The Matter with Things – Prospect Magazine Review

Iain McGilchrist and the battle over the left-brain, right-brain theory

If we are to see the world as it truly is, the divide between the brain’s hemispheres needs to be healed

By Nick Spencer 

APRIL 2022

“Towards the end of his life, Charles Darwin looked back with sadness at what he felt he had lost. In a short autobiography, intended only for close family members, he contemplated how in his early years he “had strong and diversified tastes.” Some of these tastes were scientific, but many were not. He sat for hours reading Shakespeare, Byron, Scott, Milton, Gray, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley, while art and music also afforded him, he wrote, “very great delight.” 

From around the age of 30, however, as his scientific research progressed, Darwin began to lose all pleasure in poetry: “I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.” It was a similar story for art and music. Darwin lamented that “my mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts,” before wondering, “why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive.”

Iain McGilchrist might have been able to help him. 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…”