Praise for The Matter With Things

“At the core of the contemporary world is the reductionist view that we are – nature is – the earth is – “nothing but” a bundle of senseless particles, pointlessly, helplessly, mindlessly, colliding in a predictable fashion, whose existence is purely material, and whose only value is utility… I cannot remember a time when I thought this sounded at all convincing; and a lifetime’s thinking and learning has done nothing to allay my scepticism. Not only do I think it is mistaken, I believe, but actively damaging – physically to the natural world; and psychologically, morally and spiritually to ourselves as part of that world. It endangers everything that we should value.” (Iain McGilchrist, 2021, p 5).

I begin with this quotation from the Introduction to The Matter with Things. In recent years I rejoined the Scientific and Medical Network in search of contemporary thinkers, outside the Anthroposophical Society, who appear to be awakening to the spiritual in the human being and the cosmos. They may consciously or unconsciously be representatives of the Spirit of our time – Michael. One such individual, I think, is Iain McGilchrist whose writings and interviews I have explored and would like to introduce in this article.

His contribution seems to me to be as a key contemporary thinker beginning to turn round the current view of reductionist materialism, which still dominates our struggling culture. His view of reality and understanding of the human being and the cosmos draws on contemporary neuroscience, psychiatry, literature and philosophy – spanning ancient Greece to modern times. The references in his latest book The Matter with Things, (McGilchrist 2021) span 182 pages! The book itself is over 1500 pages, filling two volumes.

Read the full review here

Dr. Michael Evans

The Anthroposophical Society

Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter With Things is a work of genius.  It is the best book I know of on the science of consciousness, the philosophy of mind, and the cultural, social and spiritual implications of having a brain and mind structured to function as ours do. This major work of philosophy simultaneously displays profundity and breadth. McGilchrist is staggeringly learned. He combines a deep knowledge of the humanities with a mastery of the relevant neuroscience, to illuminate human experience and our world in new ways.  He offers striking insights into the fundamental cognitive and scientific categories that provide the infrastructure of human thought, such as time, space, the experience of flow and movement, truth and paradox, abstract and concrete experience,  illuminating not only some of the earliest unsolved paradoxes of pre-Socratic philosophy, but also many of most current conundrums in Western thought, and much in between. He explores, with humility, caution, and care, the mystics, the Kabbalists, the Romantics, and in this way grasps the sacred experience that science cannot easily recognize.  He shows us why modern life is in many ways so unsatisfying, and why humanity in the age of machines and computers seems set on a course to dehumanize itself, protesting vehemently even as it facilitates the flattening of modern life. Great problems arise when scientists absurdly describe ourselves and our bodies and brains as “machines.” McGilchrist shatters that devitalizing reductionism, while demonstrating how it has taken hold because of hypertrophied left hemisphere functions.  He realigns us, and biology, not with machines, but with the living processes that we are, which provides a deeper understanding of matter itself and its relationship to mind. Gorgeously and lucidly written, one passage after another called to this reader’s mind the word, “sublime” for the power and beauty of the accomplishment. Reading these two volumes, is like entering one of the greatest of the European cathedrals which are, in their structure and design—and architectural feats— thrilling and magnificent, but which at the same time always are pointing to something greater still beyond themselves. Like those buildings, they are a gift for the ages, and for me, companions for life.”

 

Norman Dodge, MD

author of The Brain That Changes Itself, and The Brain’s Way of Healing

‘A landmark new book suggests we are thinking more and more like machines, and risk losing what makes us human’

Brian Appleyard

British journalist and author, The Times

‘The brilliant polymath Iain McGilchrist has written about the curious things that happen when people suffer damage to the right hemisphere of the brain. They can still eat, breathe and make their way through the world, but they do so with a subtle — and in the end devastating — handicap. They cannot understand context or metaphor. As McGilchrist puts it, they are plagued by “literal-mindedness” ‘

Matthew Syed

British journalist and author, The Times

‘I loved The Master and his Emissary: this is even deeper.‘

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Our great polymath Iain McGilchrist applies his hemisphere thinking to the very biggest questions in a very big book. Do not be put off by the scale, the book can be dipped into profitably on almost every page and is accessible even to those of us not used to tackling serious science and philosophy. Written with wit and style by someone who seems to have read almost everything, it is a work of enormous scope and ambition to be returned to again and again. 
David Goodhart

Journalist and founder of Prospect

This is the most extraordinary book. It’s got evidence on every page of a mind that is stocked so richly and has meditated so long and so clearly on the most important subject we can face. I can’t recommend it enough: it’s an astonishing book, that will change many, many people’s lives.

