Vanity thought #1433. Southpaw

There’s a movie just out in theaters called Southpaw. I don’t think it’s of any interest but what it did was to remind us of the existence of left-handed people and so I’ve noticed a couple of articles on the matter and they piqued my interest.

“Southpaw” is an endearing term for lefties but I don’t know if they feel the same when referred this way. The movie is about a boxer but the term itself apparently originates from baseball. If the baseball field is laid out according to prescription in the regulations (so that sun never shines in batter’s eyes) then left handed pitcher would throw the ball from the south side. Not all actual fields are oriented this way but that’s the general idea.

The interesting part in left-handedness for me is its origins and possible significance for our spiritual practices but the connection is elusive. Left-handedness, btw, is not an absolute term and depending on how it’s defined up to 30% of people can be called left-handed but, generally, only 10% are assumed as genuine lefties. There’s a table where you tick up your preferred hand for various activities, from writing to sweeping the floor, and according to the results people are placed on a handedness scale. Personally, I appear to be a 100% rightie but, curiously, holding a bat is not on the list and I would hold it as a leftie. I would hold a broom as a rightie, though, but hockey stick as a leftie.

There are lots of notable lefties in history – Darwin and Einstein, Chomsky and Sagan, or Obama and McCain. Da Vinci was a leftie, too, and so is Bill Gates. Half of the dozen of last US presidents were lefties, that’s ought to be statistically significant. Most of the time, though, left-handedness is associated with significant prevalence of various diseases starting with schizophrenia so it’s not clear whether being a leftie is a boon or a curse.

Until recently it had been considered a curse and was treated as sickness that needed to be cured. Lefties were forced to use their right hand for all public tasks like eating and writing and many still are. The word “left” itself has plenty of negative connotations in many Latin based languages. I mean left is the opposite of right and right means correct, right? In French right is droit and the opposite of it is maladroit, which has the same meaning in English – clumsy, awkward, opposite of dexterous. The word sinister in Latin means left even though it doesn’t carry the same meaning in English anymore.

Bible praises God’s right hand in numerous places, stating that God’s right hand is exalted and does mighty things in Psalms 118, for example. Left-handedness, otoh, is historically associated with satanism and all things ungodly. It’s just how it is. Jesus sits at God’s right side, too.

In Vedic tradition left hand is considered unclean and should not be used for important tasks, like eating or offering things to the deity. Some Hindu nationalists want to criminalize left-handedness, blaming it on western culture. The only proper Hindu, according to them, is a right handed Hindu. There must be a reason for left hand having such a bad reputation but it somehow escapes me.

What causes left-handedness is a mystery. There’s a number of theories, all with merit and evidence, but none is accepted as conclusive and some are downright contradictory.

Animals are 50/50 on handedness so evolutionists assumed that it’s natural selection that forced humans to prefer one hand over the other. According to one theory a left-handed person would hold a shield with his right hand and thus leave his heart exposed, and so lefties were naturally killed in greater numbers. Shields, however, are a recent invention and righties were predominant long before that.

Another theory holds that left-handedness actually gives an advantage in battle and so more violent societies have higher percentage of lefties. There’s statistical data to support this with pacifist communities in Africa registering as few as 3% of lefties while notoriously violent tribes going as high as 30%. Some say that on closer inspection the data doesn’t hold, however, doesn’t reflect the actual percentage but only that society’s stereotypes.

It must be said that in one-on-one sports lefties do usually have an advantage. The explanation is that most of the time they practice against righties but when a rightie is faced with a leftie he is thrown off and can’t adjust.

It should probably be mentioned that there are twice as many lefties among homosexuals – definitely devil’s work!

Another theory suggests that handedness is determined by the position of the fetus inside the womb. Depending on the case, unborn babies help balance themselves with either right or left hand, not to mention they might always lie on the right or left side which should create some preferences and affect growth. Babies’ position changes during pregnancy and usually they assume a right-hand preferred position towards the end. Premature born babies have a higher percentage of lefties.

Yet another explanation ties left-handedness to hormone levels in mother’s body. In one place they say that higher testosterone leads to more lefties, which would also explain why most lefties are male, but wikipedia cites a study which found that it’s actually elevated estrogen that does it. Can they make up their minds here?

This last theory is significant for another reason. Usually things like handedness should be explained by DNA. There’s no left/right gene, however, scientists have found about forty of them that can influence handedness, but if it’s influenced by hormone levels in mother’s blood than it stops being genetic and becomes environmental. It’s this cross between genetics and environment that is fascinating to me.

In our philosophy we don’t make such a difference, it’s karma and modes of nature, they act either through genetics or the environment, there’s no distinction, and so it’s a little victory for us when science comes to the same conclusion, too.

Afaik, it was quite a revelation for scientists when they discovered that human DNA carries a lot of latent information which can be switched on according to external conditions, meaning genetics is only a small part of our nature, that we aren’t as programmed as we were thought to be and can easily change our genetic profile if situation arises.

I can’t grasp implications of this fact in full yet but Christian creationists are apparently in love with this discovery. I need further investigation but my first impression was that it makes evolution more difficult to explain through traditional natural selection.

I think I’ll stop here, check with the sources again, and continue tomorrow.


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