What Your Left Brain Won’t Tell Your Right Brain | Dr. Iain McGilchrist | EP 436

What Your Left Brain Won’t Tell Your Right Brain | Dr. Iain McGilchrist | EP 436

Tour update 2024 (00:00:00)

  • Jordan Peterson announces his new tour for 2024, starting in early February and running through June.
  • The tour will visit 51 cities in the US.
  • More information and ticketing details are available on Jordan Peterson's website.
  • The tour will focus on ideas from his forthcoming book, "We Who Wrestle with God," to be released in November 2024.

Coming up (00:00:40)

  • Peterson discusses the importance of time and matter in producing things of beauty and endurance.
  • He views matter not as an opposition to consciousness, but as a reciprocal aspect of it.

Intro (00:00:59)

  • Jordan Peterson introduces his conversation with Dr. Iain McGilchrist, a neuropsychologist with whom he shares an interest in hemispheric specialization.
  • McGilchrist focuses on the differences between the left hemisphere's reductive view of the world and the right hemisphere's more expansive and holistic perspective.
  • Peterson is interested in how this relates to the concept of the luciferian intellect in mythology.
  • They also discuss the connection between attention and morality, with both Peterson and McGilchrist believing that attention is a valuing process.
  • This means that the world presents itself to us in accordance with our aims, values, and attention, which has significant implications for how we perceive and interact with the world.

Hemispheric specialization (00:03:15)

  • Hemispheric specialization implies a kind of ontological duality.
  • The duality of hemispheric specialization is about both division and union, connection and distinction.
  • The Corpus callosum connects the two hemispheres in mammals and its purpose is to stop the other hemisphere from interfering.
  • The Corpus callosum is not keeping up in size with the expansion of our brains, suggesting that we need just enough connection to pass essential information between the hemispheres and inhibit the contralateral hemisphere.
  • More connection is not necessarily better, as it can lead to the signal being subsumed by the noise.
  • The brain is a filter that permits consciousness and filters what it finds.
  • The process of negation or filtering is part of creativity.

How the left and right brain hemispheres operate (00:08:21)

  • The right hemisphere produces a quick and dirty overall picture of a new environment, while the left hemisphere focuses on details.
  • The left hemisphere is quick and dirty in its thinking, jumping to conclusions, while the right hemisphere is more open and allows for multiple possibilities.
  • The left hemisphere is in service of our ability to grab things and tends to simplify, while the right hemisphere sees wholes that cannot be reduced to their parts without loss.
  • There is a paradoxical interplay between unity and multiplicity at every level of perception, and the process of the cosmos can be seen as an endless unfolding of something that is infolded.
  • Newness and familiarity are not mutually exclusive, and the right hemisphere allows for both.

Newness, grasping the individuality of the stimulus (00:12:39)

  • The left hemisphere quickly categorizes and abstracts stimuli, losing their individuality and power.
  • As children, we perceive the unique qualities of things, but as we age, we tend to focus on similarities and categories.
  • Wordsworth's experience as a child highlights the magical and present nature of perception before categorization.
  • It becomes challenging to perceive the "real palpable living presence" beyond the mental map of categories.

Dr. Peterson’s vision of complex knowledge, conceptualizing reality (00:14:13)

  • The author proposes a hierarchical mapping of complex knowledge, starting with patterns in the world and ending with the linguistic level.
  • This hierarchical mapping parallels the movement from novelty to routinization.
  • The right hemisphere is better in touch with the unconscious, while the left hemisphere specializes in abstraction.
  • Most of our cognition is unconscious, and our intuitions are often richer than our reasoning.
  • Intuition can hold multiple seemingly contradictory strands that fulfill one another, and it should not be quickly dismissed.
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The basis of delusion, how reason leads you astray (00:21:59)

  • The left hemisphere's tendency to reduce things to rule-governed algorithms can lead to delusions if the first principles are incorrect.
  • Schizophrenia can be seen as a condition where the left hemisphere is in overdrive and the right hemisphere is compensating for its hypofunction.
  • Confabulation is more important to the left hemisphere than truth to experience.
  • The left hemisphere is more interested in internal consistency, while the right hemisphere is better at accepting new information.
  • The right hemisphere is more interested in truth to experience, while the left hemisphere is more interested in internal consistency.
  • The right hemisphere is better at accepting new information, while the left hemisphere is more likely to reject new information that is inconsistent with what it already knows.

