Saturday, November 27, 2004

Left Handed

I don't know why I'm left handed. I just am, that's all. The only left handed person in my family. Though if you know me, you know that I could hardly be anything but left handed: it just fits with my temperament, is all.

I write left handed. Couldn't write right handed to save my life; or at least if I try, it looks like I was holding the pen in my teeth; and writing right handed makes me feel like my nerves are jangling and about to explode. I don't write with my left hand all curled around like some lefties, either. I hold the pen normally, upright, only with my left hand. I do have to watch out for my hand smearing the ink, though.

In the lower grades they taught us some bland and unimaginative cursive script, which was posted on the wall above the blackboard. Starting in fifth grade, I chucked that style of writing, at least for personal use: the loops and curves of it induced that nerve-jangling feeling in me. Instead, I sat down and methodically figured out how I was going to write. By the time I was into seventh grade, I was "fluent" in my own style of handwriting. That style has continued to age and mellow over the years. Doesn't look like anything you ever saw in a cursive style manual, either. Something like the chrome lettering on an automobile. Though more chaotic and all-over-the-place.

Oddly enough, I continued up into my early twenties to use the standard cursive style I'd originally been taught, when I was writing for other people to read. Though I haven't used that standard style now in over twenty years— doubt I could write that way any more. In these latter days, it's my own style of handwriting, or nothing.

I do almost everything left handed. The only exceptions are punching the buttons on a calculator, dialing a phone number, or holding a baseball bat. Yes, I'm left handed, but I bat right handed. Though I'm left footed, as I remember well from setting up my starting blocks in track back when I was in high school.

I cut paper with scissors left handed, though I use regular right handed scissors, held in my left hand— and unlike some lefties, I have no trouble holding or using them. What I've never been able to use, with either hand, are those special "left handed" scissors.

It's a commonplace one-liner that left handed people are the only ones who are in their right mind. Truth is, I wonder if it isn't more nearly the other way around. The philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce was left handed, and he used to wonder if his left handedness impacted his way with words: Peirce could write passages of great beauty and power, but more often his words and thoughts tangled and clotted on the page. I find my own use of words sometimes flows, though it's woolly and disordered and very nonlinear. No doubt someone out there has studied the incidence of left handed people in writing, the arts, and sports: I may be mistaken to surmise that we southpaws are over-represented in these fields, but somehow I suspect not.

When I was ten, a friend of mine dropped a conundrum on me that I've never been able to solve. He told me that actually everyone experiences the world as if they're left handed: it's just that right handed people perceive the world around them in mirror image from the way left handed people perceive it.

I know that's plumb crazy, but I've never been able to refute it. :-)



Blogger Caltechgirl said...

That's crap. If that was true, those of us who are ambidextrous would perceive the world in double!

As for the writing thing, I learned in one of my neuropsych classes that as the brain matures, and as our personalities become more set, EVERYONE's handwriting changes in their early twenties, and casual observation will note that most adults, especially the more intelligent among us use some sort of cursive/print hybrid.

What is true about lefties is that about 30% of them have their speech centers on the right side of their brain rather than their left (only about 5% of righties are right-brain talkers). Also, because the dominant hand is controlled by the "artsy, conceptual" side of the brain, the increased transmission may facilitate the ability of left-handed folks to be creative and expressive, but that may also be a side effect of the fact that until 30 years ago most lefties were discouraged from using their left hand to write, eat, etc.

Sunday, November 28, 2004 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Dean Esmay said...

I'm curious, Caltechgirl, are you TRULY ambidextrous, or do you just tend to use different hands for different functions?

Anyway the subject of handedness is interesting. Humans aren't the only ones who have it. For example, lab mice have the trait. Most lab mice are in fact right-handed (or right-pawed, really) and prefer that hand for grasping things. Indeed, experiments were done which noted that some mice were more "handed" than others.

That is, most were right-handed, but would use the left on occasion, whereas others would almost exclusively use the right. Some were fairly ambidextrous, some fewer left-handed, some fewer still extremely left-handed. ALthough the distribution is probably not identical in humans it seemed to match pretty well.

I remember being most fascinated when they arranged experiments so that to get food, the mice had to reach into a tube situated into a corner that would ONLY let them use their left-paws to get it. The naturally lefty-mice had no trouble of course. The righty-mice mice were initially quite confused by this, and some took much longer than others to finally use their left paws. The most interesting thing though was that some mice were so very right-pawed that rather than use the left, they would (day in and day out, mind you, consistently) flip over on their backs just so they could use their preferred paw rather than be forced to use the wrong one.

Repeating the experiment with left-handed mice showed a similar pattern.

If you're really nice to me I can find the references, but the conclusion was that obviously, at lest in mice "handedness" tended to go in degrees. Although, as I say, even in mice right-handedness was much more common as I recall.

It's still hard to get a good grasp on how many humans are truly right-handed because some cultures are still very anti-lefty and so many adults running around were forced not to be left-handed in previous generations. Although I imagine we have somewhat better numbers on that now than we did 10, 20 years ago.

Monday, November 29, 2004 9:26:00 AM  
Blogger Caltechgirl said...

Well, most people consider you ambi if you write with either hand, and that I do, although I prefer right since that's what I'm used to (looks like a chicken scratch either way, frankly). Otherwise, I am equally good at most things right or left handed. Interestingly, I am more right-handed than I used to be because the strength in my left hand is less than that of my right due to my RA.

But my brain is pretty mixed up as far as handedness is concerned. Pretty much pencils and pens are the only things where I prefer the right hand, even though I can write fairly well with my left. I knit lefty and sew with either hand, depending on what's convenient. Ditto for scissors. Chopsticks are defintely left as well. And I'm left footed and left eyed.

Monday, November 29, 2004 3:15:00 PM  

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