The Master and His Emissary

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

Iain McGilchrist
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 608
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1np8g3
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  • Book Info
    The Master and His Emissary
    Book Description:

    Why is the brain divided? The difference between right and left hemispheres has been puzzled over for centuries. In a book of unprecedented scope, Iain McGilchrist draws on a vast body of recent brain research, illustrated with case histories, to reveal that the difference is profound-not just this or that function, but two whole, coherent, but incompatible ways of experiencing the world. The left hemisphere is detail oriented, prefers mechanisms to living things, and is inclined to self-interest, where the right hemisphere has greater breadth, flexibility, and generosity. This division helps explain the origins of music and language, and casts new light on the history of philosophy, as well as on some mental illnesses.

    In the second part of the book, McGilchrist takes the reader on a journey through the history of Western culture, illustrating the tension between these two worlds as revealed in the thought and belief of thinkers and artists, from Aeschylus to Magritte. He argues that, despite its inferior grasp of reality, the left hemisphere is increasingly taking precedence in the modern world, with potentially disastrous consequences. This is truly a tour de force that should excite interest in a wide readership.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17017-7
    Subjects: History, Psychology, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. vi-vii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. viii-x)
  5. INTRODUCTION: THE MASTER AND HIS EMISSARY
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book tells a story about ourselves and the world, and about how we got to be where we are now. While much of it is about the structure of the human brain – the place where mind meets matter – ultimately it is an attempt to understand the structure of the world that the brain has in part created.

    Whatever the relationship between consciousness and the brain – unless the brain playsnorole in bringing the world as we experience it into being, a position that must have few adherents – its structure has to be significant. It...

  6. PART ONE: THE DIVIDED BRAIN
    • CHAPTER 1 ASYMMETRY AND THE BRAIN
      (pp. 16-31)

      The topic of the difference between the hemispheres, their fundamental asymmetry, has fascinated people for a very long time indeed. In fact speculation on the subject goes back more than two millennia: Greek physicians in the third century BC held that the right hemisphere was specialised for perception, and the left hemisphere for understanding - which, if nothing else, shows a remarkably interesting train of thought.¹

      In more modern times, the physician Arthur Wigan published his thoughtful study,The Duality of the Mind, in 1844, prompted by his fascination with a handful of cases he stumbled across where an individual...

    • CHAPTER 2 WHAT DO THE TWO HEMISPHERES ‘DO’?
      (pp. 32-93)

      How much neurological and neuropsychological evidence is there that the hemispheres really are all that different? Or, if there are differences, that there are consistent and significant patterns to the differences, rather than just a random carve-up of ‘functions’ according to the dictates of space? (This ‘toy cupboard’ model, which is represented by the traditional view that brain functions are just accommodated according to where space can be found or made, is the one invoked to explain the residence of language functions in the left hemisphere.) Surely, it may be said, the really important differences are those between the many...

    • CHAPTER 3 LANGUAGE, TRUTH AND MUSIC
      (pp. 94-132)

      In what has gone before, Ihave deliberately followed neuropsychological practice in focussing on a set of discrete tasks or functions, that can be defined and measured, since that is the way we have gathered information about the brain, and it is the way we are used to thinking about it. I now want to look at this material in a different light. I want to draw it together, and suggest that the hemispheric differences are not just a curiosity, with no further significance, a bunch of neuropsychological facts, but actually represent two individually coherent, but incompatible, aspects of the world....

    • CHAPTER 4 THE NATURE OF THE TWO WORLDS
      (pp. 133-175)

      In the first chapter I drew attention to the divided nature of the brain and suggested it had a purpose: perhaps there were things that needed to be kept apart. I also drew attention to the brain’s asymmetry, a suggestion that difference did not necessarily involve equality. In the second chapter I looked at what the nature of the differences between the hemispheres might be. In the third chapter I suggested that the hemispheres were not just randomly assorted ‘databanks’, but had coherent and possibly irreconcilable sets of values, imaged in the left hemisphere’s control of manipulation through the right...

    • CHAPTER 5 THE PRIMACY OF THE RIGHT HEMISPHERE
      (pp. 176-208)

      If the two hemispheres produce two worlds, which should we trust if we are after the truth about the world? Do we simply accept that there are two versions of the world that are equally valid, and go away shrugging our shoulders? I believe that the relationship between the hemispheres is not equal, and that while both contribute to our knowledge of the world, which therefore needs to be synthesised, one hemisphere, the right hemisphere, has precedence, in that it underwrites the knowledge that the other comes to have, and is alone able to synthesise whatbothknow into a...

