WootBot


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Did you know that the second week of March is Brain Awareness Week around the globe? You didn’t? You weren’t aware of your brain? Conscious of your consciousness? Well, get with the program. March is perhaps the brainiest month of the year—it’s also when we celebrate the 1879 birthday of famous smarty-pants Albert Einstein, and the 1946 beginning of Mensa intelligence testing. But it turns out people will believe just about anything they hear about what’s going up between their ears. We’ve asked Ken Jennings to fact-check some particularly lame-brained misconceptions about gray matter.

The Debunker: Are There “Left-Brained” and “Right-Brained” People?

Your buttoned-down computer programmer friend Gary is detail-oriented and analytical. Not long ago, he would have carried a slide rule with him at all times in his jacket pocket. “Left-brained!” you announce knowingly. But your free spirit friend Maya is creative and intuitive. She’s written poetry since third grade and has recently taken up painting. Regardless of weather, she is probably wearing a scarf right now. “Right-brained!” you decide.

Well, you’re wrong on both counts. It’s true that our brain is divided into two halves, or hemispheres, joined only by a dense bundle of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum. And there is some degree of what scientists call lateralization within the brain: the left hemisphere is where speech arises in most people, for example. But the asymmetries within the brain aren’t well-understood, and they change over time as people age.

Most critically, there is no clear-cut distinction between one “logical” hemisphere and one “creative” one. Brain scans of over 1,000 patients studied at the University of Utah in 2013 don’t reveal any difference in neural traffic: all people of all personality types have essentially the same amount of connectedness on both halves of their brain. And injury to either hemisphere can impair certain skills (math, for example) equally. The new thinking is that all complicated brain tasks, whether analytical or creative, require both halves to be cranking and even collaborating. Anyone who thinks a certain kind of thinking or personality is “left” or “right” is definitely not “right.” To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, only a Sith deals in absolutes.

Quick Quiz: Judy Collins’ biggest hit, the song “Both Sides, Now” was actually written by what other singer-songwriter?

Ken Jennings is the author of Because I Said So!, Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

mhenning


quality posts: 1 Private Messages mhenning

I honestly had no idea that the song "Both Sides Now" was associated with anyone besides Joni Mitchell. The more you know.

The left-brain versus right-brain thing is a myth that I think has problematic social implications, and needs debunking, so well done.

dtungsten


quality posts: 0 Private Messages dtungsten

"Only a Sith deals in absolutes." - Obi Wan Kenobi

Since that statement is itself an absolute, Obi Wan is a Sith!

JRHolmes


quality posts: 0 Private Messages JRHolmes

Interesting, but that isn't to say that there are no differences between the left/right brain activity.

Strangely, the IO9 science fiction website http://io9.com/the-brain-injury-that-finally-makes-us-as-smart-as-rats-1535539338 has a relevant article today about how one hemisphere deals with pattern seaking and how it can lead people astray when dealing with random sets of data.

spleen1666


quality posts: 5 Private Messages spleen1666

Left or Right-Brained really has to do with hand dominance. Since I'm a southpaw I am mostly controlled by the right hemisphere of my brain. Right handers are controlled by the left.

soullessecho


quality posts: 0 Private Messages soullessecho

The left brained or right brained myth is actually true. It has to be. I've met more than a few people who at best had a half brain.