Network function as it relates to radical ideology (00:24:51)

  • The left hemisphere is concerned with internal consistency.
  • Confabulation is over-reasoning from a set of finite principles that are erroneous.
  • There's an overlap between confabulation and ideological reduction and totalitarian certainty.
  • The thinking on the radical left is based on a victim-victimizer narrative.
  • This narrative has algorithmic advantages because it has some truth to it and it can explain a lot.
  • It also has the advantage of allowing people to identify with the oppressed and feel moral.
  • The left hemisphere's tendency to oversimplify is one of its strengths.
  • Experience is at an all-time low in terms of its value.
  • We disattend to experience, intuition, and our bodies and feelings.
  • We over-regulate everything, including the tendency to over-regulate.
  • We think we have a simple theory that explains everything, and we don't have to think anymore.
  • Life is complicated, and we need to attend to the third part of the matter with things.

To what degree can we know anything is true? (00:29:06)

  • The book "The Matter with Things" explores the concept of truth and its hierarchy using hemisphere theory.
  • The left hemisphere focuses on simplifying information, while the right hemisphere comprehends and synthesizes information about the world.
  • The right hemisphere is superior to the left in attention, perception, judgment, emotional and social intelligence, cognitive intelligence, and creativity.
  • The right hemisphere is more truthful and reliable, while the left hemisphere is prone to emotional biases and contradictions with reality.
  • Prioritizing the insights of the right hemisphere leads to a more accurate understanding of the world.

Not all philosophy is valid (00:34:29)

  • Some philosophical patterns align with the left hemisphere's thinking, while others align with the right hemisphere's.
  • We can discriminate between philosophical positions based on which better correlates with the synthesis of knowledge from both hemispheres.
  • The right hemisphere is more veridical and open to the left hemisphere's input, while the left hemisphere is exclusive and believes in an either-or world.
  • We need both either-or and both-and thinking, and the right hemisphere can do this.
  • Epistemology is the study of knowledge and how we acquire it.
  • The left hemisphere is more analytical and logical, while the right hemisphere is more holistic and intuitive.
  • Both hemispheres are necessary for a comprehensive understanding of knowledge.

Science ends with personal truth (00:35:47)

  • The left hemisphere sees truth as a destination reached through a sequence of steps, while the right hemisphere sees truth as being faithful to one's experiences and constantly seeking knowledge.
  • Science has limitations and cannot answer all questions, especially those related to the spiritual realm and love.
  • We need to consider all sources of truth, including science, reason, intuition, and imagination, to gain a comprehensive understanding of reality.
  • The Coincidence of Opposites states that excluding things that don't fit prevents us from reaching the truth.
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All is one, one is everything (00:41:10)

  • The ideal state is not the reduction of everything to one linear pathway, but a balanced multiplicity of variety of viewpoints.
  • Tension between opposites is necessary for harmony and progress.
  • The left hemisphere tries to collapse everything into one truth, while the right hemisphere can hold opposites together.
  • The importance of flow and the perception that everything flows.
  • The externalization of the left hemisphere's simplified procedural way of thinking stultifies imagination, creativity, and progress.
  • The administrative mind, which is now the only mind that has control, is an expression of the left hemisphere's simplified procedural way of thinking.
  • Values are not things that we make up to comfort ourselves, but rather places in which we contact reality.
  • The perception that everything flows is not trivial.
  • We have lost this sense because we externalize everything into packets and think we put them together to make something.
  • Everything is modeled on the machine, but nothing in the Cosmos is mechanical except for the few machines we've made.
  • Complex systems are neither fully predictable nor chaotic, and they do not achieve their end by adding another bit towards a machine.
  • AI is the final frontier and the final Triumph of the left hemisphere.
  • The administrative mind is an expression of the left hemisphere's simplified procedural way of thinking.
  • It stultifies imagination, creativity, and progress.
  • It slows us down and is hugely costly.
  • It vilifies all kinds of people who don't fit into its categories.
  • Values are not things that we make up to comfort ourselves.
  • They are places in which we contact reality.
  • Scientists are now coming out and saying that it is hard to write a scientific paper without a purpose.
  • Values are increasingly important and should be the focus of our thinking.

