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We have created a society that honours the servant, but has forgotten the gift.
October 25, 2011 6:02 AM   Subscribe

How our 'divided brain' shapes our behaviour, culture and society. Iain McGilchrist explains, in a new animation from the RSA. Previously and previously.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth (18 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 


That was pretty good until he got to the same old anti-scientific nonsense about "once you understand something it is lifeless and empty".

Was being able to pin down and talk about neuroscience empty and lifeless? Well, it let you make this video calling it so.
posted by DU at 6:32 AM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The money shot at the end made my hairs stand up. A++
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:38 AM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


That was pretty good until he got to the same old anti-scientific nonsense about "once you understand something it is lifeless and empty".

Anti-right-hemisphere-ist!
posted by Ritchie at 7:29 AM on October 25, 2011


At the end he virtually contradicts his very premise that it's not true that certain functions of the brain resides on one side of the cerebrum. For example, he states that it's not true that language is not localized to the left hemisphere, yet at the end he provides examples of left brain function including language.

Also, while he states that the left hemisphere controls the right hand, that's not entirely true either. The right hand receives 90% of impulses from the right hemisphere and only 10% from the left. The right hemispheric output has to do with balance, muscle tone, stabilization of the hand and the left brain's contribution has to do with fine motor control.

From what I can tell is that many functions of our brain are present bilaterally, but some exist primarily on one side.
posted by noaccident at 7:34 AM on October 25, 2011


I really dislike how this bogus creative/analytic dichotomy stuff just won't go away. I guess I'll just have to wait until people who stopped paying attention in the 80's die off.
posted by srboisvert at 7:52 AM on October 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


David Eagleman has an interesting book just out, Incognito, which goes over much of the same material.
And he seems to particularly stress that trying to reduce certain brain functions to certain areas is a reductionist urge that goes back to phrenology; he stresses the amount of redundancy in brain function instead.
Still reading it, but thought I'd toss this out there.
posted by el riesgo sempre vive at 7:59 AM on October 25, 2011


And he seems to particularly stress that trying to reduce certain brain functions to certain areas is a reductionist urge that goes back to phrenology

...which is not, in itself, evidence that this "urge" is the wrong approach.
posted by IjonTichy at 8:04 AM on October 25, 2011


That animation was wonderfully well done and great to watch.

Sadly, the speaker's thesis is pretty weak. To say that we are a "left-hemisphere dominated" society is like saying a bicycle is "front-wheel dominated" or a "back-wheel dominated"

He's cooking a soup of thin ingredients. "We have a society that seeks happiness, but which is experiencing high levels of mental illness". Uh, yeah. How does that tie in to hemispheric physiology?

Then there is is the specious idea of "balance" between left and right hemispheres. Who says we have to balance in the first place? Isn't it already known that the brain works as well as it does because it is unbalanced? i.e. that different tasks fall on different areas of the brain.
posted by storybored at 8:23 AM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow came out today. It's very tempting to draw parallels between McGilchrist's right & left and Kahneman's System 1 & System 2.
posted by mr_curmudgeon at 8:35 AM on October 25, 2011


"We have a society that seeks happiness, but which is experiencing high levels of mental illness".

He sought something to drink, even though he was thirsty.
posted by straight at 8:40 AM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you want to respond to the argument McGilchrist makes, which is extremely profound and far-reaching, I'd recommend at the least starting with the introduction to his book [PDF]

To briefly cover a bit of the objections raised here already - he admits there's a great degree of redundancy and overlap in brain functions, and its obviously true that people who suffer brain damage have varying abilities to remap what's normally left/right brain functions to the other side

That said, he cites a very wide range of studies and findings regarding a variety of animals as well as humans with localized lesions and corpus callosotomy patients that very, very strongly suggest the brain's hempispheric division - which as McGilchrist points out, is a far stranger anatomical feature than we might first think, especially given that the brain appears to be evolving to be more divided in "higher" animals - underlies different "modes" of thinking the brain uses, or different ways of perceiving the world

He says very explicitly that he's concerned both with presenting a way of understanding thought as being a process of integration between largely separate reductionist and holistic "views", *and* that this division appears to correspond to a strong degree to the actual anatomy of the brain - but that the right/left dichotomy is partly metaphorical and clearly more messy in reality

The book is really an epic undertaking - I found myself frequently stopping to go Wikipedia through some new bit of argument/evidence - and while the totality of the picture of the mind and civilization he presents is quite a lot to swallow whole, it's well worth reading and considering - the neuroanatomy picture seems extremely well grounded in modern science, and he essentially then takes that as a foundation from which to launch the most devastatingly lucid, comprehensive attack on reductionism/"rationalism" that I've read. If it misses the mark I think it's not by much

Also recommended for a more personal, anecdotal view along the same lines, Jill Bolte Taylor is a scientist talking about her experience after having a left brain stroke
posted by crayz at 9:49 AM on October 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


The double irony of this presentation is that the only way our "left-brain-centric" culture can accept the legitimacy of intuitive "right-brain" thinking is to couch it in as much scientism as possible.

It's not enough to say, "Holistic, inductive, broad thinking is sorely lacking in our culture," and defend that as an opinion. No, that would seem flighty, new-age, hippie, liberal, impractical, would-you-like-fries-with-that-ha-ha-you-studied-liberal-arts-enjoy-starving-to-death.

Instead, someone has to say that this type of thinking is connected with a physical body part; it makes what is originally a philosophical argument into a pseudoscientific statement of fact. There's been mention in the press lately that in the US, we're more likely to believe something if it makes reference to neuroscience.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:21 AM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


i was just having a talk with my mother about jill bolte taylor's book. i am going to have to read some of mr mcgilchrist's stuff now. the quotes abstracted on the wikipedia page simultaneously delight and infuriate me.

i will say that i mistrust philosophers and i do not feel so okay about some of the more philosophical assertions made in the frontier psychatrist interview. but there is so much shit here that it is time to read his book first.
posted by beefetish at 1:16 PM on October 25, 2011


also anecdotally i may have a kind of odd view of mind-body interactions since i usually have to talk myself into/out of/up to doing things 3x a week or so and it used to be a constant struggle and also whooooooahhhh what the fuck is he talking about with Chinese/Japanese/Korean culture holy shit and christ
posted by beefetish at 1:17 PM on October 25, 2011


i will say that i mistrust philosophers and i do not feel so okay about some of the more philosophical assertions made in the frontier psychatrist[SLYT] interview.
posted by 0rison at 2:02 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


the avalanches should interview everyone, forever. that should be what we do with our lives now.
posted by beefetish at 2:34 PM on October 25, 2011


The full speech by McGilchrist is three times as long as the animation, so presumably a lot of editing has happened. From watching the full speech so far, he makes his points about right and left hemispheres much less absolute. And quotes Nietzsche and Heidegger quite a bit more.
posted by mmoncur at 12:18 AM on October 26, 2011


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