Think Spiral: The Divided Brain And Classical Liberalism

Daniel B. Klein

This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article to be published in Society. The final authenticated version is available online here.

Iain McGilchrist richly explains the right and left hemispheres of the brain, how each functions and what each tends to do. This paper serves, firstly, as a primer to McGilchrist’s fascinating exposition. Second, it offers a formulation that uses a spiral to structure the iterative and layered relationship. Third, it presents McGilchrist’s concerns about how modernity has enfeebled the right hemisphere, and how the left hemisphere is, at it were, running amok. Fourth, it considers some of McGilchrist’s political overtones. Sharing McGilchrist’s concerns, finally, I elaborate why they might lead us to look to classical liberalism as the best way to avoid the traps of the left hemisphere, to invigorate the health of the right hemisphere, and to cope with modernity.

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.1

[V]ery little brain activity is in fact conscious (current estimates are certainly less than 5 per cent, and probably less than 1 per cent).2

Only recently have I discovered the work of Iain McGilchrist, a British psychiatrist and literary scholar, a humane, charming, and brilliant man, and author of an important book: The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (2009).3 McGilchrist explains the divided brain-the division being between right and left hemispheres. Each hemisphere does different things. He cites a lot of science to back it up. I find him credible on the science.

When I discovered McGilchrist, it made sense to me. The distinction between the respective doings fit how I had thought about the brain’s doings.4 But I didn’t know to tag them “right” and “left.” I take McGilchrist’s word for it and hop on that train.

I offer a formulation, using a spiral. The spiral formulation is my way of explicating the divided brain. I hope people will comment on whether it’s apt. I have had the good fortune to meet McGilchrist and try out the spiral formulation presented below. Although the conversation was brief, his reaction was kindly and favorable, and it heartened me to undertake the present essay.

McGilchrist suggests that our modern world drives us into left-hemisphere ruts, leaving our right hemisphere inert, losing contact with higher things, forsaking spiritual participation in higher things. Our doings lack upward vitality and come to feel empty and meaningless. McGilchrist speaks to policy and politics but mostly in vague terms. He warns against soulless bureaucracy, laments aspects of “capitalism” and “consumerism,” and favors connectedness and tradition. I accept much of his treatment of modern society. I share McGilchrist’s concern for right-hemisphere revitalization and upward vitality. But in my view McGilchrist’s insights ought to move us to endorse classical liberalism, which maintains a presumption against the governmentalization of social affairs.

Left and Right: Doing Things Right and Doing the Right Thing

Suppose that during some weeks or months you’ve nursed a sense of inspiration, and now you feel resolved that some pursuit or goal or plan is worthy. So now you are decided.

To you it’s a pretty big thing, so I use big letters and italics: THING.

As for your sense of its worthiness, maybe it flows from your immersion in a social problem, for example, youth gang violence, and you decide that doing THING would help. Or maybe it flows from a sense of what would actualize your own potential and sense of joy and fulfillment, maybe marriage or a career path.Your doing THING would make your life better. The two sources of worthiness are not so distinct and separate; both can be related to the betterment of the whole of humankind. You are part of that whole, so bettering your part betters the whole. Your efforts are usually more effective close to home, so you’re justified in keeping the focus close to home.

Doing THING entails doing things. These are small in relation to THING, so I use small letters: things. But I introduce a subscript i to designate the relationship between the referent THING and the referent things: Thus, thingsi are the small things that constitute the steps or elements involved in effecting THINGi.

McGilchrist’s 2009 book on the divided brain is titled The Master and His Emissary. The “master” is the right hemisphere that looks upward, that senses the vastness of the world, that comes to some understanding of its place in the larger cosmos, and resolves on THINGi. The master has an “emissary”-an agent or executor-the left hemisphere -who does not decide the plan but sees to carrying it out.

The right hemisphere feels the world and decides THINGi. The left hemisphere ignores the larger world except to do THINGi by tending to thingsi. The right hemisphere looks up and arrives at THINGi. It then assigns to its “emissary,” the left hemisphere, the business (busy-ness) of executing THINGi. The left hemispheresees a THINGi-centered world and, from there, looks down to the business of thingsi. The left hemisphere prides itself on its ability to manipulate thingsi; the right hemisphere prides itself on its wisdom and worldliness.

The respective concerns are:

Right: Do the right THINGi.
Left: Do thingsi right.

That way of putting it fits the quotation at the head of this essay, a quotation I now adapt: “Management is doing thingsi right; leadership is doing the right THINGi.” The left hemisphere is emissary/manager; the right hemisphere is master/leader.

The logic of our duality presupposes that the elements of thingsi are familiar and manipulable, at least as compared to THINGi. The left hemisphere has a set of best practices and accordingly applies treatments, rather mechanically. As for the right hemisphere, its way of arriving at THINGi is less settled, less mechanistic.

To each corresponds certain sentiments. When the left hemisphere does thingsi right, the feeling is one of satisfaction or fulfillment. When it does not do thingsi right, the feeling is one of frustration and disappointment. The frustration may prompt an angry “God dammit!,” as though joining with God in reprimanding a bungling subordinate. It is directed downward.

As for the right hemisphere, the positive feelings in doing THINGi is, first, confidence and hopefulness, and retrospectively, affirmation. The negative feeling is, first, anguish or lack of confidence, and retrospectively, regret, remorse, or self-reproach; looking upward, we sigh: “Oh Lord, what have I done?”5

The Hemispheres and Their Sentiments

LEFT hemisphere: Sentiment in aiming to do thingsi RIGHT hemisphere: Sentiment in deciding on (or having decided on) THINGi
Positive Satisfaction, fulfillment In the moment: hopefulness, confidence
Retrospectively: affirmation
Negative Frustration, disappointment In the moment: anguish
Retrospectively: regret, self-reproach

The scheme informs other terminology. Kenneth Burke wrote: “If decisions were a choice between alternatives, decisions would come easy. Decision is the selection and formulation of alternatives.”6 We might associate decision with right hemisphere and choice with left. For problems, we might use error when there is a sense of regret over having decided on THINGi, and mistake for failure in executing thingsi. The right hemisphere makes errors where as the left makes mistakes.7

A Spiral Formulation of the Divided Brain

A friend greets Mary, “How’s it going, Mary?” And Mary replies, “Not bad!”

Mary’s sureness may reflect her good feeling about THINGi. But doing well is not a simple matter of THINGi. The essence of doing well is about something subtler. It is about upward vitality.

