How a book from 2009 about the hemispheres of the human brain makes complete sense out of the insanity that is today’s world.
I recently worked my way through The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist, a 460-page deep dive into the workings of the human brain.
McGilchrist’s general argument is that the right hemisphere of the brain, with its holistic and contextualized view of the world, is meant to be the master; the dominant of the two hemispheres. But, the left hemisphere, with its deconstructed, abstracted, and rational approach—the foundational approach to the modern world—has usurped the right. This usurpation is leading to problems within our societies and world.
The following passage is especially salient.
The left hemisphere builds systems, where the right does not. It therefore allows elaboration of its own working over time into systematic thought which gives it permanence and solidity, and I believe these have even become instantiated in the external world around us, inevitably giving it a massive advantage.Iain McGilchrist, The Master & His Emissary, 2009
What McGilchrist is saying is that the left hemisphere builds mental systems and that these mental constructs result in material systems—systems that you and I interact with on a regular basis. Think language and the printed word, roadways and traffic signs, your smartphone, social media algorithms, formalized education, scientific research, paying your taxes, or even the job you do.
These material systems end up predominating our world, and in a kind of feedback loop require more reliance on our left hemisphere as we navigate our day-to-day lives. This ultimately gives the left hemisphere an advantage over the right.
Knowing that the left hemisphere seems to be gaining a continually growing advantage over the right hemisphere, there are two things worth noting.
First, the left hemisphere can’t do context—it struggles to see things as a whole. In fact, its modus operandi is to deconstruct and abstract things into their basic parts so that it can grasp, understand, and categorize those parts.
For example, people with damage to their right hemisphere struggle to tell if someone is smiling or sneering at them. They see a mouth. They see teeth. But, because they see these things abstracted and out of context, they don’t necessarily see them as part of an overall face. They can’t incorporate other elements of the face, like the eyes or creases in the forehead, to determine that this person is smiling at them.
Second, the left hemisphere is capable of intense focus to such a degree that it can not see things that are right in front of it. As it goes about its work, it will not see things that are either unrelated to its current focus or that do not fit into whatever system or framework it has developed.
Do you remember the video that made the rounds years ago where you had to count how many times a basketball team passed a ball? If you’re not aware of what I’m talking about, pause for a moment and check it out.
Now, these two things—abstraction and selective perception—are not a problem when the hemispheres are working they way they’re supposed to, that is, together.
Typically, the right initially takes in the whole picture and then hands it off the the left. The left unpacks that picture, fleshing out all kinds of details. It is then supposed to hand that unpacked picture back to the right who enhances all that info into something more valuable—something that could not have been created by one hemisphere on its own.
And this is where it gets interesting.
Taking McGilchrist’s assertion that the left hemisphere is usurping the right and that the world is reflecting more and more the left’s preferences, thus making the left dominant, one has to wonder about the way we are responding to our society’s current problems.
If we—an increasingly left-hemisphere-dominant society—struggle to see context and we’re blind to anything that doesn’t fit our systematic views, then a good deal of our behavior related to COVID-19 makes a lot more sense.
It explains how a virus with a crude mortality rate of 0.09% for people under 65 years of age has resulted in mass hysteria, global lock downs, planetary loss of liberty, economic ruin, and divisions so deep one wonders if our societies will recover.
It also explains how people can insist that every member of the population submit their bodies to an experimental injection that’s been developed by multi-billion-dollar, global corporations with massive lobbies and no legal accountability whatsoever. An injection, by the way, that’s efficacy is turning out to be significantly lower than touted, requiring multiple follow up injections, to the point where we’re all realizing that six-month “boosters” are becoming the never-ending norm.
It explains how large segments of our societies are insisting that those who do not get the injection be cut off, barred from shopping, dining, public transport, and even denied basic and emergency medical care.
It even explains how we can at the same time ignore the host of scientifically proven alternatives with decades of history as medication for humans—yes, I’m talking about horse dewormer, among other early treatment options.
We have clearly lost our ability to perceive context and have become blind to the truth staring us in the face. Maybe it’s mass hysteria or maybe it’s a society given to the usurper. Regardless, it does seem that we’re lost in a fog; a fog we had better clear away before it’s too late.