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RSA Animate - The Divided Brain

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- IAIN McGILCHRIST - The Divided Brain & Making of the Western World IAIN McGILCHRIST - The Divided Brain & Making of the Western World The division of the brain is something neuroscientists don't like to talk about any more. It enjoyed a sort of popularity in the 60s and the 70s, after the first split brain operations, and it led to a sort of popularization, which has since been proved to be entirely false! And it's not true that one part of the brain does reason, and the other does emotion, both are profoundly involved in both. It's not true that language resides only in the left HMP, it doesn't. Important aspects are in the right. It's not true that visual imagery is only in the right HMP, lots of it is in the left. And so, in a sort of fit of despair people have given up talking about it. But the problem won't really go away! Because this organ, which is all about making connection is profoundly DIVIDED! It's there inside all of us, and it's got more divided over the course of human evolution. So the ratio of the corpus callosum to the volume of the HMP has got smaller over the evolution. And the flot thickens when you realize that one of the main, if not THE MAIN function of the corpus callosum is in fact to INHIBIT the other hemisphere. So something very important is going on here by keeping things apart from one another. And not only that: the brain is profoundly a simmetric it's broader at the back on the left, and broader on the right of the front on the side leans just forward and backward and if it's though somebody got hold of the brain from underneath and given it just a sharp twist, clockwise. What is all that about? If one just needed more brains space, one would do it simmetrically, the skull is simmetrical. The box in which all this is contained is simmetrical. Why goes the trouble to expand some bits of one HMP, and some bits of another, unless they are doing rather different things. What are they doing? Well it's not just we, who have these divided brains: birds and animals have them as well. I think the simplest way to think of it is to imagine a bird trying to feed on a seed against the background of grit or pebbles. It has got to focus very narrowly and clearly on that little seed, and be able to pick it out against that background. But it's also -if it's going to stay alive- it has got to actually keep a quite different kind of attention open, it has got to be on the look out for predators, or for friends...specifics, but for whatever else is going on. It seems those birds and animals quite reliably use their left HMP for this narrow focused attention, something it already knows is of importance to it. And they keep their right HMP vigilant broadly for whatever might be without any commitment as to what that might be. And they also use their right HMPs for making conenctions with the world. So they approach their mates, and bond to their mates more using their right HMP. But then you come to the humans, and it's true that actually in humans, too, this kind of attention is one fo the big differences. The right HMP gives sustained, broad, open vigilance, alertness. Where the left HMP gives narrow, sharply focused attention to details. And people who loose their right HMPs have a pathological narrowing of the window of attention. But humans are different. The big thing about humans is their frontal lobes. And the purpose of that part of the brain to inhibit: to inhibit the rest of the brain, to stop the immediate happening; so standing back in time and space from the immediacy of experience. And that enables us to do two things: it enables us to do - what neuroscientists are always telling us we are very good at - which is: outwitting the other party, being Machiavellian. And that's interesting to me, because that's absolutely right: we can read other people's minds and intentions, and if we so want to, we can deceive them. But the bit that's always curiosity missed out here, is this: it also enables us to empathize for the first time, because this is sort of necessary distance from the world. And if you're right up against it, it just bites, but if you can stand back and see, that other individual is an individual like me, who might have interests and values and feelings like mine, then you can make a bond, this is sort of necessary distance as there is in reading, too close - you can't see anything; too far - can't read it. So the distance from the world that is provided is profoundly creative of all that is human, both in Machiavellian and the Erasmian. Now, to do the Machiavellian stuff, to manipulate the world - which is very important - we need to be able to use, interact with the world and use it for our benefit, -food is the starting point- but, we also with our left HMP grasp, using our right hands, things and make tools, we also use that part of the language to grasp things as we say, it 'pins' them down. So when we already know something's important, and we want to be precise about it, we use our left HMPs in that way. And to do that we need a simplified version of reality. It's no good, if you're fighting a campaign, having all the information on all the plant species that grow in the terrain of battle. What you need is to know the specifics of where certain things are, that matter to you, and so you have a map, and you have little flags. It's not reality, but it works BETTER. The newness of the right HMP makes it