In the spiral figure8 below, we are looking into Mary’s face, so her right hemisphere appears on the left, and left, right.

We pick up the story in loopi: Mary’s right hemisphere comes to THINGi, which sets the left hemisphere to doing thingsi. In doing thingsi, Mary gains experience, perhaps fulfillment in the tasks; perhaps she becomes more adept in the elements of thingsi. Perhaps she discovers ways to achieve THINGi more efficiently, to make tinkering improvements. Or, perhaps she experiences trouble, from mistakes or bad luck, generating frustration and disappointment.

Meanwhile, the right hemisphere, wondering at the heavens, also looks on at what’s happening below, or receives reports. The sentiments of experience-whether satisfaction or frustration, whether affirmation or regret-inform and inspire the right hemisphere anew. The right hemisphere eventually rethinks THING, if only from the boredom that eventually sets in from standing pat with any particular THINGi. Moving forward, in the next loop, the right hemisphere decides THINGi+1, which sets the left about thingsi+1.

It is now loop i+1. But there need be no major jump or discontinuity; the transition from loop i to loop i+1 might be more like a key change in a song. The new THINGi+1 might be just a variant of THINGi. The concatenation thingsi+1 might closely resemble the concatenation thingsi. There is a sense in which loop i+1 has nested within it the preceding loops, a wealth of experience.

Life is an experience of growth, a diachronic experience. Even if we find we must sometimes change course drastically or even double-back, we affirm a wholeness to the days of our life.

Looking at the spiral shown above, representing Mary, as we wind through the loops, our hope is that Mary is traveling upward. Imagine a third dimension, rising up from the page. The hope is that the spiral is winding upward in wisdom and virtue.

The joy of life consists, not in coming to some definite THING so right and good, but rather in a sense of upward vitality-that is, the upward movement found in deciding, doing, experiencing, learning, reinterpreting, and deciding anew.For example, Jordan Peterson exudes a sense of joy, giving him charisma. When I hear him speak, I sense his looking and reaching upward, not merely rehearsing some settled THING. He seems ever ready to reformulate his own formulations. Yet, even as he reformulates, there is usually a deeper cogency.We sense his upward vitality. To use Ralph Waldo Emerson’s distinction, Peterson is Man Thinking, not mere thinking man.9 That sense of upward vitality doesn’t necessarily make Peterson a saint; there’s a lot we don’t know about his conduct in his world, and that’s the way it is in the modern world (quite different from the ancestral band). But the sense of upward vitality is a good sign.

Spiral and Upward Vitality in McGilchrist’s book

McGilchrist uses “spiral-like” to describe certain processes10 but does not use the word “spiral” extensively. Still, spiral clearly fits:

[T]here is an important shape here which we will keep encountering: something that arises out of the world of the right hemisphere, is processed at the middle level by the left hemisphere and returns finally to the right hemisphere at the highest level.11

McGilchrist says that activities pass “from right hemisphere, to left hemisphere, to the right hemisphere again,”12” made truly new once again”.13 A simple circle lacks progression, but a spiral has distinct loops, each higher than its predecessor. The left hemisphere adds “enormously much” but “needs to return what it sees to the world that is grounded by the right hemisphere” in a process of analysis and reintegration14:

The values of clarity and fixity are added by the processing of the left hemisphere, which is what makes it possible for us to control, manipulate or use the world. For this, attention is directed and focussed; the wholeness is broken into parts; the implicit is unpacked; language becomes the instrument of serial analysis; things are categorised and become familiar.15

There needs to be a process of reintegration, whereby we return to the experiential world again. The parts, once seen, are subsumed again in the whole, as the musician’s painful, conscious, fragmentation of the piece in practice is lost once again in the (now improved) performance. The part that has been under the spotlight is seen as part of a broader picture; what had to be conscious for a while becomes unconscious again.16

There is, in summary, then, a force for individuation (left hemisphere) and a force for coherence (right hemisphere)… [T]he ‘givens’ of the left hemisphere need to be once again ‘given up’ to be reunited through the operations of the right hemisphere.17

McGilchrist also expounds what I have termed upward vitality. He enlists from German Aufhebung: “The word…literally means a ‘lifting up’ of something”.18 He speaks of a “higher level” and “mounting the vertical axis”,19 and explains the difference between the hemisphere’s in their orientations towards high and low: “The right hemisphere sees the lower values as deriving their power from the higher ones which they serve; the left hemisphere is reductionist, and accounts for higher values by reference to lower values.”20 In my terminology: The right hemisphere understands thingsi as serving THINGi, whereas the left sees THINGi as nothing but thingsi.; perhaps it scarcely sees THINGi at all.

Friedrich Hayek warned against reductionism, the spurning of “metaphorical words” for understanding society; such spurning is a reductionist error in which “we deny the existence of what these terms are intended to describe,” says Hayek.21 It is the right hemisphere that rediscovers the ghost in the machine, and the narrative in a sequence of events.22 As McGilchrist says: “Metaphor (subserved by the right hemisphere) comes before denotation (subserved by the left).”23

McGilchrist writes of the left hemisphere extending its reach to grasp some particular thing and to make use of it, while the right hemisphere simply reaches out, without definite purpose.24 This reaching out is reaching up. The right reaches out for – longs for – something larger, alonger (hence higher) THING, and to belong,25 to commune with the sublime. As McGilchrist says, “the sublime expands and extends, not dwarfs, the being of the beholder.”26

Sympathy and Moral Experience Are Right Hemisphere

The upward, integrative urge of the right hemisphere is an urge that is fundamentally social. Much like Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and like Matthew D. Lieberman in his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,27 McGilchrist sees meaning, sociality, morality, and sympathy as a unified sphere, and the province chiefly of the right hemisphere.28 Also, our sense of justice, as well as fresh understandings of metaphor and humor, spring from here.29

“Because of the right hemisphere’s openness to the interconnectedness of things, it is interested in others as individuals.”30 Sympathy, or inhabiting the body of one like itself, is its way of understanding. “The right hemisphere is the locus of interpretation, not only of facial expression, but of prosody (vocal intonation) and gesture.”31 McGilchrist quotes Maurice Merleau-Ponty: “it is as if the other person’s intentions inhabited my body and mine his.”32 If a being does not regard another as a being like itself, it does not relate; it is adrift. McGilchrist elaborates:

When we put ourselves in others’ shoes, we are using the right inferior parietal lobe, and the right lateral prefrontal cortex, which is involved in inhibiting the automatic tendency to espouse one’s own point of view. In circumstances of right-hemisphere activation, subjects are more favourably disposed towards others and more readily convinced by arguments in favour of positions that they have not previously supported.33

It is the right that experiences inspiration, God’s breath (spirit) inside us, and that propels us toward exemplars,34 whom we emulate: “we become who we are by imitating the models of people we admire or respect.”35

All this is quite different from the left hemisphere: “It is the left hemisphere alone that codes for non-living things”; “the left hemisphere is unconcerned about others and their feelings.”36

Elusive Ontology

The ontology of Mary is the nature of the being we call Mary. The reader might ask: OK, so what about that ontology? What exactly is Mary?

McGilchrist dubs the right hemisphere “the master.” He says the left hemisphere is “parasitic” on the right.37 The reader might figure that Mary’s being is constituted by, or coextensive with, the right hemisphere’s activity, while the left is simply a part of the body, like the kidney.

But I don’t think that’s correct. First of all, McGilchrist says: “I do think a hemisphere can have a will”-something I don’t think he’d say about the kidney. Maybe the right hemisphere is the “boss,” but that boss is not the totality within which such bossing occurs. Maybe Mary’s ontology is more like the whole organization, not just its boss.

Also, the word “hemisphere” can be misleading. In global geography, the hemispheres north and south make the whole. But in the brain the hemispheres right and left are not all. In between is the corpus callosum, which filters or inhibits connectivity between the two hemispheres, and presumably is not merely another “emissary” of the right hemisphere.38 So the ontological Mary would subsume not only the ‘boss’ (right hemisphere) but also other agents who inhibit the putative boss.

And “hemisphere” is again misleading, in that right and left are united in the body: “everything below the corpus callosum – the diencephalon, the cerebellum, the brainstem, the spinal cord, and all the rest – and all that the body communicates to them second by second, they continue to share.”39 Certain “umpire decisions” may come from “as far down as the brainstem.”40 The system seems to be somewhat Madisonian: Other wills check the “leader” (the right hemisphere).

And the hemisphere itself can be unpacked. McGilchrist suggests that the cortex of each hemisphere prevents inappropriate responses, and thus “exerts its influence more as ‘free won’t’ than ‘free will’.”41 “This negation is…hugely creative.”42

“More than one will…does not mean more than one consciousness: so with one consciousness we can have more than one will, expressive of more than one aim.”43 Each of these wills, at any given moment, might be taken to be ‘Mary,’ just as a spokesperson can be taken to be the organization. But then there is Mary the soul, subsuming those wills, and that Mary, ontologically speaking, is elusive. McGilchrist writes:

Just as an individual object is neither just a bundle of perceptual properties ‘in here,’ nor just something underlying them ‘out there,’ so the self is neither just a bundle of mental states or faculties, nor, on the other hand, something distinct underlying them.44

The ontological Mary, in reference to the spiral, is neither the right hemisphere, nor simply the spiral, nor some distinct thing hovering above the spiral. Rather, she is the spiral and something beyond.

The soul is elusive. I think of Adam Smith’s “impartial spectator,” always elusive upward: Perhaps we meet a spectator and feel sure that he applies a set of rules impartially. But is the set of rules itself impartial? Do we ever meet a spectator who is impartial all the way up? Likewise, do we ever have a complete and final conception of Mary’s ontology? I think the answer is no.

Sometimes we have to content ourselves with knowing what Mary is not, as opposed to knowing what she is. Such knowledge, McGilchrist notes, is apophatic knowledge-of the soul, of the impartial spectator, of God – knowledge of what something is not, as opposed to knowledge of what it is.45

The upshot is this: The terms “master,” “leader,”and “boss” are apt for the right hemisphere only as regards its relationship with the left hemisphere. And as we know, putative leaders and bosses can be inhibited by their subordinates, even enfeebled, maybe evenusurped.

My 12,000-year Narrative

Our genes have changed somewhat in the past 12,000 years -more lactose-tolerance, more smarts-but basically we are still Upper Paleolithic. Imagine yourself in the ancestral band of 10,000 BC. Imagine how the right hemisphere was immersed in a definite, immanent social whole: the band of 50 people. The engulfing presence and vivid perception of that larger whole – the band’s well-being – must have invigorated the right hemisphere, vis-a-vis the left. Every day it gripped the situation. Immediate encompassing experience made palpable the daily changes that required the band to stop attending to yesterday’s “Doing things right” and rather to rethink THING, so as to “Do the right THING.”

“Invention is kept alive” – said Adam Smith of simple “barbarous societies, as they are called” – “and the mind is not suffered to fall into that drowsy stupidity, which, in a civilized society, seems to benumb the understanding of almost all the inferior ranks of people. … [Every man] is a warrior. Every man too is in some measure a statesman, and can form a tolerable judgment concerning the interest of the society, and the conduct of those who govern it.”46

In the ancestral band, experience continually prompted the rethinking of THING, and the conclusions of today’s rethinking was visible to all, and validated in group action. Those better at “Doing the right THING” were more likely to survive and reproduce.

Then came agriculture. With settlement and traditional society, kings and clerics led and tended the higher things, and worked to sustain an engulfing, encompassing interpretation of the whole as understood by their people.

But in the 1400s came the printing press,and interpretation was busted wide open, followed by print culture and “the public,” “the people,” the nation-state. Commerce expanded, natural jurisprudence provided an operating system of lower things, and liberalism sprouted and delivered both guns and butter, and ever greater complexity. After more twists and turns, we come to 2019.

But meanwhile our genes haven’t changed much since 10,000 BC, and the right hemisphere has lost grip on any definite interpretation of the well-being of the larger whole. It doesn’t know what to look up toward. Each hashis favored interpretations about the well-being of the larger whole and how to advance it, but thosearebroad and general, and there is little to be done in the way of rethinking them. The right hemisphere goes to sleep, or goes feeble from inactivation. Meanwhile the left hemisphere persists in looking down into the world it knows; it churns on with doing things right within that world. We become millionaires, celebrities, prize winners, vitae Vikings, feeble nonetheless in rethinking THING.

McGilchrist (2009) does not say anything about the ancestral band or the genes it bequeathed to us. What he does say, however, accords with my narrative. He suggests that from the year 1700 the right hemisphere has been losing its grip, leaving the left hemisphere to run amok. But before getting to socio-historical narrative, let’s consider the tendencies of the left hemisphere.

