I’ve heard it said that a man’s brain resembles a series of tidy, nicely constructed compartments or boxes that are not connected in any way, and a woman’s brain is like a complex ball of wire wool where everything is connected all the time.
Obviously, any of us who have been knocking around for a few years will know this is simplistic nonsense, good for a gag in a mock lecture on gender difference (I say this with confidence having given many such performances) but not much relevance to real human experience.
I have known women who’s compartmentalized emotional and psychological make up is almost chilling in it’s clinical tidiness, and plenty of men who are such a haywire blend of intellect, emotion and fuzzy confusion that they can barely string a sentence together.
I do believe there are some differences in the way men and women think, it is a subject I discuss regularly with the long suffering Mrs. She is a woman of rare emotional sensitivity and intelligence, it’s a skill I admire greatly and not one I am overly blessed with.
I often realise I’ve had a feeling or an emotional response after the event, while the feeling is in the act of overwhelming me I would claim that everything is normal, even though from an outside observers point of view I might be acting completely irrationally.
However, during a recent experience I was very aware I was having feelings at the very moment I was having them. It’s all to do with having your head covered with alginate and plaster of Paris. As a psychological experiment, there may be a few health and safety issues that reduce the likelihood or University researchers using this technique, but I can vouch for its effectiveness.
Get a bucket of cold alginate (it’s the stuff dentists use to make a mould of your teeth) and slap it over the subjects face, all over, leaving two small holes around the nostrils to allow them to breath.
Now, while this takes place let us venture inside the head of the subject. All rational thought and indeed previous experience tells the subject they are not going to die. They can breath, they just have to remain calm and still.
Okay so far, but the baser parts of the brain, the medulla oblongata in the reptilian or hind brain will really kick off. All the signals it’s receiving are alarm based. The entire face is thickly covered in something cold, that means it cannot survive, that means ‘get ready to fight.’
Meanwhile the more advanced areas of the brain, the bits we would classify as conscious are trying to keep everything under control. The best description for this activity and the one that has always made the most sense to me is to liken the human mind to that of a rider and a horse.
The rider is our conscious mind, the bit we are aware of and ‘think’ with. The horse is the hindbrain, the base bit, the thing that keeps you breathing, keeps your heart going, lets you move. In certain circumstances, during hunger, thirst, danger, violent conflict, sex, this horse pretty much takes control. The rider just grips on for dear life. If you have ever ridden a horse that goes batshit, you’ll know this can be a fairly hairy but occasionally exhilarating experience.
But if you are sitting on a chair in a quiet room surrounded by kind, patient, sympathetic people, you’ve just had a drink of water, you’ve just blown your nose, then there aren’t any obvious danger signals around.
So when I had my head cast for the upcoming Red Dwarf series last week, something I’ve had done literally dozens of times, I tried to find a place of peace where I could observe what happened to my reptilian brain and through that my body.
As soon as the cold alginate hit my mush, my breathing and heart rate went off the scale. My body was rapidly in the same physical state as it would be if I had just run as fast as I could up a steep hill, I was sweating, panting and I could actually hear my heartbeat. Wudooomp, wudooomp, wudooomp, fast, very fast. I know my resting heart rate is around 45-50 beats per minute. I would estimate that while I sat motionless as the casting team slapped plaster of Paris bandage on top of the alginate to give it strength, my heart was pushing 120 BPM.
My mantra from conscious brain rider to utterly wild, snorting base brain horse was ‘calm the fuck down, calm the fuck down you crazy piece of shit for brains.’
While the horse didn’t calm down for the entire 20 minutes I was under plaster, it also didn’t throw the rider. I didn’t freak out and start clawing the rapidly drying edifice from my face. I managed to hold on until everything had set and the carapace was eased off.
The resulting euphoria was intense and probably slightly annoying for the wonderful team from Animated Extras who did the job.
What stayed with me though was the undeniable proof of theory, that it is our job as human beings to manage the wild beast within, not crush it out of existence as it is an essential part of our makeup, but understand and manage this beast as best we can.
That said, if you can find an occupation that does not require you to have a head cast, I say go for it.