About Me

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Excerpt from "Mapping the Mind" by Rita Carter


The left brain is what has made homo sapiens the spectacularly successful species it is. It is calculating, communicative and capable of conceiving and executing complicated plans. But it has always had a bad press. It is frequently held to represent the worst of the Western world: materialistic, controlling and unfeeling; while the right brain is seen as gentle, emotional and more at one with the natural world - a frame of mind commonly associated with the East.

This notion has spawned a small industry of specialized self-help books and training courses that claim to encourage right-brain thinking. There are books that show you how to draw with your right brain, rides horses with your right brain, even make love with your right brain. You can take all manner of courses to put you back in touch with your right half, and big businesses hire consultants to test their employees for left/right dominance and slot them into appropriate jobs.

Is it all nonsense? Brain scientists will tell you the idea of a rigid divide is a popular myth. They even have a word for the publics's enthusiasm for the subject: 'dichotomania'. Like 'modern phrenology' the word is a put-down, intended to imply that the real situation is far too complex for simple conclusions to be drawn.

It is true that the brain is marvellously complicated, and the constant interaction of its two hemispheres makes it extremely difficulat to pinpoin what is happening where. Even the most obviously lateralized of skills - language - is atypically organized in about 5 per cent of people. The brain is also very malleable and its wiring can be influenced by all sorts of environmental factors. Given extraordinary circumstances a genetically typical brain may end up organized in a very odd way indeed. Nevertheless, brain imaging studies confirm that the two hemispheres really do have quite specific skills that are 'hard wired' to the extent that, in normal circumstances, certain skills will always develop on a particular side.

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