The Global Brain is the Monkey Mind

The “Global Brain” refers to what is called the “distributed intelligence” (caveat there) constituted by the global internet. The term “Monkey Mind”, which you probably have heard, comes from Buddhism and refers to the inner chatterbox that is our ordinary, everyday mind, leaping from one fragmented thought, feeling, image, dream, fantasy, memory to another and basically recites our routine, fragmented belief system to us over and over again — the mental merry-go-round. Jung refers to that as “associative thinking”, which physicist David Bohm referred to as memory-based thinking as distinct from “intelligence” per se — which is the mode of insight. Iain McGilchrist, in his description of the functioning of the brain’s left-hemisphere, also uses the phrase “house of mirrors” to describe what Buddhists would call “Monkey Mind”. This is one of the great benefits of studying McGilchrist’s work on neurodynamics — the insight it provides into the workings of the Monkey Mind.

The Global Brain is the manifest mode of the Monkey Mind. It would be surprising if it were otherwise. The fragmented infosphere of the Global Brain (along with what Buddhism refers to as the “vexations”) is fully represented in the Global Brain so that there is, in effect and in consequence, a convergence of the subjective and objective which become blurred. Or, we can say that the subjective state called “Monkey Mind” becomes objectified in the Global Brain via this extended and distributed nervous system called the “internet”.

In fact, the scientific form of thinking would benefit greatly from a study of Buddhism, with its emphasis on the clarification of consciousness and perception. Einstein, in a statement attributed to him, extolled Buddhism as a fitting adjunct to science:

“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.”

For those not yet familiar with Iain McGilchrist and his neurodynamic theories presented in The Master and His Emissary or the recent The Matter With Things, McGilchrist, noting that the brain is divided between left and right hemispheres, argued, based on pretty convincing research and evidence, that each hemisphere specialised in a different “mode of attention”. The left-hemisphere mode of attention is focussed on parts and details and “things” as such, while the right hemisphere mode of attention is more holistic, and attends to primary matters relationships, processes, and the “big picture view”. The problem that has arisen with Late Modern society and culture, in which consciousness has become dysfunctional, is the “hypertrophy” or “hyperactivity” of the mode of attention associated with the left-hemisphere where it has suppressed or “usurped” the contributions of the mode of attention associated with the right-hemisphere to a fuller insight into, and understanding, of ourselves and reality.

McGilchrist finds, then, that Late Modern society shares some symptoms with schizophrenia, which is likewise largely the result of an impairment of the right-hemisphere functions, largely corroborating our intuitions about the schizoid character of contemporary society — cognitive dissonance, double-think, “symbolic belief”, and the usual consequences of these in unintended consequence, perverse outcome, revenge effect, ironic reversal and such. Popular language recognises this loss of integrality in such phrases as “the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing” or “he doesn’t walk his talk”. Lip-service is paid to high ideals even as those ideals are debased in practice and trampled underfoot, which gives everything the appearance of being inauthentic and insincere.

McGilchrist also notes the tendency of the left-hemisphere mode to “leap to conclusions”, such “leaping” being, of course, a characteristic of Monkey Mind.

So, it seems there is no resolving the problem of “taming the internet” without resolving also the problem of Monkey Mind, and which we recognise when we refer to the fragmentation of the entire media landscape, including the university. For McGilchrist, the resolution of the contemporary crisis of modernity and the self is for the left-hemisphere mode of attention (that is to say, the ego-consciousness) to return to its function as servant or “emissary” of the superior mode of attention of the right-hemisphere, which is the more holistic. That is largely Einstein’s meaning, too, in saying that “imagination is more important than knowledge” or ““I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking”

It has been said, fairly, that current civilisational malaise and pandaemonium is really, at root, a “crisis of consciousness”, and that is so. The value of McGilchrist’s works is that we come to insight into the roots of that crisis of consciousness.

As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I find the Lorenz Attractor a quite suggestive and fitting image of this organ called “brain” functioning optimally. It occurred to me as I was reading some of Einstein’s remarks on the sources of his own creativity and genius. Even contemplating it as such may help somewhat dislodge consciousness from its stuckness in the left-hemisphere mode of attention and the Monkey Mind, which for William Blake was also “Single Vision” and “the dark Satanic Mill”.

