Beyond Logic: Exploring the Limits of Left-Brain Thinking

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During their recent episode, Taylor, Carlisle, and Morgan discussed Beyond Logic: Exploring the Limits of Left-Brain Thinking, here’s an excerpt from the episode:

Tom: It’s a conclusion of world changing importance for me, which is, essentially, we are imbalanced towards the brain’s left hemisphere. So, his first book, well, not his first book, but the predecessor was called The Master and His Emissary, which is that the left hemisphere should be the emissary and the right hemisphere should be the master. The very simplistic differences between the two is that the left hemisphere tends to be very narrowly focused, linear, logical and highly verbal. I like to think of it in my own life as the voice in my head, like my internal monologue. And then the right hemisphere is much more holistic, emotional, somatic, but highly nonverbal.

In myself, it doesn’t speak at all. The way I look at it is for the last 200 years, we’ve gone up into our heads. We use our heads for most of our jobs. Most of our lives are lived in digital abstractions or in books. And then we’ve also married other people who tend to be quite head centric. One of McGilchrist’s chilling observations is that autism and schizophrenia, in his opinion, are both left hemisphere lock. Neither of them really existed 200 years ago. There are accounts of every single mental dysfunction apart from those two. He’s like, “We’re just gradually getting more and more directed towards the left hemisphere.”

The example I give when people ask me is, what is an example of the left hemisphere being dumb while thinking it’s being intelligent? My favorite example is smash sparrows, which is when Chairman Mao was like, “All right, so the sparrows are eating all the grain reserves. We’re going to kill all the sparrows.” They did. And then there was a locust infestation that was so bad it killed 50 million people. You’re like, “Ha-ha-ha, isn’t that dumb?” And then you look at us doing it over and over and over again, including today, with the way that we behave towards engagement algorithms or just making the quarter, or like pursuit of nuclear weapons.

When you optimize for a single variable in a complex adaptive system and you just throw everything else out the window, everything falls apart, and that is an absolutely classic left hemisphere trait. The other example, and I’ll only give two, that really hit me hard, was that, if in a normal subject, you experimentally suppress the brain’s left hemisphere for 10 to 15 minutes, they start to see the world as animate. So, much more relational than the world we inhabit of like dead atoms. They’ll see the sun crossing the sky literally giving them energy. If you do the reverse, which is experimentally suppress the right hemisphere, people start to see other living things as dead. So, they’ll see other people as like zombies or furniture or machinery.

I think that speaks to the way that we behave towards our environment, the way that we behave towards each other. Like, the maximum psychopathic like late-stage capitalism of like, “I’m just going to lay off 5,000 people because they’re just numbers, I’m going to kill another 5,000 people because they’re just numbers. I’m going to use you as a vector to get what I want because you’re just a number.” So, there are literally thousands of examples in the book. But those are the two that really hit me the hardest.

Jake: That’s wild.

Tobias: Is your conjecture that it’s a societal problem, or is it that an individual can benefit from understanding that their left brain locked and they’re not accessing enough of their right brain? What do you do with that understanding?

Tom: Yes. [laughs] [laughter]

Tobias: Both?

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