The Master Betrayed #3
A series based on Iain McGilchrist's conclusions about a left brain dominated world
In the conclusion of Iain McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary, the question is asked, “What would the left hemisphere’s world look like?” if the left hemisphere of the brain “became so far dominant that, at the phenomenological level, it managed more or less to suppress the right hemisphere’s world altogether”.
In this series of posts I’d like to break down his conclusion and discus just how closely our world is conforming to the left hemisphere’s perspective.
There would be an increase in both abstraction and reification, whereby the human body itself and we ourselves, as well as the material world, and the works of art we made to understand it, would become simultaneously more conceptual and seen as mere things. The world as a whole would become more virtualised, and our experience of it would be increasingly through meta-representations of one kind or another; fewer people would find themselves doing work involving contact with anything in the real, ‘lived’ world, rather than with plans, strategies, paperwork, management and bureaucratic procedures. In fact, more and more work would come to be overtaken by the meta-process of documenting or justifying what one was doing or supposed to be doing - at the expense of the real job in the living world. Technology would flourish, as an expression of the left hemisphere’s desire to manipulate and control the world for its own pleasure, but it would be accompanied by a vast expansion of bureaucracy, systems of abstraction and control. The essential elements of bureaucracy, as described by Peter Berger and his colleaguesshow that they would thrive in a world dominated by the left hemisphere. The authors list them as: the necessity of procedures that are known, and in principle knowable; anonymity; organisability; predictability; a concept of justice that is reduced to mere equality; and explicit abstraction. There is a complete loss of the sense of uniqueness. All of these features are identifiable as facilitated by the left hemisphere. (Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary)
The bias for explicit abstractions is a core feature McGilchrist brings out repeatedly when describing the nature of the left hemisphere. Abstraction is the process of pulling something out of its context, extracting key features, and re-presenting them - an abstraction. As quoted above, there is “an increase in both abstraction and reification” insomuch as everything becomes a thing - a static object.
Creating abstractions is vital in many areas. A map is an abstraction of the actual terrain - a useful visual representation of the terrain - simplified, stylised - but in obvious ways very unlike the actual terrain. If we think of the map as a metaphor for other abstractions we can see how much of our thinking, communicating, theorising, planing, and so on uses abstractions - simplified, shorthand, easily categorised, decontextualised. I can describe a person of whom I know only a handful of facts - that description would be an abstraction of the real person with all their attributes embedded within the context of their life (time, space, relationships, history, etc). Similarly I can show you a 3D life-like animation of a ‘living’ eyeball in space, but it would be an obvious abstraction as eyeballs do not look around suspended in space without being attached to a head. It is a decontextualised re-presentation of an eyeball that may be instructive to medical students but leaves us in the dark as to who the eyeball belongs to or from what bizarre reality it has come from.
In a similar vein when it comes to reification, concepts become concrete things, and the organic flow of life and the living are thingified into static objects that can be deconstructed (I think Critical Race Theory is particularly adept at this).
This is what McGilchrist explains earlier in The Master and His Emissary:
The left hemisphere can only re-present; but the right hemisphere, for its part, can only give again what ‘presences’. This is close to the core of what differentiates the hemispheres.
Abstraction is necessary if the left hemisphere is to re-present the world. The left hemisphere operates an abstract visual-form system, storing information that remains relatively invariant across specific instances, producing abstracted types or classes of things; whereas the right hemisphere is aware of and remembers what it is that distinguishes specific instances of a type, one from another. The right hemisphere deals preferentially with actually existing things, as they are encountered in the real world. (Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary, p.50)
In a left-hemisphere world bureaucratic systems would proliferate to control everything. All things would have to be reduced to some sort of abstraction so as to be documented and more easily manipulated than they are as living, flowing, relational entities. Not the least of these things to be wrangled down into a spreadsheet of data would be ourselves - us messy, emotional, complex, non-linear flowing, inter-relational and altogether unique individuals. As we are in reality, humans are a nightmare for an efficient bureaucratic control system and cannot be dealt with directly. Better to generalise our characteristics, re-present those characteristics as statistics, data points, categories, and put them in a virtual environment where the bureaucratic system has complete control using logic: if humans between this variable and that variable are XYZ, then they must do C.
And isn’t this the place we find ourselves? For the bureaucrat we are generalised numbers, categories, statistics, without the unique attributes that make us who we are. This has been no more stark than in the mass ‘vaccination’ of everyone - the categorisation of humanity has become so absurdly simplified that we are all in the same category of needing a particular gene therapy with virtually zero regard to individuality.
Think about the digitisation of humanity, where we are abstracted to a data set in a virtual world - admittedly a continually updated data set, but nevertheless numbers and categories that are mostly generalised and stripped of our uniqueness. For the left hemisphere this is perfect - no longer having to deal with incomprehensible unique living beings, the system just manipulates the numbers, the data, and spits out commands to the object (that’s you). It only considers the data points that relate to utility, wrongly assuming utility equates to the meaning and fulfilment of a life well lived.
This is partly why it’s important to fight for small government, because a sprawling left-hemispheric bureaucracy cannot serve the individual well because it cannot really know the individual. Better to leave space for people to manage themselves according to their uniqueness of self and circumstance. What is particularly concerning now is the bureaucratic system is increasingly generalising the population to corral them into a single pen, ruled by a master algorithm where only the collective ‘good’ matters (the ‘good’ having been already definded by the technocrats).
“The world as a whole would become more virtualised, and our experience of it would be increasingly through meta-representations of one kind or another; fewer people would find themselves doing work involving contact with anything in the real, ‘lived’ world…” When I read this my mind immediately goes to the metaverse - a literal fulfilment of what McGilchrist is presenting here. Completely detached from the real world, the virtual existence in the metaverse gives the left hemisphere what it craves - control over nothing but re-presentations and thingifications of what may or may not be found in the real world. The capacity for manipulation and control, the pure utility of the things in the virtual world, gives the ‘player’ (who is also an avatar, a re-presentation) god-like capacities to shape that world however he or she would like. No need to deal with the real non-linear complexities of life and the necessity of the right hemisphere to navigate the intangible, unknown, and non-utilitarian aspects of life. The swing to the left hemisphere way of being is amplified as the virtual world continues to be built according to the likeness of that hemisphere - a treacherous positive feedback loop.
And when the player emerges from the VR headset and has to face the difficult complexities of real life, he may soon retreat back into his VR world that has become the sanctuary of ‘normal’ as opposed to the stressfuland even bizarre real world.
So tell me - what’s your take on this?
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The Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness (by Berger, Berger & Kellner)
To reify is to consider or represent (something abstract) as a material or concrete thing : to give definite content and form to (a concept or idea).
Reify is a word that attempts to provide a bridge between what is abstract and what is real. Fittingly, it derives from a word that is an ancestor to real—the Latin noun res, meaning "thing." Both reify and the related noun reification first appeared in English in the mid-19th century. Each word combines the Latin res with an English suffix (-fy and -fication, respectively) that is derived from the Latin -ficare, meaning "to make." In general use, the words refer to the act of considering or presenting an abstract idea in real or material terms, or of judging something by a concrete example.
Literally it is to make something a thing - thingify or the act of thingification.
For some the real world will become bland, boring, not enough stimulation of dopamine - the fuel for the left hemisphere. For others, not employing the right hemisphere as the master, will find navigating reality impossibly stressful and will opt for the dopamine of the virtual world than the cortisol of the real world.
The Master Betrayed #3