Left Brain, Right Brain and Our Relationship with the Real World
This video, by renowned English psychiatrist and writer-philosopher Dr. Iain McGilchrist, explains how a growing imbalance between our left and right brains has led to a situation where, despite its inferior grasp of reality, the left hemisphere has taken precedence over the right in our modern civilization.
This, he argues, is how and why we have lost our way and created the disastrous relationship we have with ourselves, each other and the natural world, and that now threatens so many living creatures, including ourselves, with extinction.
It's a high engaging 12-minute video, in which Dr. McGilchrist lays out the basics of his remarkable book The Master and His Emissary and his shorter (and easy-to-read) essay The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning.
The "master" he refers to in the book title is the right side of the brain, while the left is its "emissary." And the "divided brain" is the situation that's grown up over the last few thousand years, where the emissary has essentially overthrown the master and taken control of the show.
The result – an imbalance in which the left brain dominates human activity – is the continuing disaster we have today, both in our internal world of anxiety, depression and lack of fulfillment, and the external world where we have turned nature into a kind of warehouse of resources that we mine, harvest and generally tear into in an increasingly futile quest for happiness and peace of mind.
The good doctor explains our divided brain in a way that makes a lot more sense than the overly simplistic pop-science idea that one side is intellect and the other intuition, or science vs. art, et.. Rather, he says, the left hemisphere, in ourselves and in many of our fellow animals, is what we use to manipulate the world around us. It is detail-oriented, prefers mechanisms to living things, and is inclined to self-interest. The right hemisphere, by which we perceive, interact with and understand the world, has greater breadth and flexibility. Most important, it is our primary connection to the world.
Both hemispheres are essential, but when the left becomes dominant, both in ourselves individually and in society as a whole, we begin to lose our relationship to the real world, the world of nature and our own nature. And the result is civilization as we have it today.
For anyone trying to figure out how and why we humans have made such a catastrophic mess of the world, the essay and the book provide valuable insight.
(Many thanks to Sam Berg for introducing me to Dr. McGilchrist's work!)