The Peril of Usurpation by the Left Hemisphere

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”47 Those words come from Abraham Maslow and the principle is known as the law of the instrument.

Here, hammer is a metaphor for one’s system of instruments developed and wielded by the left hemisphere: “the left hemisphere has most syntax and most of the lexicon, which makes it very much the controller of the ‘word’ in general.”48 McGilchrist invites us to see people hammering away with their preferred systems. Commenting on McGilchrist, Brent Orrell sees as an example the push for ever more STEM education, even though what employers now say is chiefly lacking is “soft-skill” social competence-character.49

Adam Smith noted that a man’s dexterity improves the more he wields an instrument, and that a man “saunters a little in turning his hand from one sort of employment to another.”50 McGilchrist says that the left hemisphere exhibits “stickiness”: “it only discovers more of what it already knows, and it only does more of what it is already doing.”51 With improved dexterity may come rewards, even pride and honor. The left hemisphere “builds systems,” “piece by piece, brick on brick.”52

The right hemisphere does not. Rather, it strives to rethink THING, to bring us to “an ‘aha!’ moment,”53 and hopes to guide or influence the left hemisphere. But “it is hard for the right hemisphere to be heard at all: What it knows is too complex, hasn’t the advantage of having been carved up into pieces that can be neatly strung together, and it hasn’t got a voice anyway.”54

The two hemispheres work on each other; the process pushes onward in the spiral. But the accumulation of experience grows so complex. We forget the discoveries and decisions that guided the steps on the path behind us, the reasons why. The world of things manipulated by the left hemisphere is a world that bears the legacy of the right hemisphere’s active participation: It is world deep within the spiral.

Still, that world can become ossified, the legacy neglected, vitality lost. The right hemisphere may find it increasingly difficult to rethink the big picture and grows more passive or perhaps dreams in a subconscious realm. Activeness is increasingly that of the left hemisphere, busy within the grooves. As it presses on with its systems, they become its world. “[I]n the absence of such concerted action, the left hemisphere comes to believe its territory actually is the world.”55 The person may show great activity, but less inspiration, less upward vitality.

Such a person’s left hemisphere “may come to think of itself as all in all,”56 leading the person to grow dismissive of the larger searching of the right hemisphere. We come to a point in which the “emissary” usurps the “master.” Here, says McGilchrist, the left hemisphere is prone to ignore the right hemisphere, and it may even “see the right hemisphere’s world as undoing its work, challenging its supremacy.”57

The Left Hemisphere Is Reinforced by the World It Makes

McGilchrist’s theorizing involves social context and incentives. He suggests that the articulate left hemisphere builds up systems that tend to exalt left-hemisphere virtuosos. He writes: “[P]assing on what the right hemisphere knows requires the other party already to have an understanding of it, which can be awakened in them; if they have no such knowledge, they will be easily seduced into thinking that the left hemisphere’s kind of knowledge is a substitute.”58

McGilchrist suggests a vicious social cycle: “[I]f a culture starts to mimic aspects of right hemisphere deficit, those individuals who have underlying propensity to over-rely on the left hemisphere will be less prompted to redress it, and moreover will find it harder to do so. The tendency will therefore be enhanced.”59 The system then “attracts to positions of influence individuals who will help it ever further down the same path. And the increasing domination of life by both technology and bureaucracy helps to erode the more integrative modes of attention…, much as they erode the social and cultural structures that would have facilitated other ways of being, so that in this way they aid their own replication.”60

One thinks of the film The Matrix: “Once the system is set up it operates like a hall of mirrors in which we are reflexively imprisoned,” “the left hemisphere has effectively closed off the escape routes.”61 McGilchrist speaks of”the difficulty of escape from a self-enclosed system.”62

What about Yoda-like right-hemispheric sages, individuals who avoid the traps and maintain upward vitality toward the larger whole? Adam Smith said that in modern society there might be wise men whose understandings are exceptionally “acute and comprehensive.” “Unless those few, however, happen to be placed in some very particular situations, their great abilities, though honourable to themselves, may contribute very little to the good government or happiness of their society.”63 McGilchrist helps us understand Smith: If the sage has a sense that is five steps ahead, he will have difficulty imparting his wisdom to others, especially if the first step requires their left hemispheres to reverse some habits, to disavow some beliefs, and to let go of the pride associated with such habits and beliefs.

The Societal Peril as Seen by McGilchrist

McGilchrist speaks of “the hubristic movement that came to be known as the Enlightenment.”64 I am not comfortable with that generalization. But there is something to what McGilchrist says about developments after 1700: The ways and tendencies of the left hemisphere advanced and gained prestige – in science, in political theory, in jurisprudence, in public administration, in commerce and industry. Without question there is a tendency in those fields to cut and divide things into pieces, to make those precise, to define any relation between things as yet another thing, to focus on such things in practical life, and thereby to hazard losing genuine contact with the larger whole. Cautioning us against that very hazard is one of the themes that looms large, however, in Hume, Smith, and Burke. Were they not Enlightenment thinkers? They admonished against left-hemisphere frenzy.

But I broadly go along with McGilchrist’s societal concerns, and much of his characterization of the problem. Intense specialization and complexification, “in an almost unbelievably short period of time,”65 have left people adrift as regards larger meaning, even unhinged.

Some might mention secularization. If people grow irreligious they might discard not only God but also any thought pattern associated with God. But our ethical thinking, I believe, follows the thought patterns of benevolent monotheism, so in discarding God they might leave the right hemisphere quite adrift. I would call myself an amiable agnostic, but I believe that growing irreligiosity is a significant part of the story of the right hemisphere’s enfeeblement.

