When it Comes to Brains Are You on the Left or the Right?

Being these days a regular curmudgeon, I am always getting upset about the ceaseless attacks launched against reason and logic in these foolishly emotion-drenched times. The disciples of feeling would reduce human beings to unthinking bags of hormones. The taste for irrationality is growing.

Left and right brain hemispheres with coloured quadrants

The current popularity of intuition and irrationality says the left brain is inferior to the right brain. In reality, there are two sides to this question! (Image: public domain)

Annoyingly, I came across just such an “attack” in G. L. Rico’s, Writing the Natural Way. Rico lists two sets of very different character traits, inferring that each set resides in one hemisphere of the brain. A careful examination of these sets (the items in bold below) reveals a clear bias in favour of those traits associated with the right hemisphere, often considered the seat of feeling and other irrational – or non-rational – aspects of the mind. Traits associated with the thinking left hemisphere are couched in ways that sound negative by comparison. To amuse my(nasty)self – and to turn the tables on an unsuspecting G. L. Rico – I typed up the lists in bold and then set out my own alternative interpretations in plain text. Do not take what you find here too seriously, but at least think about what I am rather strenuously suggesting. Take a minute or two to compare Rico’s original lists.

Here are Rico’s “wonderful” right hemisphere traits and my somewhat (okay, considerably) less flattering interpretations.

The Right Hemisphere: “Acceptance of Uncertainty”

Rico’s title (in quotes) is an attempt to make this list sound brave and daring. A better title for this list would be “Acceptance of Self-Annihilation”

Floating self: This would mean having no clearly defined sense of self. Rico wants to make sheet-wrapped Buddhists of us all.

Involvement: Here we have the excessive need for the affection and regard of others that often signals self-dislike.

Willingness to explore what is new: Ah yes, the love of all that is trendy and fashionable, novelty for the sake of novelty. Off with the old and on with the new so often you have no idea who or what you are.

Opening, loosening: Loss of self, no identity, adrift, no standards.

Metaphorical: To be metaphorical means you possess the great virtues of poor reasoning skills, woolly thinking, and love of irrationality.

Flexible: The best way to be weak willed, weak minded, and easily pushed off course.

Yielding: This means nothing more than plain ordinary weakness.

Impulse for risk: Lacking a real sense of self, some people need big thrills in order to feel alive. They are self-destructive and do not properly look after or value themselves.

Learning to be larger, more encompassing, softer more absorbent: This refers to that ill-defined sense of self that leads to those “all is one” and “I am one with the cosmos” feelings that are the ultimate self-obliteration.

Here are Rico’s “less desirable” left hemisphere traits and my more positive interpretations.

The Left Hemisphere: “Thirst for Certainty”

Rico’s title (in quotes) is an attempt to make the left-hemisphere list sound like something from a dogmatic religion. A better title for this list is “Search for Self-Realization”

Unmoving self: Having a sturdy and realistic sense of self; being well grounded. You know who you are, where you have come from, and where you are going.

Extrication, disengagement: These are the traditional virtues of independence and self-reliance, two values much out of favour in these days of big government and proliferating entitlements.

Rejecting or fending off what is new: You have a firm sense of history and tradition that underpins a lot of self-knowledge and a strong identity.

Closing, clenching: This is a way of describing self-possession, being able to control your own behaviour. It means having a sense of direction and purpose combined with the ability to finish. Such people have a stabilizing “grip on themselves.”

Literal: Here is the ability to be logical, rational, and capable of clear thinking.

Rigid: A very nice quality that includes being strong, strong-willed, and determined.

Stubborn hanging on: This represents the ability to stay the course in the face of setbacks and get the job done.

Impulse for security: As a positive quality, this means you are not self-destructive. You prefer looking after yourself and valuing yourself. If you have a family this quality extends to looking after them as well.

Learning to be sharper, finer, more piercing, harder, tougher: Of course! What is wrong with being a healthy person who wants to hone their talents and skills while maintaining their independence and self-reliance? Being a soggy cream puff is for losers.

Final Thoughts

Rico’s lists are a confused yet deliberate attack on reason and represent a garbled hash of disparate influences. Her views on the self, for example, are Buddhist in nature. The idea of a rigid self versus a floating self is pure Buddhism. In reality, the authentic self is constant yet does partly reside in the unconscious, which most people assume is in fact the right hemisphere – where Rico misplaces the “floating self.” A floating self is another way of describing a false persona, and the false self is always a product of the ego, which is assumed by cognitive researchers to arise in the left hemisphere.

In reality, almost all genuine character traits arise from the unconscious where they develop when we are children as our genetic inheritance interacts with the milieu we are born into. The false persona, the way we prefer to think of ourselves and present ourselves to others is a later product of consciousness. How well this false self aligns with the true person has a lot to do with how mentally healthy we are and whether others see us as reasonably genuine or as a phony and a hypocrite.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

4 thoughts on “When it Comes to Brains Are You on the Left or the Right?”

  1. Nice Post, Thomas. I think I’m a little of both, though I favor the right side.

    I can’t help but think this article is actually a retaliatory strike. I think that the left side is more dominant these days due to our current economic conditions. We’ve had to become more practical due to necessity. When talking to young people, I feel like an old geezer when I hear they want to pursue an artistic path for their careers. I find myself wanting to shake them and tell them to get real jobs and do their art thing as a hobby. Very left brained of me to want to say such a thing, but I think this is becoming more prevalent these days.

  2. You read a text well, Dan. Seeing it again today, I admit the post is a bit chippy. Yesterday’s original draft was funnier, but I did not want to ridicule Rico’s work, just strenuously disagree, so I toned the humour down. My irritation with the ongoing emphasis on emotion and irrationality remains.

    I agree that tough economic times bring ordinary people back to a more rational way of dealing with life, but writers tend to push the ideas they have spent years working out regardless of what goes on around them. Worse, the political left is ideologically committed to feeling as the primary way of making judgements and decisions. We all know how big the left is on art. Those young people you mention have such impractical ideas because they have been influenced by the leftist domination of the West’s public schools. We are not doing our children any favours by allowing this one-sided situation to continue.

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