Sunday, February 5, 2012

What It's Like to Experience Only the Right Side of the Brain in the Way that Children Do (A Neuroscientist Experiences a Stroke on the Left, Analytical Side of the Brain)

Michael and Debi Pearl claim that very young children exercise their diabolical wills to dominate their parents, one of the justifications that they use to prop up their aggressive practices of corporal punishment. In a previous post describing the development of the minds of young children, I pointed out that the brainwaves of a child under the age of two are reflective of a level of consciousness much like what the adult experiences while they are sleeping. From ages two to six, the child's level of consciousness is much like dreaming or falling asleep for the adult.

Because children lack abstract reasoning and analytical abilities until they approach the age of twelve, they lack the ability and the mental wiring to be able to plot “diabolically.”  This website offers an easily understood description and more detail about how the brain of a child develops over time, noting how brain function starts out as rudimentary and becomes more sophisticated as the child matures.  Children learn as they grow and grow as they learn, but that learning process differs greatly from the way an adult learns.  The Pearls created the idea of the child as the natural adversary of the parent, an idea that does not arise from Biblical or scientific fact.  Their concept of the "diabolical will" of the child attempts to spiritualize and rationalize the Pearls' own intolerance of the natural immaturity and the limited function of a young and developing child.

While exploring these issues of development with Linda at, I mentioned to her that child development experts like Allan Schore teach that learning in chidren under 36 months of age occurs only through what the child experiences through feeling from moment to moment.  That type of learning and experience takes place within the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex of the brain (the outer layer on the right side) as it grows.  (The function of each side of the brain is very much unequal at this point.  The left side of the brain grows but does not yet function.)  This distinction introduces the question about the differences between the right and left hemispheres of the brain and what each of them does for us.

Left Versus Right Brain Function

In recent discussions of the brain on this website, we've noted how different areas and different structures in the brain perform specific functions. Similarly, the different sides or halves of the brain also perform separate and different tasks. As our personalities develop and we “grow into our brains,” it becomes evident which half of our brain we tend to prefer.

The left side of the brain houses the brain functions of reason and analytical ability, and it is logical, objective, and orderly (sequential). Most mathematical functions are performed on this side of the brain, and it allows us to focus on details and parts. It creates algorithms and sequences, preferring numbers. The people who use this left side of the brain more than the other tend to really like rules. This side of the brain also governs handedness, and this function is “contralateral” meaning that it controls function on the other side of the body. As a result, left-brained people are usually right handed.

The right side of the brain houses our creative abilities and operates very randomly, often through intuition. It takes in subjective information and makes sense of the world through subjectivity and feeling. It processes the experience of how things feel and is concerned with synthesis. It sees things in terms of systems and landscapes, and it is concerned with the essence of art, beauty, and music.  That global focus doesn't focus on individuality but sees everything as part of the experience of being a part of the system or a part of the the wholeness of things.  Those who are right brain dominant tend to be southpaws which gives reason to the joke that only Left handed people are in their right minds.

What It's Like to Live on the Right Side

The types of learning that children experience for the first two to three years of their lives takes place on the left side of the brain.  To help people understand exactly how this area of the brain really works – how it lacks the ability to reason, plot, and plan diabolical acts – I thought this video might be helpful.

It features a neuroscientist who experiences what it is like to have most of her left brain function shut down as she suffers a stroke in the area where analytical, rational, sequential (and diabolical plotting) activity takes place. As she looses these abilities, she describes something that is more like the experience of a very young child.

Note:  As a consequence of her stroke, the speaker experiences what she later describes as a type of spiritual reawakening, though that is not my purpose for presenting this video. (I'm making absolutely no statement about religion and do not share the religious conclusions of the speaker.  I mean for the reader to focus on the physiology of what each side of the brain does and the description of an adult's first hand experience of only the right side of the brain.)

It is my hope that those who view the video will develop a greater appreciation for the limitations that young children experience.  I believe that this type of finding disproves the presumptions of Michael Pearl concerning a child's ability to plan, plot, and willfully dominate their parents.  The speaker in the video says that we adults can choose to develop awareness of the way our right brain hemisphere experiences the world, but the very young child doesn't have that choice. They have only the the option and perspective of the right side of the brain which learns only through the feeling and realization of the present moment.  The child does not anticipate what they want to happen or any memory of what they felt before or how their parent responded to them in the past.  That part of the brain does not come online until the child begins to approach 36 months of age.

I would also like to point out the speaker's statement near the end of her talk about "surrendering" to the process of the stroke.  She became completely captive to her right brain hemisphere function only at that point, sharing something much like the experience of a very young child who has a yet undeveloped left hemisphere.  In some ways, it reminds me of the type of resignation that many abused people describe when they realize that they become powerless to help themselves during physical abuse.  I could not help but compare how this lecture speaks to to me as a type of analogy about the resignation and melancholy of a child who must also surrender to the process of the breaking of their will.