"Things change according to the stance we adopt towards them, the type of attention we pay to them, the disposition we hold in relation to them. This is important because the most fundamental difference between the hemispheres lies in the type of attention they give to the world. But it's also important because of the widespread assumption in some quarters that there are two alternatives: either things exist 'out there' and are unaltered by the machinery we use to dig them up, or to tear them apart (naïve realism, scientific materialism); or they are subjective phenomena which we create out of our own minds, and therefore we are free to treat them in any way we wish, since they are after all, our own creations (naïve idealism, post-modernism). These positions are not by any means as far apart as they look, and a certain lack of respect is evident in both. In fact, I believe there is something that exists apart from ourselves, but that we play a vital role in bringing it into being (Tanner 1999 p. 6). A central theme of this book is the importance of our disposition towards the world and one another, as being fundamental in grounding what it is that we come to have a relationship with, rather than the other way around. The kind of attention we pay actually alters the world: we are, literally, partners in creation. This means we have a grave responsibility, a word that captures the reciprocal nature of the dialogue we have with whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves. I will look at what philosophy in our time has had to say about these issues. Ultimately I believe that many of the disputes about the nature of the human world can be illuminated by an understanding that there are two fundamentally different 'versions' delivered to us by the two hemispheres, both of which can have a ring of authenticity about them, and both of which are hugely valuable; but that they stand in opposition to one another, and need to be kept apart from one another - hence the bihemispheric structure of the brain." - Iain McGilchrist, The Master and his Emissary, p.4 of INTRODUCTION.
Last night I started reading this book again. I obtained it several months ago, had started it, had skipped forward, had read chunks, had even post-noted a few pages, dog-eared others, tried some underlining, but somehow had not been able to get into it, even though it came highly recommended by people I trust who have great taste and had found themselves enriched through reading it.
The problem was with me, not the book, I decided. How could I engage with this book? Had I forgotten how to focus? Had I forgotten how to let a writer creep into my brain, how to be a good hostess to their thought; entertain, converse with, pay attention through my own engaged response to meanings derived from words, written by them, asynchronously, on a page? Had I spent so much time racing around online over the years, that my brain had developed ADHD?
It was definitely I who was flat - not the book.
No great surprise, in that I've been chronically depressed for years, diagnosed by myself, socially quite phobic, unless there was a perfectly reasonable point in being around other people; recovering slowly in the sunny wide receding horizons and white glittery winters of the elevated Saskatchewan prairies (1893 feet, 577 m altitude), a plateau sloped slightly east, after decades of life at damp coastal doom and gloom sea level in Vancouver, crowded between giant walls of rock in the east and north, US in the immediate south, and cold dark wet ocean west. Living like a bug inside a jug. A jug lidded by thick grey cloud most of the time.
I would find myself asking myself, as if I were an acting student, "Where's my motivation?" The answer: gone away, apparently. Maybe forever. Would life ever fluff itself back up? Be enjoyable? Before it finally guttered itself completely out?
Well, I think last night saw a breakthrough, kind of:
Out of the blue, perhaps to make myself focus better, I started reading in this book, aloud. To myself.
I have never done that before, ever. It must have changed the input into my brain. I could feel stuff start happening in there, again, after such a long time of not feeling much in there at all. Some part of my brain I remembered dimly from long ago, an underground spring, bubbled up. I could feel it start up. It liked being read aloud to!
I (or something in the larger "me"..) liked the sound of my own voice reading aloud!
For so long I've treated my critter brain as if it were non-verbal and kinesthetic, only, that I probably, likely, had forgotten it was actually a human brain too, and could understand language, tone, inflection, all that.
It's been a very long time since my brain and I've enjoyed singing. It's been a very long time since my brain and I've really listened to, and enjoyed listening to, music. My brain used to like doing that, but stopped. Long time passing. It's been a long time since it and I've liked to listen to other people talking.
I read to it for about an hour, aloud, at one point started the book over again from the beginning, kind of excited, because it felt like the right thing to do at the time, 1:00am, not able to sleep for whatever reason... my brain liked being spoken to. By me.
So, this is me, starting a new relationship with parts of my own brain, parts of my own cognitive-evaluative capacity that are still connected to bits that still feel actual motivation. This will be a new relationship forged, possibly between my own 2 hemispheres - the verbal language side will hang out with and read, aloud!, to the non-verbal side, which nonetheless can understand fully everything that's said/read, can reflect on things, can respond in nuanced ways, can inform by sharing those thick and quite lush sensations with the speaking part of me.
Maybe, just maybe, it isn't just that "the most fundamental difference between the hemispheres lies in the type of attention they give to the world" - it might also be in the sort of attention and respect they can give to each other, inside a single individual.
Maybe, together, they'll figure out how to write better, more productively.
Here is a very good animated video of the author discussing the book, from 2011.