Reason, Revelation and the Divided Brain

Jean Gebser, in The Ever-Present Origin, chose the term “irruption”, rather than “e-ruption”, to describe the emergence of a new consciousness structure or of “unconscious knowledge” (in Seth’s terms). And it’s pretty clear that “irruption” is a substitute term for revelation or revealed truth.

Thanks to the research of Iain McGilchrist on the divided brain in The Master and his Emissary, we’re in a position to interpret revelation and reason as issues of neurodynamics, related “dialectically” or, perhaps better, “dialogically”, as issues of the first and second attentions or the two cognitive minds associated with the right and left-hemispheres of the brain, respectively. To the second attention, the sudden “irruption” of the insights of the first attention or “Master” into the cognitive matrix of the second attention, or “Emissary”, appear as revelations — not as something it itself has “made”. This is the key difference between revelation and reason — revealed truth versus man-made truth. Or, to put that another way, “the truth that sets free” or “the facts of the matter”.

So, in those terms, when McGilchrist says, for example, that the second attention of the left-hemisphere is busy trying to shut down all the “exits” out of its own tautology and cognitive matrix, it is actually trying to shut down all the “entrances” or avenues by which the perceptions of the first attention and its own mode of being might influence or enter into the consciousness of the second attention and its mode of being. What we call “transcendence”, which is what McGilchrist wants to say by speaking of “exits”, is actually what Gebser calls an “intensification” of awareness by the influx of new energies, which we call “inspirations”, from the first attention into the second attention. And this is called “revelation”.  The irruption, simultaneously an “intensification”, is also called “the quickening”.  “The quick and the dead” is really an issue of the divided brain.

“Irruption”, “intensification” as revelation comprise the apocalyptic element in the thinking of Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy also. The grand entrance of revealed truth into the cognitive matrix of the brain’s left-hemisphere is really experienced as “shattering truth” precisely because it upsets the apple cart — the “best laid schemes o’ mice and men”, as it were. Gebser, McGilchrist, and even Rosenstock-Huessy have very carefully selected their idiom to avoid any kind of suspicion that they are beholden to an antiquated theological or metaphysical discourse about the meaning of “revealed truth”, but it’s pretty evident that the secular idiom they employ has counterparts in theology.

But far from discrediting them, it does the opposite. It affirms that, what William Blake called “the Everlasting Gospel,” recurs again and again in the discrete idioms of mankind’s speech as the same universal pattern.

What trigger’s revelation seems to be a more or less conscious NEED, as attested to also by the great Rumi

From realm to realm man went, reaching his present reasoning,
knowledgeable, robust state; forgetting earlier forms of intelligence.
So too shall he pass beyond the current form of perception.
There are a thousand other forms of Mind. . . .
But he has fallen asleep. He will say: “I had forgotten my fulfillment,
ignorant that sleep and fancy were the cause of my sufferings.”
He says: “My sleeping experiences do not matter.”
Come, leave such asses to their meadow.
Because of necessity, man acquires organs.
So, necessitous one, increase your need.

When the brain is considered more as an organ of perception rather than as a Cartesian Calculator, then it will be appreciated that reason and revelation are not dichotomous or opposites but polarities of one and the same awareness, and that the second attention, which is the ego nature, is that which is called “Prodigal Son”, which has become estranged and alienated from its home and its roots in the first attention. The consequence of this alienation or apartness or estrangement is widespread anxiety, paranoia, cynicism, nihilism, and narcissism. But, by the same token, this things which are characteristic of crisis are also features of need. Crisis and neediness are pretty much synonymous. And it is only when the Prodigal Son ends his journey as a swine living amongst swine — at perhaps the lowest ebb and nadir of life — that he awakens to remembrance of himself, which is to say optionally, awakens to his condition of dis-memberment and begins his journey of self-re-collection.

Perhaps our sense of need is not yet intense enough (or still too much in what Nietzsche called a state of “miserable ease”)? Perhaps we have not yet become mad enough for a new revelation? Madness can be “the exit” that McGilchrist was looking for. There’s no new integration without a prior disintegration, after all, which is the only valid meaning to “creative destruction”.  “Two centuries of nihilism” and “Dionysian madness” were the conditions Nietzsche believed had to come about in order to prepare the way for a new inspiration or revelation. But as mad as the world appears at present, perhaps it is not yet insane enough.

“Divine madness” would be the disintegration of the cognitive matrix of the second attention sufficient enough to allow the influx or entrance of the energies of the first attention. There is some connection between this “divine madness” and what Castaneda’s don Juan called “controlled folly”. In fact, the practice of “letting go” is the very delicate task of “controlled folly”, and the difference between “divine madness” and of a total insanity which might be compared to “forced entry”.

