Globalism, The Global Brain, and Integral Consciousness

If you haven’t caught Iain McGilchrist’s 2016 Blake Society Lecture provided by YouTube (and thanks to Risto for that link) please do so. It is, in my estimation, one of the great public lectures of all time, and of crucial importance in appreciating some of the turbulence and strangeness of our present chaotic transition, as well as how “Old Renaissance” and potential “New Renaissance” represent an essential discontinuity. It also suggests why I hold also that “post-rational” or “post-truth society” can also be understood differently, as an essential restructuration of what we mean by “truth” and even by “human nature”.

So, I would like to comment further here on Dr. McGilchrist’s lecture as well as elaborate on some aspects and issues of the divided brain which he did not.

As you might conclude from Dr. McGilchrist’s lecture on Blake’s vision, and how this relates to his description of neurodynamics, Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell pertains to the integration of the two modes of intention, the primary and secondary, or first attention and second attention, as they are associated with the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This is the Hermetic hieros gamos (or “sacred marriage”) that one finds depicted in alchemical texts,

The Human Archetype

The Human Archetype

And this coincidence of the opposites, which is the sacred marriage, is the paradoxical, and this coincidentia oppositorum as it relates to the divided brain is one of the main themes of Dr. McGilchrist’s lecture. Yin and Yang, or Anima and Animus principles and their interweavings are here represented, so that, in essence, Blake’s “New Age” is an anticipation of the marriage of the two modes of perception (as the holistic and the particularistic) associated with the divided brain.

But apart from Blake’s “Urizen”, who Dr. McGilchrist mentions in terms of Urizen’s association with “Euclidean Mind” (the perspectivist consciousness structure) McGilchrist doesn’t mention Blake’s “four Zoas” who likewise all “reside in the Human Brain”, as Blake averred. Dr. McGilchrist’s focus is on hemispheric bilateralism rather than multilateralism.

In The Master and His Emissary, though, Dr. McGilchrist acknowledges that there is more to the human brain than the left and right hemispheres. There is also an hemispheric asymmetry between the posterior and anterior, or “old” and “new” brains. It is understandable that he would focus rather on the left-and-right bilateralism since it could become very complex very quickly to integrate the anterior and posterior with the left and right entanglement. But it will be appreciated that, in these terms, the brain is “fourfold” in that sense, and that Blake’s four Zoas and his fourfold vision reflect that structure.

William Blake -- the Fourfold Vision

William Blake — the Fourfold Vision

In much the same way, Michaelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel painting of the Creation of Adam depicts God and his cherubim in the shape of the brain,

Michelangelo's Creation of Adam

Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam

And so we have left and right as one hemispheric relation, and we have anterior and posterior as another hemispheric relation. And we note, also, that the left-right hemispheric relation seems primarily oriented towards space, externality and internality respectively, while anterior and posterior express the temporal relation or axis as new and old respectively. The first attention of the right-hemisphere (the primary) is attentive to the “inwardness” of things — their liveliness, as McGilchrist describes (ie, insight) while the second attention of the left-hemisphere (the secondary) is attentive mainly to surfaces or “objective” characteristics of things — the “secondary qualities” so-called, while the first attention focusses on the “substantial” in its original sense — what sub-stands or underlies the appearances — the essential.  It’s also in these terms that Gebser describes the difference between the latent and the manifest, and the various degrees of latency or manifestation between them as “concealed” or “unconcealed”.

What is latent and what is manifest depends upon the eye that beholds. But as you might appreciate, the “usurpation” of the Emissary is the fact it has inverted the relationship between the primary and secondary, the essential and the substantial, or the latent and the manifest. The Emissary (that is, the second attention associated with the left-hemisphere) mistakes the secondary for the substantial, and therefore what is manifest as being itself the substantial — assumed now to be the material or physical, or solid as the essential primary reality. This is the meaning of “delusion”, that the relation between the primary and secondary (or epiphenomenal) is inverted. This is the “usurpation”. The usurpation is the re-presentation or the mediated, rather than the presence of the immediate. Mediate and Immediate are equivalent to the secondary and the primary, or what is known only through the mediations (called “the facts of the matter”) or what is known immediately (which is called “truth that sets free”).

The Emissary’s usurpation (which is also called ego-nature) has been to consider itself the primary, and the “Master” perception as the secondary, which is an inversion of the truth, and this has cast the cloud of Maya over our experience of reality. It’s in these terms that Sufis, for example, speak of the Emissary as the “false self” and the Master as the “true self”. And it’s in these terms, too, that the mere Totality of things (the aggregate representations) becomes mistaken for the Whole or holistic, with dire consequences.

Nonetheless, if anterior and posterior correspond to a temporal (evolutionary) axis, and left-and-right hemispheres to the spatial orientations principally, then what we have is a fourfold cruciform structure, as represented in the Sacred Hoop and also in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and quadrilateral logic.

Sacred Hoop

Sacred Hoop


Rosenstock-Huessy's "cross of reality"

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”

And with this we may surmise equally, that Gebser’s “four structures of consciousness” have some affiliation with this fourfold quadrilateral structure of the human brain — the archaic, the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational, which are in turn, represented in Blake’s “four Zoas”. So, Rosenstock-Huessy’s cross of reality may be said to be a representation of whole brain consciousness, which we also call “the integral consciousness”.

In those terms, the “Guardians of the Four Directions” who are near universal in human culture, can be considered to have some affiliation with this fourfold or multilateral structure of the brain also, which becomes particularly more suggestive when you consider that North, South, East, and West of the Sacred Hoop are these same Guardians of the Four Directions, with one axis (East and West) the axis of time (associated with the rising and setting sun) while North and South pertain to the polarity of the outwardness and inwardness of things.

In the same way, we have traditionally partitioned the globe into hemispheres in a way that seems remarkably consistent with the organisation of the human brain — North and South hemispheres, which we not untypically associate with the “civilised” and the “tribal” (or “developed” and the “developing”) while we partition the East and West hemispheres in terms of “mystical East” and “logical West”.

This pattern, as you can see, looks remarkably like the human brain projecting its own structure onto the globe. We even use the term “hemispheres” in exactly the same way in speaking of the brain or the globe. And it’s in these terms, that one can appreciate also what Blake means by the integral consciousness as The Universal Humanity, or the latent possibility of the “Anthropocene” to be something other than an exclusive construct of the “Emissary” as it is presently.

It’s in those terms that “globalism” can become the incipient form of whole-brain thinking, too — or “integral consciousness”. This possibility is implied not only in Duane Elgin’s The Awakening Earth, but also as Howard Bloom’s The Global Brain. In a sense, the Earth is become the canvas upon which the brain is inscribing its own structure, making itself “concrete” and “extended” in those terms, and potentially now realising itself as “fourfold vision”. And it is in those terms that we can speak of “awakening earth” and “global brain” equally.

Now, examine again the indigenous symbol of the Sacred Hoop and imagine it projected into 3 dimensions — a sphere, in other words. It is not only the symbol of a human being in terms of the fourfold Self but also an image of the Earth, with the cross inscribing the hemispheres also in terms of Eastern and Western, and Northern and Southern. The symbol serves not only as an image of the fourfold human and the fourfold brain, but also as an image of the whole Earth. It retains its integrity as a symbolic form even despite the realisation that the Earth is spherical and not flat.

This division of the globe into the “regions” or hemispheres echos the structure of the brain itself. There are no real lines inscribed on the surface of the Earth to differentiate hemispheres. They are inventions of the human imagination. North, South, East, West aren’t principally cardinal points. They are values. When Rudyard Kipling once wrote that “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet” he wasn’t saying that there was a chasm or abyss or natural wall in the Earth keeping the hemispheres apart. He was saying “mysticism” and “logic” (or right-hemisphere and left-hemisphere) will never agree or concur. Much may be said for our differentiation of Northern and Southern.

(Jung’s symbol of the integral Self, which occurred to him in a dream also, very much echos the Sacred Hoop also, and what we might refer to as “whole brain thinking”)

Jung's mandala of the Integral Self

Jung’s mandala of the Integral Self

The symbol of the integral Self also resembles the whole Earth, so that we may say these images are “co-evolutionary” in that sense, in keeping with the Hermetic principle “as above/so below” or equally “as within/so without”.

The brain, in effect, functions much like a prism. That is probably the best analogy to avoid any suggestion that the brain “oozes” consciousness out of itself. Rather, it refracts the singular awareness that we are into the different modalities of attention, which are represented in Blake as the four Zoas of the human brain. It is an organ for organising the consciousness of experience in terms of times and spaces — backwards, forwards, inwards, and outwards.

Globalism and “globalisation” aren’t symmetrical in those terms. What we call “globalisation” is the stuckness of the “Emissary” mode of awareness — the part presuming to be the whole when it is not, so it takes on the character of neo-imperialism or assimilation, and not a true integration. This stuckness is characteristic of “Urizenic Man” — the man of “Single vision & Newtons sleep”, as Blake described it, which is just another way of saying “narcissistic man”.  So in these terms “globalisation” is actually disintegrative, not integrative at all. It completely misunderstands itself.



33 responses to “Globalism, The Global Brain, and Integral Consciousness”

  1. donsalmon says :

    Very interesting post, but I’m confused by your depiction of the brain. The only anterior/posterior division of the cortex I’m aware of is between the prefrontal cortex (anterior) and the occipital lobe (posterior). In between the prefrontal and occipital is the parietal lobe. I don’t know of any interpretation of these that reflects new and old, or “more evolved” and more primitive.

    The two divisions I’m most familiar with are the left-right, as you’ve portrayed them, and the cortical (upper) and sub-cortical (lower). Dan Siegel, when teaching kids, simply refers to them as the “upstairs” and “downstairs” brain.

    So you have left-right (Left: selective attention, objectifying, linear, quantitative; and Right: peripheral awareness, holistic, qualitative, field-like awareness).

    And you have the upper-lower (cortex – the “executive”, CEO, conductor, complex thought and emotion, which would correspond with your “new”, and sub-cortical, survival instincts/reptilian, emotional bonding/mammalian, which would correspond quite well with your “primitive”).

    But i’ve never heard the distinction of anterior posterior for the cortex. Do you have any references? Did McGilchrist refer to this division in his talk?

    • Scott Preston says :

      Usually when talk gets around to the notion of a “global brain”, what is meant is not the whole brain, but just what McGilchrist describes as the left-hemispheric functions — the Emissary. That’s pretty clear. But if we are going to speak about a “global brain” at all, it has to be the whole brain, not just part of it.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    But i’ve never heard the distinction of anterior posterior for the cortex. Do you have any references?

    Not in his lecture, but he does very briefly in his book. I think he’s referring to the neo-cortex and the limbic (or the reptilian), which is probably what you’re referring to as the “upstairs” and “downstairs”

    • donsalmon says :

      I see. It would probably be the whole cortex (anterior and above) and the whole sub-cortical regions (including the mid-brain, limbic system and brain stem (posterior and below).

      Good point about the global brain. Dan Siegel even goes further. His term “interpersonal neurobiology” refers to the fact that our “brain” is really a “brain-body,” (hence, neurobiology) and our mind is really brain-body-interpersonal.

      In speaking of integration, he goes yet further, with his term “integration of consciousness” he refers to integration of the core, the origin or center of awareness, with all other aspects of consciousness, and with “transpiration integration”, he refers to the integration of the core/brain/body/interpersonal/ with the universe.

      In his conversations with Michel Bitibol, a French philosopher of science/physicist, (who wrote an excellent article available online, “Is Consciousness Primary?” he is open further to an understanding of the transcendent (which for Sri Aurobindo is what the Supramental or integral consciousness brings together – the transcendent, universal and individual consciousness) though has not yet integrated it in his work.

      • Scott Preston says :

        I believe that the “four beasts” who surround the throne of God in the Book of Revelation is the origin of Blake’s Zoas (the zoa meaning “beast” also), in which case it is also a reference to the whole brain. In that sense the “Guardians of the Four Directions” (including in Buddhism and the “four dragons and the Jade Emperor” of China) are also in the human brain.

        Rosenstock-Huessy speculated that there was a specific organ that acted to distribute awareness in this fourfold pattern. He called it the “lamina quadrigemina”, but I’ve never every located anything that could resemble that (sounds somewhat like Gurdjieff’s “kundabuffer”). Perhaps he was looking in the wrong place, and that it was the whole-brain itself that acted to differentiate like this.

        • donsalmon says :

          I might say they’re all in Consciousness, as the brain is in Consciousness (“He in whom we live and move and have our being; Paul, in Acts, II, verse 27) but ultimately the same.

          • Scott Preston says :

            Yes, except awareness, being undifferentiated, formless, or “one”, then it must be the brain that differentiates. This is why I compare it to a prism.

            But, then, we have the issue of “gray matter” and the problematic nature now of “matter” more generally. If the nature of matter has become problematic (“the Matter Myth” as Paul Davies describes it) this is also becomes the riddle of the brain and body, too. Brain and body also become “mythic” or symbolic form as well.

            • donsalmon says :

              Well, in my understanding, in the contemplative view, the ‘brain’ is only an appearance of inner processes. It would actually be the buddhi that differentiates and what we observe with our senses as the “brain” is merely a physical plane correlate of an inner differentiating process.

