Left Brain, Right Brain

“Things change according to the stance we adopt to them, the type of attention we pay to them, the disposition we hold in relation to them.”

Iain McGilchrist, from The Master & His Emissary

The left hemisphere of the brain has been characterised as being realistic, rational, and dull. It is preoccupied with being ‘correct’, and understanding ‘what’ something does. The right, on the other hand, is impressionistic, creative and exciting. It can interpret metaphor and understand nuance by dealing with ‘whole’ (i.e. the gestalt) pieces of information.

While these generalisations of hemispheric differences have been challenged (in fact, both hemispheres of the brain seem to be involved in almost everything we do), there is little doubt that the issues of brain asymmetry and hemisphere specialisation are significant.

In his magnificent book The Master & His Emissary, consultant psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist makes the compelling argument that our world and our culture are reflections of left brain dominance. Here resides our ability to look to the future, make plans and determine sequences of cause and effect. Coinciding with the advent of industrialisation, this disposition has allowed us to build and produce and grow.

However, this mode of being has been challenged in recent weeks. For many of us, our carefully crafted visions and goals are like ghosts. We’ve realised, more than ever, our ability to impose our will on the future is limited.

Maybe this is an injunction to us to think differently. To let the functional, logical, deterministic part of our brain step back and give space for the creative, innovative, expressive part to dominate. If we let it, the hard wired and embodied wisdom of the right hemisphere will help us make sense of this situation and consider the bigger picture. It will support us to tune into our intuitions and emotions, and will present connections and opportunities.