Monday 15 July 2019

Left-handedness - a Handicap or Eccentricity?

CAPE TIMES - July 4, 1933
While farming in the South of France LOUIS KRAFT was confronted for the first time with the problem of his own LEFT-HANDEDNESS. He had to cut a path through a wood and to swing an axe for a whole day was a new experience. In the evening he felt a stinging pain in the region of the heart, caused by his left-handed tree-felling. His neighbor, who swung his axe in the orthodox manner, was pleasantly tired – no more. Several similar experiences led him to the conclusion that, for the artisan at least, left-handedness was a handicap. His left hand was decidedly the more skillful of the two, and he decided that this peculiarity was congenital. Left-handedness is a controversial subject. Several theories have been offered for its solution. Some say it is caused by the internal asymmetry of the human body and the consequent shifting of the centre of gravity towards the heaviest side. It appears that in the majority of cases the right side of the body is heavier than the left, the right lung more capacious, the right leg stronger. To his mind the weakness of this theory is that nobody could possibly be left-handed except a human being whose internal organs were found to be reversed: the heart and the stomach on the right side and the liver on the left. Such freaks exist, but the majority of left-handed people are perfectly normal in this respect. A few anthropologists favour the view that the prevalent right-handedness of man is a trait squired in the battles of prehistoric times: he would protect his heart with his left arm while wielding his weapon with the other.
The behaviourist school believes that right-handedness is a purely acquired trait. The child eats and writes with his right hand because he is forced to do so. If he were not, 50 percent of the population would be left-handed. Without going back to the implements of primitive man, the majority of which clearly show the “dexterity” of the human race, nor to be the work of right-handed artists, he will tell the story of a gifted Cape Town girl who had been earnestly coached into the exclusive use of her right hand. It was found that although her general schoolwork was excellent, her additions were always wrong. This went on for some time until her sister, watching her adding her columns with the help of a pencil held in the left hand, discovered that she started from the left, adding the thousands first, then carrying forward to the hundreds and so on. This clearly shows how deep-rooted left- or right-handedness is. It seems to be imprinted, not so much on the body as on the brain itself. The most attractive theory supports the view that the greater activity, and as dissection seems to have revealed, the greater volume of one hemisphere of the brain, causes a more intense dynamism and greater efficiency of the opposite side of the body, which it controls. 
If the root of left-handedness is in the brain, it must necessarily influence all forms of activity. But there are no rules without exceptions, and although 99 left-handed persons will fold their arms with their left wrist resting on their right arm, a hundredth may fold his arms in the reverse manner, as right-handed people do. This action as done by the majority is quite logical. It is proper that the best arm should be the most easily raised – in self-defense.
The same rule applies to folding one’s hands, which is generally done by placing the thumb of the efficient hand over the other. Left-handedness sometimes lures one to actions or habits which are decidedly eccentric – mirror-writing, for instance. In his youth, he discovered that with his left hand he could write from right to left in such a way that his script could only be read in a mirror. He needed no practice. The first time he tried it he wrote a fair hand and at the usual speed. A few years later he saw a facsimile of a page from Leonardo da Vinci’s diaries. It was written in the same MIRROR-SCRIPT. The painter of the GIACONDA, the forerunner of aeroplane designers, was a left-handed man.
The query recurs: IS LEFT-HANDEDNESS a HANDICAP; is it a sign of DEGENERACY; is the left-handed man or woman a FREAK? Leonardo himself seems to afford the answer, but not the complete one. Lack of a clear dividing line between GENIUS and CRANK is also encountered in this problem -  whether a LEFT-HANDED man is PHYSICALLY or PSYCHOLOGICALLY ABNORMAL or not. Although only a small proportion of the responsible population is left-handed, a large percentage of the recognized feeble-minded individuals posses this trait. When he feels pleased to share a peculiarity with DA VINCI, he must remember, too, that he possesses one of the characteristics of the congenital idiot. Still, left-handed people, as we all know, are just like other people to look at, and very often their peculiarity is not perceived until they are seen grasping a hammer or a tennis racket. Nevertheless, to the observant eye it should be perceived at once. On the face of most men – not women – is the tiny telltale mark of a trait which permeates all the gestures of our everyday routine. He discovered it one morning while shaving. He always shaves with his left hand, and in doing so the blade reaches higher on the left temple than on the right. As a consequence, the growth on his right temple is allowed to creep slightly lower than that on the left. By observing other men, he found a confirmation of this discovery, which might have amused the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

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