Mechanical Vs. Living

From The Master and His Emissary, by Iain Mcghilchrist

This book is an overview of Neuroscience studies from its conception to now.

Mechanical and Living

The right hemisphere is more concerned with living individuals than man made objects found, Neurologist Francois Lhermite.
“This flows naturally from its interest in whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves, and its capacity for empathy- as well as from its capacity to see the whole, where the left hemisphere sees an agglomerate of parts; there is an intuitive relationship between cutting things up and depriving them of life.  It is the left hemisphere alone that codes for non-living things, while both hemispheres code for living things, perhaps because the living can be seen as independent individuals(right hemisphere) or as objects of us, prey, ‘things’, and so on (left hemisphere).  However, at least one study has found a clean divide between the hemispheres, the left coding for the non-living, and the right for the living, regardless of the task.  Food and instruments are living.”

“The body as such is a right-hemisphere entity, whereas body ‘parts’ are the province of the left hemisphere.  In fact when the right hemisphere is no longer available to bring the left side of the body into being, the left hemisphere may substitute only a mechanical structure of inanimate parts down that side.  One patient described by Ehrenwald reported that, following a right hemisphere stroke, ‘where the left half of his chest, abdomen and stomach should be, he’s got only a wooden plank.’  It goes right down to his anus, and is divided into compartments by transverse planks … food doesn’t follow the usual path from the stomach through the intestines, ‘it gets sucked into the compartments of this scaffolding and it falls through the hole at the bottom of the framework’.  All this is only on the left side.  On the right the organs are all perfectly in place.”

“Not only does the right hemisphere have an affinity with whatever is living, but the left hemisphere has an equal affinity for what is mechanical.  The left hemisphere’s principal concern is utility.  It is interested in what it has made, and in the world as a resource to be used.”

“Michael Corballis, in a tribute to Roger Sperry, draws attention to the affinity of the left hemisphere for everything it has itself made (‘the fruits of human invention’) in contrast to the affinity of the right hemisphere for what exists before and after – and beyond – ourselves, namely nature. “

“Individual self-belief, positive or negative, would be prefertnially treated by the left hemisphere.”



On understanding the specialization of the brain…  “But this already, like any model, presupposes the nature of what one is looking at (a machine for information processing).  What would find if we were to use a different model?  WOuld perhaps something else emerge?  …  “This involves concerning oneself with the nature of knowledge itself.

Know:  We say we know someonein the sense that we have experience of him or her, so that we have a ‘feel’ for who he or she is, as an individuals dinstinct from others.  This kind of knowledge permits a sense of the uniqueness of the other.  It is also uniquely ‘my’ knowledge.
Its also ‘my’ knowledge, not just in the sense that I can’t pass it on to you, but in the sense that it’s got something of me in it.  WHat I know about her comes from the fact that it was I who encountered her.  Another person might allow other aspects of her to come forward and might know her as someone rather different..  We would expect a concensus of those who knew her to emerge.  This is the kind of knowledge we think of first when talking about the living.

“It’s not easily captured in words; the whole is not captured by trying to list the parts.”

It has to be experienced; and the knowledge depends on betweenness.”

vs. Facts
Born on this date, this hair style, this color eyes, and height, etc…
This is the only type of knowledge permitted by science.
This knowledge has its uses.  Its great strength is that its findings are repeatable.  Its qualities are… associate with the left hemisphere; an affinity with the non-living; with ‘pieces’ of information; general, impersonal, fixed, certain and disengaged.

To know (in the sense of kennen) something is never fully to know it (in the sense of wissen) at all, since it will remain for ever changing, evolving, revealing further aspects of itself- in this sense always new, though familiar, in the original sense of coming to belong among our chosen ones, those with whom we stand in close relation, our familia (in Latin literally our ‘household’).  To know (in the sense of wissen) is to pin something down so that it is repeatable and repeated, so that it becomes familiar int he other sense: routine, inauthentic, lacking the space of life.”

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