Left Brain, Right Brain
“The chief function of your body is to carry your brain around.” – Thomas Edison
There is an old joke that says if the left half of the brain is dominant in right-handed people and the right half is dominant in left-handed people, then left-handed people are the only ones in their right minds.
In the late 1960s, Roger Sperry published the theory that the left half of the brain was the analytical, verbal side and the right half of the brain was the creative, visual side. Between the two halves is the corpus callosum, the connector. Simply put, the two halves communicate with each other through this connector. It’s the corpus callosum that quite literally keeps the right hand informed of what the left hand is doing.
Each half of the brain receives information in a completely different way. The left half of the brain is the speech center, where you get the ability to form thoughts and put them into words. This is also where things are put into certain sequential or logical order.
The right half of the brain controls motor skills, intuition, and emotion. It also enables you to be able to recognize and identify images. While the left side thinks in words, the right side sees pictures.
Creative individuals such as artists, writers, or musicians often refer to this a dual nature.
It is possible however to shift from one side to another, making use of both sides. A human being will make the shift depending on the situation in which he finds himself to be in. Picture an accountant, who makes his living working with numbers: rows and rows, column after column of numbers. Obviously, his livelihood depends on his utilization of the left side of his brain to good effect. However, if he wants to go dancing in the evening with his wife, he must shift over to the right side of the brain – to the creative side – the side that makes it possible for him to know how to dance.
On the other side of the coin, is the artist, who makes his living by painting beautiful landscapes or portraits. All day long, he paints, displaying his talent in vibrant colors, lights, and shadows. In the evening, he must pay his bills and balance his checkbook. So you see the shift from the right side of his brain, wherein lies his creativity, over to the left side of his brain, wherein lies his logical and analytical thinking.
Most humans are born with one tendency or the other, with influence coming from genetic traits, type of family life, and childhood training. There are exceptions, however. And change is possible; either side can be trained and strengthened.
One of the most famous examples of this type of change is the story of Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth President of the United States. As a young boy, he suffered from asthma and was ill much of the time. In order to build up his body, his father had a gym built, where Theodore could work out and overcome the weakness in his body. Later, he became a lawyer and quite a prolific writer of history and philosophy. Here is proof that a person can shift from one side of the brain to the other, depending on their circumstances.
Whatever side of the brain you prefer, will dictate your likes and dislikes, and will determine your skills, talents, and weaknesses. It will also affect your work and personal life, determining what you do for a living and who you choose to have in your life.
You may notice that changes in your life can have a definite impact on which half of the brain you use most. Shifting lifestyles and responsibilities bring about a shift in the way you see things and react to the changes. So no matter which side you prefer, you still use both sides of your brain and will find the need to shift back and forth, depending on the demand of the moment.
Let’s break down the delineation of the two halves of the brain more completely. The left half of the brain controls the logical, analytical, sequential, rational, linear, verbal, goal-oriented side of your nature. The right half of the brain controls the intuitive, spontaneous, emotional, visual, artistic, playful, non-verbal side of your nature.
Right-brained people are easy to spot. They daydream, doodle, and maybe draw. They may decide, at the spur of the moment, to take a walk to nowhere in particular. They may be more aware of colors, scents, and aromas and more able to visualize scenarios, most notably the “what if” moments. They are more aware of their emotions, as well as the emotions of those around them. They relate to others more easily, understanding their point of view and experiences. Simply put, they’re more intuitive and spontaneous.
Left-brained people are always asking questions and wanting answers to everything. They tend to be list makers and planners. Their idea of fun may include working on crossword puzzles and/or solving math problems. They prefer writing and outlining to spontaneous outbursts of activity. They’re also more connected to time and schedules, and love to plan everything down to the last detail. They’re more analytical and like to break problems down into the component parts.
Everything you do, everything you think, everything you feel, and everything you experience are directed through your brain, and filtered through the left and/or the right side.
Every human has the same basic equipment to use and draw on for life as Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur, Leonardo DaVinci or Helen Keller. It’s not the size of the brain that’s important; it’s what you do with yours that counts. The biggest difference in our brains and those of so-called geniuses is that they are able to make the shifts back and forth more easily and are more inclined to use both sides of their brain to the best effect.
So, how do you train your brain to be more effective? There are a few exercises to help your brain perform the shifts necessary to comprehend the world around you and effectively deal with whatever circumstances you may find yourself into over the course of your life.
One such exercise is something very simple. As children, you probably played around with optical illusions. You see one picture clearly, but if you look closely, another image appears. The once popular Seeing Eye images are good examples of optical illusions. The dual images cause your brain to shift back and forth.
Another good exercise to train your brain is good old-fashioned brainstorming. Here you must define the problem, lay it out in details, and ask yourself what you really want to accomplish. Then break the problem down into its basic components. Smaller pieces are not intimidating and are easier to deal with. If it’s required, seek expert assistance when necessary. Then visualize the perfect outcome. How do you see it unfolding in your mind? Make it a pleasing outcome – the perfect solution.
Within the problem-solving exercise, you’ll find yet another set to help you not only solve problems, but to help you visualize and develop your creativity.
1. Try seeing the exact opposite of your problem. Not enough workers at the office? Try picturing masses moving around.
2. Expect the unexpected.
3. Forget everything you know about the problem and start from scratch. This clears the mind of preconceived notions and allows you to see the problem, and possibly the solution, more clearly.
4. Role-play with those people involved in the problem. See their point of view. Pretend you are them.
The last exercise we’ll discuss is called cinematics or seeing pictures in your mind’s eye. Sometimes, you’ll experience flashbacks in your memory and see things anew – things that happened in the past. It may be an emotional experience, good or bad. You’ll notice some things you remember and others you’ve forgotten. Holes in the memories are normal for most people.
