Iain McGilchrist on the left and right hemispheres

The left hemisphere is good at helping us manipulate the world, but not good at helping us to understand it. To just use this bit and then that bit, and then that bit. But the right hemisphere has a kind of sustained, broad, vigilant attention instead of this narrow, focused, piecemeal attention. And it sustains a sense of being, a continuous being, in the world. So, these are very different kinds of attention. And they bring into being for us quite different kinds of a world.

It is not so much what each hemisphere does, it’s the way in which it does it. By which, I don’t mean by what mechanism. I mean, the manner in which it does it. The two halves of the brain have, as we do, different goals, different values, different preferences, different ways of being.

In a nutshell: the left hemisphere has a map of the world, and the right hemisphere sees the terrain that is mapped. So, the right hemisphere is seeing an immensely complex, very hard-to-summarise, nonlinear, deeply embedded, changing, flowing, ramifying world. And in the other—the left-hemisphere take on the world—things are clear, sharp, distinct, dead, decontextualised, abstract, disembodied. And then they have to be put together, as you would put things together like building a machine in the garage.


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