We’ve all heard that the left part of the brain is “logical” and the right side of the brain is “creative”.
That theory enjoyed huge popularity in the 60s and 70s, but is it really true?
According to psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, it might just be one of the biggest misconceptions that’s ever reached mainstream thought.
In the brilliant video below, he debunks the left brain/right brain myth and explains why both sides of the brain are profoundly involved in all different creative and logical tasks.
However, he also points out that the brain IS deeply divided…just not in the way most people think.
Check it out here and prepare to learn something new about your own brain.
For those who can’t watch the video right now, here it is in text:
Iain McGilchrist says that mainstream neuroscience has largely stopped talking about the differences between the left brain and right brain since that theory was debunked.
But, contrary to what most neuroscientists believe, Iain McGilchrist says that the brain is still profoundly divided. What’s more, over the course of human evolution, it’s become even more divided.
The ratio of the corpus callosum to the volume of the hemisphere has got smaller over evolution. And the plot thickens when you realize that the main function of the corpus callosum is in fact to inhibit the other hemisphere. There’s something very important about keeping things apart from one another.
Not only that, but the brain is profoundly asymmetric.
It’s broader at the back on the left and broader on the right of the front of the side.
What’s going on here?
It’s not just humans that have divided brains. Birds and and animals have them as well. Birds and animals quite reliably use their left hemisphere for this narrow focused attention and they keep their right hemisphere vigilant for anything that appears randomly. They also use their right hemisphere for making connections with the world.
When it comes to humans, this kind of attention is one of the big differences.
The right hemisphere gives sustained, broad, open vigilance, and alertness. Whereas the left hemisphere gives narrow, sharply focused attention to details. People who lose their right hemisphere have a pathological narrowing of the window of attention.
He says the big things about humans is their frontal lobes. And the purpose of that part is to inhibit the rest of the brain, which enables to do what humans do best: outwitting the other part and being machievellian.
It’s about interacting with the world and using it to our advantage.
For example, we mainly use the left hemisphere to use our hands to make tools and food. We also use that part for language to grasp things we say and pin them down.
It’s where we already know what’s important and what to be precise about. And we need that to have a simplified version of reality. It’s difficult if all this information is in front of you and you can’t nail down to the specifics and what really matters. It’s not real reality but it works better.
The right hemisphere, however, is always on the look out for things that might be different from our expectations. It sees things in context. It understands implicit meaning, metaphor, body language, emotional expressions etc. In deals with an embodied world, in which we stand embodied in relation to a world that is concrete. It understands individuals, not just categories.
However, this understanding has nothing to do with the old concept of the left brain/right differences. For imagination, you need both hemispheres. For reason, you need both hemispheres.
Instead, Iain McGilchrist lays down the real difference between the left brain and right brain:
The left hemisphere is dependant on denotative language, abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known and fixed.
The right hemisphere yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, living beings within the context of the lived world. But the nature of things is never fully graspable or perfectly known. This world exists in a certain relationship.
They both cover two versions of the world and we combine them in different ways all the time. We need to rely on certain things to manipulate the world, but for the broad understanding of it, we need to use knowledge that comes from the right hemisphere.
Iain McGilchrist explains that we now live in a world that is paradoxical. We pursue happiness, and it leads to resentment, which leads to unhappiness. We pursue freedom, but we now live in a world which is monitored more and more by CCTV cameras.
Iain McGilchrist says we’re living in a western world that is being controlled by the left hemisphere – where everything is fixed. We need control, which is leading to paranoia. The right hemisphere doesn’t have a voice.
But we need to engage in our right hemisphere for a more broader view of reality, and a more balanced society.
He believes a quote from Einstein sums it up best:
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”