Left Brain? Right Brain?

Growing up, many of us were taught that our left brain was the source of reason and logic, while our right brain ruled over imagination and creativity. However, according to prominent psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, this is not the whole truth.

In a video recently posted on the website of the Royal Society of Arts, McGilchrist explains that, in fact, imagination and reason require both hemispheres of the brain to function at their best, drawing on ideas from his book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

The video, the latest in the RSA Animate series, uses charming hand-drawn animations to illustrate McGilchrist’s words, elucidating the most sophisticated neurological concepts with a few rapid strokes of a pen. Aided by the animation, McGilchrist refines the distinction between the left and right sides of the brain, explaining that the left hemisphere provides us with a narrow focus, along with “clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static” whereas the right hemisphere is more broadly oriented, such that it “yields a world of individual, changing, evolving…beings, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, never known.”

He goes on to describe the way in which contemporary culture, with its interest in mechanization and perfectibility, has come to prioritize the first, left-brain way of looking at things, but notes that this leaves little room for the more uncertain, but real, contexts provided by the right hemisphere. McGilchrist quotes Einstein, who claimed that, “the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant,” and then expands upon this notion, arguing that “we have created a society that honors the servant but has forgotten the gift.” We are too easily seduced by the certainty the left brain promises us, and forget the more complex notions of empathy and understanding—the products of our right brain that make us truly human.


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