the devil's advocat: is always on the look out for things that might be different from our expectations, it sees things in context, it understands implicit meaning, metaphor, body language, emotional expression on the face. It deals with an EMBODIED WORLD, in which we stand embodied in relation to a world that is CONCRETE. It understands individuals, not just categories. It actually has a disposition for the living, rather than the mechanical. And this is so marked, that even in the left hand though, who is actually using their right HMPs in daily lifes to manipulate the tools with their left hand, it is their left HMP, not the right HMP, in which tools and machines are coded. So this is very interesting. And it changes the view of the body: the body becomes an assemblage of parts in the left HMP. If I had to sum this all up, I would get away from all those things that we used to say: reason and imagination. Let me make you very clear: for IMAGINATION you need BOTH HMPs. Let me make you very clear: for REASON you need BOTH HMPs. So if I had to sum this up, I'd take the world of the left HMP dependant on DENOTATIVE 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 right HMP by contrast yields a WORLD OF INDIVIDUAL, CHANGING, EVOLVING, INTERCONNECTED, IMPLICIT, INCARNATE LIVING BEINGS WITHIN THE CONTEXT of the lived world. But the nature fot things is never fully graspable, never perfectly known, and this world exists in a certain relationship. The knowledge that is mediated by the left HMP is however within a closed system. It has the advantage of perfection, but the perfection has brought ultimately the price of emptiness. There's a problem here about the nature of the two worlds. The offer is the two versions of the world, and obviously we combine them in different ways all the time. We need to rely on certain things to manipulate the world, but for the broad understanding of it we need to use knowledge that comes from the right HMP. And it's my suggestion to you that in the history if western culture things started in 6th century of B.C. in the Augustian era, and in the 15th/16th century in Europe with a wonderful balancing of these HMPs, in each cases it drifted further to the left HMP's point of view. Nowadays we live in a world which is paradoxical. We pursue HAPINESS, and it leads to RESENTMENT, and it leads to UNHAPPINESS, and it leads in fact to an explosion of MENTAL ILLNESS. We pursued FREEDOM, but we now live in a world, which is more monitored, by CCTV cameras, and in which our daily lives are more subjected to what the top ? called a network of small complicated rules that cover the surface of life and strangle freedom. More information - we have it in spate but we can less and less able to use it to understand it, to be wise. There's a paradoxical relationship as I know as a psychiatrist between ADVERSITY and FULFILMENT; between RESTRAINT and FREEDOM, between the KNOWLEDGE of the PARTS, and WISDOM of the WHOLE. The machine model again, that is supposed to answer everything, but it doesn't; think about this: even RATIONALITY is grounded in a leap of INTUITION. There is NEVER you can rationally prove, that rationality is a good way to look at the world. We intuit that this is very helpful. And this is not new. At the other end of the process rationality, we know from Gödel's theorum, we know from what Pascal was saying hundreds of years before Gödel, that at the end point of rationality is to demonstrate the limits to rationality. In our modern world we've developed something that looks awfully alike the left HMP's world: we prioritize the VIRTUAL over the REAL. The TECHNICAL becomes important, BUREUCRACY flourishes, the picture however is fragmented. There's a lot of uniqueness. The HOW has become subsumed in WHAT. And the need for control leads to a paranoia, in society, that we need to govern and control everything. Why is this shift? I think there are 3 reasons. One is: the left HMP's talk is very convincing, because it shaped everything, that it doesn't find fit for this model: OFF! And cut it out. So this particular model is entirely self-consistent, largely 'cause it's made itself so. I also call the left HMP the Berlusconi of the brain, because it controls the media, it's the one with which we... it's very vocal on its own behalf. The right HMP doesn't have a voice, and it can't construct these same arguments. And I also think - rather more importantly - this is sort of 'hall of mirrors' effect, The more we get trapped into this, the more we undercut and ironize things that might have led us out of it, and we just get reflected back: the more we know about what we know about... And just to make you clear: I am not AGAINST whatever it is the left HMP has to offer. Nobody could be more compassionate in an age in which we neglect reason, and we neglect careful use of language, nobody could be more passionate than myself about language and about reason, it's just that I am even more passionate about the right HMP, and the need to return what that knows: to a broader context. It turned out, that Einstein's thinking somehow presage this thing about the structure of the brain. He said: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society

that honours the servant, but has forgotten

the gift." - - - - - - - .

Video Details

Duration: 11 minutes and 50 seconds
Country: Hungary
Language: English
Views: 390
Posted by: szemereorsolya on Jul 1, 2012

by psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist

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