A Revolution in Thought? – Dr Iain McGilchrist

Dr Iain McGilchrist writes books about neuroscience and philosophy. He is the author of a number of books, but is best-known for The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale 2009); and his book on neuroscience, epistemology and ontology, The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World (Perspectiva 2021).

It is often remarked that though it may seem that we face numerous global crises of different kinds – environmental, social, political, cultural, economic, psychological, and so on – these crises are interrelated. The term ‘metacrisis’ has been invented to describe this predicament. However these crises are not merely adventitiously interrelated because each has an impact on and reinforces each of the others – though that may be true – but because they share roots at a deeper level in a way of thinking about ourselves and the world. What are these roots? Hemisphere theory, deeply grounded as it is in Darwinism and subsequent neuroscientific research, shows us that a new, far more complex, and more nuanced, appraisal of the bipartite brain – the product of the last 30 years of research – brings new insights into the human condition. There are vitally important clues to the understanding of human cognition and motivation embodied in the structure of the brain. These clues help explain why certain apparently unrelated phenomena tend to occur together, why outcomes that appear paradoxical are in reality predictable, and why many attempts to remedy them will prove inadequate since they are tackling only the manifestations of a problem that we need to address at its root – both in the psyche of the individual and that of a civilisation viewed as a whole. ‘Know thyself’ commanded the Delphian oracle: we need urgently to learn to do so, and this synergy of philosophy and neuroscience appears to offer the most promising way.

The metacrisis is the predictable outcome of a complete failure to understand what a human being is, what the world is, and what the one has to do with the other.”

“Even physics teaches us now that the mechanical model of the Universe is mistaken but because of our success in making machines we still imagine that the machine is the best model for understanding everything we come across.We ourselves, our brains and minds , our society and the living world are now supposed to be explained by the metaphor of the machine. Yet only the tiniest handful of things in the entire known Universe are at all like a machine, namely the machines we made in the last few hundred years. Machines, unlike life and all complex systems whether animate or inanimate are linear and sequential, are put together part by part from the ground up and can be switched on and off at will. Their default status is stasis not flow. They are not resonantly embroiled with their environment , they have precise boundaries and their parts do not change structure and function as the whole changes and evolves , not least because in the machine the whole does not evolve and they are utilitarian constructs in the service of the power of their maker.

None of this applies to life nor does it to anything else in the Universe

Source: Darwin College Lecture Series

A Revolution in Thought? – Dr Iain McGilchrist

13 Feb 2024

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