Philip Pullman

speaking at How To Academy, 9 November 2021

‘McGilchrist builds on his previous work The Master and his Emissary and he shows again and again that the left hemisphere focuses on details and is overconfident, thereby missing the big picture (which the right hemisphere is much better at understanding) and the uncertainty that is inherent in life. Reading more than twenty chapters in which this message is proven through referencing the breadth and depth of research leaves no doubt that this thesis is correct. Even my left hemisphere was convinced … I salute Iain McGilchrist for his courage in writing this major work … I am glad that I read these books and I would recommend that everyone does. I believe that I have learnt a great deal from reading his work and that it will continue to have a positive impact on my life and that the same will be true for you, whether you agree with what he has said or not.’

Dr Annie Swanepoel

Writing in the British Journal of Psychiatry

It’s very simple: this is one of the most important books ever published. And, yes, I do mean ever. It is a thrilling exposition of the nature of reality, and a devastating repudiation of the strident, banal orthodoxy that says it is childish and disreputable to believe that the world is alive with wonder and mystery. For McGilchrist the universe is a constantly evolving symphony – a gradual unfolding of an epic story. We urgently need to attune our ears to this music – to re-enchant the world and ourselves, and to confound those who say that there is only noise.

No one else could have written this book. McGilchrist’s range is as vast as the subject – which is everything – demands. He is impeccably rigorous, fearlessly honest, and compellingly readable. Put everything else aside. Read this now to know what sort of creature you are and what sort of place you inhabit.

Professor Charles Foster

Oxford University, author of 'Being a Human' and 'Being a Beast'

McGilchrist shows us the world afresh, and ourselves within it. The matter with things is that there are no things, because all is flow and relationship. And the matter with political, social, and personal things is that we have lost the balance of our mental hemispheres. McGilchrist first shows us these hemispheres with great patience, care and thoroughness, bringing in a wealth of neurological and psychological case studies. Then he shows us the processes of life, whether in single-celled or in larger organisms and ecosystems. When we construe these processes through the metaphor of the machine we stretch that metaphor beyond breaking-point. Quantum physics is also equivocal on the machine metaphor; it is much more about relationship and the subtlety of being. McGilchrist gathers the voices in philosophy and the world’s wisdom literature which may help us re-learn how to think, to act and to be. From a vast reading he sifts what we need to hear, from penetrating Native American creation myths to Nietzsche, James and Whitehead. McGilchrist is singing a tune which gives to science and to art and to intuition each their proper kind and degree of attention. He allows us to respect our sense of the sacred, as long as we pay attention to it with the whole of who we are, bringing to bear all our gifts as fully as we each are able. He helps us to embrace the paradoxes of wisdom, such as that the rock on which we have to build is not an ego or a persona but a flowing mutuality. He grasps the sky with both hands.
Dr Andrew Stean

Professor of Physics, Oxford University

‘This is not a book that can be read quickly. There are too many thoughts, insights and often startling perspectives in it …There’s no idle talk; it’s so chock full of ideas that as a reader I simply need the time to digest every word and sentence. A good thing, too, that the book has such wide margins. I use them to take notes and add comments of my own, engaging in a kind of asynchronous dialogue with you. Thank you for this book, from the bottom of my heart. It opened ways of seeing and thinking about issues that go far beyond what’s covered in The Master and his Emissary, although they still build on it and anchor a lot of the arguments in neuropsychology …Your work permeates my thinking and grounds it in a way of feeling and being in the world that is authentic and true and helpful when it comes to positioning myself vis-à-vis my fellow human beings in a very humane manner … It has changed my style of talking to and relating to my students, too. I am trying to pass on to them the insights I have gained from your work at every turn.  The Matter with Things is a book for the ages.’

