02 March 2007

Wait. Maybe we shouldn't kill our TVs.

What if ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is actually a good thing? What if ADD is an evolutionary shift toward reincorporating the feminine principle, the goddess?

Okay, I know that sounds far-fetched. But play with me here. The idea came to me last year as I was simultaneously studying for my ADD Specialist exam and skimming Leonard Shlain's The Alphabet Versus the Goddess.

Shlain's originating question was, "What caused the disappearance of goddesses from the ancient Western world? … What in culture changed to cause leaders in all Western religions to condemn goddess worship? Why were women forbidden to conduct a single significant sacrament in these religions? And why did property begin to pass only through the father's lines? What event in history could have been so pervasive and immense that it literally changed the sex of God?"

His answer, briefly, is that literacy emphasized the development of the left brain, which is inherently more linear, aggressive, and masculine. "When a critical mass of people within a society acquire literacy," he writes, "especially alphabet literacy, left hemispheric modes of thought are reinforced at the expense of right hemispheric ones, which manifests as a decline in the status of images, women's rights, and goddess worship." Looking at brain function, he observes that "the written word issues from linearity, sequence, reductionism, abstraction, control, central vision, and the dominant hand -- all hunter/killer attributes. … Writing made the left brain, flanked by the incisive cones of the eye and the aggressive right hand, dominant over the right. The triumphant march of literacy that began five thousand years ago conquered right-brain values, and, with them, the Goddess. Patriarchy and misogyny have been the inevitable result."

So, if Shlain is right, alphabetic literacy stressed physiological development of our left brain and a cultural preference for its attributes. Interestingly, ADD can be seen as an underdevelopment of the left brain and a dominance of the right. In Organizing for the Creative Person, the authors (Lehmkuhl and Lamping) use the left-brain/right-brain model to explain the differences between "normal" Elbies and the more creative (read: ADD) Arbies. A chart of left and right brain characteristics (source: Mary Ellen Jirak's The Gift of ADD) shows left brain as the logical mode: linear, verbal, logical, analytic, digital, symbolic, temporal, and abstract. The right brain operates in gestalt mode: holistic, nonverbal, intuitive, synthetic, spatial, concrete (operates in the present moment), nontemporal, and analogic.

In other words, the right brain is the feminine side of our brain and it is the stronger side for creative people and those who are labeled ADD.

But why are so many more people manifesting ADD behavior? A number of theories exist. One of them has to do with television. In his book, Beyond ADD, Thom Hartmann notes that the rise in ADD is concurrent with the increase in television viewing and other visual input. "So much of our information now comes to us visually. More than two decades ago, television replaced newspapers as the primary way most people obtain their news. About that time studies began to show that children spent more time watching TV than they did interacting with their family or their peers. Print media has become more visual… Advertising … is wildly more visual and less verbal. … Best-selling books are translated into movies to reach wider audiences." At the same time, he reports that "children with ADD are less likely to become excited about reading at a young age" and that "kids with ADD tend to read less well, and so recreational reading is difficult for them." Ditto for kids who watch TV: the more TV children watch, "the less likely they are to perform well academically, and the less likely they are to read recreationally."

Shlain also notices changes as a result of television. He points out that comprehending TV requires different hemispheric strategies than reading, including using pattern-recognition skills and optical rods (instead of the cones used in reading). "As people watched more and more television, the supremacy of the left hemisphere dimmed as the right's use increased."

So, what we have -- thanks to TV, advertising, visual print media, and other phenomena usually damned for the dumbing down of America -- is a de-emphasis on the written word, a return to the visual and a redirecting of our brain's development back to the right brain -- back to the creative hunter/gatherer, back to ADD, back to the feminine, back to the goddess. To quote Shlain's epilogue: "I am convinced we are entering a new Golden Age -- one in which the right-hemispheric values of tolerance, caring, and respect for nature will begin to ameliorate the conditions that have prevailed … Images … are the balm bringing about this worldwide healing."

And folks with ADD are leading the way. They are the next evolutionary step, the pendulum swing back toward balance. Some may argue that ADD is an exaggerated swing, but it's a swing in the right direction.

1 comment:

Andrea said...

extremely interesting theory. I was looking for articles on right brain abstract synthetic definitions and came across your article and so much of it hit home. I used to read a book a night for example but then I married into a tv aholic family and I have observed the exact changes you write about. I now watch more tv than I care to admit to and read only one book a month. I took a personality test and it labled me as right brain abstract synthetic. My question is this, can a person's personality (core) change with invironment? Was I always right brain abstract synthetic or has it changed structurallly due to changed environment? My e-mail is heart13andrea@aol.com I would love to discuss these things further with you. Maybe bounce off a few ideas or realizations.
Thank You for all your insight,
Andrea