Friday, January 1, 2010


This essay in the WSJ begins with a great discussion of the right and left brain. I really like this paragraph:

>>> The neuropsychological evidence shows that the right hemisphere pays wide-open attention to the world, seeing the whole, whereas the left hemisphere is adept at focusing on a detail. New experience, whatever its kind, is better apprehended by the right hemisphere, whereas the predictable is better dealt with by the left. And because the right hemisphere sees things in context, as inseparably interconnected, it recognizes the vast extent of what remains implicit. By contrast, because of its narrow focus, the left hemisphere isolates what it sees, and is relatively blind to things that can be conveyed only indirectly. <<<

The essay is adapted from psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist's book The Master and his Emissary: the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, recently published by Yale University Press. After the introductory explanation of the hemispheres, he goes on to put Western Civilization on the couch, talking about how different eras can be explained by how much of either hemisphere was operative in the culture at a given time. 

Such broad generalizations make me a little queazy. Since the 60's I've bought and leafed through innumerable books going on about the power of music and such, with zero empirical foundation, other than the occasional anecdote that fits the argument. Over time I've decided such books and arguments are not helpful to the cause of music therapy, because even though they might contains bits of helpful info and insight, they further the "crackpot" image of the field.

It also seems a little odd that even in an essay as short as this, there's no mention of Julian Jayne's, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Though in a different way, it also puts society as a whole on the couch and expounds on the nature of consciousness. It will be interesting to see if the McGilchrist book will make any impact. 

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