Dividing the Self: Speculations on the Split Brain Human Computer Interface


Session Title:

  • Short Paper Presentations

Presentation Title:

  • Dividing the Self: Speculations on the Split Brain Human Computer Interface



  • This paper describes the SPLIT BRAIN USER INTERFACE under development for a project entitled Anita and Thomas in der Holler: A Opera for Split Brains in Modular Parts which will be based on video documentation of the 1991 U.S. Supreme Court Nomination Hearings. The interface of this interactive work will be designed to deliver information independently to each hemisphere of the NORMAL brain and to target identifiable lateralized brain modules such as those for reading, writing, verbal/auditory comprehension, spatial reasoning, and left-right handedness. Based on published research methodologies strategies will be developed to deal with left-right hemispheric dominance, binocular vision and stereopsis, probe the “emotional brain” and explore different pathways linking the limbic regions to cognitive activities in the neocortex. This is inspired by the discovery of the split brain’ by Roger Sperry and Ronald Meyers in the late 1950’s, and the later work of Michael Gazzaniga with patients whose corpus callosum was severed as a “cure” for epilepsy which did not respond to anti-epileptic drugs therapy. Patients who had a commissurotomy in effect had “two brains” which could not communicate information from one hemisphere to the other.

    Findings include a patient who when getting dressed in the morning would pull his pants up with his right hand while his left hand would pull his pants down. Another study performed in the United States during the Watergate scandal reports that “Paul’s” right hemisphere disliked Richard Nixon while his left liked Nixon. Other experiments expose words separately to each eye. When the right hemisphere receives the text information the patient is not able to say what word was flashed on the screen but is able to write with the left hand the correct word. Yet even after writing the word the patient was not able to say what he had just written.
    An experiment completed during a residency at the Banff Centre in 1996 provided impetus to explore this interface. The separate testimonies of Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill shot from the identical camera angle were digitized as QuickTime Movies. When the QT movie of Clarence Thomas is display only to the right eye and simultaneously that of Anita Hill is shown separately to the left eye with left-right audio separation most “normal” wired viewers report the fusion of the two independent images into a bizarre androgynous composite. Some report a morphing back and forth between the visual dominance of each image while attention to the audio shifts from ear to ear. The SPLIT BRAIN HUMAN COMPUTER INTERFACE will use off-the-shelf Head Mounted Displays with two channel video, voice activation and stereo headphones to deliver independent video with text and audio signals to each eye and ear. A gamepad with buttons and a glide style pointing device permits testing for the affects of higher level cognitive processing involving left/right political biases which may influence interpretation of the artwork.