord are known as the “central nervous system.” The “peripheral nervous system” connects the central nervous system to the rest of the body, moving the messages along until they reach their destination. The enteric nervous system (the “second brain”) is part of the peripheral nervous system.
What makes the “second brain” unique from other parts of the peripheral nervous system, though, is that it can function even without input from the central nervous system, and sends many more messages to the central nervous system than it receives. And while it’s not a center of conscious thought, it has widespread influence on our physical bodies and our emotional well-being. This may have implications for how we treat emotional problems like depression.
That’s all well and good but that Second Brain term was being used by others in a different context. A 2009 article proclaimed, Introducing Our Second and Third Brains: We Do Think With Our Heart and Instinct
This article noted that neuro-scientists have demonstrated that we have a brain in our heart and another in our intestines. What we have in each of these, in actual fact, is an extensive mass of neurons that behave in a fashion similar to the neurons contained in the brain, and that appear to function at mega-speeds, often much greater than those of our cerebral neurons.
What they are referring to is the work of J. Andrew Armour, M.D., Ph.D. in Montreal and others. Their picture is that the heart brain is the second brain and the enteric (intestine) brain is the third brain.
Whether you consider that we have two brains or three brains, either picture states very clearly that your logical brain is not the sole way you are assessing information, processing it and making decisions. At least one other brain or perhaps two is/are unconsciously involved and you probably never realize it.
Becoming more aware of these different brains and balancing the way they interact can bring significant improvement in the way you try to achieve your goals. The Three Brain Synergy website provides more information on these issues and can show you what is involved in ensuring all your brains are working in the most effective collaboration.