“Exit” is probably the wrong term. It’s the entry way. Hence, the importance of “Not-Doing”, or No-Mind. It’s opening the door rather than seeking the exit. Makes a world of difference how you approach this matter. “Controlled folly” is really quite indistinguishable from “enlightened ego consciousness” in some ways.

The Vision Quest and “crying for a vision” (increasing one’s need) amongst traditional First Nations peoples is the same opening up to a revelation, and in that sense the practice of controlled folly, too. The warrior waits, and he or she knows what he or she is waiting for. Waiting is emptying. One is not caught flat-footed. That’s the difference between madness and vision.




19 responses to “Reason, Revelation and the Divided Brain”

  1. davidm58 says :

    Great post, and I love the quote from Rumi. This morning I finished chapter IX in Wieman’s “Religious Experience and Scientific Method,” and once again finding many resonances with what is posted here today (‘Religious Experience’ being Revelation and ‘Scientific Method’ being Reason).

    Wieman writes [my comment in brackets]:
    “Through worship we reach a vantage point outside the civilization of any particular time in the sense that we can survey it, criticize it, find it wanting and reconstruct it. Worship lifts us beyond civilization. Worship is uncivilized and can never be wholly civilized. It is wild and untamed. It comes in to destroy civilizations and to make them over again. It is from worship that the great religious leaders have come back to destroy that interlocking congeries of customs, which determine the technique of living (moral standards) of any time and people, and to create a new technique, which means a new morality. They return from the wilderness with the vision of a new world in their eyes.” (p. 258)

    “How does worship keep open the door toward the unattained and undiscerned goods? …Our sense organs are capable of revealing to us far more than we have thus far learned to interpret, recognize, or appreciate in any way. Besides the external sense organs, which themselves can deliver to our appreception immeasurably more than we have learned how to appreciate, there are the internal organs, glands, muscles, etc., all of which signify something with regard to our total environment. To worship means to surrender our attention [first attention] to this mass of experience from all these sources…Worship provides for growth because it brings to awareness such masses of experience.

    “In worship we go back, as it were, to the beginning, before the paths of selection and interpretation diverge. If we are to beat new paths through the jungle of experience to the winning of new goods, we best can do it by thus returning to this starting point [first attention] of unsifted and undefined sensuous experience.” (p. 261)

    And speaking to what McGilchrist is calling the 2nd attention, or the left hemisphere:
    “But these masses of experience which the mystic brings to light, can yield up their meaning only as they are interpreted. As long as they are not interpreted, as long as they merely flood consciousness with a sense of vast undefined meaning and tone up the organism with their pervasive stimulation, they are a form of luxury. They are forms of dissipation in which the mystic may revel but which are of no value to anyone else and of no value to him after the mystic hour has passed. These masses of experience must be made to yield up their significance.

    “Now the interpretation of experience, making it yield up its significance, is the work of science. The prophetic mystic may guess at the significance. He may sometimes strike wonderfully near the truth with his guesses. He may have flashes of insight which are sometimes amazing. But his guesses will sometimes be just as amazingly fantastic. There is no method of testing truth and distinguishing it from error save scientific method.

    “Science needs religion to provide it with the raw material of fresh experience and fertility and plasticity of imagination. Scientific method cannot lead on continuously to ever more abundant life unless it is supplemented by religion.” (p. 263-264)

    • Scott Preston says :

      Scientific method cannot lead on continuously to ever more abundant life unless it is supplemented by religion.”

      That sounds about right. Essentially it is Blake’s “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.”

    • Scott Preston says :

      I just noticed that Wieman also has a book entitled The Religious Release of Energy — an intriguing title given what we’ve been discussing lately. Is that something you’ve read David? I’m looking at ordering it and the book you’ve cited, but while the books are inexpensive, the shipping costs ain’t.

      • davidm58 says :

        “The Religious Release of Energy” is actually 1 chapter from “Methods of Private Religious Living” (1930). There are a number of chapters from this book that someone has republished as individual books or booklets, probably because of copyright expiration – I would be wary.

        I’ve actually just ordered an old library copy of this book ($10 for book and shipping, quite reasonable). Having previously borrowed it from the University library, I read it about a year and a half ago, and liked it a lot. I have a number of scanned pages on an old failing computer that I’ll try to retrieve and pass on to you if I can. Having a strong interest in “energy,” I really appreciate how Wieman talks about it…and I’d like to better understand how Blake talks about energy as well.

