2007-05-13: Something Abstract

Thinking about spinning and thinking

I've recently re-acquired my copy of Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, after a long period of having loaned it out. It's one of my favourite reads, not just because I aspire to draw well, but because of what it suggests about the way the human brain works.

From the information in the book, it appears that Edwards was at the forefront of understanding and interest in a concept that we currently take for granted as obvious: that different parts of the brain are responsible for different modes of processing information. More specifically, that the left hemisphere of the brain tends to be responsible for logical, verbal, and symbolic thinking, and the right hemisphere is responsible for metaphorical, intuitive, and spatial thinking. Edwards refers to these as L-mode and R-mode, since it has been found that the hemispheres aren't necessarily exclusively or absolutely responsible for each of the modes.

Even though I've long associated being right-brained with being creative, it wasn't until I read Edwards' book that I understood really how to utilise or control the different modes of thinking, or how they might benefit me in equal and complimentary ways.

The thing that really struck me upon this second reading of the book was the description of how one might recognise or know when their brain has switched into R-mode from the much more common and constant L-mode. After an exercise designed to help the reader shift into R-mode, Edwards asks:

...[D]id you notice that you were somewhat unaware of the passage of time— that the time you spent drawing may have been long or short, but you couldn't have known until you checked it afterward? If there were people near, did you notice that you couldn't listen to what they said— in fact, that you didn't want to hear? You may have heard sounds, but you probably didn't care about figuring out the meaning of what was being said. And were you aware of feeling alert, but relaxed— confident, interested, absorbed in the drawing and clear in your mind?

The reason that particularly struck me is that the above passage describes, to a tee, how I feel when I'm spinning. This was, for me, a ridiculously startling revelation. After all, I took up spinning to be more creative. But I never put two and two together to connect with the idea that spinning actually changes the way I think.

Let me offer, by way of illustration, a couple of anecdotes. Often I spin in the living room while tv or other activities are going on in the background. Usually the background things (like the tv show) are just for brain candy or noise; if it's a show or activity that I really want to watch and focus on, the spinning wheel goes back to its home in the bedroom. If Adam has joined me, often he will make a comment on something that happens in the show, or on something he has found on the web. The conversation, from my perspective goes something like this:

Adam: *unintelligible noise*

Me: (suppressing an irrational feeling of great irritation, I pause treadling and look up) What?

Adam: This is interesting. On Lostpedia, someone has a theory that Ben is actually a telepath and that all the weird stuff happening on the island is a result of his subconsious desires.

Me: Oh, cool.

(And I go back to spinning)

I also thought of this scenario in passing when I had my spinning day in Burwood park with Lara, David, Adam, Christophe, Nathan and Karen (and of course Lee). In the earlier part of the day, it was just David and myself, and curious passersby who were wondering what on earth we were doing. David explained to some of the random people we talked to that he wasn't very good at spinning and talking at the same time, since he was still learning and needed to concentrate. I don't intend to second-guess David's assessment of what's happening in his own brain, but part of me wonders if he experiences the same feeling that I do: it's not that he's concentrating because he's not good yet, but because spinning requires a spatial, non-verbal mode of thought. In fact, even when Lara and others showed up later in the day, I don't remember much about the conversation and all of us who were spinning stayed relatively quiet for good stretches of time. Of course there were exceptions to that, and I don't intend to suggest that you can't spin and talk or spin and understand speech; and maybe my memories of the day are biased or incorrect; but it gives me food for thought.

Edwards suggests that exercising R-mode thought can improve problem solving and benefit many other areas of intellectual life. Unfortunately, the details of how and why are in another book she has written that I don't have yet. Given the amount I've been spinning lately, I'm thinking that my next book purchase just may be that one.

Interesting. I know that I can talk and knit, but I do tend to talk less when I knit, and listen more. I tend to only add to the conversation when I really have something to say, instead of the constant drivel I come out with if I'm not knitting. I think knitting makes me a better conversatioinalist, because I concentrate more on what others have to say.

Lara rhubarbandcustard@mac.com 13 May 2007

My theory is that knitting is more L-mode than R-mode. The result of knitting is creative, certainly, and making up patterns is creative. But the process of knitting seems more linear & structured to me. You need to count, you need to interpret symbols in a pattern, all those things are more L-mode. I think spinning is more R-mode because you need to use spatial skills like judging the width of the yarn, focusing on texture and how much you are drafting. But I'm willing to be proven wrong on knitting. I think being a better listener suggests that knitting might be L-mode. However, I do easily lose sense of time when knitting, which suggests R-mode. Certainly worthy of further investigation I think.

ARJ roceal@jngm.net 13 May 2007

That's exactly what happens when I'm practicing a musical piece in my church choir! It's really something when we get in the zone. I lose all sense of space and time.
Same with knitting:)

fuguestateknits fuguestateknitter@gmail.com 20 Sep 2008