Music, Technology, and the Mind

James McGovern asks, “Are folks who are left-handed smarter?” Well, since I’m right-handed, my answer should be no. But then again, I don’t view “handedness” as an absolute, but rather a continuum. There’s a lot of left handers in my family, as well as a certain amount of ambidextrious behavior. I can do several things left-handed (although writing isn’t one of them).

Anyway, James’ post reminded me of an observation that a former boss made once. He was wondering whether there was a correlation between musical ability and technical ability. He noticed that nearly all of our strong technical guys had some talent in music, whether it was singing, playing an instrument, composing, etc. While we never tested his hypothesis, it’s still very interesting.

I’ve always been interested in psychology, social dynamics, etc. and one of the interesting things that I’ve thought about in my own life is how I wound up in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois, something that most people would associate with a “left-brained” mentality, while my brother went on to become an artist, including a stint with Disney Feature Animation until they closed the Orlando studio, a very creative “right-brained” discipline. The common thread between us, at least in my opinion, is that we were both able to bring thinking associated with the other half of our brain into our daily work. In my brother’s case, one thing he’s been complimented on is his ability to create precise illustrations, etc. without the use of a reference. I can only surmise that his “left brain” analytical skills have something to do with this. In my case, while I am very analytical and logical, I’m also a very big picture thinker, a “right brain” activity. Interestingly, musical ability is associated more with “right brain” thinking.

So, if the hypothesis holds, the best people are the ones that are able to use both parts of their brains effectively. It is certainly a possibility that left handers are able to do this more often because of having to live in a right handed world, so they’ve always had to use the other half of the brain, whereas most right handed people have not. Who knows, but it’s fun to ponder.

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