As for ideological tenor, McGilchrist sometimes soundsleft-wing:

  • “Capitalism and consumerism, ways of conceiving human relationships based on little more than utility, greed, and competition, came to supplant those based on felt connection and cultural continuity.”66
  • “Since the rise of capitalism in the eighteenth century, when according to Patricia Spacks boredom as such began, an ‘appetite for the new and the different, for fresh experience and novel excitements’ has lain at the heart of successful bourgeois society, with its need above all to be getting and spending money.”67
  • “But it is the Industrial Revolution which enabled the left hemisphere to make its most audacious assault yet on the world of the right hemisphere… It goes without saying that this move is of the profoundest consequence for the story of this book, and underwrites the defining characteristics of the modern world.”68
  • “Anthony Giddens describes the characteristic disruption of space and time required by globalisation, itself the necessary consequence of industrial capitalism, which destroys the sense of belonging, and ultimately of individual identity.”69
  • McGilchrist describes “an unprecedented assault on the natural world, not just through exploitation, despoliation and pollution, but also more subtly, through excessive ‘management’ of one kind or another, coupled with an increase in the virtuality of life, both in the nature of work undertaken, and in the omnipresence in leisure time of television and the internet, which between them have created a largely unsubstantial replica of ‘life’ as processed by the left hemisphere.”70

At other times, however, McGilchrist associates usurpation by the left hemisphere with bureaucratic despotism, writing:

  • “The essential elements of bureaucracy, as described by Peter Berger and his colleagues…, show that they would thrive in a world dominated by the left hemisphere.”71
  • “What de Tocqueville presciently saw was that the lack of what I would see as right-hemisphere values incorporated in the fabric of society would lead in time to a process in which we became, despite ourselves, subject to bureaucracy and servitude to the State.”72
  • McGilchrist quotes Tocqueville on the tutelary state trying to keep citizens in “perpetual childhood,” under “a network of small complicated rules.”73
  • “The concept of the individual depends on uniqueness; but according to the left hemisphere’s take on reality, individuals are simply interchangeable (‘equal’) parts of a mechanistic system, a system it needs to control in the interests of efficiency.”74
  • In a society dominated by the left hemisphere, “we would come to discard tacit forms of knowing altogether. There would be a remarkable difficulty in understanding non-explicit meaning, and a downgrading of non-verbal, non-explicit communication. Concomitant with this would be a rise in explicitness, backed up by ever increasing legislation, de Tocqueville’s ‘network of small complicated rules’.”75
  • “Cultural history and tradition, and what can be learnt from the past, would be confidently dismissed in preparation for the systematic society of the future, put together by human will.”76
  • “Such a government would seek total control – it is an essential feature of the left hemisphere’s take on the world that it can grasp it and control it…but individual liberty would be curtailed.”77
  • “What if Fascism and Stalinism were…expressions of the deep structure of the left hemisphere’s world?”78
  • “Socialism and capitalism are both essentially materialist, just different ways of approaching the lifeless world of matter and deciding how to share the spoils.”79

Much in McGilchrist suggests classical liberalism. Maybe the best way for the government to keep the right hemisphere vibrant is for it to withdraw from social affairs.

Governmentalization Reduces Upward Vitality

By and large, classical liberalism favors reduction in the governmentalization of social affairs.

By “governmentalization,” I mean not only government restrictions on individual liberty, but government-sector institutions as big players, living on taxation and privileged positions — that is, government not only as liberty violator but as benefactor, permission-granter, employer, landlord, customer, creditor, educator, transporter, access-granter, grant-maker, prestige conferrer, agenda-setter, organizer, law enforcer, prison keeper, recordkeeper, librarian, museum curator, park ranger, and owner of myriad, massive properties and resources within the polity.

McGilchrist emphasizes the need for correction mechanisms, and he argues that the right hemisphere especially impels correction by tending to larger things – by rethinking THING while looking upward. The right hemisphere generates negative feedback, critical to correction. The left hemisphere resists interference. And a social system dominated by the left hemisphere generates positive feedback, and tends to persist in error. McGilchrist writes: “blindly, the left hemisphere pushes on, always along the same track. Evidence of failure does not mean that we are going in the wrong direction, only that we have not gone far enough in the direction we are already headed.” He speaks of a “zombie” persistence, and “[d]enial, a tendency to conformism, a willingness to disregard the evidence, a habit of ducking responsibility, a blindness to mere experience in the face of overwhelming evidence”.80

Government and politics are by no means devoid of correction mechanisms. But if we candidly compare correction mechanisms in government to those in private enterprise (preferably free enterprise, and enjoying no privileges against competition), the contrast is enormous. In free enterprise, support and participation depends on voluntary decision-making. Private owners feel the consequence of error and dissatisfaction. Communication flows relatively freely, because participants do not wield coercive power over one another. Whatever it is that participants care about – including social connectedness and meaning -will affect their decision as to whether to participate. All this is so different from government institutions, which lack robust owners, which subsist chiefly on tax dollars or privileges, and which often stonewall, prevaricate, and intimidate critics and opponents. Governments are not good at admitting their errors, nor at correcting them. As for “zombie” organizations, or denial in the face of overwhelming evidence, consider the government school system. Government ownership and production doesn’t deliver the goods, and it doesn’t conduce to upward vitality.The governmentalization of social affairs tends to degrade morals and culture.

Governmentsregiment and rigidify with controls such as occupational licensing, labor restrictions, and so-called consumer protection restrictions. They protect and privilege certain practices and institutions, when what is needed is more openness to evolving interpretations and practices, a love of the adventure of life, including the adventure of earning one’s keep. Free enterprise would best encourage the right/left symbiosis and balance that McGilchrist says is lacking. In a free market, private enterprise has to stay alert, nimble, creative. Where people are allowed to innovate and compete, rigidness is death. In a free market, participants in an operation depend on each other and have to work together as a team; they have to cooperate. If our attitudes would only allow it, if we would only appreciate the presumptive justness of pursuing honest income, we would better enjoy private enterprise as a beautiful scene of social connectedness. And if government restrictions were relaxed, work sites could more deftly expand non-wage attributes of the job into social life itself, including child care, schooling, housing, fitness, social activity, transportation, and basic health care services. It is governmentalization that enforces the cutting up and separation of social activities that otherwise would naturally exist together. Indeed, it is governmentalization – regulation, the tax code – that has artificially separated “for-profit” and “not-for-profit” private enterprise, a separation that has molded how people perceive “the economy,” “business,” and “the market.” The separation did not exist in America in the 1830s when Tocqueville wrote of the glory oflaissez-faire associative action.81 Alan Macfarlane has written about that glory as a legacy especially of Britain.82 As the spirit of Mufasa told Simba in The Lion King: Remember who you are.Remember. (Re-member.)

Tocqueville’s “small complicated rules” are troublesome especially to small businesses lacking expertise in compliance. Big businesses develop regulatory affairs divisions, achieving economies of scale in compliance, and small business cannot compete. If left-hemisphere lunacy characterizes big businesses, one driver is the tangle of small complicated rules imposed by government. And many of the restrictions are not so small; rather, they can shape whole industries, which are then beholden to rulers in government. Governmentalized social affairs are politicized social affairs.

