Sunday, December 18, 2011

Left in the Dark - book review

I finished reading 'Left in the Dark' by Graham Gynn and Tony Wright today. It presents an interesting new left/right brain theory, that seems better and different than all the others I've heard so far. I think it's an important book, although the writing style is somewhat dry, academic and perhaps a bit too British in style. However the thinking is spectacularly brilliant in this idea-rich 200-page investigation into the evolution of the human brain. Some say it's "the most revolutionary theory since Darwin" - and they are probably right.

The authors present strong evidence that shows our human ancestors were forest-dwelling fruit-eaters and not animal hunters - contrary to what is widely believed today. They also propose that although the right hemisphere of our brains is actually much more functional than the left, the right hemisphere has abilities that can only emerge when the left hemisphere dominance is lifted. We are mostly lost in the illusion created by our limited - but extremely dominant - left-hemisphere self.

Many human mysteries that you may have wondered about are explained in the book. For example:
  • why we are so different from our animal relatives (and not always in a good way),
  • how our brains became so large, but then started to shrink (yes we are getting stupider, not smarter),
  • why the two sides of our brains have different functions (and how for instance we tend to forget our dreams immediately upon waking up), and
  • how the human system has suffered a stall in its development, which has obviously affected our health and behaviour.
What I found particularly interesting from athletes's perspective was the powerful effect of steroids and hormones on our biology. They also investigate athletes (including a few runners) who have been able to shift to a 'second self' with enhanced abilities. Steroids -  even the natural ones produced in our bodies - seem to be surprisingly harmful in many ways.

It appears that in successful race performances the left hemisphere control in the brains of those athletes has been overridden. Accessing this second system is the secret that lies at the heart of enhanced sporting performance. In those rare instances perception of time and space is usually somewhat altered, and a heightened sense of alertness is commonplace.  

Finally the extreme sleep deprivation experiments (up to 11 days and nights!) performed by Tony Wright in a scientific setting were quite interesting to read about from ultrarunning point of view, as many ultra distance races require sleep deprivation. It seems that when we feel tired and think we must stop, it's only our left brain that's tired. If we can avoid fear and confusion, we can keep going for a long time with our right brain.

Occasionally a theory will blow your mind. This theory will tell you why your mind is already blown.

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