As a human being, why do we have two types of thought processes about anything i.e. one supporting and another one as a counter? And many a time we do the things we don’t want to do. Why? We shall understand the logical answer to these questions here.
We are going to discuss three psychological brains here, the Frontal, the Limbic and the Parietal. These are called the Human, the Chimp and the Computer. Although these three brains try to work together, they very frequently get into conflict and struggle against each other to gain control, with the Chimp (limbic brain) often winning!
Introducing the Chimp
When you were in the womb two different brains, the frontal (Human) and the limbic (Chimp: an emotional machine), developed independently and then introduced themselves to each other by forming connections. The problem is that they found they were not in agreement about most things. Either of these two brains, or beings, could run your life for you but they try to work together, and therein is the problem. The Human and Chimp have independent personalities with different agendas, ways of thinking, and modes of operating. Effectively there are two beings in your head!
It is important to grasp that only one of these beings is you, the Human. The Chimp is the emotional machine that we all possess. It thinks independently from us and can make decisions. It offers emotional thoughts and feelings that can be very constructive or very destructive; it is not good or bad, it is a Chimp. The Chimp Paradox is that it can be your best friend and your worst enemy, even at the same time. This article is to help you to manage your Chimp and to harness its strength and power when it is working for you and to neutralise it when it is not.
“The Chimp is an emotional machine that thinks independently from us. It is not good or bad, it is just a Chimp.”
When people have accidents that damage their frontal lobe or where they have a disorder or illness affecting the frontal lobe, their personality alters. Effectively the Human part of the brain stops working and the new personality that presents is the Chimp.
Phineas Gage (Neuroscience’s Most Famous Patient)
An early example that demonstrated there could be two different personalities in one head – represented by the Human and Chimp – was that of Phineas Gage. In the late nineteenth century, Gage was employed by a railway company to clear the way for the tracklayers by blowing away any boulders that were too big to move manually. To do this he packed explosives beneath the boulder and then tamped it down with a thick iron rod before lighting the fuse. Gage had been chosen to do this dangerous work because he was judged to be careful, sober and responsible. However, one time, Gage allowed himself to be distracted at a crucial moment and caused the rod to strike the boulder, which created a spark. The resulting explosion jettisoned the iron bar into Gage’s eye socket, through the front of his head and out the top of his skull. As it exited, it took with it a clean core of brain tissue from his frontal (Human) lobe.
Apart from being blind in one eye, Gage made a full recovery. However, his personality was completely altered. He became foul-mouthed, aggressive and impulsive. Effectively, his Human had gone and he was now left with just the Chimp!
Talking to Yourself (Human & Chimp)
You can recognise the difference between your Chimp thinking and Human thinking without knowing any of the science. How many times have you talked to yourself, reassured yourself or had battles within your own head? Often you have thoughts and feelings that you do not want and even carry out behaviours that you know at the time are not really what you want to do. So why are you doing this? How can it be that you do not have control over what thoughts or emotions you have and what behaviours you carry out? How can you be two very different people at different times?
Technology can go some way to answering this question. Functional brain scanners show the blood supply in your brain going to the area that is being used. If you think calmly and rationally then we can see the blood going to the frontal area, the Human in your head, and you become the person that you want to be and that you really are. If you become emotional and somewhat irrational, especially when you are angry or distressed, then we see the blood supply go to your Chimp, and you would usually say this is not how you want to be and that you don’t want this. The truth is that it is your Chimp, an emotional machine, that is overpowering your Human mind.
This starts to explain many things, such as why you worry or why you say things in the heat of the moment and then regret them, or why you can’t stop eating or why you don’t exercise when you really want to but just can’t get your act together. The list is endless. Wonder no more: it is not you doing these things, it is your Chimp that is hijacking you. Having a Chimp is like owning a dog. You are not responsible for the nature of the dog but you are responsible for managing it and keeping it well behaved. This is a very important point and you should stop and think about this because it is crucial to your happiness and success in life.
“You are not responsible for the nature of your Chimp but you are responsible for managing it.”
The Chimp Within
To reiterate, the Chimp within your head is a separate entity to you. It was born when you were born but actually has nothing to do with you as a Human. It is simply part of your machinery. For example, when you were born you were given a certain colour of eyes. You didn’t choose this colour, it was given to you. It was in your genes. There isn’t much you can do about it, so you accept your eye colour and get on with your life. Similarly, you didn’t choose your Chimp, it was given to you and you need to accept it. It has a mind of its own and thinks with original thoughts that are not yours. It is a living machine that is built to serve a purpose, which is to ensure the next generation. It has a personality of its own and it can run your life for you, usually not very well, but it can do it! It is an extremely powerful emotional machine. This chimp is five times more powerful than the human
“One of the secrets of success and happiness is to learn to live with your Chimp and not get bitten or attacked by it. To do this, you need to understand how your Chimp behaves, and why it thinks and acts in the way that it does. You also need to understand your Human and not muddle up your Human with your Chimp”
The Computer Within
The ‘Psychological Mind’ also has a storage area for thoughts and behaviours called the Computer, which is spread throughout the whole brain.
The Computer stores information that the Chimp or Human has put into it. It then uses this information to act for them in an automatic way or it can serve as a reference point.
Now, we can see how you are operating with your Human, Chimp and Computer in different circumstances and how you can use them to your advantage and understand yourself better. Any one of them can take complete control but usually, they work together.
Start Monitoring Yourself
Try to improve your ability to recognise when your Chimp is hijacking you with thoughts, feelings and behaviours that you don’t want to have. By doing this, you are learning to recognise the difference between yourself and your Chimp and who is in control at any point in time. This will help to make clear that there are two brains operating within your head and only one of them is you. So, try to be a human while dealing with others, because a chimp might create issues when emotional matters come up during interaction.
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson