“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant but has forgotten the gift.”
— Albert Einstein
The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist is a magnificent book. In it, he explores the differences between the left and right hemispheres of the brain in unprecedented depth, gradually revealing the pitfalls of a predominantly rational, linear approach to understanding the world.
Many people have heard the idea that the left hemisphere is logical and the right hemisphere is creative. This is a myth. You actually need both hemispheres to reason. You need both hemispheres to imagine.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t very real differences.
In a lecture delivered to the Royal Society of Arts, McGilchrist offers a more nuanced description of their respective functions:
“The world of the left hemisphere is dependent on denotative language and abstraction. It yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed static, isolated, decontextualized, explicit, and general in nature but ultimately lifeless.
The right hemisphere, by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world but in the nature of things never fully graspable, never perfectly known.”
As you can see, the differences are much more nuanced than a simple logic/creativity bifurcation.
With this in mind, McGilchrist offers an interesting explanation about the world we find ourselves in today.
He suggests that for a time a balance was struck between the hemispheres. We made sense of the world by harnessing each side equally. But as Western civilization has continued to develop, the map-making left hemisphere has increasingly dominated our experience.
This results in a world seen in fragments instead of a whole. We are now driven by categories and rule-based thinking at the expense of the subtleties and significance of holistic insight.
If you want a deeper dive into Iain McGilchrist’s paradigm-shifting work, here are 3 videos that will rapidly expand your understanding of human nature and modern life: