“Branding and communications? I knew you as a Left Brain guy back then.” Ashish was catching up with Chandan during their alumni meet. They were meeting each other after they left behind their campus life — almost two decades. “You used to score well in Maths and Physics despite playing table tennis and carrom well past 1 am — even the nights before our quizzes and semester exams!” Ashish continued as Chandan looked on. “You were a brainy sort, a guy with left brain thinking. It beats me how you’re doing this right brain stuff now.”
The cool breeze coming from the beach and the strains of soft music made for a perfect evening with old-time friends. Chandan too was in a great mood. “Let me explain to you what happened. About five years back, my left and right brains exchanged their places!” he explained. Nonplussed, Ashish asked, “Does it mean that you are duffer in Maths now?” Raucous laughter from the adjacent table drowned out what Chandan said.
Logical and creative
Ashish relied on a popular belief: Left brain means logical and analytical thinking; right brain stands for the creative and emotional facets of thinking. It is interesting to note that neurological research finds no linkage between a creative person’s right brain ‘prowess’ or an analytical thinker’s left brain ability.
But let’s leave aside neurology, and examine whether left and right brain thinking exist as mutually exclusive thinking patterns. Let’s also look at whether such patterns help excelling in some fields, as is popularly believed.
Consider Mathematics. It is widely believed that those good in this subject are left brained, since it involves tasks like counting, and using multiplication tables which are said to be left brain thinking — you follow precise rules and think logically and sequentially.
But on the other hand, solving mathematical problems needs an ability to define or model a given situation, imagine possible laws or relationships which might be applicable to the modelled situation. At times, one’s mind might jump to a possible or several probable solutions.
And all these are instances of, what is popularly known as, right brain thinking. Mathematical proficiency, therefore, needs both left and right brain thinking.
Musical activities are seen as creative or right brain activities, because the so-called ‘right brain’ abilities, like imagining a sequence of notes and its effects and experimenting with them, are needed.
Yet, music also needs attention to detail, sequencing, and repeating precise patterns — all of which are left brain abilities. These activities can lift a performance or mar it, depending on how they are done.
Whole brain thinking
It is well known that great scientists and artists work diligently and consistently. They live out their passions. However chaotic their lives may seem to others, their left brain discipline and right brain passion lead to their creative excellence.
As a child, Albert Einstein was intrigued about the speed of light and how it might relate to other physical phenomena. He used think about it a lot. He continued this quest while negotiating the vagaries and distractions of adult life as a clerk in patents office.
Einstein said this extremely ordinary and boring job allowed him to follow his quest and led to his formulating the special theory of relativity. It will be difficult to find a better example of whole brain thinking.
Even in our ordinary lives, we stumble upon solutions or deep insights after sequential and long painstaking efforts (so-called left brain work) when we are deeply concerned or involved (so-called right brain domain of feelings). If we consider left brain and right brain thinking as mere metaphors for analytical and creative thinking respectively, we need to remember that both are crucial for excellence in every field. We need to aim for whole brain thinking.
What he said
What Chandan said and got lost in the roar of laughter was this. “I don’t use that kind of math. So yes, I am not good at it. But back then, concepts in Physics and Mathematics had captured my imagination. These subjects inspired me and I solved every problem that came up. I tested my understanding of theory using various problems. The loop of a Table Tennis ball also captured my imagination and I loved the feel of imparting or countering its spin. I really never thought of all these as efforts.”
The key to progress and success are passion and inspiration, diligent and persistent practice. Chandan had nicely summed up the whole brain thinking.