[Paleopsych] Revenge of the Right Brain

Thrst4knw at aol.com Thrst4knw at aol.com
Mon Apr 25 13:40:25 UTC 2005

In a message dated 4/24/2005 10:07:41 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
ljohnson at solution-consulting.com writes:
I thoroughly disagree with the premise. First, the idea of right-brain / 
left-brain has been thoroughly discounted. Second, the author is creating a false 
dichotomy. Most technical people are creative and artistic. Both my brother 
(Ph.D., chemical engineering) and my son (mechanical engineering) play jazz 
First, I agree that overly much had been made of hemisphericity and its 
supposed role in cultural as well as individual differences.  

Second, I also suspect that pervasive regional and subcultural differences in 
thinking patterns are sometimes real and when they *are* real, are indeed 
loosely related to different ways of using the same cognitive talents present in 
all of us (that is, using the same human brain in different ways).  I don't 
see these two views as contradictory once we grasp the differences in logical 
levels between brain function and actually using the mind.  

The differences in the way the cerebral hemispheres work probably does plays 
a role in pervasive differences in thinking patterns, although the notion of 
"drawing on one side of the brain" is surely simplistic and isn't a very 
practical or accurate way of thinking about the implications of this. It implies 
that using your brain differently is like flexing your left arm rather than your 
right arm, which confuses function with neuroanatomy.  The fact that some 
function of the brain has some relationship with a particular part of the brain 
doesn't tell us as much as one might think because we generally think of it as a 
mechanical relationship, whereas brain function is a partly a result of 
organized massive intercommunication, not just mechanical relationships between 
component parts.  Also, the mind in action is structured partly by how it is used 
rather than (just) how it is wired.  

As a result, there are a couple of different ideas here that are usually 
confused together: (1) differences in cognitive patterns that vary in different 
environments (e.g. "cultural" thinking differences), and (2) cognitive 
differences related to hemisphericity, the specialization of the human cerebral cortex. 

In "Geography of Thought," Richard Nisbett does an early but plausible 
analysis of the factors that lead to pervasive culture thinking differences of the 
sort we used to associate with being "right" vs. "left" brained.  His thesis: 
the organization of human groups, partly a result of ecological condtions, 
helps determine the way human beings form and process basic concepts and even 
influences basic perception in some ways.  His thesis is tested in the laboratory 
and applied to speculations about geographical and cultural differences. 

Does this link back to the hemispheres?  Possibly to some degree.  Bob 
Ornstein, an early adopter of the strong hemisphericity thesis and later skeptic, 
finally gives a moderate account in "The Right Mind: Making Sense of the 
Hemispheres."  Essentially he concludes that while the earlier interpretations of 
"creative" or "mystical" right brains and "logical" left brains were not 
supported in fact (nor even the idea that the right side is "mute"), it appears to be 
true that there is a profound evolutionary and developmental division where 
essentially the brain specializes into providing the context or big picture, and 
keeping track of the details.  

It isn't hard to see that keeping track of details would play a large role in 
Nisbett's Western cultural model of thinking, which emphasizes the properties 
of individual objects, and that providing context would play a large role in 
processing complex systemic relationships of the sort that characterize 
Nisbett's Asian model of thinking.

Perhaps Nisbett's differences couldn't be manifested without Ornstein's 
differences, so we could rightly say they are linked in some way.  On the other 
hand I think it would be wildly inaccurate to say that they are simply the same 
Ornstein, Robert, (1998).  "The Right Mind: Making Sense of the Hemispheres." 
 Harvest Books.

Nisbett, Richard (2003). "The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners 
Think Differently and Why."   Free Press.

kind regards,

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