Bare Bones Biology 107 – Right, Left, or Wrong?

Warning – my use of the terms right-brain and left-brain in this blog is almost entirely metaphorical, and not scientifically precise. But I hope you’ll get the point.

In my career as a semi-faculty person there was a time when I needed support from the other women in my academic institution. But there weren’t any other women scientists, barring one or two who had problems of their own. So I turned to the women of the social sciences for support and the rest of that story is long and tedious, and though it was very successful, you don’t want to hear about that.

In the meantime, it seemed to me that my liberal arts supporters didn’t understand what I was talking about much of the time. It evidently seemed to them that they DID understand, and so I set out to improve myself. I began to attend seminars on the social science side of campus, in addition to the science side, and what a shock that was. It wasn’t the words – not even the specialized vocabulary, which is easy enough to learn if one makes the effort. It was how we think differently; how they don’t think like I think.

I am talking about how a scientist thought about her subject in those days. Now it has changed again, and most of what they call science is really technology, but that only deepens the divide. And I’m talking about how a social scientist thought about her subject. I found it to be – not a different way of talking, but a different way of thinking.

Think about it. The intuitive, fluid, “right-brain” sort of thinking, recognizes the importance of emotion in the whole construct, and instinct, and therefore has very few numbers to guide its logic. But that’s the way it must be, because social scientists are basically studying people. The hard sciences — there is a reason they are called the hard sciences, and it’s not because they are difficult. In many ways they are easier, if that’s how one learns to think. Linear, crisply defined, boxed-in, precise scientific thinking. Because that’s how the universe appears to us to function, scientific logic is best suited to the study of subjects that are outside the control of the human mind. The molecular structure of water, or the sequence of genes in a chromosome. These things lend themselves to “left-brain” sort of thinking. Unfortunately, we generally do not recognize these right brain/left brain differences, and when academicians say “critical thinking skills,” they are almost invariably talking about right-brain skills. I have found it easier for the students to the more direct and straightforward critical thinking skills through science, and then graduate to the more difficult, fluid, questions addressed by the liberal arts.

There was an age when we taught both skills to all the students. I was required to take two years of liberal arts before beginning my training in science. That seems like day before yesterday. And then the pendulum swung far to the left (brain) and it seems just yesterday that science overtook the liberal arts, and then technology took over science and helped to create modern left-brain economics. When this was taken to the extreme our human values were swallowed up, and so we developed a corposystem that is now trying to recreate life itself in our human image.

I suppose it is in reaction to these excesses that today the pendulum is swinging all the way back toward the right brain. It seems like we are currently engaged in a battle between those on the right (brain) and those on the left (brain). Just today I learned that the right (brain) is taking a stand (again) in Tennessee, where all the schools will now be required to use inappropriate right-brain critical thinking skills to evaluate hard core science in the classrooms. Folks, the universe does not operate on right(brain) human skills and neither does the corposystem, although it’s happy to take advantage of what it knows about these. It would be better if we understood the world we live in. Right, wrong and left.

And I have an even better idea. Why not everyone learn to use BOTH right brain logic AND left brain logic and also learn where each approach is most useful to our common welfare.

Bare Bones Biology 107 – Right, Left, or Wrong?
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