The Divided Brain

With the aid of rapid-fire animation, this video on the divided brain illustrates part of a lecture by psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

McGilchrist describes the right and left sides of the brain as helping us navigate two different dimensions of experience but not according to the oversimplified older model of analytical versus intuitive capabilities. Instead of looking at what the functions of the hemispheres are, McGilchrist describes what they do. The right takes in the overall setting of everyday life. It responds to people, sounds, sights and the unexpected. It broadens the view of experience to encompass the whole environment we live in.

The left focuses on the specific tasks we need to accomplish. It isolates whatever is at the center of attention from everything else so that we can make use of that one thing. Both dimensions should work together to give us full awareness, but McGilchrist finds an imbalance in the way we’re using these complementary ways of placing ourselves in the world.

He believes that our culture as a whole has emphasized the isolating, goal-oriented view of the left hemisphere. We have restricted our view of the breadth and larger relationships of living that the right hemisphere puts us in touch with.

His ideas about society are interesting, but what I’m especially drawn to is this picture of the way the mind relates us to everyday living. The tendency to narrow awareness and screen out the crowded fullness of life matches the narrowing of experience that I live with when depressed.

Let us know if you find this helpful.

2 Responses to “The Divided Brain”

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  1. Karen says:

    I thought the point about seeing the parts on one side and being able to stand back and see the parts related to each other, with wisdom, was helpful. When depressed you worry about one or two people who you feel in conflict with. With the broader vision you see that they are dealing with their own world and problems and your relationship is probably just a part of it. They are not setting out to hurt your feelings, but it happens because their context has made them irritable, perhaps. And you can see that a few words are not the whole of your life, not something to focus on.

    But it doesn’t work when the depression is in force. You can stand back and make yourself have the thoughts, but they may not make you feel better. Or if the cognitive work is doing what it is supposed to, you will feel a little better and on your way to more work and more recovery.

    How interesting it is to have this organ in your head that affects you in such profound ways.

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