        I’ve come to the opinion that in order to properly understand and apply Wieman’s thought you need to get a general understanding of at least 3 of his 4 or 5 periods of thought and development. His entire career was generally attempting to solve the question of “How can we interpret what operates in human experience to create, sustain, save and transform toward greatest good, so that scientific research and scientific technology can be applied to searching out and providing the conditions …which must be present for it’s most effective operation?” But how he approached this question changed over time. Creativity is also a big theme throughout his career, reflecting the influence of Henri Bergson.

        In his early career he emphasized mysticism and personal experience. Religious Experience and Scientific Method (1926) might be the best place to begin here. In this period also fits the 1929 book Wrestle of Religion With Truth (largely about integrating A.N. Whitehead’s influence), and Methods of Private Religious Living (1930, very personal and practical), and Issues of Life. You also get more of his explicitly Christian orientation. This period is often neglected by those who follow Wieman, it seems to me; but it may turn out to be the most important.

        In his middle period he mostly stopped talking about mysticism, and focused more on social issues, and moved away from Whitehead somewhat and emphasized more influence from John Dewey. His most popular book – some would consider his magnum opus – The Source of Human Good (1946) best represents this period, and this is where he articulated “The Creative Event” and it’s four sub-events. This book is also a good starting place in general for those wanting to explore Wieman’s thought.

        In his late period, he began to focus on what he now called “Creative Interchange,” which looks at how humans and communities can communicate and support one another in the growth of human good and creative expression so that new structures might emerge and be properly nurtured. This is best represented by his 1958 book “Man’s Ultimate Commitment.” By this time discussion of the religious dimension has receded even more, partially because he was now teaching philosophy at a secular university, whereas before he was at the Divinity School of the Univ. of Chicago. He has also moved from the Presbyterian denomination to becoming affiliated with the Unitarian Universalists.

        Putting these periods together to make a whole, I really like Bernard Meland’s essay “Wieman’s Philosophy of Creativity” and Gary E. Kessler’s essay “Mysticism and Creative Interchange.” Both of these were published in an anthology called “Creative Interchange” edited by John Broyer and William Minor, published in 1982.

        The best introductions to Wieman that i’ve found online (in addition to the wikipedia entry) are:
        This bio:

        This article by Nancy Frankeberry on “Major Themes of Empirical Theology” which is not about Wieman in particular, but puts Wieman in context with this particular line of thought, with those who influenced him and those he influenced:

        Finally, I found two articles by Robert Mesle to be very valuable. He looks at Wieman’s relationship with the thought of Alfred North Whitehead. The links aren’t currently working…hopefully the site will be back up soon.

        “Sharing a Vague Vision: Wieman’s Early Critique of Whitehead”
        “Added On Like Dome and Spire: Wieman’s Later Critique of Whitehead”

        I’ve also started a couple of discussions about Wieman here:

        And here:

        • Scott Preston says :

          Whoa. I’ve got my reading assigned to me for the evening. Well, that’s good. I’ve become curious about Wieman. And just as a side note, Rosenstock-Huessy also ended up in the Unitarian Universalist congregation.

        • Scott Preston says :

          I didn’t get very far into Whitehead’s Process and Reality either, so I can appreciate the bafflement of Eddington’s students when hearing Whitehead’s lectures. I only read about 40 pages into it (so far) but can’t recall a single thing about it.

    • Mike McDermott says :

      David, I wonder if Wieman were alive today he would use the same terms? In the strict sense yes, re-ligare as to bind back together, but there has been much intellectual (as well as sociocultural and geographical) imperialism by exoteric religion of all stamps, which has nothing to do with heading off into the desert for 40 days, and everything to do with social manipulation for power. If one has to ask “which religion”, is one talking of religion at all?
      These days, “spirit” and “mysticism” may be more apposite than “worship” and “religion”.

      With that caveat, once again I am deeply grateful for your introduction of the works of such sages to me, in this case Wieman.

      PS My copy of The Master and His Emissary arrived Friday. Through it I have discovered another sage of seemingly great worth: Max Scheler. McGilchrist quotes him on pp. 341-42 as describing what poets can do for us (such as Rumi, as Scott quoted him above).

      PPS I would add that it is important to emphasise that all this is not a pas de deux between the hemispheres; it is a par de trois, with the third dancer, the universe, being both the parent of the first two and the subject of their attention. As Rudy Rucker put it, “it is probably impossible to describe any one thing in the world exhaustively without mentioning everything else as well” (Rucker 1997, Infinity and the Mind, London, Penguin, p 142).

