The Divided Brain & The Making of The Western World

-Jo Hilton

-Jo Hilton

When your Alexander practice is really ‘On’, thoughts and movements seem to connect and flow more effortlessly from whatever intentions you have (be it in making music, acting, in conversation with another, or just walking down the street).

An experience of self awareness in action occurs in which you see yourself move without the normal amount of perceived effort (like watching yourself automatically, unconsciously, and effortlessly catch a wine glass that was knocked off a counter), yet you still have some choice in the matter - you can choose not to do certain actions, and instead to allow others to happen. You're part of the process as it unfolds.

Below is a short video I found helped illuminate some aspect of this experience.


Iain McGilchrist: The Divided Brain & The Making of The Western World

Video Notes/ Transcript

The division myth:

  • The idea that the brain completely divides its functions into the left and right hemispheres is false.

  • In reality both sides work together.

  • For instance it’s not true that one part of the brain does reason and the other emotion; they both are profoundly involved in both. For imagination and language you need both hemispheres. For reason you need both hemispheres. The brain is all about making connections.

Distance from the world:

  • One of the main (if not the main) function of the corpus callous is to inhibit the other hemisphere.

  • The purpose of the frontal lobes is to inhibit (to stop) the immediate from happening. To stand back in time and space from the immediacy of experience…to outwit the other party/ Machiavellian.

  • This space allows us to read other people (Eg. their intentions) which allow us to deceive them… or to empathize with them.

  • There’s a sort of necessary distance from the world.

  • This distance from the world that is created is profoundly creative.

The left and right hemispheres offer us two versions of the nature of the world, and we combine them in different ways all the time:

  • The left hemisphere is heavily used for narrowed, sharply focused attention on details...something it already knows is important to it (expectation).

  • The right hemisphere is used more for sustained, vigilant, broad, open alertness for for making connections to the environment. (*Broadly vigilant)

  • When we know something is important and we want to be precise about it we use our left hemispheres in that way (i.e our ability to use and interact with the world - to use it for our benefit). To do create a simplified version of reality - seeing only the specific things that matter to you. It’s a map - it’s not reality, but it works better.

  • The newness of the right hemisphere is always on the lookout for things that might look different from our expectations. It sees things in context, it understands meaning, it thinks in metaphors, body language, emotional expression in the face. It deals with an embodied world, in which we stand in relation to a world that is concrete. It understands the individual not just categories and has a disposition for the living, not just the mechanical.

  • The world of the left hemisphere, dependent on demonstrative 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 body becomes an assemblage of parts in the left hemisphere. the knowledge mediated by the left hemisphere is within a closed system. It has the advantage of perfection, but at the price of emptiness.

  • The right hemisphere by contrast yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate living beings in the context of the lived world - with the nature of things never fully graspable, never fully known - it exists in relationship.

The shift to the left:

  • In the history of western culture things started (6th century BC) with a wonderful balancing of these hemispheres. But in each case of society it drifted to the left’s point of view.

  • Today we live in a world that is paradoxical :

    • we pursue happiness and it leads to resentment and unhappiness - to an explosion of mental illness.

    • We pursed freedom but we’re more monitored than ever - and covered in a network of complicated rules that strangle freedom

    • More and more info, we have it, but less and less ability to understand it to be wise

    • We’ve developed something that looks awfully like the left hemisphere’s world. We prioritize the virtual over the real. The technical becomes important. Bureaucracy flourishes. The picture is fragmented. The how has been consumed in WHAT. The need for control leads to a paranoia in society that we need to govern and control everything.

  • Why the shift?

    • The left hemisphere’s talk is convincing because everything it finds doesn’t fit with its model it shaves off and cuts out; so the model is entirely self consistent because it’s made itself so.

    • The left is also the Berlusconi of the brain because it ‘controls the media’ - it’s very vocal on it’s own behalf vs. the right hemisphere doesn’t have a voice and can’t contract these same arguments.

    • The hall of mirrors effect: The more we get trapped into the left, the more we undercut the things that may have led us out of it - then we get reflected back into more of what we know…of what we know…of what we know…etc...