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The left brain apprehends; the right brain comprehends. The left brain is propositional; the right brain is dispositional.

— Iain McGilchrist

IAIN McGILCHRIST (1953 — ): Philosopher, Psychiatrist

McGilchrist wondered what evolutionary purpose was served by two independently yet simultaneously functioning hemispheres in one brain. He concluded that each hemisphere has a unique function. For maintenance, life requires that organisms take in energy from the outside world. The left hemisphere function is to enable the acquisition of food, comfort, warmth, a mate. Life also requires an organism not to become someone else’s meal. The right hemisphere functions peripherally — what is out there moving toward you with what purpose?

The brain’s two asymmetrical halves are separated by the corpus callosum. The right hemisphere, functioning at birth, attends to the broad, the embodied, the contextual, and the implicit (e.g., implicit memories of mirror neurons firing in relationship with the mother). The left hemisphere matures slowly and begins to activate at eighteen to thirty six months of age. The left hemisphere focuses on the narrow, the abstract, and the explicit (e.g., translating across modalities, sounds into visuals and back — speech, writing, reading). The paradoxes that humans encounter are often simply the different hemispheres’ take on the same experience.

While the right hemisphere sees the forest, patterns, the relationships and connections between subjects and objects, the left focuses on the trees, sequencing, bits of information, the makeup of what is to be learned. Information about the world is first attended to by the right hemisphere in approximately 400 milliseconds. The left hemisphere receives the information re-presented approximately 200 milliseconds later. The corpus callosum acts as a guardian against information passing too easily between the two. The left names us human beings; the right experiences us as human becomings. Our presence entails the unfolding (right), a de-integrating (left), and a reenfolding of both. We are emanating organisms. 

McGilchrist is concerned we are losing our respect for the gifts of the right hemisphere. In search of certainty we rely on the left “seeing each tree” but miss the wholeness of each of us with each other. McGilchrist believes that relationship is prior to individual parts. He insists that humans must recognize the power of attending to relationship, to the “betweenness” connecting human to human, the “betweenness” of human to nature. We must recognize the power of the feeling of awe and wonder instigated in the right hemisphere, the power of intimacy and beauty over algorithms. Logic is great, but not if based on a false premise. He argues that the world is failing to value the ineffable, the ephemeral — actually, the feelings that guide us whether we are aware or not. In the True Self Project we examine the gifts of each hemisphere and the best ways to utilize the power of each. It was instituted by the right hemisphere and explicated by the left.

The intuitive mind is sacred. The rational mind is a faithful servant.

— Albert Einstein

The map is not the territory.

— S.I. Hayakawa

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