      PPPS To show I’m not singling out Wieman, I would not have said “thing”, but “existent” or “process” where Rucker said “thing”. 😉

      • Scott Preston says :

        Yes. After David posted his comment, I went to the grocery store muttering to myself about what Wieman meant by “worship” and “technique”, which are really affairs of the left-hemisphere — techne. Not sure what he meant by that but it reminded me of an old Buddhist master I once (or twice) mentioned in The Chrysalis who noted that those who taught “techniques” or procedures never followed them themselves to achieve their enlightenment. They were all post hoc — the second attention trying to figure out a way back into the perceptions of the first attention by a “Doing” this or that or as a kind of “reaching out” or “beyond”.

        So, perhaps people get flustered and frustrated for that reason. It’s not a matter of reaching beyond but of opening up within. Dante’s Journey through the Inferno.

      • davidm58 says :

        Yes, good question. Remember that the quotes above are from 1926. Wieman gradually moved away from an explicitly Christian orientation (eventually becoming a Unitarian), and the language he used also changed. Very late in life, in 1972, he said “God…is a word I shrink from using because it carries so many different meanings for different people. But there is a creativity in human existence…I call creative interchange.” He was now using different language to signify the same thing.

        And he was, even in 1926, standing in opposition to religious imperialism. Explicitly so, even near the section quoted above, where he introduces the section talking about the commonly observed religion “which is devoted exclusively to the promotion of human welfare, as current opinion has defined human welfare, becomes a servant to the prevailing arts and sciences. Its God becomes identified with the values which the people of that time and place have come to recognize…Such a religion cannot be a transformer or revolutionizer…such a religion is not a master of the prevailing civilization but a servant. Such a religion cannot usher in a new day, it can only help to perpetuate an old day. The voice of God, in such a religion, is merely the echo of what the custom and the sciences declare. When the statesman or scientist says that such and such a matter is good, it becomes the business of such a religion to respond: ‘Thus saith the Lord, and so herd the masses into conformity with the dictates of scientist and statesman. It was such a religion that the Roman Caesars tried to bring to perfection in demanding that all men worship Caesar as God. The Romans were intensely practical people and their religion was a practical religion. No mystical nonsense for them.
        Early Christianity was not a practical religion in this sense. It did not sustain the values which were socially recognized by the civilization that prevailed. It did not promote social solidarity under the Roman government. That was precisely the reason why the Roman government persecuted the early Christians. Early Christianity was a revolutionary religion. It was a ferment that disintegrated the prevailing social order in the interest of a totally different manner of life.” (p. 255-256)

        • Mike McDermott says :

          Thank you, Scott and David, for these enriching replies.

          It seems to me that Wieman was a genius. It also seems to me that Max Scheler was. Discovering two geniuses in not many more days: wonderful! They, too, pointed towards a totally different manner of life.

          As do we.

  2. abdulmonem says :

    No wonder, all prophets, over the ages, have been accused of being mad, the prophets who have proved their contact with the divine and that the messages that they are delivering are from Him. Those who have been caged in the congeries of habits, have nothing to offer but refusal to the new revelations. Complete submission to the divine, no doing ,no mind, can not be understood by those who have surrendered to the caprice of greed and accumulations of things, to the instinct of survival. It is a question of worship,absorption in love of the one who has given life to everything,even the earth and the heaven and all those who lives in them, except the ungrateful humans, worship him. Revelation is the product of the effective imagination that negate the concept of separating god from his creations. There are tools to activate inspiration, I have mentioned in a previous comment that the vibratory energetic force of Haa Meem Ayan Seen Ghaff is the tool of igniting inspiration, providing the sincerity of worship and the devout, no mind,repetitive, honest invocation.

    • Scott Preston says :

      There are tools to activate inspiration, I have mentioned in a previous comment that the vibratory energetic force of Haa Meem Ayan Seen Ghaff is the tool of igniting inspiration, providing the sincerity of worship and the devout, no mind,repetitive, honest invocation.

      Yes. It is effective. As is repeating “Aum Mani Padme Hum” or even “Let go” or even “Mary had a Little Lamb”.

      What matters is the intent. Intent, to be effective, must be voiced. Giving voice to intent is to give form to the intent.

