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


Separation / Connection

Left hemisphere      -         Right hemisphere
Separate                   -        Connected
Centrifugal              -         Centripetal
Rights                      -         Responsibilities
Individual                -         Collective
Masculine                -         Feminine

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

That there is a discrepancy between concepts of womanhood and adulthood is nowhere more clearly evident than in the series of studies on sex-role stereotypes […]

The repeated finding of these studies is that the qualities deemed necessary for adult- hood—the capacity for autonomous thinking, clear decision making, and responsible action—are those associated with masculinity but considered undesirable as attributes of the feminine self. 

The stereotypes suggest a splitting of love and work that relegates the expressive capacities requisite for the former to women while the instrumental abilities necessary for the latter reside in the masculine domain. 

Yet, looked at from a different perspective, these stereotypes reflect a conception of adulthood that is itself out of balance, favoring the separateness of the individual self over its connection to others and leaning more toward an autonomous life of work than toward the interdependence of love and care.

[Carol Gilligan]
‘In a Different Voice’, Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 47, No. 4, p. 482

There is a dialectic between "relatedness" and "differentiation" that can never be permanently resolved.

The "strangeness" of distance is reduced and partially overcome by periodic ceremonially sanctioned gatherings and marriage exchange. Ritual, marriage, and the production of "social" individuals with ceremonial relationships to each other are essential components of the superstructure that opposes the centrifugal tendencies.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.170

Political strategy in Pintupi meetings aims at sustaining the relationship among speakers rather than encouraging antagonistic debates about policy.

The formal features of speech reflect the meeting's function of constituting the polity. Thus, in meetings Pintupi emphasize their concern with "shame" and show themselves as recognizing shared identity with others. They avoid direct refusal and open contradiction of other speakers as shameful. Seeming self-important, willful, or lacking in control are similarly unacceptable.

Maintaining respect dictates that individual assertiveness should be downplayed in public speech. So speakers are likely not only to be self-deprecatory but also to present their own contributions as depersonalized, as "that word.”

In these and other ways, Pintupi speech reflects the characteristic orientation to this world's events as conforming to an already objectified, external authority or "law." Interruption and depersonalization contribute to making a meeting's outcome "anonymous", detached from the egotism, will, and responsibility of individuals. Because the outcome - the consensus no one opposes - appears to come from outside, no one's autonomy is diminished. 

This reflexive property of meetings makes "consensus" as important in constituting a polity as it is in formulating a policy. Certain talented speakers gain prestige from bringing meetings to this sort of fruition, sustaining a focus within a general framework of "anonymization."

The emphasis remains on producing or sustaining a sense of shared identity, or of having "one word". Those who are capable of bridging dissension in difficult situations-usually men of considerable oratorical skills are highly valued and sought out.

Given the Pintupi view of residential groups as a temporary product of individual affiliations, a meeting is the polity and defines it, however momentarily: It is the domain in which consensus can occur. Communities exist only as long as people view themselves as related.

Therefore, this polity is not a structure that should be taken for granted, nor is it an enduring accomplishment. Severe opposition and debate would deny the very basis on which resolution could take place at all.

Recognizing this, Pintupi would rather not have a meeting until at least some of the opposition has diminished. To do otherwise would invite violence, what they call "setting up" a fight.

[Fred R. Myers]
Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self, p.271, 274

The idolization of “diversity” in the form of personal identity was sewn into the deepest fabric of the liberal project, and with it the diminution of a common civic and fostering of a common weal. 

The only common allegiance that would remain was to a political project that supported ever more individuation, fragmentation, and expansion of “diversity in the faculties."

[Patrick Deneen]
Why Liberalism Failed, p.166

A self-organising system reacts to the state of affairs in the environment, but simultaneously transforms itself as a result of these affairs, often affecting the environment in turn. Processes in the system are therefore neither simply passive reflections of the outside, nor are they actively determined from the inside.

The very distinction between active and passive, as well as that between inside and outside, comes under pressure. In a complex system, control does not emanate from a single source. Should this happen, the system would become degenerate, lose its adaptability and survive only as long as the environment remained stable.

[Paul Cilliers]
Complexity and Postmodernism, p.108

Collective consciousness creates a community without communication. For the villagers, there is one story, continuously repeated, and this story is the world: "They do not have opinions on this or that, but incessantly tell just one great story."

There is a tacit agreement in the village, and nobody disturbs this agreement with their personal experiences or opinions. No one tries to be heard or to attract attention. Attention is primarily directed at the community itself.

