From the left-brain right-brain divide to the metaphysics of magic, the renowned psychiatrist, author, and thinker Iain McGilchrist addresses the profound questions of living well– in conversation with Freddie Sayers at the UnHerd Club, 20th April 2023.
In his book, The Master and his Emissary (2009), McGilchrist elaborates on why is the brain divided? The difference between right and left hemispheres has been puzzled over for centuries. Drawing upon a vast body of brain research, McGilchrist reveals that the difference between the two sides is profound—two whole, coherent, but incompatible ways of experiencing the world. The detail-oriented left hemisphere prefers mechanisms to living things and is inclined to self-interest, while the right hemisphere has greater breadth, flexibility, and generosity. In the second part of his book, McGilchrist takes the reader on a journey through the history of Western culture, illustrating the tension between these two worlds as revealed in the thought and belief of thinkers and artists from the ancient to the modern, from Aeschylus to Magritte. He ultimately argues that, despite its inferior grasp of reality, the left hemisphere is increasingly taking precedence in today’s world—with potentially disastrous consequences.
In The Matter with Things, his magnum opus, his core argument is that we need to move from an understanding based upon the reality of matter to one based on process and flow: ‘the assumption of a materialist world composed of “things” is the greatest impediment we face’.