Perhaps the best thing about working with so many smart people for Simon was the incredible amount of ideas his team would come up with on a daily basis and the amazing conversations he could have with each and every individual – it felt almost unreal.
Like last Tuesday when Jim joined him for lunch. Jim was one of the software engineers on the team but he had a degree in physics and interests spanning so many disciplines Simon couldn’t remember them all. They got chatting about an earlier incident when Jim had reacted perhaps a little harshly to a remark made by another engineer.
“So what was that about with Paul earlier “ asked Simon.
Jim didn’t budge and after a few seconds replied calmly “I was in the middle of something and I must have used my reptilian brain. I think that Paul’s approach is not right for our architecture. Even if we make it work, it will be a nightmare for the guys who replace us eventually.”
Simon didn’t comprehend everything… “Wait what brain?”
“My reptilian brain” said Jim. “Our brains have evolved over the centuries and we can say that logically and to a large extent physically we now we have a three-part brain. In the early years of Homo sapiens, the reptilian brain helped us survive by making sure we find food, fight off or run from danger and also took care of reproduction.”
“OK” said Simon cautiously, still not sure where this was going.
Jim continued, ”The reptilian brain is governed by a simple fight or flight response. So in every situation, you decide to either fight or run away. I guess the algorithm I was working on earlier distracted me and when Paul came over my human brain was too busy to engage and so the reptilian brain took over. I will go over and apologise after lunch.”
Well, that makes a little bit more sense now.” Said Simon. “What about the other two brains? What are they?” asked Simon eager to learn.
Jim seemed to be enjoying this so he continued, “Over the centuries we developed the middle brain also called the mammalian brain. It takes care of our emotions and learning. Basically it drives us towards avoidance of pain and repetition of pleasure.”
“That’s fascinating!” nodded Simon. “But surely we’re more than fighting, running and looking for pleasure?”
“Of course” said Jim. “Finally we developed the upper brain also called human brain. It helps us do all those complex things like analysis and planning, and reasoning, and problem solving. “
Simon was aiming to absorb as much as possible and now had even more questions that he couldn’t wait to ask, his lunch barely touched.
“Wait, so how do you know which brain to use?”
Jim laughed. “This mostly happens automatically, however your human brain can control your thinking and can stop you reacting like I did earlier.”
“But surely if you know this you could have easily avoided your reaction towards Paul”, asked Simon.
“Yes, there’s a catch” replied Jim. “Our human brain is powerful but uses a lot of energy which makes you tired. And it’s also not as fast as the reptilian brain so when it gets tired or distracted, it’s easier for one of the others to take over.”
Simon was ready with another question “But if you wanted to you could be in control most of the time?”
“Well, yes but your brain does need breaks. Otherwise, you build up an unhealthy amount of stress” said Jim almost finishing his lunch.
It seemed like with every answer Simon’s brain generated hundreds of questions. Now trying desperately to catch up with his lunch he asked more “How often do I need to rest? And what is a healthy amount of stress?”
Jim smiled. “We are getting into other vast topics here. Let’s leave them for next time?” And with that he got up and headed back to the team area.
Simon was trying to process the information genuinely amazed at how much he’s learned in the space of 30 minutes…