I just finished Ian McGilcgrist'sThe Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World I have to say that this is one of the best books I have ever read during my 76 years on the planet! There are many reasons and I will try to spell them out below. First let me share a review by Jim Coffman, the coauthor of our forthcoming book:Global Insanity:How Homo sapiens Lost Touch with Reality while Transforming the World I'll say more about it below as well. Those of you who are familiar with George Lakoff's and Drew Westin's writing will find these new works a major step in furthering our understanding of what they have told us.
First of all, I read the book on kindle after about five or six orders for the printed version were cancelled by both Amazon and B& N. I have no idea why this was true since jim Coffman was able to get a printed copy early on.
Let me remind you or inform you that I have been writing about this new paradigm shift for some time and I urge you to look at my past diaries for some background information. I am going to use the highlights from the Amazon Kindle page linked above as talking points.
First let me share the abstract to our book to set the stage:
Global Insanity:How Homo sapiens Lost Touch with Reality while Transforming the World
The Global Economy that sustains the civilized world is destroying the biosphere. As a result, civilization, like the Titanic, it is on a collision course with disaster. But changing course via the body politic appears to be well nigh impossible, given that much of the populace lives in denial. Why is that? And how did we get into such a fix? That question has two answers, one historical, the other phenomenological. First, Western science conceived nature as a machine, a legacy of the empiricism of Bacon, the dualism of Descartes, and the determinism of Newton. But that metaphor is fundamentally flawed, as Robert Rosen has rigorously demonstrated. Second, the Global Economy, like any complex system, developed into existence. Development is a growth- and feedback-driven trajectory of systemic change that reinforces specific dependencies while eliminating alternatives, reducing the diversity that affords degrees of freedom. The more developed a system is, the less potential it has to change its way of being. That is why, in the evolution of life, most species become extinct (overspecialization), and ecological collapse is a common occurrence. But we humans have taken it to a new level. On a global scale, we built an industrial “metabolism” based on nonrenewable high energy resources, which fueled our exponential growth and socioeconomic development. As a result, we are now deeply dependent on that system, and are forced to keep repairing it in order to survive. Unfortunately, not only does the system lack the resources it needs for long-term survival, it is based on the misconception that life is a mechanism, with its implicit assumption that technology has an unlimited capacity to fix all our problems. Now that we are trapped, people don't want to hear that those ideas are wrong, because that brings to light just how dire our predicament really is.
The book closes with our thoughts on what options humanity has for negotiating the impending worldwide collapse of social and economic systems—which can also be viewed as a metamorphosis—with minimal suffering, and what we hope will persist through the transition.
Iain McGilchrist Iain McGilchrist is a psychiatrist and writer who works privately in London, and otherwise lives on the Isle of Skye.Let's look at some of the things he has to say to get a glimpse of this monumental work:
He is committed to the idea that the mind and brain can be understood only by seeing them in the broadest possible context, that of the whole of our physical and spiritual existence, and of the wider human culture in which they arise – the culture which helps to mould, and in turn is moulded by, our minds and brains.
My thesis is that for us as human beings there are two fundamentally opposed realities, two different modes of experience; that each is of ultimate importance in bringing about the recognisably human world; and that their difference is rooted in the bihemispheric structure of the brain. It follows that the hemispheres need to co-operate, but I believe they are in fact involved in a sort of power struggle, and that this explains many aspects of contemporary Western culture.Among other things this is both and echo and an amplification of what Lakoff has been learning through cognitive neuroscience. As you will see, there are lots of grounds for seeing this as a kind of mass insanity. McGilchrist provides a very extensive review of clinical and other information obtained over a long period of time that compares the imbalance between the hemispheres with the manifestation of a whole set of behaviors built into Western Culture, most of which are leading us to disaster. In a nutshell:
An increasingly mechanistic, fragmented, decontextualised world, marked by unwarranted optimism mixed with paranoia and a feeling of emptiness, has come about, reflecting, I believe, the unopposed action of a dysfunctional left hemisphere.Here is the thesis:
It might then be that the division of the human brain is also the result of the need to bring to bear two incompatible types of attention on the world at the same time, one narrow, focussed, and directed by our needs, and the other broad, open, and directed towards whatever else is going on in the world apart from ourselves.McGilchrist develops this idea in great depth using history, art, music, and especially science. His magnificent study puts great credibility into our (and a rapidly growing number of others) claim that one of the central aspects of our inability to see the problem, let alone deal with it, is rooted in the Cartesian Reductionist view that everything, including us, is a machine and can therefore be successfully manipulated like a machine. In a balanced mind:
the right hemisphere sees things whole, and in their context, where the left hemisphere sees things abstracted from context, and broken into parts, from which it then reconstructs a ‘whole’: something very different. And it also turns out that the capacities that help us, as humans, form bonds with others – empathy, emotional understanding, and so on – which involve a quite different kind of attention paid to the world, are largely right-hemisphere functions.Again those familiar with Lakoff will identify the progressive mentality reflected in this snapshot of the right brain's role.
He speaks about the way the left brain processes the input from our senses about the real world outside of us presented to it by the right brain and turns it into seeing what we want to see:
This processing eventually becomes so automatic that we do not so much experience the world as experience our representation of the world. The world is no longer ‘present’ to us, but ‘re-presented’, a virtual world, a copy that exists in conceptual form in the mind.Many of us have written about Causality and complexity: the myth of objectivity in science. and this is not the first work making this clear. It is the first work that does it in such detail and with such depth into the way we percieve our world.
His conclusion merges nicely with ours and it spells out a necessary political agenda that goes way beyond the politics we are struggling with now. We need to win the coming election if only to prevent a further giant step backwards. But the real job makes that look like a minor exercise in comparison. Fortunately, the academic community is waking up and many very effective voices are joining the growing chorus. This book is a must read before the election and we are working hard to make ours available as well.