Two Concussions, again
An edited version of my original Substack. Also working on doing Podcasts next
I hope this shorter version is easier to digest while also managing feelings of gloom, end of days despair and generalized, normalized anxiety about the dismal state of the western world. I am inviting you to think about how your/our brain works, and why we seem to be stuck in the door leading to a more serene, less terrifying world. And what the divided brain has to do with it.
A primitive and simplified map of what actually goes on in the brain goes like this:
Ask yourself which side of your brain is dominant or, do both sides play nicely together, one informing the other and vice versa? That would be the ideal, according to a world authority on this sticky subject, Dr Iain McGilchrist. A neuroscientist and big picture thinker living on the Isle of Skye, he published a book with the odd title, The Master and his Emissary, the divided brain and the making of the western world, way back in 2009. In this 600-page voyage into the mind/brain, he says that as a society, we have fallen into left brain dominance, leading to all kinds of serious deformations, societal problems, even insanity. We are becoming autistic, he says. He also claims that for most of our history, the west has always tended in that direction, with terrible consequences. Every time we’re deep trouble, we are in the thrall of the kind of thinking that the left brain excels at—being absolutely certain of everything—but cannot get beyond. The left brain needs the right brain to get out of its own way, and open the doors to new ways of approaching old problems.
His thesis about the danger of left-brain dominance can be summed up in one of the numerous clinical outcomes he cites of patients whose right brains have been damaged. If you suffer from right brain damage, you can’t see the door because you are fixated on the handle. We are just like those patients. We need help to get through the door, into the next room, the next reality that puts the right brain Master back in charge of the left brain Emissary, who can only see handles, not doors.
I began reading the book I had ignored more than a dozen years before shortly after suffering a literal concussion on the sidewalk. And graduated to a metaphorical concussion.
McGilchrist has fundamentally shifted the way I see the world, and I am literally dizzy with the mental and emotional effort to integrate a massive amount of scientific and historical information into my mental household. It revolves around the fact that humans, along with most other animals, have a divided brain, and that this means something. Pop psychology hijacked that idea to such a degree that serious scientists did not dare ask the obvious question: what would be the evolutionary advantage of such a brain? Until McGilchrist did.
You might say he stepped into a market gap in scientific brain research and did that for over two decades at All Soul’s College, Oxford as well as Yale. As for the title of the book, it is derived from an old fable. That a neuroscientist would use a fable as a metaphorical title is in itself rather remarkable. So here it is:
…there once was a wise king who ruled his kingdom so well that it grew large, and he had to appoint emissaries to administer the far-flung realm. This worked fine until, one day, one of the emissaries decided that he was smarter than the wise king and betrayed him by taking over himself. He did this without anyone noticing until it was too late, and the entire kingdom collapsed.
The Master is the right hemisphere; the upstart Emissary is the left hemisphere, and if it is allowed to dominate, will eventually bring down the entire structure called ‘human civilization’. McGilchrist wrote the book as a warning, and his vision of a society that falls into left brain dominance is what we are living with today. The book was prescient to an alarming degree.
He felt he had to write it because what he describes are conditions typical of ‘societies that have passed their peak’. That would be us.
Let’s give Dr McGilchrist the floor, as he describes the nitty gritty details of a society in the grip of left brain dominance.
Here are some of the highlights:
…we could expect, for a start that there would be a loss of the broader perspective and a substitution of a more narrowly focussed, restricted, but detailed, view of the world making it difficult to maintain a coherent overview. The broader view would in any case be disregarded, because it would lack the appearance of clarity and certainty which the left hemisphere craves. Think lockdowns and the utter failure to envision the bigger picture, that is, the horrific collateral damage done to society, especially the old, children and youth.
…ever more narrowly focussed attention would lead to an increasing specialisation and technicalising of knowledge. This in turn would promote the substitution of information and information gathering, for knowledge, which comes through experience.
This is what SAGE, the quants making ‘models’ of how the virus would behave for the British government, did. The quantitative ‘models’ were always wrong yet were allowed to set policy in Britain and elsewhere.
…there would be an increase in both abstraction and reification, whereby the human body itself and we ourselves, as well as the material world, and the works of art we made to understand it, would become simultaneously more conceptual and seen as mere things. The world as whole would become more virtualized, and our experience of it would be increasingly through meta representations of contact with anything in the real, lived world, rather than with plans, strategies, paperwork, management and bureaucratic procedures…. there is a complete loss of the sense of uniqueness.
Big Pharma treated our bodies as ‘things’, interchangeable and all alike, hence endless repeated vaccinations without consultation with a doctor, without any regard for individual medicine as it is supposed to be practiced.
…numbers, which the left hemisphere feels familiar with and is excellent at manipulating (though it may be remembered, it is less good at understanding what they mean), would come to replace the response to individuals, whether people, places, things or circumstances, which the right brain would have distinguished.
Remember the daily barrage of ‘infections’ presented without any context whatsoever? And the cynical calls to ‘flatten the curve’?
…Such a government would seek total control—it is an essential feature of the left hemisphere’s take on the world that it can grasp it and control it. Talk of liberty, which is an abstract ideal for the left hemisphere, would increase for Machiavellian reason, but individual liberty would be curtailed. Panoptical control would become an end in itself, and constant CCTV monitoring, interception of private information and communication, the norm. Measures such as a DNA database would introduced apparently in response to t exceptional threats and exceptional circumstances, against which they would in reality be ineffective, their aim being to increase the power of the and diminish the status of the individual.
This is precisely what we have been subjected to during the pandemic and even before. The system was in place already; it just needed a good excuse to be activated.
…the concept of the individual depends on uniqueness; but according to the left hemisphere’s take on reality, individuals are simply interchangeable ’equal’ parts of a mechanistic system, a system it needs to control in the interests of efficiency.
…in such a society people of all kinds would attach an unusual importance to being in control. Accidents and illnesses, since they are beyond our control, would there for be particularly threatening and would, where possible, be blamed on others, since they would look like a threat to one’s capacity to control one’s life.
This is the most exact description of how people acted and thought during the pandemic that I have read anywhere. Ironically, it was written a dozen years prior to its outbreak, proving that we have been in the grip of left-brain dominance for a long time.
Finally: …there would be an obsession with certainty and security, since the left hemisphere is highly intolerant of uncertainty, and death would become the ultimate unspeakable.
Well that kind of says it all, doesn’t it. McGilchrist has our number. He is clearly someone whose mind is not dominated by the left brain. His mind is integrative, using the left brain and its analytical bent as writers do while allowing the Master, the right brain, to be the wise, big picture, empathetic and creative ruler.
Everyone carries that wise master in their right brain. Let’s give him his due again by using our empathy, imagination, creativity, respect for the body and the much maligned thing we call intuition in daily life. Beware of giving in to your righteous, insistent, mechanistic, blindly certain left brain. Remember, we need a new paradigm and we all have a role to play in bringing it to light. I believe that is what the West needs to do if it wants to survive and thrive. It is indeed a Big Reset. But it must never be the left brain version that Klaus Schwab and his Davos friends have concocted. They have gone down into a dystopian rabbit hole nobody ever gets out of.
Beautiful summary, thanks