              As you seemed to indicate, the “brain” then is an image, a symbol of the buddhi, which itself is an inner symbol of a transcendent process of differentiation inherent in the all-enfolding, all-encompassing Divine.

            • Scott Preston says :

              The brain itself would conform to a pattern dynamics. It’s structure would not be arbitrary in those terms, then.

      • davidm58 says :

        I appreciate bringing Dan Siegel into the conversation. Rather than seeing a clear and equal division of anterior and posterior, it might instead be seen as simply a continuum of time, which is what I see when I look at Rosenstock-Hussey’s Trajective and Prejective arrows in the Cross of Reality.

        Looked at this way, we can tie it to Siegel’s discussion of the evolutionary development of the human brain, which he often simplifies in his presentations as his “hand model of the brain” (shaped into a fist), showing the triune layers that developed over the course of evolution.
        Starting on the Trajective end, and moving toward the Prejective, the brainstem developed hundreds of millions of years ago (the reptilian brain) – right above your wrist in his hand model. The limbic region (including the hippocampus and amygdalla), deep within the brain evolved when mammals appeared 200 million years ago – represented by your thumb folded under your fingers. Then comes the outer layer, the cortex, which evolved with primates and human beings. Moving forward to the prefrontal cortex located in the knuckles to fingertips area, or just behind the forehead in the actual human brain. the outer two fingertips represent the the side prefrontal cortex (generating conscious focus of attention), and the middle two fingernail areas represent the middle prefrontal cortex (enabling us to pause, reflect, attain insight and empathy).

        Siegel points out that “the middle prefrontal area is literally one synapse away from neurons in the cortex, the limbic area, and the brainstem. And …it even has functional pathways that connect us to the social world of other brains.” In other words, this area is “profoundly integrative.”

        The above paraphrased from his book Mindsight: The new Science of Personal Transformation, pp. 14-22.

        Siegel explains his hand model in this 5 minute video:

        BTW, note that in the Sistine chapel image in the post above, it is God’s fingernail reaching out of the prefrontal cortex of the Divine (The Trajective) toward the human. Fascinating.

        Also, how Siegel talks about the integrative function of the most evolved middle prefrontal cortex reminds of Gebser’s emphasis that evolution is not about transcending previous consciousness structures, but rather on integrating them all in the healthiest way, enacting a healthy Trajective movement back in the other direction on the continuum of Time.

  3. InfiniteWarrior says :

    The brain, in effect, functions much like a prism…. [I]t refracts the singular awareness that we are into the different modalities of attention….

    It bears noting that references to “singular awareness” are far too often misconstrued as references to “single vision” in our times. It also bears repeating that there’s nothing more complicated or insidious to Descartes’ formula, “I think, therefore I am,” than that it is backward in orientation.

    • donsalmon says :

      Hi IW: I’ve always enjoyed Llewelyn Vaughan-Lee’s reformulation of Descartes’ formula: “I think, therefore I am not!”

      Then there’s this one:

      Descartes walked into a bar. The bartender asked him if he wanted a drink. He replied, “I think not,” and disappeared.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        Vauhan-Lee’s reformulation doesn’t go far enough. It begins at the same point as Descartes’ “formula” and negates it. Needless to say, negation is not transformation.

        I recall a lively and interesting discussion taking place back in the days of TDAB in which Scott brought to the fore the notion that “I” do not think so much as thoughts “occur” to “me”. I’d say that’s definitely the case when “I” — whoever “I” might be — am “thinking straight.” : )

        The English language and Western philosophy in general has a serious problem that would appear to be all bound up in that little pronoun, “I”. No doubt its roots lie in translations of Exodus 3:14 and is resultant in Buber’s “I and Thou,” which — as Scott also mentioned recently — is rendered more astutely by Rosenstock-Huessy as “Thou-I”.

        • donsalmon says :

          I think as far as I can see, IW, Llewellyn is pointing toward the same thing you are. His “I think” doesn’t mean simply thoughts occurring. Descartes’ “I think” from the view Llewellyn is conveying, is making the mistake the “I” think rather than thoughts ‘Occurring.”

          Perhaps it may have seemed that Llewellyn was simply advocating not thinking. He was pointing toward the Ignorant – Avidya – identification with thinking; or even beyond that, the reification of the separate self – which I think points toward your concern with the pronoun “I”.

