Can You Really Be Left Brained or Right Brained?


The brain, of course, is split into two hemispheres. But is there such a thing as being right-brained or left-brained?


Whether you’re a “right-sided” creative type or a “left-leaning” number junkie, one hemisphere doesn’t dominate the other to determine your personality. In fact, most neuroscientists never accepted the idea in the first place. Your brain is too smart for that. It’d be wasteful to have one side work harder and better than the other.

Still, the left-right theory has survived for years. It became popular when Nobel prize winner Roger W. Sperry started studying epilepsy. He discovered that snipping the corpus callosum—a band of fibers that connects the left and right hemispheres—could curb seizures. But it also caused some strange behavior, leading Sperry to believe that different halves of the brain controlled different activities. (Before this, scientists believed that the left side was all that mattered, and the right side of the brain was merely "a sleeping partner.")

Sperry warned us not to treat his findings as dogma. He said the theory was “an idea in general with which it is very easy to run wild.” But run wild it did. Media outlets went nuts over Sperry’s story, perpetuating a myth that both halves of your brain work in isolation.


Here’s the truth: No matter what your personality type may be, you use both parts of your brain almost all the time. Researchers at the University of Utah found that brain activity in both hemispheres is basically the same. One side of your brain does not compete with the other. If anything, it complements it.

Of course, brain mapping studies show that different regions of the noggin do control different activities. But one side is rarely stronger than the other—and one side rarely owns a monopoly on certain skills. Math skills, for example, are a hallmark “left brained” talent. Both sides, though, have a hand in making you a math whiz (the left side helps you count while the right side helps you estimate numbers). Meanwhile, in the language department, the left side helps you understand syntax while the right side helps you understand nuanced cues, like speech inflections. The hemispheres work together for efficiency.

According to the American Physiological Association, there's evidence that more creative people tend to have less lateralized brains—meaning that the two hemispheres share more of the processing. But even then, the left brain/right brain issue isn't simple: Some people have their brains reversed or are missing half of their brain and still do OK.

Big Questions
Why Is Holly a Symbol of Christmas?

Santa Claus. A big ol’ red-and-white stocking hung by the fire. Nativity scenes. Most classic Christmas imagery is pretty self-explanatory. Then there’s the holly, genus Ilex, which found its way onto holiday cards through a more circuitous route. 

Christmas is kind of the new kid on the block as far as holly symbolism is concerned. The hardy plant’s ability to stay vibrant through the winter made it a natural choice for pre-Christian winter festivals. The Roman feast of Saturnalia, celebrated at the darkest time of the year, celebrated the god of agriculture, creation, and time, and the transition into sunshine and spring. Roman citizens festooned their houses with garlands of evergreens and tied cheery holly clippings to the gifts they exchanged.

The Celtic peoples of ancient Gaul saw great magic in the holly’s bright "berries" (technically drupes) and shiny leaves. They wore holly wreaths and sprigs to many sacred rites and festivals and viewed it as a form of protection from evil spirits. 

Christianity’s spread through what is now Europe was slow and complicated. It was hardly a one-shot, all-or-nothing takeover; few people are eager to give up their way of life. Instead, missionaries in many areas had more luck blending their messages with existing local traditions and beliefs. Holly and decorated trees were used symbolically by new Christians, just as they’d been used in their pagan days.

Today, some people associate the holly bush not with the story of Jesus’s birth but with his death, comparing the plant’s prickly leaves to a crown of thorns and the berries to drops of blood. 

But most people just enjoy it because it’s cheerful, picturesque, and riotously alive at a time when the rest of the world seems to be still and asleep.

NOTE: Holly is as poisonous as it is pretty. Please keep it away from your kids and pets.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.


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