The Teeter Totter of our Brains
How Left v. Right Brain Dominance has Created our World
[This is the second section in a series. Read Introduction]
Our Right Brains are ascending.
Like a science fiction thriller will it lead us to a coming plague, world annihilation or a new Dark Ages? Or, will it lead us through a Renaissance to a new era?
The front part of our brain, our cognitive center, is divided into two hemispheres, left and right. You’ve probably heard of them. They go by the Left and Right Brain, I like the term Bicameral Brain. Our brain combines the functionality of both sides to think and be. However, one tends to take the lead, to dominate. This tendency has created our experience of the world. It has been responsible for shaping our culture and our view of the world. It is in the process of shifting again. The Right Brain is ascending. Thereby, our experience of our world is changing.
Brain architecture/function simplified
The two sides of our brain function differently from each other. While they specialize and take the lead on some tasks, mostly they just do things differently.
The left side of the brain controls the right side of the body. The right side of the brain controls the left side of the body: hands, feet, eyes and ears.
The left brain is our analytic center. It thinks linearly, point to point. It is logical, inductive, and objective. The left brain thinks in specifics. It handles such tasks as speech recognition and production, mathematics, and other reason based tasks. It is referred to as being masculine. From the left brain, we get science. Our society tends to think it is dominate.
The right brain is our intuitive center. It thinks laterally, all at one time. It is deductive, subjective. The right brain thinks in generalities. It handles images and spatial relationships. It processes our emotions and interpersonal relationships. It is referred to as being feminine. It specializes in drawing, art, people, connections, associations and the “big picture.” The right brain helps us to be human and not machines. Our western society has had less respect for the right brain.
These generalizations are broad and many ways inaccurate. A more recent understanding of the two hemispheres of the brain puts more emphasis on the way the two sides function rather than on what they do. Process rather than Function. Scientist now understand that both sides of the brain are working together to speak, draw or think. Both sides act together.
The current thinking is that the right brain, the older section, sees the larger picture of the world, working in relationship it discovers the interconnectedness of all things. It takes all of the information in at once and gestates it into a whole view. Due its way of working, the right brain is tasked with learning new things. Once it gets a handle on the ideas, it passes the execution over to the left brain.
The left brain specializes in the details. Its focus is singular. It thinks point to point. This helps it to drill down to the details. The scientific method is left brain centric. It thinks analytically.
Each hemisphere thinks that its way is better. The argument is always going: “I can do that task better than you can. Go sit on your brain and let me do it.” They struggle for dominance. They know they need each other, but the argument is like the one where two clowns argue who is going to play the front half of the horse and who is going to play the back half.
In the course of human events, this competition has created our experience of the world and the culture of each era. The next few sections will go back in time for a playback of the game so far.
Before I go forward, I need to caution you:
· I’m not a scientist. I’m an artist, story teller and theatre maker. My goal is to communicate a huge idea that might help us live in our time. My apologies to the scientists who specialize in brain architecture and function, I’ll probably get things wrong and over generalize, it’s what we right brain dominant types do.[i]
· I’m speaking in broad generalities. For every example I give, I can most likely give other examples that contradict what I just said. Just go with it. At the end of the story, you might think it is all hog wash, but along the way try not to get bogged down in the details.
· I’m telling a western civilization story. Judeo-Christian from early civilization, through Europe and onto the Americas after 1492. There are other stories to tell that take similar, but have divergent trajectories. This is the one I know. What’s most interesting is how the course of other cultures is quickly coalescing into a one world culture. Everyone will have to deal with this new era in their own way.
· When I speak of left-right brain dominance, I’m talking in subtleties. We’re working with a 51% to 49% difference rather than a 60% to 40% split or more. We can’t live without using both sides/ways of working. However, when one side is dominant even by a percentage point, it makes a sizable difference in our perception. (Compare this with a 5 to 4 decision by the Supreme Court.)
[i] There are many great books on the Left and Right Hemispheres. The best and most recent is THE MASTER AND HIS EMISSARY, The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist. It was published in 2009. It is a magnum opus. The first part reviews and compiles the research on the left and right hemispheres with Dr. McGilchrist’s thought-expanding commentary. The second part chases this idea that the exchange between the two hemispheres made Western culture. It is a dense and complete work of brilliance. I’m still absorbing it. By the way, my ideas were formed and this essay was initially written prior to reading his book. I'll eventually incorporate his research into my thought, though I haven't yet.
My initial inspiration into this way of thinking came from the writings of Leonard Schlain. All three of his books, especially THE ALPHABET VERSUS THE GODDESS, engaged my thinking. The first book that awakened me and everyone to this idea of the divided brain was Betty Edward’s DRAWING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN. After being introduced to that book I quickly read THE ORIGIN OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN THE BREAKDOWN OF THE BICAMERAL MIND by Julian Jaynes, a work of stunning insight that could still prove either completely accurate or misguided.