Professor Oliver Schultheiss

Chair for Experimental Psychology, Motivation, and Affective Neuroscience, Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen

A magnificent achievement. The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist’s earlier tour de force, ranks as a game-changer. It doesn’t so much undermine common understandings of rationality as reframe them. The Matter with Things builds on that foundation, confirming the author’s status as a leading contemporary polymath. With rarely matched clarity as well as deep learning, McGilchrist demonstrates not just that there is more to the world than matter, but also that there is more to matter itself than grasped by the shallow materialisms of our age.

Rupert Shortt

Von Hugel Institue, University of Cambridge, author of 'Outgrowing Dawkins; God for Grown-Ups'

In The Matter with Things, Iain McGilchrist confirms his place among the rare voices of sanity with whom we are blessed. For me, that puts him in the company of Gregory Bateson, Mary Midgley, Paul Feyerabend, Jan Zwicky, William James, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Val Plumwood, D.W. Winnicott and Michel de Montaigne. I hope the world will listen.

Patrick Curry

author of 'Ecological Ethics and Enchantment: Wonder in Modern Life'

The Matter with Things is a work of remarkable inspiration and erudition, written with the soul and subtlety of a poet, the precision of a philosopher, and the no- nonsense grounding of a true scientist. In its pages, neuropsychology comes into conversation with philosophy, physics with poetry. Its author shows not just how our divided mind and brain makes us human, but how this gives us the potential both to understand and to misunderstand the world.

Iain McGilchrist’s book considers both great sources of awe and admiration: the starry heavens above as well as the mental life within. The author first offers intertwined analyses of brain function, cognition, and the structure of knowledge. Then he climbs his three-fold cord to a place from which one can survey the ultimate mysteries—the relationship of mind to matter, the concept of life, the contested role of purpose in the universe, and the nature of the sacred. McGilchrist is the most generous and talented of writers: his fluid account, brilliantly and beautifully argued—and meticulously researched—brings us along with him, step by step, until we too can discern the horizons of a reconfigured world.

McGilchrist’s appreciation of ambiguity and paradox only enhances the clarity and vitality of his thought. This is a book of surpassing, even world-historical ambition, and—still more rare—one that delivers on its promise.’

Professor Louis Sass

Distinguished Professor, Rutgers University, author of 'Madness and Modernism' and of 'The Paradoxes of Delusion'

‘Undoubtedly the best and profoundest description of the anatomy and function of our two brain hemispheres and of the different ways of our “being in the world” … a great achievement and an enormous gift.’
Professor Jürg Kesselring

University of Bern, and Neuroscience Center Zürich (ZNZ)

‘Breath-taking … a lifetime’s worth of knowledge and wisdom … I have never before encountered anything quite like it’
Philip Ball

contributing editor, Nature

‘There’s nothing else out there like this book    The writing is friendly, even witty, the breadth of knowledge astounding.’ 
Sir Tom Stoppard

While the scientific revolution produced many benefits, the scientific perspective omits purpose and value, without which life is meaningless. With The Matter With Things, Iain McGilchrist makes a valuable contribution to the body of poetry, literature, psychology, and philosophy that has rebelled against scientism and sought to give a more expansive, spiritual, and humane view of us and the cosmos. His deep understanding of the way the left and right hemispheres of our brains deal with the world provides a useful framework for thinking about what gets left out of the scientific worldview. Even were the hemispheric differences to be understood as a metaphor, and they are far more than that, McGilchrist has provided a vocabulary for referring to things which are by their nature hard to express or point at. The process began with The Master and His Emissary but is taken much further with The Matter With Things. Interestingly, some of what has taken place culturally and linguistically has rather exact parallels in the realm of madness and developmentally derived mental pathologies. His fellow psychiatrist, to whom McGilchrist appeals, Louis A. Sass, author of Madness and Modernity, concurs. The cynics and skeptics, those lacking imagination, those convinced that humans are robots and nothing more, have the easy task of heaping contempt on those of us who are none of those things. This teenage mode of asserting one’s superiority; the ones who consider themselves willing to face the truth that man is “nothing but” a mechanical doll; a collection of atoms and molecules following its programming, resembles, in significant ways, the schizophrenic, the autistic, and the psychopathic. The first two, at least, have trouble recognizing the reality of both themselves and other people. The right hemisphere is responsible for our intuitive sense of the reality of the world around us, and this sense can be compromised when things go wrong and these abilities are harmed.

