Everything we come to know and experience of the world depends on the way we attend to it. For reasons of survival, our brains have evolved to pay two kinds of attention to the world at the same time, though for the same reasons we cannot normally become aware of this neurological fact. This delivers two versions of the world with distinct qualities. In the one, associated with the right hemisphere of the brain, we experience the world as live, complex, embodied, implicit, full of individual, unique wholes which are nonetheless inseparably connected, as are we with it as a whole. In the other, associated with the left, we encounter the world as a representation, full of static, explicit, separable, bounded, but essentially fragmented entities, grouped into classes – but mechanistic and lifeless. As their civilisations declined, the world picture of first the Greeks and then the Romans moved from a fruitful balance of these to the triumph of the left hemisphere’s view. We are busily repeating the pattern, perhaps for the last time.
About the Author:
Iain McGilchrist is a former fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and former consultant psychiatrist and clinical director at the Bethlem Royal & Maudsley Hospital, London. He has been a research fellow in neuroimaging at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, and has published original articles and research papers in a wide range of publications on topics in literature, philosophy, medicine, and psychiatry. McGilchrist is the author of Against Criticism (Faber, 1982), The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World(Yale, 2009), The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning: Why Are We So Unhappy? (Yale, 2012), and is currently working on a project entitled There Are No Things, to be published by Penguin. He lives on the Isle of Skye.