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Left brain vs Right brain.

Posted by on May 13, 2019

The division of the brain is something scientists don’t like to talk about anymore. It enjoyed a sort of popularity in the 60s and 70s after the first split brain operations and it led to a sort of popularization which has since been proved to be entirely false it’s not true that one part of the brain does reason and the other does emotion bot are profoundly involved in both it’s not true that language resides only in the left hemisphere it doesn’t important aspects are in the right it’s not true that visual imagery is only in the right hemisphere lots of it is in the left and so in a sort of fit of despair people are given up talking about it but the problem won’t really go away because this organ which is all about making connection is profoundly divided it’s there inside all of us and it’s got more divided over the course of human evolution so the ratio of the corpus callosum to the volume of the hemispheres has got smaller ovary evolution and the plot thickens when you realize that one of the main if not the main function of the corpus callosum is in fact to inhibit is to inhibit the other hemisphere so something very important is going on here about keeping things apart from one another and not only that the brain is profoundly asymmetric it’s broader at the back on the left and broader on the right at the front and slightly juts forward and backward and it’s as though somebody got hold of the brain from underneath and given it a sort of sharp twist clockwise what is all that about if one just needed more brain space one would do it symmetrically the skull is symmetrical the box in which all this is contained is symmetrical why go to trouble to expand some bits of one hemisphere and some bits of another unless they were doing rather different things what are they doing well it’s not just we who have these divided brains birds and animals have them as well I think the simplest way to think of it is if you imagine a bird trying to feed on a seed against the background of a brittle pebbles it’s got to focus very narrowly and clearly on that little seed and be able to pick it out against that background but it’s also if it’s going to stay alive it’s got to actually keep quite different kind of attention open it’s got to be on the lookout for predators or for friends with conspecifics but for whatever else is going on it seems that birds and animals quite reliably use their left hemisphere for this narrow focused attention to something it already knows is of importance to it and they keep their right hemisphere vigilant broadly for whatever might be without any commitment as to what that might be and they also use their right hemispheres for making connections with the world so they approach their mates and bond with their mates more using the right hemisphere but then you come to the humans and it’s true that actually in humans – this kind of attention is one of the big differences the right hemisphere gives sustained broad open vigilance alertness where the left hemisphere gives narrow sharply focused attention to detail and people who lose their right hemispheres have a pathological narrowing of the window of attention.But humans are different the big thing about humans is their frontal lobes and the purpose is that part of the brain to inhibit to inhibit the rest of the brain to stop the immediate happening so standing back in time and space from the immediacy of experience and that enables us to do two things it enables us to do what neuroscientists are always telling us we’re very good at which is outwitting the other party being Machiavellian and that’s interesting to me because that’s absolutely right we can read other people’s minds and intentions and if we so want to we can deceive them but the bit that’s always curiously missed out here is that um it also enables us to empathize for the first time becaus there’s a sort of necessary distance from the world and if you’re right up against it you just bite but if you can stand back and see that other individual is an individual like me who might have interests and values and feelings like mine then you can make a bond there’s a sort of necessary distance as there is in reading too close you can’t see anything too far you can’t read it so the distance from the world that is provided is profoundly creative of all that is human both the Machiavellian and the erasiman now to do the machiavellian stuff to manipulate the world which i very important we need to be able to use interact with the world and use it for our benefit food is the starting point but we also with our left hemispheres grasp using our right hands things and make tools we also use that part of language to grasp things as we say it pins them down so when we already know something’s important and we want to be precise about it we use our left hemispheres in that way and to do that we need a simplified version of reality it’s no good if you’re fighting a campaign having all the information on all the plant species that grow in the in the terrain of battle what you need is to know the specifics of where certain things are that matter to you and so you have a map and you have little Flags it’s not reality but it works better the newness of the right hemisphere makes it a devil’s advocate is always on the lookout for things that might be different from our expectations it sees things in context it understands implicit meaning metaphor body language emotional expression in the face it deals with an embodied world in which we stand embodied in relation to a world that is concrete it understands individuals not just categories it actually has a disposition for the living rather than the mechanicals and this is so marked that even in the left-hander who is actually using their right hemisphere in daily lights to manipulate tools with their left hand it is their left hemisphere not the right hemisphere in which tools and machines are coded so this is very interesting and it changes the view of the body the body becomes an assemblage of parts in the left hemisphere if I had to sum it all up I would I would get away from all those things that we used to say reason and imagination let me make it very clear for imagine you need both hemispheres let me make it very clear for reason you need both hemispheres so if I had to sum this up I’d say the world or the left hemisphere dependent on denotative language and abstraction yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known fixed static isolated decontextualized explicit general in nature but ultimately lifeless the right hemisphere by contrast yields a world of individual changing evolving interconnected implicit incarnate living beings within the context of the lived world but in the nature of things never fully graspable never perfectly known and to this world it exists in a certain relationship the knowledge is mediated by the left hemispheres however within a closed system it has the advantage of perfection that the perfection is brought ultimately the price of emptiness there’s a problem here about the nature of the two worlds they offer us two versions of the world and obviously we combine them in different ways all the time we need to rely on certain things to manipulate the world but for a broad understanding of it we need to use knowledge that comes from the right hemisphere and it’s my suggestion to that in the history of Western culture things started in the sixth century BC in the Augustine era and in the fifteen sixteenth century in Europe with a wonderful balancing ofthese hemispheres but in each case it drifted further to the left hemispheres point of view nowadays we live in a world which is paradoxical we pursue happiness and it leads to resentment and it leads to unhappiness and it leads in fact to an explosion of mental illness we’ve pursued freedom but we now live i a world which is more monitored by CCTV cameras and in which our daily lives are more subjected to what the Tocqueville called a network of small complicated rules that cover the surface of life and strangle freedom more information we have it in spades but we get less and less able to use it to understand it to be wise there’s a paradoxical relationship as I know as a psychiatrist between adversity and fulfillment between restraint and freedom between the knowledge of the part and wisdom about the whole it’s that machine model again that is supposed to answer everything but it doesn’t think about this even rationality is grounded in a leap of intuition there is no way you can rationally prove that rationality is a good way to look at the world we Intuit that it is very helpful and this is not new at the other end of the process rationality we know from girdle’s theorem we know from what Pascal was saying hundreds of years before girdle that the end point of rationality is to demonstrate the limits to rationality in our modern world we’ve developed something that looks awfully like the left hemisphere as well we prioritize the virtual over the real the technical becomes important bureaucracy flourishes the picture however is fragmented there’s a loss of uniqueness the howlers become subsumed in what and the need for control leads to a paranoia in society that we need to govern and control everything why this shift I think there are three reasons one is the left hemispheres talk is very convincing because it shaved everything that it doesn’t find fits with this1 model off and cut it out so this particular model is entirely self consistent largely because it’s made itself so I also call the left hemisphere the Berlusconi of the brain because because it controls the media is the one with which we it’s very vocal on its own behalf the right hemisphere doesn’t have a voice and it can’t construct these same arguments and I also think rather more importantly there’s a sort of Hall of Mirrors effect the more we ionize things that might have led us out of it and we just get reflected back into more of what we know about what we know about what we know and I just want to make it clear I’m not against whatever it is the left hemisphere has to offer nobody could be more passionate in an age in which we neglect reason and we neglect careful use of language nobody could be more passionate than myself about language and about reason it’s just that I’m even more passionate about the right hemisphere and the need to return what that knows about the broader context it turns out that Einstein thinking somehow presage this thing about the structure of the brain he said the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant we have created a society that honors the servant but has forgotten the gift.


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