Posts Tagged ‘ cognitive science ’



Yale University Press 2=09, copyright Iain McGilchrist





got to be where we are =ow. While much of it is about the structure of the

human brain – the pla=e where mind meets matter – ultimately it is an attempt to

understand the structur= of the world that the brain has in part created.

Whatever the relationsh=p between consciousness and the brain – unless the

brain plays no </FO=T>role in bringing the=world as we experience it into being, a position

that must have few adhe=ents – its structure has to be significant. It might even

give us clues to unders=anding the structure of the world it mediates, the world we

know. So, to ask a very=simple question, why is the brain so clearly and profoundly

divided? Why, for that =atter, are the two cerebral hemispheres asymmetrical? Do

they really differ in a=y important sense? If so, in what way?

The subject of hemisphe=e differences has a poor track record, discouraging to

those who wish to be su=e that they are not going to make fools of themselves in

the long run. Views on =he matter have gone through a number of phases since it

was first noticed in th= mid-nineteenth century that the hemispheres were not

identical, and that the=e seemed to be a clear asymmetry of function related to

language, favouring the=left hemisphere. At first, it was believed that, apart from

each hemisphere obvious=y having sensory and motor responsibility for, and

control of, the opposit= (or ‘contralateral’) side of the body, language was the

defining difference, th= main specific task of the left hemisphere. The right hemisphere<=P>

was considered to be es=entially ‘silent’. Then it was discovered that, after

all, the right hemisphe=e appeared better equipped than the left hemisphere to

handle visual imagery, =nd this was accepted as the particular contribution it

made, its equivalent to=language: words in the left hemisphere, pictures in the

right. But that, too, p=oved unsatisfactory. Both hemispheres, it is now clear, can

deal with either kind o= material, words or images, in different ways. Subsequent

attempts to decide whic= set of functions are segregated in which hemisphere

have mainly been discar=ed, piece after piece of evidence suggesting that every

identifiable human acti=ity is actually served at some level by both hemispheres.

There is, apparently, v=st redundancy. Enthusiasm for finding the key to hemisphere</P= align="center"

differences has waned, =nd it is no longer respectable for a neuroscientist

to hypothesise on the subject.

This is hardly surprising, given the set of beliefs about the differences between

the hemispheres which h=s passed into the popular consciousness. These beliefs

could, without much vio=ence to the facts, be characterised as versions of the idea

that the left hemispher= is somehow gritty, rational, realistic but dull, and the right

hemisphere airy-fairy a=d impressionistic, but creative and exciting; a formulation</=>

reminiscent of Sellar a=d Yeatman’s immortal distinction (in their parody of

English history teachin=, 1066 and All Tha=) betw=en the Roundheads – ‘Right

and Repulsive’ – an= the Cavaliers – ‘Wrong but Wromantic’. In reality, both hemispheres

are crucially involved =n reason, just as they are in language; both

hemispheres play their =art in creativity. Perhaps the most absurd of these popular

misconceptions is that =he left hemisphere, hard-nosed and logical, is somehow

male, and the right hem=sphere, dreamy and sensitive, is somehow female. If there

is any evidence that co=ld begin to associate each sex with a single cerebral hemisphere

in this way, it tends t= indicate, if anything, the reverse – but that is another

story and one that I wi=l not attempt to deal with in this book. Discouraged by this

kind of popular travest=, neuroscience has returned to the necessary and unimpeachable</FONT=< P>

business of amassing fi=dings, and has largely given up the attempt to

make sense of the findi=gs, once amassed, in any larger context.

Nonetheless it does not=seem to me likely that the ways in which the hemispheres

differ are simply rando=, dictated by purely contingent factors such as the

need for space, or the =tility of dividing labour, implying that it would work just

as well if the various =pecific brain activities were swapped around between hemispheres</P= align="center"

as room dictates. Fortu=ately, I am not alone in this. Despite the recognition

that the idea has been =ijacked by everyone from management trainers to

advertising copywriters= a number of the most knowledgeable people in the field

have been unable to esc=pe the conclusion that there is something profound here

that requires explanati=n. Joseph Hellige, for example, arguably the world’s bestinformed</=>

authority on the subjec=, writes that while both hemispheres seem to be

involved in one way or =nother in almost everything we do, there are some ‘very

striking’ differences=in the information-processing abilities and propensities of the</P= align="center"

two hemispheres.1 =FONT size="3" face="MinionPro-Regular">

neuroscientist, accepts=that the issue of hemisphere difference has been traduced,

but concludes: ‘The e=istence of such a pop culture shouldn’t cloud the main

issue – the notion th=t the two hemispheres may indeed be specialised for

different functions.’<=TRONG>2 And recently Tim Crow, one of the subtlest and most

sceptical of neuroscien=ists researching into mind and brain, who has often

remarked on the associa=ion between the development of language, functional

brain asymmetry and psy=hosis, has gone so far as to write that ‘except in the light

of lateralisation nothi=g in human psychology/psychiatry makes any sense.’3


There is little doubt t=at the issues of brain asymmetry and hemisphere specialisation

are significant. The qu=stion is only – of what?4

I believe there is, lit=rally, a world of difference between the hemispheres.

Understanding quite wha= that is has involved a journey through many apparently

unrelated areas: not ju=t neurology and psychology, but philosophy, literature and


the arts,=and even, to some extent, archaeology and anthropology, and I hope the

specialists in these ar=as will forgive my trespasses. Every realm of academic

endeavour is now subjec= to an explosion of information that renders those few

who can still truly cal= themselves experts, experts on less and less. Partly for this

very reason it nonethel=ss seems to me worthwhile to try to make links outside

and across the boundari=s of the disciplines, even though the price may be that

one is always at best a= interested outsider, at worst an interloper condemned to

make mistakes that will=be obvious to those who really know. Knowledge moves

on, and even at any one=time is far from certain. My hope is only that what I have

to say may resonate wit= the ideas of others and possibly act as a stimulus to

further reflection by t=ose better qualified than myself.

I have come to believe =hat the


BLOG - Far quadrare il mondo su fogli volanti

Training Courses Blog

Management and Sales Training Courses in The Middle East


Tales from the Uprising


Blog della Biblioteca di Filosofia, Università degli studi di Milano


all about e-skills

Polvere da sparo

Sono figlio del cammino, la carovana è la mia casa _Amin Maalouf_

ROSEBUD - Arts, Critique, Journalism

A Multilingual Magazine - Rivista multilingue di politica, satira e attualità


Chiamiamo comunismo la società senza galere

TED Blog

The TED Blog shares interesting news about TED, TED Talks video, the TED Prize and more.

draw and shoot

Shooting photographs, drawing lines...

Photo Nature Blog

Nature Photography by Jeffrey Foltice

joze perspective

Sharing the world, as I see it.


Mark Kaplowitz's Blog


art design & oddities

La Criée : périodiques en ligne

" tout s'enchevêtra dans un désordre impeccable..."


comunicazione, eventi, positive life

Gli Alieni Fra Noi

svegliamo i segreti...