Why are left-handed people so brilliant?

A self-confessed spawn of the devil thinks there's a lot to be said for his tribe

Matthew Bell
Sunday 03 November 2013 01:00 GMT
Another cack-handed genius: Albert Einstein
Another cack-handed genius: Albert Einstein (AFP/Getty)

What do Barack Obama, David Cameron and Osama bin Laden have in common? Obvious, isn't it? What about Prince William, Melinda Messenger and Bart Simpson? No? According to a highly scientific study, they are all more likely to suffer from schizophrenia. This is because they are left-handed.

Scientists at Yale have yet to explain their findings, and you have to wonder at the accuracy of such claims based on just 107 people. Still, this didn't deter certain headline writers from shrieking that we lefties are "more likely to be psychotic!".

One of the great remaining mysteries of science is the brain, and it's particularly noticeable how little we know about handedness. Why are more men left-handed than women, and why do left-handers account for only one in 10 people worldwide?

What we do know is that the cack-handed are disproportionately brilliant. Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle, Julius Caesar and Charles Darwin were all gauchists. So were Michelangelo and Rubens, Benjamin Britten, Kurt Cobain and Paul McCartney, five of the seven most recent US presidents, and four of the five designers of the Apple Mac.

Despite this, the kaggy-fisted have endured centuries of prejudice. We're told we are the spawn of the devil: crippled, defective, clumsy, inept, doubtful, questionable, ill-omened, inauspicious and illegitimate – and that's only by the Oxford English Dictionary. The very word "left" comes from the Anglo-Saxon "lyft", meaning weak or broken. The Latin "sinister" rather speaks for itself.

Other cultures have been more generous. The Incas believed we had special spiritual powers, while the North American Zuni thought left-handedness meant good luck. In Buddhism, the Left Hand Path is associated with a quest for spiritual freedom.

Nikolai Leskov did much for Russian lefties in the 19th century, with his Tale of the Cross-eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea. It tells of an illiterate left-handed peasant so skilled he can shoe a flea, outwitting rival British gunsmiths. But most cultures agree: the left is decidedly dodgy. In Islamic and many Asian countries, it's the hand used for rectal cleansing.

The only time I curse being left-handed is when writing letters and finding my clammy fist, dragging along behind, has reduced the words to a smeary mess. The invention of the QWERTY keyboard has been the saving of us devil children. And who do we have to thank for that? Christopher Latham Sholes, the US newspaper editor credited with inventing the typewriter. And, yes, he was left-handed, too.

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