the left brain hemisphere is too rational to accept the concept of God. The right one, being holistic and imaginative, accepts a Universal Super Being — By Dr Rajagopal Soondron
Nature has endowed us with many twin organs: two eyes, two kidneys, two ovaries, two testicles, pairs of upper and lower limbs; should one fail the other can take over. But why one heart? No one knows. We talk of right and left heart chambers, but they are intimately linked so as to function as one.
Anatomically we have two similar hemispheres to our brain – the right and left ones, connected by a thick bundle of white fibres called corpus callosum. But, functionally, these two are totally different.
One of the interesting discoveries about our brain was that the movements of the right side of our body were controlled by the left hemisphere, and the left movements by the right hemisphere. So if someone has a stroke after an artery has burst on the left side of the brain, he will be paralyzed on the right side and vice versa. As 90% of us are right handed, it means that 90% of us are ruled by the left hemisphere.
Thereafter it was discovered that our centres for inflective and reflective language were located in the left hemisphere; Wernicke’s area has to do with the naming of objects i.e. syntactical processing, while the Broca’s area is important for grammatical processing. Any injury to our left hemisphere may affect our speech. Of the 10% left-handers, the majority have their speech centre on the right, yet a few of them have it on the left. So scientists had worked out that there are real differences between the two halves of our brain.
According to popular literature indulging in pop psychological myths, the left brain is the rational one, very calculative, analytical and logical; it loves mathematics and is proficient in language skills and sequence processing, and can name all objects around us. The right hemisphere is concerned with holistic thinking, responding to the arts and music, and given to creativity and to spatial orientation, but it also recognizes the functions of objects. It is characterized by its impetuousness, risk taking and inclination to fantasy; it reads faces and emotions. But it does give way to negative emotional feelings while the left is more prone to positive ones, the difference between the right and left hemispheres being ascribed to the influence of the neurotransmitter chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine respectively.
Such clear-cut demarcation or lateralization was not to the liking of men of science, who were more convinced that we need both sides of our brain to express our conception of life. There is mutual influence, modulation and control of these two halves, especially to appreciate sensations on both sides of the face, to perceive sounds by both ears and experience pain and hunger.
The eyes have a unique connection – each one is linked to each hemisphere. When a patient with right brain damage was shown a flower in his left visual field, then his right nonverbal brain was not able to speak out the name of that object, though the patient could talk of its usefulness. But if it was presented to the right field of vision, the verbal left brain could spell out the word ‘flower’ but would not know what its real function is in life! Further, if some such patient (with damaged right hemisphere) is made to lie on his right side, soon he will fail to identify his own left side of his body, going to the extent of believing that some stranger above him is pressing his right side of his body down!
Educationalists having realized that there are in fact a dominant verbal left hemisphere and a non-verbal right hemisphere warned that some societies were out to favour the left at the expense of the other — leading it to become very rationalized, individualistic, analytical and logical while looking down upon holistic thinking with disdain. Or is it possible that some other minor cultures are out to cultivate the right brain – ready to live a life of silence, holistic thinking, of artistic and creative enterprise?
Split brain experiments
Sometimes the corpus callosum – the connection between the two hemispheres of the brain is highly damaged, leading to “split brain” experiments, which highlighted that the left and right side of the brain behave as independent entities. In one case the corpus callosum was surgically bisected purposely to control the severe fits affecting a patient. On recovery he was put to nonverbal tests, eliminating the advantage of the verbal left hemisphere, by the well-known neurocognitive scientist VS Ramachandran. Simple questions and answers were tabulated on a board, as for example: “Is the colour of the sky blue? Yes/No”; “Are there 7 days in a week? Yes/No”, and finally “Do you believe in God? Yes/No.”
The board was placed on the left of the patient and he just had to look at it with his left eye and was asked to point to his answer with his left index finger. He answered correctly to all the answers and to the last question he pointed to Yes – he believes in God.
The same procedure was repeated on his right, and looking at the board with his right eye he used his right index to point to the correct answers – and lo, to the last one he pointed to No! Does the right hemisphere believe in God and the left one does not?
Patients with complete section of the corpus callosum are rare – so this experiment cannot be repeated regularly to confirm that one finding. But it does open up new lines of thoughts of the possible difference between our two brain hemispheres: the left one is too rational to accept the concept of God, while the right one, being holistic and imaginative, accepts a Universal Super Being.
“The overall results of the1981 Nobel Prized Roger Sperry’s research can be summarized by his quote: Everything we have seen indicates that the surgery has left these people with two separate minds. That is, two separate spheres of consciousness.” Sperry believes that the present educational system is favouring the left hemisphere.
When we listen to any one of the musical masterpieces, our right brain is enthralled. And if we have both a singer and beautiful background music? The left brain interprets the wordings and meaning while the right continues to be elated by the music – a very nice combination — for relaxing our whole brain!!
But now and then we do wake up to different realities: we would hear of someone complaining about his or her own behavior: “What came into me to do such horrible things? I don’t know what happened to me?” It is as if part of his brain had escaped from higher control for a fraction of a minute… and he ended up committing the irreparable, like a crime of passion. Is it possible that the right hemisphere became impetuous and forced the individual to act on the spur of the moment but later the left one took over and rationalized after realizing the blunder committed?
Similarly, we have read Daniel Kahneman’s book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ – here again could it be that the fast thinking process, loaded with emotions, comes from the right and the slow rational thinking comes from the left hemisphere? Of course all this is just pure speculation.
Has anyone noticed how the ex-KGB boss president Putin of Russia walks? his left arm and forearm swing forward and backwards, but his right one remains rigid by his side — as if his left reasoning, scheming hemisphere is planning how to tackle the problem or opponent opposite him. His Chinese counterpart Chairman Xi has a more balanced gait. As for Donald Trump, American psychologists are already having professional fun analyzing his histrionics. Can psychologists read our language and our body postures, and tell whether we are dominated by the right or left hemisphere, and deduce some of our character?
“Since we live in a world that is hugely left-brained, we end up with a more material focus than a spiritual one. The language of the spirit is intuition, impressions, images, feeling, and pictures. It is interesting to look at your life habits, the way you relate to others and see if you can figure out which is a right brain v/s left brain function.” — Pamela Oglesby
Yet, each individual’s life seems to be fashioned by the degree to which these two hemispheres cooperate, differ, compete or dominate. Most probably we are a mixture of their qualities, with both a lateralization of some characteristics and a top-to-bottom influence.
* Published in print edition on 17 November 2017