Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World
This post builds and expands upon a brief comment I posted below the post remarking on the similarities between Dr. McGilchrist’s take on the divided brain and some elements found in the Seth material. Although Dr. McGilchrist might flinch a bit at having his work compared to that of an “energy personality essence no longer focussed in physical reality”, what they both have to say about the divided brain and its different modes of perception and attention is remarkably similar and very relevant to the central themes of The Chrysalis.
I am well into my initial reading of McGilchrist’s new book The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World , which is quite lengthy — split into two volumes, in fact (much like the divided brain Dr. McGilchrist studies). The work builds upon and expands upon his audacious thesis originally published in The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. It is itself a treasure trove of insights into what makes us tick as human beings.
As I was reading The Matter With Things, I was reminded of a passage from one of the Seth books entitled The Nature of Personal Reality. The passage was a reference to “senility” and the right hemisphere of the brain, which I quoted in the comment but will also cite here again:
“Many instances of expansion of consciousness, and mental psychic growth, are interpreted by you as senility. No important correlations have been made between the subjective experience of the old, particularly “senile” conditions, with those of other ages involved in expansion of consciousness, whether natural or drug induced.
Any such sensations are immediately repressed by the old for fear that “senility” will be the diagnosis. The experiences, however, affect the right hemisphere of the brain and in such a way that abilities are released in somewhat the same manner as the adolescent’s.
The individual, when it is time then, begins to see beyond temporal life, to open up other dimensions of awareness that in your terms he or she could not afford while involved in the intense physical focus of normal adult life. Unfortunately the personality has no system of beliefs, as a rule, to support such an expansion. The natural therapies, both physical and mental, are denied. Drugs are often used as depressants, clouding the clarity of what seems to be distorted vision. This is one of the most creative, valuable aspects of your lives. Instead the old are made to feel useless in your society. Often of course they share this value judgment, and their experience within your communities has in no way prepared them to face subjective experience.” (pp. 294-295 The Nature of Personal Reality).
That passage, I then realised, is completely comparable to another from an entirely different Seth book entitled The Unknown Reality from which I quoted long ago in a posting entitled “The Most Haunting Words in All Literature“. This quote deals, however, with the transitional phase we find ourselves in presently and the stakes involved. As with the elderly, so too with aged epochs, civilistions, and societies. The dynamics are quite the same, and call to mind Jung’s principle (or Heraclitus’s as the case may be) of “enantiodromia” — reversal of polarity at the extremity.
Ego consciousness must now be familiarized with its roots, or it will turn into something else. You are in a position where your private experience of yourself does not correlate with what you are told by your societies, churches, sciences, archaeologies, or other disciplines. Man’s “unconscious” knowledge is becoming more and more consciously apparent. This will be done under and with the direction of an enlightened and expanding egotistical awareness, that can organize the hereto neglected knowledge–or it will be done at the expense of the reasoning intellect, leading to a rebirth of superstition, chaos, and the unnecessary war between reason and intuitive knowledge.
When, at this point now, of mankind’s development, his emerging unconscious knowledge is denied by his institutions, then it will rise up despite those institutions, and annihilate them. Cult after cult will emerge, each unrestrained by the use of reason, because reason will have denied the existence of rampant unconscious knowledge, disorganized and feeling only its own ancient force.
If this happens, all kinds of old and new religious denominations will war, and all kinds of ideologies surface. This need not take place, for the conscious mind – basically, now — having learned to focus in physical terms, is meant to expand, to accept unconscious intuitions and knowledge, and to organize these deeply creative principles into cultural patterns…
I am saying that the individual self must become consciously aware of far more reality; that it must allow its recognition of identity to expand so that it includes previously unconscious knowledge. To do this you must understand, again, that man must move beyond the concepts of one god, one self, one body, one world, as these ideas are currently understood. You are now poised, in your terms, upon a threshold from which the race can go many ways. There are species of consciousness. Your species is in a time of change. There are potentials within the body’s mechanisms, in your terms not as yet used. Developed, they can immeasurably enrich the race, and bring it to levels of spiritual and psychic and physical fulfillment. If some changes are not made, the race as such will not endure.
What is meant by “ego consciousness” is, in McGilchrist’s terms, the hyperactivity of left hemisphere of the brain and its particular mode of attention (corresponding, in fact, to William Blake’s deranged Zoa named “Urizen”, and which McGilchrist calls “the Emissary” mode) and which also, by its very hyperactivity, inhibits or represses or usurps the mode of attention of the right hemisphere of the brain, which is more holistic, more realistic, more “global” in its outlook and is very probably that transformative mode of attention that astronauts often experience as “The Overview Effect”, and quite similar to neuroscientist Jill Bolte-Taylor’s own experience following her left-hemisphere stroke.
(For those not yet familiar with either The Overview Effect or with Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “Stroke of Insight”, I’ve linked again to the two relevant short documentaries here. Both, in my view, very strongly buttress McGilchrist’s fundamental thesis about the two modes of attention of the divided brain).
A corresponding problem with the hyperactivity of the left-hemisphere mode of attention is its hypertrophy — stuckness, as it were. And another word for that would be “decadence”. This seems likewise clearly related to what Jean Gebser calls “the deficient mode of functioning” of the present “mental-rational consciousness structure”. The Matter With Things is an excellent resource for deepening our understanding of just what Gebser means by the mental-rational consciousness structure functioning in “deficient mode”.
There is, however, a proverbial “silver lining” in this, one attested to by Seth and McGilchrist and which bears on Jung’s insight into enantiodromia. When a consciousness structure enters into its hypertrophy, a compensatory dynamic is invoked, and that is the shift in the locus of consciousness towards the mode of attention of the right hemisphere. This is the very meaning of “transition” in the current context, and in the interim there is confusion, neurosis and even pandaemonium for the reasons given by Seth — there is no present framework for the integration of “rising unconscious knowledge”: that is, the mode of attention of the right hemisphere that has been inhibited and repressed by the left hemisphere — the Emissary’s “usurpation” of the Master, as McGilchrist puts it. But it is the work of people like McGilchrist, Gebser, Rosenstock-Huessy, David Bohm, and even William Blake among others to provide such a framework for the restructuration of consciousness. It is an urgent task, which Rosenstock-Huessy referred to as “outrunning the modern mind” in its throes of dissolution and fragmentation — all too apparent today.
It is, nonetheless, a dangerous time. The left-hemisphere is a jealous god, and it would just as soon damn the Earth and everything in it to Hell rather than surrender its hegemony over the psyche. Blake described the problems of the transition very well centuries ago, as did Nietzsche later, and I have certainly witnessed this resentment of the left-hemisphere consciousness myself on social media. This incorrigibility and intransigence of the ego consciousness is also well-covered by McGilchrist, which has made him something of a pessimist, as the subtitle of his book shows — the unmaking of the world.