The rantings of a beautiful mind

On life, society, and computer technology.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I live in the Fortress of Solitude. I drive the Silver Beast. My obsession is justice. I used to be a Windows software developer. I retired in 2000 when my stock options helped me achieve financial security.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Right-Brain Revolution

Getting us to make peace between right and left hemispheres (and between mind, body and world) is what the Right-Brain Revolution is really all about.

If you look at a normal brain you will see that it is a double organ. The two hemispheres look pretty much the same. The whole point of the revolution, however, is that the right one functions very differently from the left one and that we generally remain unaware of its powers.

The most widely publicized support for it comes from split-brain research. Roger Sperry and Ron Myers began experiments with animals in the late 1950s in which they severed the corpus callosum of animals. They found that the animals remained remarkably normal and that each separate hemisphere could be trained to respond in opposite ways to the same situation.

Findings from this early research were supported and expanded with stroke victims, patients in whom an entire hemisphere had been surgically removed, patients who received unilateral electro-convulsive therapy for severe depression, and volunteers who allowed half their brains to be temporarily “put to sleep.”

What we now know about the human brain hemispheres is summarized in general terms as follows:

  • The left brain experiences the world, stores information, thinks and speaks in words and symbols. The right brain does all this with images and feeling, not words.
  • Every baby relies on images and feelings before he learns to speak. His world is a right-brain world. As he matures each hemisphere develops its own highly organized information-processing system. By about age six, laterality is established and the corpus callosum has developed, allowing the possibility that the two systems will communicate and work cooperatively together.
  • The left brain processes information one bit at a time while the right brain processes many bits at the same moment. The left brain is thus rather slow. We tend to be aware of what it is doing, so we call it “logical thinking.” The right brain can be very fast – so fast, in fact, that we are usually unaware that it is doing anything. So we view the process as merely a “gut reaction,” intuition or inspiration, and not really thinking at all.
  • The left brain is good at analysis – at breaking things down, making lists and either/or decisions and, I suspect, at identifying enemies and making war. The right brain is good at synthesis – at putting together disconnected ideas or fragments (like jigsaw puzzles or maps of the world), composing music (and listening and dancing to it), making love and, I suspect, at establishing trust and making peace.
  • The left brain has no feelings. In fact, people operating without their right brains are described as being computer-like in all they think and do. Such people are talkative, giving extensive and detailed answers to questions; however, their voices are dull and monotonous and they neither show nor recognize playfulness or enthusiasm. They remain acceptably cheerful and optimistic, expressing no anger or fear, even when the reality of the situation they are in is terrible. Does that not remind you of many of our current political figures? The right brain has the whole gamut of feelings. Without a working left hemisphere, people use gestures and facial expressions and, when they do speak, will express (often in colorful fashion) anger, frustration and other intense emotions.
  • The left brain is referred to as dominant, conscious and masculine. The right brain is referred to as non-dominant, unconscious and feminine. In our society, people can appear normal and function quite well with only their left brains. (Politicians do it every day, or try to.) The fact that an entire hemisphere is not missed implies that we normal people are “unconscious” of the work of at least half our brains.
  • Split-brain patients function quite normally. This suggests that “normal man” functions with two separate minds and that he has not established effective interaction between his two inner hemispheres.

Such knowledge is the foundation of the Right-Brain Revolution. Summarized in one sentence it is: The brain hemispheres do experience, process and express information differently, the left working slowly with words and the right working quickly with images and feelings, its work being largely ignored by ordinary people. The champions of the revolution believe that we can become conscious of right-brain activity and that we can, by getting our hemispheres to cooperate, learn a constructive way of thinking.

- Curing Nuclear Madness, by Frank G. Sommers, M.D., pp. 74-76.

I apologize to Dr. Sommers for excerpting such a large tract but I want to illustrate some rather large concepts and correlate them with other materials that I’ve read.

I believe that far too many people in our society are operating without the full cooperation of their right brains. This is consistent with Marc Gafni’s view that people have lost their connection to eros and thus are unable to function ethically. They are full of fear and anger (whose origin is the brain stem). They rely on their left brain function to decide the fate of nations, whether it is in the realm of nuclear armaments or the defence against terrorism. They’ve suppressed their compassionate side and allowed the “rational” side to dominate their decision making. It’s as if their corpus callosum has been severed.

But if you confront such people and tell them that they’re operating without their right brains, they give you a puzzled look. As Dr. Sommers points out, these people are not even aware that they are functioning with only half a brain. They appear to be normal. They are even high achievers. And these are the people we elect into high office (the PMO or the White House)!

And this explains the terrible decisions that have been made in recent history with regards to nuclear proliferation and the war on terrorism. Gafni put it best: “Virtually every crisis at its core is a failure of imagination.” Without the assistance of their right brains, without the human component of their self-actualization, our leaders cannot imagine a humanistic solution to our most dire problems.

Dr. Sommers’ book also harmonizes with Harville Hendrix who says:

Each society has a unique collection of practices, laws, beliefs, and values that children need to absorb, and mothers and fathers are the main conduit through which they are transmitted. This indoctrination process goes on in every family in every society. There seems to be a universal understanding that, unless limits are placed on the individual, the individual becomes a danger to the group. In the words of Freud, “The desire for a powerful and uninhibited ego may seem to us intelligible, but, as is shown by the times we live in, it is in the profoundest sense antagonistic to civilization.”

But even though our parents often had our best interests at heart, the overall message handed down to us was a chilling one. There were certain thoughts and feelings we could not have, certain natural behaviors that we had to extinguish, and certain talents and aptitudes we had to deny. In thousands of ways, both subtly and overtly, our parents gave us the message that they approved of only a part of us. In essence, we were told that we could not be whole and exist in this culture.

Indeed, many in our society are not whole human beings. They are high-functioning people with a stunted emotional and spiritual side. In other words, their right brains are not fully integrated with who they are. They cannot engage their imaginations. They cannot feel. And the reason is not difficult to understand – eros has been compromised, probably since childhood.

This story illustrates the above point so beautifully.

Read this as well.


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