RETRO POST: The Divided Brain – Iain McGilchrist | Dr Jill Bolte Taylor

Okay… another re-post! I’ll have some new ones up very soon… until then, this was my 105th blog post, first published 29/11/11. [I really MUST emphasise that the reference to left and right “hemispheres” of the brain, used below, serves as metaphor only.]

“It is my suggestion to you that in the history of Western Culture, things started, in the 6th century B.C in the Augustan Era, the 15th/16th century in Europe, with a wonderful balance of these hemispheres. but in each case it drifted further to the left hemispheres point of view.”

Iain McGilchrist 

This is a quite remarkable and fascinating RSAnimate lecture excerpt from renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist, in which he explains how our ‘divided brain’ has profoundly altered human behaviour, politics, culture and society. Taken from a lecture given by Iain McGilchrist as part of the RSA’s free public events programme. To view the full lecture, go to  Thankyou anonymous for sending this to me. You’ve succeeded in making my morning.

What I really appreciate about this clip is that Mr McGilchrist touches on the links between brain function and the metaphor of right and left brain thinking, the lack of balance between the two, and the correlation between brain function and the problems of democracy and modern life. The link between brain function, perception and politics is a key area of interest for me.

McGilchrist makes clear what those of us interested in brain function know already: that for both imagination and reason, you need both hemispheres. He gives a clearer summation of what we can described metaphorically as left brain and right brain functions:

The left hemisphere, dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, de-contextualised, 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, a certain relationship.

He goes on to describe these two hemispheres as “two worlds” that we combine in different ways all the time. We need to rely on certain things to manipulate the world (left), but for a broad understanding of it we need to use the right hemisphere. We need both. Problems arise when we deny one of them, when we embrace the “values” of one to the detriment of the other. Ideally, they should be in balance.

Make no mistake: McGilchrist is passionate about both language and reason. But he also appreciates the value of ‘right brain’ perceptions. The clip ends with an Einstein quote I’d never heard before:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

If I had a dinner party, and I could invite anyone from history……


To continue on a theme, I recently discovered Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor (years after the rest of the world did). She is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist who experienced a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996, and remained aware the whole time. So, as a neuroanatomist, she got to observe, with utter fascination, what it is to be totally inside the “right brain”. Her perceptions gained during that time are incredible. I just borrowed a copy of her book, My Stroke of Insight.

This a short, sharp, sweet interview:

She articulates more detailed descriptions in this interview with Charlie Rose. I could not stop giggling at the lost/skeptical expression on his face. But Bolte Taylor’s presentation style is crystal clear and engaging:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s