Read the full review here

Reference list here

Dr. Richard Cocks

Associate Editor of VoegelinView

‘If we draw only on the left side of the brain, our culture paints a narrow picture composed via the hyper-specialism which bedevils contemporary intellectual life. In this sorry state, we badly need that now-almost-vanishingly rare personage, the true polymath. In Iain McGilchrist, in the nick of time, we have one. In this book, he draws quite magnificently on his post-disciplinary erudition precisely to explain how very much we lose when we draw only on the left hemisphere.

If you want to understand why curiosity is in vogue but wonder is not; or why we aim directly at happiness and in doing so ineluctably become less happy; or why we like to talk about ‘the environment’ while Nature, upon which we utterly depend, we quietly desecrate; if you yearn to comprehend and question the rise of a desperate clinging to ‘identity’ within both the Left and the Right of politics; or if the way our civilisation tends to model human beings as machines disturbs or hurts you, then please read this book; for it sheds a profound light on these and so many other literally vital questions. If it were widely heeded, then perhaps, even at this late hour, our civilisation’s merry march to a slow and brutal suicide might be halted. For this book is that most valuable of possible books: The Matter With Things is nothing less than a work of genius, diagnosing our dire predicament in full, and offering a way, instead.’

Professor Rupert Read

Professor of Philosophy, University of East Anglia, author of 'Wittgenstein's Liberatory Philosophy', 'This Civilisation is Finished' and 'Parents for a Future'

Occasionally a book of astonishing depth and breadth emerges to surprise the world. “The Matter with Things” is one of those books. It is a work of profound insights bridging the gap between science and philosophy, between pragmatism and idealism, between matter and consciousness and of course between the left and the right hemispheres of the brain!

“The Matter with Things” is a magnum opus of Iain McGilchrist. He has built his case with amazing scholarship, drawing together the latest science, ancient wisdom and poetry. In two volumes he weaves a tapestry of spirituality, psychology and neurology. The chapter on A Sense of the Sacred is the jewel in the crown of this encyclopaedic book. The entire work is a synthesis of intuition and intellect, honouring the appropriate roles of the two hemispheres of the brain.

Reading “The Matter with Things” has nourished my soul. I wholeheartedly recommend this masterpiece to all those who are looking for a way out of the modern malaise

Satish Kumar

Editor Emeritus, Resurgence & Ecologist and Founder of Schumacher College

Network Book Prize 2021

David Lorimer writes:

The Scientific and Medical Network Book Prize has been awarded annually since 1992 for the most significant book or books published by Members during the year. Over fifty books have been singled out during that period.

The quality and number of significant books published by Members in 2021 is unprecedented since the inauguration of the Prize. The outstanding book of the year is undoubtedly The Matter with Things by Dr Iain McGilchrist, who also received the 2009 Prize for The Master and his Emissary. In view of this Iain is awarded the Grand Prize for his Herculean achievement running to 1,600 pages and based on 5,700 references. See www.channelmcgilchrist.com

In 1890, William James published his ground-breaking Principles of Psychology in two volumes amounting to nearly 1,400 pages. 130 years later comes a work of comparable magnitude and genius, Iain McGilchrist’s Magnum Opus The Matter with Things, also in two volumes and based on a staggering 5,700 references. This makes Iain the William James of our time, and indeed he quotes extensively from many of his books. In Iain’s case, his work might have been entitled Hemispheric Principles/Foundations of Neuropsychology and Philosophy: it represents a Principia in the field and is in my view the most important seminal work of philosophy in the broadest sense since the publication of Process and Reality by A.N. Whitehead in 1929.