McGilchrist writes of knowledge being flattened down to information, as exists within a uni-interpretational system managed by the left hemisphere. Again, such systems impose themselves on the social world.But that happens especially by governmentalization, for example by formal curricula, regulations, licensing requirements, and certifications required for employment in big-player government operations (e.g., teaching certification). Here is a lengthy quotation from McGilchrist that seems to describe a governmentalized world:

Knowledge that came through experience, and the practical acquisition of embodied skill, would become suspect, appearing either a threat or simply incomprehensible. It would be replaced by tokens or representations, formal systems to be evidenced by paper credentials. The concepts of skill and judgment, once considered the summit of human achievement, but which come only slowly and silently with the business of living, would be discarded in favour of quantifiable and repeatable processes. Expertise, which is what actually makes an expert (Latin expertus, ‘one who is experienced’), would be replaced by ‘expert’ knowledge that would have in fact to be based on theory, and in general one would expect a tendency increasingly to replace the concrete with the theoretical or abstract, which would come to seem more convincing.83

The bleak picture painted by McGilchrist makes sense for social affairs regimented by governmental controls and suffocated by the group think of government personnel. But absent governmentalization, it does not. When free initiative (commercial or otherwise) governs social affairs, the voluntary participants abstain if the concrete good is forsaken for abstract falsity. Funding, support, participation are withdrawn. Also, participants exercise voice. Abstention and voice are channels of negative feedback. Owners and managers are impelled to change course. And that is the beauty of liberty: decisive authority and residual claimancy inhere in private ownership and voluntary agreement, and signals-both pecuniary profit-and-loss and nonpecuniary moral sentiments-flow from freedom.

McGilchrist notes that social connectedness “predicts lower rates of colds, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, depression, and premature deaths of all sorts”.84 What sort of government policy best conduces to meaningful social connectedness? I would suggest degovernmentalization and “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way,” to quote Smith’s capsule description of “the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice.”85 The liberal plan allows people, moved by their right hemispheres, to reach out, to gain experience and relational knowledge, to create, discover, invent.86

McGilchrist emphasizes creativity – what I term upward vitality – as the allowing of things to emerge. But not all things. Improper or unjust things must be inhibited or negated, for otherwise our consciousness dissolves centrifugally and drowns in a welter of incoherence. The negating of multifarious things gives focus to the objects that survive the process of negation, and those objects give us coherence, meaning, and membership. “This negation is therefore hugely creative.”87

McGilchrist points out that very little brain activity is conscious: “current estimates are certainly less than 5 percent, and probably less than 1 percent”.88 What emerges into consciousness is described as things that have not been inhibited, as what has been allowed to ramify,and only then pass into left-hemisphere codification and manipulation: “we can only either permit life, or not permit it.”89

Classical liberalism places faith in the inhibitors within the free person, making for a social system of emergence and selection – an invisible hand. McGilchrist speaks of the right hemisphere as “the master.” Classical liberalism is liberal, in an ancient, pre-political sense. It allows the individual to learn to master himself, to govern himself, to gain mastery of himself. The individual does so by observing propriety in social life and cultivating the man within the breast-the conscience-which seems to operate chiefly in the right hemisphere. Propriety involves rules, allegiance to which is the sense of duty, forged and enforced through self-command. In all of this, too, operates an invisible hand.

But when the inhibiting is supervened by the government, the individual is demeaned and the spontaneous mechanisms of propriety formation,conscience formation, and self-command are usurped, stunted, and misdirected. McGilchrist provides a simile apt for governmentalization: “like a cat pushing a dead mouse about the floor in order to see it move.”90 Smith wrote of the “man of system” moving pieces, presumed lifeless, on the chessboard of human society. The cat kills the mouse to play its game, and the man of system kills the piece’s “principle of motion of its own”91 to gratify his conceit. Not that anything works perfectly or that governmentalization is all bad – liberty does presupposestable, functional authority92 – but in our stable polity, by and large, we do not need preemptive governmental inhibiting of would-be actualizations. This classical liberal faith is an affirmation of the dignity and responsibility of the individual when allowed to pursue his own interest his own way. Allow sin, to harvest virtue. Learning-by-doing applies to governing oneself. And pursuing life in one’s “own way” of course includes voluntarily deferring to proprieties and enlisting the guidance of parents, friends, mentors, doctors, instructors, middlemen, agents, and so on. Manifold voluntary relationships of relational inferiority are all part of one’s own way.

Smith said that passive sentiments tend to be “so sordid and so selfish,” while our active principles are often “so generous and so noble.”93 Smith’s reasoning is as follows: Action is inherently sympathetic, sympathy is inherently social, social contact arouses the man within the breast, who calls to us to be generous and noble. Thus, when passive, losing our pinky finger looms larger than an earthquake in China, but when active the earthquake looms larger.94 All this conforms to McGilchrist. The right hemisphere is empathetic, social, and upward-looking, and it impels generosity and nobleness. But all of this depends on the situation being active. Governmentalization tends toward the opposite: It throws us into a passive situation, into accepting the situation. You can’t fight city hall, or the mammoth school district, or the privileged labor union, and you can’t influence an election. Paul Simon’s words and music in “Mrs. Robinson” painted the truth:

Sitting on a sofa
On a Sunday afternoon,
Going to the candidates’ debate,
Laugh about it,
Shout about it,
When you’ve got to choose,
Every way you look at this you lose.

— Paul Simon

Sitting on a sofa, we tend toward sentiments sordid and selfish. Laugh about it, shout about it, and do nothing. Maybe now we take to Twitter. McGilchrist says that in a world dominated by the left hemisphere we see “fragmentation and passivisation, a loss of the self’s unity and capacity for action,”95 “an increasing passivisation and suggestibility.””In relation to culture, we would expect people to become increasingly passive.”96 Passive spells sordid and selfish. Governmentalization makes us sordid and selfish. Governmentalization strips us of activeness and thereby retards our generosity and nobleness. Every way you look at this, you lose.

