Monday, 24 June 2013
The Complementarity of the Brain’s Two Hemispheres
Einstein said that intuition is a gift, and rationality is its servant. But in another RSA Animate lecture to which we provide a link this week, about the specialization of the two hemispheres of the human brain, psychiatrist and author Iain McGilchrist says that we have created a society that honours the servant but has forgotten the gift.
McGilchrist first deconstructs a few oversimplifying myths, such as the idea that the brain’s left hemisphere is the seat of reason and the right is the seat of the emotions (in fact, both sides are deeply involved in both), or that for most people language is solely the province of the left hemisphere (the right hemisphere is also deeply involved in many aspects of language).
But then McGilchrist explains some actual differences in the way that the brain’s two hemispheres operate. According to McGilchrist, the left hemisphere has evolved to let us concentrate on specific tasks so that we can accomplish them successfully, while the right hemisphere has evolved to let us remain alert to our environment at all times—not only to the resources that it may contain, but to the dangers as well.
McGilchrist goes on to say that having built such close connections with each other, both sides of the brain have contributed to the complexity of human civilizations. The left has let us concentrate on problems and transform not only the physical world, but also the social one, with language enabling us to manipulate one another. The right enables us to feel embodied and interconnected with other people and our environment (a faculty whose importance is too often underestimated, according to McGilchrist) and thus to have a better overview of the world.