Blocking the Left Brain Functions


One of the most fascinating books I ever read was written by  Paul Watzlawick, a family therapist, psychologist, communications theorist, and philosopher.

In his book The Language of Change he explores the idea that sometimes a completely nonsensical interaction may lead to a very concrete result. He suggests that using language patterns from the left brain half ( explication, explanation, argumentation, analysis, confrontation, interpretation) is an attempt to translate the right brain thinking in images and holistic world views of the patients. As such therapists  repeats and reinforces the symptoms the patient urged to seek help from a therapist.

He proposes three strategies to change the right brain thinking of the patient by

  • using language patterns of the right brain half
  • blocking of the left brain side
  • targeted behavioral rules

This book was a breakthrough in psycho-therapy when it was first published in 1977 .

However, this post is not about therapy. But it could be interesting to transfer his findings  to other domains. What is interesting about the idea? What can we learn from it?

Many people, particularly people in the Western World,  believe that economic growth will increase as more people are educated in mathematics, which is often described as left brain thinking skills.

Other people, like the Chinese, believe that  economic growth will come from innovative thinking involving the  right brain side thinking.  An holistic and analogue approach to problems and design.

It may be that Watzlawick’s book 35 years after it was published becomes relevant for stimulating right brain thinking in ordinary, healthy people.

Using language patterns of the right brain half

  • Compressed text and Contamination: syfilisation (civilization), freudful mistakes (Freudian mistakes), popollution (population)
  • Use of images: pictures, cartoons, painting, story telling, dreaming, dramatic expression, visualization, poems,
  •  Humor: “Soldier Katz”, asked a sergeant of the Prussian Army, “why should a soldier give his life cheerfully for the Emperor? “. “Indeed, why would he?” answered Katz
  • Pars Pro Toto: a complex whole of related things are displayed in a very detailed description of a tiny part of it. “Suddenly a straw drilled like a nail in the door” reflect better the idea of a heavy storm than an extensive description about air going busses, trees and cars. A Pars Pro Toto is a part (taken) for the whole
  • Aforism:  a statement that is really quotable, it makes a profound point in a simple, easily remembered way, by using ambiguities, puns, allusions and the like. No better life than a good life. Retired government servant offers himself for work. Brains as well as new. Never used.

Blocking the language patterns of the left brain hemisphere

We saw already in one of our earlier blog posts that drawing skills can be improved when we close our right eye, and put the object of the drawing upside down. It is a way to block the right brain thinking functions.

When blocking the functions of the left brain it is supposed that the right brain take over its functions.

  • Confusion. Provoking confusion as opposed to intellectualizing or talking things to broke. Deliberate creating confusion make it impossible to make logical sense of what is said. The left brain gets overloaded. Someone do present a overly complex plan and someone will ask: when do we have lunch?” Many Zen koans have this function to disrupt ineffective thinking.
  • The Contra Paradox. Many people get caught in a paradox. Posing a contra paradox could help escape them from  vicious logical circularity. Consultant: ” Every time I give you advice, you give me four reasons why it cannot work. But I tell you, now I have the ultimate solution, but I won’t tell you”. Patient: “I can’t sleep”. Therapist: “It is very important that you try for the next week not to sleep”.

Of course, these are all techniques from psychotherapy, regarding the kind of effective communication to a patient who wants to change. And they are not easy to explain, nor to apply.

It is yet unclear how we can use those strategies by ourselves to stimulate right brain thinking. Perhaps we should explore how we communicate with ourselves, with our brains, like a psycho therapist does with his client.

See also our blog post about Left and Right Brain Thinking. We will explore this subject more in our forthcoming book Thinkibility – Thinking about Thinking, Creativity, Innovation and Design.


3 Replies to “Blocking the Left Brain Functions”

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