Lorenz (or “Strange”) Attractor

36 responses to “The Global Brain is the Monkey Mind”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    By the by, it occurs to me, too, that the original philosophical controversy between “Being” and “Becoming”, the former being associated with Parmenides and the latter with Heraclitus, aligns with McGilchrist’s take on the two modes of attention of the divided brain, since the left-side mode is concerned with fixity and “thingness”, while for the right-side mode, there is only process where truth is never final but always being revealed or disclosed — a continous becoming. This suggests that Parmenides favoured his left-hemisphere while Heraclitus favoured his right hemisphere.

    • Smitty's Gelato: A Film Blog says :

      Over the past two years or so I keep coming back to the idea that becoming is a part of what it is to be. I have trouble separating those two. Maybe this is because Being and Becoming are associated with the two hemispheres, as you said above. Like the hemispheres, Being and Becoming are part of a larger whole.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        You might appreciate some, if not all, of Marcelo Gleiser’s thoughts on the subject: Eon or Flux. Gleiser writes in his book, The Island of Knowledge, The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning, “Not all questions have answers. To hope that science will answer all questions is to want to shrink the human spirit, clip its wings, rob it from its multifaceted existence.” (Here’s a review of the book by Gleiser’s friend, astrophysicist Adam Frank, if you’d like an idea what it’s about. No, I’ve not read it, but I’d very much like to.)

        In the film series, Inner Worlds, Outer Worlds, modern science is characterized as having come to “the threshold of the mystery” (and to the limits of human knowledge and understanding) suggesting that modern science is looking “outside” for insights that can only come from within. If that’s not indicative of “left hemispheric” dominance, what is?

        The religions and the sciences haven’t always been at odds and are not in any way at odds with one another today except and unless an irreconcilable split between them is created in our minds. In what many consider the “golden ages” of human civilizations that have risen and fallen throughout history, both science and religion played integral roles. Now, it would seem, many of us want to do away with both despite that psychology, sociology and the Arts used to the exclusive province of religions before so-called “secularization” in the West. I imagine they will both survive in some form or another provided they’re continually renewed in each new generation and practitioners of them each allow the other do its own thing.

  2. lyleaolson says :

    McGilchrist points out how western culture has alternated between left and right hemisphere orientation and our current misguided tilt toward the left hemisphere. It seems the big question before us is how to ‘right’ our culture’s course.
    But even on an individual basis, bringing the right-hemisphere forward is quite difficult. After a four-year meditation retreat, Bill and Susan Morgan said: “It took us a painfully long time to realize that the left-brain isn’t very good at getting the right-brain to show up.” What can be done with a culture when even a few serious meditators have a very hard time bring the right-brain forward?

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. I think that accounts for why McGilchrist is a tad pessimistic about our prospects, but then it’s not a matter of the left-hemisphere doing anything — that’s the issue of Zens “not-doing” or “No Mind” or “Silent Mind”. McGilchrist cites a few interesting studies in which the left-hemisphere was suppressed — a little like a temporary-induced stroke. It just had to get out of the way.

      So, if these meditators TRIED to bring the right-hemisphere mode forward, that, it seems to me, would be self-defeating, since it would mean that the left hemisphere was still trying to control things — one of the faults McGilchrist finds with the left-hemispheres attitude.. McGilcrhist sometimes cites the Japanese poet Basho about that. The left-hemisphere can’t supress itself without involving itself in a vicious circle.

  3. steve says :

    It seems left-hemisphere dominance has created much of the struggle and suffering that we experience on this planet. How to become whole brain dominant? As we become more and more obsessed with technology, which
    I don’t see ending anytime soon, and the possible big brother interference to make sure it doesn’t end anytime soon, what to do. It seems very bleak to me.
    Meditation? Turning off the tv? Way less time on the computer? Nature immersion? No computer games? Planting a garden? None of these things are ever going to happen on the scale that it needs to happen. Thoreau said, simplify, simplify, simplify. Ain’t gonna happen. Reading poetry would be my recommendation. Who reads poetry anymore. I think we are fucked.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      This is an age old story, Steve. Name a movement of the people, by the people and for the people in human history that has not been partially, if not completely, hijacked, misappropriated, compromised, corrupted, crushed, driven underground, (need I go on?), by “the powers that be” of the time. That’s why I don’t feel the need to get all frantic about one anticipated outcome or another. The same is happening today with contemporary movements: mindfulness/meditation/contemplation, “minimalist,” simplify, “green,” “downsize,” slow-everything and, even, “ecological” movements. They’re being ideologized, commercialized, monetized, politicized and, essentially, pulverized in the gears of Mumford’s Machine as we speak.

