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"And the stars are projectors, yeah, projecting our lives down to this planet Earth." - Modest Mouse


7.02.2004

Right Hemispheres 

Former felon and heroin addict, Tommy McHugh, suffered a near-fatal cerebral hemorrhage. Since then he has an uncontrollable urge to create works of art.
McHugh's art reveals some aspects of his altered thought processes. He often draws images of faces within faces, which he describes as representing two parallel lines of thinking that seem to run through his brain simultaneously.

In cognitive tests conducted by UCL psychologist Michelle de Haan, McHugh demonstrates a mix of abilities and deficiencies. He scores in the normal range for IQ, but he has difficulty switching trains of thought. When asked to list types of furniture, for example, he will rattle off chairs and tables like the rest of us. But when asked to switch to listing animals, he continues to talk about lamps and sofas. It's a trait that becomes apparent when talking to McHugh: sentences tumble out relentlessly unless he is interrupted.

Similar deficits are seen in patients with damage to their frontal lobes, a region of the brain associated with high-level functions such as planning. This suggests McHugh may likewise be injured here.

Areas on the right side of the brain are usually involved in artistic functions such as visual processing, face recognition and spatial awareness. But these are moderated by areas on the left-hand side. Perhaps, speculates Miller, damage to the left lessens this inhibition and causes patients to become more interested in art.

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