Thursday, April 22, 2010

Robert Ornstein's THE RIGHT MIND

When people think of language and the brain, they often refer solely to the left hemisphere of the brain because that is where the identified language centers reside (e.g., Wernicke's Area, Broca's Area). However, it would be a mistake for anyone to think that you need only the left hemisphere to communicate and use language. Robert Ornstein's book The Right Mind reminds us why we need the right hemisphere just as much--if not, perhaps, more--than we need the left hemisphere for things like using language and making logical decisions (both aspects associated primarily with the left hemisphere).

Ornstein's style of writing is not terminology-laden, so even people who have never studied cognitive science or anatomy or neuroscience or [fill in the blank with another relevant field here] will be able to pick up the book and read about the wonders of the right hemisphere. The chapters have fun names to go with the interesting topics like "The Run of Dichotomania," "Wit or Half-Wit?" and "An Avalanche in the Human Brain."

Throughout the book, Ornstein uses examples from psychological and linguistic experiments, patients with brain damage, and general observations to demonstrate that while the left hemisphere may be responsible for language at its core, the right hemisphere is necessary for being able to understand context, which allows us to form the "big picture" of our world. In other words, the left hemisphere helps us see the individual trees, but the right hemisphere allows us to see the entire forest. Through Ornstein's examples, you begin to see that a world without context is one without true understanding.

If you're interested in understand more about how our brains process language, I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of The Right Mind.


  1. The concept of communicating with an absence of brain, or brain damage, reminds me of Phineas Gage's story. He's the one who was victim of a metal rod to the skull, destroying his frontal lobe. He managed to live and communicate, though not "normally," for about 12 years after the accident.

  2. There are incredible stories out there. The ones that fascinate me the most are those of patients who've had hemispherectomies (where an entire hemisphere of the brain is removed for extreme medical conditions). Generally speaking, the right hemisphere is much more adaptable than the left, so oftentimes, it is the patient's left hemisphere being removed. The right hemisphere then adapts and takes over the left hemisphere's functions. How crazy is that?

  3. I think we watched an Alan Alda documentary in Psychology last semester about a woman who was missing one of her hemispheres. I'll have to look for it.