I mentioned in a previous post (What are you concentrating on?) that as part of the hypnosis process and mindfulness we move the attention from the left side to the right side of the brain. I have written about left and right brain thinking here but in regards to hypnosis the process is a psychological and physiological one. Psychologically, it is to become aware of the thoughts and to detach from them so they don’t overwhelm you. Physiologically, it is to move the activity from the left side of the brain, which deals with processes and patterns, to the right side which deals with the sensory input.
Left and right hemisphere functions
The functions of the left and right hemispheres are widely misunderstood, but in brief the functions can be interpreted as follows:
The left hemisphere controls anything to do with space and time (most of what we call ‘thinking’ in the West). It is where we do our calculating, analysing and planning. It deals with pattern recognition.
For instance when you walk into a room you immediately recognise the chair, the table or other objects in the room even of you have never seen that particular chair or table. What is more, you can tell objects from shadows, and where one thing is front or behind another. The left brain deal with details rather than the big picture. If we consider the brain as a computer (and it must be made clear that this metaphor only takes us so far), the left brain has the programs.
When you want to catch a ball you must concentrate on the ball, not on the mechanics of how you move you hand or your arm. You rely on the brain to enact the series of movements that will catch the ball. Many people would have had an experience similar to this: You are watching television and an advert comes on, and you get up from your chair go to the kitchen and to the refrigerator, open the door and look in and then suddenly ‘come to’ and wonder to yourself why you got up from the chair. What happened was that a ‘program’ in the left hemisphere was initiated that took you into the kitchen and then when it ran through to completion you were left wondering why you initiated the program in the first place. Maybe there was an advert for ice cream that caused you to go to the kitchen. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body.
The right hemisphere is much less well understood in the West but is better understood in Eastern cultures. It is to do with being in the present. In our computer metaphor, this controls the raw input from the peripherals. For instance, whenever you move your mouse it sends signals to the computer to indicate that it has moved a certain amount horizontally or vertically. The computer interprets these signals as a particular position on the screen. Similarly, each ear send a series of signals to the brain that indicate sounds of a particular amplitude (volume) and frequency (tone). The right hemisphere of the brain deals with these raw signals. It does not really distinguish between signals that come from the eyes, the ears, the nose , etc. The right hemisphere deals in the big picture, rather than the details. It controls the left side of the body.
The functioning of the left and right hemisphere of the brain explains Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism. I’ve written briefly on this here but I’ll write more on this in future posts.
There’s a syndrome called synesthesia where sounds, colours and other senses get mixed up. People with synesthesia smell sounds or hear colours. It can be induced by psychoactive drugs such as LSD. In this state, at it’s extreme, there are no defined senses, There is just an experience. You could consider that this is the extreme of moving to the right side of the brain. Our patterns of thought, the labels that we use to understand the world have broken down to such an extent that there are no defined senses. Just an experience.
The Author Aldous Huxley wrote about his experience with the drug mescaline:
Reflecting on the experience afterwards, Huxley finds himself in agreement with philosopher C. D. Broad that to enable us to live, the brain and nervous system eliminate unessential information from the totality of the Mind at Large.
At it’s extreme, hypnosis can induce a state similar to psychotropic drugs.