Why is there life? The coincidence of opposites (00:45:31)

  • Life is costly and goes against entropy.
  • Life brings precariousness and suffering.
  • The ability to respond to a beautiful, good, and true cosmos is the purpose of life.
  • Max Shaya's hierarchy of values is a preferred hierarchy.
  • Intention as a moral act is a topic of interest.
  • The coincidence of opposites (yin and yang) is found in every culture.
  • Heraclitus, considered the greatest Western philosopher, emphasized this idea.
  • The Israelites were guided by a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud during their desert journey, representing the coincidence of opposites.
  • This coincidence reflects the underlying instinct that guides individuals when lost or escaping tyranny.
  • The DST idea of Yin and Yang is similar to the coincidence of opposites.
  • The spirit of God guiding the Israelites through the desert is portrayed as the coincidence of opposites.

The Kabbalah, ideas that reiterate across time and multiple religions (00:48:14)

  • The speaker mentions learning about key ideas in the Kabbalah from Christian theologians.
  • The speaker finds the ideas in the Kabbalah to be profound and true.
  • The speaker draws parallels between the interplay of calling and conscience in the Old Testament and the dynamism of positive and negative emotions.
  • The speaker mentions the Prophet Elijah as an example of the interplay between calling and conscience.
  • In the Kabbalah, there is a structure with two sides: CED (creative, constantly outgoing) and G (constraining element).
  • The speaker cautions against drawing direct parallels between the Kabbalah's structure and the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
  • The speaker emphasizes that dichotomies are not necessarily the same and should not be oversimplified.

How resentment maps with left brain overreach (00:51:11)

  • The left hemisphere of the brain is associated with reductionism, algorithms, and totalitarianism.
  • Pathologies of the left hemisphere, such as pride and resentment, resemble the mythology of Luciferian intelligence.
  • The left hemisphere's limited knowledge compared to the right hemisphere leads to hubris and the Dunning-Kruger effect.
  • Overreliance on the intellect, or the Luciferian intellect, can result in the destruction of good and the failure of projects.
  • Resentment arises in the left hemisphere when its theories fail, and the right hemisphere announces this failure with negative emotion.
  • Abandoning failed theories leads to the Exodus problem, where one is lost in doubt without the guidance of faith.
  • In cultures other than our own, there are different ways of navigating the realm of doubt.

Unknowing as a necessary step toward wisdom (00:56:21)

  • Unknowing is different from ignorance.
  • Ignorance is the lack of knowledge, while unknowing is the realization of the inadequacy of knowledge.
  • Unknowing is a crucial step towards wisdom.
  • The left hemisphere cannot tolerate uncertainty, while the right hemisphere is comfortable with it.
  • The right hemisphere is more aware of external information than the left hemisphere.
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The symbolism of the disembodied eye (00:58:07)

  • The Egyptians associated the disembodied eye with the god Horus, representing information-gathering attention and the ability to see beyond collapsed theories.
  • The eye at the top of the pyramid is an ambivalent image, representing both the tyranny of the intellect that overlooks everything and the potential for greater insights from the unconscious mind.
  • Psychotic subjects and people with schizophrenia tend to paint disembodied eyes, representing the tyranny of the intellect that suppresses the fertile darkness of the unconscious mind.
  • The unconscious mind is much bigger and more capable than the conscious mind, responsible for solving complex problems, scientific insights, falling in love, appreciating art, and personal growth.
  • The eye of the intellect, represented by the all-seeing eye of the panopticon, is associated with the Enlightenment and the totalitarian control of society.
  • The disembodied eye is a substitute for the proper eye, representing the totalitarian state's surveillance and distrust.
  • The eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings is an example of the totalitarian eye that monitors everything, representing the substitution of the eye of the state for the eye of God.

