An old friend indirectly led me to the video I’ve embedded at the bottom of the page. It’s a very easy to follow cartoon version of a lecture by Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. When I listened to it for the third time a few minutes ago to get quotes for this article, I found myself transcribing the whole text: it was that good. Mercifully, I’ll refrain from making you read the whole thing, since watching it is much more entertaining and, I think, enlightening, since the cartoons engage both hemispheres of the brain.
McGilchrist jumps right in and addresses the issue of the “debunking” of the split brain theory, saying that “the division of the brain is something neuroscientists don’t like to talk about any more”; the reason being that it simply isn’t true that one side of the brain is solely associated with reason and the other strictly limited to emotion. After that fact was established, “in a fit of despair” people gave up talking about it. Nonetheless, he argues, “the brain is profoundly divided” and, more worryingly, continues to become more lopsided, until today we live in a left-brain dominated world.
What’s wrong with that? Well, as McGilchrist points out, the right hemisphere “has a disposition for the living rather than the mechanical”, can see things in context, understands metaphor and can grasp implicit meaning. The left hemisphere, on the other hand, “yields a world that is ultimately lifeless.”
After re-introducing us to the split brain, Dr. McGilchrist starts talking about the frontal lobes. This was where his talk got really interesting for me, because I’ve had a frontal lobes dilemma lately. Based on my experience with “amygdala tickling”, I had come to the conclusion that frontal lobe activation automatically made one more compassionate and loving. However, neuroscientists refer to it as the “executive center” and see it as being impartial or amoral. McGilchrist seems to agree, saying that “the purpose of the frontal lobes is to inhibit the rest of the brain.” It stands “back in time and space from the immediacy of the experience.” This results in a decision maker who is able to do either of two things:
- It can “outwit the other party” (he calls this the Machiavellian mind).
- It can empathise (he refers to this as the Erasmian mind).
This came as a revelation to me and pieces of so many puzzles started falling into place – so many puzzles, in fact, I don’t even want to go into them all here or you’ll die of boredom. However, I do want to mention this (from another article I’m working on):
I learned amygdala tickling from Neil Slade‘s website. He emphasises stimulating both hemispheres by visualising tickling both the right and left amygdala. Most meditation techniques emphasise detaching yourself from your habitual “mind chatter” (a left brain activity) which is always good advice and probably helps bridge the gap between hemispheres, but personally, I think we need to make more active efforts to redress the imbalance. As Dr. McGilchrist says, the left hemisphere is “entirely self consistent largely because it’s made itself so” and “it’s very vocal on its own behalf” while “the right hemisphere doesn’t have a voice.”
Why is this so important? Please watch this video to the end and you’ll see why. Don’t panic – it’s only about 10 minutes long and is very entertaining: