Here is a fascinating look at the development of the brain and its implications for the making of the Western world, as we know it. We know that the brain must have much to answer for in our development, but here, presented by renowned psychiatrist, writer and lecturer, Iain McGilchrist, we have a possible window to seeing just how much.
His theory is hung on the premise of the divided brain: the left brain governing fixed, isolated, static, known, lifeless interactions, in a closed system of sharp focus and perfect clarity, while the right hemisphere deals with ‘individual, changing, evolving, interconnected’ living beings in the living world; think of a bird that focuses on pecking at seeds with his left hemisphere, while keeping alert for the movement of predatory cats with his right.
McGilchrist attributes the issues that grip the Western world with the over-indulgence of the left hemisphere of the brain. He shows how we have created technology that looks awfully like the world of the left hemisphere. It is box-like, closed off, perfect in its clarity but ultimately empty for its inability to connect.
By becoming focused on the parts, our view of the living world is fragmented and does not produce a coherent whole. We find that we are exposed to large amounts of information, yet we do not know how to use it in a wider context to find wisdom. We prioritise the virtual over the real, the technical is all important and as a result bureaucracy flourishes.
McGilchrist quotes Einstein: The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. McGilchrist adds that we have created a society that honours the servant but has forgotten the gift.
How can we disagree? It is not hard to see how we spend to protect the honour of the servant. We buy sharper focus, high-definition televisions with bigger, wider screens. We buy faster computers with instant wireless connections that can keep us in touch with our sharply focused technological platforms. We engage with touch screen phone applications, view life through a lens and invest in gaming devices with clearer and clearer multi-pixelated graphics that send us into fully contained zones; focusing us, always focusing us on, the mission in hand, however virtual.
We could perhaps use social networks as an argument of how we use our technology to expand our worlds. However, they only do so in a focused virtual space, a space that promotes our fractured individualism. The irony of our networking is very real. It is true that we use them to maintain friendships but how much so as a substitute for ‘real’ life interaction. Some do form friendships on social networks that spill into the ‘real’ world. I myself have benefitted from just such a friendship.
However, is it not more so the case that these virtual interactions leave us feeling empty? In using them to satisfy an addiction or lust for virtual-curtain-twitching, gossip mongoring, are we not indeed attempting to pursue happiness in a virtual reality that can only possibly lead to further resentment. Afterall, how can anything on social networks be anything but propaganda? We choose what we share, and whether that is over or under the parameters of what we gage our social-network friends to deem acceptable. We are acutely aware that our judgement is in the eyes of those individuals, the virtual surfers, who absorb everything through their own screens in much the same way we do.
One of my pet peeves at the moment is the need to photograph and video every experience in order to upload it to a virtual forum. Anyone who has ever had their view at a concert obscured by hands held high, grasping a mobile phone in order to record the performance, will surely know what I am talking about here and I must admit to being guilty of this need-to-record myself in the past. However, I have come to realise that I was also guilty of something much worse; I was missing what was truly meaningful: the experience itself. In my haste to document it for everyone else, I was denying myself the joy of fully participating. Have we not created a monster of the left hemisphere brain where our interactions with the living beings in the living world have become compromised with our need to share the moment in a virtual left hemisphere forum, mostly in order to prove that we are indeed living as we are expected? … and yet our sheer need to show it somewhat undermines our position. Don’t we just come out looking desperate? Desperate to spread our own propoganda? Desperate to prove ourselves? And desperate to be seen to justify our existence with the implied meaning: Look at me; I am living!
The ideas we get from McGilchrist is perhaps in support of causation, that every action and experience has a cause. With causation we are led to believe that destiny is predetermined, though not necessarily by a creator, but by scientific: biological and psychological development that we are not at liberty to change. If we were to try to make a change, the very action of rebelling would be anticipated by our life history and therefore pre-destined.
This journey into honouring the faithful servant of the left hemisphere may be a one way road but don’t we owe it to the right to try to get back the balance? For without its gift, are we not doomed to a focused life of disconnected virtual distress?