Breath of Clarity

Iain McGilchrist TED Talk

The brain is symmetrical. The skull is symmetrical. The function of our brain is divided as well. It is not true that one part of the brain does reason and the other does emotion. Both are profoundly involved in both. It’s not true that language resides only in the left hemisphere. It’s not true that visually imagery is only in the right hemisphere. For imagination, you need both hemispheres. For reason, you need both hemispheres.

We use the left hemisphere for narrow-focused attention and right hemisphere to make connections with surroundings. The left hemisphere is all about providing sharply focused attention to detail. The right hemisphere is all about providing broad alertness. The left hemisphere is used to interact with the world and also for language to grasp things. When we already know that something is important and want to be precise, we use our left hemisphere. In order to do that, we need a simplified version of reality.

The newness of the right hemisphere makes it the devils advocate, always looking for things that are different from our expectations. It understands implicit meaning and metaphor. It stands in an embodied world, as opposed to more concrete. The world of the left hemisphere, dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are fixed and explicit. The right hemisphere yields a world of changing and implicit.

In the history of western culture, things started with a wonderful balancing of these hemispheres. Now it’s drifted to the left hemisphere’s point of view. We prioritize the virtual over the real. The technical becomes important, and the function of the left hemisphere is more applauded. This shift happened for three reasons. 1) This model is entirely self-consistent because it’s made itself so. 2) It is very vocal on it’s own behalf. The right hemisphere doesn’t have a voice and can’t construct its own arguments. 3) We just get reflected back into more of what we know. We live in a world that is paradoxical. We pursue happiness, which leads to unhappiness and an explosion of mental illness. We have more access to information, but less of an ability to understand it and be wise. There’s a paradoxical relationship between knowledge of the parts and wisdom of the whole.