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Brain – Left and Right Hemispheres

In a very real sense each of us have two distinct ways of relating to and perceiving the world and the people around us. This is because our brain is split into two hemispheres, and each hemisphere has very different ways of dealing with incoming information and its different abilities. But it has other divisions also. See Levels (Brain)

On a recent radio interview a man and woman were described who created lively musicals. The way they worked and how they were such an amazing team were discussed. The man would lie on a couch and let flow with ‘stream of consciousness’ ideas, and the woman would write down what was said, but pulling it into structure and careful use of appropriate language.

This is almost a direct expression of how the left and right brain lobes can work together if we can easily access their different abilities. In people with a healthy brain the two halves of the brain work like two people in a happy and creative partnership. Each of the partners can perform its own special tasks most of the time, but each is able to take on, partly or fully, the skills of the other when necessary. This may be necessary in people who have experienced brain damage.

Although research has not arrived at definite classifications of what the lobes of the brain deal with, in general they are as follows:

Left

Right

Logical

Analytical

Speech

Quantitative

Fact Based

Planned

Organised

Detailed

Sequential

Holistic

Intuitive

Body Language

Synthesising

Integrating

Emotional

Interpersonal

Feeling-Based

Kinaesthetic

To again generalise, if your approach to life is dominated by your left brain hemisphere, which is largely rational and analytical, your best way of learning would be in learning facts in a sequential and logical order. If you are largely a right brain person your approach to learning would be to understand details by gaining an overall picture of what you are studying. The details then fit into this concept of the whole and make sense to you. You would also be more open to learning through your feelings and intuitions, and through hands on experience.

Although if we are healthy we are not dominated by just one side of the brain’s action, we nevertheless may be oriented to left or right, logical or intuitive.

In terms of creativity the left brain follows rules of logical thought and does not easily move beyond the boundaries of what is rational. Its talents are in organising, planning and sticking to the task in hand, and in rational analysis of facts rather than feelings and speculations

The right brain follows a more holistic approach, gathering many diverse bits of information and experience and leaping beyond the obvious to arrive at an insight into the nature of the situation. Its talents are in being aware of body language, the feelings involved in a relationship or situation that are influencing it behind the scenes. It takes all our life experience and summarises it into a grand view of who we are, our life journey and place in the scheme of things. See Using Your Intuition and Arm Circling Meditation.

In fact this last aspects of the right brain gives us a clue as to what your ‘brain type’ is and how you approach life. The left brain subject will have a sense that their life is not part of a grand scheme of things, but is subject to the agreed and rational rules of the dominant science and social rules of their culture. The right brain subject will know from their inner awareness that their life is part of the way the cosmos works, and has emerged out of a timeless continuum carrying all ages of the past into their present existence.

Returning to the theme of creativity, in test carried out through the 1970’s and 80’s, subjects who were known to be creative were given tasks calling on non rational thinking. EEG’s of their brain activity showed the right brain flooded with electrical signals. Less creative subjects given the same task showed much less activity in their right brain lobe.

One researcher, Martindale, noted that we mostly associate efficient performance with the ability to focus attention and be highly ‘awake’. Martindale observed that brain activity during such times showed cortical arousal is linked to the ability to fo­cus attention. But he also saw that cre­ative subjects diffused their attention when performing creative tasks. They were able to shut down concentrated focussing and diffuse their attention at will. In this way they created a mental state that perhaps can be likened to listening, or what I have elsewhere called a ‘keyboard’ state of mind and body, in which they are open to any inflow or up flow of experience. Martindale noted that this un-focusing proc­ess, rather than dampening mental acuity, actually enhances it. See The Keyboard Condition

Connecting this with dreams, our night time drama tends to express these different facets of us in the different characters we meet. The following dream clearly shows a ‘right brain’ character bringing something to the dreamer’s attention that his usual left brain way of looking at life would probably have missed.

Example: I was on a plane or a journey. On my right sat an American, very flabby, with a paunch. I was eating an apple, (I had been on a fruit fast during the day), and my elbow sometimes touched the American’s paunch, it felt lifeless, lacking vitality. I told him he ought to eat only apples for a while, and all the dead flesh would fall off him. Then a young Chinese man came to me and pointed out a line marked on my apple, on the green, less developed side. He said every apple had such a line if one looked, and under the line was a hair, “the hair of discontent.” He said this was poisonous, and best not eaten. I slid my fingernail under the line, and pulled out a long hair. I thought this was wonderful, and that I had been given real wisdom of the East. Ian R.

In fact Ian was far from content with his life at the time, and it led him to look critically at other people. The wisdom from the East – the left brain global view of life – pointed out how poisonous this was.

Here is a dream illustrating a very different stand:

Example: I was walking home at night under a magnificent starry sky. I thought perhaps this was the Milky Way, as I had never seen it before. But there were distinct edges to the massive concentrations of stars forming the shape of people. I felt very enthusiastic and uplifted by this sight and wanted other people to look at it. Then I seemed to be at home, perhaps where I used to live as a child, and my father was there. I told him about the figures and wanted him to look, but he seemed quite uninterested. I also felt somehow that he was locked into an intellectual cynicism that could see no wonder in the stars. To him they were simply random shapes in the sky. To me they expressed something that, perhaps, I would find it difficult to put into words, but nevertheless was very moving at a deep level. Heather R.

Heather uses her father to depict her more rational way of looking at the world. Nevertheless the dream shows balance as Heather herself feels the impact of what she has seen.

As is often the way, the right brain tends to express in symbols, as it does in dreams, but it takes the focussed enquiry of the left brain to work like a detective to unravel the clues and bring the creative impulse into real clarity and fruition, something that wasn’t happening in Heather’s dream. Exploring the dream would provide the creative spark between the intuitive and the rational. See: Characters and People in Dreams for further description of dream characters; brain.

Useful Questions and Hints:

What is my basic was of relating to the world – do I feel part of the cosmos, or a short lived biological creature?

How do I approach a problem to solve it – do I focus intently on it and look at the facts, or do I unfocuss and listen to my intuition?

Do I learn by taking in information from outside in a rational way, or do I try to arrive at an overall picture to which I add the details?

See Life’s Little Secrets and Talking with the dead

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