I almost imploded my brain on Friday watching an animated talk by Iain McGilchrist the author of The Master and his Emissary: the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.
In our usual attempts to oversimplify things, we all have a sense of left brained people and those that we’d consider right brained. We put language, logic and reason on the left and creativity, emotion and intuition on the right.
McGilchrist reframes the whole debate about brain structure and even ties it into the state of the our western world. All of those individual characteristics actually require both sides of the brain, the “sidedness” is more about HOW we do those things.
Using the example of a bird, he argues that distinguishing seeds on the ground requires narrow attention and focus, which would be controlled by the left side of the brain. But having a wider focus aware of vague and undefined threats, requires effort from the right brain. I’m over simplifying of course, but you get the idea. He goes on to argue that our society has increasingly favoured and nurtured a more narrow, left brain approach, in that we believe that everything is knowable and fixed. Our schools and even our politicians demonstrate these characteristics regularly.
It is at our peril though, because even if the bird finds every last seed and his belly is full, it doesn’t mean anything if he doesn’t notice the cat under the bush.