Dr. Michael Gershon is a heroic scientist, right up there with the godly scientists who work to prove the non-existence of evolution, except even greater because he's not suspiciously under-qualified and overpaid to make weighty pronouncements. No, Dr. Gershon is a scientist whose heroism derives from the goals of his work: to prove Stephen Colbert correct.
He also has a mustache and wears funny ties.
Dr. Gershon's career reached a new pinnacle with his opportunity to elaborate the many, many ways Dr. Colbert "called it" on the truthiness powers of the gut when he appeared on The Colbert Report on June 11, 2007. Because he recognized Dr. Gershon as a true fellow, Dr. Colbert left aside his hammer and only brought his tongs to this nailing.
During the interview, Drs. Colbert and Gershon discussed the fact that the gut is the only part of the body that doesn't need the spinal cord or the brain in the head to run its own thing. It seems that the gut is uniquely privileged in being able to assert that the brain is not the boss of it. The gut-brain and the head-brain have an exchange of ideas and communications, messages do not simply travel down from the head to the gut. Dr. Gershon noted, for example, that when he is calling the NIH to check on the status of a grant application, his gut sends all kinds of unpleasant messages up to his head brain.
Dr. Colbert noted that part of the gut's power derives from its many nerve endings, there being more nerve endings in the gut than in the entire head-brain. Dr. Gershon noted that the head-brain has "a lot of nerve endings, too." Dr. Colbert rebutted that unlike the head-brain, the gut is infallible, making it the Pope of the torso. The gut brain is not centralized in a single location, but is pan-guttal.
The head-brain deals with "higher" thinking, like poetry, philosophy, and religion. The brain in the gut deals with the disgusting messy process of digestion, so the head brain doesn't have to get its brain hands dirty. The gut-brain and the head-brain share the ability to vomit unpleasant and/or undesirable articles: if the gut-brain can force the body to throw up food that is bad for it, then the head-brain can throw up ideas that are bad for it.
In brief, the gut-brain and the head-brain work together to rule the body. While the head-brain operates on principles of reason and rationality, as expressed through Descartest's classic dictum "I think, therefore I am", it is only able to come up with these uppity notions because the gut brain let it. The head-brain has to have the gut-brain's cooperation, or the brain in the head can become quite disturbed. As Dr. Gershon noted,
Dr. Colbert also asked Dr. Gershon about the possibility that there any other brains we should be aware of, say in another organ that sometimes seems to be doing the thinking for us? Dr. Gershon assured Dr. Colbert that, no, there are only the two, and any "thinking" that seems to derive from another "source" is simply the head-brain acting up.
- The Second Brain : A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestines (Your Gut Has a Mind of Its Own) (Harper Paperbacks; HarperPerennial Ed edition, New York, 1999)