Right and Left Brains

Polarity and Unity
By by Thorwald Dethlefsen and Rudiger Dahlke, MD

If we identify ourselves particularly strongly with our conscious mind alone, this very largely inhibits the permeability of the subconscious, for the unconscious contents are then perceived as being alien and therefore frightening.

A greater degree of permeability can lead to a kind of 'mediumism'. But a state of enlightenment or 'cosmic consciousness' would only be attained by transcending the boundary altogether, so that conscious mind and unconscious become one.

But then this step is synonymous with the annihilation of the I, whose very autonomy depends on the initial division. It is this step which, in Christain terminology, is described in the words: 'I (conscious mind) and my Father (unconscious) are one.'

Human consciousness finds it physical manifestation in the brain, within which the typically human power of discrimination and judgement is allocated to the cerebral cortex. No wonder, then, that the polarity of human consciousness finds its corresponding mark in the very anatomy of the cortex. It is a matter of common knowledge that the cortex is organised into two hemispheres, which are joined to each other by the so called corpus callosum.

In the past, medicine has attempted to treat variuos symptoms such as epilepsy or unbearable pain by surgically severing this organ and so cutting off all neural pathways between the two hemisperes ('commisurotomy').

Violent though such an intervention may appear, the operation seems at first sight to have no side-effects worth mentioning. This is how it was discovered that the two hemispheres apparently represent two totally self-sufficient brains, both capable of getting on with their job quite independently.

However, once patients whose hemispheres had been separated this way were subjected to more discriminating experimental conditions, it started to become ever more obvious that the two hemispheres differ very sharply from each other both in character and jurisdiction.

It is well-known, of course, that the neural pathways are 'cross-wired', with the result that the right side of the body is supplied with nerves from the left half of the brain and, conversely, the left half of the body from the right hemisphere.

If the patients already described are now blind folded and given for example, a corkscrew to hold in the left hand, they are unable to name the object - that is, they cannot find the word that goes with the thing they are touching and feeling - yet have not the slightest difficulty in using it correctly. This situation is reversed if they are given the object to hold in their right hand: now they know the right name for it, but cannot figure out how to use it.

Just like the hands, the ears and eyes, too, are each connected to the opposite side of the brain. In another experiment, a variety of geometrical shapes were shown separately to the right and left eyes of a female patient whose corpus callosum had been severed. In the course of this, nude photographs were projected into the left eye's visual field in such a way as to be perceptible only to the right side of the brain.

The patient blushed and giggled, but when asked by the leading experiementer what she had seen she replied, 'Nothing just a flash of light,' and carried on giggling. Thus, an image perceived by the right hemisphere can produce a definite reaction, even though it is incapable of being perceived or defined in thought or word.

Similarly, if smells are introduced only into the left nostril, a corresponding reaction takes place, even thought the patient cannot identify the smell. If a compound word such as 'football' is shown to a patient in such a way that the left eye is given the first part - 'foot' - to look at, while the right is allocated only the second - 'ball' -. the patient reads only the word 'ball', since the word 'foot' cannot be analysed linguistically by the right half of the brain.

Such experiments have recently been elaborated and refined even further to the point where what has been established to date can be roughly summarised as follows: both halves of the brain are clearly differentiated from each other in their functions and capabilities, as well as in their respective areas of responsibility. The left hemisphere could be called the 'verbal' hemisphere because it is responsible for logic and linguistic structure for reading and writing. It sudivides all our experience of the world analytically and rationally - that is, it thinks digitally. Consequently the left side of the brain is also responsible for counting and calculating. Moreover, our experience of time, too, has its seat in the left hemisphere...

These classic polarities are not difficult to tie in with the actual results of scientific research. Thus, the left hemisphere is yang, masculine, active, conscious and corresponds to the sun symbol - and thus to the individual's daytime aspect. And it is a fact that it is the left brain whose nerves are connected to the right side - the active or masculine side - of the body. The right hemisphere, by contrast, is yin, negative, feminine. It correspsonds to the lunar principle - the individual's night-time aspect or unconscious - and accordingly is connected with the left-hand side of the body.

This is an extract from The Healing Power of Illness by Thorwald Dethlefsen and Rudiger Dahlke, MD and is published by Vega. The ISBN number is 1 - 8433-048-2 and the book is available in the Soothingminds online shop.

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