    • CHAPTER 6 THE TRIUMPH OF THE LEFT HEMISPHERE
      (pp. 209-238)

      Looking back over the evidence i have discussed in the previous chapter from philosophy, neurology and neuropsychology, it would appear that there is a good chance that the right hemisphere may be seeing more of the whole picture. Despite the left hemisphere’s conviction of its own self-sufficiency, everything about the relationship of the hemispheres to one another and to reality suggests the primacy of the right hemisphere, both in grounding experience (at the bottom level) and in reconstituting left-hemisphere-processed experience once again as living (at the top level). We have also seen that many important aspects of experience, those that...

  7. PART TWO: HOW THE BRAIN HAS SHAPED OUR WORLD
    • CHAPTER 7 IMITATION AND THE EVOLUTION OF CULTURE
      (pp. 240-256)

      Knowing what we do about the nature of the different worlds each hemisphere brings about, and understanding their relationship, we can, I believe, begin to see a pattern in the course of Western history. I believe there has been a succession of shifts of balance between the hemispheres over the last 2,000 years, and the second part of this book will explore this point of view, with the particular aim of understanding what is happening in the contemporary world.

      The history of the West shows times when a move forward in one hemisphere ‘releases’ a move forward in the other,...

    • CHAPTER 8 THE ANCIENT WORLD
      (pp. 257-297)

      In his bookfaces: the changing look of humankind, milton brener has presented a detailed study of the way in which the portrayal of the human face evolved in antiquity.¹ Noting that 90 per cent of emotional communication is nonverbal, and that most of this is expressed through the face (described by Georg Lichtenberg as ‘the most entertaining surface on earth’),² he begins by reflecting that there are virtually no faces in prehistoric art. Its subjects are mainly animals; where there are humans, there is often only a pelvis, buttocks and breasts, and almost all figurines are headless; where there...

    • CHAPTER 9 THE RENAISSANCE AND THE REFORMATION
      (pp. 298-329)

      The period of perhaps seven hundred years that used to be known as the Dark Ages, between the fall of Rome in the fifth century and what we now think of as the early Renaissance, in the twelfth, was by no means as lacking in vitality and colour as the name implied. That the term has fallen into disuse may be a recognition of the often remarkable quality of craftsmanship evident in what has survived from the period, or of the fact that it is no longer ‘dark’ in the sense that we know little about it – modern historiography...

    • CHAPTER 10 THE ENLIGHTENMENT
      (pp. 330-351)

      The enlightenment is, of course, the age of reason. This term, so redolent of clarity, simplicity and harmony, generates confusion, complexity and contradiction at the outset. ‘Rationalandrationality, reasonandReason, remain hotly contested notions, whose users disagree even about the nature of their disagreement,’ wrote the philosopher Max Black.¹ One principal distinction underlies most of the others; it is a distinction that has been understood and expressed in language since ancient times, and therefore is likely to have a substrate in the lived world. This is the distinction between, on the one hand, Greeknous(ornoos), Latin...

    • CHAPTER 11 ROMANTICISM AND THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
      (pp. 352-388)

      What is romanticism? judging by the attempts that have been made to define it, it is more than a little enigmatic. In fact Isaiah Berlin devotes the whole of the first chapter ofThe Roots of Romanticism, one of the best explorations of the topic, to the mutually incompatible propositions that have been advanced as constituting its essential nature. If he reaches a conclusion it is that, though the Enlightenment could be summed up in the cognitive content of a relatively small number of beliefs, Romanticism never could, because its concern is with a whole disposition towards the world, which...

    • CHAPTER 12 THE MODERN AND POST-MODERN WORLDS
      (pp. 389-427)

      Virginia woolf’s often quoted remark that ‘on or about december 1910 human character changed’ is memorable for its playful specificity. It is usual to refer that specificity to Roger Fry’s controversial exhibition ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’, which had opened in November 1910 at the Grafton Galleries in London. However, the change she meant was very far from specific: it was indeed all-encompassing. ‘All human relations have shifted’, she continued, ‘those between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. And when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics and literature.¹ Pretty...

  8. CONCLUSION: THE MASTER BETRAYED
    (pp. 428-462)

    Are there drives behind the differences I have outlined between the hemispheres? The hemispheres appear to stand in relation to one another in terms that ask for human understanding and the application of human values – just as the competition of genes appears ‘selfish’. Putting it in such human terms, it appears essential for the creation of full human consciousness and imagination that the right hemisphere places itself in a position of vulnerability to the left. The right hemisphere, the one that believes, but does not know, has to depend on the other, the left hemisphere, that knows, but doesn’t...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 463-517)
  10. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 518-522)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 523-534)