2020-05-02: Iain McGilchrist - The Divided Brain








Here are my notes:

Ian McGilchrist: The Divided Brain and Human Behaviour

  • Environment:
    • thinks something missing, rather refer to it as Nature, and “her”.
    • “Environment” makes it abstract and a thing - “and it isn’t”.
    • A thing is something to be exploited.
    • It’s not “a anything” b/c can only be “a” something if there are lots of them and you’re singling one of them out. It’s the only one.
    • It’s not a thing: believes things are illusions. What there are are processes that are constantly flowing, living changing, highly creative

(I agree with this in a sense. Any “thing” is made up of many other things that are all moving. Where I disagree is that a “thing” should be thought of as a composite composed of other things)

  • Not “to be” anything. Not designed to be anything, particularly exploited
  • Lump of matter: natural world is a completely amazing self-perpetuating, self delighting, extravagant, unnecessary, wonderful thing/system with which we interact and towards which are right attitudes are not those of grasping with and gratitude
  • Shows a diagram that was presented to general McChrystal - too complicated, can’t use

  • (3:45) A great strategist knows a few important salient things intuitively out of a mass of other things (ie: relevance realization) and constantly to be revising them changing them and responding to them but not doing an analysis like this

Right and Left Brain (4:00)

  • Wants us to forget everything that know about the brain: this is wrong except for one:

  • Brain like a walnut divided in the middle with a band of tissue at the bottom called the corpus callosum
  • Why is the brain divided? Only 2% of neurons communicate across the corpus callosum
  • The division has got more pronounced with evolution
  • Suggests each hemisphere doesn’t do a thing like reason, math, writing. Reason not aware that these two neuronal masses are generating two experiential worlds with different qualities is that it’s going on at a level below consciousness.
  • Left hemisphere entirely irrational, dangerous, gets angry very quickly
  • If it was going on during consciousness wouldn’t survive very long.
  • Center in the midbrain, the top of the brainstem, millisecond by millisecond controlling where information is going
  • All the brain is working all the time.
  • Each hemisphere massively interconnected. Myelin.
  • Highly efficient tracks that knit each hemisphere together. Interconnected. Make coherent existential worlds. Each on its own can be conscious
  • Brain is fundamentally asymetrical. Right frontal cortex most asymetrical
  • Everything that can measure in brain is asymetrical. Different in each hemisphere
  • For humans left visual sphere that goes to the right hemisphere and vice versa
  • Common wall lizard:
    • If put a patch over left eye and present it with a predator it will continue to try and use the left eye even though it’s patched.
    • Hypothesis: if you are a bird or an animal, have to solve a problem of survival of how to eat and survive at the same time
    • Need to have a broad open sustained vigilent attention at the same time
    • Animals have a tendency to use left hemisphere (right eye) to look at tiny details to grasp them, at the same time using right hemisphere,left eye, to look at everything, look for predators, etc. That’s where judgement about relationships
  • Left hemisphere allows us to use the world which is seen as a lot of fragments of things that we can exploit
  • Right hemisphere sees the whole picture
  • 16:00 talks about a mountain that means different things to different people
  • Each description if correct, what a thing is is what it is for me, it’s not something out there.
  • We can make an effort to see it from others’ points of view
  • What you tend to changes what you find there
  • If think of the world as a machine, will start to see machine-like elements of it
    • You may start to only see the parts that are like a machine and ignore the parts that aren’t
    • If see the world as a living, flowing, dynamic, perhaps conscious entity will see that in the world
    • Means that where you jump into the hermeneutic circle, have to jump in with an intuition about what sort of thing you’re dealing with. But where you jump in will govern what it is you will find

(what this also entails is that there is probably some value in having people see it in different ways so that they notice different things. There’s a big downside to everyone seeing things the same way. Is he just referring to confirmation bias or is there something more profound here)

  • We harden up a picture of the world over time. We make a first guess, we find things that respond to it, that haardens it up, so we get stuck in a particular mindset

  • He thinks in the west we’ve become stuck in the mindset of the left hemisphere

  • (19:15) Left hemisphere has narrow-beam attention to what it wants to graps. Controls the bits of language that enables us to pin things down.

  • Suggest A leads to B

  • But if you thiink the attention of the right hemisphere can reveal something: there’s something complex and living and very large here that can’t just pick apart and understand whole thing looking at

  • What happens when left hem. takes over the world? Pandemonium.

  • Most common delusions only occur when left hemisphere in control.

  • Left hemisphere less reliable, makes hasty judgements, gets things wrong doesn’t have deep understanding → loss of depth

  • Gets flattened in space and time, when have damage to right hemisphere starts to be a series of points not part of a continuum. Lose emotional depth. In place superficial jocularity that quickly turns to anger

  • (23:17) When damage to right hemisphere start losing depth:

  • Left prefers what is certain. What is familar and known. Right prefers what is new, better at grasping what is new. Devil’s advocate
  • Left certainty vs. Right possibility
  • Left fixity, static, sharp narrow focussed attention vs. right flow, nothing is separable from anything else in the universe
  • Left focused on parts, right focused on whole
  • Left likes things too be explict, right hemisphere understands a lot of meaning has to be implicit. Explain a joke its no longer a joke. They crash when become explicit
  • Left prefers abstract, right sees things in context
  • Left interested in what is general, right interested in the unique case
  • Left more interested in quantities, right in qualities
  • Left more interested in inanimate things, right in animate
  • Left is optimistic, right is realistic
  • Left world is re-presented, right is present

Thought Experiment (30:35)

  • Thought experiment. Suppose he’s right that we’re living in a world where we’re thinking only in terms of the left hemisphere and not the right
  • Attending to it in narrow fragmenting way, which deanimates and makes things available for grasp but empties them of meaning.
  • Would be a loss of broader picture
  • Knowledge replaced by information tokens or representations on a sheet of paper rather than the actual knowledge and wisdom would be right out as embodied and personal
  • Loss of concepts of skill and judgment
  • Things become simultaneously cerebral and abstract
  • Matter becomes lumps - reification means things become thingy whereas we lose touch with the tactile embodied reality of the world in which we all used to live and talk
  • Beauracracy field day
  • Loss of sense of uniqueness, replaced by assessment of quantity, not quality
  • Black and white, this or that.
  • Reasonableness replaced by rationality
  • Failure of common sense
  • Systems designed to maximize utility
  • Loss of social cohesion, depersonalization, paranoia, lack of trust
  • Feel that things out of control
  • Anger and agreession keynotes of relationships
  • Project ourselves as irresponsible passive victims of other’s wrongdoings
  • Art conceptual rather than embodied
  • Music reduced to rhythm
  • Language become diffuse, lacking in concrete reference
  • Deliberate undercutting of sense of awe or wonder. Right knows how little it knows, left thinks it knows everything.
  • Flow would become just the sum of an infinite series of piecess
  • Network of small complicated rules
  • Spectators rather than actors.
  • Dangerously unwarranted optimism
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