Humans, you may know, are unique in all the world. Philosopher Mortimer J. Adler lists several ways in which that is true.
One of my favorites, also cited by the brilliant mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers, is that only mankind creates. In fact she posits the idea that being creators is what it means for men and women to be made in the image of God.
Other animals build things. Spiders build webs, birds build nests, and beavers build dams. All of those, within a species, are the same from generation to generation. The buildings of humans are decidedly not the same.
Every human, including you, is a creator. Some humans create in ways that we call creative. Some of us write, others cook. Still others paint pictures or sculpt or design those incredible buildings.
How do you create? What is your medium? You don’t have to create something famous to be creative. Perhaps you have rearranged the furniture once or twice. Maybe you have organized a tool chest. You might have “accessorized” your desk. All of that is creative, and you don’t see a lion doing any of it.
Creativity is just one aspect of the human mind, but it is also a great example of people using their minds for something other than survival.
It is an indicator that we have the ability to think, to act on that thinking, and to change the world around us.
But can we change ourselves?
Transformers all started in 1984 with a toy line, but many of us today think of the movie series. There have now been seven (!) Transformer movies.
Clearly people are interested in transformation. Many people I’ve discussed this with would like to be able to “transform” into someone stronger and better.
Me too. But how would we go about that? It starts with using our minds.
A fellow known as Paul wrote a letter in which he said, Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.
And therein lies the challenge.
My first observation of this “changing the way you think” line is that it must be possible. It has been and can be done, and you and I can do it.
Second, I can see by the context that this is deeper than having a different opinion. A mind that thinks in a new way might lead to different opinions in some areas, but it might not.
Third, it appears that the world in general is not the ideal model for life. One translator put it like this: Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.
Too many of us do just that. We want to fit in so we “go along to get along.”
Fitting in, though, is not transformation, it is sameness.
Right brain, left brain
For decades neuroscientists have known that our brain is divided into two physical hemispheres. There is more to it than that, including a spinal cord, but without your skull the two hemispheres would fall apart.
I know, my brain has fallen apart even inside the skull, but in this case I mean literally fall apart. The halves wouldn’t separate completely because there is tissue at the bottom that connects them physically and allows them to communicate with each other.
The picture here is of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor holding an actual human brain in her hands during one of the most famous TED Talks. When I discovered it 15 years ago I was blown away.
What I had heard earlier was that we were either “right brain” or “left brain” people. My wife, her mother, and I all took a little test in Reader’s Digest to find out what we were. Mom was “right,” my wife was “left,” and I was in the middle. The test, I thought, got two out of three right.
Following up on Dr. Taylor, and in reading a book called Believing Is Seeing by Michael Guillen, PhD, I learned that the little test may not have been wrong after all.
Each of us tends to favor one hemisphere over the other. The right hemisphere is basically creative (see above), expansive, and community minded. The left hemisphere is basically logical, laser focused, and self-centered.
Here’s the important part: both sides are working all the time, and much of that time they are arguing with each other.
I play golf, and have for years. Part of that time I played consistently well, so I know what that feels like, and I can tell you with certainty that my best golf is played out of my right brain.
But oh how my left brain wants to be more involved! Unfortunately it is not good at golf.
How do I play a round of golf and allow my two brains to both be involved?
The same way I live my life with both brains involved: I change the way I think. I don’t do that by eliminating one side completely, I do it by ensuring that both sides are cooperating and contributing appropriately.
For now let’s call the right hemisphere “other focused” and the left “me focused.” The world (the one Paul said we shouldn’t copy) is very “me focused.” When you recognize that happening, shift your thinking to others and engage your right brain.
If you’re trying to solve a math problem, shift your thinking to the left hemisphere.
To do all this is much simpler than it sounds — it only requires thinking.
One more point. Dr. Taylor says the right side of our brains is where love resides. Her recommendation: Use that more.
In fact that was the “stroke of insight” she had after suffering a major stroke and losing the left side of her brain. It took her eight years to recover and she says she is now a better, nicer person.
She was transformed. We can be too, without the stroke.
Think — and do good.