In the 1984 screen comedy All of Me, Steve Martin plays an attorney who suddenly finds his body invaded by the soul of a newly deceased client. The client, a crippled heiress portrayed by Lily Tomlin, had hoped to gain another lease on life by taking over the body of her stable keeper’s daughter through a bit of hocus-pocus that goes badly awry. Tomlin takes up residence in the right side of Martin’s body, while he occupies the left. Henceforth, even an act as simple as walking down the street gives way to hilarious contortions as the two struggle for supremacy from within.
As it happens, Martin’s involuntary joint tenancy with a willful heiress isn’t all that different from the situation most of us face in trying to reconcile the two hemispheres of our brain. Researchers in recent years have determined that we are literally of two minds about things, each of which occupies its own hemisphere. The left side of the brain does the verbal and analytical thinking, makes lists and keeps track of the time. The right brain is visual, holistic and intuitive, makes connections and is creative. In Western cultures, left-brain functions are more highly valued and dominate the education system, while right-brain types are often dismissed as dreamers and eccentrics.
In actual practice, of course, the workings of the brain are highly complex and don’t always stick to one side of the street. Religion seems to engage both hemispheres of the brain, depending on what you are talking about, which may explain the contortions of some religious enterprises. Direct communications from God, whether delusional are not, are mostly associated with the right side of the brain, while catechism class appeals to left-brained types. Priests and prophets in biblical times operated out of different hemispheres, which may explain why they were usually at each other’s throats. St. Paul started out as a left-brained Pharisee who persecuted Christians, then abruptly switched sides on the road to Damascus. Left-brained atheists are quick to point out the irrationality and contradictions of religious ideas and behavior. They conclude that there is no God. But it may just be that their left brain doesn’t know what the right brain is doing.