Wednesday, April 2, 2014

30x30: The Brain Wars

"I'm right-brained! I'm creative and intuitive! I suck at math because of my brain! Hahaha! Right brain!"

is a decent synopsis of how I've understood myself for a long time. Turns out, it's mostly b.s. As it happens, the whole left brain/right brain theory is b.s. 

The idea of dominant brain hemispheres took hold in the 1960s when neuroscientists were studying epileptic patients who'd had their respective corpus callosums severed. They discovered that the right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for certain functions like contextualization and interpretation, while the left is responsible for others, like language and logic. Subsequent extrapolations led many to conclude that those with creative strengths have a higher functioning right hemisphere, while those who excel in numbers and logic do so because Left Brain!

Now, however, research has shown than the two hemispheres of the brain work together to complete most functions. For instance, while the left side comprehends the sounds that make up words, the right side interprets the tone and rhythm that give them meaning. For full understanding and communication to occur, both sides have to work. Essentially, we don't tend have "stronger" sides. Our tendencies to excel in one field or another seems to have more to do with the quirks of our individual brains rather then a ready-made hemispheric theory.

But my personal understanding of having a stronger "right brain" has permeated so much of my self-perception. I took a certain measure of pride in being "right-brained." I liked the idea that science backed up my creative proclivities. As a bonus, it explained away my weakness in math. My struggle in math is totally not my fault! Can't help it! I was born this way!

And maybe I not-so-subconsciously used it as an excuse to not try as hard as I could in math. And maybe by not trying as hard as I could in math, I cheated myself out of the chance to acquire strength in math, which cheated me out of an opportunity to excel in subjects in which I still have deep interest like physics and economics.

What a shame for others, too, who are told early on, "Oh you're just left-brained so creative writing will be hard for you," or, "Science isn't your thing; you're more of a right-brain person." 

What a shame for a pseudoscientific half-truth to be such a thief of one's potential.

For the most part, my brain is balanced. So is yours. And even into late adulthood, the brain (and body) is able to learn and adapt and change. I hardly want to adhere to limits that actually do exist; why would go on adhering to imaginary ones?

Both hemisphere's of your brain are hardworking and fabulous. Don't believe the hype.

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