Left Brain Right Brain

This is for purely speculative purposes and should be taken
with a grain of salt, obviously. I want to offer my intuitions regarding the
dynamic equilibrium between the two independent cognitive systems that are the
left and right hemispheres of the brain. I want to discuss this from a
developmental point of view, but I also want to tie this back to a criticism of
the adult default mental state. This may shed some light on the striking
eccentricity that is sometimes observed in people whose lives have attained to
harmony and may provide an impetus to begin to lead a more balanced life in
which the brain integrates all its functions holistically.
Evidence for the claim that the two hemispheres are in fact
separate and independently operating cognitive systems comes from rare clinical
cases where an incurable epilepsy becomes so debilitating that it requires a
medical procedure known as a corpus callosotomy where the corpus callosum is
severed, resulting in the complete disconnection of the hemispheres from each
other. This is sometimes required to prevent the spread of seizures from their
source in one of the hemispheres to the entire brain. In such cases, the
resultant patient outwardly appears to retain most normal functions and is
usually able to lead a relatively normal life. However, careful observation and
examination of these patients reveals an extremely interesting set of
characteristics that collectively suggest the simultaneous operation of two
dissociated cognitive systems. If the experimenter is careful to present
stimuli to either the left or the right visual field with the instruction to
the patient being to name the object, the results will be dramatically
different. If the stimulus is presented to the right visual field, the left
hemisphere will perceive it, and the subject will have no trouble naming it.
However in the contrasting case, where the right hemisphere receives the
stimulus, the subject is absolutely incapable of answering the question, and in
some cases even confabulates. Also, anarchic hand syndrome is sometimes
observed in these patients where one hand will be doing something, say
buttoning up a shirt, when all of the sudden the other hand will spontaneously
grab the functioning hand and prevent it from carrying out its task. Sometimes
this is accompanied by a denial of agency and/or ownership over one or the
other of the hands. These dissociations of the activities of the two
hemispheres offer a striking demonstration of the independence of the two
systems, albeit in these rare cases where this independence is surgically
Subtler experiments on these patients have revealed further
that the style of information processing carried out by the hemispheres is
different. These experiments relied on presenting information to only one of
the hemispheres and using some behavioral measure to infer the manner of its processing.
This and other experiments on healthy participants have led some researchers to
conclude that the two halves of the brain have their own consciousness,
attention systems, perceptual styles, and can function independently of the
presence of the other. Additionally, their claim is that the corpus callosum
serves a primarily inhibitory function in order to avoid competition from the
contralateral complementary brain areas. This is why there is hemispheric
specialization; e.g. the left brain is specialized for language function, but
the right brain has some rudimentary linguistic function as well, which must be
inhibited so as to not interfere with the left brain’s performance of the
language task.
Given that these brain systems can operate independently and
have specialized cognitive systems subserving them, how are they reconciled in
the normal brain? If the corpus callosum’s major function were inhibitory, then
it would seem that these systems are in constant competition with one another
and thus that one can become dominant. This is precisely what I believe is the
case for the majority of people today. One might go so far as to say that the
contemporary human being suffers from a disorder that subjugates the right
hemisphere to the left. In fact, that is probably an over-dramatization of what
I am trying to say, which is merely that the right hemisphere exists in the
modern human in a sort of dormant state, a state of suspended animation
resulting from continuous reliance and emphasis upon left-brain function. This
bias towards linguistic/rational thought based cognition has, through many
years of its operation, strengthened the inhibitory fibers projecting from the
left to the right. While the popularized notions of left-brain and right-brain
functions are probably far too simplistic and in a few cases just plain wrong,
there is an element of truth to them. Perhaps the simplest statement of the
specialization of the functions of these two halves of the brain is thus: the
left brain specializes in focused information processing relating to parts of
the scene and particulars, whereas the right brain performs a more holistic processing
of global attributes of a scene. These subtler characteristics relate to the
oft-repeated pop-neuro concepts of left-brain reasoning and right-brain
artistic function, but are not as overt. Language and logical processing can be
construed in a manner that posits their requirement of processing of
particulars, whereas aesthetic and contemplative mental states involve taking
in the entire scene and eliminating any association of this with the self. The rational
style constructs a conceptual structure by which it attempts to understand the
world, setting up a vast network of connected categories, after the
particularities of individual elements have been abstracted away through a generalization
step. Implicit in this is the fundamental duality that disconnects the self
from the rest of the universe. Alternatively, the contralateral style of
cognition does no such partitioning and instead views an undivided whole, and
basks in its ineffable beauty.
Taking up a developmental account of this current state of
affairs, we may come to the conclusion that a child is born without such an
excruciatingly unbalanced brain, but rather in a dynamic equilibrium where the
two halves are constantly interacting with the output being the result of their
cooperation rather than competition. It is only upon their continual exposure
to the dominance of language and logic in our society and even our social norms
that this bias begins to manifest. Anyone that has spent any amount of time
with a child will instantly see the remarkable fluidity of his or her natural
intelligence as it seamlessly flows from word-knowledge to feeling-knowledge. Perhaps
we can be inspired by the innate wisdom of these fledglings to devote more of
our attention towards holistic processing and lead a more balanced mental life
that gives at least as much attention to the whole as to the part. I find that
contemplation of nature is very helpful in this pursuit, as is listening and
becoming deeply absorbed in good music. In short, any aesthetic/contemplative
activity that yields transcendence from self-based divisive thinking achieves
exactly this desired effect.
Let us learn from these innocent children of the stars and
let us depart from this unbalanced lifestyle. Let us grow and mature in ways
that move us forward as much as they move us backward. Let us cultivate the
equilibrium and harmony that are necessary for the good life. And finally…
May all beings be happy

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