The Left Hemisphere Running Amok
By Dan Klein
Iain McGilchrist presents the science on the divided brain and develops a compelling explanation of the right and left hemispheres, how each functions, and what each tends to do. His major work is The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. The right hemisphere is the “master,” the left is “his emissary.” A conversation at YouTube between McGilchrist and Jordan Peterson offers a good introduction, as does Russ Roberts’s interview at EconTalk.
In The Master and His Emissary, McGilchrist explains how the modern world has enfeebled the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere is running amok, creating its own worlds of self-validation, like in the movie The Matrix.
I’ve written an article “Think Spiral: The Divided Brain and Classical Liberalism.” It serves as a primer to McGilchrist’s exposition, by offering a formulation that uses a spiral to structure the iterative and layered relationship. The article presents McGilchrist’s concerns about modernity and considers his political overtones. I elaborate why our concerns might lead us to look to classical liberalism as the best way to avoid the traps of the left hemisphere and to invigorate the health of the right hemisphere.
I had the opportunity to meet McGilchrist, and he kindly provides a Foreword. He and I might disagree somewhat in politically tendency, but he says in the Foreword that my presentation of his thesis is sound.
The division between the two hemispheres fits the saying: “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Management is the left hemisphere, leadership is the right hemisphere. The concern is that management has usurped the entity, without proper orientation to the larger world. Leadership in moral outlook has collapsed.
Here below is a spiral figure from the essay. We are looking into Mary’s face, so her right hemisphere appears on the left, and left, right.
McGilchrist points out that very little brain activity is conscious: “current estimates are certainly less than 5 per cent, and probably less than 1 per cent.” McGilchrist’s work helps to get us in better touch with the elephant within, and thereby with the world without.