We would also like to recognise other 2021 Members’ books with a share of the prize – each of these would have been a winner in an ordinary year!

  • Federico Faggin – Silicon
  • Prof Bruce Greyson – After
  • Prof Neal Grossman – Conversations with Socrates and Plato
  • Dr Bill Plotkin – The Journey of Soul Initiation
  • Prof Rolf Sattler – Science and Beyond
  • Dr Steve Taylor – Extraordinary Awakenings (also recognising his Spiritual Science from 2018)
  • Rev Prof Stephen Wright – Heartfullness

Other books of similar depth and scope were published earlier but reviewed this year and we’d like to single out:

  • Richard Grossinger – Bottoming out the Universe
  • Yvonne Kason MD – Touched by the Light
David Lorimer

David Lorimer has been editor of the Journal of the Scientific and Medical Network since No. 32 in 1986 – the current issue is 140

When pointing towards inanimate objects, chimpanzees use their right hand, whereas when pointing towards living creatures, they do it with their left. Such a striking difference can, to some extent, also be noticeable in humans: for grasping things, we mainly use our right hand, while exploration is instinctually done with the left hand. What does this have to say about the nature of truth, the hard problem of consciousness, or the existence of God? Quite a lot, according to Iain McGilchrist’s recent magnum opus, The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World.

Read full review

Marius Dorobantu

Journal source: Reviews in Science, Religion and Theology, 2023, 2-1, pp. 6-17.

Iain McGilchrist can rightly be called a renaissance man, both metaphorically and literally. His range of knowledge and professional interests are exceptional. Is there another neuroscientist who has also been a literary scholar, or philosopher who has worked as a consultant psychiatrist? This gifted man now strives to bring about a ‘rebirth’ of the proper way to understand ourselves, the world and our relationship to it and one another.

Read full review

Richard Gault

Beshara Magazine

—¿cómo explica que la división del trabajo entre los dos hemisferios cerebrales pueda proporcionar información clave sobre la naturaleza humana?

—Como prácticamente todos los animales, hemos evolucionado para tener dos centros de conciencia, no solo uno. Dos lugares de conciencia del mundo. Esto es porque tenemos que aprender a agarrar las cosas, sostenerlas, a comerlas, a usarlas, pero también tenemos que ser capaces de ver la imagen completa al mismo tiempo, y esto requiere dos tipos completamente diferentes de atención al mundo. Una está apuntada a un detalle, la otra es amplia, expansiva, sostenida en el tiempo y da una imagen completa

Leer más

Jorge Fontevecchia

PERfil - REPORTAJE

In a new book of remarkable inspiration and erudition, a retired consultant psychiatrist who lives on the Isle of Skye argues that we have become enslaved by an account of ‘things’ dominated by the brain’s left hemisphere, blinding us to an awe-inspiring reality that is all around us.

Read full review

Ronan Sharkey

The Tablet

Psychiatrist and researcher, Dr Iain McGilchrist is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking book, The Master and his Emissary, which received international acclaim. His new magnum opus has recently been published and here he discusses what he aimed to achieve in writing it.

Read full review

Caduceus

The dust jacket of The Matter With Things quotes a large statement from an Oxford professor:

This is one of the most important books ever published.
And, yes, I do mean ever.

Can any contemporary work withstand such praise?

Read full review

Jonathan Gaisman

The Spectator

Genius from Skye who’s written one of the most important books EVER published.

…so say critics of Dr Iain McGilchrist’s brilliant new book, in which he sets out to explain what’s gone wrong with the modern world. And importantly, how we can actually do something about it.

What is the matter with things? There may be as many short answers to the question as there are people in the world lamenting its many failings.

Read full review

Jonathan Brocklebank

Scottish Daily Mail

McGilchrist rose to intellectual fame with his 2009 book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Across 600 or so pages, he argued that there was a significant difference between the brain’s left and right hemispheres—a difference so important it could help to explain the history of western civilisation…

Read full review

Nick Spencer

Prospect