The Parable of the Hemispheres

by John Woods

Copyright © John Woods, All rights reserved

Introductory Comments

In 1980, I became interested in the connection between brain function, human behavior, and human understanding. I believed and still believe that it is both mysterious and wonderful that the brain can study itself and use what it learns to its and our benefit. Out of that interest, indeed, passion, came this paper. It reviews the research on how the right and left hemispheres function and gives my synthesis of this research. I posit that we can only understand how each half of the brain works in relation to the other half. Further, I explain that by understanding how this organ works, as described here, we can gain deep insights into the results of its functioning, notably human behavior as well as all the ideas that spring from this organ, from the spiritual to the scientific, and everything in between.

We can begin to see that all our ideas are the result of this organ projecting itself into the world in innumerable contexts. We can begin to appreciate that the brain is not designed to facilitate the survival of the individual but the individual's subjective reality and sense of order. Finally, we can see that our self-aware understanding of this has profound survival consequences for us as individuals and as a species. I decided to post this paper on my Web site because I would like to share these ideas with others, who may find them as useful as I have.


  1. Parables and Brains The introduction to the article
  2. Hemispheres An overview of the origins of the research done on the asymmetrical processing of the left and right hemispheres of the brain
  3. Split Brains A review of the research into hemisphere function that comes from studying split brain patients
  4. Normal Brains and Single Hemispheres A review of the research on hemisphere function derived from studying normal brains and from chemically "turning off" one of the hemispheres
  5. Damaged Brains A review of the research on hemisphere function that has come from studying people with injuries of different sorts to the left and right hemispheres
  6. Right and Left Reality A set of tables that summarize the results of the research on the left and right hemispheres
  7. Classifying Our Modes of Thought A look at how different researchers and philosophers have classified the two modes of thought and how these classifications connect up with what the different processing of the two hemispheres
  8. Half Brain Role Reversals In light of the research and the classifications of our modes of thought, this section demonstrates how many of these classifications break down as we look at what the research tells us about what the left and right hemispheres do
  9. Resolving the Role Reversals This part provides an explanation of why these role reversals occur and begin to show that we can only understand the functioning of one hemisphere by connecting it with what the other half does. Without that connection, our classifications break down. For example the "rational" left hemisphere becomes irrational when not connected to its right half partner.
  10. How Do the Hemispheres Work? The part begins to explore a way to synthesize the research on the left and right halves of the brain and how their functioning facilitates and defines the understandings and behavior of human beings.
  11. A Satisfying Synthesis of Conscious Brain Function Here I pull together all the ideas presented so far into a synthesis that is consistent with the research and with our understanding of human understanding and behavior. It demonstrates that both halves of the brain actually take meaning from understanding the relationship between the body and the world in which the brain and body reside and, in fact, the brain is unable to meaningfully separate out the body from the rest of the world and that the whole idea of the self, as defined from the perspective of brain function, is the sum of one's ordered relationships with the world.


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