Modern research on brain hemisphere differences suggests a much more complicated picture than the old rationality and language in the left hemisphere and emotion in the right story. In fact this over-simplification has tainted our view of what the right hemisphere brings to our experience of the world. The elevation of logic over emotion that came with the Enlightenment also brought a devaluation of many of the things that make us human, the importance of relatedness, context, and experience, just those perspectives and values that are brought to us by the, so-called, “minor” hemisphere.
“If one had to encapsulate the principal difference in the experience mediated by the two hemispheres, their two modes of being, one could put it like this. The world of the left hemisphere, dependent on denotive language and abstraction yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualized, explicit, disembodied, general in nature but ultimately lifeless. The right hemisphere, by contrast, yelled a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, always imperfectly known — and to this world it exists in a relationship of care.” - McGilcrist.
The left hemisphere’s perspective is clearly winning as we favor power, control, and manipulation over engagement, cooperation, and acceptance. We have more faith in technology than ourselves and it is rapidly becoming apparent that the apps that were meant to bring us together often drive us apart. Relentless and unjustified optimism, hallmarks of the left hemispheres attitude, continue to rule the day as exemplified by books like Steven Pinker’s recent homage to the glory of the Enlightenment and Western progress. Yet, we all know that the picture is not that cheery. We all sense that there is something more. That is the voice of the right hemisphere, that is the voice of a reality outside of our selves.
In this Olio, we will explore Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary which brings together a thorough exploration of current neuroscience and an in-depth history of the Western world showing us how periods of time and their attendant cultural changes mirror emphasis or de-emphasis of the value of what the right hemisphere brings.
We will begin by watching a short film that introduces the core of McGilchrist’s work and immediately dive into a lively conversation about what all this means and what, if anything, we should do about it.