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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