Exploding the Left Brain / Right Brain Myths

Visual thinking from Harry van der Velde

At the moment there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the left hemisphere is regularly shouting the right hemisphere down:

Ideally the situation we would have is one of balanced reciprocity between modes of perception:

Visual thinking from Harry van der Velde

It seems that pretty well every time I mention the difference in functions of the two hemispheres of the brain, I get a response informing me that this is an old myth that has now been disproved by recent advances in neuroscience. Actually the idea that the findings of neuroscience have invalidated the concept of different functions being largely performed in one hemisphere or the other is itself a myth.

Hemisphere differences are real, and the differences are important and reciprocal.

This is not to win some kind of argument but rather that that we risk missing some rather important insights by believing that both hemispheres are the same.

The right hemisphere sees things in wholes, the left as an assemblage of parts. The right is more deeply wired into the more primitive parts of the brain. It is more deeply connected to the nervous system in the body.
 
Pop-sci and newspapers did indeed generate a myth that people were predominantly left-brained or right-brained and science agrees that this was bunkum. Here’s Iain McGilchrist writing in the introduction to ‘The Master and his Emissary’:
 
 “Despite the recognition that the idea has been hijacked by everyone from management trainers to advertising copywriters, a number of the most knowledgeable people in the field have been unable to escape the conclusion that there is something profound here that requires explanation. Joseph Hellige, for example, arguably the world’s best-informed authority on the subject, writes that while both hemispheres seem to be involved in one way or another in almost everything we do, there are some ‘very striking differences in the information-processing abilities and propensities of the two hemispheres. l V. S. Ramachandran, another well-known and highly regarded neuroscientist. accepts that the issue of hemisphere difference has been traduced but concludes: ‘The existence of such a pop culture shouldn’t cloud the main issue — the notion that the two hemispheres may indeed be specialised for different functions’ And recently Tim Crow, one of the subtlest and most sceptical of neuroscientists researching into mind and brain, who has often remarked on the association between the development of language, functional brain asymmetry and psychosis, has gone so far as to write that ‘except in the light of lateralisation nothing in human psychology/psychiatry makes any sense.’ “
 
McGilchrist’s work provides a very well referenced summary of the nature of hemisphere differences. The above extract makes clear that careful hemisphere research cannot be dismissed along with the myths that have been woven around it.

Why does this matter?

Visual Thinking is a practical example of why this matters. Real practical success in helping many businesses gain better understanding by engaging right hemisphere activity has been clearly demonstrated. For example by Dave Gray’s company Xplane and it’s long list of well evidenced success stories using Visual Thinking to bring right hemisphere perception to business problems.

If you are investing in innovation, you only get the full picture when you are able to augment the left hemisphere focus on lists of parts.

What can be done?

It is possible to develop better reciprocity between the two types of thinking and we have developed one specific focus of our Liminal Coaching work on aiming to do just this.

We tend to agree to a large extent with McGilchrist’s view that contemporary education and culture have given preference to the thinking of the left hemisphere over the right resulting in a general imbalance of development.

Fortunately, as the problem arises from a simplistic dismissal of a way of thinking it is not that difficult to remedy by creating environments and opportunities for it to play a full part in the design and decision making processes of day to day life and business.