Archive for February, 2017


Here’s an example of the type of photograph I enjoy so much. At first glance it’s pleasing. It delights me. I can sit and gaze at it for ages, enjoying its beauty. But it stimulates my thoughts too.

I see this and I think about ways of engaging with the world. Iain McGilchrist shows us in his Master and His Emissary that our two cerebral hemispheres allow us to simultaneously use two different types of focus….narrow and broad.

The left hemisphere separates out whatever we are looking at from the contexts in which it exists. It allows us to set a kind of frame around what we are looking at, to distinguish it from the whole. That lets us label it, put it into a category, and so grasp it. Literally. Get a handle on it so we can manipulate it. It’s a narrow focus, one which drills down to separate out and analyse aspects or components.

The right hemisphere focuses on the connections rather than the parts. It lets us see the broad view, the over view. It helps us to see whatever we are looking at in the fullness of its context. We don’t see the separate parts, we see the connectedness of everything. In the terms of classical philosophy, it helps us to take the “view from on high”.

The view from on high lets us do something else too….it allows us to stand apart from whatever we are looking at. It lets us put a little distance there…a distance in space, and/or a distance in time…a pause, or a moment to reflect and consider.

Some people argue this is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of human beings, this ability to create a distance which allows us to choose responses rather than simply react in programmed or patterned automatic ways. But I think it is equally characteristic of human beings that we have this huge cerebral cortex divided into two distinctly different hemispheres allowing us to focus on the world in two such distinctly different ways.

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It strikes me that one of the biggest questions facing us now is “how are we going to live together?”, and the answer to that depends on the extent of our consciousness and awareness.

How big is the box you are living in?

Is it only big enough for you? Do all other human beings exist outside of your conscious limits? I bet they don’t. For some people their box isn’t much bigger than their own family, or the village, street or town in which they live. For others its the size of their network of like-minded souls – the ones who agree with them, who share the same values, behave the same way, speak the same language. For yet others the box is a whole country. They want to put their own country first, and others can just get on and do the same. If there’s to be competition over space or resources, they’ll fight the others for it, hoping for one winner, and for the rest to be losers.

Maybe the box is the size of our species, though. Maybe it contains every living human being. After all, in this increasingly networked world of relationships, travel, agreements, and exchanges, artificially created boxes the size of a single country are increasingly hard to maintain.

Some people call this bigger box, globalisation, and kick against it. What they experience is personal loss, due, they believe, to others’ gain. But the current model of globalisation is just a way of us living together. We all live in the same world. It’s increasingly impossible to live as if others in other parts of this planet either don’t exist, or don’t matter. When people kick against globalisation, I think they are kicking against a way of us all living together. The answers will lie in finding a better way, not in pretending we all live in disconnected, entirely separate boxes.

Let me just stretch this out a wee bit further. Because I think the reality is not that we humans live together in a separate box on this earth. We are part of Nature. We live in constant interaction with the air, the soil, the water and the energy from the Sun. We are an integral part of the biosphere – living in an intricate web with the entirety of Life on Earth.

How often are we conscious of that? How often do we take that awareness and apply it to come up with good ways to live together….not just all we humans, but with the entire biosphere on the finite planet which we share.


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