I have been reading about the problem of possible dual consciousness in split brain patients and I came across this wikipedia page.

In the "other experiments" section, the two last paragraphs about Joseph's experiments seemed extremely simplistic, too obvious to be true. The way they are described and how groundbreaking it would be if true: two consciousness living in one brain and fighting with each other. So I decided to google the name of this Jospeh Rhawn. You should judge by yourself: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Rhawn_Joseph is the first link showing up. It is clearly a crackpot. Although he managed to get published how can you trust this guy about the split brain experiments? After reading a lot about the subject I thought they were extremely weird. Any expert who could give an advice about the experiments and the guy?

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what you're concerned about. Maybe if you don't trust wiki's you should start reading source material? $\endgroup$
    – Azorce
    Sep 29 '15 at 22:51
  • $\begingroup$ Sounds related to my question here: cogsci.stackexchange.com/questions/10504/… $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Sep 30 '15 at 14:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Azorce I read the source and that's why I became more dubious. As I am not an expert I came here to have more advices about the reality of these experiments. How could one trust a guy who seems to be a cracpot. In one of his experiment the subject's legs were trying to walk in different directions... ! $\endgroup$
    – ceillac
    Oct 2 '15 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ Extraordinary evidence supports extraordinary claims. $\endgroup$
    – user9634
    May 26 '16 at 2:02

Short answer
On the basis of a cursory literature review, I conclude that Jospeh's observations were correct, but his conclusions that a callosotomy can result in a dual consciousness were far stretched.

First off, I'm not an expert on this topic, but I will give my referenced opinion anyway, as there is no answer yet to this question; Below are quoted the two sections from the wiki Dual consciousness (neuroscience), as linked in the question:

Rhawn Joseph observed two patients who had both undergone a complete corpus callosotomy. Joseph observed that one of the patient’s right hemisphere is able to gather, comprehend, and express information. The right hemisphere was able to direct activity to the patient’s left arm and leg. The execution of the left arm and leg's action as was inhibited by the left hemisphere. Joseph found that the patient’s left leg would attempt to move forward as if to walk straight but the right leg would either refuse move or begin to walk in the opposite direction. After observing the struggles of the execution of activities involving the left and right arms and legs, led Joseph to believe that the two hemispheres possessed their own consciousness.[16]

Joseph also noted that the patient had other specific instances of conflict between the right and left hemispheres including, the left hand (right hemisphere) carrying out actions contrary to the left hemisphere's motives such as the left hand turning off the television immediately after the right hand turned it on. Joseph found that the patient’s left leg would only allow the patient to return home when the patient was going for a walk and would reject continuing to go for that walk.

First thing to note - he describes two patients and only one of them is highlighted on the wiki; hence, this is a case report (Joseph, 1988). Case reports can't control for any other personal characteristics of that one patient. Such anecdotal reports are important, but they may not be a reflection of the population as a whole (i.e., people with a transected corpus callosum).

Secondly, the term 'consciousness' is a loosely defined and debated one. Similarly, the 'mind' is a broad and ill-defined term.

Then you proceed to scrutinize his work as based on his unconventional beliefs on the origin of life as based on a rational wiki page. Although his ideas on this may be unconventional, that doesn't mean he has reported flawed observations during his professional career as a neuropsychologist.

However, and I quote a part of the Discussion section of Joseph (1988) where he describes anecdotal behaviors of 2-C:

[He] became angry with his left hand, swore and expressed "hate" for it, struck his left hand/arm with his right hand, and engaged in physical struggles with his left extremity, the right attempting to force the left to comply with some particular activity or to cease to act in a manner that the left hemisphere found objectionable or annoying. [...] In general, these findings indicate that the isolated right cerebral hemisphere of 2-C was able to understand and follow certain simple verbal commands, obtain and maintain knowledge [...], as well as respond, make decisions and act purposefully- even when his left hemisphere had no idea as to what information the right possessed and why it was behaving in a particular manner. Given the differential behavioral observations with regard to the activity and responsiveness of the left half of their bodies, it appears that 2-C (unlike 1-C) is possessed of two minds, one of which resides within the right, the other within the left cerebral hemisphere. Nevertheless, it appears that 2-C's left hemisphere remains predominant in regard to most expressive activities.