          I-Thou or Thou-I speaks, perhaps to the universal cosmic consciousness, but I’m not sure it quite points toward the transcendent/universal/individual trinity (whose “fourth” is the One-that is Three)

          • InfiniteWarrior says :

            He was pointing toward the Ignorant – Avidya – identification with thinking; or even beyond that, the reification of the [false] self

            Hi, Don. I’m aware of that. What I question is his starting point and what I said is simply that the reformulation doesn’t go far enough. That formula is with us and will remain with us, whether we like it or not; whether we refute it or not; whether we mock it or not; whether we negate it or not; and underpins Western thought.

            Some (not necessarily Llewellyn) would erase the “self” completely, both from existence and any significance, whereas authors such as A.H. Almaas somehow manage to avoid that, integrating the “self” and still pointing toward true Self-realization.

            I don’t want to distract from the intricate complexities of Scott’s post by over-attending or over-thinking how Descartes’ formula might yet serve us in the West. A simple reorientation is all it would take as far I’m concerned.

  4. davidm58 says :

    Great post, with much food for thought. One of many small area one could dive deeper into is your paragraph on the mediate / immediate polarity.

    “The usurpation is the re-presentation or the mediated, rather than the presence of the immediate. Mediate and Immediate are equivalent to the secondary and the primary, or what is known only through the mediations (called “the facts of the matter”) or what is known immediately (which is called “truth that sets free”).”

    I am reminded of Hakim Bey’s (aka anarchist Peter Lamborn Wilson) wonderful piece on “Immediatism” – a manifesto calling artists to create art NOT for public consumption, as expressed in this excerpt:

    “…as artists & “cultural workers” who have no intention of giving up activity in our chosen media, we nevertheless demand of ourselves an extreme awareness of immediacy, as well as the mastering of some direct means of implementing this awareness as play, immediately (at once) & immediately (without mediation).

    Fully realizing that any art “manifesto” written today can only stink of the same bitter irony it seeks to oppose, we nevertheless declare without hesitation (without too much thought) the founding of a “movement,” IMMEDIATISM. We feel free to do so because we intend to practice immediatism in secret, in order to avoid any contamination of mediation. Publicly we’ll continue to work in publishing, radio, printing, music, etc., but privately we will create something else, something to be shared freely but never consumed passively, something which can be discussed openly but never understood by the agents of alienation, something with no commercial potential yet valuable beyond price, something occult yet woven completely into the fabric of our everyday lives… ”

    Full Text available here:

    However, the best presentation of this work, in my opinion, is in the mediated audio form, as produced by Bill Laswell:

    • Scott Preston says :

      That’s interesting, although indeed “immediatism” is ironic representation itself. Immediacy needs no ism to mediate and interpret it. It’s just another term for “mindfulness”, which leads to what Sufis refer to as tawhid, or “oneness with God” or Präsenz. In effect, that’s immediacy in its fullest sense.

      Immediatism has good instincts, and I enjoyed listening to the audilo (with some caveats) but it ends up like a dog chasing its own tail.

      To wit: there’s a remark in the audio about “getting serious but not sober”. well I can understand that in the sense that Rumi speaks of wine and intoxication as symbolic of tawhid. But it’s probably more important to get sober, but not serious.

      I’m not sure what more I can add to the issues of mediacy and immediacy that hasn’t already been said by Iain McGilchrist (in terms of the Emissary and the Master) or by Jill Bolte-Taylor. That’s the immediacy that immediatism is yearning for, and its instincts are sound anyway.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Oh yes, should mention too, it might be easier to appreciate the distinction between Whole and Totality in terms of the immediate and the mediate, and by extension, “globalism” and “globalisation”.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Come to think of it, there probably is quite a lot that could be said about immediacy and the mediate, for the “immediate” is also what some Buddhists call “Suchness” or the realisation of “suchness”. “Inter-being” is not quite this, since “inter-being” (as Thich Nhat Hanh uses that) as “inter-esse” or inter-connectivity (such as Butterfly Effect) isn’t quite the same immediacy, but it is, as they say, a “finger pointing at the moon” — though that’s much like your description of the finger of God in the “Creation of Adam”.

      Of course, mediation is also what the mirror does, and so mediations are mirrorings, reflections, echoes, images, shadows, etc. That’s Blake’s “Ulro” — the mediated as the shadows of the true. As Rumi said “the whole universe is a form of truth”. But then, only a hair separates the false from the true.

  5. mikemackd says :

    I finished watching McGilchrist’s lecture last night.

    You are right about his missing matters, and having to do so in order to make his core point. You use a quadrilateral approach to highlight that; however, if you extend that to a hexagonal one – front, back, left, right, up, down – that extends focus to the whole nervous system, and if you add in/out, one adds the relationship of that system to its environment, and the purposive nature of what to see and narrate, include and exclude being a pan-nervous system thing (also referred to by McGilchrist).

    I mention this because the enteric nervous system is omitted from McGilchrist’s narrative, yet it has a major effect upon affect – mood etc. As Box put it, all models are wrong, but some are useful.

    This is by no means meant as a diss of McGilchrist; it is, as he would assuredly agree, the nature of the left hemisphere beast. That’s why, as Nicholas of Cusa put it, the best minds hold all ideas lightly.

    The questions were interesting. There was a question about Stan Grof, and a series of questions from a guy at the back of the room who mentioned a book called SSOTBM (he omitted the “E” at the end, I think), which was about using magic etc to manipulate the imaginations of oneself (and others?) (the book is available online, I found). McGilchrist omitted answering all but one of his questions. Then someone who sounded like a neuroscientist questioned his basic premise, which threw him for a while but he gathered himself and recovered.

    I tried to follow up his reference to Mike Zeininger’s (???) lab in California confirming the left hemisphere’s credulity, but couldn’t find anything. I would love access to a transcript and references, but don’t know if they will happen. I took a couple of A4 pages of notes, but the lecture was rich and those, too, miss much.

    • Scott Preston says :

      After I read The Master and His Emissary I wrote McGilchrist suggesting he look at Gebser. He wrote back suggesting that he would do that. Don’t know if he did that or not. Might have handled the questions about magic in a different way.

      I didn’t catch the q & a portion. I didn’t know there was one. I’ll have to go back and take that in, too.

      • donsalmon says :

        @mike mackd:

        Actually, McGilchrist has been deeply involved with Dan Siegel, who in turn regularly references McGilchrist’s work. He may not have mentioned the enteric nervous system in that particular lecture – he’s gotten so much flak and outright attacks from neuroscientists about his LH/RH views, that he may feel the need to focus on that to clarify it.

        If you know interpersonal biology, and put that together with McGilchrist, as well as the Enneagram work Siegel is doing with David Daniels at Stanford, and the philosophy of science work with Michel Bitbol, as well as the copious artistic, musical and literary references of McGilchrist, you can start to get the sense of the enormous range they’re covering.

        McGilchrist evidently is becoming more open to the meditative traditions too. That should be very interesting.

        • mikemackd says :

          Dear Donsalmon,

          Thank you for introducing me to the work of Dan Siegel. I suspect I am not as aware of it as I should be. I am much in favour of his general approach, but the devil, as they say, is in the details, and I am not aware of them yet.

          In the past I have been rather sniffy about enneagram work. Perhaps I should revise my opinion, and also check on Michel Bitbol, not only because he has earned McGilchrist’s attention but also because a have a reasonably developed interest in that field. I am also fairly familiar with McGilchrist’s cultural references.

          Did you see the attack on McGilchrist’s entire approach that I mentioned as coming from the audience? If so, I would be interested to hear from you whether both the question and the reply are the jist of what’s going on, or whether there are more substantive points on both sides. I have not yet found them online.

          • donsalmon says :

            Hi Mike:

            Sure. First about the Enneagram, i’ve been more than sniffy (great word!) most of my life; sheer rubbish was more my attitude. I only reconsidered it, some 2 or more decades after first hearing of it, when I heard that Dan S was collaborating with a Stanford professor on it. For my money (! – sorry Scott:>)) I find the chakra system, when rightly understood, infinitely better. But I would never trust any of the new age books on chakras – it requires someone who at least has the capacity to directly enter the subtle worlds – and my guess is that it will be at least 50 to 100 years before we have any scientists with that capacity, so i’m happy to leave the enneagram to dan and dave or now!

            About Mcgilchrist: If you could save me some time – I just haven’t had time to watch the talk, though I’d like to – can you sum up for me the critique?

            while waiting, i’ll be happy to guess: it’s about LH/RH being mere pop psychology and long disproven. If that’s right, I’ll add the part where they’re right and were I think they’re off.

            A lot of people who love McGilchrist’s work say he made a mistake veering to much toward literalism. I think it was a kind of Buddhist skillful means but it was a mistake. In John Yates’ “The Mind Illuminated,” he identifies the functions McGilchrist claims are primarily in the left hemisphere as being partially in the left and partially in the right. This has happened almost every year for any attempt at brain localization.

            McGilchrist started out his book saying his psyche/brain links were metaphorical, then he went back and forth, and now says LH/RH as a kind of shorthand. Big mistake, I think.

