The right side of the brain

Late last year, following a period of heavy rain driven by strong winds, I noticed a brown stain on the ceiling. My heart sank because I thought I knew the cause. Two years earlier, a similar stain had appeared following combined wind and rain. The tiles above the bay window were examined and a loose tile was securely fixed. Three coats of paint later, the white ceiling was restored… until the brown stain reappeared. I got out the step ladder and had a look at the tiles immediately above the position of the stain. Everything seemed secure. It was time to call in a roofer. As with all tradesmen, it is a lot easier to write this than to actually find one with the time to come and have a look.

With perseverance, a local company agreed to visit and appeared unannounced not too long after this. It was a father and son who had worked in the roofing business for a long time. The son went up the ladder, removed and replaced a few tiles and examined the vent. No obvious route for water ingress was found. Speaking to the father as the son packed up the ladder, he told me that the water had to be coming in from somewhere, so it was a matter of considering all the possibilities. The flashing where the roof meets the wall did not have any obvious gaps but it would be worth having it repointed. In the gully off to the side, the mortar was a bit loose and damp underneath. This could be where the water was getting in, even though it was manifesting itself a metre further away. So, a package of work was identified; however, this cannot be carried out for a few months. Luckily, the ceiling is only affected in extreme weather and even then there are not any drips. So, we can wait. In the meantime, I can take my time in applying the many coats of paint that will be needed to hide the stain.

The father was able to call on his in-depth experience to look beyond the obvious cause and identify the most likely solution. While this was based on a logical premise (that water is getting in somehow), it was a creative application of his experience that will hopefully get rid of my stain once and for all. As a distraction from my ever-growing DIY list, I started contemplating a number of different threads on the subject of experience and the application of a more holistic approach as an alternative to an exercise in hard, logical facts.

A sports coach described how he thinks more comprehensively, looking from different perspectives to identify more than one solution. Experience may recall techniques that have been previously successful, but they may not necessarily generate the same outcome this time because factors can be different. So, the real value of the coach’s experience is in knowing how this process works. While the application of science and logic may suggest that the athlete should change technique, this can backfire and an alternative needs to be found.

My thoughts about this were further stimulated through the reading of an article about the psychiatrist and author Iain McGilchrist. The subject matter and the fact that I am reading someone else’s summary, rather than the original text, mean that it is not appropriate for me to attempt to provide a detailed explanation. I will just provide my interpretation, which may or may not be correct, but which supports the above threads. We know that the left side of the brain is associated with logic and reasoning and the right side is associated with creativity and emotion. When it comes to human perception, the left side has a narrow, rationally based focus. The right side, on the other hand, has a broader, general and contextual perception of the wider environment, allowing us to make sense of the world.

We need to use both hemispheres. The left allows us to plan and implement actions and the right allows us to understand why we are doing them. Unfortunately, the modern influence of science has led to an overemphasis on the use of the left side of the brain to think logically and rationally. NDT, being an engineering discipline, adopts this overemphasis and breaks down inspections into generic steps. This is appropriate in a lot of situations but comes unstuck when factors change. Luckily, when experienced operators are applying the inspections, they are able to use the right side of the brain, identify that circumstances are different and make the necessary adjustments. This may not always be the case in the future, when artificial intelligence comes to play a bigger role.

I will end with the final thread, a quotation from a totally different discipline, by Saint Teresa of Ávila: “It is strange what a difference there is between understanding a thing and subsequently knowing it by experience.”

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Jacobs or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX, UK. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438301; Email: or email Bernard McGrath direct at

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