Dr Iain McGilchrist (UK)

Iain McGilchrist

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

Deep Conversation:
‘Now to Next: How will Science and Technology help solve our wicked problems?’ (November 28, 7.00-9.30pm)
Why things are not what they seem: the courage to think differently (November 30, 3.30pm)

Iain was a Research Fellow in neuroimaging at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. He has published original articles and research papers in a wide range of publications on topics in literature, medicine and psychiatry.  His latest book, The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, published by Yale in November 2009, explores the way in which the bihemispheric structure of the brain influences our understanding of the world.

A vast body of research reveals that the brains of birds and mammals, including humans, have evolved to enable us to apply two equally necessary, but mutually incompatible, types of attention to the world.  One is sharply focused, but narrow, certain already of what it will find; the other is broad, open, and receptive to whatever it may find, without preconception. So difficult is it to combine these types of attention in one brain that they have been sequestered to the two distinct cerebral hemispheres. It is the left hemisphere that provides instrumental attention, enabling us to get and manipulate, by focusing sharply on narrowly conceived detail.

It is the right hemisphere that provides what one might call relational attention, enabling us to see the whole picture, to form social bonds, to inhabit and belong to the world we see, rather than simply being detached from it and using it.

Over time there is a tendency for the view of the left hemisphere to entrench itself: it is simpler, more explicit, ignores what does not fit its paradigm and makes us powerful manipulators.  But the price is a baffled incredulity when the world does not seem to work the way it would predict.  The costs include widespread despoliation of the planet, empty consumerism, a belief in theory at the expense of experience and an unwarranted optimism as we shuffle like a sleepwalker towards the abyss.

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