Feb. 23, 2007 Future Salon Leonard Schlain

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When I first heard that the Future Salon was hosting the author of The Alphabet and The Goddess, I thought of Saturday Night Live and Nora Dunn’s sketch “Women Good, Men Bad”. The sketch boiled down a whole genre of books describing men as jerks. I got e-mail from friends who wanted to know if I was going to this month’s EstroFest and Lillith Fair. I went and it wasn’t that way at all.

In many ways it was complement to Joe Quirk’s hilarious presentation the month before on the difference between the sexes. Schlain is a doctor who traveled the world and began seeing patterns and came to startling conclusions. He believes the physical limitations of our evolution created brains that perceive the world differently from other animals and specifically between sexes. These ways of perceiving the world vary from to person to person, but generally men focus on seeing one thing at a time and women see things all at once.

It is fairly obvious to anyone that the gender polarities are imposed by tradition. Where does this tradition come from? He shows how images and words struggle for cultural dominance throughout history. For Schlain, the tipping point for patriarchal societies was the development of alphabets. The linear thinking favored by confirmed heterosexual left-brain dominant men resulted in monotheism, taxes, property, slavery and the subjugation of women. Schlain presents his ideas as images in one of the best slide shows I’ve ever seen. He shows images of goddesses being replaced by gods over time.

At this point his argument is not so much about gender as it is about different ways of seeing the world. While linear thinking has given us language and math, it is at war with art and creativity. This explains why conservative religions are always talking about the “Word” and try to ban or control images. Their gods have no images because their brains can literally not perceive images the way others can. They fear any redefining of gender roles will undermine their authority. Schlain is hopeful that new visual technology from photography to the Internet will create alternative ways to communicate ideas.

Will there be a more balanced view of the world around us? While linear thinking has brought us science and technology, it can now allow millions of people to express themselves visually.

I’ve seen this over the years as I struggled to get clients to include more pictures in documentation. Management usually said that the cost was prohibitive. They were usually men or women with limited perception. It was comical to hear non-visual people talk about the big picture. As they started going overseas they began to see that paying a hundred dollars to translate one word cost more than one picture. One picture really is worth a thousand words. I had to translate a right-brain solution in a way left-brain managers could understand.

Nowadays I try to encourage products that can be used with intuition. You will reach more customers who don’t read manuals, which is most of us. It is hard since most companies are built and financed by linear thinking. The ones that can make that leap will succeed.

In retrospect, I’ve been implementing Schlain’s ideas, I just never sat down and had my linear thinking side of my brain read his books. Now all my neurons agree he has a point. I should mention his lectures are also available on DVD.

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Copyright 2007 DJ Cline All rights reserved.