Our Divided Brain
Our brain is a divided structure. According to Dr. Iain McGilchrist the relevant question to ask is: is it possible that one hemisphere of the brain dominates the other, and does it lead to damaging effects on our society? The former researcher and psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University has some shocking hypotheses to this question.
There has been a general view that the left hemisphere of the brain is the one that does all the heavy lifting, and is more intelligent than the right hemisphere, which produces blurred and unclear thoughts. But now we know that both hemispheres are generally involved in everything. So rather than asking which part of the brain is responsible for what, it is more interesting to examine how differently they take part in a specific action.
It is reasonable that our hemispheres have developed in different ways. Basically, we can observe the same phenomenon among almost all species with a nervous system. You can raise the question: what is the benefit of a divided brain? Let’s imagine the following situation. You are a hungry squirrel who has just found something to eat. You need a laser-like focus on grasping your food. But simultaneously you must be aware of the fact, that if you pay extremely sharp targeted attention to your food, you can become another predator’s lunch as well. So while you are busy with fulfilling your own desires, it is highly recommended for you to have a broad and vigilant attention to the environment that surrounds you. This two-way focusing is a challenging task that can be solved by developing a differentiated brain.
It is ridiculously easy to draw simplistic conclusions on the differences of the left-right hemisphere – a common mistake that pop psychologists often tend to make. One of the most misleading theories is that the left hemisphere is a rational and cold-hearted male whereas the right hemisphere is an overexcited and boundless female with full of creativity. Researchers achieved other results by examining patients with right or left hemispheric strokes. Someone with a left hemispheric stroke might lose the ability of language and motoric functions. But once these disabilities have been cured, the patient is able to function well since his or her right hemisphere is in touch with reality. On the contrary, a patient with a right hemispheric stroke denies the existence of the world´s left side and the left hemisphere is not interested in understanding the whole picture. It is just excited about the bit in which it can manipulate and grab things. It does not understand relations and contexts. It lacks social and emotional understanding in contrary to the right hemisphere.
An illustration of left hemispatial neglect in right hemisphere stroke (A) Line bisection, (B) Modified Albert's line cancellation, (C) Copying of modified ogeden picture. Source: researchgate.net
According to Iain McGilchrist, we have created a society where we run after social well-being but forget to define true human values that are important for us. We lead a comfortable and secured lifestyle, which resulted in an explosion of mental illnesses. Our left hemispheric approach constructed models and maps which are useful and perfect within its own framework, but we must not mistake the real world for what the map says. We need to find balance between context and detail, between relation and structure, so in a nutshell, a harmony between functions of our lateralized brain.