What is the Matter with Things?

A Summary of Iain McGilchrist “The Matter With Things”

My writings on Iain McGilchrist’s TMWT, and TME (The Master and Emissary) before it, are many, but unfortunately that means that no single post, since my reading of TMWT, gives any introductory overview for a new reader. So here goes:

What is the matter with things?

In Two Sentences after Einstein (and Eddington):

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.

We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

McGilchrist demonstrates that “the plight of modern humanity” – everywhere from individual mental health to the litany of global issues our culture seems unable to get to grips with – arises from this error.

McGilchrist’s Hemispheric Hypothesis:

[You get the basis of this hypothesis, that the forgotten gift of the master is embodied in right-left brain relationships, in his previous book “The Master and His Emissary” presented very simply in this RSA animation.]

The hypothesis is that, as a result of a 20thC backlash against left-right-brain pop-psychology, the true relationships between our deeply divided brains and the views of the world they give us has been ignored in mainstream knowledge about the world and our relationship with it.

And, whilst the right view recognises and understands the power of the left, the left view fails to notice why it even needs the right. Because of this imbalance, the rational left-brain view and behaviour continues to further exaggerate and promote itself at the expense of the intuitive right. A vicious cycle. This is a mental-illness. We must, individually and as a society, recover the evolutionarily intended use of that intuitive gift.

Because of the intuitive nature of that gift, it needs to be understood by being embodied and enacted rather than being learned from an definitive list of components and features.

To recognise a necessary distance between our model of the world, embodied & manipulated in the left-brain, and the immediate experience & understanding of the world, obtained with the attention of the right.

Any further summary is merely to list the contents and name-drop the sources.

End of Summary


Merely The Content:

(My summaries start here, but as already noted above, no summary can do justice to reading and absorbing it.)

Neuroscience – understanding evolved, normal brain physiology and behaviour in all sentient beings, from investigation of every kind of abnormal state, building on the A to Z of published material in this space – aka “The Lesion Literature” – from Austin to Zeman via … Bolte-Taylor, Damasio, Gazzaniga, Hughlings-Jackson, Kahneman, McGilchrist, Ramchandran, Solms, Sperry, Sacks, Tversky and many more primary resources.

Psychology & Psychiatry – Autism, Schizophrenia, Paranoia and Neuroses and how individual cases and symptoms map to societal behaviour and how both fit the hemispheric hypothesis.

Literature & History – understanding in metaphor and more since the earliest recorded civilisations – Master & Emissary, Elephant & Driver, Charioteer & Horses … all provide clues to the necessary hemispheric tension.

Philosophy & Fundamental Science – The world and our views of it, left, right & integrated. Consciousness, ontology & epistemology, time, causation, purpose, value, identity & opposites, science & ethics. A mass of sources woven around a strong Bergson, James, Whitehead and Wittgenstein – “footnotes to Plato” – thread with contributions from those at the bleeding edge of science – a dynamic, participatory, process view – stuff that “matters” beyond an ontology of “things” – hence the punny title.

[In fact Jonathan Rowson’s 10 minute introduction at the book launch is a very good summary as well as a commendation in it’s own right.]

No summary can do justice to the depth and breadth covered or to Iain McGilchrist’s erudition and credentials in bringing this range of resources and thinking together. And even if it were so summarised, it would not achieve the understanding gained from experiencing the read and engaging with it in dialogue with others. That’s not debatable.

The Sacred Conclusion:

The real test is going to be persuading the more orthodox scientific types to engage in dialogue involving what is, let’s face it, natural theology or sacred naturalism. Or even to give real attention to any idea of the sacred. After all, if nothing is sacred in science and yet every individual life is sacred in a science-led response to a pandemic, or every living thing sacred in an ecological response to AGW, science needs to start paying attention to that sacred gift.

My Own Marginalia (So Far)


[Post Note: Whilst McGilchrist’s research and theses have focussed on the evolved left-right brain interconnections, Mark Solms focus is on the bottom (older) vs top (newer) evolved architecture. The earliest evolved lower components in Solms are precisely the central interconnection components in McGilchrist. Despite quite different agendas there is a great deal of similarity in the systems architecture (brain topology) arguments as to how the evolved structure of the brain maps to mental states and processes, including pathologies. Both have professional psycho-therapeutic experience in their scientific toolkits. Both stress affective aspects of “seeing the world” and whereas McGilchrist culminates in his sense of the sacred, Solms hinges on subjectivity. Both represent Rubicons to be crossed by orthodox science.]

[Post Note: Where next in 2023?


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