Not many readers would pick up a book with “neuroscience” in the subtitle for its entertainment value. But Ransom Stephens’ The Left Brain Speaks, The Right Brain Laughs (Viva Editions 2016) is so cleverly written that it offers both an amusing read and an illuminating discussion of brain science. Stephens, a physicist, technologist, and a novelist, has a reputation for writing on science with a hefty dose of irreverence. But his lighthearted take on what goes on inside our heads is scientifically sound. With equal doses of artfulness and authority, he walks readers through the heady concepts on how we interpret the world around us.
Stephens revisits a popular theory — that the left brain is our inner accountant, and our right brain is our inner artist — and proclaims it grossly oversimplified. He shows how the right brain does play a big role in creativity, but as he clarifies, so does the left brain. The same can be said for our analytical process. In fact, he writes, “Your left brain is the one that takes you out on crazy fantasies, and your right brain reels you in.”
The chapters delve into “mostly-but-not-completely false dichotomies,” examining nature versus nurture, intelligence versus intuition, and alone versus together, to name a few. And, as is the case with so many extremes, Stephens disproves the black-and-white schisms and bring us more discerningly into shades of gray (matter) — sorry, but his tongue-in-cheek style is contagious.
Stephens also describes what happens when the is brain is confronted with something out of the ordinary. Imagine how you’d react if you were sipping a beer in a bar, and looked up to see your mother approaching. He walks us through a comedian’s process for finding the right punch line. He even illustrates why crowd-sourcing can work, but brainstorming doesn’t.
In essence, what Stephen sets out to do in his book is help readers tap into the brain’s processes to enhance our own creativity. He guides us towards new pathways for our neural network to explore. Creativity, as he shows, is spurred when we move beyond complacency into the discomfort of the unknown.
From learning a new language, to picking up a musical instrument, to exploring a new career path, we need to chart new territories for our brains to interpret. In that stage, before we transition from playing random notes on a musical instrument to playing music, new synapses form, and thresholds change.
We all have the ability to innovate, as Stephens writes, and he helps us understand how not only why, but how. We can start by leaving our own stable models of reality behind, and give our own brain room to expand. And, as this eye-opener of a book shows, expand it will.
For more information, visit Ransom Stephens’website.