“If you had more than half a brain, you’d be dangerous.”
I recall hearing words to that effect a few times in my more impulsive youth — usually in the aftermath of some ill-considered venture like stuffing cicada shells in exhaust pipes, dispatching a rattlesnake in my parents garage with gasoline and a match, or choosing to paint a house gutter three stories up on a wooden extension ladder when a hive of bees exploded on my face. (Oh, c’mon, you’ve done some of the same things.)
So, imagine my solace in the conventional wisdom over the years that we are essentially half-witted by nature — that we are hard-wired to be predominantly “left-brained” or “right-brained.” However, I always was chary of the theory (and that’s really all it ever was, ergo all you need perhaps to get a Nobel Prize award for it), suspicious that it seemed simplistic and a bit too convenient and tidy. An entire cottage consulting industry arose over the last 20 years supposedly to reveal your hemispherical leaning, and the term eased into our everyday conversation.
As it turns out, a new study by neuroscientists at the University of Utah essentially has debunked the whole notion. True, there are certain activities that are processed on one side or another, but one half rarely dominates. Instead we wire up our own, customized neural pathways and interchanges to manage the cross-town traffic going to and from both lumps of gray matter. We train our brains – and it trains itself (how it does that without us being conscious of it is enough to keep you up at night!) — based our own life experiences.
Alas, we have a whole brain, and it is uniquely ours.
Get our brains out of the “box”
The extension of this discussion is what it reminds us about the uniqueness of us a people and what shapes our thinking, our emotions, our values and beliefs. As well, it reminds us there is no “efficient” way to understand this magnificent mass of cells that houses our sense of self.
I’m all for people doing many of the “personality” assessments that are so often offered, but the mistake we make is stopping there — with ourselves and with each other. It can be revealing to better understand how we learn, consider, respond and interact (and assign some set of letters or numbers to that), but it is only the first step in the reveal, a glance in the mirror, a peek behind the curtain. It may suggest the “what” and the “how” of our thinking, but rarely the “why.”
When we box ourselves into such neat compartments, I wonder if we shut off learning, exploring, the natural yearning to solder up new neural pathways that might take us and our way of thinking to an entirely different place. When we assign such labels to others, do we limit our curiosity about them, where the labels become a shorthand to what ought to be a longhand narrative?
What shapes us is our story. Our triumphs, our failures, the words spoken into our lives by people who mattered to us. Our dreams, fears, ambitions and anxieties.
When we take the time to explore our story, even retrace our steps, we understand ourselves. When we take the time to do so with others, it is a gift.