Governmentalization is not only regimentation by rules and restrictions, it is also the groupthink of the personnel of the big players. The following quotation from Friedrich Hayek fits McGilchrist’s portrayal of a world dominated by the left hemisphere:

The organizations we have created in these fields [labor, agriculture, housing, education, etc.] have grown so complex that it takes more or less the whole of a person’s time to master them. The institutional expert…is [frequently] the only one who understands [the institution’s] organization fully and who therefore is indispensable… [A]lmost invariably, this new kind of expert has one distinguishing characteristic: he is unhesitatingly in favor of the institutions on which he is expert. This is so not merely because only one who approves of the aims of the institution will have the interest and the patience to master the details, but even more because such an effort would hardly be worth the while of anybody else: the views of anybody who is not prepared to accept the principles of the existing institutions are not likely to be taken seriously and will carry no weight in the discussions determining current policy… [A]s a result of this development, in more and more fields of policy nearly all the recognized ‘experts’ are, almost by definition, persons who are in favor of the principles underlying the policy… The politician who, in recommending some further development of current policies, claims that ‘all the experts favor it,’ is often perfectly honest, because only those who favor the development have become experts in this institutional sense, and the uncommitted economists or lawyers who oppose are not counted as experts. Once the apparatus is established, its future development will be shaped by what those who have chosen to serve it regard as its needs.97

Hayek here dovetails with McGilchrist. If McGilchrist gives classical liberalism a profound chance, maybe he’ll find something enduring and worthy. He writes: “We have no longer a consistent coherent tradition in the culture, which might have passed on, in embodied and intuitive form, the fruits of experience in our forebears, what used to form the communal wisdom.”98 If we search for “a consistent coherent tradition,” it will have to be elastic enough to accommodate the tremendous variation and change of cultural currents that characterize modernity. There’s no putting that toothpaste back in the tube. But if not classical liberalism, then what? Big-government social democracy? Our right hemispheres should be recognizing the alternatives that truly matter, and in comparing one to another, awakening ourselves to the “total effect” of each, as Ronald Coase put it.99

McGilchrist’s theorizing could be extended to academia today, with its self-validating, self-replicating monoculture and its so-called progressive research programs. “The left hemisphere builds systems, where the right does not. It therefore allows elaboration of its own workings over time into systematic thought which gives it permanence and solidity, and I believe these have even become instantiated in the external world around us, inevitably giving it a massive advantage.”100 The campus grounds and buildings sure are pleasing.

McGilchrist makes some remarks favorable to religiosity, specifically Christianity.101 Our right hemisphere naturally seeks for meaning by relating to a larger enduring Other – God. Domination by the left hemisphere does not necessarily extinguish that longing. It might simply redirect it toward its own objects of worship: “When we decide not to worship divinity, we do not stop worshiping: we merely find something less worthy to worship.”102 Along the lines of Tocqueville, I would suggest that many today have sacralized ideological objects in lieu of the idea of a universal benevolent beholder. False ideological Gods are indulged, and those Gods are inculcated, propagated, and enforced by the governmentalization of social affairs. A new mindset feeds on the instinctual yearning for centricity and immanence, features that afford terminus to the terrifying spiral of validation and interpretation. The mindset has been assembled piece by piece, brick by brick. Governmentalization becomes totem, altar, scripture, and clergy. It is the new centripetal force, promising cohesion and meaning, to fill the void. But it is a great idol dressed and propped up by the left hemisphere. Fouling the nest with denial,103 hypocrisy,104 complaining,105 boredom,106 and victim hood,107 the left hemisphere feeds the right a phony wholeness. Cowed and cornered, the right hemisphere fails to rethink THING suitably to the modern world. It is trapped in The Matrix, or perhaps asleep.”False notions of religion are almost the only causes which can occasion any very gross perversion of our natural sentiments”.108

Home from Market

Classical liberalism would unleash entrepreneurship and innovation in the market. Tradition and settled community are under constant challenge, much as Karl Polanyi expounded.109 But classical liberalism also empowers personal retreat from the market, as James Buchanan has pointed out.110 If growing potatoes on a farm in West Virginia is your thing, more power to you. McGilchrist could have cited Adam Smith where he writes: “increases in material well-being have little or nothing to do with human happiness.”111 Joy and the love of life depend on both movement and tranquility. In freedom, we are more apt to find our balance.

Classical liberalism invites us to rediscover what makes a THING worthy. Upwards vitality does not have to mean constant bustle. It can mean family, community, church involvement and support. McGilchrist tells us that the movement of life is not so much a linear journey from A to B, but a dance that “always ultimately returns to its origins.”112

What dance shall we dance? What dance can we dance? Classical liberalism empowers a long, slow, tranquil path upward, if that is the way upward. Maybe some souls are more inclined to everyday tranquility, others to bustle. Under liberal institutions we can get along. It is governmentalization that perpetuates tensions, leaves failures uncorrected, and arouses the sordid and selfish sentiments that Smith associated with the passive situation.

There’s no denying, however, that classical liberalism does not serve all human values. We’re not in the band anymore. Classical liberalism would deny us a strong sense of shared purpose, shared action, shared experience, shared sentiment, encompassing the polity-a polity-wide solidarity. Classical liberalism says: THING is your responsibility. But with classical liberalism, chances are good that we are raised up to a person hood that find sample resources to enjoy that responsibility and carry it off in becoming fashion, resources consisting not least of the healthy sympathies that flow in a free society.

In the meantime, shower the right hemisphere with the work of Iain McGilchrist.


