WTM FAQ 1.46  Isn’t the source of humanity’s problems the divided hemispheres of our brains? / Isn’t the alienation of the modern world due to the dominance of the left hemisphere? / Aren’t we split off from holistic and empathetic perception of our right hemisphere? / What about Julian Jaynes’s theory of the Bicameral Mind? / What about Iain McGilchrist’s Divided Brain theory?


Unable to explain the real instinct vs intellect reason for why we corrupted our all-loving instinctive self or soul, one way that humans have sought to excuse our behaviour is by claiming it is caused by our brain’s detail-orientated, mechanistic left hemisphere becoming dominant over our empathetic, imaginative, intuitive right hemisphere. However, as Jeremy Griffith explains in chapter 7:3 of FREEDOM, the left hemisphere’s dominance is a product of the human condition, not its cause: “In the human brain, one hemisphere (the right) specialises in general pattern recognition while the other specialises in specific sequence recognition. The right is lateral or creative or imaginative, while the left is vertical or logical or sequential. The right has even been described as intuitive, thoughtful and subjective and the left as logical, analytical and objective. One stands back to ‘spot’ any overall emerging relationship while the other goes right in to take the heart of the matter to its conclusion. We need both because logic alone could lead us up a dead-end pathway of thought. For example, we can imagine that for a while our thinking mind could have assumed that the most obvious similarity between fruits was that they were brightly coloured; however, with more experience the similarity that proved to have the greatest relevance in the emerging overall picture was their edibility. When one thought process leads to a dead-end our mind has to backtrack and find another way in: from the general to the particular and back to the general, in and out, back and forth, until our thinking finally breaks through to the correct understanding. The first form of thinking to wither from Resignation [see Freedom Essay 30] and alienation was imaginative thought because wandering around freely in our mind all too easily brought us into contact with unbearable human-condition-confronting truths such as Integrative Meaning. On the other hand, if we got onto a logical train of thought that at the outset did not raise criticism of us there was a much better chance it would stay safely non-judgmental.”

Julian Jaynes was one scientist who saw the division of the brains’ hemispheres as being the cause of humanity’s alienation. In Freedom Essay 53 Jeremy addresses Jaynes’ theory of the Bicameral Mind, writing that, “Author Rob Schultheis provides this good summary of Jaynes’s theory: ‘According to Jaynes, humankind was once possessed of a mystical, intuitive kind of consciousness, the kind we today would call “possessed”; modern consciousness as we know it simply did not exist. This prelogical mind was ruled by, and dwelled in, the right side of the brain, the side of the brain that is now subordinate. The two sides of the brain switched roles, the left becoming dominant, about three thousand years ago, according to Jaynes; he refers to the biblical passage (Genesis 3:5) in which the serpent promises Eve that “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil”. Knowing good and evil killed the old radiantly innocent self; this old self reappears from time to time in the form of oracles, divine visitations, visions, etc.see Muir, Lindbergh, etc.but for the most part it is buried deep beneath the problem-solving, prosaic self of the brain’s left hemisphere. Jaynes believes that if we could integrate the two, the “god-run” self of the right hemisphere and the linear self of the left, we would be truly superior beings’ (Bone Games, 1985). Using Schultheis’s terms, Jaynes did recognise that there was a time when ‘modern consciousness’ ‘did not exist’ and humans were purely ‘intuitive’ and that later the logical, ‘conscious’ ‘brain’ usurped management from and ‘killed’ the ‘old’ ‘prelogical’, ‘radiantly innocent’, ‘god-run’ ‘intuitive’, instinctive ‘brain’. However, it wasn’t a switching of dominance from the more lateral and imaginative right side of our brain to the more sequential, logical left side of our brain that caused the upset, corrupted, alienated, sensitivity-destroying human condition, but rather the difference in the way genes and nerves process information.”

Jeremy further explains Jaynes’ work in Part 4:8 of Freedom Expanded: Book 1, saying that “Jaynes truthfully recognised that humans have lost access to a seemingly magical, all-sensitive, and inspired original instinctive self, but to try to explain it by claiming, as he did, that the capacity for self-awareness and introspection emerged with the development of language and then writing only some 3,000 years ago, and that prior to that people were not capable of introspectionthat, for example, the writers of the Iliad and sections of the Old Testament lacked the ability to be self-awareis absurd. The denial-based, immensely alienated upset state of the human condition is a deeply ancient condition.”

Neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist similarly argues that the dominance of the left hemisphere is responsible for Western culture’s ills in his book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. McGilchrist writes, ‘for us as human beings there are two fundamentally opposed realities, two different modes of experience; that each is of ultimate importance in bringing about the recognisably human world; and that their difference is rooted in the bihemispheric structure of the brain. It follows that the hemispheres need to co-operate, but I believe they are in fact involved in a sort of power struggle, and that this explains many aspects of contemporary Western culture…I suggest that it is as if the left hemisphere, which creates a sort of self-reflexive virtual world, has blocked off the available exits, the ways out of the hall of mirrors, into a reality which the right hemisphere could enable us to understand. In the past, this tendency was counterbalanced by forces from outside the enclosed system of the self-conscious mind; apart from the history incarnated in our culture, and the natural world itself, from both of which we are increasingly alienated, these were principally the embodied nature of our existence, the arts and religion. In our time each of these has been subverted and the routes of escape from the virtual world have been closed off. An increasingly mechanistic, fragmented, decontextualised world, marked by unwarranted optimism mixed with paranoia and a feeling of emptiness, has come about, reflecting, I believe, the unopposed action of a dysfunctional left hemisphere’ (Introduction, 2009).

It is true, that there is currently a ‘power struggle’ between the brain’s hemispheres, and that the brain is dominated by ‘the left hemisphere, which creates a sort of self-reflexive virtual world’, and that we do live in ‘an increasingly mechanistic, fragmented, decontextualised world’, but the reason is not because of the left hemisphere’s dominance; and the reason for the left hemisphere’s dominance is not because it just happens to have ‘subverted’ the restraints built into ‘culture’ ‘nature’, and ‘the arts and religion’! No, as is explained above, all the evidence reveals that the real reason for humans’ alienated condition is our upset, corrupted, sensitivity-destroying human condition, and this condition is millions of years old.

Thankfully, the redeeming ‘instinct vs intellect’ understanding of the human condition brings about the reconciliation of our split selves and we can finally truly reunite with the empathetic, holistic methods of thinking that we have lost access to.


– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

See Freedom Essay 4, and also Freedom Essay 53, on other thinkers who have recognised instinct and intellect elements involved in creating the human condition.