Consciousness and the divine ground of being (01:03:10)

  • The speaker believes that consciousness and the divine ground of being are inseparable.
  • Everything is relational, and God, the ground of being, is also relational.
  • God's creation is an act of love and a desire to be related to something.
  • Consciousness is not limited to humans but is present throughout the cosmos.
  • Consciousness is the stuff of the universe, and matter is a manifestation of consciousness.
  • God, as a creative force, unfolds and creates ever more beautiful and complex things, but does not know the outcome in advance.
  • God lacks limitation, which may be the reason for the problem of evil.

Why does the speaker see God in this way? (01:03:10)

  • The speaker believes that God is relational, and that creation is an act of love and a desire to be related to something.
  • Consciousness is not limited to humans but is present throughout the cosmos, and the speaker believes that consciousness is the stuff of the universe.
  • God, as a creative force, unfolds and creates ever more beautiful and complex things, but does not know the outcome in advance.

The spiral ladder to heaven, togetherness and distinction (01:07:43)

  • Jacob's Ladder, illustrated by Blake, is a spiral, not a linear ladder.
  • Spirals combine linear and circular processes, constantly evolving and transforming.
  • Knowing is coming back to a place close to where we started but one step higher.
  • Creation requires both distance and togetherness, like two heavenly orbs or a well-functioning couple.
  • There needs to be some distance, opposition, and permanence for creation to occur.
  • Matter is not opposed to consciousness but a reciprocal aspect of it.
  • Matter and consciousness cannot exist without each other.

Intention as a moral act (01:10:10)

  • Attention is a moral act because it involves prioritizing and valuing certain things over others.
  • Every act of attention creates a hierarchy of value, with the thing being attended to at the top.
  • Scientists often ignore the moral aspect of attention and act as if the value of their pursuits is self-evident.
  • Attention is a precondition for the observation of facts, so the facts themselves are shaped by the values and priorities of the observer.
  • There are different types of attention, some of which are more generous than others.
  • One type of attention is the "attention of a predator," which is focused on a specific goal and ignores everything else.
  • Another type of attention is "mindfulness," which involves being present and aware of things without constantly judging or verbalizing them.
  • Mindfulness allows the implicit moral order to speak for itself rather than imposing a particular value system on the world.

The way in which you attend alters what you find (01:14:26)

  • The way we attend to something changes what we find and what we look for in the future.
  • Our attention confirms a certain type of attention, which we then generalize.
  • Different people attend to different aspects of the same thing, resulting in different interpretations.
  • We should question what we take to be obvious and avoid reducing things to their usefulness.
  • A narrow focus on utility impoverishes the soul and leads to negative consequences for society.
  • Our attention literally changes what is there, as we build things based on our perception of utility.
  • This unidimensional focus on utility has negative effects on society, such as high crime rates and mental illness.
  • We should test our perceptions against other possibilities and keep an open mind.
  • The left hemisphere finds truth by closing down, while the right hemisphere finds truth by opening up.
  • We have lost many things that the right hemisphere offers, such as spirituality, true emotion, and fellowship with nature.
  • We have substituted stuff for relationships and measure success by how much we can get and how rich we can become.

The appearance of God as intuition (01:18:46)

  • The Old Testament emphasizes the importance of attention and focusing on what is most important for a harmonious and balanced life.
  • Abraham's story represents the call to adventure and development, offering blessings and a balance between self and others.
  • The moral act aims to achieve a harmonious balance and a multiplicity of vision, not narrow self-interest.
  • Intuition, as seen in Noah's story, is a form of communication from God.
  • The Tower of Babel symbolizes the dangers of totalitarian certainties and intellect worship, contrasting with the Old Testament's harmonious balance.
  • The Western world is divided between the "luciferian intellect" that promotes narrow thinking and the "spirit" that guides attention properly.
  • Attention is a moral act, and the world reveals itself according to one's intent.
  • If one only sees obstacles, it's worth considering whether their direction is correct.
  • Pride is a form of overreach.

How hemisphere damage impacts right/left functionality (01:24:55)

  • Damage to the right hemisphere can make individuals more obstinate.
  • The left hemisphere, when damaged, may become a worse tyrant due to its inability to understand or receive instructions from the right hemisphere.
  • The interplay between the hemispheres is crucial, and damage to one can significantly impact the individual's behavior and cognitive abilities.
  • The left hemisphere can become pathologized due to narrow technical or instrumental training, distorting its balance.
  • The degradation of the natural world, societal fragmentation, and other issues cannot be solved solely through human efforts.
  • A return to a spiritual vision that includes a place for God is necessary to address these problems.
  • The horrors of the past 100 years in Russian life are attributed to people forgetting God.
  • This simple answer has a profound meaning and resonates with the speaker.

