McGilchrist: The Divided Mind, IV

The masthead of The Chrysalis features a citation from William Blake: “For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern“. I believe that the recently announced “Anthropocene” is really the logical and fateful development of this condition; of Blake’s insight into the state of human consciousness — the human condition of narcissism writ large — and that this, more than anything, underlies the theme of the impending “Dark Age” that is being anticipated in much contemporary sociological writing (Morris Berman, William Irwin Thompson, Jane Jacobs, Tom Frank, even Iain McGilchrist, amongst many others. If you google up the terms “new dark age” you’ll find plenty of commentaries on this).

The present Chrysalis in fact began as The Dark Age Blog about a dozen years ago (the Iraq War being the trigger event for it), and many present subscribers to The Chrysalis will recall TDAB. But after more than 800 essays highlighting some of the contemporary evidence for an incipient new Dark Age, it became very depressing to continue mining that vein, and I felt the need to begin equally exploring some of the more positive features in our contemporary predicament, anticipating something hopeful, following not only Gebser’s assessment of the strange, paradoxical “double-movement” of our times, but also my own faith that the German poet Hölderlin was profoundly right when he wrote, “where the peril is greatest, there lies the saving power also”, (or Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “in today already walks tomorrow”). That is, in effect, a perfectly good description of enantiodromia, or reversal at the extremity. And I also hold that Gebser’s “double-movement” — one towards disintegration and death, the other towards a new integration and life — is also enantiodromia in action.

So, from The Dark Age Blog was born The Chrysalis. Dark Age and chrysalis stage are, in effect, one and the same event but viewed in its double aspect as also enantiodromia. And so the Anthropocene can also be appreciated in its double aspect as both realised Dark Age but also Chrysalis stage — the stage preparatory to a profound mutation. For Dark Age nihilism can also be seen as an emptying of self — a loss of self — in preparation for a new inspiration or new fulfillment.

And so from Blake’s “man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern” to Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind to the Anthropocene is a straight line. But I can assure you that it’s not just the “American Mind” of which Blake was speaking, but of mankind as a whole. Narcissism (or what was once referred to as “idolatry”) is the human, all-too human condition. The Anthropocene is the psychological equivalent of a domed city, Blake’s “cavern”, humankind’s self-enclosure, a “house of mirrors” and the “echo chamber” or “bubble of perception” all meaning, basically, the human monologue with itself. This is a dreadful thing. And I can’t help think that this “Anthropocene” presages a totalitarian turn. It would also follow logically from Blake’s insight into mankind’s self-enclosure.

“For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern“. This is the very theme, too, of Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary, and the ‘usurpation’ of the master’s prerogatives (the attention of the brain’s right hemisphere) by the emissary, which is the ego-consciousness associated with the left-hemisphere — what Jill Bolte-Taylor called the “I am” or the Buddha equally referred to as the “I am conceit” (the teaching of anatman, or No-Self, No-Mind). McGilchrist’s pessimism about the near term human prospect is connected to his observation that the left-hemisphere of the brain (the seat of the “rational” or systematising functions) is totally inhibiting the root perceptions and implicit awareness of the right-hemisphere of the divided brain — “shutting down all the exits”, as he puts it, to self-transcendence or the possibilities of self-transcendence. This is what I have called “the bubble of perception”, and the Anthropocene strikes me as the realisation of this bubble of perception — the logical consequence of the hyperactivity of the left-hemisphere of the brain (and the corresponding hypoactivity or atrophy of the mode of attention of the right hemisphere). The evidence that McGilchrist has assembled from neurobiology and neuropsychology suggests that there is, indeed, a biological basis for Blake’s visionary and intuitive insights into the human condition in neurodynamics.

The Anthropocene, as a monological form of existence or mode of being, conforms to what McGilchrist describes as some of the main features of left-hemisphere brain hyperactivity: self-referentiality and tautology — much like an Escher picture (and who knows if Escher wasn’t actually illustrating this tedious circularity in the hyperactivity of the left-hemisphere of the brain?)

Escher

What does this remind of except Blake’s warning in his manifesto “There is NO Natural Religion“?

If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic Character the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ratio of all things, and stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again.

As McGilchrist has aptly argued (but without referencing Blake’s manifesto here), the poetic and prophetic draw their inspirations from the right-hemisphere’s mode of attention, while the philosophic and experimental is largely the product of the left hemisphere. In other words, the creative is the province of the intuitive or imaginative right-hemisphere, but this implicit creativity, passing over into the systematising explicitness of the left-hemisphere, is transmuted into merely the productive or productivity. And this also reflects, I would suggest, the eclipse of the holistic by the merely totalising (and consequent totalitarian). What is truly originary and original becomes, instead, mere novelty and a continuous reproduction of novelties.

