Computing for the Right Brain

Psychologists have characterized brain functions as being localized on one or the other `side' of that organ: the left brain is logical, linear, symbolic and calculating; while the right brain is intuitive, spatial, pictorial and analogical (Ornstein [22], Bruner [23]). This paper presents a design for a personal computing system for the right brain, to support qualities like "... playfulness, feeling, motivation, and sensory and imaginative processes ..." McKim [21]. The basic scheme is that the graphics editor develops into a pictorial programming system.

Traditional programming is a left brain activity      assembling linear strings of symbols which direct the computer to perform some action. The PAttern Manipulating system (PAM) is designed for communicating with the computer via right brain activities. In the PAM system the user communicates with the computer in two right brain ways: at first manual controls are handled in order to direct the computer in the creation of pictorial images; and then later pictures are constructed which serve as instructions to the computer. Structures initially learned by the hands and eyes in handling objects are later revealed to also be rules for forming the pictorial instructions.

An experimental version of the full PAM system has been implemented in MACLISP at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. The first 3 Levels of PAM (handPAM) have been built in Smalltalk on a personal computer at the Xerox Palo Research Center. A FORTH implementation is in progress.


Reorganizing the Space of Person/Computer Interactions

Take the traditional view of computing and turn it inside out through right brain functions. handPAM is a case of Very Interactive Graphics; this figure shows how the space of all person/computer interactions can be reorganized with a VIG system as the core. Interactive graphics is the nail on the finger of graphics, and VIG is the spot on that nail, which then becomes the focus when everything is turned inside out through that right brain spot.

The user's first experience of PAM is handPAM, which allows the manual creation and manipulation of visual objects ...

handPAM can be thought of as a visual piano, designed for maximum speed and agility: `Tickle the ivories and see the images dance'. The piano analogy emphasizes the immediacy of handPAM as an instrument; the goal is a kind of visual jazz, with the images in almost constant motion as the human decides what should happen next. But immediacy really means that in the user's experience, to `decide what should happen next' is already to find one's hands doing the right things to make that happen      that is, the medium begins to fade into the background, to become transparent. Controls become second nature and the human simply experiences text and graphics doing what he wants, as ideas come to him. When this stage is reached, person and computer dance together in a very right brain way.

"The visual thinker utilizes seeing, imagining, and drawing in a fluid and dymanic way, moving from one kind of imagery to another." McKim [21].

The details and consequences of performing this right brain dance in a computer graphics environment comprise the rest of this paper.


1 An Environment for Manipulating Text-Graphic Objects
2 Structure Arises out of Manipulation
3 The Developmental Unfolding of handPAM
4 handPAM Controls Express Logic of the Environment
5 Computing for the Right Brain
6 Conclusions and Applications
7 Reorganizing the Space of Person/Computer Interactions
8 Notes on Illustrations
9 Acknowledgements
10 References

This paper was published in the proceedings of the 1981 West Coast Computer Faire, San Francisco, April 1981.

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(C) Copyright 1981,1996 PGC