[Byung-Chul Han]
The Disappearance of Rituals, p.30-1

[...] it is only once we think of mankind as by nature dangerously egoistic that altruism becomes at once socially necessary and yet apparently impossible and, if and when it occurs, inexplicable.

On the traditional Aristotelian view such problems do not arise. For what education in the virtues teaches me is that my good as a man is one and the same as the good of those others with whom I am bound up in human community. There is no way of my pursuing my good which is necessarily antagonistic to you pursuing yours because the good is neither mine peculiarly nor yours peculiarly - goods are not private property.

Hence Aristotle's definition of friendship, the fundamental form of human relationship, is in terms of shared goods. The egoist is thus, in the ancient and medieval world, always someone who has made a fundamental mistake about where his own good lies and someone who has thus and to that extent excluded himself from human relationships.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.266

Related posts:

Right hemisphere / Left hemisphere

Left hemisphere                 -                      Right hemisphere
Centre                                -                      Periphery
Narrow                               -                      Broad
Short term                          -                      Long term
Abstract                              -                      Concrete
Certain                                -                      Uncertain
Strong                                 -                      Weak
Closed                                 -                      Open
Quick                                  -                      Slow
Known                                -                      Unknown

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

Our propensity to impose meaning and concepts blocks our awareness of the details making up the concept.

However, if you zap people’s left hemispheres, they become more realistic - they can draw better and with more verisimilitude. Their minds become better at seeing the objects themselves, cleared of theories, narratives, and prejudice.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb]
The Black Swan, p. 66

The new psychological constitution of the modern character had been developing since the high Middle Ages, had conspicuously emerged in the Renaissance, was sharply clarified and empowered by the Scientific Revolution, then extended and solidified in the course of the Enlightenment. 

By the nineteenth century, in the wake of the democratic and industrial revolutions, it had achieved mature form. 

The direction and quality of that character reflected a gradual but finally radical shift of psychological allegiance from God to man, from dependence to independence, from otherworldliness to this world, from the transcendent to the empirical, from myth and belief to reason and fact, from universals to particulars, from a supernaturally determined static cosmos to a naturally determined evolving cosmos, and from a fallen humanity to an advancing one.

[Richard Tarnas]
The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 319

After Hume, the implicative relationship between premises and conclusion thus became what counts as explanation tout court. Deductive reasoning […] came to be seen as the only legitimate form of rational thought. 

Explaining an event came to be identified with predicting it […] 

Explanations in terms of lawful regularities subsequently replaced ontological pronouncements about causal processes. The ability to explain by deducing would be taken as the feature that not only distinguishes the hard natural sciences from the soft human sciences but also (since strict laws are apparently not forthcoming in the latter) discredits them. 

The upshot? The ancient concept of practical wisdom slowly disappeared from mainstream - and academic - philosophy, as freshmen students note to their dismay.

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p. 49

Schore discovered that the right hemisphere of the brain plays a dominant role in the formation of attachment relationships and that its maturation is at significant risk in conditions of suboptimal infant-care practices.

[Sharna Olfman]
'Reclaiming Humanity at the Dawn of Posthumanism: Conversation with Darcia Narvaez'

In Australia the Aboriginal peoples speak of The Dreaming, a reality in which the Ancestors walked on the land and special resting points created certain features. Some Ancestors turned into rocks. But this does not mean that the Ancestor stopped being and metamorphosed into an inanimate rock.

Rather, the Ancestor still exists, for Dream Time is different from our linear arrow of time, in which the past is gone forever. Dream Time coexists and interpenetrates the here and now - the Ancestor and the rock enfold one another.

Rather than being an example of "illogical thinking," the idea that rocks can teach and act as parents is a direct experience within Indigenous reality. Instead of speaking of people having access to "alternative" or "nonnormal" realities, it is probably more accurate to simply say that Indigenous people live their lives in a wider reality.

Pam Colorado said to me, "You know, David, we all have weak minds." Her perception of Westerners was that their minds are hard, logical, and forceful; and that they confine themselves to what they consider to be the practical, concrete reality.

It is difficult to shake such a mind and move it from its predetermined path, for it immediately rejects all experience that appears out of the ordinary. Only under conditions of extreme stress may such a person begin to see beyond the limits of "daily reality."

For Pam Colorado, however, the Native mind needs to be weak, for it does not erect barriers to an extended reality.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.287-8

Related posts: