Semi-transparent

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A painting is not a thing in the world: nor is it just a representation of the world. 

In a marvellous phrase of Merleau-Ponty's, we do not see paintings, as much as see according to them.

They are, like people, and the forms of the natural world, neither just objective things, nor mere representations of things: they permit us to see through, and according to, themselves. They have a semi-opaque (or semi-transparent) quality, not disappearing altogether, in which case some reality or other would be seen in their place, a reality which they would no more than represent.

No, they have reality of their own. But equally they are not mere things, existing ‘out there’ independent of us or whatever else it is that exists. We are aware of them but see through them, see the world according to them.

To take the example of the Claude painting: we neither allow our eye simply to rest on the pure thing in front of us, a canvas measuring such and such, with so and so patches of blue, green and brown on it, nor do we see straight through it, as though ignorant that we are looking at a painting, and imagining we look through a window.

Equally with poetry: language does often function as if it were transparent, when we are reading a piece of prose, and unaware of its facticity. But in poetry the language itself is present to us – semi-transparent, semi-opaque; not a thing, but a living something that allows us to move through it and beyond, though never allowing the language to disappear as though it played no part in the whatever it is beyond language that it yields to us.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 183-4


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Separation / Connection


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Left hemisphere                 -                      Right hemisphere
Separate                             -                      Connected
Centrifugal                         -                      Centripetal


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I suggest that there are two opposing ways of dealing with the world that are both vital but are fundamentally incompatible, and that therefore, even before humans came on the scene, required separate treatment, even neurological sequestration from one another. 

One tendency, important for being able to get things from the world for one's own purposes, involves isolation of one thing from the next, and isolation of the living being, perceived as subjective, from the world, perceived as objective.

The drive here is towards manipulation, and its ruling value is utility.

It began in my view by colonising the left hemisphere, and with the increasing capacity for distance from the world mediated by the expansion of the frontal lobes as one ascends the evolutionary tree, resulted in a physical expansion of the area designed to facilitate manipulation of the environment, symbolically and physically, in the higher monkeys and apes. Eventually that expansion became the natural seat of referential language in humans.

The other tendency was centripetal, rather than centrifugal: towards the sense of the connectedness of things, before reflection isolates them, and therefore towards engagement with the world, towards a relationship of ‘betweenness’ with whatever lies outside the self.

With the growth of the frontal lobes, this tendency was enhanced by the possibility of empathy, the seat of which is the right frontal expansion in social primates, including humans.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 127-8


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Related posts:
Life and Death (and everything in-between)
The Colour Wheel 
Centre / Periphery 
Abstract / Concrete
Balance
The Principle of Polarity
Status Quo 
You ought to be more like me
Concentrate
Making Connections
Connection
Separation

Right hemisphere / Left hemisphere


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Left hemisphere                 -                      Right hemisphere
Centre                                -                      Periphery
Narrow                               -                      Broad
Short term                          -                      Long term
Abstract                              -                      Concrete


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Centre / Periphery


If it is the right hemisphere that is vigilant for whatever it is that exists 'out there', it alone can bring us something other than what we already know.

The left hemisphere deals with what it knows, and therefore prioritises the expected - its process is predictive. It positively prefers what it knows. This makes it more efficient where things are predictable, but less efficient than the right wherever the initial assumptions have to be revised [...]

[...] the right hemisphere presents an array of possible solutions, which remain live while alternatives are explored. The left hemisphere, by contrast, takes the single solution that seems best to fit what it already knows and latches onto it.

[There is] a tendency for the left hemisphere to deny discrepancies that do not fit its already generated schema of things. The right hemisphere, by contrast, is actively watching for discrepancies, more like a devil's advocate.

[...] the right hemisphere alone attends to the peripheral field of vision from which new experience tends to come [...] 

The more flexible style of the right hemisphere is evidenced not just in its own preferences, but also at the 'meta' level, in the fact that it can also use the left hemisphere's preferred style, whereas the left hemisphere cannot use the right hemisphere's.

The range of the right hemisphere is further increased by the fact that it has a longer working memory, and so is able both to access more information and hold it together at any one time for longer [...]

This broader field of attention, open to whatever may be, and coupled with greater integration over time and space, is what makes possible the recognition of broad or complex patterns, the perception of the 'thing as a whole', seeing the wood for the trees.

In short the left hemisphere takes a local short-term view, whereas the right hemisphere sees the bigger picture.


Abstract / concrete


The left hemisphere is the hemisphere of abstraction, which, as the word itself tells us, is the process of wresting things from their context.

Abstraction is necessary if the left hemisphere is to re-present the world [...] The right hemisphere presents individual, unique instances of things and individual, familiar, objects, whereas the left hemisphere re-presents categories of things, and generic, non-specific objects.

It is with the right hemisphere that we distinguish individuals of all kinds, places as well as faces. In fact it is precisely its capacity for holistic processing that enables the right hemisphere to recognise individuals. Individuals are, after all, Gestalt wholes: that face, that voice, that gait, that sheer 'quiddity' of the person or thing, defying analysis into parts.

The right hemisphere deals preferentially with actually existing things, as they are encountered in the real world. Because its language roots things in the context of the world, it is concerned with the relations between things.


Solid / liquid


If one had to encapsulate the principal difference in the experience mediated by the two hemispheres, their two modes of being, one could put it like this.

The world of the left hemisphere, dependent on denotive language and abstraction yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, decontextualized, explicit, disembodied, general in nature but ultimately lifeless.

The right hemisphere, by contrast, yelled a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate, living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, always imperfectly known — and to this world it exists in a relationship of care.

The knowledge that is mediated by the left hemisphere is knowledge within a closed system. 

It has the advantage of perfection, but such perfection is bought ultimately at the price of emptiness, of self-reference. It can mediate knowledge only in terms of a mechanical rearrangement of other things already known. It can never really ‘break out’ to know anything new, because its knowledge is of its own re-presentations only.

Where the thing itself is ‘present’ to the right hemisphere, it is only ‘re-presented’ by the left hemisphere, now become an idea of a thing. Where the right hemisphere is conscious of the Other, whatever it may be, the left hemisphere's consciousness is of itself.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 40-1, 43, 50-1, 174-5


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