The relationship between your brain and the spiritual (01:28:17)

  • The left hemisphere of the brain contributes to spirituality by codifying it into dogma and envisioning it as a means of securing power.
  • The most important spiritual contributions come from maintaining a sense of opposites, appreciating beauty, goodness, and truth, and dedicating oneself to something higher than oneself.
  • Calling is a specific and individualized experience that can transmute and change over time and should be attended to in its abstract conceptualization rather than its specific details.
  • Many things in life, such as healthcare and teaching, are callings that involve aiding others and should not be degraded by being capitalized or seen as mere jobs.
  • The left brain is more analytical and logical, while the right brain is more intuitive and creative.
  • The two hemispheres of the brain communicate with each other through the corpus callosum, a bundle of nerve fibers that connects the two sides of the brain.
  • By understanding the different functions of the left and right brain, we can learn to use both hemispheres more effectively and achieve a greater sense of balance and well-being.

Bridging the idea of flow to the spirit of play (01:33:35)

  • Flow, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, involves immersion in the present moment.
  • Play requires intuition and responsiveness to the demands of the moment.
  • Flow is about perceiving everything as a process, recognizing that even seemingly solid objects like mountains are constantly changing.
  • Schizophrenic delusions often involve a mechanistic view of the world and a fragmented experience of time.
  • Flow can be experienced when one is fully engaged in an activity and time seems to disappear.
  • Play can be conceptualized as concordance with the flow of the present moment.
  • Skilled professionals often act intuitively and instantaneously, responding to the demands of the situation without conscious thought.
  • There is a societal emphasis on following algorithms and documenting every move, which undermines skilled professionals and intuition.
  • The left hemisphere focuses on compartmentalized ideas and mechanistic thinking, which can lead to delusions and a fragmented experience of time in schizophrenic individuals.
  • The right hemisphere is associated with attending to the present moment and being in sync with the flow of life.
  • Flow, as discussed by the speaker, involves seeing everything as a process and recognizing the dynamic nature of reality.
  • Play requires intuition and responsiveness to the demands of the moment, similar to the concept of flow.
  • When fully engaged in an activity, time seems to disappear as one becomes immersed in the flow of the present moment.
  • Skilled professionals often act intuitively and instantaneously, responding to the demands of the situation without conscious thought.
  • Societal emphasis on following algorithms and documenting every move undermines skilled professionals and intuition.

Imposed mediocrity and the inability to avert disaster (01:38:10)

  • Learning a skill benefits from an algorithm in the early stages, but becomes a hindrance in the later stages of expertise.
  • Society enforces mediocrity by prioritizing rule-following over excellence.
  • Instrumental use of attention, such as immediate grip, has limitations and may not consider all factors.
  • Martial arts like Tai Chi and Jiu-Jitsu emphasize moving with the flow rather than opposing it.
  • Narrowing down to proceduralized actions reduces the risk of disaster but enforces mediocrity and fails to prevent algorithmic predictable disasters.
  • Risk assessment forms in psychiatry are ineffective and can project a mechanical, unempathetic approach.
  • An untrained nurse with 40 years of experience on the ward can be a more effective risk assessment tool than a risk assessment form.

What Dr. McGilchrist is working on now (01:40:56)

  • Dr. Iain McGilchrist is writing a shorter book on the philosophical applications of his hemisphere theory, which explores the different functions of the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
  • The book emphasizes that the left brain focuses on logic, analysis, and language, while the right brain is more holistic, intuitive, and creative.
  • McGilchrist argues that modern society has become too left-brain dominant, leading to a loss of balance and a decline in critical and creative thinking.
  • He suggests reconnecting with our right brains for a more balanced and fulfilling life.
  • McGilchrist also discusses the importance of challenge and difficulty in personal growth, as making things too easy can lead to a lack of appreciation and understanding.

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