      There is only so much we, as individuals, can do and, that, primarily where we are. If we can’t get our major institutions on board with the “Great Turning,” we very well may be doomed because, as Deborah Frieze reminds us, they’re living systems and living systems are inclined toward self-preservation. It’s not an all-encompassing way of thinking and behaving and doing and being in the world that is preventing such a transition from happening on a grander scale than we’d like, afic, but a strain of it that I tend to think of as purely techno-logical.

      At the same time, technology itself is not a problem. Technology is a tool and, as with all our tools. it’s how the tool is used that can be problematic. For example: who’s afraid of Boston Dynamic’s Spot? If so, why? Spot’s a robot — a sophisticated robot, but still a robot — that doesn’t think for itself. While it does have sensors that makes sophisticated assessments of its surroundings, it nonetheless follows the commands of a human controller. If there’s anything to be concerned about when it comes to Spot, I’d say it’s the vast array of intentions Spot’s owners and handlers are capable of projecting into the world that may or may not prove to be of some concern in future. The same is true of our big systems. The essential problem is that we’ve come to see them in purely mechanical, technological terms despite what they actually are and, as David Loy pointed out in his excellent essay, The Suffering System, “awareness has been diffused so completely that it is lost in the impersonal anonymity of the corporate economic system” — the highly centralized, concentrated and immovable “System.”

      Our living systems (healthcare, education, governance, etc.) are obviously ailing and failing us, so I can get on board with decentralization. glocalization, establishing new interconnections among bioregional systems and so forth. Such interconnections are being forged every day despite the more pernicious aspects of “Globalization,” but of course, I won’t hold my breath as they take form and, hopefully, come to fruition.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      BTB and FYI: A lot of people are drawing unwarranted parallels between how they do and do not work as well as what is being developed, tested, done with and planned for Boston Dynamics’ robots and those of its competitors, e.g. Ghost Robotics. Right now, all that’s standing between Boston Dynamics’ robots and their potential uses in the field is the company’s Terms of Use and potential owners’ consciences. How binding is a company’s Terms of Use and personal conscience going to be when it comes to the actual deployment of robotic products in the real world, though? Perhaps we should ask the guy who made it so that Spot can “pee” beer or the guys who made it so that Spot can participate in paint ball fights or, better yet, the guys who fly combat drones for a living. Perhaps we could ask executives of the fictional companies, RobCo and General Atomics International, of Fallout fame if they actually existed, but they don’t except, perhaps, in the realm of dystopian imagination.

      Ghost Robotics is specifically targeting its development and marketing of robots toward military and police forces and the robots’ feasible uses in conflict and combat scenarios. Boston Dynamics isn’t. Just wanted to point that out.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    Castaneda’s don Juan taught him a few exercises for short-circuiting the hyperactivity of the left-hemisphere: a few were a) to contemplate his own mortality, b) wake up in his dreaming by finding his hands (auto-suggestion. That’s difficult) c) “gazing”, such as looking at the spaces between things (like tree leaves) and not focus on the things themselves. Likewise, listening to the silences or “holes” between sounds rather than focussing on the sounds. They were exercises in “Not-Doing”, the aim of which was to “stop the world” — the left-brain’s normal, linear routine framing of the spacetime system. Pretty much the same as Buddhism’s “stopping the wheel of space and time” or karma.

    These practices are much akin to the Zen koan, and again here the idea is to short-circuit the expectations of the left-hemisphere mode of attention rather than get it to do anything. In fact, the initiate begins by struggling with the koan, trying to solve it intellectually, but eventually simply “let’s go”, which is pretty much the essence of zen — let go. It is the left-hemisphere that clings to things, like it’s “reasons”. McGilchrist refers to that clinging as grasping — trying to grasp something in order to understand it. The right-hemisphere doesn’t cling or grasp — the essence of what Buddhism calls non-attachment. McGilchrist quotes Blake in that regard

    He who binds to himself a joy
    Does the winged life destroy
    He who kisses the joy as it flies
    Lives in eternity’s sunrise

    • Scott Preston says :

      To my knowledge, Gebser doesn’t suggest any kind of practices or exercises to bring about his “integral consciousness”. I think he anticipated that just reading his books would have the desirable effect of stimulating the mode of attention that McGilchrist associates with the right-hemisphere, or at least plant a seed that would incubate.

      But the effect of reading Gebser is that you also begin to scrutinise your own belief system for adequacy and fitness, and that may well be Gebser’s exercise after all.

  5. InfiniteWarrior says :

    The “Global Brain” refers to what is called the “distributed intelligence” (caveat there) constituted by the global internet.

    There are other definitions of “the global brain” in play as well, i.e. definitions that have less or nothing to do with the internet. “The global brain” has become a metaphor for the “distributed intelligence” of the Earth and her creatures in other contexts..

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. I was going to mention Howard Bloom’s “The Global Brain” which he uses in just that sense — Nature’s own distributed intelligence as the life web (I referred to that use of the term “Global Brain” in earlier posts).

  6. Christian Roy says :

    Taking a leaf from McLuhan, I would say that right-brain thinking actually comes back in force under electronic conditions that emulate the audile-tactile sensorium of premodern societies, only without the anchoring, stabilizing wisdom that came with local embodiment. The global village is discarnate, freely associating in a psychotic rather than a poetic or symbolic state. The return of the repressed right-side yields distorted forms of its long atrophied functions, bouncing madly within the world that the visual-centric left-brain built, as the latter goes on like a schizoid machine with less concrete anthropolical grounding than ever. Our crisis is one of simultaneous left-brain schizoidism and right-brain psychosis in a vicious circle of further perturbing each other’s healthy operations in the absence of experiential common ground, once the body has been left behind and we live more directly in a world of operative abstractions and autonomized fantasies that both interfere with and bounce off each other without any balanced center of possible resolution. We have become alienated from any healty operation of both the causal reasoning of the left-brain and the intuitive holism of the right-brain, and I am wary of making the left-brain into a scapegoat and leaving the right-brain off the hook when it too needs to be weaned from its current madness of a different type. The initiative needs to come from the reawakened Master, but he will not get far without leaning on the Emissary to put their common house in order, and is likely to fall prey to the monsters born of the slumber of reason.

    • Scott Preston says :

      This is excellent well-put, and I’m sure McGilchrist would also concur completely in that assessment.

  7. Scott Preston says :

    Come to think of it, I don’t recall McGilchrist ever bringing McLuhan into the discussion (although I’m only about half way through *The Matter With Things* so far

  8. InfiniteWarrior says :

    Underneath the arguments about whether or not to take a vaccine glides something older, deeper, slower: something with all the time in the world. Some great spirit whose work is to use these fractured times to reveal to us all what we need to see: things hidden since the foundation of the modern world. — How fear fuels the vaccine wars

    • Scott Preston says :

      I think Kingsnorth’s reasoning is very flawed. First, what is good about the article is it shows up the contradictions that the pandemic has exposed in everybody’s belief systems, but including Kingsnorth’s own. As to be expected from “21st Century Schizoid Man”.

      But as I’ve argued before, the vaccines are only a techno-fix for other problems of social organisation and social process, and Kingsnorth should have also focussed on those. It is kind of trite to resort to the old formula of Thesis — Antithesis — and Synthesis as some kind of resolution of the issue. As long as people cling to the conditions and circumstances of social life in Late Modern Society , they are also going to have to accept the techno-fix for problems of social functioning that arise from those conditions and circumstances. So, the Big Picture view is lacking in Kingsnorth’s essay.

      There are other problems with Kingsnorth’s reasoning — his apparent failure to account for the mutability of the virus — there are multiple variants, and we’ve seen now how, with Omicron, how the unvaccinated can become incubators of new variants that can successfully evade relatively effective vaccine-acquired immunity.

      The pandemic has also sharply exposed the Achilles heel of neoliberalism and the presently constituted technological system, such that governments are having to intervene in that system by, say, banning global traffic with resulting disruptions in the “supply chain”, necessitating a rethink in the value of “localism”

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        Interesting. I didn’t get the impression that Kingsnorth is “reasoning,” but keenly observing in this piece. It’s Peter Limberg”s analysis, to which Kingsnorth alludes, that posits some kind of resolution of the issue.

        Limberg puts his hope in the possibility of forging a Synthesis of the two positions. But in order to get there, he says, both sides must discover and inhabit the fears of the other: something which looks less likely by the day

        Kingsnorth doesn’t write that he puts his hope in the possibility of forging a synthesis.

      • InfiniteWarrior says :

        Kingsnorth does make the off-hand comment, in the interview following, that Limberg’s conclusion is “optimistic” and “probably right,” but doesn’t seem comitted to the idea and does appear to have the “big picture” in mind. It’s a conversation worth having, methinks.

  9. Steve says :

    My friends brother has had his Myelin Sheath around his spine eaten away by his second booster. My old collage roommate has Myocarditis for the rest of his life after first mRNA vaccine. Not getting vaccinated.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      There are risks involved (and this is true of taking any medication) in taking the “vaccine,” which is really a misnomer in this case as it’s neither designed to nor does it provide 100% immunity to the coronavirus. Rather, we’ve learned that it lessens the chance of deadly complications should one contract the coronavirus, which is highly likely. Medical professionals ask us to sit there for a few minutes after taking it, but don’t tell us why. Why is because there is a chance one can go into anaphylactic shock if allergic to any of its ingredients. If people feel like they can’t discuss the risks with their PCP in order to make an informed decision, it’s because in many ways they can’t. Medical professionals cannot inform us of all the risks because we’re learning what they are as we go. Medical professionals can only ask if we are allergic to any of the ingredients or have any underlying conditions that might be exacerbated based on the information we have about adverse reactions thus far. While the kinds of reactions you’re referring to are rare, adverse reactions are being underreported in the media in an effort to increase vaccination rates, which accomplishes little more than further eroding trust in the medical establishment among those who’ve historically been let down by it.

      I’m of the mind that adults are perfectly capable of weighing the risks and making an informed decision for themselves, but most of us quite literally don’t have that information at hand and it is very often not forthcoming, even from medical professionals. I’ve no patience with supposed “reasons” not to take it, e.g. “trolling the left” myself. That’s not a reason, much less a good reason. There are, however, legitimate reasons for not taking the vaccine that are being papered over in favor of the prevailing narrative and when we start talking about what essentially amounts to social credit scores, mandates regardless of any legitimate reasons, vaccine passports and the like, I’m just as disturbed by it as Kingsnorth or anyone else.

      I’ve taken the vaccine and will happily get a booster when the time comes despite that studies presently show that it may not actually prevent deadly complications among cancer patients because I know how the vaccine works, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not a little skeptical of it, especially as I am keenly aware that the treatment I am presently receiving for metastatic breast cancer has been determined by the biotech industry based on the Somatic Mutation Theory of carcenogenesis when that theory may be wrong. The vaccine itself is also a product of the biotech industry and about that industry we have many legitimate, unanswered questions including questions about the very scientific foundations it’s based upon.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      The frog in boiling water analogy has overtaken the story of the frog in the well (in popularity, at least) among the public. I’m seeing it used everywhere now, usually in reference to exploitative marketing techniques and trends. It was used relatively recently in a playful and humorous analysis that left me in stitches of the “Atom Shop” incorporated in Fallout ’76 (a game I’ve never played, btw) or I probably wouldn’t be aware of just how extensively it is being used.

  10. steve says :


    Maurice Nicoll author of Living Time.

  11. Steve says :

    This morning re-reading those wonderful explanations that John Wren Lewis gave of his near death experience. He spoke about his experience being, not “John”, but “Eternity John-ing”, or “Eternity focusing down into this body-mind perspective”, with “Eternity” (that is, “Light”) being his true nature and the one that emanates and perceives everything that is objective.

  12. Scott Preston says :

    Quite interesting article on panpsychism:

    https://www.noemamag.com/the-conscious-universe/

    • Steve says :

      Great article !

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      That’s an unfortunate term, though, isn’t it? “Panpsychism?” The reason being that ‘pscyhe’ doesn’t mean what it used to mean. It’s usually understood to mean ‘mind’ today, but used to mean ‘soul’ based, of course, on the Greek personification of Soul: Psyche. Not much different than what ‘philosophy’ used to mean when ‘philos’ was characterized as the love of “Sophia,” the personification of Wisdom.

      Isn’t it interesting, too, that these historical personifications are cast in terms of the divine Feminine in contrast to personifications of the divine Masculine?

      • Scott Preston says :

        Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan — Goethe, Faust. “The eternal feminine leads us on”. Goethe also had a conception of the yin and yang forces.

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