            Take the triune brain theory (reptilian brain stem, mammalian iambic system, primate/human neocortex). Basically, it’s wrong, from a strictly neuroscientific view point. Paul McLean put forward this view about 40 years ago and almost everything he said about it was wrong. Siegel and the rest of his interpersonal neurobiology crew use a much improved, updated version, but it’s still very iffy (or sniffy!).

            Jan and I used Siegel’s version on our website, but it was bothering me this sumer as we were creating our e-course on meditation and the brain. I checked with a friend who teaches the brain to med students (and a lover of occultism and yoga to boot!) and he said even Siegel’s version was woefully out of date. That was it, and we now talk about the instinctive, emotional and mental/rational programming of the brain, with the PFC/executive functions as the only brain structure we mention. The 3 part programming is something that will never go out of date, whether it’s associate with the brain stem or the big toe.

            Back to McGilchrist – there’s a tremendous amount of heated back and forth online, most of it misunderstanding what McGilchrist is saying. The best clarification I ever heard was a lecture he gave at Schumacher college – it’s not at all about “logical left brain” and “emotional/intuitive” right brain- it’s about 2 fundamentally different forms of attention.

            This is exactly what Yates talks about as “selective attention” (McGilchrist’s “left mode”) and “peripheral awareness” (McGilchrist’s “right mode”). To me, the coolest thing about Yates’ work is he demonstrates quite clearly that Buddhaghosa, in the 5th century, as well as numerous Mahayana and Tibetan/Vajrayana Buddhists made exactly the same distinction. Every day I study his book, I discover major new things about my meditation practice, which means it’s quite possible to verify for yourself, in your own direct experience, what they’re talking about.

            Critics be damned! When they demonstrate they have even the vaguest notion of what the mind actually does (folks like Paul Bloom, chair of the psych department at Yale, and Harvard’s Stephen Kosslyn, one of McGilchrist’s most vociferous and ignorant critics – haven’t a clue) then they can speak. Otherwise, they should take Wittgenstein’s advice ” whereof one cannot speak, one should remain silent” (or something like that:>)) Perhaps a better way of saying it would be, if your knowledge is sniffy, don’t speak!

            • Scott Preston says :

              The more common symbolism of the brain-consciousness connection, after Golden Flower or Lotus Blossom, is Crystal Spirit, Diamond Mind, or Ruby — many interconnecting transparent facets, rather than discrete “parts” or components — the lattice.

            • donsalmon says :

    's_net (re: the interconnecting transparent facets Scott refers to)

            • Scott Preston says :

              Whoa. I’ll have to do more research into Indra’s curriculum vitae, because it sounds from the article that Mara, Lord of Illusions, is a polar aspect of Indra, in terms of having the powers of revealing and of concealing.

            • Scott Preston says :

              In fact, I just noticed that in one sculpture in the article on Indra (under the Buddhist section) Indra is shown as holding an oyster shell, either in the process of opening or closing it. Very interesting, as I just earlier posted a comment about oyster shells and pearls in the next post on “global brain”.

            • mikemackd says :

              The critique from the floor was that the speaker had read his book, had conducted scans herself, and found nothing whereof McGilchrist speaks. After reeling for a while, McGilchrist responded quite well, I think, in replying that he was speaking of different levels. Paraphrasing him and using my own examples, he said that at one level, we all look pretty much the same inside, but at another, say for example Jesus compared to “Mad Dog Mattis”, Trump’s future Defense Secretary, we are very different (see

              I have read MacLean in the original, and his critics, and written on his work. I consider that he has had a bad press. For example one of those critics, Susan Greenfield, quite ignored that he frequently admitted the provisionality of his model. While agreeing that MacLean was correct in terms of evolution and neuroanatomy, Greenfield says that he was extravagant in claiming that the three brains were poorly integrated (which he did not), and considered the claim naïve in terms of modern neuroscience but still useful as an analogy (Greenfield 2008, p. 216).

              Back to the question. Surprisingly, McGilchrist did not reply that his observation arose from his treatments of stroke victims, noting hemispheric differentiation in behavioral consequences. They were not conclusions from scans as such – only insofar as they revealed the location of the stroke, and his profession competence is at the level of behavioural changes, so he put one and one together.

              Whether or not his conclusions are supported at the neurological level is not my main point, which is the brain is part of a larger process anyway,with increasingly mentally defunct machinists hierarchists isolating its functions in which it is as immersed as a fish in water, in the manner McGilchrist describes. As Mumford describes elsewhere and in quotes like the one below, such approaches supply one with precisely zero competence in intrinsic valuation. Hence the rise of folks like Trump and Mattis.