      Error, too, must be given form before it can be overcome, because unless error becomes manifest, it cannot be detected. It remains undefined or indistinct until it manifests itself as Error. This is the basis for one of Blake’s Proverbs of Hell: “If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise”. Until one sees manifested the Consequential — the realised form of one’s thoughts and acts — one isn’t in a position to repudiate the Error. So, sometimes it is very necessary to follow the paths of Folly in order to arrive at Wisdom. So, very often Paths of Folly are also Paths of Wisdom.

      Of course, that assumes one has the lucidity or presence of mind to recognise the Consequential as an intent. Most people don’t recognise the manifest Error as the Consequential and so as the form of an intent. So they keep repeating the same stupid behaviours over and over again with the same Consequential outcome.

  3. Mike McDermott says :

    The Yellow Emperor went wandering
    To the north of the Red Water
    To the Kwan Lun mountain. He looked around
    Over the edge of the world. On the way home
    He lost his night-coloured pearl.
    He sent out science to seek his pearl, and got nothing.
    He sent analysis to look for his pearl, and got nothing.
    He sent out logic to look for his pearl, and got nothing.
    Then he asked Nothingness, and
    Nothingness had it!
    The Yellow Emperor said:
    “Strange, indeed: Nothingness
    Who was not sent
    Who did no work to find it
    Had the night-coloured pearl!

    Chuang Tzu, Tr. Thomas Merton, quoted in Nonduality Highlights, # 1581 at

    • Scott Preston says :

      Or, Rumi
      “Essence is emptiness, All else accidental
      Emptiness brings peace to your loving, All else disease
      In this world of trickery, Emptiness is what your soul wants.”

  4. Scott Preston says :

    I have come to a tentative conclusion, and it has the benefit of being compatible with Mcgilchrist’s description of neurodynamics.

    What I’ve called “the cognitive matrix” of the second attention is adequately mapped by Rosenstock’s “cross of reality”. Grammar, represented in the cross of reality, provides the cognitive matrix.

    What Holling’s adaptive cycle provides is, on the other hand, a description of the flow of energy-information between the brain hemispheres — the right-left-right-left-right flux described by McGilchrist which is also described by the Lorenz Attractor.

    With these two models, I think we are in a very good position to unravel some of the puzzles of human existence, and in a VERY good position to unravel the more cryptic aspects of Blake’s “fourfold vision” and the meaning of the four Zoas. And I also believe that Blake’s four Zoas do conform to Gebser’s four structures of consciousness, too.

  5. dadaharm says :


    Currently we are still following the politics of scapegoating. We are trying to find someone to blame for our problems. So we are more or less repeating the 1930’s.

    Repeating the 1930’s shows quite clearly (I think) that our ways of thinking and acting are to blame. It seems that some sort of trance (or maybe just self-deception) prevents most humans from realising this.

    Therefore the irruption of another way of thinking can happen quite suddenly. The more so, because most information needed is already available.

    All that is needed is an event (not necessarily a crisis) that makes the obvious visible. Then things could and should move fast.

  6. Dwig says :

    Speaking of madness; a poem from a farmer/poet/essayist who understands it well:

    Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

    by Wendell Berry

    Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
    vacation with pay. Want more
    of everything ready-made. Be afraid
    to know your neighbors and to die.
    And you will have a window in your head.
    Not even your future will be a mystery
    any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
    and shut away in a little drawer.
    When they want you to buy something
    they will call you. When they want you
    to die for profit they will let you know.
    So, friends, every day do something
    that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
    Love the world. Work for nothing.
    Take all that you have and be poor.
    Love someone who does not deserve it.
    Denounce the government and embrace
    the flag. Hope to live in that free
    republic for which it stands.
    Give your approval to all you cannot
    understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
    has not encountered he has not destroyed.
    Ask the questions that have no answers.
    Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
    Say that your main crop is the forest
    that you did not plant,
    that you will not live to harvest.
    Say that the leaves are harvested
    when they have rotted into the mold.
    Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
    Put your faith in the two inches of humus
    that will build under the trees
    every thousand years.
    Listen to carrion — put your ear
    close, and hear the faint chattering
    of the songs that are to come.
    Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
    Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
    though you have considered all the facts.
    So long as women do not go cheap
    for power, please women more than men.
    Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
    a woman satisfied to bear a child?
    Will this disturb the sleep
    of a woman near to giving birth?
    Go with your love to the fields.
    Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
    in her lap. Swear allegiance
    to what is nighest your thoughts.
    As soon as the generals and the politicos
    can predict the motions of your mind,
    lose it. Leave it as a sign
    to mark the false trail, the way
    you didn’t go. Be like the fox
    who makes more tracks than necessary,
    some in the wrong direction.

    Practice resurrection.

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