The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Modern World by Iain McGilchris

Key Takeaways

  1. The world is becoming increasingly left hemisphere dominant. The last left hemisphere is focused on grabbing on utility on organizing while the right hemisphere is more empathic and bigger picture. The left hemisphere is seductive. It offers simple mechanistic answers to complex problems that makes the world less ambiguous complex and scary. However, in the past, the rise of this left hemisphere dominance has proven to be a precursor to the fall of that civilization as it cannot accurately account for the world at large. In addition, the left hemisphere is easy to vocalize. It is literally our center for speech whereas the right hemisphere has no speech. The left hemisphere is explicit and logical whereas the right hemisphere is more mythological which in today’s world is seen with increasing skepticism.

  2. The right hemisphere grounds experience, the left makes the implicit explicit, then the right integrates into a more cohesive and enriched whole. The right hemisphere is the master whereas the left is the emissary. However, the left can get overconfident and think it is the master. The right is responsible for synthesizing and is holistic, but the left’s point of view is more linear and easier to articulate, which is why it is often more compelling

  3. The redundancy in function between the two sides puts a lot of the specialization hypotheses to the rest. The author is more interested in the how than they what, the manner in which the two hemispheres do what they do. The what is more left brained, more mechanistic

  4. The kind of attention we pay literally alters the world around us, we are partners in creation. We have a grave responsibility therefore to understand our relation to ourselves and the world around us. Structure and function are closely interwoven it is incredibly important to understand that too. Having a better grasp of the structure of our brains and how they interact across hemispheres and with the world will enrich our understanding of reality.

  5. It seems like evolution is titled towards bigger brains that are less interconnected. Asymmetry between hemispheres seems to be beneficial as well. It could be that the different hemispheres arose to be able to deal with two incompatible types of focus – left for narrow and spotlight type focus, right for broad and loose focus. Again, attention is deeply intertwined with value, so understand attention is key. How we pay attention to something changes how we see it and interact with it and, if applicable, how it responds to our attention. Understanding how the brain works changes the brain itself

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