              As for Mattis, Mumford had this, at lots more, to observe about his ilk:

              [T]he most dangerous enemy we face lies within us. The high religions have always acknowledged this enemy, in the human heart itself, and modern psychology has unearthed the same foe. In the depths of man’s unconscious life lie the forces of destruction he projects outside himself and externalizes. As an infant he cherishes illusions of omnipotence, and the actual achievement of physical omnipotence may cause him to lapse into infantile modes of behavior. The history of every great concentration of imperial power, from Nebuchadnezzar to Alexander, from Ivan the terrible to Hitler, bears witness to this threat of regression. (The Human Prospect, p. 246).

              Caligula said something along the lines of “let them hate me, so long as they fear me”. It would seem that the American Empire is tracking the Roman rather well. Except, perhaps, Caligula’s hair colour was different to Trump’s. I believe that neither their hair colour nor the synapse patterning were their main game, but what Mumford said is more like it, and that gets us back to McGilchrist’s answer to the question again.

  6. Scott Preston says :

    It might seem a stretch to say that the Sacred Hoop symbolises the whole brain but for two intriguing statements made about the Sacred Hoop: “the Sacred Hoop is in language” and that the wise are those “who speak from the centre of the voice”. That is to say, from the centre of the Sacred Hoop, which is also Rosenstock-Huessy’s centre of his “cross of reality” and Gebser’s “vital centre” too, which is the centre of integration/integrity. The centre of the voice is also truth. In much the same way, St. Anasthasius once wrote about taking “the cross into one’s heart” (it was a nice quote, but I can’t relocate it). But in any case “Christ” as “the Word” or logos on the cross corresponds also to this centre of the voice.

    So both the Sacred Hoop and the Cross of Reality can give us insight into the meaning of “post-truth” or “post-rational” society — its “eccentricity” in that sense as the loss of the vital centre, corresponding to the meaning “self-alienation”.

    • Scott Preston says :

      There is also one of Blake’s Proverbs of Hell that brings this to mind: “The cistern contains; the fountain overflows”. That applies to the flux of energy (which is both “of the body” and is “Eternal Delight”). The fountain can refer to the kundalini energy’s path up the spinal column, while the cistern corresponds to the brain (and the brain to the crown chakra). But the brain is the seat of the four Zoas — the image of the alchemists “Golden Flower” in other words, since the array of the petals forms a mandala and so the Sacred Hoop or Cross of Reality. So also, “tree of life” and “golden flower” seem to be the same metaphor or image — the sap rising up the stem, and branching or differentiating as flower or as crown. (in fact, speaking of crown, you can see this same mandala structure in the British crown jewels, which is worn on the head).

  7. abdulmonem says :

    As you are aware, I am a student in the divine university after my graduation from the scholastic schools of the humans and now I take from the scholastic school only what pertain to His university. I agree speculative talk gets us no where but only increase our already augmented mess, Either speak from the center or as Don said be silent. We are not a passive platform of divine thoughts occurrence but a basic participant in understanding ,enhancing and expressing these thoughts, that is why we need to be very honest,after all we are conveying his thoughts, the purpose of our creation, the realm of right and wrong and not of useful and non-useful, the realm of knowing our selves, our cosmos in order to know him. We are not as the Sufi say, a tiny germ but in us the whole cosmos is printed, We are as Dave said a continuum that reflects the cosmic continuum and both are enfolded in the divine continuum. Our spiritual opening is dependent on our purity and the purer we are the more receptive to his knowledge and wisdom we become. We are living the negative consequence of his denial, the denial of the light of all existence, we use words without intending their meaning. There is a system of knowledge descent from the divine sphere to the human shere, those who meditate feels it through the expansion of their consciousness,but alas they use it for their personal glory and not to serve the one who grant them that expansion. This is the story of the mediate and the immediate in its pure form as Hakim Bey tried to explain, that is to serve the divine purpose of existence and not only the survival instinct as it is emphasized by our post-truth civilization that is programmed to serve the lower self and neglect the higher self which we have remembered lately and start seeking, after realizing the mess we are in, despite the fancy images displayed. What is hell but the environment of a tortured souls and how many are there in our miserable unlife. I like to a conclude with a statement addressed by god to Mohammad, saying, and we have inspired you by the spirit of our command, you did not know what is the universe or the faith, but we have made it a light we bestow on our people who deseve it and you guide to the straight path. We have to be aware of the spirit of knowledge that is the spirit of command as different from the spirit of creation.

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