In other words, McGilchrist has given us an exemplary description of decadence, as the left-hemisphere’s inhibition of the creative, imaginative, and originary predilections of the right-hemisphere and its mode of attention. Fundamentalism, reductionism, dogmatism, cynicism — these are the products of the left-hemisphere’s activity when it becomes estranged and alienated from the mode of attention of the right-hemisphere. The result is a “vicious circle” of mere mentation.

You may note, though, that one lonely figure in the lower left corner of Escher’s drawing has apparently escaped the “same dull round”. Otherwise, Escher’s drawings are often a perfect reflection of the mind conducting a monologue with itself in self-referentiality and tautology. This is what Buddhists also call “Monkey Mind”. And the Anthropocene strikes me as one great big Monkey Mind.

This situation of monologics (and corresponding monoculture, mononature, etc) contrasts with the dialogical, and it strikes me that upsurge of interest in dialogics and dialogical process (David Bohm, Rosenstock-Huessy, Bahktin) is the emergent corrective to this circularity of the left-hemisphere’s mode of perception and, of course, its narcissism. Dialogics, rather than dialectics. This return to dialogics and the “dialogical imagination” is also exemplifed, significantly, in one of the founders of contemporary Chaos Theory, Ilya Prigogine, whose great book Order Out of Chaos is also appropriately subtitled “Man’s New Dialogue With Nature“. But what that actually implies is a resumption of a new dialogue between the left and right hemispheres of the brain after Descartes’ monological turn.

And I think, too, that Mr. McGilchrist also missed this important development because he was still too much under the spell of Hegelian dialectics. This has resulted, I think, in a few shortcomings of his otherwise great book on neurodynamics. Dialogics reduced to an abstract dialectics is also one of those “perversions” that occurs when the inspirations and intuitions of the right-hemisphere’s mode of attention are “systematised” by the intellect associated with the left-hemisphere’s mode of attention. And the Anthropocene can be understood as the result of an error that goes back at least to Descartes and his “cogito, ergo sum“. The mind that puts the question is the same mind that is expected to provide the answer. It’s a monologue the mind conducts with itself and the end result can only be tautology — like an Escher drawing. This is the basis for Rosenstock-Huessy’s rejection of Cartesianism in his all-important essay “Farewell to Descartes” and his rejection of dialectical method in favour of dialogical process.

Reason has been debased into mere instrumentalising rationality and a narrow technicism because thinking has lost its connection to its primordial roots in the intuitive perceptions of the right-hemisphere of the brain. The resumption of a new dialogue between the left and right hemispheres would seem to be the obvious corrective to this unhappy situation. The Anthropocene strikes me as the logical, inevitable consequence of Descartes’ error. The result of Descartes’ error was Marx and Hegel — the left and the right — or materialism and idealism, communism and nationalism. For despite their being apparently complete antitheses, the share one thing in common that makes them nearly identical: a commitment to an abstract dialectics. And despite their differences, they both end in the exact same place — in the absurd: in Fukuyama’s “end of history”. And the Anthropocene strikes me as being but another version of that.

So, we’ll also have to turn to dialogical process for insights into how to get the two brain hemisphere’s talking to one another again and what “dialogics” itself means in terms of Gebser’s “integral consciousness”.

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7 responses to “McGilchrist: The Divided Mind, IV”

  1. Steve Lavendusky says :

    Scott – I am re-reading Rene Guenon’s THE CRISIS OF THE MODERN WORLD and I come to the first chapter titled THE DARK AGE. Is it from that book that you named your The Dark Age Blog.

    • Scott Preston says :

      No. Not familiar with that book by Guenon. I don’t think there was anyone in particular I read then who had suggested the term. I had more or less already concluded that this was the direction of events much earlier, particularly after reading Fukuyama’s “end of history” and its reception, and deducing the consequences of that. It was after that that I started coming across references to a new Dark Age in Berman, William Irwin Thompson, Jane Jacobs, Tom Frank and others. They had come to the same conclusions, I guess.

      Of course, I was already familiar with Nietzsche’s prophecy of “two centuries of nihilism”, but it wasn’t until Margaret Thatcher (and subsequently Fukuyama) that I connected “nihilism” or the “devaluation of values” with “dark age”.