  1. This quotation is found, as a quotation, in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Person Change (New York: Free Press, 2004), p. 101, by Stephen R. Covey, who attributes the formulation to both Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis. Hat tip to Frederic Sautet (link).
  2. 2009, 187.
  3. The publisher is Yale University Press. For a brief overview, see McGilchrist, How Our Brains Make the World, American Enterprise Institute, January 2019 (link).
  4. Daniel B. Klein, Knowledge and Coordination: A Liberal Interpretation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), chapters 2 & 7-10, and p. 271.
  5. Such moment of regret or self-reproach may subsequently accede to sadness or melancholy in thinking back on the whole matter.
  6. Kenneth Burke, Towards a Better Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966[1932]), 215
  7. Such terminology does not always fit common usage, as when we speak of a baseball player making a fielding error, or when we speak of a typographical error. Still, I think there is merit to this distinction between error and mistake. It is elaborated in my book Knowledge and Coordination, pp. 101-106.
  8. I thank John Stephens for making the figure.
  9. I borrow alluding to Emerson, who discusses Man Thinking in his 1837 address “The American Scholar,” from Deirdre McCloskey, who also exemplifies it.
  10. 2009, 145, 246.
  11. 2009, 126.
  12. 2009, 178. Likewise: 126, 131, 195, 203, 206, 207.
  13. 2009, 199.
  14. 2009, 195.
  15. 2009, 195.
  16. 2009, 195.
  17. 2009, 203,
  18. 2009, 203.
  19. 2009, 204, 208.
  20. 2009, 160.
  21. Friedrich Hayek, p. 27 of his 1933 lecture: “The Trend of Economic Thinking.” In Hayek, The Trend ofEconomic Thinking: Essays on Political Economists and Economic History, edited byW.W. Bartley III and S. Kresge: 17–34 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).See also Hayek, Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies in the Abuse of Reason(New York: Free Press, 1955), 81-82.
  22. “Narrative forms of thought are associated with the right hemisphere” (McGilchrist 2009, 191; see also 59).
  23. 2009, 118.
  24. 2009, 127.
  25. See McGilchrist’s treatment of longing and belonging pp. 390, 308, 367, 171-2.
  26. 2009, 363.
  27. New York: Crown publishers, 2013.
  28. McGilchrist (2009) says that “empathetic connection” is made possible by the right hemisphere (66); “Empathy is intrinsic to morality” (86), .
  29. “[O]ur sense of justice is underwritten by the right hemisphere” (86); on metaphor see pp. 115, 118; on humor p. 59.
  30. 2009, 57.
  31. 2009, 59.
  32. 2009, 148.
  33. 2009, 57. Incidentally, McGilchrist touches on an important linkage between Adam Smith and Isaac Newton: “[T]his attractive power (in the literal sense of the word) is as mysterious and fundamental as the attractive power of gravity in the physical universe” (159).
  34. On exemplars, see 2009, 433, 329.
  35. 2009, 121.
  36. 2009, 55, 58.
  37. 2009, p. 200.
  38. 2009 on the corpus callosum: 198, 210-13.
  39. 2009, 211.
  40. 2009, 216.
  41. 2009, 198.
  42. 2009, 198.
  43. 2009, 225.
  44. 2009, 137.
  45. 2009, 197.
  46. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, eds. R.H. Campbell and A.S. Skinner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 783.
  47. Abraham Maslow, The Psychology of Science (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 15.
  48. 2009, 229.
  49. Brent Orrell, “Crossing the STEM Divide,” American Enterprise Institute, 31 January 2019. Link
  50. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (Oxford University Press, 1976), 17-18, 19.
  51. 2009, 86.
  52. 2009, 228.
  53. 2009, 228.
  54. 2009, 229.
  55. 2009, 219.
  56. 2009, 233.
  57. 2009, 219.
  58. 2009, 229.
  59. 2009, 404, italics added.
  60. 2009, 408.
  61. 2009, 229, 388.
  62. 2009, 229.
  63. WN, 783. Indeed, Smith often suggests that wisdom and virtue are lonely and largely unheeded; see also WN 265-267.8-10, 651.24; The Theory of Moral Sentiments, eds. D.D. Raphael and A.L. Macfie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 62.2, 77.8, 155.43, 162-63.1, 192.11, 253.30-31, 285.31, 335-36.23.
  64. 2009, 329.
  65. 2009, 387.
  66. 2009, 390.
  67. 2009, 400.
  68. 2009, 386.
  69. 2009, 390.
  70. 2009, 387.
  71. 2009, 429.
  72. 2009, 346.
  73. 2009, 346.
  74. 2009, 431.
  75. 2009, 433.
  76. 2009, 434.
  77. 2009, 431.
  78. 2009, 392.
  79. 2009, 401.
  80. 2009, 235; for other passages on correction and negative feedback, see 231, 194, 244, 390, 426.
  81. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1945), pp. II: 111-119; see also I: 68, 95.
  82. Alan Macfarlane, The Invention of the Modern World (Les Brouzils: Odd Volumes, 2014), pp. 152ff.
  83. 2009, 429.
  84. 2009, 436.
  85. WN, 664.
  86. McGilchrist offers nice etymological remarks on “invention” at 230, explaining that it originally connoted dis-covering, or un-covering something that had already had existence.
  87. 2009, 198.
  88. 2009, 187.
  89. 2009, 230.
  90. 2009, 230.
  91. TMS, 234.17. Incidentally, I fully accept that Smith’s man of system critique is also intended as a critique of libertarian men of system.
  92. Erik Matson and I endorse David Hume on liberty and authority here.
  93. TMS, 137.4.
  94. If you’re not already acquainted with the pinky-earthquake passage, see here.
  95. 2009, 396.
  96. 2009, 432-33.
  97. Friedrich A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 291.
  98. 2009, 437.
  99. Ronald H. Coase, “The Problem of Social Cost,” Journal of Law and Economics 3 (October): 1-44, quote pp. 43 and 44.
  100. 2009, 228.
  101. 2009, 441.
  102. 2009, 441.
  103. McGilchrist (2009, 85): “Denial is a left-hemisphere speciality.” See also pp. 84, 235.
  104. McGilchrist (2009, 234): “Although the left hemisphere does not see and cannot understand what the right hemisphere understands, it is expert at pretending that it does, at finding quite plausible, but bogus, explanations for the evidence that does not fit its version of events.” “A sort of stuffing of the ears with sealing wax appears to be part of the normal left-hemisphere mode. It does not want to hear what it takes to be the siren songs of the right hemisphere” (235).
  105. McGilchrist does not highlight complaining, griping, and protesting as a left-hemisphere speciality, but if one considers the negative sentiments I offer in the table above, it makes sense that frustration and disappointment would generate such noise-making, whereas anguish, regret, and self-reproach do not. While McGilchrist associates sadness and melancholy with the right hemisphere (2009, 54, 85), regret and remorse are mentioned only in relation to literature, not brain research (233, 301, 367). I speculate that it is difficult to evoke regret and remorse in brain research because those are phase sentiments, emerging when one realizes one’s erring in life and then acceding to sadness and melancholy. So even if researchers evoke one’s past erring, the sentiment now is sadness or melancholy, and no longer regret, remorse, or self-reproach.
  106. McGilchrist (2009, 336): “The connection with the left hemisphere is again apparent in the relationship between boredom and the experience of time: no longer a lived narrative, it is static, eternal, unchanging.” See also p. 400 for the link to sensationalism.
  107. McGilchrist (2009, 432): “The left hemisphere [is] not quick to take responsibility, and sees itself as the passive victim of whatever it is not conscious of having willed.” See also p. 235.
  108. TMS, 176.12.
  109. Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (New York: Farrer & Rhinehart, 1944).
  110. James Buchanan, Property as a Guarantor of Liberty (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1993).
  111. 2009, 434.
  112. 2009, 447.