Thursday, November 21, 2019

Balanced Intelligence - Hemispheric Integration

     “You are not thinking. You are merely being logical.”
                                                      Neils Bohr, physicist & Nobel laureate     
     Isn't using "merely" and "logical" in the same sentence dangerously taboo? For many of us it is. Yet a Nobel laureate in physics might know something about thinking & logic.

     “Albert Einstein called the intuitive or metaphoric mind (right hemisphere) a sacred gift. He added that the rational mind (left hemisphere) was a faithful servant. 
     It is paradoxical that in the context of modern life we have begun to worship the servant and defile the divine.” Bob Samples

     Our intelligence is, of necessity, far more complex than the self-referrential internal narrative, left-hemisphere-dominant level we're all aware of, and unknowingly, tend to identify with as if it were a direct, accurate readout of all that we are & all that life is. This is a very common - almost universal, problematic form of mistaken identity ("cognitive fusion") and underestimation of ourselves & life itself.

     “If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it yet.” Neils Bohr
     “Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.”
Neils Bohr
     “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”
Neils Bohr
     “True words seem paradoxical.” Lao-Tzu
        “The maturity and wisdom of a human being comes when it is possible to see multiplicity, paradox, and complementary differences with a spacious mind and an open heart.” Jack Kornfield 
        “… a mature adult … can hold both conviction and paradox.” 
        Sharon Danloz Parks. “Big Questions, Worthy Dreams. Mentoring Young Adults in their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith.” John Wiley & Sons, 2000.

     “The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. But the opposite of one profound truth, may be another profound truth.” Neils Bohr
     Black-and-white, {either / or} thinking is essential for survival - to quickly, narrowly-focus down on a specific object & definitively categorize it either as 'grab & eat this', or 'run / fight.' This same objectively-distanced mode of thinking is essential for many straight-forward, practical tasks eg math, science & technology etc. 
     But the left-hemisphere alone is severely unequipped to deal with nuances, subtleties & complexities: relationships / social interactions - personalities, cultures, races, religions etc; the arts & humanities; collaboration / negotiation / mediation; depths of meaning, values, existential issues, etc. 
     Also, the left-hemisphere 'doesn't know what it doesn't know' - it was never meant to stop, question & analyze its own judgment. So there's no room for re-evaluation or negotiation, resulting in deadlock: 'I'm right / reasonable / good; You're wrong / crazy / bad.' Populists, dictators & political / religious extremists all seem to fit this mold of rigid, simplistic black-and-white snappy slogans that grab & hold the hearts & minds of fervent supporters and make mature reflective adults shake their heads in stunned disbelief. Indeed, we see left-hemisphere vs left-hemisphere 'partisanships' locking horns on the news every night
     To effectively appreciate subtlety (many shades of gray) & to manage complexity (metaphor, paradox etc), a quick either / or decision is not enough. The left hemisphere's detail-orientation MUST BE KEPT IN CONTEXT by the right hemisphere's ability to appreciate the big picture, complexities & relationships. Our complex, constantly changing, profoundly interdependent cosmos requires a both / and approach: BOTH a quick either / or decision when called for eg when doing CPR; AND a much slower, much more careful consideration of as many variables as possible, when called for eg deciding on whether to marry a person; or mediating a peace deal between long-time warring factions. 
     For individuals & cultures to thrive, mature, harmonious, left / right hemispheric integration is essential.

     Here's an ultra-condensed summary of 20-yrs of research culminating in a 588-page book: Iain McGilchrist. “The Master and his Emissary. The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.” Yale University Press, 2019.
     “If I had to sum it up, I’d say the world of the left hemisphere is dependent on denotative language & abstraction; yields clarity & power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualized, explicit, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless.
     The right hemisphere by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings, within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, never perfectly known. And this world exists in a certain relationship.
     The knowledge mediated by the left hemisphere is however within a closed system. It has the advantage of perfection, but the perfection is bought ultimately at the price of emptiness.
     There’s a problem here about the nature of the two worlds. It offers two versions of the world and obviously we combine them in different ways all the time.
     We need to rely on the (left hemisphere) to manipulate the world.
     But for a broad understanding of it, we need to use knowledge that comes from the right hemisphere."
        Iain McGilchrist. “The Divided Brain.” TEDtalk RSA Animate:

     “Every great and deep difficulty bears in itself its own solution. It forces us to change our thinking in order to find it.” Neils Bohr

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