Do you realize that in order for you to read this article, the two sides of your brain must do completely different things? The more we integrate those two sides, the more integrated we become as people. Integration not only increases our ability to solve problems more creatively, but to control physical maladies such as epilepsy and migranes, replace certain damaged brain functions and even learn to “thin” into the future. Even more startling is evidence coming to light that we have become a left-brain culture.
Your brain’s right and left side have distinctly different ways of looking at the world. Your two hemispheres are as different from each other as, oh, Micheal Wilson and Shirley Maclean. The left brain controls the right side of the body (this is reversed in about half of the 15 percent of the population that is left-handed) and, in essence, is logical analytical, judgemental and verbal. It’s interested in the bottom line, in being efficent. The right brain controls the left side of the body and leans more to the creative, the intuitive. It is concerned more with the visual and emotional side of life.
Most people, if they thought about it, would identify more with their left brain. In fact, many of us think we are our left brains. All of that non-stop verbalization that goes on in our heads is the dominant left brain talking to itself. Our culture- particularly our school system with its emphasis on the three Rs (decidedly left-brain territory) – effectively represses the intuitive and artistic right brain. If you don’t believe it, see how far you get at the office with the right brain activity of daydreaming.
As you read, your left-side is sensibly making connections and analysing the meaning of the words, the syntax and other complex relation-ships while putting it into a “language” you can understand. Meanwhile, the right side is providing emotional and even humerous cues, decoding visual information and maintaining an integrated story structure.
While all of this is going on, the two sides are constantly communicating with each other across a connecting fibre tract called the corpus callosum. There is a certain amount of overlap but essentially the two hemispheres of the brain are like two different personalities that working alone would be somewhat lacking and overspecialized, but when functioning together bring different strengths and areas of expertise to make an integrated whole.
“The primitive cave person probably lived solely in the right brain,” says Eli Bay, president of Relaxation Response Inc., a Toronto organization that teaches people how to relax. “As we gained more control over our environment we became more left-brain oriented until it became dominant.” To prove this, Bay suggests: “Try going to your boss and saying “I’ve got a great hunch.” Chances are your boss will say, “Fine, get me the logic to back it up.”
The most creative decision making and problem solving come about when both sides bring their various skills to the table: the left brain analysing issues, problems and barriers; the right brain generating fresh approaches; and the left brain translating the into plans of action.
“In a time of vast change like the present, the intuitive side of the brain operates so fast it can see what’s coming,” says Dr. Howard Eisenberg, a medical doctor with a degree in psychology who has studied hemispheric relationships. “The left brain is too slow, but the right can see around corners.”
Dr. Eisenberg thinks that the preoccupation with the plodding left brain is one reason for the analysis paralysis he sees affecting world leaders. “Good leaders don’t lead by reading polls,” he says. “They have vision and operate to a certain extent by feel.”
There are ways of correcting out cultural overbalance. Playing video games, for example, automatically flips you over to the right brain Bay says. “Any artistic endavour, like music or sculpture, will also do it.”
In her best-selling book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (J.P. Tarcher Inc., 1979), Dr. Betty Edwards developed a series of exercises designed to help people tap into the right brain, to actually see or process visual information, differently. She cites techniques that are as old as time, and modern high-tech versions such as biofeedback.
An increasing number of medical professionals beieve that being in touch with our brain, especially the right half, can help control medical problems. For examplem Dr. Eisenberg uses what he calls “imaginal thinking” to control everything from migranes to asthma, to high blood pressure. “We have found,” he says, “that by teaching someone to raise to raise their temperature – by imaging they are sunbathing or in a warm bath – they can control their circulatory system and terefore the migrane.”
Knowledge of our two-sided brain began in the mid-1800’s when French neurologist Paul Broca discovered that injuries to the left side of the brain resulted in the loss of speech. Damage to the right side, however did not. Doctors speculated over what this meant. Was the brain schizophrenically divided and non-communicative?
In the early 1960s, Nobel Prize winner Dr. Roger Sperry proved that patients who had their corpus callosum severed to try and control epileptic seizures could no longer communicate between their hemispheres. The struggle can be seen quite clearly in the postoperative period whe the patient is asked to do a simple block design. This is a visual, spacial task that the left-hand (controlled by the right brain in most of us) can do very well but the right hand (controlled by the language-oriented left brain) does poorly. The right hand may even intervene to mix up the design.
Some people with epilepsy can control their seizures by concentrating activity on the hemisphere that is not affected. In the case of left lobe epilepsy, this can be done by engaging in a right-brain activity such as drawing.
One intriguing question is why we have two hemispheres at all? “In biology you always have the same thing on one side as the other – ears, lungs, eyes, kidneys, etc.” explains Dr. Patricia De Feudis, director of psychology at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ont. “But with the brain there is more specialization. You can have something going on one side and not not be aware of it in the other.”
Our knowledge of the brain is general is only beginning. We know even less about how the hemispheres operate, Getting in touch with how the two sides work can only do us good, if just to keep us from walking around “half-brained”.