Harry Strawson

Earlier this year, in a London hospital on a dark afternoon at the end of winter, a neurosurgeon asked me to spell ‘world’ backwards. Behind him, an image of my skull floated on a monitor. On one side of it, there was a milk-white gob of tumour. It looked about as big as a golf ball. He wanted me to spell the word backwards because I am left-handed, and because I have a tumour lodged in my right temporal lobe. ‘Are you right-handed or left-handed?’ is often the first question a neurologist will ask. From the answer, it is possible to get an idea of how someone’s brain is organised – in particular, which hemisphere is dominant in certain aspects of language processing. Brain function is cross-wired: if I wiggle my left foot, the instructions are issued from the right side of my brain. The same is true if I wink shutting my left eye – what I then see through my open right eye is processed by the left side of my brain.

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