Your Plastic, Fantastic Brain! (continued)Posted: February 6, 2011
The human mind is a complex, fascinating, living thing, worthy of investigating for merely being. But part of my interest in neuroplasticity and all things related to the human mind is very personal: I’m on a quest, you see, to understand my own mind, and, to put it bluntly, work out my shit.
In the article on the ‘About the Messenger’ page of this blog, I describe how, post spinal cord injury, I was an in-patient in a rehabilitation hospital for approximately six months. And how I went through a major philosophical, mental “shift” during that time (after a prolonged period of stress – 8 years, precisely). I should emphasise that, aside from pain medication, I was not on any medication for depression, or any kind of mood enhancer. Yet, somehow, I intuitively reached some sort of plateau of complete peace and contentment. Ever since, I’ve been trying to understand rationally what happened, why it happened… and how to cultivate that headspace on a more continuous basis.
That “shift” was both a boon and a curse. An unusual by-product of this mental shift was that I started to think increasingly in symbols. I wish I could explain it better than that. It’s like seeing the world as an impressionistic painting – sometimes blissful, other times utterly confusing. I had a low level of this kind of cognition before my injury, but it was monumentally heightened during this time. Along with this bizarre development came heightened empathy and a deepened interest in and grasp of philosophical and spiritual concepts. Furthermore, creatively, this mode of thinking was, and is, a massive boon to me. But it has a serious downside – it had a detrimental effect on my ability to study and work in a linear fashion. Working to lists and schedules obviously helps to bring order to chaos, and I practice this religiously now. Furthermore the understanding that we can, in fact, re-train our brains (thank you modern brain science) also gives me hope that I will gain further clarity yet, as I continue to consciously retrain mine. Immediately post rehab, however, I started to doubt my own intellectual abilities and struggled with mental vagueness and confusion. I even thought that, perhaps, I’d somehow developed a learning disability. Somehow.
I know that I don’t, in fact, have a learning disability. But the trippy, artsy fartsy ;-P headspace I can now easily slip into (and have spent much time in over the last five years) does seem to fall into the “mode” that some scientists have dubbed “right brained” thinking. I’m not entirely sure how sound it is to separate our understanding of brain function and creativity into hemispheres. Nonetheless, the terms ‘right brain’ and ‘left brain’ are still widely used. Rather than taking the terms literally, I find them useful to demarcate different sets of cognitive abilities.
Right brain abilities are described as follows:
Looks at wholes
Left brain abilities, in contrast, are:
Looks at parts
I’m sure we all have a mixture of ‘right brain’ and ‘left brain’ abilities, myself included, which we employ at different times. I have read that we all have a natural bias or preference towards one mode over the other. My problem has been that although fairly “balanced” before 2006, the aforementioned “shift” skewed my thought processes too far in one direction. Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, describes the right brain specialties as artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent. My penchant for these areas has been increasing and dominant since 2006. Over the past year I have been trying to correct this imbalance. Thankfully my primary focus now – WRITING – is an activity that employs both left and right modes beautifully, in a very yin-yang, symbiotic kind of way.
Ah, writing. Soothes the soul and brings balance to weary minds.
Alas, I’m still trying figure out why my brain is the way it is. I guess I have more reading to do. And more posts to write…