Foreword to the book: Left and Right in the perception of human beings. Comments on the history of left-handedness

Prof. Dr. Kurt Müller

Our everyday life is full of peculiar phenomena, which we are sure have long been explained by the experts. Many such phenomena may be trivial but others should make us stop to think. Why is it, for instance, that the sun and moon appear larger at the horizon than when we see them in the zenith? And why do we overestimate the size of objects that extend vertically, such as towers, against others of horizontal extension? Perceptual research has concluded from such illusions that our field of vision is “anisotropic”, which means that our sight applies different metrics to its various dimensions.

What has perceptual disproportion to do with, say, differences in the fine motor abilities of our hands? Well, perception and motoricity of hands both result from processes taking place in the brain. The human brain, like the rest of our body, is far from being balanced, symmetrical and harmonious regarding both its anatomy and functioning. Unlikeness, nonsymmetry, anatomic and functional preferences and discriminations seem to be part and parcel of all vital processes. Nature in her drift towards perfection did not always reach that goal, especially with regard to her most complicated creatures.

Unequal sidedness is predetermined by Nature. This must be respected. Any attempt at suppressing or changing Nature’s design will arouse resistance, and the more force is applied in the attempt, the more violent and persistent the reaction.

This is the fundamental idea that governs the book and determines the author’s pedagogic intent and targets.

A fact worthy of note is the very interesting “detour” Dr. Sattler made to reach her actual aim. The licensed psychotherapist and art scientist dealt with structures of spatial order, orientations, sidedness, and disproportion in paintings, sculptures, and buildings. As a perceptual psychologist I was much impressed by her analyses, especially by those regarding the problem of lateral inversion in graphics and the significance attributed to the sides in Romanesque tympana in Burgundian cathedrals. It has never been so wrong at all to approach a purely practical matter from an unusual theoretical direction.

Esthetical and pedagogical problems have in common that they will be classified by value judgements (beautiful, ugly, skilful, maladroit). No one takes offence at the heart beating in the left part of our body and the liver is on the right. However, when it comes to a child’s handedness, there seems to be an end to acceptance, the left being regarded as wrong and the right as correct. An unbiased, objective indication of position or direction suddenly becomes a positive or negative characteristic. Such value judgement is not limited to a person’s handedness. “Left and right” takes on symbolic, mythological, religious significance, it characterizes political attitudes, even personality features.

The problem treated in this book is therefore an extensive and complex one. A person dealing with it, i.e. working in the field of scientific research or in child education, requires knowledge and abilities which are rarely combined in an individual. Dr. Sattler has both the expert knowledge and pedagogical experience, together with a literary talent. Her readers can therefore look forward not only to receiving information on the subject matter but also to genuine reading pleasure.
Prof. Dr. Kurt Müller
Professor (em.) of Psychology and Philosophy
at Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich (Germany)

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