      That’s one of the reasons I really appreciate McGilchrist’s book. It confirms that my earlier intuitions and analysis about this were substantially correct, for “dark age” seems to be connected with the dissociation of the brain’s left-hemispheric functions from those of the right-hemisphere. And this goes a long way, too, in explaining Gebser’s description of civilisations (and structures of consciousness) having an “effective” mode but ending in a “deficient” mode — what initially begins as vital truth in the right-hemisphere’s perception dies a miserable death in the left-hemisphere’s manipulations, ie, it becomes cliche, formula, empty ritual, vacant ceremony, etc. or what we call “lip-service” — dead formalisms.

      At the same time I recognised that “dark age” could also be an incubation period, a passage through the crucible. Here also is the coincidence of opposites inasmuch as dark age could also be chrysalis stage — ambiguous, a paradox. As the old saying goes, too, “it’s always darkest before the dawn”. But that only holds as a truth by faith. It isn’t proved by logic. It’s akin to Nietzsche’s “what does not kill me makes me stronger”. That was Nietzsche’s faith, not his logic. It becomes true only by a faith that it will be true. But from this, Nietzsche’s FAITH, he articulated his philosophy of amor fati — “it is thus because I willed it thus” or “if a man has a why he can put up with any how

      These are more of Nietzsche’s ironies — that he had a very good understanding of faith, and the need to renew human faith. Again the difference between faith and belief is pointed to by McGilchrist’s “divided brain”. Faith originates in the right-hemisphere of the brain, but dies as mere “belief” in the left-hemisphere where it becomes rationalised. As belief becomes merely an image of faith, so fact becomes merely an image of truth. But the image itself is lifeless.

      This is “dark age”.

  2. edlevin2015 says :

    “Dark Age and chrysalis stage are, in effect, one and the same event”

    Sounds like what Joanna Macy calls The Great Unraveling and The Great Turning. Two interpretations of what’s happening today. One emerging from the extremity of the other.

    http://www.activehope.info/three-stories.html

  3. edlevin2015 says :

    The Anthropocene is the psychological equivalent of a domed city, Blake’s “cavern”, humankind’s self-enclosure, a “house of mirrors” and the “echo chamber” or “bubble of perception” all meaning, basically, the human monologue with itself. This is a dreadful thing. And I can’t help think that this “Anthropocene” presages a totalitarian turn. It would also follow logically from Blake’s insight into mankind’s self-enclosure.

    I discovered Thomas Berry’s The Dream of the Earth about ten years ago. One of the most distinctive aspects of his vision is the concept that we are in a transition from the Cenozoic to the Ecozoic.

    “Our own special role, which we will hand on to our children, is that of managing the arduous transition from the terminal Cenozoic to the emerging Ecozoic era, the period when humans will be present to the planet as participating members of the comprehensive Earth community…Earth as a biospiritual planet must become for us the basic referent in identifying our own future”.

    When I later heard the term Anthropocene I was so disappointed to realize that this deficient narcissistic term was so much more likely to be adopted by reductive science.

    Thomas Berry’s Vision of the Ecozoic is, to me, the right hemisphere opening to the end of the Cenozoic, where the Anthropocene is the left hemisphere closing of the Escherian narcissistic monkey mind.

    Here’s a pretty thorough history of Anthropocene and related terms.

    http://ecozoictimes.com/what-is-the-ecozoic/what-does-ecozoic-mean/

  4. Scott Preston says :

    Thanks for the informative link. I have Berry’s “Dream of the Earth”, but haven’t read it yet. “Arduous transition” might be the proper term here, if something of an understatement. it would probably take something like the equivalent of being whacked by an asteroid.

    I’ll have to dig out Swimme’s and Berry’s books and see what they have to say about this.

  5. Steve Haines says :

    Scott, et al.,

    With some qualifications, I want to recommend a few books on esoteric anatomy and spiritual realization. I practiced in the community surrounding the Crazy Wisdom Adept, Da Free John (later Adi Da Samraj), from 1975-1988. There, via verbal instruction and initiatory shakti-pat, I entered into a sustained examination of the two sided body and brain. My former Guru often said that the secret revealed to initiates in esoteric orders wasn’t cosmology but anatomy. Here are two books that served me well:

    1 – The Enlightenment of the Whole Body: A Rational and New Prophetic Revelation of the Truth of Religion, Esoteric Spirituality and the Divine Destiny of Man, by Bubba Free John. 1978

    2 – Scientific Proof of the Existence of God Will Soon Be Announced by the White House: Prophetic Wisdom about the Myths and Idols of mass culture and popular religious cultism, the new priesthood of scientific and political materialism, and the secrets of Enlightenment hidden in the body of Man, by Da Free John 1980

    Here’s an essay from the latter book:

