December 8, 2023

❏ Notes to Self 009 - The World of the Left Hemisphere

Well, I just completed watching and annotating a three and a half hour conversation between Daniel Schmachtenberger, Iain McGilchrist, and John Verveake diving into the psychological drivers of the meta crisis. There is much to synthesize and integrate, but a few things I wanted to capture here that are standing out to me:

  1. The difference between the left and right hemispheres of the brain is important to understand, along with the implications of being in a world where the left hemisphere is dominant. The left hemisphere provides a representation, a map, a program, a theory, a diagram of the world that is abstract and categorical - it does not have the characteristics of the world it is intending to map. The right hemisphere is in touch with presence and the experiential realms, what we inhabit directly. These correlate to different modes of attention and perceiving the world. A study that suppressed first one side of the brain and then the other found that when the left hemisphere was active (and the right suppressed) everything - including living things - appeared inanimate, mechanistic, and broken down into parts. While an active right hemisphere transformed the world into one where even inanimate objects were imbued with life and everything was felt as deeply interconnected. The left hemisphere historically worked in service of the right hemisphere but something happened along the way (the development of stone tools?) that lead to the left hemisphere dominant and the philosophical error of this hemisphere ruling our perception is that we believe the world is made of parts, when the opposite is true - the world emerges out of the coming together of complex wholes. And of course a left hemisphere dominant world creates the conditions for the left hemisphere to thrive which perpetuates the dominance of the left hemisphere and round and round and round we go. There is a VERY big connection with Gestalt here and I intend to explore this further. I also think there is an interesting connection with some of the themes in The Goddess Versus the Alphabet, despite some of my reservations about the book.
  2. One note on the brief mention of stone tools in parens - as I wrote that I thought about Andrew Feenberg’s theory of instrumentalization and the step of abstraction that allows us to extract a single property from a complex whole (e.g, roundness from the trunk of a tree). So I think perhaps the development of stone tools is the correct starting point for the shift. But today the dominance of the left hemisphere, combined with the power of the technology we have, has put us in a position to self-destruct which was impossible in the time of stone tools.
  3. Values, purpose, a sense of the sacred - these are wall ways of orienting ourselves in what Verveake calls the meaning crises. I appreciate the distinction made in this conversation that values aren’t something we choose, but rather something that call us forward. And this conversation with values, in this sensing that pulls us forward, is a very real experience - values and purpose are essential to the cosmos.
  4. Going back to Gestalt, polarities also weave throughout the conversation - one called out explicitly in the beginning, and then in the background throughout. I think what really stands out is the attention brought to the characteristic in all of nature of“opponent processing” - the idea that two systems coexist and are mutually dependent but also anti-correlated - when one is active the other isn’t. This happens with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, the default and task positive networks of the brain, and with the hemispheres. There is clearly something in polarities that is essential to life or the expression of life. One thing to clarify - we may not currently have oppositional processing in our hemispheres but rather adversarial processing, which has lead to such an unbalanced and dangerous perception of the world and our relationship to it.
  5. Relationships are the foundation of everything. The divine being needs to create something other than itself to have a relationship with it, the ground of being requires a response. I can see how The Realization Process would provide powerful somatic inquiries and contact with the ground of being, opening up to the flow and responsiveness of life.
  6. Practices are how we create the world, not beliefs. What we practice every day creates our reality, so pay attention to what you practice and the world your practices create. Pair this with the foundational nature of relationships and it becomes important to practice your practices in a relational way.
  7. Falling in love with being is an antidote to game theoretics.
  8. It is critical that we remember our relationship to the cosmos. And to hold mystery at the center.
  9. It is our sacred obligation to see clearly. When we can see clearly and open to life we come in direct contact with the beauty of reality. I think the way The Realization Process unbinds us from deep constrictions gives us access to this direct contact in a deeply embodied way. I can see how potent these practices could be when it comes to reconfiguring our orientation to life in way that that builds positive feedback loops of wisdom, reverence, and care.
  10. “Leadership in service of the sacred.” This wasn’t something that was called out directly, but as I listened to the conversation as well as what was calling to me at a deeper level, I thought about Mary Parker Follet and the idea that the one true leader is common purpose. The common purpose is bigger than a single leader, and leaders service of this dethrone themselves and become followers as well. What I have always found evocative about this idea is that leadership is shared or distributed according to the emerging situation. And if we are always trying to sense into the situation, which is always changing and never completely knowable, it makes sense we would require a leadership that acknowledges the benefit of multiple cycles of awareness that begin and end a different times and that are attentive to the emergence of a variety of figures from the ground.