The bold text is probably what fueled the wiki article. To me, personally, the 'hatred' and frustration of C-2 is easily explained by the loss of body control. Who wouldn't feel frustration and resentment to that side of the body?

Indeed, a paper by Andrew & Akelaitis (1945) explains a similar behavior by their (partial-)split-brain patients with diagnostic dyspraxia. These authors explain the phenomenon not by a dualistic consciousness, but 'simply' by an unbalanced inhibitory influence of the dominant hemisphere over the non-dominant side. This decreased inhibitory control was hypothesized to lead to the uncoordinated behavior on the non-dominant side. These symptoms generally diminish over time, as the brain deploys alternative inter-hemispheric routing of communications. This sounds more plausible to me.

Lastly, there is a a publication that coins it "alien hand syndrome" (Feinberg et al., 1992). They too, ascribe the phenomenon by a disturbed inhibitory interhemispheric control, and I quote:

Callosal AHS [alien hand syndrome] is best explained by hemispheric disconnection manifested during behaviors requiring dominant-hemisphere control.

So I conclude form this quick literature review that Joseph ascribes the presence of two minds based on something that can be explained at a more basic level, and hence by a more simple model, namely disinhibited motor control. Given the principle of parsimony, I conclude his observations were right, but that his conclusions were not.

- Andrew & Akelaitis (1945) Am J Psychiatr; 101(5): 594-9
- Feinberg et al., Neurology (1992); 42: 19-24
- Joseph, J Clin Psychol (1988); 44(5): 770-9

  • $\begingroup$ I think it is more parsimonious to consider two consciousnesses. People have had large parts or even half of their brains removed and still could function. Was it just pure luck that they didn't lose the "important" side which held the "real" consciousness? No. Any part of the brain working separately gives rise to consciousness at some level, as consciousness is holographic: a smaller piece gives a fuzzier image, but still a complete image. Hemispheres that cannot communicate could do nothing other than each be conscious. We can have many centers of consciousness at once. $\endgroup$
    – user9634
    May 26 '16 at 1:59
  • $\begingroup$ @nocomprende - a theoretical approach like yours is imo less parsimonious than one supported by neurophysiological data. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    May 26 '16 at 7:21
  • $\begingroup$ My approach is not theoretical, it is practical. Is there neurophysiological data for consciousness? I had heard that people cannot even agree what is meant by the term. $\endgroup$
    – user9634
    May 26 '16 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ @nocomprende - I was talking about the question, not the issue of consciousness. I'm not even attempting to strictly define that - I'll leave that to the experts - hence the first line of the background section :) $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    May 26 '16 at 20:56

Joseph's description of his patients fascinated me. The concept of two minds fighting for control isn't a new one to me, but was previously restricted to science fiction and/or horror genres. How strange to find a real-life example of it.

What I find unsatisfying about the explanation of "reduced inhibitory control of the dominant hemisphere over the non-dominant one" is this: Where did the alien hand's impulse to turn off the TV come from?

Consciousness and intent seem closely related. I suppose One consciousness can have multiple intents, but the act of picking up a remote and turning off a television is a fairly complex one; it implies a conception of the remote and the TV, and more importantly, a desire or will to turn it off.

It seems to be implied that the "dominant" hemisphere is in control of the mouth and perhaps by implication the verbal centers. Were that not the case, it might be difficult for the patient to communicate at all. Perhaps there are individual bodies for whom this is the case, but they're unable to tell us so!

Split personalities seem relevant--a brain that hasn't lost interconnectivity entirely, but which localized it's activity excessively--doesn't operate in parallel--"takes turns"--Isn't "integrated" or "cohesive." Just what came to mind.

Without being able to talk to the patient, or to Joseph, it's very hard to say whether Joseph's conclusions were correct. Is/was Joseph a smart guy? Is he prone to overly dramatic explanations, or would he only say something like this if he was quite sure it was true? I'll edit this when I get a chance to look at it in more detail.

  • $\begingroup$ Joseph doesn't matter. He could be a complete lunatic and the conclusion could still be true. We are trying to go beyond Argument From Authority, so credentials do not matter. What is the case matters. $\endgroup$
    – user9634
    May 26 '16 at 2:01

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