    Science, Mysticism, and Love

    Modern science is simply the way of knowledge that is natural to the left hemisphere of the human brain-mind. It is the primarily verbal, temporal, and analytical method of relating to the objects of experience.
    Ancient religious mysticism was (and is) the way of knowledge that is natural to the right hemisphere of the human brain-mind. It is the primarily nonverbal, spatial, and holistic method of relating to the objects of experience.
    Scientific knowledge is communicated primarily through verbal abstractions, and also visual signs, that are intended to represent “objective” or “concrete” events, relations, and things.
    Mystical knowledge is communicated primarily through visual symbols and other nonverbal and archetypal signs (as well as verbal metaphors) that are intended to represent “subjective,” “subtle,” or “psychic” events, relations, and things.
    The left hemisphere of the brain generally controls the right side of the body, and its qualities are most directly analogous to those of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system and to the downgoing and outgoing motor currents of the body.1
    The right hemisphere of the brain generally controls the left side of the body, and its qualities are most directly analogous to those of the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system and to the ingoing and upgoing sensory currents of the body.
    Therefore, science and mysticism each represents only one primary half of the human structural possibility, but each, in its own time of dominance, wrongly claims to be the primary, right, sufficient, and even ultimate form of human understanding.
    Both the left and the right hemispheres or zones of functioning of the human brain contain specific or built-in functional limits as well as limiting presumptions. And, therefore, both science and mysticism represent only partial or half-human forms of understanding. Only the whole body or total body-mind of Man can provide the structural point of view for right and ultimate human understanding. Only the whole body (or total psycho-physical being) of Man can provide the foundation for a truly human and harmoniously integrated culture.
    Science and mysticism both represent archaic or partial cultural principles. Each is the point of view of one half of Man.
    Science is not truly “objective,” but it is simply a style of knowledge and culture that is founded on the independent functions of the left hemisphere of the brain and the expansive motor impulses of gross bodily action. Science is simply the highest intellectual achievement of a cultural point of view that is founded on the separate and separative consciousness of self (or ego), the psychic disposition of doubt, and the motives of physical attachment and even aggressive behavior.
    Mysticism is not simply “subjective” in the high and heavenly sense that is promoted by conventional religious cultism. It is simply a style of knowledge and culture that is founded on the independent functions of the right hemisphere of the brain and the passive or inverted impulses of the sensory internalization of consciousness. Mysticism is simply the highest mental or psychic achievement of a cultural point of view that is founded on the undifferentiated state of the deep psyche, and also on the motives of attachment to internal psychic phenomena and to behavior that tends toward passivity and nonrelational self-absorption.
    The culture of science is the ultimate achievement of the “occidental” mind, or the primary mood of Western Man. And the culture of mysticism is the ultimate achievement of the “oriental” mind, or the primary mood of Eastern Man.
    But what of the culture of Man in his totality—including his total brain and totally integrated bodily being? That culture has no great representation in the human world as it now exists. Man is yet only evolved or adapted to the lower structures of his possibility, and his cultural achievements still reflect only his internal conflict. Therefore, East and West are in conflict, and the parts of human consciousness are culturally at war.
    I am at work to awaken a new understanding of Man in his totality, and to help establish a whole bodily cultural movement in the world, that will replace the half-bodily cultures of science and mysticism. That understanding includes the total mind and nervous system of Man, and it produces a culture that is not founded on self-possession, self-division, doubt, exploitation of Man and Nature, or the flight from relationships, or even the flight from bodily existence. Rather, the whole bodily understanding of Man produces a culture of self-transcendence, relational love, bodily service, and spiritually illumined consciousness. Therefore, by this new or radical understanding, East and West will create a World-Synthesis of human culture, on the basis of aspiration and adaptation to the Total World, or the World of Light.
    The unevolved or partially adapted and lower-adapted human being is suffering from a darkened or unenlightened understanding of his situation and his experience. Therefore, he reacts to the conditions of his mortal bodily circumstance. This reaction is personally and culturally communicated in one of two ways, because of the bifurcated structure of the human nervous system. Thus, the style of the common human reaction to the mortal threats of experience is either extroversion or introversion.
    Extroverted reactivity typifies the “occidental,” “left-brained,” aggressive style of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system and of Western Man.
    Introverted reactivity typifies the “oriental,” “right-brained,” passive or interiorized style of the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system and of Eastern Man.
    Science and aggressive worldliness are the characteristic cultural solutions of Western Man to the primitive reaction to mortal experience.
