A right versus left brain argument


If you want to know how this will relate to Tommy (as surely all things do!), scroll down if you’re feeling impatient. It’s unclear if that’s either a right brain or left brain quality—impatience, I mean. Indeed, wouldn’t it be ironic if assessment of binaries was neither a left brain nor right brain faculty?

The following rumination was triggered by an argument relayed by a man who likely identifies as a right-brain dominant individual. He is disinclined towards categories, which is a right-brain characteristic…I think. He didn’t know about these sorts of things, so he was nonplussed and on the back foot when pressed by his wife to make sense of things they were discussing. She, the presumptively more intuitive, empathetic and therefore right-brain person (so she asserted), bristled at his description of her as…well, he couldn’t remember what he’d specifically said about her. That became the core of their debate: he couldn’t give examples to substantiate his claims. He could relay his impressions, roughly, though his articulation let him down on the details. No matter, he thought, though the result was a conflict: something he’d wanted to avoid.

The semi-meaningful anecdote was parked in working, as in retrievable memory while a conversation moved on between men to a discussion of right and left brain thinking. My right brain observed that one man became a bit haughty as he outlined the differences between the functions of the right and left hemispheres. In his commentary, this man seemed to emphasize the qualities of the human left brain, which he seemed to think holds a privileged position in society, and is thus ripe for a right brain revolution. Interestingly, I can’t recall how he characterized right brain functioning, just that it’s more important for social discourse in the 21st century. About left brain functioning, he was succinct: “It’s about rules. The left brain is all about rules.” And rules, he further implied (exercising a right brain function, I think), are a problem: they foster rigidity and limited imagination and are likely ruining the world.

Something like my imagination stirred on this subject over the following hours or days—autobiographical or linear memory is probably a left brain function, and not one of my stronger qualities. Anyway, I was dissatisfied with this “rules” explanation of mental functioning, thinking it either verbose, imprecise, or too grey area and therefore right-brained in its perspective. The conflict relayed by our mutual friend came back to me, retrieved from some mental pocket, as my right brain intuited relevance. So, in our next conversation, I referenced that man/wife, vaguely gender-stereotyped debate of theirs and asked of my gently haughty friend the following: “when she challenged him to give concrete examples of the negative trait that none of us can remember, she was asking for concreteness, and thus imposing a rule”. My friend cautiously agreed but seemed to wait for more. “But the rule she imposed was tacit: if you’re going to make a generalization, you must substantiate, otherwise the impressions are not valid. Right?” I had sought validation. My friend faintly nodded, giving little. Still, I continued: “But that begs another observation: what if the application of tacit rules is a right-brain function, because it requires an intuitive sense to perceive the rule that is not explicitly declared. Therefore, it’s insufficient to say the left brain is all about rules”. This elicited a chuckle from everyone listening, which meant they agreed with me…I think with more of my right brain. Probably.

Wait, I remember: I was supposed to relate all of this back to Tommy—not because that was a rule per se—but rather because I’d promised that I would, which implied another rule that seems to cut across societies: follow through on what you promise. So, I think I had a further statement to make about how right versus left brain functioning is depicted in Tommy, perhaps with respect to the lyrics versus music dialectic in my book, which is about how words convey some of the story but the music carries the weight of the deaf, dumb and blind boy’s implicit message—that sort of thing. There was something else I think about Tommy that was relevant to this weird essay about right and left brain functioning, explicit and implicit memory. Something happened that, like the argument between my friend and his wife, stirred associations that were perhaps blocked for reasons unknown. It’s in my mind somewhere, parked in my senses amid other things gained and lost. I’ll go quiet about it for a while, wonder if it’s dangerous to write or speak about. Maybe something will happen later, stir me to greater freedom.






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