Is McGilchrist Getting Ahead of Himself?

I’ve now read the whole of Part 1 of “The Matter With Things”, including but not just the summaries. As advertised it is a thorough collection and organisation of scientific and empirical evidence and argument for left and right hemisphere dysfunctions and their interconnections, genetic and physical, indicating their quite distinct “normal” roles, hemispherically deficient in “atypical” psychological and behavioural outcomes in individuals.

[Post Note: Final round-up / summary of TMWT here.]

In the last Chapter 9 of Part 1 he focusses in particular on autism and schizophrenia (and associated neuroses and psychoses) following the same hemispheric patterns of physiology and psychology. A lot of this is not new even if the thorough marshalling of all the resources is, and this seems almost entirely non-contentious. The evidence is there.

Essentially his “Hemispheric Hypothesis” – that deficient right-hemisphere and exaggerated left-hemisphere participation in human life is a problem, and that there is a lot more of this imbalance evident in the modern world.

In terms of his arguments, he may be getting ahead of himself – making his own statements and quoting those of others – of the opinion that this mass of individual evidence is behind “the plight of modern humanity” more generally. Now I’m firmly of the same opinion, just not sure that this step in the argument has really been made yet.

In the late 20th C and now in the 21st many have expressed the same views. I’ve myself been using the short-hand that rationality in all socio-political domains has become “autistic” since I started this project. That we murder to dissect is as old as the romantic poets, captured then as careful with that (analytic) knife, Aristotle. Analysis paralysis has been common management parlance. Philosopher of science Nick Maxwell has used the idea that science as curated by our universities and academic institutions is “neurotic” and failing to address the big issues facing humanity. Economists have even coined the idea of “autistic economics“. I don’t believe there is much doubt as to the diagnosis.

The question is whether the mass of evidence and argument presented around the behaviour of individuals has been shown to causally translate to wider social activities, collective decision-making and governance of these. I’m trying to imagine what an evidence gathering exercise would look like at a collective social level. The perennial Catch-22 in this space is having to make arguments about the inadequacies of current rationality in the way we participate in the world to an audience whose measure of arguments is the received wisdom of current rationality.

[Plenty of Whitehead, Bergson, James and Wittgenstein at the philosophical level. And very much written as McGilchrist speaks, with “and here’s the thing”, “you would think” and “it makes you wonder” links between some of the highly technical content and language. Very readable.]


[Post note: Just noticed this engagement with McGilchrist back at HTLGI in 2014 – last blockquote before the post-notes – is also explicit about the autistic characterisation.]

[Lots of good linguistic stuff. Problems of “Know” in English vs Savoir/Connaitre and Kennen/Wissen in French and German. Also I/thou and I/it 1st & 2nd vs 1st & 3rd persons – personal vs impersonal interactions. Like Dunbar-number about size of communities below / above 150-ish affecting patterns of communication and organisation.]

[Post Note: Final round-up / summary of TMWT here.]

3 thoughts on “Is McGilchrist Getting Ahead of Himself?”

  1. In The Master and His Emissary, McGilchrist sometimes talks about “depth,” but only as as a quality of perception. He never considers it as the reconciliation of two differing viewpoints (at least, not as far as I’ve read). Is it the same in his latest book?

  2. Not sure about “reconciliation” … but the point of the different bi-cameral views is that they be integrated and that the parity or priority of right over left is maintained. Depth is only one of the properties or qualities.

    (It’s a massive 2 volume book almost £100.)

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