    Mysticism and passive other-worldliness are the characteristic cultural solutions of Eastern Man to the same primitive reaction to mortal experience.
    Thus, the basic cultural achievements of mankind to date are reactive and partial solutions to what is felt to be the problem or dilemma of human existence. It is the reactive and partial nature of these solutions that makes them temporary, incomplete, and even suppressive or destructive to humanity. And it is the sense of dilemma—or existence without the Freedom of Ecstasy—that makes individual existence and cultural or social experience into an intolerably problematic bind that needs a unique solution (that is, a solution or situation that is not native to the fundamental situation of existence itself).
    The “oriental” and “occidental” methods and solutions of Man are equally founded in a reactive dilemma, and both are partial, specialized, emergency solutions that create an artificial or unreal environment for human adaptation.
    The world envisioned by science is equally as desperate, artificial, and unreal as that created, presumed, or invented in the psyche by other-worldly mysticism. Both science and mysticism need to be relieved of the primal dilemma of reactive fear—or recoil from bodily relationship—which is recoil from the plane of natural events as well as from the Living or Radiant Reality in which the natural world is arising, changing, and passing out of sight.
    The trouble with both the “oriental” and the “occidental” solutions of Man is that both ways are based on styles or methods of experiential knowing about the world of experience. Both ways are founded in a reactive dilemma, and both ways, therefore, seek release from that dilemma via conventional knowledge—or the power to manipulate and control the conditions of experience. Both ways avoid the simple, original, radical, obvious, and direct path—which is the way of self-transcendence, or tacit, nonproblematic acceptance of bodily existence and the obligation to live as the body in love.
    The “oriental” way of inwardness (or mind) and the “occidental” way of worldly and bodily self-indulgence (or the way of the “flesh,” separate from the Transcendental Bliss of the Light, or All-Pervading “Sun,” of the natural world) both avoid the whole bodily way of self-transcending love. This is because neither one is founded in the primary or native disposition of Man—or freedom from the primal negativity of reaction to bodily existence and the evolutionary trial of difficult experience and mortality.
    Both science and mysticism are founded on self-possession, or the self-defining fear of death. Both science and mysticism seek knowledge or power that will release Man from death (and thus from fear). But neither science nor mysticism is founded on an original, primal intuition of the Reality and Truth that relieves even bodily existence of the need for inherent or chronic fear.
    The native Way of Man in his totality is the Life-positive Way that is priorly free of fear and that persists as love, bodily, through all experience, and even death. That Way is the Way of true religion, or the higher, truly human and evolutionary spiritual culture of Man.
    The basis of false religion is the Life-negative reaction of fear. And false “religion” includes all cultural solutions that dominate Man in his fear. Thus, the cultures of science and of mysticism are equally “religious” in this, sense.
    The “right-brained” culture of psychic inversion (or psychic “other-worldliness”) is founded on loveless bodily fear and flight from the mortal or ever changing limitations of relationship. Likewise, the “left-brained” culture of self-indulgent extroversion and intellectual worldliness is founded on the same loveless bodily fear and flight from the impingement of relational limitations.
    Cultic religion in an “oriental” culture tends to be founded on inverted mystical beliefs. But cultic religion in an “occidental” culture tends to be founded on both irrational beliefs and Lifeless “rational” beliefs held by the verbal mind.
    Therefore, mortal fear is the bodily foundation of conventional religion and conventional culture, whether “oriental” or “occidental.” But true religion is the native and Life-positive response of relational love, expressed bodily and as Communion with the Unity, Eternal Existence, and Radiant Life-Reality in which Man and the World-Process are always absolutely established.
    The Living Reality is always already the Condition of Man and the World-Process. Man is bodily, originally, prior to all knowledge and all strategic attainments, in the situation of Unity with the Eternal Reality. Science, or the verbal mind, including thoughts of all kinds, as well as mysticism, or the mind of archetypal images and “uncaused” ideas, are simply forms of knowledge about the World-Process. But true religion, or the true culture of Man, is not about knowledge of any kind. The true Way is senior to all knowledge and to all the implications of experience. The true Way is the Way of love, or self-transcendence via native, whole bodily, or total psycho-physical surrender into positive Life-Feeling.
    The world of science and mysticism is the known world. But the world of Man—the world of true religion and higher human culture—is the Living World, the native world of the body itself, prior to all knowledge.
    The Way of Man in his totality is senior to the cultures of science and mysticism. It is the Transcendental Way of Love-Communion with Radiant God, Who is Life. It is the Way in which we abide continually as the body in relational love, not qualified by any kind of knowledge or inwardness, and not qualified by any binding reaction to (or recoil from) the changing conditions of experience.

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