The Master Betrayed #5

A series based on Iain McGilchrist's conclusions about a left brain dominated world

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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.

Previous entries: #1 #2 #3 #4


Numbers, which the left hemisphere feels familiar with and is excellent at manipulating (though, it may be remembered, it is less good at understanding what they mean), would come to replace the response to individuals, whether people, places, things or circumstances, which the right hemisphere would have distinguished. ‘Either/or’ would tend to be substituted for matters of degree, and a certain inflexibility would result. (Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary)

Just a short paragraph today as we track through McGilchirst’s closing chapter, but an important one, and I feel blatantly obvious in our world today.

A long time ago I used to be in a certain field of emergency medicine and a tedious aspect of the work was detailing reports with a myriad codes that often took longer to type in than dealing with the patient directly. Every aspect of the treatment was reduced to codes, numbers, that would be fed into databases for analysis. Of course the computer doing the analysis worked only with numbers and so everything about the person and their treatment had to be reduced to a series of digits. Sure, there was my own notes, with the usual medical shorthand - both the subjective as well as the objective story of what happened. The computer, however, had a series of numbers that roughly approximated an objective, decontextualised, abstract ‘picture’ of some of what went on. These numbers were the re-presentation of real people and their experience that would be subject to all sorts of combinations and statistical theatrics to work out how well we were doing (or for some other practical or political purpose).

Now there is much utility in this way of understanding things, and that is all good, even necessary in some circumstances, but it does seem to be getting out of hand. We are all being reduced to numbers, the language of the machine. Once we have been defined by an array of numbers we have become a virtual ‘thing’ in the machine - to be analysed and manipulated, ultimately controlled by algorithms that are completely detached from the real world, working exclusively in a poor re-presentation of reality.

Your future digital ID will be the ultimate expression of who you are to the powers that ultimately have control over your life. There will be key variables (numbers on a sliding scale or simply a 0 or 1) that are important to the machine masters in defining you, your freedoms, your existence, but a rather insignificant representation of who you really are and your intrinsic value. Utility, and not for your own sake but for the State, is the important output, and intrinsic value only makes sense to the machine and its masters as much as it equates to utility. You are not valuable just because you are a person, you are only as valuable as you are useful to the system, and there’s a number to express that.

I’m keeping it short…

What are your thoughts?


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