Saturday, June 07, 2008

Stoopid Left Brain.

Ok, here’s a fun little ‘brain trick’ that I learned today:

Lift your right foot off the floor and start moving it in a clockwise circle. Now try to ‘draw’ a number 6 in the air with your right hand.

Can’t do it, right? If you can you’re pretty talented and you’re part of a tiny percentage of the human race that can. Most of us will find our leg spontaneously change direction.

Now do the same, but trace that number 6 with your left hand. Much easier, right? In fact, it doesn’t give you any trouble at all.

Well, here’s what’s going on (and this whole thing does have a point).

The left side of your brain controls the right hand side of your body and vice-versa. When you’re using your right leg and right hand at the same time, your brain is trying to send conflicting signals. You’re left-brain is trying to tell your leg to move clockwise while also telling your hand to move in a counter-clockwise motion (the circle at the bottom of the ‘6’) at the same time.

Unless you’re doing an ‘unconscious’ movement (like walking or breathing) it’s really, really hard to do two conflicting movements at the same time.

When you move your right leg and left hand, it’s easy because a different side of your brain controls each movement.

This also explains why it’s so hard to do things like play the piano. You’re not just doing two conflicting motions, you can be doing twenty at once.

I was interested to learn this because (at least to me) it explains the concept of ‘talent’ and, in particular, why it can be so hard to learn to draw.

Just like people can be left or right handed, people also favor a particular side of their brain. The left brain deals with things like logic and pattern recognition, while the right brain deals with things like creativity and intuition.

In other words, when you’re doing your math homework, you’re using the left side of your brain. When you get bored and start daydreaming, you’re using the right side.

The bad part comes in when you’re doing an activity that requires both sides. For example, writing involves the left side of the brain that deals with words and language, but also requires the right side which deals with creativity. Ever come up with that awesome story in your head, only to find it’s almost impossible to actually get down on paper? When you’re thinking the story up, it’s right brain all the way, which conjures up whose images and events easily. When you try to write it, the left brain takes over.

This is why genius level writers and artists are so rare, because that ‘genius level’ is the equivalent of being completely ambidextrous. Most of us favor one side of the brain over the other just like we favor one hand over the other.

Just a little anecdote to back up this theory, DaVinci was capable of writing and drawing at the same time. He could also write one thing in one language with his left hand, while simultaneously writing something different in another language with his right. In other words, neither side of his brain was ‘dominant’ and he had perfect control over both.

This is why most of us have such a hard time with creating art.

Here’s a little exercise to try:

Find a picture of someone’s face and try to draw it. Then, take another piece of paper and copy the picture again, only this time copy the picture while it’s upside-down. You’ll find that the upside down picture will be much closer to the original.

Here’s why this is happening:

Our left brains love to categorize and pigeon-hole things. It recognizes patterns and matches it up to something from our memory. Think of it this way: All trees are essentially unique. You’ll never find two that are absolutely identical, but we don’t have any problems recognizing them. That’s because our left brain gets the info from our eyes and says “Big brownish trunk, branches and leaves…that’s a tree”.

So, when you copy the picture the first time, your left brain is jumping in with information all the time you’re drawing. It says “Right, you’re drawing the eye, and eyes are ovals with a circle in the middle, and eyelashes are little hairs that grow all around it.”

The problem is that if you look at an eye you’ll see they’re not ovals, the lid of the eye always covers part of the iris and unless you’re looking at an extreme close-up, you never see individual eyelashes. However, most people when asked to draw an eye will draw just that…an oval with a circle in the middle and individual eyelashes.

This is a powerful instinct and it’s extremely difficult to shake off. In a previous post I talked about how Sunny copied a picture of a woman’s face and drew nostrils even though it was a picture taken from above… meaning the nostrils weren’t visible. Even though they weren’t in the picture she was copying from, her left brain ‘tricked’ her into drawing them anyway. Noses have nostrils, so they must be there.

This is also the reason why kids will draw a tree as a brown stick with a green circle on top. In reality this bears almost no resemblance to a real tree, but that’s the pattern the left brain developed to recognize it. ‘Tree = Trunk + Leaves’

Basically we try to draw something and instead of drawing what it really looks like, our left brain overrules us and we draw what we think it should look like.

So, going back to the experiment, how does turning the picture upside down help?

What you’re doing is taking an image that the left brain recognizes and making it ‘alien’ to yourself. Rather than drawing a named object that has a shape you already ‘know’, you’re just drawing abstract forms. The chin stops being a chin and instead just becomes a curve. Your left brain isn’t screaming at you that noses have nostrils or that eyes should be ovals, because flipping the picture makes it look strange. Your left brain isn’t recognizing any patterns because it’s not used to seeing faces upside down…which leaves your right brain clear to actually see what’s there.

For example, our left brains will tell us that an arm is limb attached to the side of the body that’s two tubes with a hand on the end. However, when you really look at an arm, you’ll see that there are no less than 14 separate curves on the outside alone.

The other big one is the placement of the eyes. When you look at someone, you don’t really ‘see’ their entire head, you only really see their face. This is why most people will draw a human face and place the eyes about ¼ of the way down from the top of the head, when it fact, the eyes are in the exact middle of the head.

Basically, it’s this left-brain, right-brain ‘battle’ that makes creative activities so difficult for most of us. The right brain is being creative while the left is constantly over-ruling it.

To close, here’s one last experiment that helps prove this theory.

Next time you’re watching TV pick a celebrity you know well and really look at their face. I mean study it. Look at the shape of their eyes, their brow-line, the way their mouth curves, etc, etc.

After a while you’ll notice all kinds of details you’d never noticed before. In fact, they’ll even start to look ‘weird’, almost as if you’ve never really seen their face before.

This is because our left brains have just taken a ‘snapshot’ of that person that allows you to recognize them. Basically, our left-brains don’t remember a whole face…they just catalogue the features that distinguish them from everyone else.

1 comment:

Carole Seawert said...

Interesting comment about da Vinci. Did you know that the artist, Landseer, could draw two different pictures simultaneously with his left and right hands?