Iain McGilchrist has released a short Kindle book entitled The Divided Brain and The Search for Meaning [ASIN:B008JE7I2M]. In it he presents an excellent precis of the ideas and findings he presents so brilliantly in his somewhat massive The Emperor and His Emissary.
The key to his thesis is that it is odd that our brains are divided into two asymmetric halves. Why is that? Why didn’t we just develop a single, unified cortex? There’s probably some big advantage in having two brains, but only if the two halves let us do different things. This is NOT an argument that the left does this and the right does that. It is NOT a claim that left-brained people deal with facts, and right-brained people are artistic. He dismisses such ideas as simplistic and erroneous. As he puts it -
Instead of asking, as of a machine, what it does – does it ‘do’ reason, emotion, language, imagery? – we should have asked – as of a person – what’s he or she like?
In other words, what are the different ways each hemisphere approaches the world?
He says that the right hemisphere primarily lets us be aware of the world, and looks for the connections, or the “between-ness” everywhere, whereas the left allows us to grasp, and, hence, manipulate the world.
The right hemisphere underwrites sustained attention and vigilance for whatever may be, without preconception. Its attention is not in the service of manipulation, but in the service of connection, exploration and relation…….One way of looking at the difference would be to say that while the left hemisphere’s raison d’être is to narrow things down to a certainty, the right hemisphere’s is to open them up into possibility.
These differences are profound and we need them both. the one helps us to pin things down, and the other opens us up to seeing change and possibilities.
Another way of thinking of the difference between the hemispheres is to see the left hemisphere’s world as tending towards fixity, whereas that of the right tends towards flow.
In his thesis, he claims that the left hemisphere way of engaging with the world has become unhealthily dominant and we’ve become stuck on its way of representing reality to us.
the purpose of the left hemisphere is to allow us to manipulate the world, not to understand it.
I highly recommend you get this book. You can easily read it through at a single sitting, then you’ll want to go right back to the start and read it again. If you haven’t read The Master and His Emissary, The Divided Brain will whet your appetite but it will also let you easily understand the basic premise.
The right hemisphere seems to be involved more with new experience, new events, things, ideas, words, skills or music, or whatever it may be, while they are still fresh, original and unique, and so to speak present, to the mind.
The left hemisphere abstracts and generalises, where the right hemisphere’s world remains truer to each embodied instance, and appreciates the unique.
Just stop and think for a moment what that means, and why we should want to re-balance our society by shifting the balance to the right hemispheric way of approaching the world…..