The Left-Handedness Gene and Mental Illness

by prash on 31 Jul 2007

While scrolling through my Health RSS Feed I chanced upon news that the Gene for left-handedness is found. Well, they are finding a gene for almost anything these days, I thought, and almost scrolled on before this hit my eye from the news summary in my feed reader:

The Oxford University-led team believe carrying the gene may also slightly raise the risk of developing psychotic mental illness such as schizophrenia.

In the strangest of coincidences I was just reading a related story in another tab. You see I had a weird dream last night of intrepid youngsters who scaled seven hills and crossed seven oceans to get to a parrot that held the soul of an evil villain and I realized where I had heard of Horcruxes before – Rowling obviously imbibed a lot of Foreign Mythology in her stories.

Infact, in the book The Golden Bough, Sir James George Frazer wrote a whole chapter on “The External Soul in Folk-Tales“. many of the stories described in that chapter are of Indian origin (even one of Ravana). Here’s one such:

Thus a Hindoo story tells how a magician called Punchkin held a queen captive for twelve years, and would fain marry her, but she would not have him. At last the queen€™s son came to rescue her, and the two plotted together to kill Punchkin. So the queen spoke the magician fair, and pretended that she had at last made up her mind to marry him.
€œAnd do tell me,€ she said, €œare you quite immortal? Can death never touch you? And are you too great an enchanter ever to feel human suffering?€
€œIt is true,€ he said, €œthat I am not as others. Far, far away, hundreds of thousands of miles from this, there lies a desolate country covered with thick jungle. In the midst of the jungle grows a circle of palm trees, and in the centre of the circle stand six chattees full of water, piled one above another: below the sixth chattee is a small cage, which contains a little green parrot;€”on the life of the parrot depends my life;€”and if the parrot is killed I must die. It is, however,€ he added, €œimpossible that the parrot should sustain any injury, both on account of the inaccessibility of the country, and because, by my appointment, many thousand genii surround the palm trees, and kill all who approach the place.€
But the queen€™s young son overcame all difficulties, and got possession of the parrot. He brought it to the door of the magician€™s palace, and began playing with it. Punchkin, the magician, saw him, and, coming out, tried to persuade the boy to give him the parrot.
€œGive me my parrot!€ cried Punchkin. Then the boy took hold of the parrot and tore off one of his wings; and as he did so the magician€™s right arm fell off. Punchkin then stretched out his left arm, crying, €œGive me my parrot!€ The prince pulled off the parrot€™s second wing, and the magician€™s left arm tumbled off. €œGive me my parrot!€ cried he, and fell on his knees. The prince pulled off the parrot€™s right leg, the magician€™s right leg fell off; the prince pulled off the parrot€™s left leg, down fell the magician€™s left.
Nothing remained of him except the trunk and the head; but still he rolled his eyes, and cried, €œGive me my parrot!€
€œTake your parrot, then,€ cried the boy; and with that he wrung the bird€™s neck, and threw it at the magician; and, as he did so, Punchkin€™s head twisted round, and, with a fearful groan, he died!

Anyway, getting back to lefthandedness, I (foolishly) assumed I could actually get some useful information from the Ambulimama website (you can’t) and checked to see if they had an archive of stories (they don’t) so I could read the original parrot-soul story (I still haven’t and if you have it please send it to me).

Instead, I chanced upon “On The Other Hand“, a fairly detailed account of the travails of left-handed people! Two related articles within a few minutes of each other by coincidence. Obviously only one thought ran through my mind: blog about it, dummy – you are not going to get anything better to write about, anyway!

But seriously, it’s amazing to see how the cards have been stacked solidly against the left-handed among us from the very beginning and how that by itself (all genes aside) could cause the mental stresses that could lead to alienation and eventually illness.

Interestingly, the Latin words Dextra (right) and Sinistra (left) have now been been morphed into dextrous (righthanded people are better at doing things?) and sinister (lefthanded people are really evil?!) while the French “gauche” for left means clumsy.

Not many people would notice that day-to-day tools are specifically designed for right-handed persons. Utensils, sports equipment, musical instruments, etc, have all a built-in advantage for one hand (the right) over the other (the left).
Simple tools such as the corkscrew, the buttons on a shirt and the zipper in the trousers, are specifically designed for use in a right-handed fashion. The irony is that women€™s shirts or jeans are left oriented!
Scissors, can openers, computers (numeric keypad on right), the standard left button click on a mouse, golf/hockey clubs, musical instruments (especially the stringed ones), etc, are all the right-oriented. Adults dealing with industrial products face a greater risk. Meat slicers, drill presses, band saws, and certain heavy equipment all pose greater danger to left-handers than to their right-handed co-workers. With such a bias, a left-hander or an ambidextral has two options €” either to learn to use the tool in a right-handed fashion or somehow to learn to hold the tool backwards so that it can be manipulated with the left hand.

(Updated: Women’s clothes are left-handed because in the “days of yore”, maids used to dress up women of class and they were intended to be righthanded for the maids!) Left-handed children already face the pressures to “switch” from parents and teachers alike, but imagine living in a world where it seems everything around you is designed for Right-handed folks! In reality, there are some distinct advantages to being left-handed:

The corpus callosum, the bridge between the two halves of the brain, is supposedly thicker in lefthanders than right-handed people, resulting in efficient information transfer in the brain.

Skills that are normally found in one side of the brain can be found in the opposite side or on both sides for lefthanders. (eg: while language skills are located on the left side of the brain over the ear in right-handed males, they can often be found on the right side or even on both sides for left-handers or anywhere in the case of left-handed women.) This results in a greater recovery rate for lefthanders from a heart attack or other head injuries.

Still not convinced that left-handers are not clumsy? The article reveals that many greats like Napoleon Bonaparte, Julius Caesar, US Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, Prince William, Brig. Gen. Lee Hsein Loong (Deputy PM of Singapore), TV show host Jay Leno, film actor Tom Cruise, musician Sir Paul McCartney of the Beatles and soccer greats Pele and Maradona, are all lefthanders!

Although I am not left-handed, I am always asked if I am whenever I play a hand of Bridge, because there is only one thing in life that I do which can be considered a “lefthanded thing”: I shuffle the cards with my left-hand while holding them in my right. I have no idea why and I have always been doing it that way …

[tags]left-handed, horcrux[/tags]

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

michel bolechette January 9, 2008 at 09:04

Please read my blog if you wish to understand anything on handedness

bolechette.blogspot.com

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