The Crystal Spirit
If you have read Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and his Emissary on the divided brain, you will necessarily come to the conclusion that the brain is not a calculator as much as an organ of perception. This change in understanding is, in itself, quite revolutionary, because it provides a framework for the reconciliation of the two worlds — the “mystical” and the “empirical”, or the sacred and the profane, and perhaps finally lays to rest the Cartesian dualist error.
The brain, in effect, functions much like a prism or a crystal. If the prism could “think” it would also perhaps know itself as two facets or aspects, or as having two different cognitive minds or “personalities”. One side of the prism receives the light whole, as white light, and that’s all it knows. The other side of the prism refracts the light into the distinct spectral bands, as discrete colours — the “details”. A moment’s thought suffices to realise that the prism is the nexus of perception between “the One and the Many”, and the nexus is called “Man”. This metaphor of the brain as prism is perhaps the most appropriate way of “reflecting” on it, as it were. And the idea of the brain as really an organ of perception rather than a calculator is perhaps McGilchrist’s most striking accomplishment.
The metaphor of the brain as prism joins a host of other metaphors that have been used over the centuries to describe the crystalline or prismatic nature of consciousness and perception: “Diamond Mind” (Tolle, Almaas), or “Ruby” (Rumi), or “the Jewel in the Lotus” (Buddha), or “the Pearl of Great Price” (Sufism). Crystals have held a fascination for human beings perhaps because they symbolise an intuition about the brain as a prism, and the mystery of light — of how one light, entering the crystalline matrix, becomes refracted into a mutiplicity of colours. In that sense, and in terms of its multifaceted character, the crystal symbolises the unio mystica and the integral consciousness.
The two facets of the prism thus serve as metaphors for the two “modes of attention” or “modes of being” of the two hemispheres of the divided brain as described by McGilchrist in their ostensible opposition. And if you review Jill Bolte-Taylor’s TED talk about her own experience with the divided brain, you may come to appreciate how appropriate the idea of the brain as “prism” actually is, and as being primarily an organ of perception.
One facet of the prism, which recieves the light whole, is called “the Master” and the other facet of the prism, which differentiates the light into a spectrum, is called “the Emissary”. These are “the we inside of me”, as Bolte-Taylor expressed it, and which is, in effect, a statement about the hieros gamos or “sacred marriage”.
Bolte-Taylor has also given an excellent description of how the one field of energy as received or perceived by the mode of attention of the right-hemisphere of the brain, is then refracted into the elements of sense perception — taste, sight, smell, odour, touch, which is the workings of the other facet of the prism, the left-hemisphere’s mode of attention, which is associated with the analytical function. These form the spectrum of sense perception, and upon these differentiated elements of the one energy the rational consciousness depends for its mode of functioning — discernment, compare and contrast, and so on.
The problem is that this side of the prism (the left-hemisphere mode of attention or “second attention”) doesn’t know about the other facet of the prism, the one that perceives the energy whole and receives the light as one light, which Jill Bolte-Taylor describes as the “Life Force Power of the Universe”. And it is also this that William Blake calls “Imagination” or Vision as contrasted with “Reason”, which he describes as the “outward circumference of Energy” (from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3 Energy is Eternal Delight
“Energy is Eternal Delight” is quite evidently also Bolte-Taylor’s experience. And here “Reason”, in Blake’s terms contrasted with “Imagination” or “Vision”, is what we call “ratio” — a ratiocination of sense perceptions and their arrangement into a structure or matrix which is the task of perspectivisation, which is the method of this Age. And you will also see from Bolte-Taylor’s experience of her stroke that the incapacitation of the left-hemisphere’s mode of attention also results in a loss of perspectivism — the inability to distinguish “point-of-view” or even foreground and background effects. Her sense perceptions, in the absence of the functions of the left-hemisphere’s mode of attention, were chaotic, had no structure, and simply flooded in upon her in the form of pain. There was no determinate order to her sense perceptions. Whereas, when the locus of her attention drifted into the right-hemisphere’s mode of attention — the “first attention” — there was no pain.
So, there appear to be two “centres” to the brain, although we may say rather, two loci or foci — a point of entry and a point of exit. The point of entry, which we call “vital centre”, is this streaming in of “the Life Force Power of the Universe”, and the point of exit of this energy is called “physical reality” — the perception of ourselves and our world as solid being which lends to Seth’s remark that the physical senses are “lovely liars” some meaning. This “other centre”, which is the meaning of the “emissary” and which we call “self-centred” is really on an eccentric, and follows the pathway of the centrifugal. It has mistaken itself as this “centre” whereas Blake insists it occupies the “circumference” and not the Centre.
And if the Self and the Reason lies, rather, on the eccentric and in the circumference, it is following what? A circle, a cycle. It is, in effect, “repeating the same dull round” as Blake described it but thinks it is making “progress”. It has become, in McGilchrist’s terms, self-referential and tautological, the mental-merry-go-round and “windmills of your mind” that Blake, rather, called “the dark Satanic Mill”. The “emissary”, who is the ego-consciousness, has become the dark Satanic Mill, which today is called “end of history”.
This orbit on the eccentric is the theme of Yeats’ poem The Second Coming. The “widening gyre” is the centrifugal. The falcon is the “emissary” and the Falconer is the “Master”, the vital centre
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Basically, this, too, is the theme of McGilchrist’s concerns in writing The Master and his Emissary, and what he sees as the emissary having usurped the throne of the Master — the true “Centre”, or what Jean Gebser also calls “the vital centre”. Blake, for his part, calls this true centre “the Real Man” and the eccentric he calls “the Natural Man” — the man of “natural reason” or “natural religion”, and which he also calls “the Beast”.
So, what the Wisdom Tradition also calls “True Self” and “False Self” are akin to two centres, but only one is real. They may be said to correspond to the two facets of the prism. The False Self is what Blake calls “Satan” or “Urizen” which has mistaken itself for the centre. Buddha called this False Self “Mara”, who is also called “Lord of Illusions” and “Lord of my own Ego”. And it is in respect of McGilchrist’s “divided brain”, and its prismatic character, that the old saying “Satan is but the ape of God” takes its determinate meaning. God and Satan are also “the same but different” in the sense that “God” is a reference to the first attention and its centre and “Satan” a reference to the “emissary” which has now confused itself as being the centre when it is, in fact, on the eccentric. As Jill Bolte-Taylor put it, to say “I am” is to separate oneself from All That Is, and is also what the Buddha called “the I am conceit”. “I am” is the voice of Satan, and this is somewhat akin to what Nietzsche said about the true self. The true self is not the voice that says “I am”, but which does I am.
And that is just another statement about the relationship between the Master and the Emissary.
Now, having presented the issue in this way, I think we are in a very good position now to appreciate the prismatic character, also, of Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” as well as the meaning of Gebser’s “ever-present origin” as “vital centre” too. And we might conclude from these things that Blake’s cryptic vision of a “New Age” aborning is truly being realised and advanced in the thinking of Gebser, Rosenstock-Huessy, Thomas Berry and McGilchrist, too, and that McGilchrist has provided an empirical verification of the “metanoia” that is currently underway.