The Divided Brain

Friday, March 16, 2012

Iain McGilchrist, a former consultant psychiatrist, looks at why the brain is divided into two hemispheres. In his book, The Master and His Emissary, he draws on case histories and other brain research to show how different the right and left sides of our brains are, what each side helps us do, and why the left hemisphere is taking more precedence in the modern world.


Iain McGilchrist

Comments [23]

Ed from Larchmont

The two hemispheres mirror the fact that there are two ways that we know things, two ways that we reach out to the truth. One is reason, the other is faith, and as the two hemispheres of the brain don't conflict but work together, so these two sources of the knowledge of the trugh don't conflict, but work together.

Mar. 24 2012 06:08 AM
kkat1111 from UK

this show reached many things i have been reflecting on myself.

the loss of empathy is truly one of the most disheartening things that i've come across time and time again. in it's extreme it is a marker of psychosis. it is strong link to our humanity and evolution.

i have a little side theory though that through more and more disembodied 'virtuality'... it is emotional intelligence, intuition and other 'gifts' as einstein would call them that will prove to be the most important skills to develop to navigate through these changing times.

don't get me wrong, i think both emotional and rational intelligence should share equal billing. it is a complex mix of both that reflects the reality of our lives.

Mar. 18 2012 09:27 AM
Ken from Connecticut

Re my above comment-And the standardization, homogenization, and consequent loss of distinctive style and sound of many orchestras world over (except, thankfully, a happy few in Europe). Digitization of recording, with loss of analogue subtlety, and the creation of "perfect" performances through editing, has abetted the emphasis on notes over musicality. This seems to be consistent with further left brain dominance.

Mar. 17 2012 09:53 AM
Ken from Connecticut

And the empahasis on the notes in musIc schools, auditions, and most critiism-to the exclusion of the music.

Mar. 17 2012 09:35 AM
John A.

When I hear the author talk about the Arrogance of the Enlightenment, it makes me want to ask him about our arrogant, currently divided times as regards both atheists and the religious.

Mar. 16 2012 03:30 PM

If the brain can change so much in just a few centuries (or even four or five millenia), then we have reason to be optimistic, _even if_ we are losing something now. The genetic structure of the human species is _not_ changing that much in so little time, but the mind and brain perhaps are.

This — by the way — gives the lie to the Cult of Evolutionary Psychology. As McGilchrist suggests, we are seeing changes that _cannot_ be explained by reductionist just-so stories about genetics. (And perhaps we should tip our caps again to Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin).

Mar. 16 2012 12:37 PM
Kate from Washington Heights

Does your guest know about the work of Eugene Gendlin? He studied with Carl Rogers at the University of Chicago in the 60s and 70s and has developed two techniques for helping people connect their intuitive knowledge with their ability to put language to it: Focusing (he wrote a book with that name0 and Thinking at the Edge.

Mar. 16 2012 12:37 PM
Ed Rooney from Lower Manhattan

I'm dyslexic. But I'm a writer. Do reading and writing come from the same part of the brain?

Mar. 16 2012 12:37 PM

How about the experience of Jil Bolte Taylor the brain anatomist who had and monitored a stroke and her recovery -

Mar. 16 2012 12:36 PM
JOhn from Clinton Hill

Are there current studies with LSD? Can you explain why most "trips" tend to take the traveler away from man-made structures/shapes/items and more towards nature/natural things.

I remember taking acid and feeling disgusted by a tile floor, a comforter but yet drawn to trees, grass, colors - which seemed electric and full of a certain lifeforce.

Mar. 16 2012 12:36 PM

Can't wait to listen to this in its entirety - I'm such a right-lober!

Emilie Conrad, brilliant (and hilarious) dancer found a healing protocol for spinal chord injuries through Haitian prayer dance ("wave movement") thinks a lot of healing takes place at the pre-lingual level -

Mar. 16 2012 12:34 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Are any neurological problems, like ADHD or autism, more common in either right-handed or left-handed people?

Mar. 16 2012 12:34 PM
Hindi from Brooklyn, NY


My son, the youngest of a set of 2-year-old triplets, experienced a stroke. After an MRI it was revealed that he is a right hemiparesis. While he does receive some therapy for his motor issues, we've noticed that he's extremely advanced with his language acquisition skills. More specifically, he has an excellent memory with letters and numbers. He can identify the letters and sounds of two different letter systems. I was wondering if this was his brain somehow compensating for his stroke or something else.... I'd love to get some insight...

Mar. 16 2012 12:28 PM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

Fascinating how this meshes with one of the other great scientific issues of sustainability, that's the question of how we can steer the world with "left brain tools" (efficiency and things) when SO many things in our experience and in nature are much more "right brain organized" (relationships and economies and things).

I use it to great effect in some of my closely related research.

Mar. 16 2012 12:26 PM
john from toronto

does the author see a relationship between L/R hemispheres and Daniel Kahneman's theory of 'System 1' (fast) and 'System 2' (slow) ways of thinking?

Mar. 16 2012 12:26 PM
Laura from Brooklyn, New York

Are there any studies showing that early childhood trauma causes one side of the brain to become more dominant?

Mar. 16 2012 12:26 PM
oscar from ny

this story has come to the light because the master is now relying on his "left" power because he gets tired of been one sided "right"

Mar. 16 2012 12:26 PM
mark from nj

Please ask the guest to comment on the relation of his work to Julian Jaynes' earlier, seminal work, 'The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind'

Mar. 16 2012 12:25 PM

Great interview!

That Enlightenment corruption — that if a question doesn't have an answer, it's not a question — taints our thinking as much, or more so, than it did 200 years ago. I still remember a physics prof (a fairly famous one) answering a question in class 25 years ago with, "But that's just philosophy."

Richard Rorty (among others) was essential in challenging that way of thinking (importantly, without the malicious hand-waving of Derrida and the continentals).

Nowadays, the arrogance of unalloyed certainty is at its worst on Wall Street and among economists. Other social scientists speak of "economic imperialism," the tyranny of economist-thinking invading other disciplines.

Mar. 16 2012 12:23 PM

A quick check online suggests that the symmetry point I made above is precisely part of what McGilchrist is challenging. So why so like symmetry but not actually symmetrical? Or is the very "like-ness" questionable?

Elephants seem to have a capacity for empathy. Many people would say their dogs have. Are some of these things constructions that we feel inclined to find in 'the world'?

Mar. 16 2012 12:18 PM

There is a theory that the corpus callosum is relatively new development, meaning early humans were all schizophrenic in their thinking. What's his opinion on schizophrenia being normal for early humans?

Mar. 16 2012 12:15 PM

1. The human body, and many, many animals are bilaterally symmetrical. Right down to the bilateralism of the structure of the chromosome and the DNA strand.

2. I'm curious about the Mr. Gilchrist's thoughts about what happened 100,000 years ago when we find the first evidence of humans making artwork. And what about language, written language, music?

Mar. 16 2012 12:11 PM
James from NYC

When the personal computer arrived it drove all the right brain designers out of art departments everywhere. I call it 'the cognitive coup of 1992'.

Mar. 16 2012 11:48 AM

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