‘Our talent for division, for seeing the parts, is of staggering importance – second only to our capacity to transcend it, in order to see the whole’
Channel McGilchrist is the official platform of Dr Iain McGilchrist. Since the publication of his groundbreaking book, The Master and His Emissary; The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World in 2009, his work has reached international recognition and acclaim. Described by Professor Louis Sass as “Unbelievably rich… of absolutely crucial cultural and intellectual importance”, his thesis debunked the old paradigm of the human brain. If only scientists had asked a slightly different question, says McGilchrist, that it is not about what the two hemispheres of the brain do, but how they do it, the quality of attention that they pay towards the world that is different; and it is how they attend that shapes the world we see and live in.
I believe that we are engaged in committing suicide: intellectual suicide, moral suicide and physical suicide. If there is anything as important as stopping us poisoning our seas and destroying our forests, it is stopping us poisoning our minds and destroying our souls.
Our dominant value – sometimes I fear our only value – has, very clearly, become that of power. This aligns us with a brain system, that of the left hemisphere, the raison d’être of which is to control and manipulate the world. But not to understand it: that, for evolutionary reasons that I explain, has come to be more the raison d’être of our – more intelligent, in every sense – right hemisphere. Unfortunately the left hemisphere, knowing less, thinks it knows more. It is a good servant, but a ruinous – a peremptory – master. And the predictable outcome of assuming the role of master is the devastation of all that is important to us – or should be important, if we really know what we are about.
Even if we could, by some miracle, reverse the course on which we are set, unless we change our way of thinking of being the world- the way that is destroying us as we speak – it would all be in vain. This is why I have written the last long book I will ever write: The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World.
In it I search out what it is we have lost sight of, all that is there for us to see, if only we were not blinded to it: an inexhaustibly, truly wondrous, creative, living universe, not a meaningless, moribund mechanism. By bringing to bear up-to-the-minute neuropsychology, physics and philosophy, I show not only that these are in no way in conflict with one another, but that they all lead us, time and again, to the same insights. And that this is not in opposition to, but rather corroborates, the wisdom of the great spiritual traditions across the world.
All this converges on a vision that is necessary if we are to survive; and, even more importantly, if we are to deserve to survive. What I hope for my readers is that, if they are willing to accompany me on this adventure, they will never see the world in quite the same way again.
The Matter with Things
Philip Pullman’s Book of the Year 2021
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