At other times, you may want to fast forward to what you desire to happen – the perfect scenario. This is also known as “daydreaming.” You’ve probably had an experience where you’ve been admonished by teachers, parents, and other authority figures to stop daydreaming and get to work. In this case, it is altogether necessary to do some serious daydreaming. It’s actually good for you and your brain, and is a great creative tool.
You will discover too, that men and women react differently to the information filtered through their right brains and left brains. Women tend to react more generally, while men react more laterally. Men tend to use their left brain and react more single-mindedly to a given situation. They proceed in a logical manner, taking one task at a time. Women are more multitasking by nature. Scientists think this comes down from primitive times, when women were responsible for cooking, cleaning, washing, and keeping the children from wandering away and being eaten by wolves. Primitive men were the hunters, requiring more single-mindedness for the hunt. Women tend to be more emotional and want to talk about their feelings, while men repress those feelings and retreat to their addictions, like football and television. At the same time, men may get angry in a situation, which obviously calls for another reaction, and women become the mediators.
Whether it’s the right brain or the left brain, it needs closure. Compared to a missing piece of puzzle, your left brain will try to find the missing equation while your right brain will find the missing image needed to solve the problem.
From a BBC documentary: Another discovery was made recently after studying those with autism and dementia. Scientists believe they have found a part of the brain, that when switched off, can stimulate artistic genius. One of the scientists, an Australian, sees a time in the future when even ordinary people will be able to hit a switch and find their own genius.
If you’d like to see whether you’re controlled more by the right brain or the left brain, go to http://www.web-us.com/brain/LRBrain.html. There is a short quiz to help you determine which side of your brain is more dominant over the other.
Humor is also something that you can develop using both sides of your brain. Your right brain may automatically look for the humor in a funny situation, while your left brain will analyze each step in the process, determining exactly why it’s so amusing. Those controlled strongly by the left brain may feel compelled to tell you exactly why it isn’t amusing as well. In this instance, it might be best to let your creative side have its way and just enjoy the moment and the humor. Keep in mind that most of the great geniuses of recorded history had excellent sense of humor.
In addition to the two sides of the brain, you also possess a screening device, a filter, if you will, located at the base of your brain called a Reticular Activating System or RAS. This is made up of a group of cells that help you decide what you’re conscious of, meanwhile filtering out other kinds of unimportant information, allowing only vital input into your awareness.
If you have to acknowledge each sound, sensation, color, feeling, etc., you’d no doubt go crazy. That’s just too much sensory information flooding your consciousness, every minute of every day. Yet you can access that information if you so desire, shifting your focus so that you’re conscious of that less vital information, if you need it.
An example of this shift would be a new mother. Although she is able to sleep, she hears the slightest noise from the nursery. She accesses that extra information because it becomes necessary for her to have it.
If you keep your mind open to new ideas, your Reticular Activating System will allow necessary information to get through to your consciousness, giving you a whole world of inspiration.
It’s also been discovered that the brain is capable of enormous recall of information. Everything you’ve ever read, everything you’ve ever heard, and everything you’ve ever seen and experienced, are stored in your brain. The trouble most of us have is finding a way to access all that wonderful information.
Through meditation and sometimes hypnosis, that information can be retrieved. Meditation can strengthen the connection between the conscious and the subconscious and help the RAS to access all the stored information.
Hypnosis can often be used to take the subject back to the time they first learned some important fact or topic and reawaken that memory, bringing it to the surface, and therefore making it more accessible. You may be thinking, “Hypnosis? Isn’t that a little extreme? That’s too much like a parlor trick for me.”
Hypnosis is simply daydreaming, so your conscious mind calms down and steps out of the way. Then your subconscious can take over temporarily. But you’re still completely aware of everything that’s going on around you. Your senses are merely heightened. Your subconscious mind now has access to all the information your mind possesses and has free rein to use it all.
The good news is that you can do this yourself; no hypnotist is needed. You just need to learn to daydream to your best effect. By giving your subconscious access to your memories and information, it will also be able to tap into your creative side – to make connections and find relationships between ideas that your conscious mind might just filter out.
Exercising your mind is often helpful in accessing information. Albert Einstein, when faced with a problem, would walk away for a few minutes, and play his violin. Upon returning to the original idea, he’s often presented with a solution to the problem. Leaving the dilemma for a while, taking a walk, or listening to music, often helps immeasurably in relaxing your mind, so it can solve the problem. This is the subconscious moving forward again and aiding in problem solving.
Your brain is also capable of multitasking. Watch any stay-at-home mom, as she cooks dinner, feeds the baby, talks to her friend on the phone, breaks up a fight between the two older children, and answers the front door to deal with a salesman.
Her constantly busy senses are sending feedback to her brain, insuring that all the tasks get completed. Without her conscious effort, her lungs process oxygen, her heart pumps blood, and her temperature is maintained. She gets the dinner, finishes feeding the baby and puts him down, ends her conversation and hangs up the phone, sends the two little fighters to their opposite corners, and sends the salesman on his way.
Thanks to our subconscious, we can drive a car, play a piano, or watch television and still talk to friends at the same time.
The brain processes information every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day. It can process a half million options and possibilities in a few seconds. No wonder creativity is so easy for humans. All we have to do is learn to trust our marvelous brains and our subconscious and practice, practice, practice. That will keep the ideas flowing! Creativity is as natural and necessary to humans as breathing. Brenda Ueland said, “So you see, imagination needs noodling — long, inefficient, happy, idling, dawdling and puttering.”