2017 Honorable Mention – Abigail Nutter

Split Brain: A love story

Though my piece started as a poetic representation of Split-brain syndrome, or callosal disconnection syndrome, it split into two paradoxical levels. One level used the members of an unhealthy relationship as a metaphor for the results of corpus callosotomy; the other used the idea of a split brain patient as a metaphor for a relationship plagued by unshared experiences and miscommunication.

In the 1960s, a surgery known as corpus callosotomy was introduced as a last resort to treat epilepsy. Epileptic seizures can be caused by an overload of information in the brain; corpus callosotomy attempts to prevent this by separating the hemispheres of the brain. To do this, the corpus callosum, which connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain, is partially or completely severed.

The severing of the corpus callosum results in a great decrease of communication between the hemispheres of the brain. In a person with an unsevered corpus callosum, information is fed into one side of the brain or the other but is quickly shared between hemispheres. This is not the case for patients with split-brain syndrome. For instance, when split-brain patients saw or felt stimuli with the right side of their body, which first feeds the information to the left side of the brain, they were able to verbally describe what they felt or saw. However, when the same stimuli was introduced to the left side of their body, which feeds initially the right side of their brain, they were not able to verbally express what it was. This is because in most people the language center of the brain is focused in the left side of the brain. This means that, if information is only given to the right side of the brain, the patient would not be able to express what it was.

In my piece, the two main characters are a woman and a man, respectively called She and He with capitalized pronouns. She represents the right side of the brain – she exemplifies emotions and creativity. He represents the left side of the brain – he exemplifies reason and order. The piece explores the issues of their poor communication, the difficulties they have understanding each other, and the experiences that She has which cannot be shared with him.

Though corpus callosotomy can arguably improve the patient’s quality of life with few known negative side-effects, “scientists have often wondered whether split-brain patients, who have had the two hemispheres of their brain surgically disconnected, are ‘of two minds’” (Zillmer, 2001). This piece itself became of two minds; the first was the scientific, the second was the creative. While this piece was initially created as a metaphor for split-brain syndrome, the characters fleshed out their own story as well, ending on the slightest bit of communication between the characters. This reflects how little we can know about the inner workings of split-brain patients. Still, the creative and the scientific come together beautifully in an attempt to explain the unknown.